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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.

Spanish Wine Recommendations, Part 4 – Where to Buy Spanish Wines

April 13, 2015 15 comments

PJWine_Rioja_IsleAs I was rather hoping for, this post is becoming a living thing – I started receiving suggestions for the additional sources of Spanish wines in different regions of the world – and will be updating the post with those. If you have suggestions of your own – please reach out!

And we are back with the Spanish wine recommendations series. In the previous three posts I talked about my long-time favorite ( and therefore, recommended) Spanish wines in the three different price categories – under $20, from $20 to $50, and from $50 to infinity. Now I want to talk about seemingly a non-subject  – where can you buy Spanish wines.

This seems to be a non-subject as the answer is simple – in the wine store, duh. Well, of course, but it is not that fast and easy. Most of the wine stores in US would have a section of the Spanish wines – however, majority of the wines in that section will be the “value wines” – unknown producers, unknown wines, limited selection of Rioja of unknown pedigree and some of the better names at often inflated prices. You really need a “specialty retailer”, someone who has a passion for the Spanish wines, to be able to buy exactly what you want at a price you want.

So in this post, I will share with you what I know about buying the Spanish wines. As I live in US, I will give you first-hand recommendations based on my own buying experience. Well, US is a big country, and I live in a close proximity to New York, so again, this is where my experiences come from. However, I will include some store recommendations for other areas in US, and I will do the same for the Europe and Australia- but this will be mostly based on the information I found on Internet, not something I know myself. Of course my recommendations will include both online and “brick and mortar” sources – as you can imagine, there is only a handful of the physical wine stores I’m familiar with, so most of the recommendations will pertain to the online stores.

Before we begin talking about the stores, I want to make a few general comments about buying Spanish wines. It may be even just one comment – when it comes to the Spanish wines, the information on the wine label matters. Another “duh moment”? Well, may be it is, but still – I want to make sure it is something you clearly understand. The words such as Reserva or Gran Reserva are protected by the law – unlike US, for instance, where the words such as “Special Reserve” can appear on the bottle at winemaker’s desire, and actually mean nothing regarding the wine. Why is it important? Reserva typically cost more than Crianza, and Gran Reserva typically costs more than Reserva – and you need to understand that to avoid surprises and to be able to buy exactly what you intended to buy and at a right price. And the vintage and producer matter –  of course, this is universal, no mater where the wine is coming from.

Okay, let’s now talk about good places to buy good Spanish wines from.

Before we get country-specific, let me elaborate on the first “duh moment” – the place to buy Spanish wine is at the wine store. It is definitely true, as a trusted wine retailer is your best source of the Spanish wines. To me, “trusted wine retailer” means exactly that – a person you trust with giving you the best deal and taking care of you. As in any other business, some retailers will be simply looking for the quick buck, but some will be there for the mutually beneficial, long term relationship – retailer gets paid, and you get an access to the wines you want at a price which makes sense. If you have a wine retailer you trust, this might be your best source of the Spanish wines, or at least, one of the best sources. But again, “trusted” is a key word here – and if you have a retailer like that, you are in luck, as hunting down good Spanish wines is a challenge.

One more (last!) general note: if you are looking for the particular wine (where to get it from) or just want to check if the price you see makes sense, Wine-Searcher is the place where you should start. Of course it has limitations – if the wine store, for instance, doesn’t sell online, you will not see it come up in the Wine-Searcher results. Also, even if you see the wine to be available in the particular store, especially if you plan to drive to the store, check with the store first if the wine is still available. And Wine-Searcher can’t tell you anything about the reputation and reliability of the store (had my share of issues). Still, it is a great tool to start your search. It is also available as an app on the mobile devices.

United States:

I have to start with my favorite wine store – the wine owned my friend Zak in Stamford, Connecticut – Cost Less Wines. Zak is exactly that “trusted retailer” – not just for me, but for hundreds and hundreds of his regular customers. The Spanish wines section in his store was built gradually over the last 2-3 years (your truly was a bit of a motivational factor, I have to modestly admit) – but at this point, Zak has an excellent selection – La Rioja Alta, R. Lopez Heredia, CVNE, Imperial, Bodegas Juan Gil, Alto Moncayo and many other wines I mentioned in my recommendations are readily available at his store. It is not just the selection – the prices are great too. For instance, you can’t even find 2001 La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva Especial in the stores anymore. Using Wine-searcher, I found one place online where this exact wine was still available – at $89 per bottle. Zak has this wine on the shelf as $29.99. Unfortunately, Coast Less Wines doesn’t sell online, but if you live in a reasonable proximity to Stamford and looking for a good Spanish wine at a good price, this store would worth a drive.

Next store I have to mention is called PJ Wine, and it is located in New York City. This store and its owner, Peter Yi, literally put Spanish wines for me on the map (Peter is incredibly passionate about Spanish wines). First I discovered the store online, while looking for some specific wine, and this is how I ended up on their mailing list. Then I got an email advertizing free Spanish Rioja seminar – I signed up, drove to the city – the rest was a history and a love from the first sip (especially a first sip of 1964 Rioja). PJ Wine sells both in the store and online, and their selection is nothing short of incredible, including lots of Rioja from the best years – 1964, 1978, 1994 and lots more – all in stock. Again, if you live in New York city or a close proximity, this store absolutely worth a special visit (just do me a favor – decide on your spending limit before you come there, or better yet, leave all credit cards at home and bring limited amount of cash, as once you will start shopping, you will not be able to stop – and don’t tell me I didn’t warn you). Online selection is equally excellent.

One more store I have a good experience with is the Bottle King in New Jersey. It is not just one store, it is a number of stores, mostly located in Northern New Jersey –  plus an online store called The Wine Buyer. Overall Bottle King offers good selection of the Spanish wines at good prices. What is important to know about Bottle Kings, however, that the selection will vary from the store to the store, and most importantly, the selection and pricing online at The Wine Buyer might differ from the physical stores – stores often offer deals and discounts not available through the online outlet.

I wish I can offer you a selection of the stores in any of the large metropolis around the country, like Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas or Denver – but I’m not aware of any of the “Spanish wine” specialty retailers. By the way, if you know of any good “Spanish wine” specialist stores in your areas – please let me know, I will be glad to amend the post.

Going all the way to the west coast, there is not a whole lot I can offer as well. However. there is one store I would like to mention – K&L Wine Merchants. They operate three stores in California, as well as an online store. At the time of this writing, the online store offered selection of about 330 Spanish wines, many with the reasonable prices, so I believe it is worth mentioning here.

Last two sources I would like to bring to your attention are both online only. First of all, my beloved Wine Til Sold Out, WTSO.com (also available as an app). While there are other sites with the similar model (Last Bottles, Last Call Wines and more), WTSO has the best deals when it comes to the Spanish Wines. Yes, you have to be on a look out, true (sign up for email and twitter updates from them), and when the deal shows up, you have to act quickly, but still, they have by far the best selection alongside of recommendations I made. Just to give you an example of a recent deal I got there – 2002 R. Lopez de Heredia Reserva, $23 at WTSO and about $35 (give or take) most anywhere else.

The last one for the US is the online store called Wine.com. To tell you the truth, I never bought anything from Wine.com myself, but I checked their inventory, and at the moment they are offering about 300 different Spanish wines, including many of the names I talked about in this series (CVNE, La Rioja Alta, Carchelo “C” etc.), and the prices seem to be reasonable, so I feel inclined to include them into my recommendations ( if you have a first hand experience with Wine.com, I would appreciate your comments below).

Europe:

Okay, so let’s get things straight. As I live in US, I don’t have a first hand experience buying Spanish wines in Europe. So for the stores which I found, I made sure the selection looks good and the prices look reasonable. What I found was a link to an excellent article which pretty much summarizes the online sources for Spanish wines in Europe, so in essence, I only need to direct you to read this article here. Note that not all the stores in the article are equally reputable – for example, a reader told me that Uvinum is known to have problems (poor deliveries and bad customer service), so check the references before you will use them.

Now, this was the part of the original post: If you know if any wine stores with the good selection of Spanish wines (with good prices!) in your country in Europe – please let me know and I will be glad to add them to this post. Lastly, don’t forget that Wine-Searcher works internationally, so you can specify your country when searching for the specific wine.

As I have the reader suggestions now, I will include them below:

Germany:
As recommended by Julian of Vino in Love:
“I highly recommend the online retailer www.vinos.de. They have a great selection (I mostly buy my Spanish wines from them). Vinos also has stores in Berlin and Munich for those who do not like to buy wine online.”

United Kingdom:

As recommended by Mathias of The Winecurious (some stores are reviewed in the Mathias’ blog, so check it out):
“For those in the UK I can strongly recommend Moreno Wines (http://www.morenowines.co.uk) in Maida Vale. They have an excellent selection of Spanish wines and are almost every other year awarded Spanish wine merchant of the year.

Other good UK (or perhaps more London, but many of these deliver) options are:
Lea & Sandemanhttp://www.leaandsandeman.co.uk Perhaps not the largest or most innovative selection but they often have good prices and I really like the friendly service, especially in their Kensington shop.
The Samplerhttp://www.thesampler.co.uk. My overall favorite when it comes to wine shops in London. They are stronger on champagne but also have a good selection of Spanish wines.
Handford, http://www.handford.net  is also a good bet, not cheapest but not expensive either.
Zelashttp://www.zelas.co.uk Good Spanish wines at decent prices.
Two other places that deserves a mention are Hedonism Wines and Berry Bros & Rudd (http://www.bbr.com). Hedonism almost has everything when it comes to expensive and rare wines, not cheap but love to browse there and occasionally  they have good prices on really high-end wines. BBR are the oldest wine merchant in the UK (at least I think so), lovely shop, impeccable service and while not cheapest they do not overcharge so in the fair price category”
Nordic Countries (Finland, Norway, Sweden):
Again, as recommended by Mathias:
Viña Española http://www.tempranillo.nu
http://thewinecurious.com up and coming store, offering great selection of Cava at the moment, but expanding in the near future”

Australia:

Quite unexpectedly for me, it appears that Spanish wines represent a tough love when it comes to Australia. I understand that Australia produces a lot of their own wine, but so does the United States and many other countries. Yet searching for La Rioja Alta and CVNE for the whole of Australia yield only one result. Many of the Australian wine store web site don’t recognize the word “Rioja” and suggest correcting it to “Rosado”. I reached out to The Wine Wankers, very popular and knowledgeable wines bloggers who happen to live in Australia, and I got a few recommendations, out of which I would like to mention Dan Murphy’s, which is a chain of the wine stores in Australia, where you can find at least some of the wines we talked about in this series.  Well, not sure if Australia might be a next opportunity for the Spanish wines, but at least this is the story at the moment. Same as for all of my European friends – if you live an Australia and know of a wine store with a good Spanish wine selection, please let me know and I will be glad to include it here.

And we are done – now you have my Spanish wine recommendations as well as the some of the places where you can buy those wines. I still want to write one more post and summarize all we talked about here, therefore, I’m not waving good bye yet.

To be concluded…

There is a Train Station in Haro

July 30, 2013 4 comments

DSC_0184 Vina Real 1978 in the glassI remember talking to someone about great Rioja seminar I attended, and I remember being asked “why did you go to that Rioja seminar, don’t you already know everything you need about Rioja?”. I only raised my eyebrow. Yes, I make no secret that Rioja is one of my all time favorite wines (I’m sure you noticed if you read this blog for a while) – but there is always so much to learn around wine, you can never pass the educational opportunity. Especially when this is the seminar at PJ Wine store, where wine education always includes a glass (or two, or more) of great wine, just to make sure your newly acquired knowledge would be well anchored. As a side note, this seminar took place a while back (in March of 2013), but the experience was so good, it is still worth sharing.

Andrew Mulligan of Michael Skurnik Wines, who was running the seminar, was a wealth of knowledge on the subject of Rioja. Before we will talk about the wines in the seminar, here are some of the interesting facts about Rioja wines which we learned:

  • There are four grape varieties allowed to be used in a production of red Rioja wines – Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache), Mazuelo and Graciano. Tempranillo is usually the main grape, which is responsible for main flavor profile and ageability of the Rioja. Garnacha adds body and power, Mazuelo – spicy flavors, Graciano – structure. There are no limitations for the exact wine composition, so all types of blends are possible
  • Rioja wines are typically made out of grapes harvested from the different vineyards in the region. There are also single-vineyard Rioja wines, which are called Pago. Rioja Contino is an example of single vineyard Rioja.
  • Production of all wines in Rioja is controlled by Consejo Regulador (Control Board), an organization founded in 1926. Consejo Regulador also sets vintage ratings for different years. You can find all vintage ratings (starting from 1926!) here.
  • 2010 and 2011 vintages have “excellente” rating – Crianzas should be good already!
  • Bodegas Muga, CVNE, Lopez de Heredia and La Rioja Alta wineries (some of the very best Rioja producers) are all located at four corners the train station in Haro – the location was chosen for the purposes of easy shipping of wines to UK.
  • La Rioja Alta 890 line commemorates the 1890 when the winery was created. 904 commemorates 1904 when Ardanza winery was acquired and became a part of La Rioja Alta. The winery decided to call their wines this way (using 890 instead of 1890 and 904 instead of 1904) so consumers would not confuse commemoration dates with the dates of production.
  • CVNE was founded by 1879 by two brothers, and it produces Rioja in two distinct styles under two different labels – CVNE and Vina Real. All the fruit for Vina Real comes from Rioja Alavesa region, and all the fruit in CVNE wines comes from Rioja Alta.
  • CVNE Imperial label was started specifically for the UK market, and it was called like that because it was created during the UK’s “Imperial Century”.
DSC_0174 Rioja line-up

Rioja seminar tasting line-up

Now, let me present to you the wines with my notes. All the wines are included in the order we tasted them.

CVNE Imperial Reserva 2005 – gorgeous nose, dark fruit, perfect acidity, cherries, perfectly balanced, but very masculine. Touch of eucalyptus. Very long finish. Drinkability: 8

La Rioja Alta Vina Arana Gran Reserva 2004 – Beautiful. A lot more delicate than the previous wine, more earthy, sage notes, very beautiful. Perfect acidity. Drinkability: 8

CVNE Cune Reserva 2004 – beautiful, very delicate, (all 4 grapes are used , Tempranilo 85%, 5% the rest), a bit too delicate for me. Drinkability: 7+

Vina Real Gran Reserva 2004 – Beautiful nose, similar to #1, but smooth palate, very nice, round. Drinkability: 8

La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Gran Reserva 2001 – Stunning. A lot of fruit, sweet on the finish. Perfect with food. Absolutely bright and young, you can never tell it is 12 years old. Residual sweetness of Grenache is coming through (20% of Grenache). Drinkability: 8+

CVNE Imperial Gran Reserva 2001 – Wow. Perfect fruit, less sweetness on the finish compare to the previous wine. Might be my best of tasting. Perfect power despite the age. Drinkability: 9-

La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 1998 – Very interesting. A lot more herbs, more subtle, beautiful profile. Drinkability: 8+

La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 890 1995 – Very different. Lots of herbs, subtle, beautiful. Drinkability: 8+

CVNE Vina Real Gran Reserva 1978 – Tobacco, leather, mature wine. Very nice. Still has enough fruit. Drinkability: 8

Yes, I know, my tasting notes are rather short and mostly describe the wines through emotions. However, I think you can see the progression in the flavor profile from the bright fruit to the more earthy, spicy, delicate notes. The common trait among these 9 wines? Elegance. Elegance and balance, to be precise. These are the wines you crave, as you know they will bring you lots of pleasure every time you will open them.

Andrew told us a story from his personal experience with the old Rioja wine. He ordered bottle of 1917 Rioja for the customer, and the customer … refused to take it later on. So the bottle was shared at the table in the restaurant, without much expectations, among the group of young wine professionals. On the very first sip, the table got quiet. And it stayed quiet for the next 5 minutes, as everybody just wanted to reflect on that special moment. I wish you great wine experiences, my friends. Cheers!

In Case You Wanted To Attend PJ Wine Grand Tasting But Still Undecided

November 2, 2011 Leave a comment

here is something which might help you decide – you can save $10 of the ticket price if you will use discount code Talk-A-Vino, courtesy of PJ Wine (they happened to like my post and kindly offered a discount to Talk-A-Vino readers). If you are ready to buy your tickets, you can click here.

Enjoy! Cheers!

Why You Can’t Afford To Miss 2011 PJ Wine Grand Tasting

October 30, 2011 1 comment

If you are a wine lover who likes to experience amazing wines when possible – please keep reading, otherwise you can definitely skip this post. But if you are in love with your wine, there is one single wine tasting event this year which you can’t afford to miss – this event is PJ Wine Grand Tasting 2011, taking place on November 18th at Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City.

Why? I will give you three reasons.

1. Unique and Unforgettable Experience.

I attended PJ Wine Grand Tasting in 2009, and I still remember the taste of 2000 Château Léoville-las-Cases,  1999 Vega Sicilia “Unico”, 2000 Chateau Margaux, 1996 Krug among many many other equally noble wines. During Grand Tasting 2011, you will have an opportunity to taste Dom Perignon, Cristal, Krug, 2006 Cheval Blanc, 2000 Chateau d’Yquem, 1990 Mouton-Rothschild, 1985 Chateau Haut-Brion, 1952 CVNE Vina Real Gran Reserva and many more incredible wines – all in one evening. Can you tell me where else you will be able to experience any of those wines, forget even going through such a gem collection in one evening?

2. Tremendous value.

VIP admission at the Grand Tasting costs $159 (and I highly recommend VIP admission versus regular one, as all of great wines will not be in unlimited supply – you want to be there early). If you think this is a lot of money, let’s do some simple math. Assuming you will be able to find all the wines mentioned above (which is a challenge on its own), let’s see how much it will cost you to buy them (using wine-searcher, of course): 2006 Cheval Blanc – $700+, 2000 d’Yquem – $300+, 1990 Mouton-Rothschild – $400+, 1985 Haut-Brion – $450+, 1952 CVNE Vina Real Gran Reserva$400. All together we are talking about $2,250+ just for these five wines. There will be hundreds of other wines deserving attention in this tasting, plus there will be great food. If this doesn’t represent value, I don’t know what does.

3. Plain and simple – you will have a great time!

There will be great wine, there will be great food, there will be great people, willing and able answer any of your wine questions. If you are thinking about going to the restaurant Friday night – equivalent experience at a restaurant in New York will cost you ten-fold – without any guarantees.

If you want to experience wines you will remember for the rest of your life, PJ Wine Grand Tasting is not an event to miss. To make your consciousness happy in addition to your palate, I have to mention that portion of what you pay will be going towards The Action Against Hunger. If you are ready to get your tickets, here is the link for you to click.

Disclaimer (in case we need one): Just to make everything clear – this is not a paid advertisement of any sort, and I’m not compensated in any way for writing this post. As usual, I only write about the things I believe in, and I truly believe that you will have an amazing experience if you will attend PJ Wine Grand Tasting 2011. Cheers!

 

Tasting Wines of Sierra Cantabria and Teso La Monja

May 26, 2011 Leave a comment

As you know by now, PJ Wine is one of my favorite wine stores (you can find some of my impressions here). It is not just due to the great selection of wines, with Rioja being a superstar. It is also based on the fact that PJ Wine is a great source of education and experience (double-winner – education is free most of the time). Store runs great seminar program, where (if you are fast enough to get on the list) you can experience many great wines of the world.

Few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be able to get into the seminar about wines of Sierra Cantabria and Teso La Monja (the event was sold out in a matter of hours). Both Sierra Cantabria and Teso La Monja wines are produced by Eguren family (you can find complete information here), and of course you already figured out that both are produced in Spain.

Sierra Cantabria wines come from Rioja. In addition to producing full line up of traditional Rioja wines ( Crianza/Reserva/Gran Reserva), of course made out of Tempranillo ( for more information about Rioja wines you can click here), Sierra Cantabria also produced the series called Collection Privada, with each wine being made only in exceptional years. Currently, it includes wines made in 1996 ( first ever vintage for Sierra Cantabria), 1999 and 2000. Tasting the Collection Privada wines, the first one from 1996 was very nice, with good bouquet of spices, acidic and bright. There were only 300 cases produced in 1996, so this wine is not easy to find. While 1996 was drinking well already, both 1999 and 2000 were simply not ready and needed more time in the cellar. These wines are produced from 55-60 years old vines, and made with the focus on quality, not quantity.

Second group of wines presented at the seminar were also made by the same Eguren family, but come from another region in Spain called Toro. Teso la  Monja is the latest project for the winemaker Marcos Eguren. Toro wines are made out of the grape called Tinta de Toro. If you would look in Wikipedia, you would see that Toro is designated as another name for Tempranillo. In reality, it is actually a clone of the Tempranillo grape, which has it’s own characteristics and is different from Tempranillo itself – same as famous Brunello, made out of Sangiovese Grosso grapes, tastes totally different from regular Sangiovese-based wines, Chianti.

Three wines from Teso la Monja had being represented in the tasting. First was 2007 Teso La Monja Almirez Toro – the wine had nice balance and lots of dark fruit – blackberries, black currant and spicy oak. Next wine was 2007 Teso la Monja Victorino Toro – beautiful, round with plums and blackberries, showing nice minerality. This wine is produced from 65+ year old vines and aged for about 18 month in oak.

Last but not least in the tasting was 2007 Teso la Monja Alabaster Toro. This wine was simply outstanding. Very dense, very big , with lots of fruit and in the need of time. Just to give you an example of care which goes into the making of this wine – the grapes are de-stemmed by hand, and then pressed with the feet. This wine definitely needs time before it will show off in its true beauty. The only challenge with this wine is related to the fact that at $156, it is not a bargain, and essentially QPR is becoming more of an issue, at least for me. Of course, if we will compare Alabaster with El Nido or Vega Sicilia wines, QPR might be on par – nevertheless, I think some time is needed before Alabaster has enough recognition to demand such a price.

All in all, it was a great experience with 6 exciting wines and lots of information – and I can’t thank folks from PJ Wine enough for continuing bringing great events to the wine lovers. And while on the subject of great experience, I can’t help to note that PJ Wine is organizing Spanish Wine Festival, which will take place on Friday, June 17th at 6 PM in Metropolitan Pavilion, 123 West 18th Street in New York City (please click here for more information). This event is not free, but for $99.99 I think it constitutes a great value – you will be able to experience wines of Vega Sicilia (keep in mind that typical bottle of Vega Sicilia costs in excess of $400, plus, it is very difficult to find), El Nido, La Rioja Alta, Clos Mogador and hundreds of others. The Festival will also include food from many good places in New York. I believe Spanish Wine Festival is a great value and shouldn’t be missed.

And as this was the post about Spanish wines, I think we need to finish it appropriately: Salud!

Wine Retail: PJ Wine

May 12, 2011 9 comments

Buying wine is one of the great pleasures for the wine lover. Of course it is very easy and convenient to buy wine online, as in a lot of cases it also means that you will be able to find good values. However, for the true wine lover ( and if you want to substitute the term with wine geek, be it), being able to unhurriedly browse  through the wine store (needless to say – good wine store) is a source of great pleasure. Seeing familiar labels is almost like seeing the old friends – “oh yes, I know you, it is great to see you again”. When you see the wine you don’t know, it is moment of discovery – “hmmm, I wonder how that should taste like?”, “aha, I think it was a good vintage”, “oh, I wonder if this is a good price”. Then it goes to “now, I must try this!”, or “ahh, one day I will definitely have to try this”… There is a lot of anticipation associated with that slow walk along the shelves, and a lot of pleasant expectations.

I already wrote about my favorite wine stores, both “brick and mortar” and online (you can find this post here), and I wrote a post about my most favorite local “go to” store Cost Less Wine and Liquors in Stamford, CT (the post is here). Now, I want to talk about another wine store which I really like – PJ Wine in New York. The store has both great physical location on upper Broadway, as well as very extensive web site at www.pjwine.com.

What do I like so much about PJ Wine? First of all, the store doing a lot to educate people about the wines. PJ Wine hosts great seminars (most of them are free), where people learn and get to try excellent wines, expanding their wine knowledge and taste. In addition to the seminars you can also subscribe to the mailing lists, and receive very extensive wine notes, with a lot of information about wines which is hard to find anywhere else, including winery websites. And then in addition to all the education and information – surprise – the wine store has great selection of … wines! (don’t know what you expected to see here).

First and foremost, PJ Wine is a place for Spanish wines, and Rioja in particular:

When it comes to Rioja, anything you are looking for – PJ Wine got it, and they got it right there, on the shelf where you can see and touch. Where else can you find 1964 Rioja simply waiting for you?

Don’t worry, it is not only Rioja – there are plenty of great wines on the shelves from all over world – hard to find wines from France, incredible selection of Jerez and Madeira, unique Italian wine and many many others.

Last but not least – you can always get good advice, and all the staff actually knows all their wines – not theoretically, but actually tried them and will be able to describe the wines to you in great detail. I’m sure many of you can attest to the fact that you missed such service more than once in your wine shopping adventures.

If you like wine and plan to be in New York – PJ Wine is definitely a worthy destination, you will be pleased with what you can find (of course you can get the wines from their web site – but it is a different experience). PJ Wine delivers unique experiences, from wines themselves to the great learning opportunities, and this is experience is yours to take. Happy wine shopping experience!

Where Do I Buy Wine

March 25, 2011 1 comment

I had being contemplating this post for a while, and [finally] here it is. I’m not getting the wines for free, and they are not growing in my backyard. Same as most everybody else, I’m buying my wines. So what’s a big deal about it? Why does buying the wine  worth a blog post?

Buying wine is somewhat of an art. Huh=, you say, what kind of nonsense is that? But the challenge is that on one side, there is an oversupply of wine, so trick is to find place with the right service and right prices (!). At the same time, there are way too many wines which are often referred to as “cult”, which are literally impossible to find – and may be information in this blog post might be able to help you.

As you know by now, I’m obsessed with wine – and it translates into finding good wines at good prices (this is often referred to as QPR – Quality Price Ratio). Here are the ways I found so far to satisfy that QPR requirement.

Wine Searcher – When I’m looking for specific wine ( or any type of alcohol for that matter), I always start from Wine -searcher. I always get full information on the price range and availability of options to acquire that specific wine.

Cost Less Wines and Liquors – local store in Stamford, CT. In the interest of full disclosure,  store owner, Zak, is my friend. But this is not the reason for me to mention the store. There is an amazing wine selection in the store (I would think that in terms of using the space, this is the best store I even saw in ability to utilize every square inch of the store space. There is great representation of all wine making regions, and his selection of Kosher wines and Champagnes is literally best in Stamford. Plus, Zak has a talent to find the close-outs and makes very quick decisions when he can seize a good value. Also, if you are looking for a specific wine, Zak will get it for you (as long as it is available in Connecticut). All in all, this store is my primary wine shopping destination.

Bottle King – chain of the wine stores in New Jersey. Each store might have slightly different inventory, so I can’t speak for all of them. I’m personally using the one in Glen Rock, NJ. Overall, wine prices are very good. This store has excellent selection of Portuguese wines (great QPR!), plus good selection of French, Italian and Californian wines. Australia, Chile and Argentina have limited representation. Bottle King has loyalty card, which gives discount on many wines, plus periodically they run very good special sales – Red Tag Sale is in effect now (until April 4th, 2011), and some of the values are simply incredible. Need an example? 2000 Vintage Port for $27.70? Wow! Bottle King also have a division which sells wine online, called The Wine Buyer @Bottle King – I get their newsletter, however, never ordered anything.

PJ Wine – excellent store in New York. If you are looking for a Spanish wine – this is the right store. Probably the best selection of current and old releases of Rioja and Ribera Del Duero in the tri-state area. Also very good selection of rare and hard to find European wines from France, Italy and Austria. Very good service. Full store inventory is available online. Plus, there are excellent [free] educational seminars in the store ( hard to get in as seating is limited).

WTSO.com (Wine Till Sold Out) – great place to look for the bargains. I already wrote about WTSO in one of the previous posts. It works in a very simple way. You get on the mailing list. Then you get e-mail once the new wine is available for sale, at an incredible price – often, not always, of course. You can always check if offer makes sense by going to the Wine-Searcher and then also consulting Wine Spectator or another ratings database. Please be aware of the fact that while you are trying to figure out if particular offer makes sense, the wine might be gone by the time you reach the conclusion. Definitely great place to buy wines at a great price. Just sign up for the mailing list and see for yourself.

Benchmark Wine Company – to give you a short description – amazing. Outstanding customer service (really – try it). Wine selection? Incredible. Yes, this is not for everyday shopping, but if you look for a particular wine, especially from the older vintages – this is the place. Give it a try and you will not regret.

Wades Wines – might be one of the best secrets in the wine shopping. US regions have great representation, with lots of cult wines being available (at least on the list – but sold out in reality). I have to admit that I hadn’t bought anything yet from this company, but all the e-mails look very tempting.

D&M – another incredible store. Specialty? Scotch, cognac, champagne. The store is located in San Francisco, and it is literally hole in the wall. But once you look around in the store to see the selections surrounding you on all four walls, you get absolutely amazed. Incredible selection of scotch and cognac. Plus, there is a number of clubs offered, and actually these clubs make sense (compare to most of the wine clubs, which don’t worth a penny). If you are in San Francisco, and you like scotch or cognac, definitely find time to visit the store.

Of course there are many other places to buy wine – I had great experience with Yankee Spirits store in Sturbridge, MA, Beltramo’s in Menlo Park, California (outstanding service),  K&L Wines (good selection, service – so so) in multiple locations  in California.  I had an interesting experience with Drink the grapes (online only).

This post happened to be much longer than I thought it should be. Nevertheless, I did my best to share the ways I go around to find the wine I want. If you got your favorite store or a web site to buy the wine – let me know, as I will be glad to learn about it. And until the next time – happy shopping!

Celebrate! Celebrate! Let’s Open Some…

December 30, 2010 1 comment

Champagne! Of course, Champagne. No celebration is complete without the toast of “bubbly” – New Year’s arrival, wedding anniversary, winning of the Grand Prix, christening of a new ship, and many other occasions, big and small are acknowledged with Champagne.

Champagne is a very interesting subject in general, but even more so when New Year’s arrival is around the corner. You can find articles and blog posts about Champagne everywhere – here is a good example, post by Dr. Vino. Well, let’s join the conversation about Champagne.

Champagne is a wine which belongs to the group of so called “sparkling wines” – the wines with many tiny bubbles (there are at least 49 million bubbles in a bottle of champagne – feel free to count yourself if you don’t believe it). As many other things in life, discovery of Champagne is a combination of accident and luck – on a very primitive level, not fully fermented bottle of wine was frozen, then temperature rose, fermentation restarted (this time, in a bottle) – voila, you got a bottle of Champagne.

Well, small clarification will be appropriate – Champagne is both a wine and a place – in France, of course, where else. Are Champagne and Sparkling wine synonyms? No. Any Champagne is Sparkling wine, but not any sparkling wine is Champagne. Only sparkling wines produced in Champagne region in France using so called méthode champenoise can be called Champagne. All other sparkling wines produced outside of the Champagne region, even using the same method, can only be called Sparkling Wine.

Let’s play a little game which we will call “what is in the name”. Champagne only comes from Champagne, what about about other sparkling wines? Today sparkling wines produced everywhere, from wide variety of grapes and at ever increasing pace. Only this year I had sparkling Malbec (very good) and sparkling Shiraz (don’t do it). In United States sparkling wines are produced in California (lot’s of good wines), Oregon, New Mexico (surprisingly good), New York and many other states. Traveling through the world, a lot of sparkling wines have their own names. Let’s see if you will recognize some of them:

Prosecco – sparkling wine from Italy

Sekt – sparkling wine from Germany

Cava – sparkling wine from Spain

Cremant – sparkling wine from France (Cremant d’Alsace, Cremant de Bourgogne, Cremant de Loire, Cremant du Jura and many others)

Blanquette de Limoux – comes from Limoux in Languedoc, France with the claim of being the first Sparkling Wine, before Champagne became Champagne.

Champagne is endless subject – no way to cover it in the short blog post. Let’s stop our world tour right here, and let’s talk about the celebration “at hands” – New Year 2011. What bottle are you going to open to celebrate arrival of the New Year? How about a little dream? Again, you said? True, just a few days ago I wrote a post about the wines to dream of. Something was missing in that post, I think – and that “something” is … Champagne! There was no Champagne mentioned in that list. So we need to fix it. And if you need a Champagne to dream of, I have only one recommendation – Krug.

If you wonder why I so focused on one and only one Champagne, I can tell you – I had a chance to try it, and I was blown away. At the PJ Wine Grand Tasting event in November 2009, Krug 1996 was served among others, no doubt excellent Champagnes (Veuve Clicquot Rose, Dom Perignon 2000, …). I made a mistake – pretty much fatal, as it appeared – to start tasting from the Krug 1996. I had vintage champagnes before, and never really appreciated them. Krug 1996 was something else – with richness of freshly baked bread, nutty and creamy, fine-tuned refreshing acidity, ultimately balanced – it was incredible. All the Champagnes in that tasting, with pedigree or not, literally tasted like water next to Krug 1996. Yes, this wine is expensive (about $300+, you can check the price here), but it worth every penny – and worth dreaming about. And if you need to expand your Champagne dream list, you can find a lot more recommendations here.

There are few days left before we will toast new hopes, new dreams, new desires with the New Year 2011. No matter what will be in your glass, I wish for your wildest dreams to become reality. Raise your glass To Life, and keep dreaming!

Experiences and Expectations

September 19, 2010 4 comments

So far I had being talking about wine and food in this blog. As this blog’s short description puts it, it is about “Wine, food and life”. Of course food and wine are definitely part of our daily lives, so the blog’s promise on “life” is fulfilled, more or less by itself. However, after I read a very interesting article sent to me by Kfir Pravda, it really stroke the chord, so here comes the blog post. A life prospective through the glass, if you will.

The article is called “If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy Then You Probably Aren’t Spending It Right” (I really encourage everyone reading this blog to read the article – it definitely worth it). Money? Don’t worry – this blog is not changing into a financial publication. I don’t plan to give any financial advice, and I don’t know where the money tree is growing (if you know – can you please, please share with the rest of us?). The article itself is not talking about money or finances, it rather talks about happiness, and then looks at money as one of the popular means of achieving it (or not). Still don’t see a connection, with wine or with life? Just continue reading, please.

One of the first points of the article is “Buy experiences instead of things”. There is a great explanation on why it makes a lot of sense from point of view of achieving “happy” state and keeping it for longer. That concerns pretty much anything in life (two weeks trip through French country side will probably keep you happy much longer than having one tiny original French painting on your wall). Now, I hope you expect me to connect this to the wine. Quick question – can you experience Chateaux Margaux 2000 ($1000/bottle, try to find it), Vega Sicilia Unico 1968 ( about $1200/bottle, again good luck finding it), Krug Vintage 1996 ($300+, same good luck wish applies) and about hundred other wines, all without emptying your 401K ( like it’s not empty already)? If you said “yes”, you are correct. PJ Wine Grand Tasting in New York in the Fall of 2009 had all of those ( and many more) wines available for all the wine lovers. Ticket price  – $144 per person. Paraphrasing MasterCard commercials, having long-lasting memory of tasting freshly made  bread in the Krug or tremendous luscious layers of complexity in Chateaux Margaux – priceless.  Yes, it is great to have that special bottle of wine in your own cellar. Considering realities of life and cost of college education ( sorry, personal pain point), it is not easy to have all the wines you want in the cellar – however, you can always find a solution. Going after experience can bring a lot more long-lasting happiness, especially comparing with owning THAT bottle of wine and having regrets about money spent as the main feeling every time you think about it. Or at least that what I think – and I would love to hear your opinion.

Another key point of the article, “Buy many small pleasures instead of few big ones” also can be perfectly illustrated in the wine world. What would you rather have in your cellar? One bottle of Joseph Phelps Insignia 2006 at about $160 to $200, or 4-5 bottles of Ladera Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2006 at about $40? I chose the pair for the simple reason – tasted both a week ago, and with all due respect to Insignia, having more bottles of Ladera Cabernet will provide for quite a bit more happy occasions. But when it comes to wine, this is definitely a very important point – there is a lot of choices, and you can use your money wisely and “stretch the happiness” quite a bit simply by finding the right value wines which will bring you a lot of pleasure and happy memories.

Last point from the article I want to touch on is stated as “Pay now and consume later”. The point is simple. When you own things which you can enjoy later, you get a lot of happy feelings all the way until you actually get to use whatever it is. Who can attest to this better than wine lover, whether you own a cellar or keep your wines in the closet?  I’m not talking about collectible wines here, this is a category in its own. I’m talking about putting your wines aside and waiting for them to improve, or waiting for just the right moment to drink them. Just a thought about having particular wine in the future gives you a lot of pleasure, isn’t it? This is all which we are trying to achieve – to be in the happy state for longer, and I would say that wine lovers are the ultimate group which has almost an unfair advantage here – we can wait and be happy about it at the same time. I’m not sure that buying the new car and waiting for 3-4 years to drive it will put someone in the happy state of mind – but buying the few bottles of wine and giving it time to evolve is definitely great and pleasant experience.

As a conclusion, again, I would definitely encourage everyone to read the article – it really provides great analysis of our “state of happiness” and suggests a few tricks for achieving it. And while you will be reading this article, have a glass of wine – and experience happiness at the fullest. Cheers!