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Month in Wines (and Whiskys) – December 2013

January 3, 2014 2 comments

At first I wanted to preface this post with the notion of December being somewhat uneventful in terms of great wine experiences, but as I was thinking about it, I realized that this would be a mistake to put it like that. So yes, December brought quite a few of the great discoveries.

Here we go:

NV Ayala Brut Majeur Ay Champagne, France (12% ABV, 45% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Meunier ) – one of the very best non-vintage champagne I ever tasted – perfectly complex, yeasty, showing aromas of the fresh bread and apples, all in a very bright and energetic package. Considering the price ($26.99 on special) is simply unbeatable (people, stop buying the yellow label, get the real thing and save some money!). 8

2011 Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc North Canterbury, New Zealand (14% ABV) – nice, restrained – recognizably New Zealand, but more in the Sancerre style, with grass and lemon prevailing over the grapefruit. Well balanced and very refreshing.  8-

2012 Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir North Canterbury, New Zealand (13.5% ABV) – clean. delicate. perfectly balanced. perfectly delicious. Saying that Mt Beautiful Pinot Noir is beautiful sounds somewhat broken, but there is nothing I can do here – definitely an outstanding Pinot Noir of a rare precision. 8+

2010 Hooker Breakaway Chardonnay Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley (13.3% ABV) – Perfectly classic – vanilla, apple, butter and toasted oak, all elegantly connected, round and supple, perfectly balanced and supported by acidity. A pleasure. 8-

2011 Bogle Petite Sirah California (13.5% ABV) – probably one of the very best value wines in existence – I have to yet to taste a bad Bogle Petite Sirah. Amazingly consistent from vintage to a vintage – dark fruit on the nose and the palate, blackberries and raspberries, firm structure, powerful but elegant tannins, very good balance. 8-

2007 Talullah Syrah Bald Mountain Napa Valley (14.8% ABV) – inky black color in the glass, very restrained on the nose, nice dark fruit on the palate with the spicy notes. Definitely needs time to evolve. 8-

2004 Chateau Puy Arnaud Maureze Côtes de Castillon AOC (13.5% ABV) – very nice, rich, open and classic Bordeaux – hint of cassis, touch of bell peppers, well structured with firm tannins, good overall balance. 8-

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2008 Gorys Crespiello Cariñena DO (14% ABV, 100% Old Vine Vidadillo) – outstanding. Very restrained, with nice dark fruit on the nose, on the palate shows raspberries and elegant sweet oak undertones, nice earthiness. Well balanced and intriguing, a thought provoking wine. Medium to long, mellow finish. This is the wine to be enjoyed slowly, preferably with the book or by the fire. Highly, highly recommended. Ahh, and on top of everything – a new grape. 8

1998 La Rioja Alta 904 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain (12.5% ABV) – dialed back and elegant, needs time to open up. Nice fruit, cedar notes, well present tannins, good overall balance. Needs time. 8-

2010 Quota 31 Primitivo Menhir Salento, Salento IGT (14% ABV) – playful and elegant. Dark, dense fruit, raspberries and blackberries profile, round tannins, good balance. Very enjoyable. 8-

And here are few of the whisky discoveries:

Blue Ridge Distilling Defiant Whisky, North Carolina (41% ABV, 100% Malted Barley) – North Carolina, really? Well, I’m kidding, I’m not that surprised at all – after tasting great drams from Oregon, Utah, Texas and New York, I believe that great whisky can be made anywhere, as long as you apply enough passion. This whisky was unique and different, as it was the most scotch-like compare to all other US whiskeys I tasted. Very well balanced with nice viscosity, some caramel undertones, herbs and acidity.

The Lost Distillery Company Auchnagie Blended Malt Whisky (46% ABV) – one of the very best whiskys I ever tasted – touch of smoke, perfectly clean and balanced. It is also a very unique product – you can read my original post for more details about it.

Gordon & MacPhail Highland Park 8 yo (40% ABV) – I know that many people will just turn their nose away from this scotch simply based on the “low age” of 8 years. To me, this was absolutely delicious – excellent peatiness (I love peat in my scotch, if you don’t – this will not be your drink), clean, balanced – an excellent dram.

That’s all I have to report for December. Cheers!

Playing Wine Secret Santa

December 30, 2013 23 comments

wine santaA few weeks ago, Jeff, a.k.a. the drunken cyclist, came up with the idea – how about making whole bunch of people happy and excited, just in time for the holidays, by exchanging a few bottles of wine – in secret. As the typical “secret Santa” game goes, we (all participants) have to send one or two bottles of wine to someone – of course nobody has any idea who is sending wine to whom, as all the recipients are set at random. We also were asked to include a little note about ourselves and how did we chose what wine to send – for all detailed rules and regulations you can look here.

I really liked the idea from the very beginning – being able to share the wine with someone and an anticipation of the surprise of the wine someone have chosen for you was definitely exciting. As the idea was discussed further, both in Jeff’s blog and in the e-mail, the main problem surfaced. Legally, you have to have a liquor license in US in order to send wine to someone. The creative ideas were exchanged – ask winery or a store to ship the wine you selected to your recipient; print the label at home and drop the box at UPS or FedEx – they will not ask the questions; ship the wine via US mail – but don’t tell them you have anything liquid inside (this is what I did). With this main problem out of the way, the next key question was: what to send?

Choosing the wine for such a secret mission is very far from simple (sorry, laugh all you want – we, wine snobs, like to complicate things). You want the wine to match the preferences of your recipient. Okay, so may be I’m complicating things for no reason – most of the participants should have a blog, and in that blog they probably talk about wine, so it should be not that difficult, right? Hmm, let’s see.

Finally I got the e-mail – my recipient was Chef Mimi. I went to Chef Mimi blog, which boasts beautiful pictures of food (I’m a sucker for the beautiful food pictures) and tons of recipes. I read the About section, I searched for the word “wine” in the Chef Mimi’s blog – and I couldn’t find any clues to what she might like! So I put my thinking cap on (just kidding – no cap – I just stare blindly into the computer screen). I went through Chem Mimi’s blog posts, thinking – what would I pair with this or that dish? Finally – yes, I got it – Riesling would be one, because it would perfectly pair with these sliders, and, and, and … a Merlot, middle-of-the-road-and-often-great red wine? I have a few bottles of this great Riesling, of course with the name only Oliver can pronounce, 2007 Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg Riesling Kabinett Mosel-Saar-Ruwer (I talked about Spatlese from the same producer in this post, but I chose to send a Kabinett). And for the Merlot – as I live close to Long Island, and I recently was on the trip there and immensely enjoyed 2005 Estate Merlot from Jamesport, this was kind of a no-brainer decision for the wine which is unique and different. Done and done. The rest is history – you can read about it in the Chef Mimi’s post.

A few days after, my wines arrived.

wines from SantaInside the box, there was a handwritten note from @NewfD90, explaining the preference for the Italian wines hence the selection sent to me – Sangiovese from California and Primitivo from Salento “just for fun”, as the note said.

I decided to start with 2010 Menhir Salento Quota 31 Primitivo Salento IGT (14% ABV). I have a limited experience with Primitivo wines. While Primitivo is a close relative of Zinfandel, and Zinfandel makes some of my most favorite wines, the Primitivo wines I taste in the past were nothing close to the Zinfandel, and shall we say it, not that great. So you can imagine that my expectations were not that high. Open the bottle, pour, sniff, swirl, sip – wow, this is great! I have to honestly say that this was the best Primitivo I ever tasted – and outside of the Primitivo category, this was simply an excellent wine. Ripe raspberries profile on the nose, dark dense fruit on the palate, with more raspberries and blackberries, good round tannins, overall very balanced. Medium to long finish. A very pleasant wine overall.

Cosentino is the well known producer from Napa Valley in California, making a wide range of wines from Chardonnay to Cabernet Sauvignon to Zinfandel. This was my first experience with Cosentino Sangiovese. This 2011 Cosentino Sangiovese Il Chiaretto Napa County (15.5% ABV) opened up nicely with the nose of leather and smoke, generally resembling Pinot Noir a lot more than any Sangiovese wines I tasted in the past. On the palate it showed touch of tobacco and licorice, with a bit too much of a sweet fruit and then black pepper in the back. It also showed some noticeable tannins. What this wine was lacking was balance and harmony – all the components stuck out on their own. I decanted some amount of the wine, but 3 hours in decanter didn’t help it. I really tried to fall in love with this wine, by tasting it little by little over the next four days – to no avail. While the wine was changing day to day, and it was still drinkable on the day 4, it didn’t come to greatness. I had much better Sangiovese wines from Temecula valley, where the grape quite popular, so may be Napa Valley is just not the place for this grape to shine. But – tasting new wines is always a fun challenge, so I”m glad I had this experience.

That concludes the Secret Wine Santa report. This was definitely fun, so I would like to thank Jeff for coming up with the idea and I’m already looking forward to the next year’s Secret Wine Santa project. Hmmm, that’s a long wait, isn’t it? May be we need to extend the idea to the Secret Wine Admirer? That would be awesome! Cheers!

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