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What a night! Notes from OTBN 2020

March 14, 2020 6 comments

Open That Bottle Night is the best wine holiday out there. It is nice to celebrate all the individual grapes – Chardonnay Day, Albarigño Day and the likes – but that can’t compare with an opportunity to open a special or the most special bottle you have in your possession, and most importantly, share it with fellow oenophiles, the people who appreciate and respect that special bottle.

I’ve been lucky for two years in the row to be invited to someone’s house to celebrate OTBN – last year Jim VanBergen of JvBUncorked fame was our host, and this year John Fodera of the Tuscan Vines hosted of amazing wine night.

John did a great job organizing this memorable night for the group of people most of whom he never met face to face (yours truly included – we had been following each other for close to 10 years, but managed to avoid any face to face contacts until now) – he developed a loyal group of followers as Italian wines expert, and I’m sure everyone was happy to finally meet him in person.

John managed to come up with a great program. After the round of Lambrusco bubbles (which is the rave nowadays) we started the evening with two blind tastings. We had 2 groups of 3 wines each, trying to identify at least a place and type of wine, and ideally even the producer. We also voted for the group’s favorites. I generally suck at blind tastings, so I did poorly (as expected). I also decided not to use the external factors in the tasting (I.e., John is Italian wine guy, so we should simply expect all the wines to be Italian; another guess would be that as John’s blog is called Tuscan Vines, all the wines will be from Tuscany).

Here are my notes for the first flight:

Wine 1: Touch of mint, full-body, good structure, a touch of black currant – super Tuscan?

Wine 2: great concentration, dark fruit, layered, silky smooth – Montepulciano di Abruzzo?

Wine 3: nice fruit, bright, good structure. Super Tuscan? New World?

Needless to say that I was absolutely wrong with all three. Again, I could’ve used a bit of psychology and figure out that John would be pouring only Tuscan wines, but I deliberately refused to do so. The wines were perfectly polished and complex, all three, without screaming “I’m Chianti” with the appearance of leather, tobacco, or tart cherries. To make a long story short, all three wines happened to be Chianti Classico Gran Selezione from 2016 vintage, provided to John by Chianti Classico Consortium. In the order of appearance, these were the wines:

2016 Fèlsina Chianti Classico Colonia Gran Selezione DOCG ($NA, 100% Sangiovese)

2016 Rocca delle Macìe Riserva di Fizzano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG ($NA, 95% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot)

2016 Fontodi Vigna Del Sorbo Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG ($NA, 100% Sangiovese)

I want to add that the second wine, Rocca delle Macìe Riserva di Fizzano, won a popular vote with 5 votes out of 10 – this was also my favorite wine.

The next flight consisted again of three wines. Here are my notes:

Wine 1: dark fruit, eucalyptus, crushed berries, green tannins – Bordeaux blend, can be from anywhere

Wine 2: Roasted meat, plums, salami, plums on the palate – Grenache/GSM? Can be from anywhere

Wine 3: too aggressive, green tannins, black currant. Bordeaux blend, can be from anywhere.

Again, I should’ve expected another line of Italian wines, but I thought John could play some tricks, so I didn’t go with an obvious idea of Super Tuscans. And I was wrong. All three wines were well known Super Tuscans (these three wines were courtesy of Kobrand Wines):

2017 Tenuta Sette Ponti Oreno Toscana IGP ($75, 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot)

2016 Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto Toscana IGP ($54, 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot)

2016 Lodovico Antinori Tenuta di Biserno Il Pino di Biserno Toscana IGP ($70, Cabernet Franc with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot)

I really didn’t appreciate the tannic nature of wines number one and number three, and those tannins were not only aggressive but literally biting. Oh well. Wine #1, Oreno, was the crowd’s favorite (7 votes out of 10). This time around my vote didn’t match the majority, as I went with the wine #2, Guidalberto, as this was the only drinkable wine for my palate.

After finishing the tasting and discussing the results, it was time to eat. First, there was pasta bolognese, which John masterfully prepared:

And then there was meat. John decided to spoil the group with 2.5” porterhouse steaks, to make Bistecca Fiorentine:

We went to work the grill which was an interesting adventure, mining the grill to prevent flare-ups on a cold night. We actually had to make two attempts to get the steaks right, as they were still mooing after the first pass. But we managed to produce something delicious in the end and not ruin the amazing steaks.

Now, time to meditate. Nope, this was not an organized food prayer session. What happened was that the bottle of Soldera Brunello di Montalcino was poured out of the decanter. Mike Giordano brought a bottle 1999 Soldera Brunello de Montalcino in completely unassuming, low key, way. Gianfranco Soldera was a legend, who bought a property called Case Basse in Montalcino in 1972, with an aim to produce the best Brunello wines. By 1990s Soldera wines reached cult status, coupling impeccable quality with small production. Talking about Gianfranco Soldera and his wines would be best suited for a separate dedicated post, as controversy completely surrounded him; I have to say that I never expected to taste his wines – until this memorable OTBN.

Just look at this color…

1999 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino DOCG was truly a meditation wine. “Meditation wine” might not be a simple term to explain in words, but if you like wines, there is a chance that you experienced it one time or the other. The nose, the aroma, the bouquet of this wine were simply magical. Taking the whiff from the glass, the time was stopping – no need to try to analyze the amazing palette of flavors to come up with individual descriptors – this wine should be described purely on the sensory level, as every smell was bringing a pure, hedonistic pleasure. I didn’t care for food, I didn’t care for talking – I just wanted to take another smell, and another, and another. When I finally took a sip, the wine was magnificent on the palate too – a perfect balance of plums, cherries, textural layers, structure, sage, rosemary – a perfect harmony of flavors. It is quite possible that this was my wine of the year 2020 – I know it is only March, but this was an experience that is seriously hard to beat. I don’t feel that I should even try rating this wine, but if I would dare, this would be my second ever 10- (don’t ask me why not 10, I have no idea what my perfect 10 wine should smell and taste like).

After the meditation session, just a few words on the dinner. In addition to the delicious meat, John made a couple of side dishes – the sautéed white beans were an absolute hit, adored by all literally as much as the beef. John actually promised to share a recipe – you can find the recipe in this post.

This was not the end of our wine program. We also had 2016 Campochiarenti San Nicola Chianti Colli Senesi – Campochiarenti is a producer John is always raving about in his posts, so it was definitely interesting to finally taste this wine (Campochiarenti wines at the moment are not imported into the US, but available directly from the winery). The wine was classic and simple, and for about $12 (if it will be imported into the US, this is expected retail price) it will be definitely a great value. I brought a bottle of 2010 No Girls Grenache from Walla Walla in Washington, which was very tasty but radically non-Italian, so I don’t think it was well-received. I also brought one of my recent finds – 2016 Pedro Cancela Selecção do Enólogo from Dão, which was an old world and a lot closer to the overall theme, and an amazing QPR at $9 per bottle at the local Bottle King store. 2010 Capanna Brunello Di Montalcino was delicious, but it was a tough call to get everyone excited after experiencing the Soldera. Lastly, we had 1999 Natale Fantino Nepas Nebbiolo Passito Piedmont which was interestingly dry and light, but not necessarily my favorite.

That gives you more or less a full picture. We also had a wonderful spread of Italian desserts, and truth be told, for the first time ever I tasted cannoli which I liked. It appears that the good cannoli should be filled with cream at the moment of purchase and not before – now I will know.

And now we are done. How was your OTBN 2020? Cheers!

Wednesday Meritage – OTBN, Tre Bicchieri, Cru Bourgeois 2020 Classification, and More

February 26, 2020 Leave a comment

Meritage Time!

Let’s start with my perennial favorite – Open That Bottle Night, or OTBN for short. OTBN movement was started by the Wall Street Journal wine writers, Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, back in 1999, to encourage wine lovers around the world to open up that long stashed special bottle which might be long gone while waiting for a special enough day. OTBN is always celebrated on the last Saturday in February, which will be falling on the February 29th this year. I had been a passionate supporter of this special wine holiday for many years. Last year, we had a great celebration hosted by Jim van Bergen of JvBUncorked fame. This year, John Fodera of Tuscan Vines will be hosting a wine dinner I’m very much looking forward to attending. The only question left is what bottle is special enough to be open this coming Saturday, but this will be hotly debated until the very moment of leaving the house. Oh well, these are the first world problems of the wine lover. I hope you have some special plans too.

Next, let’s talk about the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchiery event. Gambero Rosso is a wine publication in Italy which every year rates about 45,000 Italian wines. Out of all these wines, about 1% receives prestigious Tre Bicchieri (three glasses) designation – 465 wines attained these honors in 2019. To celebrate the best of the best in Italian wines, Gambero Rosso conducts an annual Tre Bicchiery tastings around the world. Such tasting is coming to New York this coming Friday, February 28th – it is open to the trade and media only, so if you belong to one of these categories, don’t miss this fun tasting. You can register for the New York tasting using this link. After New York, the show will make a number of stops in California – here you can find the full list. If you are interested in learning more about Tre Bicchieri 2019 awards, here is a very informative link for you.

Our next tidbit is about French wines. On a perfectly unique date – 02/20/2020 – Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc announced its new classification of the Crus Bourgeois wineries. Crus Bourgeois is a classification which is one level below of the famous 1855 Crus Classés (Classified Growths), but still represents a high level of quality and is difficult to attain, as an application process is quite rigorous. The new 2020 classification is awarded for a period of 5 years. It includes 249 Châteaux with a total production of 28 million bottles. Out of 249, 14 Châteaux are classified as Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel, 56 as Cru Bourgeois Supérieur, 179 as Cru Bourgeois. You can find all the interesting stats here.

Now, a bit of the advice – how to store wine. I’m sure many of you have a few bottles which you want to keep for some time – the reason is not important, it is your wine – but not everybody has a wine cellar in their house or an apartment. Even if you don’t have a wine cellar, it is not a problem – you can still preserve your wines in the perfect condition for the years to come. The folks at Redfin, real estate news and analysis firm, asked winemakers, wine experts, sommeliers and wine writers for advice on storing the wines at home, and assembled all the recommendations in the form of the blog post, which you can find here. I’m sure not all of those recommendations are universally applicable to everyone, but I’m also sure you might some useful details there.

Not to be outdone, one last note for today – about Georgian wines. If you are living in or will be visiting New York on Monday, March 2nd, you are in luck – Georgian wine tasting will be hosted at a restaurant called Chama Mama in lower Manhattan. There are actually two tastings – one for trade and press from 4 pm until 6 pm (you can find information here), and one for consumers from 6 pm until 9 pm (here is the link to buy tickets). I always consider Georgian wines to be some of the best in the world, so if you can make the tasting, you can thank me later.

That’s all I have for you today. The glass is empty, but the refill is on the way. Cheers!

 

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