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Usual Grapes, Unusual Places – The Oenophile Games

December 17, 2017 5 comments

I love blind tastings. I’m talking about totally non-intimidating blind tasting, done in the relaxed atmosphere, where the goal is only to have fun – in other words, not when it is part of the test. The blind tasting as part of the test is really not fun – as Kirsten the Armchair Sommelier eloquently put it in a tweet “Nothing intimidates quite like a brown paper bag!!” – as a WSET diploma candidate, I’m sure she knows what she is talking about first hand.

So I’m talking about fun blind tasting here. Blind tasting removes all sources of bias, as only minimal information is available about the wine you are about to taste, depending on the theme of the tasting, and you can’t be influenced by the pretty label, by the big name or by the well-known place (ahh, this is the wine from Napa, it is definitely better than this one from New Jersey, right?). You are one on one with the liquid in the wine glass, and your only goal is to decide whether you like the wine or not and whether you like it more than the one you had before, or if you still like it more than the one which you had after. Of course, you can make things a lot more interesting by trying to guess the grape, the origin, the vintage and whatever else you would desire, but the beauty of the informal blind tasting is that you free to do as much or as little as you want.

The best accompaniments for the wine are good food and a good company. We started wine dinners with the blind tastings with friends more than 7 years ago. Our first blind tasting was about Pinot Noir, then we had one about Sparkling wines (the thought of this one still gives me shivers as it was utterly confusing), also Chardonnay, Mourvedre, Barolo and many, many others. We decide on the theme, set the rules (how many bottles, price limits or not, what wines can be considered, what wines will not fit and so on). The bottles are put in the brown bags, the numbers are randomly assigned to the bags, the wines are poured and off we go. We usually try to figure out group’s favorite, which sometimes easy, and sometimes it is not. The results are always most unexpected, and everybody gets a chance to say “I can’t believe it”.

The theme for this tasting was “usual grapes, unusual places“. Today, the mainstream grapes are totally international. Cabernet Sauvignon wines are produced in Bordeaux, in Napa Valley, in New York, in Argentina, Virginia, South Africa, Chile, Italy, Czech Republic and other hundreds of places. Same is true about Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Grenache – and even Tempranillo and Sangiovese are not an exception. Now the question is – can we still recognize Cabernet Sauvignon from Uruguay as Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir from the Czech Republic as Pinot Noir?

To play the game, the group of 10 wines was assembled. I couldn’t make up my mind on what to bring literally until the day before the tasting – kept changing my preferences. Nevertheless, we got together, the table was set and the wines were poured. As everybody was set on bringing the red wines, I decided to make things more interesting and brought two of the white wines to start the tasting with. Here are my notes and guesses on the 10 wines we tasted (obviously I knew what I’m tasting in the first two whites):

Wine 1 – beautiful nose, honeysuckle, tropical fruit, restrained palate, green, touch of pepper, contrast with the nose, interesting

Wine 2 – beautiful nose, plump, velvety, beautifully soft, silky smooth, outstanding, vanilla, delicious.

Wine 3 – typical Bordeaux blend on the nose. Tremendous salinity on the palate. Then acidity. Bordeaux blend from NJ. After 30 minutes – Barbera?

Wine 4 – Grenache nose, smoke and tobacco on the palate. My guess is Rhone varietal, but most likely Grenache

Wine 5 – Rutherford dust on the nose, touch of black currant, chipotle on the palate, herbal, unusual, very nice. Bordeaux varietal. Going for Carmenere.

Wine 6 – beautiful nose, Bordeaux-style, lots of smoke on the nose. Somewhat sweet on the palate. Core Bordeaux? or Syrah blend? Cab Franc dominant blend.

Wine 7 – smoke, dark fruit, beautiful tannins, cherries, beautiful. Bordeaux blend? Somewhat of extreme tannins.

Wine 8 – muted nose, mint, anise, Rutherford dust. Good acidity, soft, round. Bordeaux varietal?

Wine 9 – fresh, open, clean vanilla, dark fruit, excellent. Bordeaux varietal?

Wine 10 – beautiful nose, but a bit astringent. Interesting. Bordeaux varietal?

Before the wines can be revealed, we had to figure out group’s favorite. Everybody was allowed to vote for one of the two white wines, and then two votes for the favorites among 8 reds. Here are our votes (out of 8 people):

Wine 1 – 4
Wine 2 – 4
Wine 3 – 2
Wine 4 – 0
Wine 5 – 0
Wine 6 – 6
Wine 7 – 5
Wine 8 – 2
Wine 9 – 0
Wine 10 – 1

As you can tell, both whites fared equally well with the group clearly splitting the decision. Also for the reds, there was a clear winner and a clear runner-up, with the rest of the wines not faring that well – wine number 6 was preferred by the most, and wine number 7 was the second favorite. Now, the most anticipated part of the blind tasting – the reveal:

Wine 1: 2016 Onward Petillant Naturel Malvasia Blanca Suisun Valley, CA (12.6% ABV)
Wine 2: 2007 Krupp Brothers Black Bart Marsanne Stagecoach Vineyard Napa Valley (14% ABV)
Wine 3: 2004 Bodegas Carrau Vilasar Nebbiolo Uruguay (13.5% ABV, 100% Nebbiolo)
Wine 4: 2014 Chateau Famaey Malbec Cahors AOC (12.5% ABV, 100% Malbec)
Wine 5: Changyu Cabernet Sauvignon China (Cabernet Sauvignon?)
Wine 6: 2012 Caduceus La Corgtigiane Oneste New Mexico (13.5% ABV, 50% Barbera, 50% Merlot)
Wine 7: 2014 McManis Barbera Jamie Lynn Vineyard California (13.5% ABV, 100% Barbera)
Wine 8: 2015 Cantele Primitivo Salento IGT (13.5% ABV, 100% Primitivo)
Wine 9: 2014 Macedon Pinot Noir Macedonia (13.5% ABV, 100% Pinot Noir)
Wine 10: 2014 Agnus Merlot Serra Gaúcha Brazil (14% ABV, 100% Merlot)

Let’s look at these results. First, let me talk about the wines I contributed for the tasting. For the whites, they were both excellent – I got this Onward Petillant Naturel Malvasia Blanca from Jeff The Drunken Cyclist as part of our Secret Santa fun, and the wine was delicious. The second white, Krupp Brothers Marsanne was a rare closeout score a few years back. Sadly, it was my last bottle, but the wine needs to be drunk, so I’m glad I had it in a good company – I consider that to be one of the best California white wines, for sure for my palate. Now, the red which I brought was another story – it was the Changyu from China, for which I terrorized my Chinese-speaking friend trying to ensure that it was Cabernet Sauvignon and trying to figure out the vintage or ABV (fail). Well, the worst part was that many people not just disliked it, they literally hated it – and I had other reds from Changyu while in China with much higher success. Oh well.

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The winning wine Caduceus La Corgtigiane Oneste was made out of the New Mexico grapes by the winery located in Arizona, with one of the grapes being Barbera – talk about rare and unusual. McManis Barbera, second favorite, was also quite unexpected – but looking at my notes and having tasted few of the California Barbera wines, I made a wrong guess with somewhat right descriptors. As you can tell, almost everything tasted to me like a Bordeaux blend – clearly, I don’t do well in the blind tastings, but one way or the other, this was lots of fun! And just think of the range of wines we tasted – Malvasia Blanca, Marsanne and Barbera from California, Nebbiolo from Uruguay, Merlot from Brazil, Pinot Noir from Macedonia, Cabernet Sauvignon from China, Merlot and Barbera from New Mexico – wow. The Malbec and Primitivo didn’t really belong on one side – but then on another side they kind of fit the bill too as Malbec from France is literally unknown to the wine consumers, and Primitivo is pretty much in the same boat, for sure in the USA. All in all, we clearly accomplished our goal of tasting usual grapes from unusual places.

Then, of course, there was food – lots and lots of delicious food, which everybody contributed to – I will just give you a quick overview in pictures, and that really only a fraction of what we had (at some point you get tired of constantly taking pictures of food…

We also drunk more wine, and this one was a standout. An unassuming California blend from Marietta in Sonoma – NV Marietta California Old Vine Red Lot Number Twenty. This is non-vintage, field blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, and Gamay, now, wait for it … which should be about 40 years old??? Current wine is called Lot Number 66, so if this was the Lot number 20, then we are simply making an assumption here… The wine was delicious – yes, it was mature, so showed the layer of delicious dried fruit and ripe plums – but it still had a perfect amount of acidity for everyone to say “wow”. I plan to write to the winery, so hopefully will be able to figure out the age of this wine, but this was clearly another amazing example of California wines which can age – and patience well rewarded.

Great fun and great learning experience, hands down. For anyone who is into the wine, the blind tasting is an endless source of enjoyment. If you love wine and never participated in the blind tasting, you really should fix it – get your friends together and have fun! If you need any “logistical support”, please reach out – will be very happy to help.

Ahh, and by the way, there is something even more intimidating than a paper bag – a black glass. But then your friends may start hating you, so tread gently. Have fun, my friends. Cheers!

 

Of Ancient Vines and Rhone Varietals – #winechat with Cline Cellars

May 9, 2014 11 comments

ClineCellars CorksThink California wines, think California grapes – what is the first grape which comes to mind? I would guess that Cabernet Sauvignon would be the first. Zinfandel, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay will trail near by (not in this exact order, of course). Are those the best grapes making the best California wines? Yes, before you beat me up, “best wine” is highly subjective, so let’s not drill on that. But – what else is there in California? Ever heard of Rhone Rangers? In the 1980s, a group of California winemakers made a significant effort to popularize Rhone varietals – Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Roussanne, Marsanne and many others. While this group of winemakers didn’t have any set structure,  they became collectively known as Rhone Rangers. As the result of the work of this group, Syrah and Grenache became prominent players on the California wine landscape, with the other traditional Rhone varietals taking more on the supporting roles.

Fred Cline, the founder of the Cline Cellars winery in Contra Costa County, was one of the original Rhone Rangers. While Cline Cellars is most famous for their Zinfandel wines (7 different bottlings are produced), it also makes a number of wines from the traditional Rhone varietals. On Wednesday, April 30th, the worldly virtual tasting room, called #winechat, opened its doors to all the wine lovers, coming in to experience and to talk about the Cline Cellars Rhone-style wines. While Cline Cellars winery was officially founded in 1982, the family owned the vineyards since 1800s. After founding the winery, Fred Cline spent a lot of time and efforts to preserve and where necessary, to restore the ancient vines (some of the vines are 80 – 120 years old), hence the name “Ancient Vines” which you can see on the labels of many Cline Cellars wines. Today, Cline Cellars uses sustainable farming methods and it is Green String Certified winery. Wonder what it means? As explained by the @ClineCellars during the #winechat: “Since 2000, Cline Cellars farms the Green String way: naturally & sustainably &avoid chemical pesticides, fungicides & fertilizers”

ClineCellars Wines

So, how were the wines, you ask? During the #winechat, we had an opportunity to try 3 different wines. We started with 2012 Cline Marsanne Roussanne Sonoma Coast (14.5% ABV, 66% Marsanne, 34% Roussanne). Every time I say “these are some of my favorite grapes/wines/etc.”, I feel a bit uneasy. The reason is simple – when it comes to the wines, I like them all. Every time I talk about the subject, I can come up with the new list of favorites, so using that “some of my favorites” moniker feels almost like lying, just a tiny bit. Oh well. So yes, Marsanne and Roussanne are some of my favorite white grapes – the wines from Marsanne and Roussanne, both are core Rhone white grape varietals, are quite rare, no matter where they come from, so every opportunity to taste such wines is always very exciting.

When it comes to Marsanne and Roussanne wines, the interesting thing is that those wines should be consumed at the room temperature. I tried chilling various Marsanne/Roussanne wines, and it never worked for me. This wines works the best at the 18°C – 20°C/64°F – 68°F. Here are the notes:

Color: Light golden
Nose: Minerality, white flowers, touch of honey, touch of white peach, white grape aroma as the wine opened up.
Palate: Touch of sweetness, caramelized sugar, minerality, very complex.
Verdict: This is one delicious wine, which you can enjoy on its own or with some chicken and mushrooms dish, for instance. Drinkability: 7+

Our next wine was 2013 Cline Mourvèdre Rosé Contra Costa County (13.5% ABV, ~100 years old vines), another traditional Rhone varietal. I tried to play with the temperature on this wine, but it really didn’t work – this wine should be only served well chilled.

Color: Intense pink
Nose: Fruit forward, with lots of ripe strawberries
Palate: Strawberries, cranberries, nice acidity (when well chilled!). Very classic and supple Rosé.
Verdict: Ahh, it pairs so well with the strawberries! Serve either as an Aperitif, or with the fresh light salad (like kale and strawberries), or with the fresh fruit after a meal. Very refreshing. Drinkability: 7+

Last, but not least was 2012 Cline Cool Climate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast (14.5% ABV, aged for 9 month in oak) – yes, not a Rhone varietal, but a California classic, coming from the classic area as well. The climate conditions of Sonoma Coast, with the fog settling down and cooling off the grapes every evening, allow grapes to ripen slowly and to build up a structure and nice acidic core. This wine was very much on par with the good California Pinot Noir expectations:

Color: Dark garnet
Nose: Smoke, minerals, touch of cherries, mushrooms, forest floor, roasted notes
Palate: Minerality, plums, nice acidity, well balanced.
Verdict: Very versatile wine. Perfectly enjoyable on its own, also paired well with wide variety of foods – fresh strawberries (!), roasted chicken, and believe it or not, but bacon cheddar (cheddar cheese with pieces of bacon) was the best pairing! Drinkability: 7+

As an added bonus, this wine even comes with the recipe attached to the back label – very clever idea!

That concludes yet another #winechat report. What is left to say is Thank You. First of all, thank you to the @ClineCellars for providing the excellent wines and enduring the barrage of questions during the intense one hour conversation. And of course, thank you to the Protocol Wine Studio, spearheading the whole #winechat program. And for you, my dear readers? Thank you for reading and come on over! See you next Wednesday on Twitter in the #winechat room. Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, #MWWC3 Winner, The Way You Pour, Wine and Shutdown, and more

October 2, 2013 6 comments

Meritage time!

As usual, let’s start from the answer to the wine quiz #75, grape trivia – Marsanne. In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about white grape called Marsanne. Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: Name the grape, typical blending partner of Marsanne in Northern Rhône

A1: Roussanne.

Q2: True or False: Plantings of Marsanne in Australia far exceed Marsanne plantings in France.

A2: True. Actually, about 80% of worldwide plantings of Marsanne are located in Australia

Q3: Solve the riddle and explain: Part of 8, but not part of 18

A3: Marsanne is one of the 8 white grapes officially allowed in the Rhône appellations. At the same time, Marsanne is not a part of the 18 grapes officially allowed to be used in Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation

Q4: Marsanne is known in Switzerland under the name of …

A4: Ermitage [blanc]

Q5: Name major wine producing country which doesn’t make any Marsanne wines of notice

A5: Italy. Yes, Italy makes no wines out of Marsanne – at least no wines which can be easily accessible or found on the internet.

I’m glad to report that we have a winner! Jeff of the drunken cyclist fame correctly answered all 5 questions, so he is our uncontested winner and he gets the coveted prize of unlimited bragging rights. Well done!

And now, to the interesting stuff around the web and the vine!

First of all, we have a winner for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #3! The Wine Kat wrote the winning story, which you can find here. Congratulations to the winner! Now we are all eagerly waiting to learn the theme for the challenge #4 – hopefully it will be announced soon…

Do you know that the way you pour the wine affects how much you drink? Here is the link to the post on the subject. Weather you hold the glass, tilt the glass, pour red or white – all of this factors affect the amount you consume – according to this study, of course.

Wondering about the connections between US Government shutdown and wine? I had no idea there is one, until I read this post by Dr. Vino. TTB, the government agency which approves all the new labels, is part of the shutdown. On one side it makes perfect sense as it is seemingly not-essential. At the same time, as opposed to many other parts of the government, this one actually makes money… Anyway, read the article for more details.

Actually, there is another small post by the same Dr. Vino, which I want to bring to your attention. Before you read it, I have a question for you. Which country do you think might request to put the words “wine kills” on the labels? No, it is not United States. Interestingly enough, it is France, which is concerned with the fact that people drink wine, so this was one of the proposals as a way to reduce wine consumption. Another, similarly bright proposal, was suggesting to ban all the internet writing about the wine – brilliant, isn’t it? You can read the post here – it is short and interesting.

That’s all I have for you for today, folks. The glass is empty – but refill is on its way. Until the next time – cheers!

Weekly Wine Quiz #75: Grape Trivia – Marsanne

September 28, 2013 9 comments

wine quiz pictureWelcome to the weekend and your new wine quiz!

We are continuing our grape trivia series, still focusing on the white grapes, and today’s subject is grape called Marsanne.

Marsanne seems to originate near the town of Marsanne in Northern Rhône, hence the name. The grape is known at least from the 17th century (but could’ve been used in winemaking before). Marsanne is a foundation for the white wines of Northern Rhône appellations of Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, St.-Joseph and St.-Péray, but it is also used in the white wines throughout the whole Côtes du Rhône region and in a few other regions in France. White wines of Northern Rhône are typically full bodied and powerful, known for its great longevity (might be some of the longest living dry white wines). It is not just the longevity which matters – Northern Rhône whites also known to improve with age.

Marsanne made it to Australia in the 1860s, where it became quite popular. It is interesting that considering the fact that Marsanne wines improve with age, one of the best known Australian producers of Marsanne, Tahbilk, makes two releases per year, offering both current and older ( 6 years older or so) vintages of the wines.

Marsanne also made it to California, however, it is not very clear when. Based on some of the internet sources, Marsanne made it to US in the 1870s and was used in some of the red blends, paired with Syrah to replicate Northern Rhône wines. However, it appears that Marsanne started to be actively used in California wines some time in 1980s, and today it is offered by many producers in California and state of Washington.

And now, to the quiz!

Q1: Name the grape, typical blending partner of Marsanne in Northern Rhône

Q2: True or False: Plantings of Marsanne in Australia far exceed Marsanne plantings in France.

Q3: Solve the riddle and explain: Part of 8, but not part of 18

Q4: Marsanne is known in Switzerland under the name of …

Q5: Name major wine producing country which doesn’t make any Marsanne wines of notice

Good luck, enjoy the quiz and your weekend! Cheers!

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