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Samples Galore – Holiday Edition

December 28, 2016 4 comments

Côté Mas Chardonnay Blanc de BlancsOver the last few months, I had an opportunity to try a number of wines. What I didn’t do in timely fashion, however, is to share the tasting notes with you – and this needs to be corrected, which I’m doing with this post.

While I call this post a “holiday edition”, this is strictly due to the fact that this post is coming out during the most festive time of the year. It might be too late to use any of these wines for the gift giving, but you know what – these wines will be perfect for any day, whether it is cold or warm outside, and whether you need a gift or just want to reward yourself (yep, you always deserve an award for just being you).

Let’s start with the sparkling wine – I have one to bring to your attention today. This wine comes from the master of “affordable luxury” Paul Mas (I wrote about his wines a few times in the past – you can find those posts here). This Blanc de Blancs from Languedoc is made out of Chardonnay using the traditional method, and it perfectly on par with Paul Mas sparklers I tasted before:

NV Côté Mas Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs Méthode Traditionelle Vin de France (12% ABV, $15.99, 100% Chardonnay)
N: Pleasant nose with touch of yeast and fresh apples
P: Restrained palate, good acidity, clean, touch Of yeast, hint of Granny Smith apples.
V: 7+

Let’s continue with a few of the white wines. First, one of my perennial favorites – Hanna Sauvignon Blanc. I tasted prior vintages of Hanna Sauvignon Blanc, and this is one of my most favorite styles of California Sauvignon Blanc – grassy, fresh and clean:

2015 Hanna Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley Sonoma County (13.2% ABV, $20)
C: straw pale
N: intense, fresh-cut grass, touch of lemon, fresh meadows, you can smell this wine forever.
P: nicely restrained, same grassy notes, touch of black currant (distant hint), perfect balance, refreshing
V: 8+

The next white wine comes from the very creative producer in Oregon – Left Coast Cellars, which also not a stranger to this blog – I had a pleasure of speaking (virtually) with Luke McCollom, winemaker for Left Coast Cellars and taste some of the previous vintages of their wines (here are the links to the two-part interview  – Part 1 and Part 2). You can’t go wrong with Oregon Pinot Gris – today this is literally a “classic”:

2015 Left Coast Cellars The Orchards Pinot Gris Willamette Valley (13.7% ABV, $18)
C: Straw pale color
Touch of honeysuckle on the nose once warmed up, White stone fruit initially
Closed up while cold, white ripe fruit once warmed up, good balance, medium body, medium-long finish.
V: 7+

Last but not least is Les Dauphins Côté du Rhône. Rhone whites are fun wines, often very dry in the early years, and “ripening up” as they age. This was unquestionably a young wine which most likely would improve with age:

2013 Les Dauphins Côtes du Rhône Réserve Blanc (12.5% ABV, $11, 65% Grenache, 15% Marsanne, 10% Clairette, 10% Viognier)
C: Light golden
N: touch of honey, white stone fruit
P: white stone fruit, herbs, good acidity, quite astringent
V: 7+, will hold well with and without food

Now, time for the reds. The reds today represent a diverse group, from Australia to Italy to the USA. At the beginning of November, I participated in the #winechat with Michael Twelftree, winemaker for Tow Hands Wines out of Australia. We had an opportunity to taste and discuss three wines from Two Hands – two classic Shiraz wines from Barossa and McLaren Vale regions, and a Cabernet Sauvignon:

Two Hands Wines2014 Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz Barossa Valley (13.5% ABV, $36)
C: Dark garnet, almost black
N: espresso, roasted meat, licorice, blackberries
P: spice, plums, big concentration, touch of salinity, smooth texture, velvety and dusty
V: 8-, good rendition of Shiraz. The wine completely reversed on the Day 2, closed up.

2014 Two Hands Angel’s Share Shiraz McLaren Vale ($14.5% ABV, $36)
C: Dark garnet, almost black
N: intense, powdery, eucalyptus, mocca, licorice, tobacco
P: peppery finish, round, restrained, excellent acidity, bright and crispy red fruit
V: 7+, probably needs time

2015 Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon Mclaren Vale (13.8% ABV, $36)
C: Dark garnet, almost black
N: touch of cassis, closed
P: smooth, round, nice cassis backbone, mint, restrained
V: 7/7+, too young, needs time to rest and evolve

Two Italian wines were probably my favorite in this group – Cecchi Chianti and Alta Mora from Sicily:

2014 Cecchi Chianti Classico DOCG (13% ABV, $22, 90% Sangiovese, 10% other grapes)
C: Garnet
N: dark red fruit, dark chocolate, touch of smoke, roasted notes
P: fresh, vibrant, good acidity, touch of pepper, hint of tobacco, crashed raspberries, firm structure
V 8-/8, very enjoyable from get go, will evolve

2014 Cusumano Alta Mora Etna Rosso DOC (14% ABV, $24, 100% Nerello Mascalese)
C: dark garnet
N: playful, open, cherries, mocca,
P: bright, mouthwatering acidity, tart cherries without too much astringency, pronounced minerality, medium body, dry finish
V: 8-

And to finish off, here are two classic grapes – Merlot and Pinot Noir:

2014 Markham Merlot Napa Valley (14.2% ABV, $26, 86% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petite Sirah)
C: garnet
N: touch of cassis, mint, alcohol presence is noticeable, dark chocolate
P: round, soft, clean acidity, touch of cassis, underripe raspberries, alcohol and tannins show a bit on their own, peppery finish
V: 7/7+, needs more time? second day definitely showed to wine as more coherent (7+), but it would benefit from more time

2014 Left Coast Cellars Cali’s Cuvée Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (13.5% ABV, $24)
C: Dark garnet
N: Mocca, sage, roasted notes, touch of mushrooms, savory undertones
P: Fresh raspberries, mint, herbs, touch of roasted meat, fresh acidity, mouthwatering finish, medium body, easy to drink
V: 8-, easy to drink, pleasant

We are done here. Have you had any of these wines? What do you think of them? Cheers!

Daily Glass: First, There Was A Smell

February 9, 2015 9 comments

Drinking wine is a sensual experience. Okay, I can’t speak here for all the people who drink wine at one time or the other – but I’m sure that this selectively crazy passionate group, oenophiles, would wholeheartedly agree. Once the wine goes into the glass, of course the color matters first – but color is mostly a technical characteristic. The color can tell you what to expect – for instance, if a Chardonnay has rich golden, yellow color in the glass, you should prepare for the worst (the wine which will be well past prime). Or if a red wine looks almost black in the glass, get ready for the tannins encounter. Still, the most pleasure you can get from the color alone is to get excited  – “look at this beautiful color!” type excited.

Your hedonistic pleasure starts with the smell. Technically, it starts and ends with the smell, as our taste buds don’t go beyond 4 (or 5) basic tastes, and even when you take a sip of the wine, it is still the sense of smell which leads you to the strawberries in that sip – but let’s not get technical here, we are talking about the pleasure. Yes, you start with the smell – it is the smell which takes you away and makes you go “wow”. It is the smell which grabs your attention and captivates you, and forces you to smell that wine again, and again and again. It is the smell which builds up the excitement and expectations of the first sip.

The first sip afterwards is a moment of truth – if you are lucky, the taste will match the smell and will take you to the oenophile’s heaven, at least for a moment. It doesn’t always work like that – more often than not, the excitement built by impeccable aromatics instantly dissipates after the first sip. But when you are in luck, this is how the wine memories are created.

What prompted this post was my undoubtedly lucky experience few days ago with two wines in the row, delivering that incredible combination of aromatics and taste. Sorry, I’m getting overly excited here, but the smell of the 2013 Hanna Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley ($15) was, in a word, spectacular. In the New World renditions, Sauvignon Blanc is very aromatic more often than not – but it would be typically aromatics of grapefruit and lemon, Here, from the get go, the glass was exuding with the aromas of the fresh cut grass and cat pee. Yes, I know that many people jump when the cat pee descriptor is used, but anyone who had owned a cat would perfectly understand what I’m talking about. And yes, cat pee is a known classic profile of Sancerre, the most classic Sauvignon Blanc of all. So this wine had it all, clean, bright and present on the nose – and the palate was beautiful, medium to full body, with fresh cut grass and touch of lemon peel. Definitely an outstanding example of California Sauvignon Blanc, now squarely engraved in my memory, right next to the Honig and Mara White Grass, which are always California Sauvignon Blanc staples for me. Drinkability: 8+

And then there was 2011 Antica Terra Ceras Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($75). I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about the winery – you can should read interesting stories on Antica Terra web site on your own. But this wine… Talking about attractive color, the wine was ruby with the light pinkish hue in the glass. And then the first smell… It was surreal. Here is where I fail as a wine writer, as I can’t give you the right set of words to describe the impressions from this wine. The smell had everything in it – the cranberries, forest floor, herbs and mushrooms – light, delicate and seductive, saying “and now, let’s take a sip…”. The palate was a natural, precisely fitted extension of the smell – all the same component, now packaged together. More cranberries, shallots and truffles, sage and lavender, minerality and whiff of the forest floor, effortlessly rolling off your tongue, delicate and present, with perfectly noticeable, silky texture and needless to say, perfect balance. This was for sure one of the most sensual wines I ever had. And yes, if you want to take this tasting note as an example “look at another moronic wine review” – I will still stand behind it, as this wine delivered lots and lots of pleasure. Drinkability: 9/9+

There you have it, my friends – two wines which will be etched in the memory for the very, very long time. I wish you all to have lots of sensual wine experiences and memorable wines. Cheers!

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