Posts Tagged ‘chardonnay’

Daily Glass: Textbook Precision

March 19, 2018 3 comments

Once you fully embrace the wine world, one of the important lessons you learn is rather simple – “there are no guarantees”. The bottle of wine can perfectly say “Cabernet Sauvignon” – there are absolutely no guarantees that Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington, California, and Chile will have any smell and taste similarities, never mind Cabernet Sauvignon from China, Czech Republic, and Moldova. And this is okay, we can all accept it – at the end of the day, the only thing which matter is whether we like the wine or not.

Despite all the differences, when it comes to the major grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and so on, we usually know how the “classic” wine should taste like – especially if we take any formal wine education or make enough effort to study the wine, pay attention to what we drink and make it a lesson to learn. Yes, there might be a bit of our perception in it too, but still, we usually have that “classic profile ” idea in the mind.

What prompted this post was a lucky happenstance, an encounter with two classic, textbook wine profiles for two nights in the row.

First, there was Pinot Noir. When it comes to Pinot Noir, there are probably four classic profiles – Burgundy (of course!), with lots of dark fruit power and a little bit of funk (especially with age, but drinking young Burgundy is almost like killing a baby, right?). Then you have New Zealand, which usually can be identified by the pronounced acidity. Oregon Pinot Noir often screams minerality, mocha and dark chocolate. And then you got California, with luscious smokey plums and silky, seductive texture.

So the wine I had a pleasure of experiencing was a textbook, unmistakable California Pinot Noir – 2015 Field Recordings Derbyshire Vineyard Pinot Noir San Luis Obispo County (13.1% ABV, $28, 20% whole cluster fermentation, foot tread in open top bins, 12 month in French oak) – smokey plums on the nose, bright cherries and plums profile on the palate with a perfect balance of acidity, velvety layers – tremendous amount of pleasure in every sip. Drinking this wine evokes comparisons with other California classics such as Siduri. It doesn’t reach the ultra-luxurious texture of Sandhi, but if you have any experience with classic California Pinot, one sip of this wine will perfectly put you in the right place.

Now, talking about classics, let’s talk about the grape which is not a relative of Pinot Noir, but more often than not, a closest friend and neighbor – Chardonnay. What is interesting about Chardonnay, in my opinion, is that good Chardonnay is a lot more cosmopolitan than a Pinot Noir. With the exception of Chablis, which often can be recognized by the gunflint on the nose, the classic Chardonnay profile includes vanilla, apples and a touch of butter. You can often differentiate Burgundy from California by the amount of butter (California usually offers lots more) and acidity (that’s what you will get with the young Burgundy), but still, Chardonnays from Australia, Burgundy, Chablis, and California have quite a bit of similarity.

Oregon, which is definitely an established world leader when it comes to Pinot Noir, lately also started to show its Chardonnay provenance. Two years ago, I was blown away by the perfection of Vidon Chardonnay. This time around, the 2016 Knudsen Vineyards Chardonnay Dundee Hills (13.5% ABV, $45) made me say “wow” many, many times. Perfect nose of vanilla and golden delicious apples with a distant hint of butter and even honey (honey is usually showing up in Chardonnay after some aging) was supported by the same profile on the palate – vanilla, apples, butter – all perfectly mended together in cohesive, sublime package resting on the vibrant core of acidity. This was definitely a textbook Chardonnay for me, and the one which I would love to see aged, at least for another 5-7 years.

Here you go, my friends – a textbook experience with two classic grapes. What are your textbook wine experiences? Cheers!


Discover Wines of South Africa

December 1, 2017 9 comments

South African white winesLet me start with a question: when was the last time you had South African wine? You can take a few minutes to ponder at it – but I would bet that if you are a wine consumer in the USA, there is a very good chance that the answer will be “hmmm, never”. But if “never” or “many years ago” is your answer, we need to change that.

The winemaking history in South Africa goes back to the 17th century, when immigrants from Europe brought the vine cuttings with them, as they’ve done in all other places. South African wine story somewhat resembles most of the Europe, as it also includes the phylloxera epidemic and replanting of the vineyards. Unfortunately for South African winemakers and the rest of us, the wine story of South Africa also had heavy political influence, with apartheid, KWV monopoly, and resulting boycott from most of the countries for the majority of the 20th century (here is an article on Wikipedia if you want to learn more). The new chapter for South African wines opened up in the 1990s, with the end of apartheid and subsequent changes in all areas of life, winemaking included.

In the past, South Africa was best known for its Chenin Blanc wines, which was also called Steen. Another grape South Africa was famous for was Pinotage – dinking of the Pinotage wines was likened by some wine critics to the drinking of the “liquified rusty nails”. On much brighter note, while talking about the past, I want to mention Klein Constantia Vin de Constance – the nectar of gods (don’t take my word for it  – find it and try it), made from Muscat de Frontignan grapes and favorite wine of the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, who was buying it by the barrel (legend has it that it was Napoleon’s deathbed wish wine).

Today South Africa offers lots more than a typical wine consumer would expect. The South African wines are often described as “old world wines masquerading as new world wines”, and this is perfectly showing in the wide range of the wines. You really need to try for yourself South African Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, and don’t skip the Chenin Blanc, especially if it is an FMC by Ken Forrester. You shouldn’t skip even Pinotage, as it dramatically evolved compared to the old days.  The old world winemaking foundation really shows through many of the South African wines today, and they are always ready to surprise a curious wine drinker.

Case in point – our recent virtual tasting on Snooth. We had an opportunity to taste 6 white wines, well representing South African grapes, styles and regions. The tasting included 3 out of the 4 most popular white grapes in South Africa (Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc) – the second most planted grape, Colombard, is used primarily in the brandy production. Another interesting fact for you  – until 1981, there was no Chardonnay planted in South Africa, which makes it all more impressive (read my notes below). Two of the Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blanc from the tasting were simply stunning, and the rest of the wines were perfectly suitable for the everyday drinking. What is even better is that you don’t need to rely on my notes if you want to discover what South Africa is capable of – Snooth offers that exact set of 6 wines for purchase, at a very reasonable price of $79.99 for the whole set.

Here are my notes from the tasting:

2016 Glenelly Glass Collection Unoaked Chardonnay WO Stellenbosch (13.5% ABV, $20, 100% Chardonnay)
C: straw pale
N: Beautiful, vanilla, touch of guava, fresh, medium+
P: good acidity, granny smith apple, crisp, maybe a bit too restrained now, lemony acidity on the finish
V: 8, excellent now, but I definitely want to see it evolve.

2016 De Wetshof Estate Limestone Hill Chardonnay WO Robertson (14% ABV, $16, 100% Chardonnay)
C: light golden
N: complex, vanilla, popcorn, medium intensity. Nose clears up as the wine breathes. Golden delicious and honeysuckle appeared. Delicious nose.
P: quite restrained, touch of Granny Smith apples as opposed to the golden delicious. Perfect acidity, vanilla, fresh.
V: 8, will evolve. Definitely an interesting wine.

2016 Badenhorst Family Wines Secateurs Chenin Blanc Swartland WO Steen (12.5% ABV, $15, Chenin Blanc with a sprinkling of Palomino and another secret grape)
C: straw pale
N: interesting, yeast, touch of white stone fruit
P: crisp, restrained, mostly lemony, acidic notes
V: 7, too simple and single-dimensional

2016 Raats Original Chenin Blanc Unwooded WO Stellenbosch (12.5% ABV, $16, 100% Chenin Blanc)
C: straw pale+
N: inviting, medium plus, minerality, hint of peach
P: clean acidity, interesting touch of pear and white plum with acidic finish
V: 7+, interesting wine, by itself and with food.

2014 Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc WO Elgin (13% ABV, $20)
C: light golden
N: lots of minerality, touch of gunflint, touch of grass (distant hint), white stone fruit as the wine is opening up – doesn’t resemble SB at all
P: crisp, clean, lemon acidity, very restrained, mineral-driven, limestone. Almost astringent. Needs food.
V: rated it first 7+/8-, noting “will be interesting to see how the wine will open up”. More playful after 30 min in the open bottle. Interesting. After two days, this clearly became 8/8+ wine

2016 The Wolftrap White WO Western Cape (13.5% ABV, $12, Viognier 42%; Chenin Blanc 37%; Grenache Blanc 21%)
C: light golden
N: lemony notes, grass
P: a little too simplistic, mostly lemony notes. Drinkable, not great
V: 7, too simple, might work better with food

South African wines are definitely here, at the world-class level. If you pride yourself as a wine lover, they are all ready for your undivided attention.

Villa Torrigiani: Traditional Roots, Modern Wines

June 15, 2017 Leave a comment
Villa Torrigiani

Source: Villa Torrigiani

When it comes to traditions, Italians definitely know how to preserve them. Tour the country, and you will see that finding a 500 years old villa or palace in Italy is very easy; there are plenty of places where the connection can be made through even a 1000 years of history. Italians definitely know how to preserve their traditions.

Talking about traditions, Villa Torrigiani, located in the heart of Tuscany,  is exactly one of those well-preserved places, tracking its history back for 1000 years if not longer. Here is the information you can find on Wikipedia:

“In the hills of San Martino alla Palma, vineyards and olive groves have been cultivated for more than a 1,000 years. The estate is located not far from the Via Francigena, the route used by crusaders returning from the Holy Land, and as such a point of passage, the location took its name from Saint Martin, patron saint of vintners and grape harvesters, and Palma (Olive tree), the symbol brought home by crusaders as proof of their travels.

In the mid-1400s, in the very midst of the Renaissance, the marquises Torrigiani, bankers and wine sellers, bought the land that extends from Castellina all the way to the top of the hill of San Martino alla Palma, thus founding Fattoria Torrigiani (The Torrigiani farm). The marquises Torrigiani called on the renowned Florentine architect Michelozzo who designed the stately Villa Torrigiani, which was constructed from 1470 to 1495. The villa, with its numerous halls frescoed by master Florentine painters, is situated at the center of the farm and looks out over the valley of Florence and the cupola of the Duomo.


At the beginning of the 16th century, the farm was divided into 22 “poderi”, or farmsteads, each run by a family group, many of whom have descendants who live in San Martino to this day. The farm was so well organized that it was self-sufficient and no longer dependent on Florence, and consequently, its inhabitants were able to avoid the bubonic plague outbreak of the 1600s.

Fattoria Torrigiani remained the property of the same family for around 500 years until 1967 when it was purchased by the Zingone family who carried out an extensive restoration of the villa and an expansion of agricultural production, of wine and olive oil in particular.”

Fattoria San Martino alla Palma covers almost 900 acres, out of which the vineyards take about 115 acres, and about 300 acres dedicated to the olive trees – in addition to wines and grappa, Villa Torrigiani also produces olive oil.

Villa Torrigiani Chardonnay

Now, the wines produced by Villa Torrigiani are unquestionably modern. Unoaked Chianti, Chardonnay from Tuscany, super-toscan – while the wines are rooted in tradition, it is hard to argue that they also represent modern Italian winemaking.

I had a pleasure to taste a number of Villa Torrigiani wines, and my tasting notes are below:

2015 Villa Torrigiani Monte Mezzano Bianco Toscana IGT (13% ABV, 100% Chardonnay, 6 mo in French oak barriques)
C: light golden
N: medium intensity, green apples, touch of vanilla
P: needed about 15 minutes in the glass, opened up nice and plump, vanilla, golden delicious apples, crisp acidity, disputants hint of butter
V: 8-, very nicely made, pleasant

Villa Torrigiani red wines

2015 Villa Torrigiani Chianti DOCG (12.5% ABV, 90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, Stainless steel)
C: garnet
N: fresh, open, medium intensity, caraway seed, touch of sweet cherries
P: fresh, clean, medium body, ripe cherries, touch of cherry peats
V: 7+, needed about 20 minutes to open up and come together, after that delicious all the way through

2012 Villa Torrigiani Chianti Reserva DOCG (13.5% ABV, 90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 12-14 month in barrique, additional 6-8 month large oak botti)
C: dark garnet
N: espresso, sweet oak, ripe plums, tobacco, sweet plums
P: dry, perfect balance, dark fruit, supple cherries, good acidity, medium body, medium finish, fresh and open
V: 8-

2008 Villa Torrigiani San Martino Rosso Toscana IGT (13.5% ABV, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Sangiovese, 12 month barrique, additional 12-14 month in large oak botti)
C: garnet
N: open, inviting, cassis, eucalyptus
P: fresh, playful, polished, layers of dark fruit, cassis, clean acidity, excellent balance. A true delight.
V: 9-, outstanding. I would love to drink this wine every day.

Here you are, my friends. A beautiful estate with a very long history, producing excellent wines. The only challenge we have at the moment is finding these wines in the USA – but hopefully this will change soon. Cheers!

One on One with Winemaker: Don Hagge of Vidon Vineyard

September 16, 2016 10 comments
don tractor

Don Hagge. Source: Vidon Vineyard

What do most people do at the age of 69? Retire, or at least, semi-retire, right? Humans live longer than ever before, and many still have enough energy and desire to continue doing what they are doing. But let me  rephrase the question a bit – how many people do you know who would start a totally new business at the age of 69? Might be a difficult question, I understand. Sure it would be for me, but now I can proudly say that I know at least one person like that. Let me introduce to you Don Hagge.

So what does rocket scientist (with degrees from UC Berkeley in physics and business from Stanford), whose resumé includes Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Centre d’Etude Physiques Nucleare in Paris, Apollo Mission at NASA and Silicon Valley high-tech industry, upon retirement? Of course, starts his own winery! Well, it sounds radical, but considering that Don grew up on a farm in North Dakota, and had an opportunity to live in France and experience wines of Burgundy, maybe it is only logical?

Vicky and Don Hagge started Vidon Vineyard in 1999 in Willamette Valley, in the Chehalem Mountains AVA of Oregon (you can probably figure that name of the winery, Vidon, is made up after Vicky and Don). Fast forward to today, Vidon Vineyard produces primarily Pinot Noir, plus small amounts of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Viognier, Syrah, and Tempranillo. Vidon Vineyard is sustainable, LIVE and Salmon-safe certified, and practices minimal intervention winemaking. Don Hagge not only makes wines, he also plays a role of a handyman when it comes to various winemaking tools and equipment. Plus, he is very opinionated about the use of glass enclosures instead of corks…

In the vineyard

Source: Vidon Vineyard

I had an opportunity to [virtually] sit down with Don Hagge and ask him a few questions, so here you can find our conversation:

TaV: For many years, you had been living and working in California. Why have you decided to build a brand new winery in Oregon and not in California?
DH: I was recruited to Oregon by a venture capitalist as the CEO of a startup semiconductor company. During this time, I biked in the Willamette Valley regularly and loved the vineyards.  Since I lived in France some time ago, Pinot Noir has been a favorite wine. I grew on a farm and decided to make a career change and what could be better than buying land, planting a vineyard and learning how to make wine?  Oregon was gaining a reputation for Pinot Noir so here I am.

TaV: Your very first wines were made in 2002. Do you still have any of those bottles left? If you do, how do they drink today?
DH: Unfortunately, the 2002 vintage is gone. I made only 40 cases and didn’t label it, only for friends and personal use.  We just had a 2006 vintage this evening which is fantastic.

TaV: During all the years of Vidon Vineyard existence, what was the most difficult vintage for you and why?
DH: Probably the 2007 vintage. This was the first year I used my own winery so many things were new. I saw the forecast for heavy weather, got a crew and pulled in 16 tons on September 25th.  Before we finished cleaning the equipment it started raining and didn’t stop for a month.  Most people suffered through the rains and the vintage got a bad rap in the press.  We were lucky – it’s still a beautiful wine!

TaV: For how long do you typically age your Pinot Noir wines in French oak Barrels?
DH: Most of my wine carries the 3-Clones label and gets 11 months in French oak barrels which are on average 30% new. I’m not a fan of big oak in any wine.

TaV: You are an enthusiastic proponent of glass enclosures instead of traditional cork. When did you start using glass enclosures? Also, did you ever try to bottle the same vintage both with glass enclosures and traditional corks and then compare the results of the aging?
DH: Until the 2008 vintage I used corks and usually quite expensive ones. However, I determined that no matter what they cost, they still taint wine because of TCA and pre-oxidize occasionally.  Therefore, in 2008 I began using Stelvin screw caps.  In 2009 I started using Vinoseals for the Single Clone labels.  No, I’ve never done a comparison of cork vs Vinoseal glass closures.  It’s not necessary, I know what corks do and Vinoseals and screw caps don’t do. I don’t understand why anyone uses a closure that ruins a percentage of their wines when there are alternatives that don’t.

TaV: Today, you are producing a number of different white and red wines. Do you have any plans (if not plans, may be at least some thoughts) about starting to produce Rosé and/or Sparkling wines?
DH: I made Rosé for two vintages and one was a great, I was told. I’d like to do a Sparkling but my winery is too small given what I’m now doing. That’s not to say I’m not dreaming of a winery expansion and interested in trying more and different wines.

winery photo at Vidon Vineyard

Vidon Winery. Source: Vidon Vineyard


TaV: Outside of your own wines, which are your favorite Pinot Noir producers in the world?
DH: Good Bourgogne wines are what I like to emulate. The 2004 vintage was the nearest to a great Bourgogne that I’ve made.

TaV: If you would have an opportunity to start your winery again, would you do something different?
DH: Given the resources I had, not much. Perhaps I’d build a better winery instead of an expensive house, but I have a wife.  🙂

TaV: You describe your approach in the vineyard as “minimal intervention”, and your winery is LIVE Certified. Do you have any plans to become certified organic or biodynamic winery?
DH: I’m a scientist and Biodynamic winemaking isn’t scientific. Many of their practices are good, how they treat the land, etc.  But I don’t believe in VooDoo.  I don’t’ believe that Organic Certification results in better wine or land management than what we do in the LIVE program.

TaV: I understand that you have built your own bottling line wine dispenser for the tasting room. What are the other technological tools which you built at your winery?
DH: I don’t think I’ve built anything for winemaking that any good farm boy couldn’t have. I’m always trying to find ways to simplify tasks and become more efficient in using time and material.  I have an idea about saving wine and labor in barrel topping but haven’t implemented it yet.  My use of Flextanks to replace some barrels is already saving wine and labor by eliminating barrel topping while producing wine that’s equivalent to that from barrels.

TaV: You already work with quite a few grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Cab Franc, Syrah). Do you plan to add any other grapes in the vineyard?
DH: No more varieties. No more land to plant.  However, I do hope to plant a small plot of Coury clone Pinot Noir next year. Planting of the clone date back 50 years to the original plantings.

TaV: What drives your passion? You started Vidon vineyards at the age when most of the people are happily retiring, so there must be some deep reason for you to engage in such a – of course, a labor of love – but hard labor?
DH: I like to live. I’m not ready to “stop” and watch TV.  I think having a ToDo list every morning and a little anxiety and stress about getting things done will result in a longer life.  To have no challenges is pretty dull and boring.  When one is doing things that one enjoys, it’s not labor.

What do you say, my friends? This interview continues our Stories of Passion and Pinot series, and I think it is a perfect sequel to the conversation with Ken Wright – Don Hagge exudes the same righteousness, passion, and confidence in everything he does.

And you know what supports Don’s ways and means? His wines! I had an opportunity to try his Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and in a word, I can tell you – what a treat! Two stunning, perfectly balanced and perfectly Burgundian in style – made with passion and care in Oregon.

Vidon Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

Vidon wines - BEE

Vidon wines back labelFor what it worth, here are my notes:

2015 Vidon Vineyard Chardonnay Estate Chehalem Mountains, Oregon (12.9% ABV, $35)
C: golden color
N: initially, very restrained, mostly minerality. After 2 days in the fridge, honey and vanilla, quite spectacular
P: initially tight, minerally and acidic. Two days later – exuberant, golden delicious apples, perfect acidity, vanilla, medium finish. Every sip leaves you craving for more
V: 9, simply outstanding, delicious.

2013 Vidon Vineyard 3 Clones Pinot Noir Estate Chehalem Mountains, Oregon (14.3% ABV, $40)
C: bright Ruby, cranberry undertones
N: inviting, intense, touch of smoke, lavender, red fruit
P: nicely restrained, minerality, crushed red fruit, mouthwatering acidity, fresh, elegant, lots of finesse
V: 9-, outstanding wine, Burgundian style

Here you are, my friends – another story of Passion and Pinot. And I have more for you, so until the next time – cheers!

To be continued…

P.S. This post is a part of the “Stories of Passion and Pinot” series <- click the link for more stories.

And This Is Why I Love Spanish Wines

July 7, 2016 8 comments

Yes. Confessed uncountable number of times, in this blog and everywhere (want proof? Click here, here, here, here or here).

I love Spanish wines. Never tried to hide it, so no, there is nothing to look for in the closet.

Spain is one of the so called “Old World” wine countries, with biggest grape area plantings in the world and one of the highest volumes of the wine production. But of course this is not the reason for my high sentiment towards Spanish wines.  What is important, however, that if we will take 10 random wines produced in any country, in about the same price range, I will find the most of the wines to my liking out of those hypothetical 10 among Spanish wines – compare to any other region. Another equally important point for me is the value – Spanish wines offer one of the best values in the world; not only that – they are possibly the best QPR wines in the world. For example, if you will compare 1964 Rioja, which is still perfectly drinkable today and still can be found for less than $150, to majority of the wines of the similar age but from the other regions, most of them will not come anywhere close in the amount of pleasure they deliver, never mind the cost.

And then we have to talk about innovation and drive forward. Spanish wines are not standing still. Styles are changing, wine quality is improving, new and unexpected grapes are made into delicious wines. To make this conversation more practical, let me share with you some of my recent Spanish wine encounters.

Today, Albariño needs no introduction. The star white grape of the Rias Baixas region in Northern Spain is known to produce wines with explosive acidity and profile of salinity, which makes them an ideal companion to oysters and anything seafood for that matter. While Albariño wines are generally very good, there is one word I would rarely associate with them – finesse. Or at least I was not, until I had an opportunity to try these two Albariño.

2014 Bodegas LA VAL Albariño Rias Baixas D.O. (12% ABV, SRP $17, 2 month sur lie) had greenish/straw pale color; intense and open nose of minerals, wet stone and lemon. On the palate, the wine was plump with invigorating acidity, intense lemon finish, crisp, fresh – excellent overall (Drinkability: 8).
2014 Viña Moraima Albariño Rias Baixas D.O. (12.5% ABV, SRP $19, 7 month sur lie) had light golden color. Nose was very unusual, with candied lemon, intense, tropical, guava notes. On the palate, the wine showed remote hint of sweetness, full body, round and layered with hint of salinity, good acidity. This was definitely the next level of Albariño, thought provoking and different. (Drinkability: 8)

As you can see, Albariño is really starting to deliver on the next level, and I can’t wait to see how far it can go. What is interesting, however, is that all of the best Spanish white wines – to my knowledge, of course – are made from the indigenous varieties – Albariño, Godello, Verdejo and Viura would be the “major four”. The situation is slightly different for the reds, where the local stars, Tempranillo and Garnacha, are joined by the international best, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Going back to the whites, outside of some experimental plantings, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are nowhere to be found in Spain, yes? Well, that would be my statement as of the month ago, but not anymore.

Enters Hacienda de Arínzano. Having tasted recently Hacienda de Arínzano Rosé, which was outstanding, I know that Pago de Arínzano, first Pago (highest denomination of quality in Spain) in Northern Spain, can produce excellent wines. Still, this 2014 Hacienda de Arínzano Chardonnay Pago de Arínzano DOP (13.5% ABV, SRP $19.99, 100% Chardonnay. 12 month French oak barrels – 30% new) far exceeded my expectations. From the first smell the wine in the glass was screaming “Chardonnay” – touch of vanilla, hint of golden delicious apples, just classic Chardonnay. The palate reaffirmed the “classic Chardonnay” impression – fresh, open, creamy, with perfectly balanced white fruit, vanilla, distant hint of butter, perfect amount of acidity – a delicious world-class Chardonnay which I would be glad to drink at any time – and almost a steal at this price. Drinkability: 8+.

Rioja Beronia ReservaWe talked about new wines and new styles. Let’s talk about quality now – well, not the quality per se, but let’s talk about changing mindset. If you would ask me “should I open 5 years old Rioja Reserva”, my immediate answer would be “absolutely not – give it at least another 5 years to enjoy it fully”. By law, Rioja Reserva has to spend at least 1 year aging in the barrel, and most of the producers age it for much longer, so the resulting wines typically should be given ample time in the bottle to evolve. But once again I was proven wrong. I opened the bottle of 2011 Bodegas Beronia Rioja Reserva (14% ABV, SRP $21, 94% Tempranillo, 4% Graciano, 2% Mazuelo, 18 month in barrel, 20 month in the bottle) and was absolutely blown away. Concentrated nose of dark fruit, cigar box and eucalyptus was supported by bright, dense, perfectly structured palate, with dark fruit and touch of sweet oak. This was definitely one of the best PnP (Pop ‘n Pour) wines I ever experienced, and a nice surprise. Drinkability: 8+

Coto de Imaz Rioja

I want to mention one more beautiful Rioja wine – this one with a bit more age on it. I like it when I have a reason to open a nice bottle of wine, which otherwise would be still laying down and waiting for the “perfect moment”. The special reason was my son’s high school graduation, and as he was born in 1998, this was the first 1998 bottle I pulled out of the wine fridge (well, I’m not telling all the truth – this was the one I knew the exact location of).

To begin with, I was impressed with the state of the cork on this 18 years old wine – it was perfect, showing literally no age on it whatsoever. 1998 Coto de Imaz Rioja Reserva (13% ABV, 100% Tempranillo) still had enough freshness on the nose, with the notes of ripe plum, and the palate had ripe fruit with the distant hint of sweetness without any tertiary aromas, good acidity, medium to full body and excellent balance. I’m sure this wine would go on happily for many years. Drinkability: 8+

Okay, we are done here. Do you think I explained my passion for Spanish wines well enough? Great wines, great values, great QPRs, and lots and lots of pleasure – what is not to love? If you had any of the wines I mentioned here, I would love to know your opinion. Until the next time – cheers!

New and Noteworthy: Two Classic Regions, Three Classic Pairs

June 4, 2016 4 comments

I tend to abuse certain words in the conversation, especially when talking on the subject of wine. As you might easily guess, one of such words is “Classic”. I use this word in hope that it is the quickest way to convey my impressions about the wine. For instance, the words “Classic Red Bordeaux” or “Classic White Burgundy” would most likely paint a quick and vivd picture for the most of oenophiles to imagine how the wine actually tastes. While the wine is produced all around the world, such a broad stroke reference can be only applied to the well known and well referred to regions – saying “Classic Red Bio-Bio” (wienmaking region in Chile) or “Classic White Valais” (winemakiing region in Switzerland) would be an empty sound for majority of the wine lovers.

Looking past the regions, we can also apply the word “classic” to the grapes themselves. There are probably 15-20 grapes which can be easily referred to in this way – “classic Cabernet Sauvignon” or “Classic Sauvignon Blanc”, for example, would give you quick pointers to how the wine might taste like. Yes, “Classic Bobal” or “Classic Resi” will leave most of us with no information at all.

As this is not an epistolary exercise on the applications of the word “Classic” in the wine world, let’s get closer to the subject at hand, and talk about few wines in the practical terms. Today I want to talk about 2 classic regions and 3 classic grapes – for sure for those regions. So the classic regions are: California and Oregon. Would you agree that it is easy to refer to these two world renowned winemaking regions as “Classic”? I hope you are nodding. And for the grapes, I also hope you would share my “classic” sentiment – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from California Napa Valley – aha, I see you smacking your lips. And Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris from Oregon – need I say more?

Talking about the wines from Oregon, the Pinot Noir is of course an uncontested king of the Pacific Northwest of the USA. Commercial Pinot Noir production in Oregon started in the 1960s, and then from the beginning of the 1990s, Pinot Noir from Oregon needed no introduction anymore. With Oregon Pinot Gris, you might argue with my “classic” designation, however, today, you will practically not find a single Oregon winery which will not produce Pinot Gris. Oregon Pinot Gris has its own, easily recognizable style and character, so in my mind, Pinot Gris wines are the “classic” element of the Oregon winemaking.

Thus let me present to you the first two of the “classic” pairs – Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir from two wineries in Oregon: Willamette Valley Vineyards and Pike Road Wines.

Willamette Valley Vineyards was established in 1983, planting Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay vines where blackberries and plums were growing before. The original Estate vineyard spans 53 acres at the 500 to 750 feet in elevation. Today, Willamette Valley vineyards farms more than 250 acres of vines, including one of the oldest in Oregon, Tualatin Estate, which are all LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) certified. I had a pleasure of trying Willamette Valley Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir wines earlier in the year, so here are my notes:

2014 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, Oregon (12.4% ABV, SRP: $16)
C: straw pale
N: white stone fruit, touch of grass
P: hint of candied lemon, white stone fruit, nicely round, refreshing, good acidity, medium to full body
V: 7+/8-, very pleasant

2013 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Willamette Valley, Oregon (13.7% ABV, SRP: $30, retail: ~$20)
C: beautiful Ruby
N: fragrant, fresh, cranberries with touch of cherries, sweet raspberries
P: wow, lots of fresh fruit – cranberries, raspberries, fresh, super-clean, touch herbal, great restrained finish
8+, one of the most delicious Pinot ever, perfect.

Our second Oregon winery takes its name from the Pike Road, which winds through the hills of Yamhill-Carlton AVA. This is the second winery for the Campbell family, who founded Elk Cove Vineyards in 1974. Pike Road takes advantage of 5 generations of the farming experience, including 40 years of tending the wines.

Pike Road Wines Oregon

Here are my notes:

2015 Pike Road Pinot Gris Willamette Valley, Oregon (13.5% ABV, SRP: $15)
C: pale greenish color
N: tropical fruit, candied lemon, fresh, intense, inviting
P: crisp, clean, perfect fresh acidity and white stone fruit, creamy. Outstanding.
V: 8-/8, delicious white wine, perfect year around and superb during summer

2014 Pike Road Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon (13.5% ABV, SRP: $19, 10 month in French oak barrels)
C: dark Ruby
N: delicious. Touch of sweet fruit, open, inviting, raspberries, herbs, super-promising, wow
P: soft, layered, silky, spices on top of traditional smokey profile, triple-wow
V: 8+/9-, wow, totally unexpected and amazing. I know Oregon Pinot delivers, but this far exceeded my expectations. Might be the best QPR for Oregon Pinot Noir in existence. Love rustic labels too.

Our last classic pair comes from the classic of the classics, none less than Napa Valley, and it is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Artesa winery. Artesa winery is located in Carneros region of Napa Valley. While Artesa recently celebrated is 25th vintage, their winemaking traditions go way, way, way back – say by another [almost] 500 years. How come? Artesa winery was founded by Codorniu Raventós family from Spain, which takes its winemaking heritage 17 generations back to the 1551. Artesa sustainably farms 150 acres of vines, all Napa Green Land certified, and produces a range of wines, starting with a few sparklers and finishing with another Napa classic – Cabernet Sauvignon. Two wines which I had an opportunity to taste are the new Estate Reserve release from the winery:

Artesa Napa Valley

2013 Artesa Estate Reserve Chardonnay Napa Valley (13.9% ABV, SRP: $40)
C: light golden
N: touch of vanilla, hint of butter, white fruit, intense
P: touch of butter, green apples, good acidity, medium to full body, vibrant and balanced
V: 8-, a classic Chardonnay

2013 Artesa Estate Reserve Pinot Noir Napa Valley (14.4% ABV, SRP: $40)
C: dark garnet
N: warm, inviting, sweet plums
P: round, polished, present silky texture, touch of smoke, more plums, minerality, restrained
V: 8-, nice, smooth and restrained

There you have it, my friends – some new and interesting wines worth seeking. And whether they will hit the “classic” note for you – it is entirely your decision. Cheers!

5 Highlights and Hundreds of Wines

October 1, 2015 11 comments

Copain Syrah Les Voisins Yorkville HighlandsLast weekend I attended a trade wine tasting – my first and pretty much the last for this year. My schedule simply didn’t align to do more, but may be it is even for the better?

I’m sure that most of the people see it very simply – “wine tasting = fun”. I tried many times to explain in this blog that “wine tasting  = hard, tiring work” – no doubts 9 out of 10 people point to this statement and start laughing – but this is totally fine with me.

The tasting was organized by one of the Connecticut wholesalers – Worldwide Wines, to showcase all the new arrivals from the wineries and importers they represent in the state. According to the invitation, about 1,000 wines, beers and spirits were offered in the tasting. Duration of the event? 3.5 hours. Which simply means, if you want to taste them all, you have to move at a speed of roughly 5 wines/beers/spirits per minute. Yep, 5 per minute, 12 seconds each.

Of course nobody is trying to taste them all – you have to come with the plan. As I’m not operating a retail business, my plan was simple – to taste best of the best, simply based on the names. I mean no disrespect, but it means that Heitz takes precedence over Castle Rock, same way as Gaja would go over Cavit. This year, I managed to complete my plan quite successfully – you will see tasting notes below. At the end of these 3.5 hours I was really, really tired – but hey, it was worth it.

I managed to try close to 200 wines (including some spirits – no beer though), out of which I will share with you a bit more than a 100 – the wines which I really liked (yep, there were a lot). As this will be a very long list, I will first try to come up with 5 main highlights, before leaving you with bunch of wines to scroll through. But even before we get there, I can tell you that pretty much anything we tasted from California from 2012 vintage was excellent; there were 3 Gaja wines present in the tasting, and they were delicious, with Gaja Chardonnay, Rossj-Bass, being off the charts; for the first time I tried line of Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Nickel & Nickel, and they were very good; also for the first time (consistently missed it from a year to a year), I tried Darioush line of wines, and they were excellent. Now, for the promised 5 highlights, here we go:

  1. California Chardonnays are back! Well, this is a personal statement, of course. Over the past 4-5 years, I developed a tendency to avoid California Chardonnays in any tastings – I find all that  “unoaked” stuff boring. I’m not looking for the “oak bombs” as they were called in the past, but I like my Chardonnays with vanilla, touch of butter and some weight on the palate. This year, out of the 10-12 Chardonnays which I tasted, there was not a single one I didn’t like. Of course I had some preferences, but still, as a group, they were outstanding. You will see the list of all Chardonnays I had a pleasure of tasting in the list below.
  2. There were lots and and lots of red wines I tasted at the event, many of them of the cult status – Sassicaia, Heitz, Shafer, Joseph Phelps and others. They were all excellent wines, but still, my absolute favorite red wine of the tasting was Copain Les Voisins Syrah Yorkville Highlands ($24.95) – the wine had stunning clarity of the Syrah, with pepper and restrained earthy profile.
  3. My top pick for the white wines might be even more surprising – Villa Wolf Gewurztraminer Pfalz, Germany ($10.49!!). I personally consider Gewurztraminer a very difficult grape to do right, for sure for my palate – this wine had such a beautiful balance of spiciness, fruit and acidity, it was simply a perfect sip in the glass. There is yet another highlight which goes to the white wines. Talking about a “group”, 5 white wines from Abbazia di Novacella in Alto Adige in Italy, where literally one better than another – every sip got a “wow” reaction – Kerner, Gruner Veltliner, Sylvaner, Sauvignon Blanc – one better that the other, literally. Abbazia di Novacella Alto Adige
  4. Not a revelation for me anymore, but still something to ponder at – there are amazing spirits made in the USA. Case in point – St. George Spirits from Alameda, California. You know, I don’t drink vodka at all, as it has no taste, and here I absolutely loved Green Chile Vodka from St. George. And then there was Gin, Absinthe, Coffee liquor  – one “wow” after another. I want to include here their motto, as written on the web site: “We don’t distill to meet your expectations, we distill to exceed your imagination“. Yep.
  5. Last highlight is more of a note to self – “don’t drink Port in a middle of tasting”. For sure if it is a Heitz Ink Grade Port. Okay, let me explain. Generally people have a tendency to leave tasting of the sweet wines “for later”, just to make it easier for the palate. Problem is that by the time you decide to go back to those dessert wines, the tasting is way over. When it comes to the Heitz Ink Grade Port, I heard that it is amazing, but equally powerful, so it is better to leave it “for later” – thus I never tasted it before. This time around, I said “that’s it – I’m tasting it now”. Boy, what a mistake. The Heitz Port is a very interesting wine, made from 6 noble Portuguese grapes, typically used in production of the Port – of course this time growing in California, at one of the Heitz vineyards. This Port was delicious, but it had tremendous power of tannins, multiplied by the factor of the sweet dried fruit, all together shutting down your palate for good. I was desperately searching for the chunk of Parmesan, as I don’t think anything else can restore your palate in such a case. So yes, it was delicious – but I’m not drinking it again in a middle of the tasting…

As promised, those were my highlights. From here on, prepare to be inundated with my brief notes on lots and lots of wines. I used the “+” system for rating, and I didn’t include practically any wines with the “++” rating (there might be one or two). Also, lots of wines were absolutely exceptional, so they got the “++++” ratings. Last explanation: the price in the brackets is so called Connecticut minimal bottle price – the state of Connecticut dictates minimum price at which the wine can be sold to the consumers – retailers are not allowed to go any lower than that “min bottle” price. Therefore, it is likely that prices in many stores in Connecticut will be higher than what I included here. It is also quite possible that you can find lower prices in other states. Lastly, I tried to group the wines mostly by the grape type and/or type, to make it easier for you to navigate. Hope you will find this list useful.

Here we go:

Sparkling Wines:
NV Charles Heidsieck Brut ($55.99) – ++++, yeasty!!
NV Champagne Barons de Rothschild Rosé ($99.99) – +++, excellent
NV Champagne Duval Leroy Premier Cru ($45) – +++1/2, perfect balance
NV Champagne Duval Leroy Rosé ($59.99) – +++

2013 Calera Central Coast Chardonnay ($19.99) – +++
2013 Laetitia Chardonnay Estate, Arroyo Grande ($15.49) – ++++
2013 Copain Tous Ensemble Chardonnay Anderson Valley ($18.99) – ++++, beautiful
2013 Darioush Signature Chardonnay Napa Valley ($37.99) – ++++
2013 Far Niente EnRoute Chardonnay ($39.99) – +++, very nice
2013 Flanagan Chardonnay Russian River Valley – +++
2014 Heitz Wine Cellars Chardonnay ($24.99) – +++, great acidity
2014 FARM Napa Valley Chardonnay ($18.99) – +++, nice, bread notes
2014 Hooker “Breakaway” Chardonnay Knights Valley ($14.99) – +++, great QPR
2013 Merryvale Chardonnay Napa Valley ($24.99) – ++++, wow! classic!
2014 Crossbarn Chardonnay Sonoma ($21.99) – +++, perfect
2013 Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Russian River ($38.99) – ++++, beautiful, vanilla, wow!

2013 Maison Roche de Bellene Bourgogne Blanc Vieilles Vignes ($18.99) – ++++, Chablis-like, great minerality and gunflint

2013 Gaja Rossj-Bass Langhe ($77.99) – ++++

Cabernet Sauvignon and blends, California:
2012 Darioush Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($99.99) – ++++, beautiful
2012 Darioush Signature Merlot Napa Valley ($45.99) – ++++, excellent
2012 Darioush Caravan Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – +++1/2
2012 Darioush Signature Cabernet Franc Napa Valley ($46.99) – ++++, excellent

2012 Nickel & Nickel CC Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon ($79.99) – ++1/2, tannic
2012 Nickel & Nickel Quarry Cabernet Sauvignon ($79.99) – +++, clean, excellent
2012 Nickel & Nickel Sullenger Cabernet Sauvignon ($79.99) – +++, excellent

2012 Flanagan Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County ($68.99) – +++, nice

2010 Heitz Wine Cellars Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($45.99) – +++1/2
2009 Heitz Wine Cellars Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($63.99) – ++++, clean, excellent
2006 Heitz Wine Cellars Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($59.99) – ++++, excellent
2010 Heitz Wine Cellars Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($174.99) – ++++, powerful
2009 Heitz Wine Cellars Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($174.99) – ++++, beautiful

2012 Honig Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($35.99)- +++1/2
2012 Honig Bartolucci Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($62.49) – ++++, beautifully refined

2012 Hoopes Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon ($49.99) – +++, nice

2012 Joseph Phelps Insignia ($189.99) – +++
2012 Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon ($55.99) – +++

2011 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon, Hillside Select, Stags Leap District ($178.49) – +++1/2, excellent

2012 Hooker “Old Boys” Cabernet Sauvignon Na[pa Valley ($29.99) – +++, nice

2013 Venge Scout’s Honor Proprietary Red, Napa Valley ($31.99) – +++1/2, delicious!
2013 Venge Silencieux Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($36.49) – ++++, beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon

2010 Merryvale Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($49.99) – +++, very good

2011 Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon Napa ($94.99) – +++1/2
2011 Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon Dr Crane Beckstoffer ($128.99) – ++++, wow!

2013 Pine Ridge Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($49.99) – +++1/2, very clean

2012 Hanna Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley ($29.99) – +++, herbal

Pinot Noir:
2013 Calera Central Coast Pinot Noir ($24.99) – +++1/2, very nice
2012 Calera deVilliers Vineyard, Mt Harlan Pinot Noir (34.99) – +++1/2, nice balance
2012 Calera Ryan Vineyards, Mt Harlan Pinot Noir ($36.99) – +++

2013 Laetitia Pinot Noir Estate, Arroyo Grande ($19.99) – +++
2013 Laetitia Pinot Noir Reserve du Domaine (32.00) – ++++

2013 Copain Tous Ensemble Pinot Noir Adderson Valley ($23.99) – ++++, wow
2012 Copain Les Voisins Pinot Noir Anderson Valley ($28.99) – ++++, delicious, elegant!

2012 Wild Ridge Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($40) – +++, wow! concentrated!

2011 Merryvale Pinot Noir Napa Valley ($29.99) – +++1/2, classic CA Pinot

2012 Foley Pinot Noir, Rancho Santa Rosa Estate ($32.99) – +++1/2

2013 Siduri Willammette Valley, Oregon ($24) – +++, excellent
2013 Archery Summit Premier Cuvee Pinot Noir ($35.99) – ++++, beautiful
2012 Archery Summit Red Hills Estate Pinot Noir ($59.99) – ++++

2011 Maison Roche de Bellene Bourgogne Rouge Vieilles Vignes ($18.99) – +++
2011 Maison Roche de Bellene Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes ($38.99) – +++1/2

White Wines:
2014 Heitz Wine Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($16.49) – +++1/2, excellent, clean
2014 Honig Sauvignon Blanc ($15.49) – +++, delicately balanced
2013 Honig Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc ($19.99) – +++, nice, complex
2013 Merryvale Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($19.99) – +++, beautiful!

2013 Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris ($18.99) – +++, nice

2014 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner Alto Adige ($19.99) – ++++, wow! acidity!
2014 Abbazia di Novacella Gruner Veltliner Alto Adige ($19.99) – ++++, wow!
2014 Abbazia di Novacella Sauvignon Blanc Alto Adige ($19.99) – ++++, wow!
2014 Abbazia di Novacella Sylvaner Alto Adige ($19.99) – ++++, wow!
2013 Abbazia di Novacella Praepositus Kerner Alto Adige ($25.99) – ++++, wow!

2012 La Monacesca Verdicchio di Matelica 750ml 2012 12 $144.00 $12.99
2012 La Monacesca Verdicchio di Matelica Mirum 750ml 2012 12 $224.00 $19.99

2013 Villa Wolf Pinot Gris Pfalz ($11.99) – ++++, wow! clean
2014 Villa Wolf Gewurztraminer Pfalz ($10.49) – ++++, wow! beautifully balanced!

2012 Maximin Grunhause Riesling Feinherb Mosel ($15.99) – ++++, petrol!
2014 Dr Loosen Riesling Kabinett Blue Slate Mosel ($14.99) – ++++, beautiful, bright fruit

Red Wines:
2012 Copain Tous Ensemble Syrah Mendocino County ($18.51) – +++, nice, a bit too simplistic
2011 Copain Les Voisins Syrah Yorkville Highlands ($24.99) – ++++, oustanding

2012 Shafer Relentless, Napa Valley ($84.99) – +++, very good

2012 St. Francis Reserve Merlot ($39.99) – +++
2012 St. Francis Reserve Old Vines Zinfandel ($39.99) – +++1/2

2014 Lawer “Knights Valley” Syrah Rosé ($17.99) – ++++, outstanding
2010 Hooker “Blindside” Zinfandel California ($13.99) – +++, good
2011 Hooker “Home Pitch” Syrah Knights Valley ($12.99) – +++

2012 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia ($174.99) – +++, clean, balanced, wow
2013 Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto ($44.99) – +++, beautiful Cabernet-like

2010 Tenuta di Biserno ($149.99) – +++
2012 Tenuta di Biserno Il Pino di Biserno ($59.99) – +++, herbal profile

2012 Ornellaia Le Serre Nuove Bolgheri ($50.99) – +++1/2

2012 Gaja Ca’Marcanda Magari Bolgheri ($69.99) – +++
2010 Gaja DaGromis Barolo ($71.99) – ++++

2008 Masi Riserva di Costasera Amarone della Valpolicella ($51.00) – +++
2008 VAIO Serego Alghieri Amarone della Valpolicella ($69.99) – +++, outstanding
2006 Masi Mazzano Amarone della Valpolicella ($116.00) – ++, somewhat disappointing for the single-vineyard Masi

2008 Marchesi di Fumanelli Amarone del Valpolicella ($54.49) – ++++, delicious, sweet fruit
2007 Marchesi di Fumanelli Octavius Amarone del Valpolicella Riserva ($100.99) – +++, nice

2012 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Rosso, Umbria ($19.99) – +++1/2, powerful
2013 Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino ($22.99) – +++, simple, nice
2012 Feudo Maccari Saia Nero D’Avola ($26.99) – +++, great minerality

2012 Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Chile ($16.99) – +++
2012 Los Vascos Carmenere Reserve Chile ($16.99) – +++

2011 Antigal UNO Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, Argentina ($15.99) – +++, nice, classic

2009 Elderton Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Barossa, Australia ($57.99)- ++++, beautiful
2009 Elderton Command Shiraz Barossa, Australia ($73.95) – ++++, beautiful, roasted notes
2013 Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon McLaren Vale, Australia ($29.99) – +++, perfect

2008 Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande, Douro, Portugal ($14.99) – +++1/2 – delicious
2012 Crasto Old Vine Reserva, Douro, Portugal ($34.99) – +++

2012 Chateau Musar Jeune Rouge, Lebanon ($15.99) – +++1/2, excellent
2007 Chateau Musar Rouge, Lebanon ($N/A) – +++1/2, beautiful

2012 Domaine de Beaurenard Rasteau ($17.99)- +++
2012 Domaine de Beaurenard Boisrenard Chateauneuf du Pape ($49.99) – +++, green
2013 M. Chapoutier La Bernardine ($39.99) – +++

2011 Chateau Moulin de Duhart Pauillac ($38.99) – +++
2009 Chateau La Grave a Pomerol ($55.99) – +++
2009 Blason de L’Evangile Pomerol ($74.99) – ++++

2012 Perrin Cotes du Rhone Nature Organic ($9.99) – ++1/2, an outstanding QPR for an organic red wine
2012 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge ($79.99) – +++

2011 Rust en Vrede Estate Stellenbosch, South Africa ($32.99) – +++1/2
2010 Anthonij Rupert Optima Western Cape South Africa ($26.99) – +++1/2

Dessert wines:
2013 Donnafugata Ben Rye ($30.99) – +++, very nice
NV Heitz Wine Cellars Ink Grade Port ($27.99) – ++++, wow!

St. George Green Chile Vodka ($22.49) – flavor is stunning, with clear presence of Jalapeño and other green earthy peppers. Sipping
St. George California Citrus Vodka ($22.49) – another wow flavor, smooth and delicious
St. George Botanivore Gin ($27.25) – mellow with super-complexity. May be the best gin I ever tasted. Definitely sipping quality
St. George NOLA Coffee Liqueur ($27.25) – good morning, sir. Here is your coffee, extra strong.
St. George Absinthe Verte ($22, 200 ml) – find it and try it, as I can’t describe it. This is first absinthe produced in US after Prohibition. Would gladly drink it at any time.

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, #MWWC17 Reminder, Chardonnay Day and more

May 20, 2015 5 comments

Tawny Owl. Source: Wikipedia

Meritage time!

Let’s start with the answer to the wine quiz #118 – What Is It?

In that quiz, you were given a picture of the bird (an owl), and the request was to identify the connection between the bird and the wine world.

I have to say that a number of people had very good answers, suggesting that owls are used to protect vineyards against various kinds of rodents, obviously in a natural way. However, this was not the answer I was looking for. The particular type of owl is called Tawny Owl, and it is the color of its feathers that gave the name to the Tawny Port. As the Tawny Port ages, the color of the wine becomes reminiscent of the Tawny Owl coloring, hence the name.

I’m glad to report that we have two winners: Margot from Gather and Graze and Gwain609 of Oz’s Travels – they both identified the owl as a Tawny Owl and suggested that “Tawny” is the key word we are looking for here. They both get the usual price of unlimited bragging rights. Well done!

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

First of all, I want to remind everyone that Monthly Wine Writing Challenge number 17 (#MWWC17) with the theme “Epiphany” is in the full swing! There had been a number of entries submitted, and everyone who didn’t submit one yet (you know who you are!) is very much encouraged to participate. For all the official rules and regulations please use this link.

Next, we got a few of the grape and wine region holidays to celebrate  – I’m sure you don’t need a reason to open a bottle of wine, but those holidays solve the problem of choice. Today, I got 3 of them for you. Tomorrow, May 21st, is a Chardonnay Day! Chardonnay needs no introduction – the grape is successfully grown all over the world, a hallmark of Burgundy, Champagne, California and practically any other wine growing country and the region. You should have no problems finding the good bottle to open, and then sharing your thoughts in the social media using the hash tag #ChardonnayDay.

Next we have two distinct regions celebrating its heritage in May – May is an Oregon Wine Month and also an Aussie Wine Month! Oregon today is a lot more than just a Pinot Noir, and Australia is a lot more than just a Shiraz – lots of wonderful wines are made in both places, so you will have no issues finding excellent authentic wines to drink for the next 10 days.

Last but not least for today – the new danger for your wallet had just became a reality. Well, no, I’m not talking about some elaborate wine scam or a new series of emails with unbeatable business proposals from Africa. Last Bottle Wines, one of my favorite purveyors of the fine wines at the value prices, finally joined the 21st century and announced availability of the Last Bottle App for the iPhone – here are the details. Now you can be notified of all the new offerings and will have a better chance to react to them. If you are still not a customer of Last Bottle Wines, I will be glad to be your reference – yes, I will get a $20 credit after your first purchase, and you will get $5 credit on that same purchase – but then you will be able to sign up your friends. And, of course, to thank me again and again. You can click here to sign up for the Last Bottle Wines account.

And we are done here. The glass is empty – but the refill is on its way! Cheers!

Finally, I’m a Convert

August 24, 2014 13 comments

Yes, this will be a post about the wine – what did you think I will be writing about? I completely changed my perception of one wine region, so convert or not, but this is what this post is all about.

Don’t know about you, but when I visit the wine region and wineries in it, I generally come with certain set of expectations, a perceived notion if you will. These perceived notions usually are very opposite and have no middle ground. Perceived notion number one – visiting many wineries, I generally expect to find a lot of wines which I will like, and a few which I will not care for. This would be true for many wine regions in California – Napa, Sonoma, Santa Barbara – but not all of them (for instance, Temecula is not included in that list). Perceived notion number two – I will not care for the most wines I will be tasting, but if I’m lucky, there might be a few wines which I will like. Connecticut wine region would be a good example of this second group – but we will talk about it later in a separate post.

Of course both of this perceived notions are founded based on the prior experience with the wines of the region, both at the winery and outside. It is easy to build – just visit a few wineries, where you don’t like the wines, or buy a few bottles in the store which you will not care for, and that’s enough to label the whole region as “not my thing”. Once the perceived notion is born, it is very hard to overcome and change. I agree that this sounds very shortsighted, but this is how we are [very commonly] wired – try something once, don’t like it (think about first time your mom forced you to eat broccoli), and you might be set in your “unlove” for life. This “tried this, didn’t like it, never again” type of attitude is never practically helpful around food and wine, as it prevents us from having great experiences. This perceived notion is hard to get rid of –  but not impossible if you are willing to take an “open mind” approach – try and try again, until a specific experience will trigger the change.

Okay, done with the philosophical intro, let’s get to the conversion details. The region I finally changed my view on is Finger Lakes. During multiple visits over the few years, I kept trying and trying new wineries, only to come up to the same resolution every time – “nope, not my wine” – and that included even Riesling, which is considered the signature wine of the Finger Lakes region. Then I discovered wines of Fox Run and Dr. Konstantin Frank, which created a crack in my preconceived notion. The Finger Lakes #winechat I took part of in May, made the crack wider. But what made me to change the whole perception were the wines of Villa Bellangelo.

Villa Bellangelo is a small producer, located in a close proximity to the Seneca Lake. The family owned winery produces a number of different Rieslings, as well as Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Merlot and other wines. About two month ago, I received a sample set of wines form the Villa Bellangelo, 5 bottles of Riesling and a bottle of Chardonnay. As I mentioned in some other posts, while samples sound great (“yay, free wine!”), to me they are more challenging to deal with than the regular wines I buy. I would not crack a sample bottle just casually in the evening – I need to make sure I can give it my undivided attention and spend time with the wine – thus it often takes me quite some time to find the right opportunity. Finally, the moment presented itself and I opened the first bottle of Riesling. Pour, sniff – delicious, take a sip – wow. Clean and beautiful Riesling, perfectly fitting my definition of “classic Riesling”. Next bottle, then next – all 5 Rieslings and the Chardonnay delivered lots of pleasure, sip after sip, bottle after bottle. 6 out of 6? I think this is very convincing performance, hence the title of this post and yes, the change in the perceived notion.

For what it worth, here are the notes on all 6 wines:

2012 Villa Bellangelo Dry Riesling Finger Lakes (12.3% ABV, $19) – Color is lighter than straw pale. On the nose, great Riesling aromatics, classic, honeysuckle, pear, fresh apple. palate is dry, clean, great acidity, very light, green apple, super-refreshing, present minerality, short finish. A wine of a great quality. Drinkability: 8-/8

2013 Villa Bellangelo Dry Riesling Seneca Lake Finger Lakes (11.3% ABV, $19) – Beautiful nose of the white stone fruit, hint of honeydew sweetness. Perfectly balanced on the palate, crisp acidity, minerality, touch of green apple. Excellent overall. Drinkability: 8

2012 Villa Bellangelo Semi-Dry Riesling Finger Lakes (11% ABV, $19) – Nice straw color. Pleasant nose of white apples and touch of apricot. Palate exhibits good acidity, good balance, hint of sweetness and white stone fruit. This wine is showing better once it warms up a bit (not straight from the fridge), which I find interesting. Drinkability: 8-

2013 Villa Bellangelo Semi-Dry Riesling Finger Lakes (10.8% ABV, $N/A) – Open nose of apricot and white peaches. Palate has nice level of sweetness, supported by good acidity. Very refreshing and a pleasure to drink. Drinkability: 8-/8

2012 Villa Bellangelo 1866 Reserve Riesling Finger Lakes (11% ABV, $32) – This wine is a dedication to the Dr. Byron Spence, who in 1866 planted 20 acres of the sloping western hills of Seneca Lake with the wine grapes. This vineyard is where the Villa Bellangelo makes their best wines from, hence the 1866 in the name of the wine.

The wine had a beautiful light golden color. Classic Riesling nose, with honeysuckle, white peach, apricot, all very subdued and delicate; touch of minerality. On the palate, apricot notes together with a touch of the apricot pit bite, touch of white apple, clean and vibrant acidity, present minerality, perfect balanced and nice complexity on the finish. Drinkability: 8/8+

2012 Villa Bellangelo Chardonnay Finger Lakes (13.8% ABV, $20) – Outstanding. Perfect Chablis-like, complex nose – minerality, distant hint of gunflint, touch of fresh apple. Palate is clean, balanced, with white apple and vanilla notes, vibrant acidity. Drinkability: 8

There you have it, my friends. One winery, which finally did it for me. Now Finger Lakes is squarely on my “yes, I love those wines” list. I don’t know what is your opinion about Finger Lakes wines, but if you were like me, find some Bellangelo wines and see if they will make you a convert. Cheers to the great wine discoveries!

Daily Glass: Wine, Beautiful and Different

February 27, 2014 7 comments

Have you ever caught yourself using the same expression over and over again, to the point of being annoyed with oneself, but not been able to do anything about it? One of my expressions, pretty much a single word, is “beautiful”. Yes, of course I mean it in the wine context. The best case scenarios include the first “wow” once your nose encounters the aroma exuding from the glass, connecting to the “wow, this is beautiful” after the first sip, when aroma and bouquet altogether transform into a beautiful (oops, sorry), memorable experience. Yes, I know, reading the wine reviews consisting of “wow, this is beautiful” notes is somewhat pointless, and if it draws your ire, feel free to take it out in the comments section below – but I have to say it when it happens.

The wine I’m talking about today was exactly like that. I got this bottle from a friend back in October. The wine is made by his father in Sicily – a small family production, for all I understand. One consequence is the fact that there is no information available on internet – and the bottle doesn’t have a back label, so I can only share my impressions. But – it was a beautiful wine.

Contrada Santa Croce Chardonnay Grillo

The color of this 2012 Contrada Santa Croce Casteltermini Sicilia Cuvée Artisanale Chardonnay Grillot (13.5% ABV) was intense yellow with an orange hue – I don’t think the wine was aged in oak, but it was definitely fermented on the lees, and probably was aged on the lees for a good few month, to have such an intense color. It was also showing a bit cloudy in the glass – I can assume it was unfiltered.

And then there was was the nose. You know, that aroma which you can commonly pick up on many wines from Sicily –  the volcanic soils, the touch of sun and minerals, inviting and promising, with hint of lemon zest. And then the palate. Totally unique. Starting from light, dry, almost effervescent midpalate feel. Then showing mature fruit, apricot and apricot pit, finishing with mouthwatering acidity, prickling sides of the tongue with fresh lemon notes. One sip inviting another. Until the wine is gone, and you are left with the memory.

Let’s drink for the beautiful wines and people making them. Cheers!