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Lists Worth Waiting For

January 24, 2019 7 comments

Once again, one of my all-time favorite subjects – lists. This time, however, these are the lists with a twist – these are the lists you probably want to know about.

Let’s talk about wine collecting.

I have to say that I don’t consider myself a wine collector. I will gladly identify under multiple “wino” categories. I can identify as wine snob – I have my [strong] preferences and if I’m not careful, they will either slip off my tongue or will be readable off my face as in the open book. I’m definitely a wine geek – wine from the barrel, 2-days fermented juice, obscure grape varieties, wine in the can, wine in the plastic bottle – bring it on, I will happily try it all. I’m a wine lover, oenophile – all of these identities are just fine. Wine collector – I would never present myself as such. I love aged wine – this is the main reason for me to have a “collection” – I buy the wines which I believe (hope?) will improve with time, and I store them to give them time to evolve. In my mind, to be qualified as a wine collector, you need to have more or less an unlimited budget – you taste a good wine, you like it, you say “I’ll take a case” – all of it without paying attention to the price. You are definitely free to disagree with my approach, but this is not what this post is all about.

Collector or not, but I’m passionate about wine. I’m paying attention to what I taste. I’m paying attention to what critics have to say. I’m paying attention to what fellow bloggers and writers are saying. Yes, I’m paying attention to the recommendations, reviews, and suggestions – but the trick is to convert the recommendations into the actual wine. You need to be able to find the wine which is so highly recommended – otherwise, the wine will remain only a “fiction”.

If you think that getting the wine everyone wants to drink is easy, you are probably just starting your oenophile journey. Getting the “desired” wine is not even a question of money. Yes, some of these wines are impossible to find and very expensive. But this is not always the case. For example, 2014 Carlisle Syrah Papa’s Block, 96 rating by Wine Spectator, was priced on release at $44. According to Wine-Searcher, it is available only at one single store in the USA. I’m sure you can afford it – but you can’t really find it. And this is just one example. Theoretically, any wine can be acquired from the wine store. In practice, lots and lots of the wines which built their reputation, are not available in the store, neither “brick and mortar” nor online.

This is exactly what I want to share with you today – where and how to find the wines everyone wants to drink. Before we get to it, one important note – everything I will be talking about here is relevant only for the wines in the USA. It is entirely possible that some winery around the world has the same mechanisms in place, but I’m not aware of those wineries – with the exception of Bordeaux En Primeur however, this is not something I want to talk about today. 

Now, how can you reliably get the wines everyone wants to drink? You will need to learn few key terms – “allocated wine“, “allocation” and “mailing list“. The gist of the process can be summed up in one sentence – in order to get highly allocated wine, you need to be on the winery’s mailing list in order to receive your allocation. Sounds simple, isn’t it? Let’s take this summary in pieces.

Highly allocated wine” simply means that the desirable wine is produced in the limited quantity – 100 cases, 200 cases, whatever the number is – but it is given that demand greatly exceeds supply, and so the wine becomes allocated.

A mailing list is a form of the winery membership which is very different from the typical winery wine club. In the wine club, you say how much you are willing to spend, and the winery will decide what they will send you (yes, you have an option of ordering more, but this is beside the point). Mailing list membership gives you access to desired wines the winery produces, but you still have no guarantee that you can get any wine you want.

Every member of the mailing list receives their allocation – how many bottles of what wine they can buy. Allocation is uniquely tailored to your buying history, position on the mailing list and other factors. Even when you get your allocation, life is still not necessarily perfect – some allocations are guaranteed, and some are offered on “first come, first serve” basis – yes, you have an allocation for the wine, but unless you are buying as soon as you receive the email, the wine you wanted might be already gone – experienced this scenario with Peter Michael and Turley many times.

Lastly, you need to keep in mind that your allocation will not necessarily include all the wines which winery included in so-called Release – some of the wines in the release might not be a part of your allocation. Ahh, and one more thing – in order to be on the mailing list, you need to continue buying the wines. I don’t know if there are minimal quantities, and I know that some of the wineries will allow you to skip one or a few of the mailing list offers and will still keep you on the list. Some wineries, however, warn you in a very direct fashion – if you will not order wine from this offer, you will be taken off the mailing list.

So that’s it, now that you understand how the system works, the rest is easy, right? Let’s find the wines we want, go sign up for the mailing list and start receiving the wines – easy! Not so fast. There is one more term I need to make you familiar with. This is the scary term – it is called “waiting list“. Remember I gave you the gist of the buying process for the highly desirable wines in one sentence? We need now to use a few sentences to fully explain the process:

In order to get highly allocated wine, you need to be on the winery’s mailing list in order to receive your allocation. Before you will get on the mailing list, you will first join the waiting list for that mailing list, as the mailing list has limited capacity.

What’s so scary about the waiting list? You have no idea how long will it take for you to transition from waiting list to the mailing list. I was on the waiting list for about seven years in order to get on Cayuse mailing list. I’m waiting for more than seven years now to get on Saxum and Sine Qua Non mailing lists with no end in sight. So yes, if you want access to the wine, you will have to learn to wait.

That’s about all there is to the allocated wines and mailing lists. I would like to make it clear – mailing list is one of the sources of allocated wines – but it is the only option if you want to be fully in charge of what you will be buying. Wine distributors in the USA also hold positions on various mailing lists and they get access to the allocated wines exactly as individuals do. However, their allocations are also limited,  and different stores have different access to those wines. Yes, you can definitely rely on the stores as your source of the allocated wines – for example, Wades Wines in California offers an amazing selection of the allocated wines – but you still have to hunt down the wines you want to drink.

At the beginning of this post, I said that we will be talking about wine collections. So far I explained how you can get wines for your collection – but as someone who had been hunting down collectible wines for a while, I would like to give you a number of suggestions for the wines I consider of being worthy of anyone’s collection – and worth hunting them down and waiting on the lists. Or at least, worthy of most anyone’s collection – for instance, if you don’t like Zinfandel wines as a category, Turley and Carlisle might not be wines you will be interested in. I’m not going to recommend any individual wines – below are the wineries I suggest you will get on the waiting lists for mailing lists, including a short explanation as to why I’m recommending them. I’m also including links for your convenience. The list sorted alphabetically without implying any preferences.

Alban Vineyards

Rhône-style specialist located in Edna Valley in California. Produces both whites and reds. Alban Syrah is a riot, and Alban Viognier might be the best in the country – among other wines. One release per year.

Carlisle Winery

Zinfandel and Syrah specialist. Produces also a number of white wines (Gruner is amazing) and few of the red blends. The wines are released twice a year. Allocations are typically guaranteed until the expiration date of the offer. Majority of the wines are under $50. Wines can be ordered as individual bottles.

Cayuse Vineyards

One of the very best wineries in the country, located in Walla Walla, Washington. Produces predominantly red wines – Syrah and Grenache rule, but Cabernet and Bordeaux blends supposed to be outstanding. Didn’t have a pleasure of tasting the Cayuse wines yet, but have high expectations. The wines are sold in the 3-packs, so 3 bottles is the smallest quantity you can buy. One release per year.

Horsepower Vineyards

The winery takes its name from the fact that all the heavy work in the vineyards is done using horses. Another winery from Washington and closely affiliated with Cayuse through Christophe Baron, the winemaker at Cayuse. Produces only Syrah and Grenache. If you like Syrah, Horsepower Syrah is amazing. One release per year, 3-pack offering only.

No Girls Wines

yet another project of Christophe Baron. Syrah, Grenache, and Tempranillo from Washington. Delicious, terroir-driven wines. One release per year, all wines are available as 3-packs only.

Peter Michael Winery

Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon specialist out of Napa. The wines are simply outstanding. Two releases per year. Wines are available in single bottle quantities. Allocations are not guaranteed – first come, first serve.

Saxum Vineyards

the winery, located in Paso Robles in California is focused only on 3 varieties – Syrah, Grenache and Mataro (they prefer to use the popular Australian name for Mourvèdre grape). Their wines supposed to be amazing – I’m still waiting (for 7 years now) to find out how amazing.

Sine Qua Non

the legend. I should really stop right here and not even try to describe this winery. Might be the most cult winery in the United States – it’s either Sine Qua Non or Screaming Eagle. These wines are impossible to get (unless you have a spare $1000 – then run to Benchmark Wine website, they have one bottle available at that price). Sine Qua Non makes supposedly amazing wines in California (the winery calls Santa Barbara home), each wine in each vintage having a unique name and unique label. I’m waiting for about 7 years already and will continue to do so.

Turley Wine Cellars

best known as Zinfandel and Petite Sirah specialists from Paso Robles. Turley produces 47 wines from 50 vineyards. When it comes to Zinfandel, Turley is often considered a hallmark of Zinfandel expression. In addition to Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, Turley produces a small number of whites, plus a number of red blends. A few years ago Turley even started making their own Cabernet Sauvignon wines, called The Label. Most of the wines are priced under $50, with a few exceptions. Two releases per year, plus separate end of the year release for The Label. All wines can be acquired in the single quantities. Your allocation is not guaranteed – first come, first serve.

There you go, my collector and future collector friends – my explanations about inner workings of the desirable (allocated) wines, and the list of the wines I find worth waiting for. I’m sure many of you have your own take on wine collecting and wines worth hunting down – use the comments section to share your opinion with everyone.

Hope you will find this useful. Cheers!

An update: After this post was published, I received a number of suggestions for the lists worth waiting for. I have very little knowledge of most of these wines, but as they came recommended, I will list them here so you can do your own research and make your own decisions: Abreu Vineyards, Aubert Wines, Brand, Hourglass, Quilceda Creek Winery, Scarecrow Wine, Schrader Cellars, Vérité.

 

Few Memorable Wines

July 21, 2016 7 comments

As wine is a daily beverage at our house, the supply of it should be regularly renewed, to support that [tasty] habit. I really make an effort to stay in under $15 range for that daily enjoyment (yep, I’m a cheap bastard like that), so this is how most of the wines are acquired.

But then, of course, the are special occasions (like Monday, for instance – it happens only once a week, right? – okay, kidding), which require special wines, so I’m always on the hunt for the interesting wines, whether through the mailing lists (for those that you must have, like Turley or Carlisle), specials at the store or online (thank you, Universe, for the WTSO and Last Bottle). Those special wines disappear inside the wine fridge, and I have lots of fun trying to remember where is what, as I have no record keeping system of any sort, to ensure maximum frustration when looking for a specific bottle.

Few memorable wines

And then there are days when it is really appropriate to jolt that memory, and moreover, force oneself to make a decision about what bottles deserve to be opened, to celebrate the occasion.
We had a good occasion to celebrate very recently, with the group of close friends, so the bottles were pulled, opened and savored. And memories were created.

Here is what we drunk, more or less in this order:

2013 Carlisle Grüner Veltliner Steiner Vineyard Sonoma Mountain – Carlisle is one of my absolute favorite wine producers in California, who makes a range of single vineyard Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Syrah wines, all representing an outstanding value (most of the wines are under $40). Best way to acquire Carlisle wines is to be on the mailing list (you can sometimes get lucky with the store, but this is quite difficult). While most of the Carlisle wines are red, they also produce few of the whites, which are delicious. I had the same 2013 Grüner last year, and it was great. With another year of age, it became amazing – yes, the star Austrian white grape can grow in California, and very successfully. The wine showed a backbone of herbaceous flavors, but elevated with the bright white fruit and perfect balance. Can’t find you a generic reference, as the wine was rather unique – but if you will ever see a bottle at the store, don’t miss your chance.

Next up was 2010 Peter Michael Belle Côte Chardonnay Sonoma County – what can I tell you? Peter Michael is one of the most coveted producers in California. Just to give you an idea, Peter Michael wines were served at the White House dinner when Queen of England was visiting – not a bad reference, what do you think? To say that the wine was delicious would be an understatement. Fragrant, tongue-coating, luscious and layered. Layers were intertwining, going through all classic Chardonnay elements of vanilla, golden delicious apples, very distant hint of butter, and back to vanilla. This is definitely a special occasion wine – it also manifests in the price ($90) – but then there is always that special moment worth it, you know?

You can’t have a party today without Rosé, can’t you? Of course not. And that Rosé must be special too. Which is easy with 2011 Antica Terra Erratica Rosé Oregon. I came across Antica Terra after tasting their Phantasy wine at a restaurant (it was my wine of the year in 2012). Antica Terra is a very interesting winery in Oregon, with the winemaker honing her skills under none other than Manfred Krankl of the Sine Qua Non. If only Antica Terra wines would be a bit cheaper… Well, let’s go back to that Rosé. It was a full power wine – there was nothing subtle there – but instead there was a perfect parade of the fresh, juicy cranberries and ripe strawberries, with spices and mineral notes – outstanding.

Remember I thanked Universe for Wine Til Sold Out (WTSO)? Had a reason to thank them again after opening the bottle of 2005 Domaine des Monts Luisants Les Genavriéres Morey-Saint-Denis Premier Cru. Technically, I have an insatiable thirst for the Burgundies – but the problem is that most of the inexpensive ones rather disappoint – and expensive ones – well, I don’t get to drink those. This is where WTSO comes to the rescue – I got this bottle for $50 – of course this is not cheap, but it is special occasions we are talking about here – and this is much better than its retail of close to a $100 or so. The wine was absolutely stunning – bright, sweet, ripe and savory cherries, whole bouquet of herbs, firm structure, clean acidity and perfect balance. A wow wine for sure.

And then there was Leviathan. If you are a wine geek, that name might have a meaning for you. In case it doesn’t, let me try another approach. Ever heard of Screaming Eagle? The most cult out of all cult California Cabernet Sauvignon wines? Until a few years ago, Screaming Eagle wines were made by Andy Ericsson. Leviathan was actually one of Andy Ericsson’s own projects, which was considered for a while to be a second label of Screaming Eagle – which is incorrect, as the second label of Screaming Eagle is the wine called Second Flight. This 2007 Leviathan California Red was outstanding – dark, brooding, with classic flavors of cassis and mint, layered and complex. I decanted it for an hour, which was the right move – but still, this wine is just a baby and needs to rest for a while. Luckily, I do have a second bottle, and even luckier, I have no idea where it is hiding from me, so it is safe for a while.

I hope you see a clear progression here – Grüner, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir Rosé, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon – we are increasing the depth and concentration with every next wine. So what would you continue this line up with, just for the finishing touch? I’m sure there are few options here, but my decision was … California Zinfandel.
Not just any Zinfandel, but Carlisle – which means lots of dark power. This 2012 Carlisle Zinfandel Montafi Vineyard Russian River Valley was almost a natural continuation of Leviathan – dark berries, sage, round and smooth – it is amazing how Carlisle wines don’t give out the alcohol level of 15.9% – you don’t even think about it until you look for it on the label. Delicious.

And now, to round up the evening? Port! Last year I was lucky to visit Quinta do Tedo, a winery in Douro valley which was founded by the Bouchard family of Burgundy fame. I brought back a few wines, and this 2010 Quinta do Tedo Late Bottled Vintage Porto was one of them. The wine was perfectly delicious – sweet fruit but not a tad hair over the balance – you have a mouthfeel of garden fresh berries, with their natural sweetness, and nothing extra. This was a beautiful finish for our special evening.

I’m glad we have special days in our lives, so we can have such memorable celebrations. I had a bit of time to reflect on this stupendous group of wines, and I figured that I actually had a favorite – that Burgundian wine was simply flawless – I don’t know if the wine was at a peak, will it further evolve or will it start to decline – but what I had was spectacular.
I would like to leave you with this, my friends. What were your memorable wines as of late? Cheers!

[May Not Be The Best In The World But] Great Gifts For Dad

June 12, 2015 11 comments

During 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project was closed and  even the web site is down, but as I still like the posts I wrote, I decided to re-post them in this blog. To tell you the truth, if I would write such a “Father’s Day Gifts” post today, I would write it differently. But I can always write it differently some other time, and for now – here is the original.

Note that the series was written for a slightly different audience – I hope none of my readers will take offense in the fact that sometimes I’m stating the obvious…

Considering that Father’s Day is rapidly approaching, let’s talk about gifts for Dad. Even if Father’s Day is not celebrated in your country, remember – any day is a great day to get a present for your hard-working Dad.

This is the wine blog, so of course our gift suggestions will be related to the wine. And while I’m sure everybody wants to buy the best gift ever, not all of us can afford that ideal present, so let’s look for a few options in different price categories. Let’s start.

Under $15:

You think it is impossible to get a great bottle of wine under $15? Think again. Here are two suggestions:

What: Bodegas Volver La Mancha DO, Spain

Why: This is a serious man’s wine. There is nothing wimpy about this wine. It has super-broad shoulders, it is bone dry, and it has strong tannins grip, strong as dad’s handshake. At the same time, it is very balanced and elegant, and if you will try it with a mildly sharp cheese with some fig jam on top of it, you might find heaven on earth.

Bodegas Volver

What: Le Petit Chambord Cour-Cheverny, Loire, France

Why: Same as the one before, this is the wine for a real man. Brighter than sun acidity, supported by good fruit, very balanced. Another trait which many dads possess – it needs patience, as it will greatly improve with age. Give it 10-15 years and prepare to be amazed.

Cour Cheverny 2007

Under $100:

A different game, seems to be lots of choices, but it is not always the case. Let’s look at some suggestions.

What: Peter Michael Chardonnay (there are many options, but either one will do).

Why: When Dad will try this wine, he will experience [very strong] emotions. Who knows, he might even cry. This wine will remind him of his true love – wife, if he is happily married, and his dreams – if he is not. Incredibly balanced, with all components (fruit, acidity, vanilla, toasted oak, tannins) being in perfect harmony. Once Dad will experience this wine, it will be one and only Chardonnay he will be willing to drink.

Peter Michael Chardonnay

What: Adrien Camut Calvados 6 years old

Why: It is reminiscent of a Dad in a tuxedo. Calvados is a cognac’s relative, only made out of apples. Calvados has the same alcohol content as cognac, but it is not aggressive at all compare to many cognacs which are. It is pure elegance and class, exactly as a man in tuxedo feels like.

Camut Calvados

What: Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal

Why: Because it will make Dad to think of adventure. May be he will finally go to safari, after dreaming about it for more than 20 years. May be Dad will recall the warmth of campfire under an open starry sky. Pleasant roughness paired with deep smoke flavor – it will make dad’s heart to pump faster and happier.

Mezcal Del Maguey 

Unlimited, or at least above $3000

This is the category for those who has everything – but even when you have everything, something is probably still missing… Let’s look for some options – and I guarantee you, it will not be easy to find.

What: Taylor-Fladgate Scion Very Old Port

Why: Because I want one for myself? Okay, but on a more serious note, this port is made out of the pre-Phylloxera grapes in approximately 1855, so this wine is about 160 years old! It is awe-inspiring for any wine lover, and to say it has limited availability would be an understatement. But – if you can afford it, make an effort, find it – and Dad will thank you profusely.

What: Domaine De La Romanee-Conti La Tache, Burgundy, France

Why: Because I want this one too? Domaine De La Romanee-Conti, or DRC for short, makes literally the most amazing wines in the world. These wines are literally impossible to find, so it you will present such a bottle to Dad, I’m sure he will really appreciate the sacrifice(s) you had to make to get it for him.

DRC La Tache

Our session is over – hope I was able to help! Good luck with all the presents, and Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there!

Weekly Wine Quiz #87: How Well Do You Know Your Wines, Part 2

January 4, 2014 16 comments

The Wine Quiz series is not meant to intimidate. The whole idea here is to have fun and learn something new. When answering the questions, it is fully encouraged to use all available sources of information, including Google or any other search engine. There are no embarrassing answers – the most embarrassing thing is not giving it a try…

Welcome to the weekend and your new wine quiz!

As I skipped the traditional Meritage, I would like to start with the answer to the wine quiz #86, How well do you know your wines. In the quiz, you were given the pictures of the top of the wine bottles, and you were supposed to name the producer or wine based on that picture of that foil top. Here are the answers (and below are the pictures, now with the producer/wine names):

1. Laetitia, the winery in California producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines

2. Cambria, the winery in California, also producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines

3. Wente, large winery in California Livermore valley

4. Turley, California Zinfandel and Petite Sirah specialist (however, the picture was taken from the bottle of Turley The Label Cabernet Sauvignon)

5. La Rioja Alta, one of the best Rioja producers in Spain

6. Peter Michael, California winery producing great Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon

Bonus: Satrapezo, a great wine made out of Saperavi grape by Marani winery in Georgia – I understand that this is a very obscure wine for many, this is why it was set as a bonus question.

Talking about the results – this was a tough quiz, with a few people being able to properly identify Wente, and then some guesses for the #2 being Cline – this is close, but incorrect. The “C” on the Cline bottles is done slightly in the different style.

I still like this quiz, so here comes round number 2 – hopefully you can do better! Here we go:

1. DSC_0302

2. DSC_0305

3. DSC_0301

4. DSC_0307

5. DSC_0295

6. DSC_0298

7. DSC_0286

And the bonus question:

B. DSC_0291

Good luck, enjoy the quiz and your weekend! Cheers!

Dozen of Personal Favorites From Michael Skurnik Portfolio Wine Tasting

April 3, 2012 2 comments

Thousand bottles of wine (this is not a mere matter of speech, but- more or less an exact count, give or take a hundred bottles). 4 hours. Come up with the list of 12 most favorite wines. What do you think about a task like that?

Whether you think it is easy or hard, this was my experience at the Michael Skurnik 25th Anniversary wine portfolio tasting few weeks ago in New York (selecting 10 wines was not the goal, of course, but tasting many great wines was).

”Overwhelming” would be an under-representation of the experience. Sip, swish for a second, think for a second, spit. Take a mental note, or may be a quick mark in the book. Move on to the next wine, then to the next table. Get through the crowd with your glass. Repeat until your palate is completely locked down by the amount of fresh tannins. Have a sip of fruity white to unlock and refresh. Continue and repeat until fully exhausted. Leave happy.

Above is a quintessence of the experience. Below, I would like to give you mostly a photo report with some comments on the most memorable wines. The list is not prioritized at all – if anything, it may be coming out in the order we tasted the wines. Here we go.

2009 Peter Michael ‘L’Esprit des Pavots’ – clean, gorgeous, elegant, balanced, approachable – this is Bordeaux-style red which you can drink now or cellar for next 20-30 years:

2009 Paul Hobbs Winery Chardonnay, ‘Ulises Valdez Vineyard’ – best non-French Chardonnay I tasted. Elegance and perfection of balance – acidity, hint of vanilla, hint of butter, hint of tasted oak – all in a perfect medley:

2009 Martinelli Syrah ‘Vellutini Ranch’ – full-bodied, luscious and well balanced, with nice dark fruit and spices. Outstanding Syrah:

2007 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Kronos’ – I was really looking forward to trying this wine after Joe Roberts, a.k.a. @1WineDude, called it “Black Panther” in his review. I’m not sure I personally met the panther, I rather discovered a mystery. This wine is impossible to understand in the format of the standard trade wine tasting. It says “let’s dance a little longer, shall we”? When you take a sip of this wine, it is asking you to think – there is no flavor attack, no particular taste element standing out – instead, there is a perfectly balanced, thought-provoking, mysteriously delicious substance. This wine needs double time – time in the cellar, and time in your mouth – then you might stand a chance of solving the mystery:

2009 Domaine Newman Mazis-Chambertin – exemplary Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir by the book – whatever way you want to call it, this was one of the most elegant Pinot Noir at the tasting – perfect balance of earthiness, fruit, acidity and power:

2010 Clusel-Roch Condrieu – beautiful full-bodied white, powerful and structured – great example of Viognier from the most classic Viognier Appellation:

2010 Domaine Saint Prefert Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc ‘Cuvée Speciale Vieilles Clairettes’ – fresh, elegant, beautiful white fruit, perfect acidity – definitely one of the best white wines in the tasting. Unfortunately, equally rare and hard to get:

2009 Domaine Allary Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan – classic Bordeaux from classic vintage. Perfect wine – you can drink it now, or wait for 30 years – the choice is yours:

2010 Boyer-Martenot Meursault 1er, ‘Perrières’ – absolute elegance ( yes, if you think that I’m abusing the word “elegant”, I agree with you, but I can’t find a better word to express my thoughts about these wines, so bear with  me, please) – outstanding Chardonnay, great balance of white fruit, acidity, earthiness and tannins:

2011 Domaine du Moulin Méthode Gaillacoise – personal sparkler favorite at the tasting – bright, fresh, full-bodied, with apple and toasted bread perfectly showing on the nose and on the palate. Lots of pleasure:

2005 Cavallotto Fratelli Barolo Riserva, ‘San Giuseppe’ – trying Barolos at the such tastings is always fun – you need to build your impressions quickly, before tannins will completely numb your palate. This wine had enough power to get through everything else I tasted before and deliver plums and dark cherries and outstanding balance of spices which make Barolo a King of the Wines. Truly an outstanding wine:

2007 Hendry Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon and 2007 Hendry Vineyards Red Wine (Meritage Blend) – one of my biggest surprises in the tasting. I never heard of Hendry name before – they mostly had being known as a grape growers for all other prestigious winemakers. But then at some point they started making wines, and I can tell you – it was very hard to pick only one favorite out of the outstanding lineup of wines. This is why you see two red mentioned here – both are very elegant, balanced and varietally correct (and reasonably priced!):

This concludes our journey through the great tasting of Michael Skurnik wines – there were hundreds of other wines worth mentioning, but – sometimes I have to sleep too, right? Thanks for reading and cheers!

Top Dozen Wines of 2011

December 27, 2011 10 comments

I’m not sure I fully believe it, but time has come to sum up another year. Same as last year, I’m going to present you with a dozen of most exciting wines of 2011. I keep mentioning that quality of the wines available from all over the world is getting better and better, and it was very hard to decide on only 12 wines out of many hundreds of great wines I had an opportunity to experience throughout the year. This list is unequivocally subjective, and to make it even more subjective my criteria was the “wow” moment experienced when I tasted the wines – this is always dangerous, as depending on the circumstances of the “wow” tasting, the same wine might not be as exciting the next time. Nevertheless, without further ado, here are my twelve  best wines of 2011.

12. 2005 Maisuradze Wines Mukuzani ($NA) – power and more power. This wine is a monster powerhouse, and you are hypnotized by that power and don’t want to put your glass aside. Tremendous tannins, complemented by acidity and good fruit. Very big wine. Will be very interesting to lay it down for 10-15 years. Transformation should be remarkable, if you can wait, of course.

11. Bodegas Hidalgo Pedro Ximenez Viejo Triana ($24) – first, there is an element of awe when you drink this wine, as it is 250 years old ( at least in the trace amount, thanks to the Solera method when the new wine is added to the barrel which was never emptied completely for the last 250 years). Then the taste is spectacular – liquified fig jam, but very light and balanced with nice acidity.

10. 2009 Montalbera Laccento Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato ($30) – the wine opened up with a nice earthy smell, with fresh unadulterated grapey taste on the palate, somewhat similar to Beaujolais Noveau, but then quickly evolved to deliver the  power punch of big voluptuous wine. This wine needs lots of time, but in the end, it will be glorious, multi-layered beauty. If you can find it, put a few bottles to rest and experience later for yourself (ability to wait is required).

9. 2009 Bodegas Shaya Habis Rueda DO ($28) – this wine is made out of old vines Verdejo (100+ years old vines). This is one of the most unanticipated wines I ever had, as while you are expecting Verdejo wines to be somewhat simple and easy, this wine delivers complexity of a top-class Chardonnay, with toasted apple, vanilla and hint of butter on the palate, all with the great balance.

8. 1982 Chateau Prieure-Lichine Margaux ($130) – This was a 1982 Bordeaux! Do I need to say anything else? A Bordeaux from Grand Cru producer from legendary year – it doesn’t get much better than that. The wine was beautiful,  fresh, with great fruit and great balance of tannins and acidity. I rest my case.

7. 1993 Lopez de Heredia Vino Tondonia Rioja Blanco  ($33) – it is rather expected that 1976 Vina Tondonia Rioja Gran Reserva would be good, but 18 years old white Rioja? Hmmm, I couldn’t imagine that – but then came 1993 Vina Tondonia Rioja Blanco, and it was beautiful, fresh and acidic, coming through as a very youthful wine, with lots of fresh fruit. You can still get it at PJ Wine, and I believe it’s worth every penny.

6. 2009 Wente Vineyards Small Lot Grenache Livermore Valley ($35) – opens up with a nose of ripe plums, continuing into plush, soft, round wine with velvety mouthfeel, very balanced. Very similar to great Spanish Grenache wines, like Alto Moncayo Aquilon, only coming from California. This wine is available only at the winery, but definitely worth a trip if you are in the area.

5. 1991 Justin Cabernet Franc, San Luis Obispo County – ($25) – this was a gorgeous wine, great structure, ripe fruit, balance and finesse – without showing any sign of age. The only problem was that I got only one bottle from the Benchmark Wine Company…

4. 2009 Peter Michael “Belle Cote” Estate Chardonnay – ($80) – this Chardonnay was a beautiful song, or may be rather a dance of impeccable synchronicity. Absolutely stunning in its balance of fruit, acidity and minerality, with the hint of white peaches and golden delicious apples on the palate, but just a hint – not a single element taking over and pushing others aside. From the moment I tasted this wine, it became my golden standard for what Chardonnay should be – you can even see it throughout my posts.

3. 2007 Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine ($130) – This was definitely the best Icewine I ever tried. Light and effervescent (not your usual descriptors for the icewine), with perfect acidity complementing beautiful fruit. True masterpiece.

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 lets 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.

For what it worth, these are my favorite wines of 2011. I’m sure 2012 will bring many more exciting discoveries – it is great to be an oenophile today! What were your favorites of 2011? Please share it here! 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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