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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!

 

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, Wine and Pregnancy, Impossible Food and Wine Pairings?, Don’t Diss The Chardonnay

June 26, 2013 8 comments

P1120673 Cavallotto BaroloMeritage time!

Let’s start from the answer to the Wine Quiz #62, Grape trivia – Nebbiolo. In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about Italian grape called Nebbiolo. Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: Explain the meaning of the name “Nebbiolo”

A1: The name “Nebbiolo” comes from the Italian word nebbia, which means “fog”, by association with foggy hills of Piedmont.

Q2: In one of the regions outside Piedmont, the wines are produced from Nebbiolo grapes in the style of Amarone – with grapes drying on the straw mats before they are pressed. Can you name that region?

A2: Valtellina in Lombardy. I was lucky to attend a special seminar on Sfursat di Valtellina Nino Negri wines where I learned for the first time about this type of production (here is the link to my post). There was also a mention of Nebbiolo-based Recioto wines from Veneto – as this was really an experimental effort by one of the winemakers, I can’t count that as a right answer.

Q3: True or False: Blending is not allowed for any of the wines produced from Nebbiolo grape in Piedmont region.

A3: False. While blending is prohibited for Barolo and Barbaresco wines, it is allowed in Ghemme and Gattinara (however, many winemakers prefer to make wines with 100% Nebbiolo grapes).

Q4: White grape used to be such a traditional blending partner for Nebbiolo that it was sometimes called White Barolo. Do you know the name of this grape?

A4: Arneis. Arneis was a popular blending partner for the Barolo wines in the past, and that gave it a name of White Barolo.

Q5: In the blind tasting setting, the wines made out of Nebbiolo can be very distinguishable even before you take a first sip. Do you know what is this distinct feature of Nebbiolo wines?

A5: Orange hue. It is very indicative feature of Nebbiolo wines, especially as they gain any amount of age. You can also distinguish young Barolo by tremendous amount of tannins ( typically), but that is only a feature of particular style of wine and not the grape, and it is whole another story.

There were lots of responses this time! We have two winners (drum roll, please): VinoInLove and Mika ( no web site) get unlimited bragging rights. Also Stefano, Jeff TheDrunkenCyclist and Oliver TheWineGetter all get honorable mention with 4 correct answers out of 5. Thank you to all participants! We have one more red grape to cover for now, and then we are switching to whites. Oh yes, you can start guessing now, what will be this last red grape – you will find out if you are right or not on Saturday.

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

First, I want to bring to your attention an interesting article about wine and pregnancy from Vinography blog. I don’t know if there are right and wrong here, my personal theory that everything is good in moderation – and any good thing taken out of proportion can and will become your enemy. Still, it is an interesting read, and don’t miss the comments section.

Now, two of the bloggers I follow posted “impossible food and wine pairing” questions. Dr. Vino asked about pairing of wine with anchovies, and the TheArmchairSommelier had a very interesting question about pairing of the summer salad (which contains among other ingredients watermelon, blueberries, honey and feta), which sounds delicious by itself, but presents a substantial challenge of finding the right wine. Visit both blogs and offer your advice, if you will – of course if you want to comment here, I will be very happy to have the discussion in this blog.

Last but not least – a murder story and the warning to those who diss the Chardonnay, as presented by W. Blake Gray – read it here, it is short…

This is all I have for you – the glass is empty. But refill is coming, as usual – and don’t forget that today is Wine and Whiskey Wednesday (like you need a reason to drink, ha). Cheers!

 

Weekly Wine Quiz #62: Wine Trivia – Nebbiolo

June 22, 2013 23 comments
Nebbiolo grapes, picture from Wikipedia

Nebbiolo grapes, picture from Wikipedia

Welcome to the weekend! Your new wine quiz has arrived.

Today our subject is the Italian grape called Nebbiolo – a power grape of Piedmont, solely responsible for some of the world’s best wines, Barolo and Barbareso.

As I’m working on this series of quizzes, I’m of course learning a lot myself. It was very interesting for me to realize, that unlike any other major red grape we talked about so far, Nebbiolo is pretty much confined to the 6 or so areas in Italy, where it makes wonderful wines – its world-wide spread is non existent, not even in the form of clones, like Zinfandel. And this is all despite the fact that Nebbiolo is quite an old grape, with first mentions going all the way back to the 13th century.

Nebbiolo is a very tricky grape to work with. It has the longest ripening cycle out of many grapes – buds early, ripens very late, prone both to mutation (there are about 40 known clones) and grape diseases. But – the resulting wines, like Barolo and Barbaresco, clearly worth the trouble, with wonderful aromatics, power and concentration. Also the ageing potential of the Nebbiolo wines is almost unlimited.

Now, to the quiz!

Q1: Explain the meaning of the name “Nebbiolo”

Q2: In one of the regions outside Piedmont, the wines are produced from Nebbiolo grapes in the style of Amarone – with grapes drying on the straw mats before they are pressed. Can you name that region?

Q3: True or False: Blending is not allowed for any of the wines produced from Nebbiolo grape in Piedmont region.

Q4: White grape used to be such a traditional blending partner for Nebbiolo that it was sometimes called White Barolo. Do you know the name of this grape?

Q5: In the blind tasting setting, the wines made out of Nebbiolo can be very distinguishable even before you take a first sip. Do you know what is this distinct feature of Nebbiolo wines?

Good luck, enjoy your weekend and cheers!

Vinitaly and Slow Wine Tastings – Part 2, Wine Seminars

February 15, 2013 12 comments

VinItaly and Slow Wine logoThis is the second post about my experience at Vinitaly and Slow Wine 2013 in New York. In the first post I only gave you some interesting stats. Now, it is time to actually talk about wines.

Attending big wine tasting is great, wine is everywhere, and lots of it – at the same time, it is also very challenging. You can’t really assess wine methodically, it is more of a “swirl (carefully), sniff, sip, suck air, spit” – in case you wonder, “swallow” is typically not the part of the process, otherwise your tasting will be very, very short. After “spit” goes “write a word, may be two or three”, and move on, either to next wine or to the next table. No, of course I’m not complaining, just explaining that as usual for this type of my “tasting posts” there will be lots of pictures, and a few words.

We – oh yes, let me explain “we” – I spent all of the time at the event with Stefano of Flora’s Table fame (by the way, Stefano also just started the new blog called Clicks & Corks – be sure to check it out). Stefano is a wealth of knowledge and a pleasure to be around – if it would not be for him, I’m sure I would miss out on a number of gems at this tasting.

Now, let’s start again . We spent most of the time in the Slow Wine section of the event, with the exception of two wine Master Classes and a few wineries in the actual Vinitaly section. Let me start from the seminars, and then we will talk about other wines (probably in yet another post).

The first Master Class was a vertical tasting of Nino Negri ‘5 Stelle’ Sfursat di Valtellina DOCG, a wine made out of Nebbiolo grape. Both Stefano and myself took care of pre-registering for this seminar (when I came to register, I got one of the last 3 seats). No matter. In addition to registration, program also mentioned that Master Classes are first come first serve events. So, do you think our registration helped us? Yep, you got it – not really. When we arrived about 15 minutes before the starting time, we were told that the room is full and there are no spaces left. Well, based on the fact that we had registered, we ignored the guy who was trying to stop us from getting inside of the room. But the room was full. No seats. And it is not that you need just seat – you also need a place for 6 glasses in front of you. I was witnessing a futile attempt of one of the organizers to remove two people who were sitting down and had no tickets. Nope, that was not happening. So when one wants to taste wine, this is what the one wants, right? Luckily for us, the place had very wide window seals. Stand by the window, get 6 glasses, ask for the wines to be poured. Actually, I have to say that service staff was super nice and super accommodating – we all got tasting placemats and we all got wine. Here are few pictures:

DSC_0086

Just look at this bottle...

Just look at this bottle… Unfortunately, the wine was oxidized. But the bottle was way too cool.

No tickets, but hey, who need tickets when it is first come first serve...

No tickets, but hey, who need tickets when it is first come first serve…

Casimiro Maule, Oenologist at Nino Negri, presents the wines.

Casimiro Maule, Oenologist at Nino Negri, presents the wines. In 2007, he was awarded the title of “Winemaker of the Year” by Gambero Rosso

Nino Negri winery started in 1897 in the Valtellina region of Lombardy, in the area of Alps close to the Switzerland. This location makes harvesting of the grapes very difficult – actually, a helicopter is used nowadays to transport crates with grapes from the vineyard to the winery – here is a short video in case you want to see how the harvest looks like:

Nino Negri estate makes many different wines out of Nebbiolo grape. The wines we tasted, ‘5 Stelle’ Sfursat, are only made in the best years, and they are done in the style similar to Amarone. After grapes are harvested, they are dried outside for 100 days before they are pressed. During these 100 days, grapes are sorted a few times, and all the grapes which don’t cut it are used to produce some other wines. After 100 days of drying the grapes are pressed with subsequent long maceration, and then aged for 18 month in new French oak barriques and 6 month in the bottle. Note that all these wines are not for the faint at heart – they boast 15% – 16% ABV.

Just look at the beautiful color

Just look at the beautiful color

Here are the notes for the wines we tasted, in the order we proceeded:

2009 – Prunes, brick dust on the nose, pretty green on the palate, very light for Nebbiolo, good minerality, short finish. Better on the second try, but too watery. Probably needs time.

2007 – According to the winemaker, 2007 was a great year. But – this bottle was oxidized. Some prunes on the palate, tasted more like a dry sherry than a normal wine.

2004 – this year had low yield, and drying season was very difficult. But the wine had nice power, good minerality, good tannins, long finish.

2002 – Prunes on the nose, with some raisins, soft, round, dark roasted fruit on the palate, tobacco, savory herbaceous notes, great balance, overall very nice.

2001 – Perfect beauty! Supple, round, with only a hint of dried fruits on the nose, perfectly balanced, really a outstanding wine. Hell with the rest of the tasting – need a full glass of this one to enjoy. Best of tasting.

1997 – This wine was as good as 2001 – more herbaceous notes than fruit, but perfectly elegant. Dried fruit on the nose (more than the previous wine), graphite and tobacco notes on the palate. Great complexity, balance and elegance. Borderline better than 2001 ( wait, didn’t I just called 2001 “best of tasting” – yeah, I always have trouble with making up my mind…)

All in all, tasting through the vertical of  Nino Negri ‘5 Stelle’ Sfursat wines was a special experience and I’m grateful to organizers for making it happen – the beauty of the wines overweight the logistical challenges.

At the end of the day, we attended another seminar, this one dedicated to the wines made on Volcanic soils of Italy. We were preregistered, at this point knew what to expect, ready for a fight and this time got the seats.

If you look at the map below (maps were provided as part of the seminar):

DSC_0189 Volcanic Soils Map

Map of Italy’s Volcanic Wines

there are many volcanoes all over Italy, including even some of the active ones, like Etna in Sicily. Volcanic environments are uniquely different for all the things growing, vines included, and this whole “volcanic wines” project is dedicated to researching the effect of the volcanic soils on the resulting wines. It is also interesting to note that at this point, the whole project is only dedicated to white wines ( and I was hoping to taste some reds).

All together, we tasted 9 white wines:

DSC_0130

Overall, I wouldn’t say that I was super impressed with the wines. Some wines were better than the others, but there were no OMG moments. Here are the notes for my favorites:

Azienda Marcato – Lessini Durello Metodo Classico 36 Mesi NV – this was the only sparkling wine in the tasting, and it was outstanding. A blend of 85% Durello, 10% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Nero, 12% ABV. Apple and toasted bread on the nose, nice minerality, smell of granite. Perfect minerality on the palate, very dry. Excellent.

2011 Cantina del Castello – DOC Soave Classico “Pressoni” – a blend of 80% Garganega, 20% Trebbiano di Soave, 13.5% ABV. Nice nose of lemon, green apple, good acidity. White apple and pear on the palate, good acidity, nice lemony aftertaste.

2011 Barone di Villagrande – Etna Bianco Superiore – 100% Carricante. Nice nose with minerality and some saltiness, very dry on the palate with pineapple aftertaste.

DSC_0131 Volcanic Wines tasting

That concludes the part 2 of the Vinitaly experience. In the part 3, I will (finally) tell you about the wonderful wines we experienced at the event. 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!

Long Overdue–Notes From Michal Skurnik Wine Tasting

April 13, 2011 1 comment

Yes, this post is long overdue, as I hinted that it’s coming a while back. Better late than never, right? Here it is.

Let’s say you are in a wine store. Bottles, bottles are everywhere. Sometimes you know exactly what you want. Sometimes you don’t – and this is when it becomes challenging. How do you know if that bottle of wine is any good? Price is really not an indicator of quality. You can’t try the wine ( at least in the majority of cases). Yes, you can ask for the advice – then it really depends what store you are at (some of the store advice should be avoided at all costs). So, what do you do? Of course, using your iPhone is always an option, but this is not where I’m going right now. One possible solution is to look at the back label, which all the wines in the US have to have. Look for the name of the importer. And if it says “Michael Skurnik” or “Kermit Lynch”, you should smile, because you just learned that chances this bottle of wine is good just increased dramatically.

Why you are asking? Michael Skurnik Wines is so-called “importer” (they are also a wholesaler, but this information is typically not advertised on the label). It means that Michael Skurnik Wines company (MSW) works with thousands and thousands of wineries and other wine merchants all over the world to find the wines which will pass through their rigorous selection process and will be represented by Michael Skurnik Wines.

The wines chosen to be carried in the portfolio might not be all your favorite – but they all will be quality well-made wines. It means that MSW folks are doing all the hard work of selecting the best wines for you, and all you need to do is to enjoy the fruits of labor.

Few times a year wine importers and wholesalers organize special wine tasting events to present their portfolio to the trade. I was lucky to attend Michael Skurnik Wines Spring Grand Tasting, and I would like to share some of my personal highlights.

First and foremost, my personal “Best of tasting” is Peter Michael wines. Four 2009 Chardonnays were presented in the tasting (“Mon Plaisir”, “La Carriere”, “Belle Cote” and “Ma Belle-Fille”) – tremendous, all four are the best Chardonnays I ever tasted. Finesse and absolute balance – vanilla, toasted oak and butter all being present, but in absolute harmony with bright acidity, fruit and silky smooth tannins. I would put drinkability for all four at 9+. Just so you know, these are the cult wines, which affects the pricing and availability. These wines are available only through the mailing list or through select merchants – you might be able to find them at Wades Wines and Benchmark Wine Company.

The next highlight was an amazing line of Barolos. A mix of 2005, 2006, 2007 Barolos from Azella, Manzone, Renato Corino, Marengo, Altare, Clerico, Cavalotto – one was better than another, all beautiful and powerful wines. Anyone of the names I mentioned is worth seeking.

While the Barolos were great, they had a group of contenders, which were literally as good. Wines of Aldo Rainoldi come from the area in Lombardy region called Valtellina. These wines are produced from the same grape as all Barolos – Nebbiolo, with all the vineyards located at the very high altitude of 600+ meters (1800+ feet). I tried four different Aldo Rainoldi wines – 2007 Sassella, 2005 Crespino, 2006 Inferno Reserva and 2007 Sfursat Classico – all were truly outstanding and very comparable with great Barolos, but at the half price as the least.

In addition to all the wines in the tasting (about 700), there were some stronger spirits as well. One of the surprises was Calvados I tried. Calvados is a brandy which is made out of apples in the Calvados region of Normandy in France. Typically, I can drink it, but it is not something I would be seeking out. However, two of the Calvados presented at the tasting – Camut Calvados 6 years old and Camut Calvados Reserve 12 years old were simply incredible. Soft, smooth, elegant, great aroma of fresh apples, very delicate balance. They will not be easy to find, but I would highly recommend you will make an effort. You can try your luck at D&M, and believe me, you will not be disappointed.

That’s all, folks. There were many many more great wines, but you got to stop somewhere, right? Until the next time – cheers!

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