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My Favorite Wine?

December 27, 2015 6 comments

Once people establish that I’m a wine snob [connoisseur, aficionado, oenophile – please insert one more appropriate], very often I hear one of the most dreadful, intimidating, difficult questions an oenophile can get – “so tell me, what is you favorite wine?”. When I shrug the question off and say “sorry, I don’t have one”, the usual continuation is “oh, come on, you must have one”.

It is hard to explain that my answer is not a coyly, flirting attempt to exaggerate my self-worth, but I think it would be true for any oenophile – it is impossible to name one wine and to say “this is it, this is my only favorite wine”. I’m not even talking about one specific wine from one specific producer, and it is not even one specific grape – either way you spin it, oenophile is always ready to give you a short and concise list of favorite 100 wines. Note that the longer the conversation will be, the longer the list will become. It should be much easier to answer question about the dream wine – the wine one obsessively wants to try – of course there always many on that list too, but at least for me it is easy to single out one dream wine – DRC (yes, I know that Domaine de la Romanée-Conti makes more than one wine, but I’m not picky, you know…).

It is really hard to pick the favorite wine as the more you taste, the wider your “circle of knowledge” becomes – and you are bound to find gems in every little cornier of the vast winemaking world, with hundred thousands new wines produced every year. To top that diversity off, even for one and the same person taste of wine is very subjective, affected by mood, weather, company and myriad of other factors. No, it is an impossible question.

Now, I want to offer you something instead. At the end of every year I make an effort to reflect on the wines I had a pleasure experiencing, and to summarize it in “Top Wines” post. So far I produced 5 such posts, which I call “Top Dozen”. I managed to keep those posts to a dozen only in 2010 and 2011, and then 2012 – 2014 all included two dozens of the top wines. As it is time to write the same for the 2015, let me reflect a bit on the past posts and give you a list of Top 10 wines from 2010 – 2014. While I always state that those top lists are given in random order, the wine #1 is always thought through, so those choice are not random. Lo and behold, here are the Top 10 Talk-a-Vino wines of 2010 – 2014:

2010

2. Rozes Over 40 Years Old Port ($90). My best port ever. I can close eyes and imagine the smell and taste of this wine – multiple layers, tremendous complexity and great opportunity to reflect on life when the finish lasts for 15 minutes. Find this wine and experience for yourself.

1. Mara Laughlin Road Ranch Pinot Noir 2007, Russian River Valley ($45). Incredibly balanced, silky smooth wine, very powerful and round. Alcohol content is 15.6%, and it can’t be noticed unless you read the label. Great wine now, will improve with some cellar time. Find it if you can.

2011

2. 2001 Masi Mazzano Amarone della Valpolicella ($130) – this was an Amarone I’m constantly looking for and can’t find. Stunning nose of the raisined fruit, a dried fruit extravaganza – with powerful, structured and balanced body – not a glimpse of overripe fruit which is so common in the nowadays Amarone. Truly beautiful wine for the special moments.

1. 2010 Fiction Red Wine Paso Robles by Field Recordings ($20) – First and foremost, it is a smell which doesn’t let you put the glass down. Fresh flowers, meadows, herbs, fresh summer air – it is all captured in the smell of this wine. On the palate, this wine shows bright red fruit, like raspberries and cherries, all perfectly balanced with a great finesse. Any time you want to experience beautiful summer day, reach out to that wine.

2012

2. 1947 Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja ($400)65 years old wine  – still bright and youthful. This was one amazing experience – tasting the wine of such an age, and finding that you can really like it without looking for any  age discounts. Fruit was still bright, all wrapped into cedar box and eucalyptus notes, with soft tannins and fresh acidity.

1. 2010 Phantasi Oregon White Wine ($100, Magnum price in the restaurant) – wine geeks, rejoice! This is your wine! If you read this blog for a while, you already know that I’m self-admitted wine snob. But – you probably also know that compare to the wine snob, I’m somewhat of a 100-fold wine geek. I would try absolutely any wine and I purposefully seek odd and unusual bottles.

When this wine was offered to us in the restaurant $100 for a magnum, this was an offer I couldn’t pass by. And what the wine it was! This is 100% Roussanne wine from Oregon, made by Antica Terra – unfortunately, you can’t even find any information about this wine on the winery web site.

The wine was served at the room temperature. Deep, pungent, concentrated – in the blind tasting (actually blind, so you would not be able to see the color in your glass) I’m sure this wine would be easily identified as red. Good acidity, good balance, very food friendly – and very unique.

2013

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.

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.

2014

2. 2007 Pago Marqués de Griñon Emeritus, DO Dominio de Valdepusa ($75) – until I tasted this wine, yes, I knew that Spain produces good wines from the international grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon. But at such level? This wine was a true revelation – classic Cabernet Sauvignon with cassis, mint, eucalyptus and finesse.

1. 1966 Louis M. Martini California Mountain Pinot Noir ($NA) – I had no expectations when I opened the bottle of the 48 (!) years old wine. To be more precise, I was not expecting anything good. What I found in my glass was simply mind blowing – still fresh, still elegant, perfectly recognizable as Pinot Noir and delicious! This was the first wine ever to receive a 10 rating from me – I hope it tells you something.

Producing this Top Dozen list is somewhat of a daunting task, as the opportunity to second guess oneself is truly boundless – but then this exercise becomes a source of great pleasure as you get to re-live the whole year.

I understand you still don’t know what my favorite wine is (that makes at least two of us), but with the list above you know at least a bit more, don’t you? In case you are interested in seeing complete TaV “Top Dozen” lists, here are the links for 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Keep in mind that whether you consider yourself an oenophile or not, creating a top ten (insert your number) list is always fun,  so take piece of paper, pour yourself glass of wine, and get to re-live the year through the wines and all the memories connected to them. Yes, the wine is an emotional connector. Happy reflections!

Is There an Epiphany For The Oenophile?

May 7, 2015 18 comments

MWWC_logoThis post is an entry for the 17th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC17), with the theme of “Epiphany”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish.

I have to admit – when it comes to the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, I don’t have a straight record. I participated in many, but definitely not all. Of course lots of it has to do with the theme. Some of them I loved initially, only to find out that they are much harder than I thought (MWWC16 “finish” would be a perfect example). Then there were some which seemed difficult from the get go, and they didn’t disappoint (”devotion” would be my favorite example of an extremely difficult theme). But the key word here is “Challenge”, so let’s just roll with the punches, shall we?

Epiphany is definitely a very difficult theme. Hold your horses – I’m not generalizing, I’m talking about myself. It is a very difficult theme because the word epiphany is not a part of my vocabulary. I don’t think I consciously used the word even once. To me, it has strictly a religious connotation, and I have to honestly admit that I’m not a very religious person. Yes, it is a difficult word for me.

So when the going get tough… one reaches out for the dictionary – sorry, I already played that card before, with the equally difficult theme, “devotion” – but I don’t have a lot of choice. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Epiphany is defined as:

Epiphany

Okay, so we are not going to talk about the first and second meanings – not in this blog for sure. That leaves us with with the range of options in the meaning #3. I feel good about discovery, realization, revelation, sudden perception – still, the epiphany has too grandiose of a meaning for me to be able comfortably use it.

My forming journey as an oenophile was full of discoveries, revelations and realizations, but was the epiphany hiding somewhere along the way? I’m not so sure. Let’s take a look.

My serious introduction into the world of wine happened about 10 years ago, when I took Windows on the World Wine course thought by one of the best wine educators out there – Kevin Zraly. My first major discovery in that class was Amarone, 1997 La Ragose. Amazing dried fruit and raisins on the nose, promising a sweet wine – and then dry, perfectly balanced and well structured wine on the palate. This experience became engraved in my memory, for the good and for the bad. What is bad about it, you ask? Absolute majority (with a very few exceptions) of Amarone I tasted since, including the other vintages of La Ragose, didn’t measure up to that first experience. I keep claiming Amarone to be my favorite wine, which typically only leads to disappointments.

The next memorable moment was during the class on Champagne and sparkling wines. Three or four wines were served blind, and Kevin asked to see a show of hands as to who liked what wine. There was somewhat of an even spread among few wines to be the favorites, and there was also practically a uniformed dislike of one of the wines. Right before the wines were revealed, Kevin said something which again became forever engrained in that same memory of mine. He said “this is why, people, you shouldn’t drink the vintage Champagne”. The wine everybody disliked (myself included) was 1996 Dom Pérignon, one of the very best vintage champagnes ever. Vintage Champagne is an acquired taste – majority of the people have to really get there before they can claim that they like it. I’m really curious how many people never said the truth about that sip of highly acclaimed Champagne, often synonymized with success (if you care to step forward, just do it – you will not be judged, for sure not in this blog). I gradually moved up through the Champagne taste ladder to honestly claim my love for the heavy, yeasty, complex vintage Champagnes, but believe me, it’s totally okay to be indifferent to them.

Many of my other wine discoveries relate to the wonderful wine store in the New York City, PJ Wine. I mentioned that store many times in the different posts in this blog – in my opinion, the store deserves all the praise it can get. In 2009 I attended PJ Wine Grand Tasting event in New York, and the wines which were presented in that event were nothing short of amazing. This is where I was mesmerized by Krug, both vintage and Grand Cuveé, Château Margaux and Château Léoville-Las Cases, both from the legendary 2000 vintage, 1999 Vega Sicilia Unico, 1922 D’Oliveira Madeira – all of those wines created lasting memories. I remember keep coming again and again for another glass of that Vintage Krug – most surprisingly, it was available for a while. Epiphany? I’m still not sure. Boy, what I do truly regret now that I really didn’t start blogging at that time (but I should’ve!).

The year later, I discovered Spanish Rioja. Again with the help of the PJ Wine. The store offered a Rioja tasting seminar on Saturday, it was free, and I decided – why not? The very first taste of the young Viña Real (2004 or 2005), 6 other Rioja wines in between and the last taste of the mature, but still bright and vibrant 1964 Pagos de Viña Real turned my wine world upside down and squarely put Rioja on top of it.

The year after, at a Spanish wine festival organized by … yes, you guessed it – PJ Wine, I tasted 1993 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Reserva Blanco and 2000 Viña Tondonia Rosado – again, a revelation. Complex and vibrant white of tender 18 years of age, and still fresh Rosé of 11? Truly impressive.

Are you tired yet? There were more, lots more. How about 48 years old wine, mature, but yet delicious? No, not Hermitage, not Bordeaux, not Burgundy. 1966 Louis M. Martini Pinot Noir from Napa Valley. The wine which was just honestly made, without any expectations of longevity – yet a beautiful wine, still bringing a lot of pleasure? Was drinking this wine an epiphany? I don’t know – to me, it was simply a stunning and memorable experience. Then there was 1947 Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja – how can the wine much older than me be so alive and beautiful? Fiction by Field Recordings – the wine which transports you to the blooming summer meadows on the first smell – should that be called an epiphany? Or the Antica Terra Phantasi from Oregon, the white wine with pungent, savory aromatics which taught me that there are white wines which taste amazing at the room temperature (many Roussanne and Marsanne wines do).

You are not going to stop me now. There was Rozès Over 40 Years Old Porto – the fragrant, effervescent, uplifting wine, sip of which says “nirvana” – nope, still no epiphany though. My first taste of the wine directly from the tank – cloudy, still an “ugly duckling”, but delicious Chenin Blanc at Paumanok winery on Long Island – may be? The Merlot grape juice, dripping right from the sorting table with just harvested grapes – was that it? Or may be it was the wine which most likely will never be bottled – a 1970 White Port right from the tank, right in the cellar of Quevedo winery in Douro?

Let’s draw the line here – that memory lane is getting longer and longer. Was there an epiphany in any or all of what I told you? I don’t know. There were a lot of amazing discoveries, revelations, special moments and memories – what is even more important, these special moments continuing – it is really easy to get me excited with the good wine. I will have to let you decide if there is an epiphany for the oenophile – best if you would write your own post. And for me? Can I please have another glass of Vintage Krug? Cheers!

P.S. I would like to thank John The Wine Raconteur , the winner of the #MWWC16, for the great theme which facilitated this highly enjoyable memory trip for me.

Five Traps of Oenophile

September 10, 2012 17 comments

Boy, did this post took a long time… I don’t even know why – I knew what I wanted to write – but no, it still took forever. Anyway, it is finally out, yay!

If you think about it, oenophiles have not only common traits (here is my take on them) – they also have common traps. Are there actually only five traps there, tripping over and under those who loses their caution? It depends on how you will count them, but I would think that these five are the most common ones. Let’s talk about those traps, and then you can tell me of you ever fell for any of them.

1. $100 is a new $10. How many of you out there started your love of wine with Yellow Tail or Frontera, for $5.99 or so? That wine was great, and the idea that you can buy a bottle of wine for more than $10 was completely foreign. What? $19.99? That must be for special occasions only, I can’t believe people spend that kind of money on the wine. See, I’m very happy here with my Frontera Cabernet.
Little by little this situation changes. Why this $6.99 Bordeaux tastes like you are chewing on the tree branch? This is Bordeaux, right? So it is supposed to be the best wine in the world? As you keep reading books and magazines, talking and listening to other people, and most importantly, trying wines which cost a little more and maybe a little more on top, you start hitting the ”aha” moment from time to time. More wines, more reading, more conversations, more experiences at the wineries and wine tastings, more appreciation for the wine and all the labor and passion which goes into creation of a great bottle of wine, and you start letting yourself to push your limit of ”appropriate and acceptable” a bit higher, and then may be some. Before you know it, what was unfathomable to you ($100 for a bottle of wine? What am I, crazy?) becomes … hmmm, let me think about it. No, I’m not describing a birth process of a wine snob (let me digress for a second – “wine snob” has both good and bad meaning, I’m referring to the bad one here) – I think as casual wine drinker becomes an oenophile, the entire outlook on fairness and rationale of the wine prices is changing, thus eventually leading to $100 becoming a new $10 (or may be even worse than that).

2. No cellar is ever big enough. No matter what size of your cellar is, it eventually becomes full – and you run out of space for the … wait for it… new bottles, right! And this is in the lucky case when you have an actual  cellar (so you can probably squeeze in a little more). When you don’t have a cellar, the boxes start piling up all over the place, which … yeah, creates problems. You start opening the bottles just so you will get space for … new bottles. You wish that your friends will come over, so you can open more bottles and … create space for new bottles. Then some of your collection ends up at, let’s say, Benchmark Wine Company, and you get a lot of space in your cellar, so … you can fill it up again.

3. Buying of the wine becomes an obsession. We all buy things. Food, clothes, gadgets. Don’t know if someone can be obsessed with food (talking about buying, not actually eating) – may be, but let’s skip it. Let’s say someone is obsessed with gadgets. Very nice – so that someone will camp out by the store and wait for the whole night for the doors to open to be among first 10 blissful owners of iPhone 15. Some hundreds of dollars, and your obsession is satisfied for the next two years, until the iPhone 18 will come out.
When it comes to the wine obsession, situation is quite different. With the wine, oenophile is constantly afraid to miss something – miss on a big scale, miss irreparably and then regret. Ahh, 2007 was a great vintage in California, so I have to make sure I have enough 2007 in my cellar, because the time to buy is now. What if I will never see this wine again? 2009 was a great year, and this is a great producer – I have to get at least a few bottles of this wine. And that one. Ohh, and what if tomorrow this wine will disappear from the store? So there are only 200 cases of this wine made, and it has such a high rating, and, ahh – this price is incredible – should I get 3 or 4? Yes, yes, I know – I will get 5 and drink one now, but I will still have 4 left for the future, right? I can go on and on, but I think you got the picture.

4. There is never a right time to open that bottle. When it comes to deciding on which bottle to open, boy, does that creates a tsunami of thoughts? So I only have two of those bottles left… Should I open it today? But I think this wine is still evolving… May be I should wait for another year? But what if it will be past prime next year – that would be such a pity, this should be really great bottle of wine. Okay, okay – I will open it in a month, when Michael will come over – hmmm, but I think he really likes Pinot, and this is a Cab… Okay, no, I can’t decide. Let’s put it back. Do I still have any of that Chianti left which I got last week for $9.99? Yeah, I’m tired of this Chianti, but at least I will not destroy my precious bottle before its time… Again, I think this is pretty clear (tell me you never had an occurrence of this one, go ahead, lie to the world).

5. One becomes susceptible to the charm of clever and trusted wine marketing. What is the big deal, right? That what marketing is for – to make us buy something. Problem is that unless you are obsessed with something, most of the marketing generates “hmmm, this is interesting” reaction. Once we are talking about obsession, the reaction to the clever marketing is “I have to have it”. I can tell you that probably 8 times out of 10, I want to buy the wine described in the e-mails from PJ Wine (here is a link to the sample e-mail for you – judge for yourself). The need to pay for shipping really becomes a sobering factor here. Same story with the e-mails from Benchmark Wine Company – luckily (hope you sense the sarcasm), most of their offerings are priced out of the reach. A lot of e-mails from Wine Til Sold Out lead to the similar “I gotta have it” syndrome – I know people who unsubscribed from WTSO e-mails, just to avoid that permanent temptation.

I think I warned you enough – do you still want to be an oenophile (or a wine snob – in a good sense, of course)? If you are still reading this, there is a good chance that you already are – then I hope I armed you with something useful in a fight for preservation of the family money and free space in your house. If not – I hope I got at least a chuckle out of you. Last, but not least – I want to know what do you think! This is what comments section is for… Cheers!

Five Essential Traits of the Oenophile

January 7, 2012 2 comments

Do you think all the wine lovers have something in common? Let’s take a look at some of the qualities which I believe, any oenophile possesses.

  1. Patience: I think this is single most important quality of the oenophile – one have to be able to wait. Mostly we are buying young wines, when they are released. If you want to truly enjoy the wine, you want to drink it when it is at its peak – which in turn means that you have to put that wine aside and wait for it to reach its best form. For example, it is considered that California Cabernets need about 13 years to reach their peak of maturity – can I rest my case? Patience has another virtue. Before you can start waiting for the wine to reach its peak, you have to get that wine. Have you heard of the mailing lists? This is how you get many great wines – Cayuse, Alban, Harlan, Bryant Family and many hundreds of others – are available only through the mailing lists. What’s a big deal about the mailing list (sounds so routine, right?) -not much,  just keep in mind, that there is a list to get onto the mailing list…
  2. Passion: Have you ever talked to oenophile about the wine? The eyes would lit up, and information will be flowing – grapes, growing season, winemaker, the rain and the heat, the taste, the emotion, the experience. Wine is a form of art – and the same way as poetry, music, paintings, photography, architecture – it solicits emotion and passion.
  3. Quick decision-making: when opportunity presents itself, oenophile have to be able to decide on the fly. Is this the wine I want? Is that a good year? Is that a good price? Sometimes, all this information should be processed within split seconds – if you ever tried to get a great true bargain at WTSO.com, you would understand. Spend a bit longer figuring out if that was a good vintage – and it is not relevant anymore, as the wine is gone.
  4. Good memory: In the simplest form, it supports previous quality – quick decision making. You need to remember good years and bad years (for instance, Bordeaux 2000 and 2005 were amazing, and 2002 is better be avoided), you have to remember the exact name of the wine (Peter Michael makes four Chardonnay wines designated as “Estate Vineyard, Knights Valley, Sonoma County” and distinguished only by name like “Belle Côte” or “Ma Belle-Fille” – you better remember which one did you liked more yesterday at the party). But good memory goes further than remembering only simple words or numbers – how about remembering the taste of your favorite wines? I believe oenophiles will be able to describe the taste of the wine they had 10 or 20 years ago – if it was memorable enough.
  5. Desire to share: We want to share our joy, we want to share our experiences, we want to share our best wines – with the people who will appreciate it. I don’t mean to sound snobby – but oenophiles often start from trying to convince the whole world that this particular wine is a pure joy – and the beer drinking part of the world might not see it like that (love the beer myself – there is nothing here against beer drinkers, they just prefer different beverage). Then oenophiles start to understand that they better share their experiences with like-minded people. But – once you strike the cord, everything is open and available. Soliciting “wow” from someone who just had a sip of what you deem one of the best wines on Earth (or at least in your cellar) – priceless.

How far off do you think I am? If you acclaim yourself as a wine lover (aficionado, connoisseur) – do you associate with any of these traits?

Please comment, and – Cheers!

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