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WBC18: Merlot Deep Dive with Masters of Merlot

October 18, 2018 2 comments

I remember my first “deep dive” into the Washington wines at the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery a few years ago, where I was told about the power of Washington Merlot. The explanation was given on the example of a group visiting Chateau Ste. Michelle from California, who were complaining that Washington Cabernet Sauvignon was too soft and mild as opposed to the Cabernet Sauvignon from California. The group was offered to taste the Washington Merlot wines next, and this is where they found the right amount of “power” they were looking for (or maybe even a bit more).

WBC18 Masters of Merlot tasting

While attending Wine Bloggers Conference 2017, I was able to start the conference experience on a very high note with the deep dive pre-conference session on the California Cabernet Sauvignon, where we learned about one of the most classic California Cabs you can find – Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon. This year, at WBC18, we started on the equal, or maybe even higher note with the pre-conference session on Merlot. Very appropriately for being in Washington, and for the October being the #MerlotMe month, we were able not only taste a line of Merlot wines but to compare side by side the wines made by two of the Merlot pioneers and, unquestionably, the Masters – Duckhorn Vineyards from Napa Valley and L’Ecole No 41 from Walla Walla Valley.

Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot

Dan and Margaret Duckhorn started Duckhorn Vineyards back in 1976, becoming one of the first 40 Napa Valley wineries. Even in those early days, it was clear that Cabernet Sauvignon was The Grape everybody wanted to work with. At that time, Dan and Margaret decided to proceed in their own way, and instead of joining the Cabernet Sauvignon movement, be unique and different and embrace the Merlot. Ever since their inaugural vintage in 1978, they never looked back and became known as Napa Valley Merlot pioneers and one of the best Merlot producers in the world, starting with their first release of Napa Valley Merlot in 1979. Today, Duckhorn Vineyards expanded dramatically and now comprise multiple wineries and brands around the USA – however, Merlot is the heart and soul of Duckhorn wines, and it is not surprising that 2014 Duckhorn Vineyards Three Palms Vineyard Merlot was the Wine Spectator’s 2017 Top 100 Wine of the Year.

L'Ecole No41 Merlot

L’Ecole No 41 was founded by Baker and Jean Ferguson in 1983 when it became 3rd winery in Walla Walla, and 20th winery in the Washington state. Today the winery is run by the 3rd generation of the family, and sustainably farms estate Seven Hills and Ferguson vineyards. Merlot is the king in Washington, so it is not surprising that the L’Ecole crafts some of the best Merlot wines in Washington – however, their Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Bordeaux-style blends are equally world-famous.

Now that you know the bit of the history, let’s talk about our tasting. In our Masters of Merlot session, we had an opportunity to taste side by side Duckhorn Vineyards and L’Ecole No 41 Merlot from 2008, 2012 and 2015 vintages, plus a cherry on top (thank you, Duckhorn Vineyards) – 2015 Three Palms Merlot. Before I will leave you with the tasting notes for these beautiful Merlot wines, I just want to share some general observations. The three vintages of Duckhorn Merlot we were comparing had a different grape composition between the vintages while maintaining the same oak treatment for all the wines. As I mentioned in my summary post about WBC18 experiences, Washington weather is very consistent, so L’Ecole No 41 maintained the same grape percentages between the vintages and the same oak regimen – the changing parameters were only harvest dates and the vineyard source composition, which gradually shifted from solely a  Seven Hills vineyard in 2008 to the 50/50 share between Seven Hills and Ferguson vineyards in 2015 (L’Ecole folks are ecstatic about the potential of the Ferguson Vineyard, now introducing more and more single vineyard wines from it).

Masters of Merlot tasting WBC18

Now, it is (finally!) time to talk about the wines. Here we go, in the tasting order:

2008 L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $?, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in French oak)
Rutherford dust on the nose, chewy, dense, tart cherries, needs time! I want more fruit! Would love to try it in 5-8 years.

2008 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $70, 86% Merlot, 9.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3.5% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc, 16 months in French oak)
Raisins on the nose, very explicit, beautifully dry on the palate, sage, anise, tart, showed a bit of Rutherford dust after swirling, great acidity. Amarone! I want to drink it NOW!

2012 L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $30, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 76% Seven Hills Vineyard, 24% Ferguson Vineyard, 18 months in French oak)
Espresso, Rutherford dust (a bit less explicit than 2008). More fruit on the palate, bright, beautiful.

2012 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $65, 88% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec, 16 months in French oak)
Delicate, fresh plums, a touch of truffle notes, plums and lavender on the palate, delicate, fresh, round.

2015 L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $36, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 50% Seven Hills Vineyard, 50% Ferguson Vineyard, 18 months in French oak)
Dark fruit, Rutherford dust, dark berries, a bit of bell pepper on the palate, plums, sapidity, interesting minerality. Needs time.

2015 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $56, 85% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot, 16 months in French Oak)
Closed nose, a touch of mint, however – palate is beautifully ripe, open, clean, fresh fruit.

2015 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Three Palms Vineyard Napa Valley (14.7% ABV, $98, 91% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.5% Petit Verdot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in French Oak)
Rich, opulent, caramel, anise, sage, on the palate coffee, ripe fruit, mocha, dark chocolate. Big and delicious.

Masters of Merlot tasting

Were these wines similar, even between the different wineries? Of course. I love the presence of the Rutherford dust on many of the wines we tasted – after tasting best of the best in Rutherford in Napa Valley – the BV wines, I picked up that term and I always use it describe the perceived dusty impression of the wine’s aroma. L’Ecole Merlot was a lot more structured and minerally-driven. I would safely say that 2-3 hours in the decanter would help those wines a lot. The Duckhorn Merlot were a lot more fruit driven but offered an impeccable balance with that fruit. If I have to pick the favorite, it would be between 2008 Duckhorn (ahh, that Amarone-like beauty) and 2015 Duckhorn Three Palms, but there were really no bad wines in this tasting.

There you have it, my friends. Beautiful Merlot wines, easy to love and appreciate, and most importantly, offering lots of pleasure. How is your Merlot Me month going? What are your discoveries or the old favorites?

I have to say special thank you to Constance Savage of L’Ecole No 41 and Kay Malaske of Duckhorn Vineyards for offering this special tasting to the wine bloggers! Cheers!

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!

 

Daily Glass: Will It Merlot?

March 23, 2017 8 comments

2002 Robert Green Cellars Merlot NapaYes, the title of this post is a play on the theme of some of the Good Mythical Morning episodes, where Rhett and Link are trying to figure out how far they can take the usual food items in the unusual directions, calling those episodes “Will It …” (if you are not watching the show, you really should, here is the link for you). But this is where the connection with the popular show ends.

And yes, we are talking about Merlot. But that also not very important, as the bottle was not opened just because I wanted to drink Merlot.

The vintage was the culprit – 2002 – as this is the year when my youngest daughter was born. And as I’m sure many of you, oenophiles, out there do, I love opening proper vintages to celebrate birthdays.

So the question was whether this 2002 Robert Green Cellars Merlot Napa Valley (14% ABV) would be still drinkable in 2017.

I presented this question to a few of the twitter winos, and the consensus was cautiously optimistic, presuming the wine was properly stored (the bottle actually never left wine fridge from the moment it got into the house). Wine Spectator rated 2002 Napa vintage at 89, and “Drink Recommendation” column had gloomy “Past peak” reference. I wanted to learn a bit more about the wine from the producer’s website, but the link on the back label was non-functional, and google didn’t offer much help searching for “Robert Green Cellars”.

Done with theoretical research – the proof is in the pudding wine glass anyway. The cork pulled out in a perfect condition. The wine is in the glass, and the first whiff had nice fruit in it, but the wine tasted a bit off. But – never judge the wine by the first sip, right? This rule is very important when it comes to the young wine, but this is even more important when it comes to the aged wines. 10 minutes in the glass brought this wine together – a perfect core of the dark fruit, maybe a touch of black currant, mint, firm structure, definitely a nice glass of wine.

About an hour and a half after the bottle was opened, it opened up even more, but somewhere in the distance, more on the finish than anything else,  tertiary aromas started to appear – this is when I tweeted to the same group that the wine was perfect but at its peak. Another 30 minutes later, the wine started closing back, but only in a good sense – acidity came to the forefront, fresh young black and red fruit came to dominance – I was clearly looking at a young and delicious wine, not more than 3-4 years of age. Then, of course, the bottle was empty.

This was definitely a fun bottle of wine, with the self-attached “first world problems” – would the wine be still good or not. Believe it or not, but there was even the next level of fun associated with that wine. The little pictogram of the flute player, known as Kokopelli, which you see on the front label and the cork itself, most often is associated with fertility. What I didn’t know that Kokopelli also can be credited with the arrival of the spring. I have other 2002 bottles but somehow decided to open this particular one on the second official day of Spiring (the Spring in the USA started on March 20th). Oh well, as I said before, first world problems.

I think this wine Merlot perfectly, and I can only wish you same success and fun with your older bottles. I also want to leave you with the text from the back label of this bottle, as I think it perfectly finishes this post:

“The Joy Bringer” “This flute playing character is often credited with bringing the change of winter to spring, melting the snow and bringing about rain for a successful harvest. He is believed to represent the fertility of the untamed spirit of nature. Perhaps this joyful traveller’s greatest lesson is showing us that we shouldn’t take life so seriously. We hope the spirit of Kokopelli shines through in our wine and that it brings you as much joy and pleasure as it was for us to make. Enjoy the moment. Robert and Sue.”

Trader Joe’s Merlot Run

October 31, 2016 13 comments

As some of you might know, I can never pass on visiting the local Trader Joe’s when traveling – as long as it offers wine (which seems to be the case so far in the most places I visit). Last week I was in Santa Clara in California, so the trip to the nearby Trader Joe’s was unavoidable.

trader joe wines californiaDeciding on what wine to buy at Trader Joe’s is difficult. I always take price into account, but then there are lots of wines in the same, super-reasonable prices range of $5 -$8. The next option is the label – yes, I’m a sucker for creative labels, and then, of course, the region comes to play.

As I slowly walked along the wine shelves, the label of Jebediah Drinkwell’s caught my eye – it was strangely attractive – plus I like Meritage wines, so it was an easy decision.  I picked up Trellis Merlot because it was a Merlot (and October is a Merlot month) – and I was really curious to see what $4.99 can buy you from Sonoma. Cecilia Beretta was the third bottle I got – wanted to go outside of California, and “Partially dried grapes” always sounds like a music to me.

Looking at the wines later on, the idea  of #MerlotMe dedication came along – would all these wines be Merlot based? To my delight, in addition to the 100% Merlot from Sonoma, two other wines also had substantial Merlot content, so here you go my friends, a Merlot run at Trader Joe’s.

Here are my notes:

NV Jebediah Drinkwell’s Meritage Red Wine Paso Robles ($5.99, 37% Petite Verdot, 31% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec)
C: dark Ruby
N: touch of smoke, roasted meat,
P: soft fruit, blackberries, tobacco, good acidity, medium-long finish
V: 7+/8-, quite enjoyable

2014 Trellis Merlot Sonoma County (14.5% ABV, $4.99)
C: garnet
N: restrained, distant hint of cassis, herbs
P: soft, round, cassis, good acidity
V: 7+, excellent QPR

2014 Cecilia Beretta Soraie Veneto IGT (14% ABV, $7.99, 40% Merlot, 30% Corvina, 20% Cabernet, 10% Croatina, grapes dried for a few weeks before pressing)
C: dark garnet
N: touch of blueberry pie, quite restrained
P: touch of blueberries, tobacco, hint of dried fruit, good power but round, soft tannins, medium finish
V: 7+, will work well with food – pasta with some hearty tomato sauce would be perfect

As you can tell, it is pretty amazing what $18 can buy you at Trader Joe’s. Also, it is my second experience with non-vintage wine at Trader Joe’s, and I’m definitely impressed with the quality of that wine.

Do you buy wines at Trader Joe’s? Any interesting finds you care to share? Cheers!

Celebrate Merlot!

November 7, 2015 9 comments

Let me ask you something – what is your relationship with Merlot? Are you still under the influence of Miles?

Believe it or not, but movie Sideways had an impact on consumer’s attention to Merlot – up until two years ago, I couldn’t see Merlot wines on the shelves of my neighborhood wine store – simply for the luck of demand.

But situation is changing, and people are happily asking for and drinking Merlot again. Over the past 2 month, I had at least 4 Merlot or predominantly Merlot wines, which were outstanding, from Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Long Island New York and Macedonia:

Merlot deserves an utmost respect as it makes wonderful wines on its own (Petrus or Masseto, anyone?), and it also plays perfectly well in the blends.

November 7th is an International Merlot day, and all you have to do is to find a bottle of your favorite Merlot, open it, [invite your friends over – however, this is entirely optional], and have fun. Better yet, find a bottle of Merlot you never had before, and be surprised. By the way, how are your Merlot skills? Do you think you know everything about black-skinned grape? You can test your knowledge with the Grape Trivia quiz which I used to run every Saturday – here is the one about Merlot.

Merlot is well worth your attention, so please don’t be Miles. And if you got a second, leave a note for me below about your favorite Merlot wine. Cheers!

Good and Bad in the Booming Wine Country

October 30, 2015 3 comments

Fall in the VineyardIt was definitively bright and sunny. And somewhat windy. And not warm at all. But it didn’t stop us from adhering to a delightful tradition couple of weeks ago – day trip with friends to the Long Island wine country. We’ve done it for the past 7 years if not longer, with very little interruptions (had to miss last year, unfortunately) – visit a few wineries, taste wines, spend few hours in leisurely lunch in a great company.

It was very interesting to observe how the things were changing over those years – some for better, some for worse. As the love of wine is on the upswing in the US over the same 7, may be 10 years, this clearly was visible in sheer number of people you would see at Long Island wineries – more people every year. Of course it is a good thing – outside of the fact that you have to stand longer in line to the tasting counter. I don’t count this as good or bad – this is just a fact. What definitely improving for the better is a quality of the wine. Every year, the number of “wow” wines in seemingly the same tasting lineup was increasing. And not only the “wow” wines, but also “very solid wines”. So this is definitely good and I love the trend.

Ahhh  Long Island Wine CountryWhat is not good? Well, let me start from the most questionable gripe around the wine – prices. Yes, I understand that winery is a business, and they charge what they can, and have a cost justification. But $48 for a bottle of Long Island Riesling? It is a good Riesling, but it is not the wine which worth $48. Or $110 for a Long Island Merlot? I understand that the grapes were harvested by hand, and that it is only made in the special years, but again, strictly judging from the taste, this is not a wine which worth $110, for sure if you don’t have an expense account.

I also have to mention the usual sad state of knowledge of their own wines by the people minding the tasting room. One month ago I was told that new and very talented winemaker started at the Jamesport Vineyards. When I asked gentleman at the tasting counter at Jamesport about their new winemaker and if he made any of the wines we are currently tasting, I got back a shy smile and an answer “of course, he made all of them” – that would include even wines from 2007… Oh well…

Fall Vines

Long Island Vineyards

True, pricing and affordability are extremely subjective – I’m sure there are plenty of people in this world who will gladly pay the $110 for that bottle of wine and also get a case – I’m just not one of them (but this is nobody else’ problem but mine). What I have much bigger issue with is food. As I told you, one of our most favorite activities during the wine country visit is 2 (or longer) hours lunch. For years, our preferred lunch destination was Paumanok winery – they have very nice patio with lots of tables outside, beautiful views and very good wines. We would bring our food – everything you need to make tasty sandwiches, as well as cheese, nuts, fruits – anything you would use to support a slow conversation over a glass(es) of wine. We would find the table, buy a few bottles of wine right at the winery and enjoy ourselves. About 4 years back situation changed, and we had to pay to reserve the table and to use the glasses, but I think we were getting back some of the money towards tasting fees and/or wines. No problems, still works for me. This year, the rules are new again – no outside food allowed. Okay, so it is probably replaced by some sort of deli counter or may be a food truck outside, you would think? Nope. You get the whole menu, but mostly with the items such as pâté or some cheeses, and a little bit of cold cuts. The cold cuts tray for $20 has 6 slices of salami, 6–8 tiny pieces of cheese and about the same quantity of olives and cornichons. All the pâté look like they came directly from Trader Joe’s, and they were served right in the plastic wrap with the short baguette on a side. This is simply wrong, in my opinion. If you are not allowing people to bring their own food anymore, then you should provide an appropriate alternative – or don’t do it at all. Don’t get me wrong – we still had a great time, but the food, unfortunately, was detrimental part of the experience.

Long Island Vineyards 1

Fall in the Vineyard 1

Done with the “bad” – now let’s go back to the good (best) part – the wines themselves. We started our tasting at Jamesport Vineyards winery, which always was one of my favorite wineries on Long Island.

About Jamesport winery

Here are the favorite wines of the tasting:

2014 Jamesport Vineyards East End CINQ Blanc ($16.95, blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc) – playful, open nose with white fruit, simple, clean, delicious overall

2013 Jamesport Vineyards Riesling ($25.95) – perfect, classic nose with a touch of Petrol and restrained fruit, nice and clean on the palate – excellent overall.

2013 Jamesport Vineyards East End CINQ Red ($16.95, blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah) – outstanding. Warm profile, nicely perfumed, good fresh red fruit, delicious

2013 Jamesport Vineyards East End Cabernet Franc ($17.95) – Classic, touch of green notes on the nose, crisp palate, touch of salinity, excellent

2010 Jamesport Vineyards MTK Merlot ($34.95) – Tobacco and field flowers on the nose, great palate, clean, concentrated, delicious

2010 Jamesport Vineyards Mélange de Trois ($34.95, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot) – Great power, concentrated, excellent

2007 Jamesport Vineyards Jubilant Reserve ($34.95, predominantly Cabernet Franc, with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and tiny amounts of Syrah and Petite Verdot) – Nice concentration, good depth

2010 Jamesport Vineyards MTK Syrah ($24.95) – nice peppery notes, classic, open, clean – an excellent cold climate Syrah overall.

Then, of course, Paumanok. Quite honestly, I don’t even remember such a variety of wines offered at Paumanok – Reserve, Single vineyards, wow – lots of excellent wines. I have to admit that at the time of the tasting at Paumanok I was hungry and lazy at the same time, so I simply tasted the wine without taking any notes – here is the limited set of impressions from the Paumanok wines I tried.

Believe it or not, but my favorite wine from Paumanok tasting was 2010 Paumanok Blanc de Blancs ($45) – yep, classic sparkling wine, with perfect nose of yeast and freshly toasted bread, and apple and fresh bread on the palate. Delicious! 2014 Paumanok Chenin Blanc ($28) was fresh and vibrant, and 2013 Paumanok Cabernet Franc ($30) was clean and varietally correct. From the Grand Vintage collection, 2014 Grand Vintage Chardonnay ($45) was excellent, dry and crisp, 2013 Assemblage ($50) and 2013 Grand Vintage Cabernet Franc ($35) were excellent as well, but my favorite was 2013 Grand Vintage Merlot ($40), with deliciously powerful and balanced palate. Lastly, from the Single Vineyard collection, I really liked both 2010 Merlot Tuthills Lane Vineyard ($75) and 2010 Petite Verdot Apollo Drive Vineyard ($75) – they were different, but equally outstanding.

Lastly, for the first time over all these years I made it to the South Fork of Long Island (Hamptons), where we visited Duck Walk and Wölffer Estate wineries. There was nothing at Duck Walk to write home about. At Wölffer Estate, we didn’t do a real tasting as we visited place called The Wine Stand, where you can buy wine by the glass or bottle – main winery was closed for the wedding. Here is what we tried:

2014 Wölffer Estate Summer in a Bottle ($24, 41% Chardonnay, 29% Gewürztraminer, 20% Riesling, 10% Pinot Gris) was fresh and very nicely balanced, which is always appreciated in the white blends. 2012 Wölffer Estate Christian’s Cuvee Merlot ($110, 96.5% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, 0.5% Petit Verdot) was the wine I mentioned before. It was simply not ready – tight, with limited fruit expression. May be 5+ years in the cellar would do wonders…

There you have it – a trip to Long Island wine country with all the good and bad. Unquestionably, we had a great time with friends, and this is what matters. Yes, it would be even better without the gripes, but we can’t have it all, can we? Well, I wish that all your problems would be only small annoyances in this life. And yes, head over to the Long Island wine country, as the wines are delicious. And may be try to sneak in a sandwich? Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, Barolo Boys, California Wine Month, Tasters Must Read and more

September 3, 2014 2 comments

Meritage time!

Let’s start with the answer to the wine quiz #112: Grape Trivia – Müller-Thurgau.

In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about the white grape called Müller-Thurgau.

Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: Which country is not known to produce Müller-Thurgau wines:
a. Australia, b. England, c. Hungary, d. South Africa, e. United States

A1: South Africa. The rest of the countries make wines out of Müller-Thurgau

Q2: True or False: In 2010, plantings of Riesling in Germany were double in size compare to those of Müller-Thurgau

A2: False. Plantings of Riesling were barely exceeding plantings of Müller-Thurgau (it was even the other way around few years before – Müller-Thurgau was one of the most planted grapes in Germany).

Q3: Wine Spectator calls wines with 90-94 ratings “Outstanding: a wine of superior character and style”. True or False: There are Müller-Thurgau wines rated as Outstanding by Wine Spectator.

A3: True. However very few, but yes, there are Müller-Thurgau among Outstanding wines, with 92 been the highest rating.

Q4: Which one doesn’t belong and why:
a. Kerner, b. Müller-Thurgau, c. Scheurebe, d. Sylvaner

A4: Sylvaner. The rest of the grapes are the result of crossing between Riesling and other grapes.

Q5: True or False: There  are no sparkling wines produced from Müller-Thurgau

A5: False. All grapes are used today to produce sparkling wines, and Müller-Thurgau is no exception. According to the reviews, some of the Müller-Thurgau sparkling wines are very good.

When it comes to the results, this is something I was afraid of – nobody took the challenge. I can’t blame anyone – the grape, generally famous for its appearance in often insipid Liebfrauenmilch wines, doesn’t incite people to spend time researching information about it. Well, I will stick to my plan, nevertheless, and the next quiz will be about Pinot Blanc – start studying!

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

Barolo Boys are coming! Well, this might be a bit of a weigh announcement. Let’s try it again. The movie “Barolo Boys. The Story of a Revolution” is coming to the theaters near you. The movie, which took two years in the making, will profile a number of famous Barolo winemakers, talking about the winemaking revolution which took place on the hills of Piedmont in the 80s and 90s. The movie will open on September 26th in Italy, and will be showing at the beginning of November in New York. To wet your appetite, here is the preview:

Did you know that September is California Wine Month? Of course you don’t have to drink only California wines during the whole month of September, but on the second thought – why not? So many amazing wines coming out from California, one month will not be even nearly enough to get a clear picture of what wines California can produce. To celebrate California wines, there will be lots of special events in California and beyond – here is the link for you to read more about California wines and all the festivities around it.

Yes, Matt Kramer is one of my very favorite wine writers, and it is showing. Here is yet another reference to one of his articles. If you are serious about tasting the wines, this is a must article to read. I want to stress the difference between tasting wines and enjoying them. To say you enjoy the glass of wine, you really don’t have to dig into it, and try to figure out “texture”, “mouthfeel”, “midpalate density”, “fruit” and many other descriptors. Enjoying wine is pretty much a binary activity – you either enjoy it or not. For all of us who passionately pursues the geeky, technical side of wine, this article  is a godsend. Taking Montrachet as an example, Matt Kramer goes into the depth of explanations about texture, mouthfeel, ageability and many other elements which are near and dear to every oenophile’s wine geeky side. Don’t miss it – and I would even suggest reading it multiple times to let it all settle in.

Last one for today, a mixture of curious and borderline funny. As part of the 10 year anniversary of the movie Sideways (produced in 2004), the Merlot Taste-Off will take place on September 13th in Solvang in California – the town closely associated with the movie and one of the main characters, Miles, exclaiming “I’m not drinking no f*ing Merlot”. Here is the information about the event – of course you have to be in Solvang to take part in it. I wonder what Miles would say about it…

And we are done here. The glass is empty – but the refill is on its way! Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, #MWWC4 Theme, Merlot is Back!, And a Few Videos

October 9, 2013 15 comments

Meritage time!

Let’s start from the answer to our weekly wine quiz #76, grape trivia – Roussanne. In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about white grape called Roussanne.

Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: Explain the source of the name Roussanne

A1: Name Roussanne most like comes from the word “roux”, which refers to the reddish color of the grapes.

Q2: Which one doesn’t belong and why:

a. Hermitage, b. Côte-Rôtie, c. Châteauneuf-du-Pape, d. St.-Joseph

A2: b. Côte-Rôtie. Roussanne is allowed to be blended into the red wines of the three other regions – but the white grape allowed to be used in Côte-Rôtie is Viognier.

Q3: Outside of Northern Rhône, the traditional bending partner of Roussanne is…

A3: Grenache Blanc is the most popular blending partner for Roussanne outside of Northern Rhône

Q4: Roussanne was re-introduced in California in the 1980s, only to be proven in the late 1990s to be not the Roussanne but another grape. Do you know what grape was that?

A4: Viognier. Randall Grahm, winemaker from Bonny Doon winery, brought [illegally] a number of cuttings of supposedly Roussanne from France at the beginning of 1980s. In 1998 it was found that the grape is actually Viognier, not the Roussanne.

Q5: One of the first California “Roussanne” wines from the 1980s had a specific name. Can you name that wine?

A5: The “Roussanne” wine was produced by Randall Grahm under the name of Le Sophiste.

Sadly, there was very little participation in this quiz – I have to acknowledge Julian at VinoInLove, who was a sole participant – thank you Julian! I guess I’m going to far into the vineyard with some of my latest quizzes… Well, one more white grape, and we are switching back to the red right after.

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

First of all, we have a new theme for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge! Now in its 4th round, it is hosted by The Wine Kat, winner of the round #3. The theme of the #MWWC4 is… OOPS!, and I can tell you that oops is looming, as the submission deadline is already very close, it is only two weeks away – October 23rd. Get your writing pants… oops, may be glass? Writing hat? Well, whatever oops gets you moving, get it on and start writing. The theme announcement and all the important dates can be found here.

Just a quick question at the moment. What do you think of Merlot? Do you still have an image of Miles “I’m not drinking no #$%^ Merlot”, or does it trickle back to you table and Cellar? Well, I can tell you that about 100 Merlot producers from California want to make sure you will once again look at Merlot seriously. Tomorrow, October 10th, is actually the start of #MerlotMe, a month-long celebration of Merlot, taking place both with the live events and all over the social media. You can find more details about the festivities here – and don’t wait, grab your bottle already!

Continuing the theme of Merlot, I wanted to share with you this video, made by one of the Merlot pioneers, Gundlach Bundschu:

And for no other reason, but just for your enjoyment on this Wine Wednesday, here is the video which I wanted to share a while ago – a “Blurred Lines” parody, made by the enterprising folks at Jordan (in addition to making great wines, they also have one of the best social media outreach in the wine industry):

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 #54 – Grapes Trivia: Merlot

April 13, 2013 19 comments

Merlot GrapesHere comes our next quiz in the Grape Trivia series. Today’s subject – Merlot.

Merlot is one of the most popular grapes in the world, used both for blending and single-varietal wines. Merlot has thin dark blue colored skin, and its taste profile typically includes plums, blackberries, chocolate and tobacco notes. As it is often compared with Cabernet Sauvignon, one of its most popular blending companions, Merlot ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, has higher sugar content and lesser level of tannins. While France has the biggest plantings of Merlot in the world, Merlot is universally grown in literally every wine producing country – great Merlot wines are produced in Australia, New Zealand, Italy, California, Washington, Long Island, Spain, Chile, Argentina and many other places.

Done with basic facts – let’s proceed with our quiz now, shall we?

Q1: Merlot was named after a:

A. town

B. person

C. bird

D. song

Q2: Name the movie where Merlot was dissed on uncountable number of occasions

Q3: One of the grapes from the list below was assumed to be a Merlot – but it was not. Do you know which grape was mistaken for the Merlot? Bonus question – name the country where confusion took place.

A. Mourvèdre

B. Carignan

C. Carménère

D. Cinsault

Q4: Some place, some time ago, Merlot successfully crossed (by accident) with Cabernet grape, and formed a new grape which produces pretty unique wines. Can you name that grape?

Q5: Chateau Petrus in Pomerol, France makes some of the very best (and most expensive) wines in the world, and those wines are 100% Merlot. Then there is another 100% Merlot wine, made in another country, which is considered a successful competition to Petrus and done very well against it in a number of blind tastings. Can you name that wine?

Have fun, good luck and enjoy your weekend! Cheers!

Weekly Wine Quiz #32 – A Guessing Game: Ultimate Challenge, Part 2

October 6, 2012 8 comments

And yet another Saturday is here, and, of course, a new quiz. It will be the last one (at least for now) in the Guessing Game series (previous three can be found here: #29, #30, #31). As promised, this one is about red grapes, but we will kick it up a notch  – you have 7 grapes to match with 6 reviews – one grape is there just for fun, but in my opinion, it easily could’ve been for real. So here are your grapes:

A. Cabernet Sauvignon

B. Malbec

C. Merlot

D. Nebbiolo

E. Pinot Noir

F. Syrah

G. Zinfandel

And here are the reviews:

1. “complex, yet subtle, with blackberries, minerals and berries. Full-bodied and very velvety, with lovely rich fruit, with chocolate and berry character. Very long and refined. A joy to taste.”

2. “aromas of tar and smoke, with very pure, concentrated blackberry and spice notes underneath mark this exotic, seductive red. Silky and complex, it caresses the palate. It needs a little time to absorb the oak, but this is long and has great potential.”

3. “a seductive red, drawing you in with its pure cherry and floral aromas and flavors, then capturing you with the silky texture and harmonious profile. Stays fresh and elegant, with a long, ethereal finish.”

4. “still tight, with a wall of mocha and raspberry ganache covering the massive core of fig fruit, hoisin sauce and plum cake notes. This is extremely dense but remarkably polished, with a long, tongue-penetrating finish that drips of fruit and spice laid over massive grip.”

5. “delicious stuff; not huge, but impeccably balanced, nuanced and tremendously long and pure. It’s a cascade of currant, blueberry and plum fruit shaded on one side by subtle, toasty oak, on the other by hints of minerality and exotic spice. But it’s the elegance and the length that make this a winner.”

6. “torrent of blackberry, boysenberry and bittersweet ganache notes. But there’s exceptional drive and focus here as well, with a great graphite spine driving through the spice- and floral-infused finish. A stunner for its combination of power and precision.”

For an extra credit, try to figure out the country of origin for the wine in the reviews.

Good Luck! Have a great weekend and drink well! Cheers!