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Second Dozen (And Some) of 2012

December 28, 2012 14 comments

DSC_1866 Battonage ChardonnayAnywhere you look, people are summing up their experiences for the year which will become history in the mere 5 days. “The best thing I did last year”, “the best thing I ate”, “the best trip I took”, “the best picture” and so on and so forth.

This very blog is not an exception to that “the best thing I had” phenomenon. I have my top dozen wines summarized for 2010 and 2011, and now it is time for 2012. But I have to tell you that this year I have an issue. Last two years I managed to identify precisely 12 wines I wanted to include in my “Top” list. This year, it appears that I tasted so many great wines, that I feel that the limit of 12 is too constraining – hence this post, where I will share with you the second dozen (or more) of wines which caused an “aha” moment, and stirred my memory and emotions. In the other words, these are the wines which I would gladly (very gladly) drink at any time. As usual, all the wines will be linked to the original posts in case such post exists, and I will provide pricing information where I can. Here we go.

26. 2011 Walnut Block Wines ‘Collectables’ Sauvignon Blanc, Marlboro, New Zealand ($11.99). In general, I like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – may be I had a few that I didn’t really care for, but for the most of the cases I really enjoy that fresh in-your-face acidity with bright fruit underpinning and fresh cut grass. This wine happened to be single best New Zealand  Sauvignon Blanc I had last year, perfectly matching the description I just provided.

25. 2012 Flat Creek Estate Winery Viognier, Texas ($NA) – that experience of drinking literally just blended wine was first and unique, and the wine was excellent. I will be very happy to get a bottle of the released 2012 Flat Creek Estate Viognier and compare the notes.

DSC_0951 Ch Ste Michelle Brut24. Domaine Ste. Michelle Cuvee Brut NV ($10.99) – one of the best sparkling wines I tasted throughout the year. It is perfectly brut, perfectly acidic and perfectly balanced. I really want to see this wine in the blind tasting, against any of the $30-$40 Champagne – so many people will lose their bets, swearing that they just tasted a perfect glass of Champagne, and finding out that it was a domestic sparkler. Next time you see it on the shelf – do me a favor, pick up a bottle and let me know what you think (you can thank me later).

23. 2010 Anakena Indo Sauvignon Blanc, D.O. San Antonio Valley, Chile ($15) – A perfect Sauvignon Blanc for my palate. Beautiful fruit and acidity combination, a touch fruitier than NZ Walnut Block, but absolutely refreshing.

22. 2005 Giribaldi Cento Uve Langhe DOC ($75) – Very much Barolo-like (no wonder  – 50% of the grapes are Nebbiolo), but they didn’t use for nothing 152 grapes to produce this wine – this is a very perfumy Barolo, with a lot of floral notes. No, I didn’t taste all those grapes by themselves, but sheer number of grapes (152) used in production of this wine is enough to put you at awe.

21. 2009 Craggy Range Te Kahu Hawkes Bay, New Zealand ($25) – Craggy Range is an area in New Zealand which became a source of the great wines, and it also know for the cost of land being dirt cheap about 30 years ago, and becoming absolutely unaffordable nowadays. This wine is an excellent Bordeaux blend, except that you don’t need to wait for 15-20 years before you can enjoy a glass – you can just open and pour. Perfect fruit and perfect balance – if you didn’t try this wine before, and you like Bordeaux style, you just owe it to yourself to find the bottle and enjoy it.

20. 2008 Torres Atrium Merlot, Penedes, Spain ($26 in the restaurant) – this was total surprise – the wine was suggested to us in a restaurant in Florida, as previous two choices were unavailable. We didn’t have much expectations – until the first sip. Dark fruit, soft, supple and round, perfect acidity, long finish. The second surprise came when we saw the bill – I never had a wine of this quality in the restaurant for $26. My only issue – this wine is only available for restaurants, and even my friend Zak who owns wine store, can’t get this wine. If you can – send me a note…

19. Abrau-Durso Semi-Dry NV, Russia ($12.99) – Never heard of this wine until this year, and it appears that this is a very old Russian “Champagne” house which was supplying sparkling wines for Tzar. Didn’t have much expectations before trying this wine – and it was delicious. Touch of sweetness, perfectly refreshing and supple – this actually will be the sparkler I plan to pour to ring the New Year in.

18. 2009 Wente Small Lot Petite Sirah, Livermore Valley, California ($35) – Wente Small Lots Grenache was #6 on my Top 2011 list. This year I opened Petite Sirah – an absolute beauty, silky smooth, dark fruit, perfect acidity and tannins, very balanced. It is unfortunately only available from the winery or through the club, but if you are in the area, don’t miss it.

17. 2009 Sant’Elena Pinot Grigio, Friuli, Italy ($18.99) – Yes, I’m a wine snob – as the result, Pinot Grigio is typically not the wine which would be served in my house. And Pinot Grigio is usually not the wine I would include into any of the “high regad lists”. Except when it is truly outstanding. And this wine is exceptional. Yes, it is called Pinot Grigio – but this is only due to the grape used in production of this wine. Otherwise, this is an “orange wine” – dense, concentrated, with dark white fruit, very complex and thought provoking.

DSC_0182 Achaval Ferre Quimera16. 2008 Achaval-Ferrer Quimera Mendoza, Argentina ($24.99) – I wanted to try wines of Achaval-Ferrer for a very long time, but they are not exactly affordable on a given day. Thanks to WTSO ( who else?), I was able to get few bottles of this Bordeaux blend called Quimera, and boy, was that a great wine. Dense and powerful, with lots of dark fruit, very delicious. And – it will definitely improve with time, so I’m glad I still a few bottles left.

15. 2009 Beaulieu Vineyard Reserve Tapestry Red Blend Napa Valley ($60) – it seems that I discovered so many worthy great Bordeax blends this year, from all the different regions. Yet this BV Tapestry squarely hold place on its own – dark, robust, classic, with all the cassis and eucalyptus flavors you want, it rolls on your tongue and delivers pleasure, as you expect your wine to do.

DSC_1866 Laetitia Pinot La Colline14. 2006 Laetitia La Colline Pinot Noir, Arroyo Grande Valley, California ($24.99) – I can’t believe I didn’t put this wine into the top dozen. When you take a sip of wine, it usually generates a reaction. It can be “hmm, this is nice”, “hmm, I should let it breathe”, “hmm, I need some food”, “hmm, now I need steak”. And then there are wines where you reaction has no hmms in it, it is “I need a refill now, before this deliciousness is all gone”. This Laetitia La Colline Pinot Noir is exactly that type of wine – round and delicious from the get go, you just want you rglass to last for long, very long time.

13. 2008 Kovacs Nimrod Battonage Chardonnay, Eger Winery, Hungary ($20.99) – I love Chardonnay – and I so rarely get to enjoy it, unfortunately. I don’t have any deep cellars of Burgundy, and a lot of wineries in California and outside are trying to make Chardonnay to taste like Pinot Grigio – beats me. Luckily, not this Chardonnay from Hungary. This wine greets you the nose with vanilla and butter, and perfectly supports that round package on the palate – more vanilla, more butter, toasted oak, golden delicious apples – just the Chardonnay I want to drink.

That’s all for today, folks – will be happy to hear your thoughts. Have you tried any of the wines above? Did you like them? And yes, my Top Twelve of Twelve is coming out very soon. I’m not going to spoil a surprise for you, but I’m sure you will find my Wine of the Year choice a bit unusual (if you want to guess, write your ideas down in the comments section). Cheers!

 

 

Battle of Viogniers: Texas Wins!

October 11, 2012 9 comments
One of the fascinating  things about blogging is that you get to meet a lot of great people online. Moreover, you meet people who is passionate about the same subject as you are. And then, at some point, you can even meet those people in real life. This was my story Wednesday last week, when I met @SAHMmelier, who happened to live in Austin (you can find her blog here). As soon as we met, the feeling was that we knew each other for ages – it was so easy to start conversation (it was much more difficult to stop it later : )). Thanks to @SAHMmelier, I got a full embrace of the Texas wines, at the “Texas versus The World” meetup hosted by GUSTO Tastings, which we attended together.

GUSTO Tastings does a great job of hosting multiple wine events every month, each one with a slightly different purpose. Each first Wednesday of the month, the members of the meetup get together for “Texas versus the world” event where the group gets to taste and compare wines made in Texas with similar wines made in the other countries and regions – this was the exact event we attended, and it was dedicated to Viognier (the November event will be all about Tempranillo or Sangiovese, which should be very interesting, as I think both of those grapes produce very good results in Texas – oh well, I will have to live vicariously through that one…). GUSTO Tastings also runs blind tasting events once a month, which are some of the most exhilarating experiences for wine aficionados. Anyway, if you live in a close proximity to Austin (or few other cities in Texas), you should definitely check GUSTO Testings out and use the opportunity to learn about the wines.

Let me tell you now about the event. First of all, we had the best table in the town. We were lucky enough to meet and share the table with Flat Creek Estate winemaker Tim Drake, a witty and charismatic guy and his lovely wife Spring. In addition to all the fun conversations at the table, it was  even more fun listening to Tim delivering his thoughts in bright and engaging fashion, with the ability to use very convincing expressions to emphasize his point (I will have to refrain from repeating his vivid answer and explanation for the question about Reserve wines).

This particular event was all about Viognier, once nearly extinct Rhone white grape varietal. A few month ago there was a Wine Blogging Wednesday dedicated to Viognier, so for more details about the grape, including the link to the short video teaching you how to say that “Viognier” word correctly, here is the link to my blog post.

During the course of the evening, we tasted through 17 different Viognier wines – 8 from around the world, and 9 from Texas. All the wines where split into the flights of four, and the last flight had 5 wines in it.

The first four wines represented the old world – my notes are below:

  1. 2009 Cacciagrande Viognier, Maremma, Toscana – very unusual, I had no idea Viognier is used in Tuscany. The wine had a beautiful nose of classic Riesling, sweet with a hint of petrol – but palate didn’t support that nose at all. Acidic, briny, not pleasant. Drinkability: 6-
  2. 2011 Domaine des Cantarelles Viognier, Vin de Pays du Gard – Typical nose – perfume, full body expectation -but the body is too watery, almost Pinot Grigio style… Acidic aftertaste. Drinkability: 6
  3. 2009 Vidal-Fleury Cote du Rhone – Strange nose, a bit vegetative, and then very oily (I never had a wine before with such a mouthfeel; scotch – yes, but wine? Never), some muted fruit – not good. Drinkability: 5
  4. 2009 E. Guigal Condrieu – this wine was redeeming the first flight – beautiful concentrated nose, with touch of sugar candy. Nice and delicate on the palate, but not enough power. Drinkability: 7

Flight number 2 consisted of the New World wines:

  1. 2010 Cono Sur Viognier, Colchagua Valley, Chile – Beautiful nose, touch perfumy, perfectly round palate, good acidity, some green apples. Drinkability: 7+ (best so far)
  2. 2010 La Capra Viognier, Western Cape, South Africa – somewhat green on the nose, with some matchstick. Let me stop here for a second, and I have a question for you, my readers. Have you ever experienced anything like that? Is that a showing of the extra sulfates used during the production? Anyway, let’s continue – there was also some minerality on the nose (or at least Tim suggested that it was) Pleasant on the palate, more of a Sauvignon Blanc qualities – lime, touch of grapefruit. As I was all puzzled by the nose, I’m not even sure how I want to rate this wine.
  3. 2010 Yalumba Viognier Eden Valley, Australia. If the previous wine had one matchstick on the nose, this one had a whole box. While that smell was going away little by little, the initial encounter with that wine almost game me a headache. Strange nose at first (heavy matchstick? Sulfites?). The wine opened up eventually on the palate into the medium to full bodied wine, retaining some sharpness. Considering that smell (which rendered the wine literally undrinkable to me) I can’t rate it. I can only hope that it was a particular faulty bottle…
  4. 2010 Miner Viognier Oakville ’Simpson Vineyard’, Napa. Perfect nose – great bright fruit, nice perfume. Best nose so far. Palate doesn’t live up – kind of flat and unimpressive. Judging nose by itself this wine should get Drinakability of 8, but as a whole,  I can only give it a 6.

The next flight included a vertical of 4 wines from Flat Creek Estate Winery. As all of those wines were made out of grapes which didn’t grow in Texas (but the wine, of course, was made in Texas), they don’t carry Texas designation on the label. I have to admit that somehow I missed to take a picture of this flight, so just to give you an idea, I had to borrow the picture from the Flat Creek Estate’s web site.

  1. 2008 Flat Creek Estate Winery Viognier. Nose was practically non-existent (I couldn’t pickup any aroma), sweet on the palate. It is drinkable, but not great. Drinkability: 7
  2. 2009 Flat Creek Estate Winery Viognier. Nice nose, more of a typical viognier. Palate is touch out of balance (a bit sharp), but very drinkable. Drinkability: 7
  3. 2010 Flat Creek Estate Winery Viognier. Beautiful bright nose, touch of the pear preserve, fresh brewed tea on the nose. Needs a bit more acid on the palate. Drinkability: 7-
  4. 2011 Flat Creek Estate Winery Viognier. Perfect nose. Bright, clean, nice white fruit. Outstanding, perfect acidity, ripe fruit, perfect balance. Lodi fruit. To this point, this was my favorite! Drinkability: 8.

As we went to the all-Texas flight, Tim gave a great explanation to the room about different types of yeast and their ability to bring different qualities to the wine (more glycerin versus more esters etc.). And this is all in the hands of the winemaker. Yep, winemaking is Art…

And now, to the all Texas flight (look at my notes – they all show a progression of tasting as the wines were opening in the glass):

  1. 2011 Lone Oak Winery Viognier, Texas. Smell is similar to detergent. Not balanced. Not good. then it opened up on the nose, but with a note of brine. Pretty balanced now. Drinkability: 7+
  2. 2010 Brennan Vineyards Viognier, Texas. Some sweetness on the nose. Same sweetness on the palate – but not balanced. Needs more acidity. Leaves burning feeling. Improved after a breathing time!!! Much better! Drinkability: 7
  3. 2011 Becker Vineyards, Viognier, Texas. Nice nose, some gooseberry, little complexity. Finish is short. Drinkable, but not exciting. Drinkability: 6+
  4. 2010 McPherson Cellars Viognier, Texas. Interesting complexity on the nose. Sweet with some green notes. Beautiful palate, good round wine. Drinkability: 7+

And now (drum roll, please) let me present to you my best of tasting wine:

2012 Flat Creek Estate Winery Viognier, Texas. Barrel sample. Beautiful nose, light fruit, white fruit. 100% Texas fruit (brownfield). Very nice, good overall, some zest – really pleasant! Drinkability: 8+

The fact that grapes were picked 6 weeks ago, and that Tim had blended wine in the morning of the day of the tasting, is just makes it an incredible experience all together.

There you have it, folks – Texas makes great wines, so if you can get them – you should! And if your travel will take you down to Texas – make sure the wineries are part of your trip. You can tell them I sent you. Cheers!

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