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A Weekend Of Wine Experiences

August 11, 2020 2 comments

What makes the wine experience for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 12 of ’13

December 29, 2013 18 comments

Here we are again, on the subject of Top Wines of 2013. You already saw my second dozen (and some), and the time has come to present the top list. In case you missed my lengthy explanation about the logic of this list, let me reiterate the main point – these are my most memorable wines of 2013. May be the word “wine” is even a bit limiting – these are the most memorable wine experiences of 2013. These are the wines which are so easy to recall – when you are talking about wines, these are the wines you use as an example. These are the wines which serve as memory links, easily allowing you to re-live the moments of your life. These are the wines which give you an ultimate pleasure. Let’s go:

12. 2008 Seresin Chardonnay Reserve Marlboro New Zealand – one of the best Chardonnays of the whole year – impeccable balance of apples, vanilla, butter and toasted oak, all I want in Chardonnay, nothing more and nothing less.

11. 2011 Antica Terra Erratica Willamette Valley Oregon – probably the best Rosé I ever had. May be even calling it a Rosé is simply a mistake. It was spectacular wine, complex, living in the glass, changing from mouthful of strawberries to tart raspberries and mouthfeel of a balanced red wine. An experience.

10. 2009 Tua Rita Redigaffi Toscana IGT – Tua Rita Redigaffi is listed in my “must try wines” list – need I say more? One of the best in the world renditions of Merlot. It was a pure pleasure – both the wine and the experience.

9. 2009 Chamonix Pinot Noir Reserve Franschhoek South Africa – mind-blowing. Exuberant. Over the top. Spectacular. I’m out of words. If you want rediscover Pinot Noir, go find this wine and taste it.

8. 2012 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc – truly a humbling experience and a life lesson. If you think you know everything about New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, try this wine. You can thank me later.

7. 2007 Tenuta Sant’Antonio Amarone “Campo dei Gigli” – when I’m saying that I don’t have my most favorite wine, I’m lying. Amarone is the one. But for the past 5 years or so, practically every bottle of Amarone I touch becomes a huge disappointment. Not this one. This was a pure delight and the discovery of the year. Nose of dried fruit and perfectly balanced, round, dry and silky smooth mouthfeel. Thinking about this wine makes me smile.

6. 2005 Henry’s Drive Dead Letter Office Shiraz, South Australia – If anyone remembers Tastings column at Wall Street Journal, this wine was rated “Delicious!”, which was the highest rating. When I tasted this wine, it all made sense – absolutely delicious, round, plush, silky smooth and powerful at the same time, with plenty of blackberries and blueberries which only the best Shiraz can demonstrate. I was planning the whole post dedicated to the Dead Letter Office vertical tasting, but 2008 was only okay, and 2006 and 2009 turned out to be a complete disappointment, so no post. But if you can find this 2005 anywhere, get it – I promise you lots and lots of pleasure.

5. 2010 Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria – the only wine in Italy which received highest ratings in 2013 from all three wine rating publications. Once you will try this wine, you will understand why. The balance and complexity is nothing short of spectacular. Stop reading this blog, go find the bottle for yourself.

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4. 2002 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Herrenweg de Turckheim Gewurztraminer Alsace – I know that Zind-Humbrecht is considered one of the best producers in Alsace. I tasted this wine a few years back, and I was definitely underwhelmed. This year, this wine magically turned around, showing perfect balance of exotic fruit, lychees, honey, candied apricot and everything else you can to look for in Gewurztraminer, with perfectly balancing acidity. An ultimate treat.

Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer

Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer

3. 2009 Casa Burmester Reserva Douro DOC – talk about “oenophile defining moments”. I had excellent Portuguese wines before I tried this wine, but the very first sip of this Casa Burmester Reserva made me go “what? seriously? wow!!!”. In a blind tasting, this wine would stand up to the best of the best of California Cabernet – beautiful fruit, texturally present, firm, powerful and impeccably balanced and elegant.

DSC_0414 Casa Burmester

2. 2005 Frédéric Gueguen Chablis Les Grandes Vignes – I remember almost making fun of someone else using the word “gunflint” in the wine description. And here I am, taking a first sniff of this wine with the first word coming to my mind … gunflint! That sensation of gun powder-like smell, the smoke was incredible – and it was very pleasant at the same time. Tremendous minerality, lemony notes and some apples, clean and vibrant acidity and perfect balance. This wine was definitely an experience.

Frédéric Gueguen Chablis

Frédéric Gueguen Chablis

1. 1970 Quevedo White Port – even people in Portugal are not aware of the aged white Port – I witnessed a few surprised looks when talking to the people about white Port which is aged. This wine might be never bottled, as I’m sure it is hard to create a category from pretty much a single barrel of wine. Nevertheless, the ultimate complexity of this wine, coupled with the visual snapshot of tasting it in the Quevedo Port cellar (cue in all the aromatics and mysterious atmosphere), makes for an ultimate experience which will stay in memory forever.

1970 White Port

1970 White Port

By the way, did you notice that 3 out of my 4 top wines (even though I’m trying no to prioritize the list outside of the wine #1) are the white wines? Quite fascinating. Do you find this list too emotional? May be, but isn’t it  the purpose of wine, to solicit emotion? Anyway, for what it worth, this completes the list of my best wine experiences of 2013. What were yours? Cheers!

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