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Sequel in Reverse – More About Wines of Southwest France

May 18, 2018 3 comments

What’s up with the “sequel in reverse”, you ask? Easy. All we need to do is flip the timeline. This post is a continuation of the previous post about wines of Southwest France – however, the tasting I want to share with you took place almost 6 months ago, at the end of the last year 2017, hence the “reverse” notion.

Outside of the sequence of the events, the two tastings are perfectly aligned – they are both squarely dedicated to the wines of one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world – Southwest France.

I can’t explain why, but I feel that I need to make a confession. If you look through the pages of this blog – and there are a few here – I’m sure you will come to a conclusion that I primarily drink wines from California, Spain, and Italy, with an occasional sprinkle of everything else. And you will not be wrong. However, truth be told, my true love to wine started from French wines. I read the most about French wine and French wine regions. I was obsessed with trying to find an amazing Bordeaux for less than $10. Côtes du Rhône wines were a staple at the house. I spent countless hours in the France aisles of the wine stores (luckily, I was working in a close proximity of the Bottle King in New Jersey), looking for the next great experience with the wines from the Loire, Rhône, Bordeaux, Chablis, and others. French wines were “it” – unquestionably, a sacred territory. As the time was going by, and Bordeaux and Burgundy prices were going up faster than the weeds growing after the rain, the French wines moved mostly into a category of a rare encounter.

Wines of Southwest France

Last December was not the first time I participated in the virtual tasting about the French wines – but somehow, when I opened the box with these wines, something warm and fuzzy came over, and my first reaction was “ahh, I really, really want to drink these wines!”. There is nothing special about this particular set – no big names (I don’t believe Southwest France has much of “big names” anyway), no flashy, ultra-modern labels – and nevertheless, there was a promise of a great time in their simplicity and authenticity. These wines also perfectly played to my other “wine obsession” – the love to obscure and lesser-known wines, so altogether, I took a great pleasure in anticipation of the tasting.

As this was a virtual tasting, I had both the wines and time at my disposal, so unlike the previous post, here are my detailed notes in the usual format:

2016 Chateau Laulerie Bergerac AOC (12% ABV, $12, 85% Sayvignon Blanc, 15% Semillon)
C: Light gold
N: beautiful, fresh, medium+ intesnsity, honeysuckle, white flowers, peach
P: fresh, crisp, excelllent lemony acidity, white stone fruit, restrained
V: 8-, delicious, will be great with food and without, great QPR

2015 Domaine Elian Da Ros Abouriou Côtes du Marmandais AOC (12% ABV, $23.99, 90% Abouriou, 10% Merlot)
C: dark ruby
N: freshly chrushed berries, leafy notes, cherries, anis
P: ripe plums, sweet tobacco, eucalyptus, medium long sweet tobacco finish
V: 8-, would love to try it with an actual cigar. Needs a bit of time. And a new grape – Abouriou

2015 Domaine du Cros Marcillac AOP (12.5% ABV, $15.99, 100% Fer Servadou)
C: Ruby
N: earthy notes, mint, some medicinal notes (iodine?)
P: beautiful fresh pepper on the palate, tobacco, cherries – that pepper is delicious, love the wines like that
V: 8/8+, delicious, excellent QPR

2014 Château Lamartine Prestige du Malbec Cahors AOC (12.5% ABV, $17.99, 100% Cot (Malbec))
C: dark garnet
N: vegetative, tobacco, a touch of cherries
P: bright acidity, dark fruit, tart cherries and cherry pit, noticeable tannins.
V: 8-, pleasant, will work great with the steak, but needs time

2011 Château Bouscassé Grand Vin de Madiran (14.5% ABV, $17.95, 60% Tannat, 25% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon)
C: dark garnet
N: eucalyptus, forest floor, a touch of eucalyptus,
P: initial tannins attach, pepper, dark round fruit, excellent extraction, layers of flavor, firm structure
V: 8+, outstanding, powerful, balanced, needs time!

The Southwest France wines are a treasure trove for the wine lovers – they capitalize on tremendous history, experience, unique terroir and unique grapes, offering oenophiles lots of pleasure in every sip. Look for the wines of Southwest France – and you can thank me later.

The Region Which Started It All

May 15, 2018 8 comments

The wine had been made in the Southwest of France ( Sud-Ouest in French) almost forever – in terms of human life, 2,000+ years well classified as “forever”. The region is considered one of the “cradles of winemaking” in Europe, and it maintains its uniqueness and diversity today – for example, out of 300 grape varieties used in the winemaking in the region, 120 are not found anywhere else.

Of course, we know that winemaking started about 8,000 years ago, and not in the Southwest of France. So what’s up with “started it all” claim? Glad you asked! Let me explain.

We live in the times when the wine is a part of daily life of many. Drinking wine is a norm and normal, simply a part of the daily routine for many, not a luxury or a weird exception anymore. Yes, that’s how it was in Europe forever – but now I’m talking about the rest of the world, countries such the USA, and even China now heading that way. The demand for wine had been constantly increasing since the late 1990s, and even Great Recession of 2008 didn’t kill it (just shifted the “acceptable” price ranges). Is it all just a normal course of events? We can, of course, settle for this. However, I believe that on a deeper level, there are exact reasons, “tip the scale” moments for many things which seem to happen just on its own – however, sometimes it is not easy to identify those “reasons”.

Remember the impact of the movie Sideways on consumption and production of the Merlot in the USA? That movie was the reason for a huge slump after 2004, and production and interest to Merlot are still in the recovery mode even now, 14 years later.

Late in the 1980s, the world started talking about The French Paradox – French eat cheese and foie gras, cook with butter and duck fat daily, and nevertheless, the coronary disease rates are much less than in the countries with comparable living standards and much lesser fat consumption. Possible explanation? Red wine. French consume lots of red wine, and resveratrol, one of the prominent substances found in seeds and skins of the red grapes, acts as a defense against clogging of the arteries. That was the outcome of the extensive medical research study conducted in France, which became known in the world as French Paradox.

In 1991, CBS in the USA dedicated one of their popular programs, 60 Minutes, to the French Paradox, and you know how Americans are, right? We are always looking for an easy way out, so wine sounded like an easy enough cure, and I believe this became a pivotal moment which triggered a renewed interest in the wine. Almost 40 years later, it seems that the wine successfully keeps the momentum. And before you will attack me with all the facts from the latest research – yes, I’m aware of many articles pointing to the issues with the study. Whether French Paradox study conclusions were medically solid I have to leave to professionals to debate and decide on. But it was still that pivotal “tip the scale” moment which changed the perception of the wine for many in the world.

At this point, I’m sure you want to see the connection between the title, the Southwest of France, and the story of the French Paradox, right? Here it is. While attending the tasting of the wines of Southwest France, I was listening to the presentation by sommelier André Compeyre, who mentioned that Southwest France has the biggest number of centenarians in France and it was one of the main regions where the French Paradox study was conducted – here we go, now everything is connected and explained. Is it time for a glass of wine?

The tasting took place at the little store in New York called the French Cheese Board – what can be better than wine with a little cheese, right? Especially if both come from the same region, where they trained to live together for a few thousand years…

We started tasting with the sparkling wine, moved to the white and then red. As usual in such events, there was not enough time (and desire) for the formal notes, so below is the best I can offer. However, overall, the word is “outstanding” – the wines of Southwest France are well worth seeking – and you will not be disappointed.

NV Domaine du Moulin Mauzac Méthode Ancestrale Gaillac AOP (12% ABV, $15, 100% Mauzac) – very nice and simple. 7+

2017 Domaine du Tariquet Premières Grives Côtes de Gascogne IGP (11.5% ABV, $14, 100% Gros Manseng) – semi-sweet wine. It appears to be a traditional wine in the Southwest of France, which people are accustomed to drinking. It is possible that the wine was not cold enough when I tasted it, but I really didn’t appreciate it. If you like sweeter wines – this might be the one for you.

2016 Héritage Blanc Saint-Mont AOP (13% ABV, blend of Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu, Arrufiac) – excellent, bright, crisp, but very complex and thought-provoking. A touch of grass, vanilla, ta ouch of honey on the palate, green apples, wow. Excellent acidity. Great complexity. 8. And let’s not forget 2 new grapes – Petit Courbu and Arrufiac

2017 Domaine de Joy l’Eclat Côtes de Gascogne AOP (12% ABV, $7, blend of Colombard, Ugni Blanc, Gros Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc)  – crisp, clean, superb. 8

2012 Château de Haute Serre Cahors AOP (13.5% ABV, $22) – superb, ripe berries, blueberries, round, delicious, acidity, vanilla, the backbone of minerality. 8+

2012 Château Montus Madiran AOP (15% ABV, $32.99, blend of Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon) – smoke, campfire, tobacco, great concentration, powerful, excellent, great acidity, outstanding. 8

2011 Jean-Luc Baldès Triguedina Clos Triguedina Cahors AOP (14.5% ABV, $40, 85% Malbec, 10% Merlot, 5% Tannat, 12 months in oak) – touch of barnyard on the nose, delicious fruit, ta ouch of funkiness on the palate, great acidity. 8

2015 Domaine de Terrisses Terre Originelle Gaillac AOP (13% ABV, $16, blend of Braucol (Fer) and Prunelart) – beautiful Cabernet nose, crisp, cassis, Bordeaux style -outstanding. 8. and a new grape – Prunelart

2015 Réserve Bélingard Côtes de Bergerac AOP ($15, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot) – beautiful, warm nose, vanilla, cassis, beautiful, soft. 8

2013 Chateau Peyros Vieilles Vignes Madiran AOP (13% ABV, $18, 80% Tannat, 20% Cabernet Franc) – excellent, soft. 8-

2017 Domaine de Joy l’Eclat Côtes de Gascogne AOP (12% ABV, $7, blend of Colombard, Ugni Blanc, Gros Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc)  – crisp, clean, superb. 8

In addition tot he wines, we had an opportunity to indulge on the local cheeses of Southwest France – Ossau Iraty, Buche de Lucay, Bethmale Chèvre, Chabichou, Valencay, and Comté. Sorry, I’m not going to give you any individual notes, but all the cheese were superb. If you are like me and accustomed to the Comté cheese from Costco – that Comté in the tasting was the whole different game (go visit the store and taste, you don’t have to believe me).

There you go, my friends. Have you had wines of Southwest France lately? Any favorites you want to mention? Let’s raise the glass to many happy wine discoveries – and some red wine as a solution to all our problems. Cheers!

Hold The Pizza – I Just Want The Wine: Masciarelli Villa Gemma

October 24, 2017 4 comments

At the age of 20, Gianni Masciarelli was helping with the harvest in Champagne. At the age of 26, in 1981, he started making his own wines in the Italian region called Abruzzo. 1984 was the first release of the Villa Gemma Rosso wine, truly a different take on the Montepulciano wines.

Montepulciano is the main grape of Abruzzo (not to be confused with Montepulciano in Tuscany, which is the name of the village where the wines are made from Sangiovese grape). Late in the 20th century, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo became one of the most exported Italian wines – it was dry, it was simple, it was quaffable and, of course, good for pizza.

Masciarelli Villa Gemma wines

Gianni Masciarelli had his own, pioneer view on how the Montepulciano wines should be made. He introduced Guyot training system for the vines in Abruzzo. He was the first to start using French oak barrels in the production of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, showing the world that Montepulciano can go way beyond just a “pizza wine” qualities. Today, Masciarelli estates are run by Marina Cvetic Masciarelli, late wife of Gianni Masciarelli; the vineyards spawn 350 acres and produce about 1.1M bottles of wine across 5 different lines.

Recently, I had an opportunity to taste few of the wines from the Villa Gemma line, and here are my notes:

2016 Masciarelli Villa Gemma Blanco Colline Teatine IGT (13% ABV, $17.99, 80% Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, 15% Cococciola, 5% Chardonnay)
C: light golden
N: touch of fresh grass, hint of white stone fruit, hint of gunflint, medium intensity
P: crisp, refreshing, crunchy, touch of lemon, slightly underripe peaches, very clean, medium finish
V: 8-, craving food, excellent overall. Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and Cococciola also extended my grape hunting collection

2016 Masciarelli Villa Gemma Cerasuolo D’Abruzzo DOC (13.5% ABV, $14.99, 100% Montepulciano)
C: intense, ripe strawberry pink
N: pure strawberries, fresh, succulent strawberries
P: fresh, tart, restrained, lightweight, clean strawberry profile, good overall balance
V: 8, simply delightful. An excellent Rosé for any time of the year

Masciarelli Villa Gemma wines

2007 Masciarelli Villa Gemma Montepulciano D’Abruzzo DOC (14.5% ABV, $89.99, 100% Montepulciano, aged 18-24 months in oak barriques, total 36 months))
C: Dark garnet
N: fresh cherries, anis, mint, blackberries
P: soft, generous, round, fresh acidity, touch of leather, cherries and cherry pit, generous tannins on the finish.
V: 8, excellent wine, unmistakably Italian, supremely delicious.

These wines were absolutely delicious in their own right. I seriously don’t know about pizza – you can probably pair anything with pizza, from two buck chuck to the Screaming Eagle and Petrus – but you really don’t have to. These three wines from Masciarelli Villa Gemma would perfectly complement any dinner – appetizers, salads, and mains – these wines pack a serious amount of pleasure. Don’t take my word for it – try them for yourself. The pizza is entirely optional. Cheers!

Rare and Beautiful

July 11, 2015 19 comments

Wine Regions of SpainIf you read this blog even on a semi-regular basis, you probably noticed that I’m a sucker for the obscure grapes. So let me just proclaim it in the simple and direct way – I love rare grapes. The more obscure, the lesser known the grape, the better it is.

What I like about rare grapes is a complete mystery in the glass. As the grape is unknown, nothing gets in the way of perceiving it exactly for what and how it is. The closest thing to this experience is a blind tasting, but even then you have some knowledge for what you might be tasting, so instead of been focused on just what is in the glass in front of you, your brain is also trying to place it into some potential brackets, fit it into something familiar – but not in case of the unknown and rare grape. Tasting the unknown grape is an open book without any restrictions – you can write there whatever you want.

In addition to the mystery element, I have to say that most of of my “rare grape” encounters so far were quite pleasant. Of course there were some wines I didn’t care for, but still, the majority were interesting and thought provoking. If anything, my only gripe with the rare grapes is that the respective wines are equally rare – the production is usually very small, and even smaller quantities are imported (for sure in U.S.), which makes those wines very hard to find.

Now you understand that when I was asked if I would be interested to participate in the virtual tasting of rare Spanish grapes, I enthusiastically said “yes, of course!”. I’m a big fun of the Spanish wines in general, and now the rare grapes? That doubles the fun on the spot!

The wines arrived, and then the day of the tasting. The tasting was done in the virtual format, with Lucas Payà presenting over the ustream TV, and all the bloggers and media asking questions through the social media channels (Twitter, primarily). Lucas Payà is a well known figure in the wine industry – particularly, he worked for 5 years as head sommelier for acclaimed chef Ferran Adrià’s elBulli, and he was definitely a wealth of knowledge on the subject of Spain’s lesser known wine regions and rare grapes.  I will not be trying to recite here an hour long presentation – if you have a bit of time, the recording is available here. Instead, I will give you my thoughts and tasting notes on the 8 excellent wines we had an opportunity to taste.

Here we go:

2014 Baron de Ley Rioja White (12% ABV, SRP $10.99, 90% Viura, 10% Malvasia) – out of 123,000 acres of vineyards in Rioja, less than 10% is planted with white grapes (11,000 acres), so it is given that white Rioja wines are rare. This wine was simple and well quaffable.
C: pale straw
N: touch of the candied fruit, white peach, expressive
P: intense fresh white fruit, good acidity, short finish
V: dangerous wine, too easy to drink 7+

2013 A Coroa Godello Valdeorras DO (13.5% ABV, SRP $23, 100% Godello) – Valdeorras region is located in Galicia, and it is a part of so called Green Spain – a territory with wet and cool climate. Godello grape was nearly extinct with only 400 vines remaining in 1980. Today Godello is starting to compete with Albariño in popularity, and it is capable of a great depth of expression.
C: light yellow
N: white stone fruit, touch of vanilla, spices
P: fresh, light white fruit, lemon, grapefruit, clean
V: good, 7/7+, finish is a bit sweet

2013 Raventós i Blanc Silencis Xarel-lo Penedes DO (12% ABV, SRP $21, 100% Xarel-lo) – Penedes region is best known for its sparkling wines, Cava, and Raventós is the oldest producer of Cava. Xarel-lo, difficult to pronounce grape (listen to it here), is one of the main components of Cava, but increasingly it is bottled as a dry still wine, and I would say it is  worth seeking.
C: light straw, almost invisible
N: hazelnut, vanilla, touch of tropical fruit
P: creamy, intense, plump, green apple, good acidity, reach
V: 8-

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2013 Guímaro Tinto Ribeira Sacra DO (13% ABV, SRP $18, 100% Mencía) – Ribeira Sacra is another region classified as Green Spain (cool and wet), and this is second region focused on the indigenous Spanish grape called Mencía. The first region is Bierzo, where Mencía makes powerful, concentrated reds. Here in Ribeira Sacra, Mencía shows totally different, with the emphasis on fresh, fruity profile.
C: garnet red
N: bright, fresh fruit, gamay-like
P: beautiful! Pepper, dark fruit, touch of smokiness, earthy, bright, delicious
V: 8-

2013 Suertes del Marques 7 Fuentes Valle de la Orotava DO Tenerife (Canary Islands) (13% ABV, $22, blend of Listán Negro, Tintilla) – Canary Islands, and Tenerife in particular, have a lot of unique climatic zones – and unique grapes. The two grapes used in production of this wine – Listán Negro and Tintilla – are the new grapes for me, adding up to the count. The volcanic soil influence is spectacular, and this wine is a treat for any wine geek.
C: ruby red
N: smoke, mushrooms, forest, dark intensity
P: smoke, forest floor, campfire, spice, beautiful
V: 8

2012 Bodegas Margón Pricum Primeur Tierra de León DO (13.5% ABV, SRP $28, 100% Prieto Picudo) – another indigenous grape, Prieto Picudo, coming from the vineyards which are 60  – 100 years old. Truly special wine, definitely worth seeking.
C: dark garnet red
N: slightly vegetative, touch of plums, earthy, unusual, chocolate
P: texture, velvety, silky, good dark fruit, very round
V: 8, excellent

2012 Navaherreros Garnacha de Bernabeleva Viños de Madrid DO (15% ABV, SRP $25, blend of Garnacha, small quantities of Albillo, Macabeo) – Garnacha is definitely not a rare grape in Spain, but here it has yet a different expression compare to Priorat or Borsao. The grapes for this wine come from the 40 – 80 years old vineyards, and the wine itself is a perfect rendition of Garnacha.
C: bright garnet red
N: dark chocolate, fruit, open, nice, touch of blueberries
P: dark chocolate, good acidity, good fruit, clean and excellent
V: 8, excellent

Lustau Palo Cortado Península Jerez (19% ABV, SRP $22, 100% Palomino Fino) – Sherry (Jerez) is grossly under-appreciated wine as a category, which allows wine aficionados to enjoy unique taste without having to spend a fortune.
C: dark golden yellow
N: mint, herbs, caramel, hazelnuts
P: perfectly balanced, touch of salinity and expressive acidity, begging for some aged cheese
V: 8-

There you have it, my friends – a unique experience of the rare grapes and regions, and beautiful wines which I would be happy to drink every day. Are you familiar with any of these wines, grapes or regions? When presented with an opportunity to try the new and unknown grape, would you gladly go for it, or would you ask for Pinot Noir instead? Comment away! Cheers!

From Value to World-Class – Celebrating 30 Years of Spanish Wines in USA

December 28, 2014 13 comments

Glasses at the Spanish Wine TatsingI’m sure that any proud oenophile and wine aficionado is acutely aware of the high class, delicious Spanish wines. Considering that Spain has the biggest planted area under vines in the world, and that wines had been made there for thousand of years, it is a no-brainer that Spanish wines are so well known and well recognized. Right? Well, the interesting fact is that for many casual wine drinkers, Spanish wines are still largely unknown. And, to top it of, you also need to understand that measly 30 years back, the only way to talk about Spanish wines, at least in the US, was by presenting them strictly as “value wines”.

30 years doesn’t sound like a lot – but the notion of time is relative, it fully depends on what is happening during that time. Wines from Spain mission was established in New York in 1984 to increase awareness of the Spanish wines in USA. Spanish quality control system, D.O., was established in 1986. Modern Priorat wines started in 1989. The pace of success and recognition only accelerated from there,  with Parker awarding 100 points ratings to 5 Spanish wines in 2007 and Rioja named “Wine Region of the Year” by the Wine Enthusiast magazine in 2007. In 2012 Ribera del Duero became Wine Enthusiast magazine’s “Wine Region of the Year” and 2004 Cune Imperial Gram Reserva became Wine Spectator’s wine of the year in 2013.

To celebrate all the success of the Spanish wines in the USA, Wines from Spain recently conducted special tasting event in New York, called “Spain’s Great Match – wine food design”. The tasting consisted of a number of seminars and traditional walk-around tasting which included both wine and the food. The seminars were hard to get into, I only managed to attend one out of 4 (there rest was sold out almost before they were offered) – but boy, what a seminar it was!

The seminar was led by the wine educator Steve Olson, who was one of the early proponents of the Spanish wines and who was instrumental in helping Spanish wines to gain market recognition in the US.

Steve Olson presenting at Spanish Wines SeminarWe started tasting from the toast of NV Freixenet Cordón Negro DO Cava, which was surprisingly (yes, please pardon my inner snob) nice, with some toasty notes and good mousse. It turns out that Freixenet was one of the very first importers of the Spanish wines in US, starting from 1974.

Next we had two beautiful whites:

2012 Bodegas Fillaboa Selección Finca Monte Alto Albariño DO Rias Baixas ($30) – Single vineyard, hand-harvested and sorted, made to age. Beautiful complex nose, white fruit, herbal nose. On the palate – pronounced minerality and acidity, literally devoid of fruit – will be interesting to see how this wine will evolve. Extremely long finish. Needs food.

2012 Rafael Palaciós As Sortes Valdeorras DO ($30, 100% Godello) – beautiful nose, white fruit, spices, a good Burgundy-rivaling complexity. On the palate -great acidity, white fruit, perfect balance – excellent texture, minerality and finish. The wine was double decanted before serving.

And then there were [spectacular] reds. All the red wines with the exception of 1984 were double-decanted to help them open up.

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1984 Bodegas Alejandro Fernandez Tinto Pesquera DO Ribera del Duero ($30/current release, 100% Tempranillo) – 1984 was very unusual year – grapes were harvested in December(!). Nose – wow! Everything you want in the red wine – cedar box, red fruit, spice cabinet – warm, inviting. Palate – young, astringent, with very present tannins, blackberries – outstanding wine.

2010 Bodegas Muga Reserva Especial DOCa Rioja ($40)  – Beautiful, warm nose, complex, touch of rhubarb, ripe fruit. Dry, perfect acidity, blackberries, restrained, great balance, dust on the palate, firm structure.

2005 Descendientes de José Palacio Corullón San Martin, Bierzo DO ($75, 100% Mencia) – this wine was produced for the first time in 1998 at the biodynamically farmed estate. Production is tiny, about 120 cases. Ripe fruit on the nose, eucalyptus, herbs. On the palate – firm structure, great minerality and acidity, spices, great depth, textural dust. 

2007 Pago Marqués de Griñon Emeritus, DO Dominio de Valdepusa ($75, 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Syrah, 17% Petite Verdot) – wow! Amazing – would beat any California Cabernet. Green bell pepper, touch of cassis, great concentration, firm structure, great balance. Drinkability: 9

2004 Bodegas Mauduros San Román, Toro DO ($150, 100% Ink of Toro) – baking spices, concentrated dark fruit, tar, hazelnut. On the palate – delicious, complex, starts from sweetness and evolves almost to astringency. General Tempranillo traits with tremendous concentration.

2005 Clos Terrasses Clos Erasmus Priorat DOCa (~$1,000 for 2005 vintage, about $300 current vintage, 85% Garnacha, 15% Syrah, 100 points Parker) – elegant, open nose, sage, cherries, incredible palate, sweet fruit, spices, blackberries, blueberries, tight frame, impeccable balance, just beautiful. Drinkability: 9

Williams & Humbert Jalifa Amontillado  VORS Jerez DO ($35) – this wine is about 50 years old. Very complex nose with anchovy, almonds, hazelnuts. Wow – incredible complexity on the palate – leather, spices, truffle oil – wow! Craves food – and will work with variety of foods.

To say that this was a great tasting would be an understatement – I also like the fact that the wines were selected to showcase major regions and capabilities of the Spanish winemaking.

Yes, this was one and only seminar I was able to attend – but the tasting continued with the extravaganza of other Spanish wines and food. One interesting observation from the tasting was the fact that most of the big name in Spanish wines were absent in the tasting itself – La Rioja Alta, Cvne, Lopez de Heredia, Vega Sicilia, none of the great Grenache wines, like Alto Moncayo, Bodegas Gil – the list can go on and on – none of them were represented. Yes, I understand that for the most part the tasting is run through the distributors and not directly by the wineries, but still. This was the only peculiar observation I made.

And here are two more interesting observations for you (here interesting = positive). First, Godello is coming! Godello is a white grape, indigenous to Spain, which is capable of producing Chardonnay-comparable wines. There were a lot of Godello wines presented at the tasting, most of them of a very good quality. I can definitely say that Godello is squarely joining the ranks of Albariño, Viura and Verdejo, the best known Spanish white grapes. You should definitely look for Godello wines in the store if you want to try something unique and different.

And the second point: in the “inexpensive wines” category, Spain clearly kicks butt! Some of the wines priced at $10 or less were simply outstanding, but even outside of that price range, it is almost impossible to beat Spanish wines in the QPR category.

Before we we will talk about the wines, a few words about the food. There was a lot of delicious Spanish food presented at the event. First of all, there was cheese. For anyone who likes Spanish cheese, that was simply a heaven – lots of different Manchego, Iberico and other cheeses – different age, different pasteurization – a lot more options than you can find at the average store. There were also anchovy, called boquerones in Spain – white boquerones were simply delicious (yes, of course it is a personal opinion). And there was lots of tapas, masterfully prepared right in front of the desiring crowd. The tapas were made periodically, and every time that process would create a crowd of people, all hoping not to miss the new and interesting dish. Food at this event definitely commanded as much attention as the wine had. Here are a few pictures, just to attest to what I just said.

And of course, for what it worth, here are the notes from the rest of the tasting. I have to say that the tasting was organized in a bit of a strange way. My major complaint was the fact that there was no reasonable handout of any sort, so taking any notes of essence was simply impossible. Also the whole tasting was not logically organized, with packets of regional wines mixed with individual wineries and also distributors – the was no system of any sort, which made the overall tasting experience frustrating rather than productive. Anyway, below are my notes, in the usual tasting style, using “+” signs. You will not see any “+” wines, “++” only if really deserve mentioning, so most of the wines should be above “++”. On a positive side, I picked up again a few grapes, which I will mention in the notes. Here we go:

2005 Agricultura y Bodega Renacimento de Olivares Rento, Ribera del Duero ($55) – ++-|, overextracted
2011 Alejandro Fernández Tinto Pesquera, Ribera del Duero ($40) – +++, excellent
2009 Bodega Matarromera Matarromera Crianza, Ribera del Duero ($30) – +++, restrained, nice, ready
2011 Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero ($25) – +++, delicious, round
2010 Condado de Haza, Ribera del Duero ($28) – +++, beautiful
2011 Legaris Crianza, Ribera del Duero ($27) – ++-|, not ready
2010 Bodegas Reyes Teofilo Reyes Crianza, Ribera del Duero DO ($31.50) – +++

2013 Bodegas Marqués de Vizhoja Torre La Moreira Albariño, Rias Baixas DO ($19.99) – ++
2012 Condes de Albarei Albariño, Rias Baixas DO ($15) – ++-|, nice, clean
2013 Adegas Morgadio Albariño, Risa Baixas DO ($22) – +++-|, wow! fruit, great! delicious!
2009 Bodega Prado Rey PR3 Barricas Verdejo Rueda DO ($22) – ++-|
2013 Bodegas Angel Rodriguez Martinsancho Verdejo Rueda DO ($22) – +++
NV Finca Hispana Fino DO Montilla Moriles ($8.99)- +++, unbeatable QPR!
2013 Finca Hispana Xarel.lo DO Penedés ($8.99)- +++, unbeatable QPR!
NV Finca Hispana Cava Brut Imperial Reserva Cava DO ($14.99)- +++
2013 Vitivinícola do Ribeiro Viña Costeira Ribeiro DO – +++, clean!
2013 Moure Vinos Artesans Moure Tradicion Blanco, DO Ribeira Sacra ($40) – ++-|
2013 Nivarius Rioja DOCa ($24.99, Tempranillo Blanco and Viura) – ++-| new grape!
2011 Quinta de Muradella Alanda Blanco, DO Monterrei ($35, 30% Dona Blanca, 30% Treixadura, 30% Verdello, 10% Monstruosa de Monterrei) – ++-|, new grapes!
2013 Bodegas Nivarius Nivei Rioja DOCa ($11.99) – ++-|

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2011 Losada Vinos de Finca Bierzo DO ($22) – +++, great!
2013 2013 Finca Hispana Garnacha Terra Alta DO ($8.99)- +++, unbeatable QPR
2009 Martinez Lacuesta Crianza, Rioja DOCa ($17.50) – +++
2005 Bodega de Sarria Reserva, Navarra DO ($16.95) – +++
2011 Terra de Falanis Muac! DO Montsant ($16.95) – +++, delicious, spicy!
2012 Pagos Los Balancines Crash, VT Extremadura ($10.50) – ++, mnice!
2012 Moure Vinos Artesans Moure Tradicion Barrica, DO Ribeira Sacra ($29, Merenzao) – ++-| new grape!

Here we are, my friends – a delicious Spanish wine experience with many personal discoveries (like Marqués de Griñon Emeritus – you have to taste it believe it) and the new grapes. Let me finish this post with the question – are the Spanish wines part of your regular “wine lifestyle”? Do you look at the Spanish wines only as a source of value, or do you consider them world-class and the best hidden secret of the wine world? Let me know and cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

Wine Bloggers Conference (#WBC14), Day 3

August 12, 2014 4 comments

Santa Barbara HillsA month after, but we are on the finishing stretch! Don’t know if it makes sense to provide such a detailed account of the day’s events now – but, I feel compelled to complete this self-appointed assignment. Here is what was happening during the Day3, technically the last day of the Wine Bloggers Conference (here are my notes from the Day 1 and Day 2).

We started our morning a bit earlier than the day before, and with the breakout session, not with the brunch (yeah, I was getting very comfortable starting to drink the wine at 10 am, but no…). From the group of offered breakout sessions I chose the one called Business of Blogging. Considering the amount of time, hard work and obsession going into all of the blogs, it is only reasonable to expect that bloggers would be interested in learning about the ways their passion can bear some tangible fruit (yep, I’m talking about money here).

The session was presented by the twin sisters, Alexandra and Kymberly Williams, who run popular fitness blog called Fun and Fit. Their blog is also a successful business, thus they definitely have a lot of good advice to offer. Here are few of the basic takeaways from that session:

  • Ethics – your reputation is all you got. Make sure you have the business ethics rules, and follow them.
  • Referrals! (Cooperate, don’t compete) – help the others, and they will help you.
  • Say no when necessary – don’t take upon every project which might be coming your way – sometimes, “no” is the best answer.
  • Ask what you want (people can’t read your mind) – I think this is quite clear
  • Clarify and define – work on your offerings!
  • Negotiate – find the way to get what you want!
  • Work with brand partners, help them to make money, and build relationships – I think you got this one
  • Know your readers and service to their lifestyle – know your followers and give them what they want

Second breakout session was about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and still no wine…. SEO is literally one and only tool bloggers have to be found and to build the listening audience. The session was presented by Timothy Resnik from the company called Moz, which provides set of tools for search optimization and web site analytics. Timothy’s presentation was excellent and very detailed – unfortunately, I can’t take an advantage of most of his suggestions, as it requires a self-hosted blog web site, such as WordPress.org, and I’m using here WordPress.com, where I pretty much have no control over analytics data. Just in case this information might help you, Timothy’s presentation is available on SlideShare – here is the link.

Next – yes, we got to drink wine, as this was the lunch time! It was the lunch with with the Santa Barbara County winemakers, and there were many of them present, pouring and explaining at the same time. I have to admit that the choice of food for the lunch with wine was very strange – technically, the only choice was green salad with grilled chicken, made in three slight variations of flavor – this is not the food to serve if you expect people to drink the wine. Well, anyway, the were many good wines, and here are just a very few highlights:

2013 Baehner Fournier Rosé de Merlot, Santa Ynez Valley – very impressive, clean strawberries profile on the nose and the palate, supple, plump, with substantial body and overall delicious. Drinkability: 8

2011 Consilience Grenache Santa Barbara County – restrained fruit on the nose, round, well balanced, smokey fruit in the back. Drinkability: 8-

2010 Bedford Archive Syrah Santa Barbara County – elegant dark fruit on the nose and palate, dark and dense. Drinkability: 8-

2012 Stolpman Vineyards Estate Syrah Ballard Canyon – dark roasted fruit, touch of spices, good balance. Drinkability: 8-

We started afternoon again with the breakout sessions. This time all the sessions were dedicated to wine and of course, included the tasting (Theme: Wine Discovery Breakout Sessions). Out of the 3 available, I picked Ballard Canyon Syrah session (two others were Sanford Winery Sta. Rita Hills and Wines of Greece) – I love Syrah in all forms, and I never heard of Ballard Canyon, so it was an easy choice for me.

Let me say a few words about Ballard Canyon appellation first. Ballard Canyon AVA is not even one year old – it was approved in October of 2013. Syrah is the primary grape  in this small appellation located right in the middle of the Santa Barbara County:

Map of Ballard Canyon AVABallard Canyon AVA was created to capture the essence of soil and climate through the noble grape, Syrah, which is significant enough for this AVA to be known as “Syrah Territory”. Well, yes, Syrah is not the only grape growing in Ballard Canyon AVA, but Syrah plantings exceed plantings of all other grapes, red and white, combined.

The session was presented as a panel discussion, with Patrick Comiskey, Senior Editor for the Wine & Spirits Magazine starting it off with introduction into the state of Syrah in the US. Patrick is one of the leading authorities on the Rhone varieties (and Syrah is squarely one of them), and he is also writing the book on American Rhône movement. I was surprised to hear from Patrick that Syrah is not doing well in US, that it is very difficult to  sell and it doesn’t get much recognition. Leaving Shiraz aside for a moment, best known Syrah wines in the world are coming from France. If we will compare Syrah with Cabernet, Merlot and Pinot Noir based on the French wines, and then will look at the US, the proportions of popularity/demand are about the same. And thinking about all the cult and impossible to get wines such as Sin Qua None, Alban, Saxum, Cayuse, No Girls and many others, I think Syrah is doing not that bad… Oh well, I would love to debate it with Patrick over a glass of 1999 La Landonne, but let’s get back to our Ballard Canyon session.

Ballard Canyon Syrah TastingEight Ballard Canyon winemakers presented at our session (which is a half of total of 16 wineries in the Ballard Canyon AVA), and we had an opportunity to try 7 different wines (the Saarloos + Sons was completely sold out). Here are my notes from the tasting:

2012 Kimsey Syrah
Southwest corner of the appellation. Soft fruit on the nose, dark roasted notes. Spicy, mineral, strong acidity. Young vineyard. Drinkability: 7

2012 Beckmen Purisma Mountain Syrah
BiodynamicLly farmed since 2006, certified since 2009. Tobacco on the nose, nice dark fruit, inviting. Nice, soft fruit, perfect acidity, dark chocolate. Drinkability: 8-/8

2012 Stolpman Original Syrah
Nice, open nose, fresh red fruit,blueberries, a bit sharp on the palate, cherries, espresso. Drinkability: 7+

2012 Rusack Syrah Reserve
Nice, concentrated nose, hint of fresh berries – blueberries, raspberries, touch of roasted flavors. Beautiful fruit on the palate, fresh berries, but supported by fresh tannins. Needs time as tannins are overpowering. Drinkability: 7+

2010 Harrison Clarke Cuvée Charlotte Syrah (15.2% ABV)
Hint of barnyard! dark fruit, baking spices. Cherries on the palate, tannins explicit. Drinkability: 8-

2010 Larner Estate Syrah
Bright Fresh berries, touch medicinal smell on the nose (iodine?), inviting. Beautiful palate, a touch of pepper, enveloping tannins, fresh and open berries, lavender. Drinkability: 8

2010 Jonata Sangre de Jonata Syrah
Bright nose of your fruit, touch of blueberries. More bright fruit on the palate, but then green branches and strong tannins, lacking pleasure. Drinkability: 7

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Our day continued with the Panel of Professional Print Wine Writers. Steve Heimoff, James Conaway and Mike Dunne, professional journalists, wine writers and authors of a number of wine books, talked about various aspects of the wine writing. This happened to be one of the most controversial panels of the WBC14, which generated multiple blog posts and whirlwind of opinionated exchanges among the participants. I would have to agree with the Messrs. Heimoff, Conaway and Dunne that in a big schema of things, the quality of writing in the wine blogs can be greatly improved (this very blog you are reading is definitely the subject of such criticism). For the rest of it, just google “Panel of Professional Print Wine Writers wbc14”, and you will get tons of reading material blasting this session, presenters and content – though I have to say that I disagree with a lot of popular criticism. When presented with information, often it is our personal choice whether we will see it as positive or negative, so let’s leave it at that (yes, I do think it was a useful session overall).

Moving on, our next session was the Live Wine Blogging – The Reds, the speed tasting of the red wines, which I already covered in the full detail here.  Well, it was actually the last organized session for the day. We still had more wine to drink events in the agenda, but from point of view of the organized sessions we were done.

Our next event was Wines of the World Reception, where we had an opportunity to taste wines from Greece, Italy, Portugal and other countries. At this point in time, I lost an ability to take any kind of reasonable tasting notes, so I had to go simply by “aha, this is good” or “ouch, moving on”. I have to mention that wines of Greece helped me to make a good progress with my Wine Century Club journey towards the coveted Pentavini (500 grapes tasted level) – I added 5 new grapes:

Liatico – 2011 Domaine Douloufakis “Dafnios” Liatiko Crete (red)
Krassato – 2007 Tsantali Rapsani reserve Rapsani AOP Greece (red)
Stavroto – 2007 Tsantali Rapsani reserve Rapsani AOP Greece (red)
Avgoustiatis – 2013 Mercouri Estate Lampadias Rose, Greece (red)
Savatiano – 2013 Papagiannakos Savatiano Greece (white)

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Last two events of the day – Wine Blog Awards Presentation and Dinner. To me, Wine Blog Awards feels like a coveted achievement. However, for the last three years, watching the process of nomination, then selection of the finalists and then, for the first time, presentation of the awards, gives me only a thought of diminishing returns. The duration of the time for nomination is literally reducing from a year to a year, and nomination period is open out of blue (I don’t know if this is the attempt to reduce the number of nominations?). This year, we didn’t even know who the judges were. Selection of the wine blogs for the finalists is very strange, as many of the same blogs are nominated for the different categories, and moreover, the blogs are nominated year after year after year. And finally, out of the 9 awards, only two winners were present at the WBC to pick up their awards… It is funny that if you go to the Wine Blog Awards web site now, instead of finding information about the 2014 winners, you can finally find out who the judges were… The whole wine blog awards process needs a revamp and a fresh start, it is way too disorganized as it is.

You know what – this blog post is becoming one of the longest I ever written, so I need to round it up. The food at the dinner was okay, the wines were very good – there was a good selection of the Santa Barbara County wines present at every table, and the selection was different from the table to a table. After dinner, there was more wine – not only parties continued in the number of rooms and suites, but also a number of people brought the wines with them to share, and it was really the last night to drink them. I tried for the first time Horton Norton from Virginia – I had Norton wines before, but this was the first time I tried any of the Horton wines, which is considered one of the best wineries in Virginia (the wine was excellent). Then there were Texas wines, courtesy of SAHMMelier. She brought  2012 Brennan Vineyards Viognier (perfumy and delicious) and 2011 Bending Branch Winery Tannat (powerful and sophisticated). We also tasted 2001 Cottonwood Canyon Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley (fragrant and beautiful for the 13 years old wine), and 2011 Kalyra MC2 Santa Ynez Valley (restrained and balanced). For some reason, I’m under impression that there was also a wine from Oklahoma (!), but – no picture and no notes, so yeah, it is my loss.

And we are done, done, done here! Sometimes procrastination has its rewards – only yesterday I got the email from organizers of WBC14, Zephyr Adventures, which also included the link to the blog post with all presentations from the WBC14 – here it is if you would like to look at them. And (almost) last but not least  – Wine Bloggers Conference 2015 will take place in the beautiful town of Corning in the Finger Lakes region in New York, August 13-16, 2015 – if you are into the wine blogging, you definitely have to be there, you have to experience WBC to yourself. The registration is open now, and (this is what they say) availability is limited, so you might want to think about putting the stake into the ground now…

Last thing (I promise) before we are done – I would like to thank Zephyr Adventures and Santa Barbara Vintners for the great event they put together for all the wine bloggers. I know firsthand how hard it is to organize a great conference, and especially considering the size and diversity of the wine bloggers group, I can only say wholeheartedly “Thank you very much!!” for all the hard work put into bringing together such a great event.

Yes, we are done. If you are still with me, thank you very much for reading. Cheers!

Spotting Rare Grapes

March 28, 2013 7 comments

It’s being a while since I talked about new additions to my “grape collection”. No, I didn’t stop looking for the new grapes (I think this will go on forever), I just couldn’t get around posting about the new grape discoveries.

Actually, one of the “pushers” for this post to come out was the fact that subject of Wine Century Club became very popular in my close “blogosphere”, the blogs I’m reading on more or less the regular basis. Oliver of The Wine Getter just crossed his first hundred grapes – here is the post where he explains what makes him going with the Wine Century Club. Here is account of another blogger, GourmetVicariously – she is undertaking the Wine Century Challenge in Australia, and you follow check on her progress here.

So for my own update, I finally submitted my Quattro application, and I’m inching little by little closer to the Pentavini status. As I didn’t post on this subject for a while, today’s update includes 22 grapes, a lot of them came through after the VinItaly and Gambero Rosso tastings I recently attended. Below you will see some pictures of the wine labels, and the names of the grapes and the wines follow right after. Another challenge for me will be to update my grapes of the world table, but I will worry about it later. This same table might be a good resource for you in terms of searching of the new wines and the grapes. Also, if you are using Pinterest, please make sure to check the Wine Centurions shared pinboard,  and feel free to join in and start contributing the rare grapes information. Also, if we are talking about resources for the aspiring Wine Centurions, here is the link to all the Wine Century Club posts in this blog, hope you will find it helpful.

Here are the labels:

And the grapes:

Groslot – Sparkling Brut Rose Bouvet ‘Excellence’ NV Bouvet-Ladubay

Carricante – 2010 Planeta Carricante, Sicilia IGT, Italy

Le Crescent – Boyden Valley Winery Cowtipper, Vermont

Rougeon – Palaia Joyful Pink, Hudson Valley, New York

Prensal – 2010 Binigrau Nounat Vi de la Terra Mallorca, Spain

Marquette – 2010 Lincoln Park Vineyard Maquette, Vermont

Turbiana – 2009 Lugana Superiore Il Rintocco

Malvasia di Candia Aromatica – 2011 Lusenti C.P. Malvasia Frizzante Emiliana

Caberlot – 2009 Podere Il Carnasciale Caberlot

Trebbiano Spoletino – 2010 Tabarrini Adarmando

Verdiso – Bisol Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Brut Jeio NV

Cesanese di Affile – 2010 Casale della Ioria Cesanese del Piglio Camponovo

Malvasia Puntinata – 2011 L’Olivella Frascati Superiore Racemo

Bellone – L’Olivella Frascati Superiore Racemo

Cesanese – 2008 L’Olivella Lazio Rosso “>”

Durello – Lessini Durello DOC Spumante 36 Mesi

Lambrusca di Sorbara – 2011 Chiarli 1860 Lambrusco di Sorbara del Fondatore

Lambrusca Grasparossa – 2011 Chiarli 1860 Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro Vign. Enrico Cialdini

Ginestra – 2010 Marisa Cuomo Costa d’Amalfi Furore Bianco Fiorduva

Fenile – 2010 Marisa Cuomo Costa d’Amalfi Furore Bianco Fiorduva

Ripoli – 2010 Marisa Cuomo Costa d’Amalfi Furore Bianco Fiorduva

Perricone – 2010 Firriato Ribeca, Sicily

If you are not going through the Wine Century club challenge yet, you should really consider doing that, and if you are already living through your obsession – good luck in your journey and remember to have fun! Cheers!

Grape Quest Continues

March 22, 2011 2 comments

Treble Journey finished, destination reached – 301. Do I simply stop or do I leave the port for the next destination – Quattro? 400 different grapes to be experienced in some form?

Yes, I have to honestly admit that I enjoyed that Treble journey. I happened to discover real gems along the way, such as Nielucciu, Grolleau, Grignolino, Pigato, Pugnitello, Romorantin and many others. What now?

As it often happens with me, I decided not to decide. I don’t want to set my mind on the “quattro journey”, as level of obsession will go again ( as it was with Treble) really high. At the same time, the need to look for “what is actually inside of that bottle, may be it is a new grape?” became really ingrained into the DNA, and nothing I can do about it.

The decision is to take it as it goes. I’m not going to spend hours on internet, looking for the grapes I need to try to advance to the next level. At the same time, I’m going to keep paying attention to “what’s inside”, and continue counting the new grapes. To reflect that, “Treble count” on the front page is now “Grape Count”, and it will keep ticking.

And to make an early advance, I was quite lucky (thanks to my friend Zak) to attend a big wine tasting event (one of the posts in the near future will be raving about amazing wines we tried), so the grape counter is advancing by 8 – here is the list:

Gamay Saint Romaine: 2010 Domaine Robert Serol Cote Roannaise Rose “Cabochard”

Tressalier: 2009 Domaine Nebout SAt. Pourcain Blanc Tressalier des Graviers

Mondeuse: 2008 Roger Labbe Mondeuse

Colorino (Tintoretto): 2010 Terenzuola Rosato “Merla Rosa”

Albana: 2009 Fattoria Zerbina Albana di Romagna  Secco “AS”

Vespolina, Uva Rara: 2004 Vallana Boca

Prugnolo Gentile: 2006 La Spinetta Il Gentile di Casanova

I’m looking forward continuing this journey – and of course, I will report along the way on all discoveries. Let’s go…