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Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, #WBC14, Project Genome, What is in the Price

June 25, 2014 7 comments

Meritage time!

Let’s start with the answer to the wine quiz #107, Grape Trivia – Blends, Part 10.

This was the last quiz in the Blends theme of the grape trivia – we  are going back to the single grape quizzes for a while, before changing the subject of the quizzes to something else. But for now, here is the final set of the questions about blends – now with the answers.

Q1: Name the region in France, where total of seven of red and white grapes are permitted, but absolute majority of the wines is made out of three grapes, which includes both red and white. Blend and single grape wines are permitted, and majority of the wines (even made from single grape variety) are blended.

A1: Champagne. While  Arbane, Chardonnay, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir are all allowed grapes in Champagne, absolute majority of wines is made out of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Q2: Name region in France, where multiple red and multiple white grapes are allowed to be used in production of a single red wine.

A2: Châteauneuf-du-Pape. 18 grapes are allowed to be used in production of this famous red wine, a mix of both reds and whites.

Q3: This wine in the old world wine region are traditionally made as a blend of 4 grapes (only 4 are allowed) , with one grape considered to be the major, and 3 others used in various proportions, or possibly none at all. These wines are known to have great affinity to oak and have classification based on the aging time in oak and in the bottle. Flavor profile often includes eucalyptus and cigar box, and wines have great ability to age, especially in the best years. Can you name this region?

A3: Rioja. Rioja wines are made out of the combination of Tempranillo, Mazuello, Garnacha and Graciano, with Tempranillo typically being the main grape.

Q4: This protected (trade mark protected) word came around a bit more than 25 years ago to designate the wine blend (can be both red and white) which resembles in its composition and grape usage one of the most prestigious and best known wines and overall wine styles in the world. Do you know what this word might be?

A4: Meritage! in 1988, Meritage Alliance was created in California by the group of winemakers, to promote creation of the Bordeaux-style blends, both red and white, without infringing on the Bordeaux protected name. According to Wikipedia, the red Meritage wine “must be made from a blend of at least two of the following varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, or Carmenère, with no varietal comprising more than 90% of the blend”. The same goes for the white Meritage wine: “must be made from a blend of at least two or more of the following varieties: Sauvignon blanc, Sémillon or Muscadelle du Bordelais, with no varietal comprising more than 90% of the blend”. Another interesting fact is that Meritage is a trademark protected word, and any winery using it on their labels must pay the alliance a license fee.

Q5: Wine Spectator’s rating of 100 points ( an “absolute perfection” so to speak), is not easy to get – to the date, there are only 75 wines which got the 100 rating from Wine Spectator. Taking into account only the red wines on the top 100 list, which grape or grape-dominated blend got the score of 100 most often? Different vintages of the same wine should be counted as separate votes.

a. Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Sauvignon based blend, b. Merlot or Merlot based blend, c. Nebbiolo, d. Pinot Noir, e. Syrah or Syrah based blend

A5: Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Sauvignon based blends are definitely in the lead among this elite group – 17 different wines received the coveted 100 points rating from the Wine Spectator. Merlot and Merlot based wines are trailing behind with 11 different wines receiving the honors.

When it comes to the results, looks like I can never estimate the difficulty of the quiz properly. I thought this was somewhat difficult, but I was proven wrong – today we have 3 winners! Jennifer Lewis (no web site), Gene Castellino (no web site) and benway69 (no web site) all correctly answered 5 out of 5 questions, so they are all the winners of this quiz and they all get the coveted prize of unlimited bragging right. Excellent Work! vinoinlove gets an honorable mention with 4 correct answers out of 5.

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

In the mere two weeks, The Wine Bloggers Conference 2014, dubbed WBC14, will take place in Santa Barbara County in California. More than 300 people have signed up to attend the 3 days event, to meet, greet, talk, learn and of course, drink the wine. I’m very excited as this will be my first WBC event, and of course full report will follow. I’m looking forward meeting everyone there (I know that both SAHMMelier and the drunken cyclist will be in attendance), so if you are going, let’s connect! You can find all the details about the conference at the WBC web site.

While the next interesting read item is geared more towards the wine professionals, I think many of you will find it quite interesting. Constellations Brands, one of the biggest wine producers and distributors in the world, recently published the result of the multi-year study of the behavior of the wine consumers, under the name of the Project Genome. Based on the results of that study, all wine consumers are split into the 6 different categories (Price Driven, Everyday Loyals, Overwhelmed, Image Seekers, Engaged Newcomers, Enthusiasts), with the detailed analysis of buying patterns of all the people in each category. There is a lot of interesting info in this article, so I suggest you will go read it for yourself here.

Last one for today is an interesting article at Wine-Searcher, written by Tyler Colman (who is also known as Dr. Vino). In the article, Tyler is attempting to break up a price of a $100 and then a $2 bottles of wine, to identify  the price elements attributed to the different participants – the winery, distributor and the retailer, as the bottle of wine is making its way to the consumer’s hands. While it is not necessarily 100% precise, it gives you some food for thought. You can find the article here.

And we are done here. The glass is empty – but the refill is on its way! Cheers!

Celebrate Tempranillo!

November 14, 2013 9 comments

Tempranillo_AutoCollage_29_ImagesToday is an International Tempranillo Day 2013!

Tempranillo is an indigenous grape originated in Spain (by the way, do you know that Spain has the biggest area of grape plantings in the world?), with more than 2000 years of history. It is black, thick-skinned grape, capable of surviving temperature swings of Mediterranean climate, with very hot days and cool nights. Name Tempranillo comes from Spanish word temprano, which means “early”. Tempranillo typically ripens two weeks earlier compare to many other grapes.  Tempranillo also one of the most widely planted red grapes in the world, with about 500,000 acres planted world-wide.

Tempranillo grapes are naturally low in acid and sugar content, so they often rely on blending partners to complement on both. Flavor profile of Tempranillo typically includes berries, leather (so famous in Rioja wines) and tobacco. Most famous Tempranillo wines come from Spain, from Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions, but Tempranillo is successfully growing in many other regions, including Portugal, California, Texas (up and coming star), South Africa, Australia and others. It is also interesting to note that Tempranillo is known under lots of different names (and as such, can throw some curve balls to The Wine Century club aficionados) – it is known in Spain as Tempranillo, Tinto Fino, Ull de Llebre, Tinto de Toro (this grape actually has clonal differences, similar to Sangiovese/Sangiovese Grosso), Cencibel and many others. It is known in Portugal as Tinta Roriz, Aragonez and Tinta Aragonez. But for the rest of the world it is simply known as Tempranillo.

So what is so great about Tempranillo? It has a few qualities which squarely set it on the line with the bets of the best in the wine world.

First, it has a great affinity for oak – Tempranillo wines can age and improve for the very long time in the oak barrels, and the resulting wine will pick up subtle nuances and complexity from that oak.

Tempranillo wines are very good at ageing. Best Tempranillo wines will rival best Bordeaux and Burgundy when it comes to improving with age and maintaining its youthful character. I have a first-hand account I can share with you – here is my experience with 1947 Rioja Imperial.

Last but absolutely not least in my book – Tempranillo wines are affordable! You can drink absolutely fabulous wines in the price range of $20 to $50, occasionally going into the $80+ – can you say the same about California Cabernet, or Burgundy, or Bordeaux? Not really… But with Tempranillo wines you do have this luxury. Of course there are  Tempranillo wines which will cost $600+, but those are the exception, not the norm.

So what Tempranillo wines should you be drinking today, or any other day for that matter? I would love to give you a variety of recommendations, but come to think of it, I can only mention a few names coming strictly from Spain. There is nothing I can tell you about about Portuguese Tempranillo wines, as Tinta Roriz is typically blended with other grapes to produce Port. And while Tempranillo wines are made in Texas, California, Oregon, Washington and probably other states in US, most of those wines are available only at the wineries and rarely leave state limits.

But – when it comes to Tempranillo from Spain, I got favorites! Let me give you a few names of the producers – all the recommendations are personal, as I tasted many of their wines.

Rioja: La Rioja Alta, Bodegas Muga, Vina Real, Lopez de Heredia, Cune Imperial

Ribero del Duero: Emilio Moro, Vega Sicilia, Hasienda el Monsterio, Bodegas Alion

Toro: Teso La Monja, Numanthia

DO La Mancha: Bodegas Volver (one of the singularly best wines money can buy for around $15)

So I think it is the time to have a glass wine. Before we part let me leave you with a few interesting resources:

A vintage chart of Rioja wines, going all the way back to the 1925

A general vintage chart of Spanish wines, starting from 1992

A map of Spanish wine regions

And we are done here. Ahh, before I forget – Tempranillo Day now has a permanent spot in the calendar! It will be celebrated every second Thursday in November. Have a great Tempranillo Day and cheers!

 

There is a Train Station in Haro

July 30, 2013 6 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!

Weekly Wine Quiz #61: Grape Trivia – Tempranillo

June 15, 2013 13 comments
Tempranillo grapes as captured in Wikipedia

Tempranillo grapes as captured in Wikipedia

Welcome to the weekend! Here is your new wine quiz you’ve been waiting for so hard (yeah, okay, I know I’m pushing it, but may be at least a bit?)

And yes, we are continuing the grape trivia subject – by the way, if you are tired of it, do tell me – I will come up with something else. Just to let you know, we have two more red grapes to go through, and then we will switch to the whites for may be 8 different white grapes – then will see where we will end up.

Today’s subject is – Tempranillo! Just saying the word Tempranillo makes me very excited, as Rioja, one of the most well-known wines made out of Tempranillo grapes, are some of my all time favorites.

Tempranillo is indigenous grape  originating in Spain, with more than 2000 years of history. It is black, thick-skinned grape, capable of surviving temperature swings of Mediterranean climate, with very hot days and cool nights. Tempranillo grapes are naturally low in acid and sugar content, so they often rely on blending partners to complement on both. Flavor profile of Tempranillo typically includes berries, leather (so famous in Rioja wines) and tobacco. Most famous Tempranillo wines come from Spain, from Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions, but Tempranillo is successfullygrowing in many other regions, including Portugal, California, Texas (up and coming star), South Africa, Australia and others.

And now, to the quiz!

Q1: What is the meaning of the name Tempranillo?

Q2: Name 3 grapes,  traditional blending partners of Tempranillo

Q3: What is common between Bodegas Muga, La Rioja Alta, Lopez de Heredia and Vina Real outside of the fact that all four are very famous Rioja producers and of course make wines out of Tempranillo?

Q4: Tempranillo is used in production of the wine outside of Spain, which is at least equally famous to Rioja. Do you know what wine is that?

Q5: Name two producers of Tempranillo wines – one is the most famous and another one is probably the most expensive.

Enjoy the weekend and good luck with the quiz. And don’t forget to celebrate Dad tomorrow – Father’s Day, yay! Cheers!

Rioja for the Stars, Or Don’t Miss The Oscars on Sunday!

February 22, 2013 4 comments

And the Best Picture Award goes to …  what, do you really think I know? Even if I do, I’m not telling… But – I know what you should be sipping while watching all the glitz and glamor – Rioja!

Why Rioja? May be because this is one of my all time most favorite wines? Okay, yeah, never mind. Then may be because Rioja is ready for the big Oscar celebration?

rioja-stars2

Yep, here is tons of information about Rioja and your favorite actors – all courtesy of Vibrant Rioja!

You can also mark your winners in advance and play the game of “Told you so!” later on with your friends:

rioja-stars1

Here is the link if you want to download an actual PDF file.

So, what are you going to open? I heard that 1996 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia White Reserva should be able to help you to get through the opening ceremony, and 2001 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial will pair perfectly with the “Best Movie” award, but then again, it is your choice.

No matter what you will end up doing, I hope you got my point – Rioja is always appropriate, no matter what the occasion. Open the bottle and enjoy! Cheers!

Categories: Art, Rioja Tags: , , ,

Tempranillo and My [Successful!] DIY Experience

November 9, 2012 8 comments

I guess you are wondering what is the relation between Tempranillo and Do-It-Yorself, and if I started making my own wine. Rest assured – there are no plans for “Chateau Talk-a-Vino” in foreseeable future, no need to be scared. But – my “successful DIY experience” has direct relationship with wine, so let me tell you about it first, despite the fact that today is International Tempranillo Day and we actually have to be talking about Tempranillo wines.

About a week ago I noticed strange clicking sound in the kitchen. Something clicks, not too loud. Few minutes later, another click, and then again – I think you got the picture. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like any unexplained sounds in the house. If you hear something which you are not supposed to hear, that often means trouble. And somehow this clicking sound is associated in my mind with electricity, which I like even less.

Next day – the same story. I’m puzzled, but still, I have to let it go, as I have no idea what this can be.

Then, while sitting at the table, my eyesight stops at the wine fridge, and I see the temperature. Big red sign reads “75”.

75! Do you know the proper storage temperature for the wine? Yes, it is 55, not 75 at all! Do you want to guess the first word which comes to my mind? Yes, you are absolutely correct, that one and you are right about the second one too.

I unplug the fridge, wait a few minutes, plug it back – no effect, and then I hear the clicking sound. Okay, so as it always goes in life, I just got good news and bad news at the same time. Good news – the source of the clicking noise is discovered. Bad news – my wine fridge is busted. It is not new, okay, but it holds about 60 bottles of wine… And new fridge is definitely not budgeted 😦

Okay, google to the rescue. Fridge is unloaded, and I start trying different suggestions from internet. I even found an official troubleshooting guide for my Vinotemp VT-60, and went step by step as recommended. No, it is not the control card, and it seems that the next suggestion from the troubleshooting guide simply recommends replacing the compressor, which not only requires a new compressor, but also some good welding skills and equipment, which is definitely out of my league. Not good. Need better advice, please!

I decided to start looking for just troubleshooting around different parts. LG compressor. Found full spec and the manual – no help. Okay, what is this little cover on the side? I guess it is the relay some people referred to in the posts I saw. I see the part number (P6R8MC), put it in google, and… this blog post comes up, where someone named Chad Munkers is talking exactly about my fridge! Okay, step by step, similar to what I did, yes, the relay and overload protector, and if I will disassemble this small part, take a little disk out, flip, put it back it will magically work? Seriously? Another 15 minutes, put the plug back in – ahh, I love that sound! This is how working wine fridge sounds like! Here are some pictures for you  – these are just random, and all the actually useful pictures can be found in the blog post shown above:

Wine fridge – view from the back

some tools

 

and some parts…

Sorry for sharing in such a detail – a lot of my DIY, or may be rather FIY (Fix-It-Yourself) projects are not so successful – for instance, I fully disassembled our Nintendo Wii (twice), cleaned it up and then even replaced the laser head – only to throw it out later, still not working. So you can see how successful revitalization of the wine fridge made me happy.

And now – to the wine! My Tempranillo wine for today’s International Tempranillo Day was 2004 Bodegas Ondarre Rioja Reserva DOC ($16.98, 13.5% ABV). 2004 was outstanding year for Rioja, one of the best vintages ever. This wine was perfectly drinkable from the get go – nice dark fruit on the nose, the same on the palate with some cherries, raspberries, touch of plums and cedar box notes, perfect acidity and soft tannins. Very balanced and enjoyable. The wine was practically unchanged on the second day, so I’m sure it will last quite well in the cellar. Drinkability: 8-.

That’s all for today, folks. Hope your Tempranillo Day experience was great, and I would love to hear about it. Cheers!

Re-Post: Best Hidden Secrets Of The Wine World: Rioja

September 28, 2012 6 comments

During 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project closed, but I still like the posts I wrote, so I decided to re-post them in this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into mini-series, such as “Best Hidden Secrets” you see here – I will continue re-posting them from time to time.

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

“Let me tell you a secret” – how many stories started from this sentence? Adventures, journeys, discoveries, friendships and feuds, love and hate – secrets can be beginning of many things.

Secrets have special place in our lives. Secret is a hope.  Hope, anticipation and promise of unique experience. Humans always hope to find secrets – of health, wealth, attraction, eternal life. When you know a secret, you feel good – you possess  something which nobody else does. Or at least nobody from the people you know. And this is when it becomes difficult. We are social creatures, and we want to share. When we share a secret, we feel special, we feel  high above, as we share something which a moment ago was unique and exclusively ours. Then we regret we shared – ahh, that moment of weakness. And yes, you are right, there are evil secrets, those which bring death and destruction – but nothing like that belongs to this blog.

Okay, fine, I hear you. This is not a philosophical blog – this is the blog about wine and experience. But – the preamble was necessary, as we will continue from here on. Secrets (sometimes referred to as “know-how”) are everywhere, and world of wine is no exception. Are they really such a secrety secrets? Of course they are not, and you don’t need a special clearance to learn them. However, secrets are personable, and if secrets I plan to share will only make you yawn, please make sure to tell me so.

So what can be so secret about something which is available in abundance literally everywhere? Of course it would be nice to discover a secret of buying a bottle of Chateau Petrus for $100 instead of $3,500, but this is something which I don’t know myself (hey, if by any chance you do, can you PLEASE share that special knowledge with the rest of us?).

So my secrets will be about wines which will give you a lot of pleasure without the need to refinance the house. And they will be about the wines you probably never heard of. I promise you will learn some secrets, and I’m certain you are not going to regret.

Bored, tired, lost my chain of thoughts and need a drink? And even if you like it so far, it might still be a time for a drink. Get your bottle opener and reach out for that Spanish wine called Rioja. Why Rioja? Rioja is a well known wine from Spain – what makes it a “secret”? I truly believe that Rioja is under-appreciated by the wine lovers, despite two very essential characteristics: value and ability to age.  Let’s start from aging: Rioja will rival best Bordeaux and Burgundies in its ability to age. Just to give you an example, I recently had an opportunity to try 1964 Monte Real Rioja Gran Reserva (the wine was exactly 45 years old when I had it) – and the wine was still youthful, with bright fruit, very round and polished, and was not over the peak at all. Now, talking about value: how much do you think this 1964 Rioja costs today? Before we get to the numbers, you need to take into consideration that 1964 was one of the most exceptional years for Rioja in the past century. Essentially, best Riojas had being produced in 1964, 1973 and 2001. So if you would take a parallel with great Bordeaux of 1982, a bottle of wine from that vintage would easily cost you thousands of dollars. Yet that 1964 Monte Real Gran Reserva can be bought today for $220 (if you are in US, you can find it at PJ Wine store in New York) – this is an outstanding QPR (quality price ratio).

Rioja wines are typically aged in the oak barrels, and then still can be aged in the bottle before they are released. You can see all that information on the label of Rioja wine. If the wine just called Rioja, it means that it was aged in oak less than a year. If the wine is called Rioja Crianza, it means that it had being aged for two years total – 1 year in the oak, and another year in the bottle. Rioja Reserva had being aged for a minimum of 3 years – 1 in the oak, 2 in the bottle. And the Rioja Gran Reserva is aged for a minimum of two years in oak and 3 years in bottle. Also, Reserva and Gran Reserva is produced  only in good years, not always. Why all the classification? Let’s take a look at couple of Rioja wines readily available today.

First, 2001 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial. Just to make things more complicated, here is additional designation of Rioja wines – Reserva Especial. “Good” thing is, you are not going to find too many wines like that, because Reserva Especial is assigned only in the best of the best years – again, repeating from above – 1964, 1973 and 2001. La Rioja Alta is a very good producer with wide variety of great Rioja wines, and one can make a few blog posts talking just specifically about them. This 2001 Reserva Especial is outstanding – when you take a sip, it becomes a fiesta of flavor in your mouth – cherries, plums, cigar box, chocolate notes, all bright but not overpowering at all, with silky smooth tannins and long finish. This is the great wine, and will continue to evolve for many years to come.  The price of the pleasure – $29.95!

Here is another example – 1996 CVNE “Vina Real” Rioja Gran Reserva.  This is Gran Reserva in all meanings – while this wine is 15 years old, it needs time like great Barolo to be enjoyed fully. In the first half an hour of breathing, only tannins opened up to the point of completely puckering the mouth, and the fruit appeared after another half an hour of time. After an hour and a half of breathing, this became a nice and gentle wine with the cherry and eucalyptus notes. Great wine, again at a great price – $31.99! Considering that this is a Gran Reserva, comparable Bordeaux or Burgundy wine would cost probably ten-fold, if not more.

I did my best to share the great secret of Rioja – don’t know if I managed to convince you, but I hope at least you feel encouraged to give Rioja a try. I truly believe you will not be disappointed. In any case, there are many more secrets we are going to share – rare grapes, little known wine regions, and many other wine pleasures to be discovered along the way. Cheers!

Magnificent Rioja

May 20, 2012 14 comments

The title for this post didn’t come up easily. I was back and forth with myself many times. The reason? Tasting these Rioja wines was a phenomenal experience, something which  doesn’t happen often during one’s lifetime. The brightness and openness of the 65-years old Rioja was nothing but stunning – but I think I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s go back to the beginning.

I happened to fall in love with Rioja wines about 4 years ago, after attending a Rioja seminar at PJ Wine store (the owner, Peter, is anything but fanatical about Spanish wines – of which PJ Wines houses an amazing selection all the time). At that seminar I was lucky enough to try 1964 Monte Real Gran Reserva Rioja and that was a revelation – the wine was fresh and bright, as it would’ve been may be 5 years old, not 40+. After that tasting I became Rioja fan for life. I have to also mention that even today, you can buy 1964 Rioja starting from less than $300 – for comparison, a bottle of 1966 DRC will set you back for about $10,000. I rest my case.

When my friend Zak told me that we can get a bottle of 1947 Rioja directly from the winery for less than $400, the decision was instantaneous – this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and it is worth it (don’t remember how many bottles were still available, but surely there were not that many). So we got that 1947 bottle and after a little while, were able to set the date for the tasting.

To make sure our 1947 Rioja will not feel lonely, we got a few more bottles to keep it company. You can see the full line up on the picture above, and here is an exact list:

2008 Raventos & Blanc Reserva Brut Cava
1993 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva Blanco
1947 Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja
1976 Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja
1995 Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja
Pinord Moscatel NV

There is one more bottle in the picture – Jorge Ordonez Malaga – but, guess what – we never opened that, being quite overwhelmed by the desert time (it is a great bottle of desert wine, but – oh well, there is always a next time).

We started with Cava, of course. It was fresh, round and pleasant – not necessarily hugely distinguishable, but definitely a nice bottle of wine to have before dinner starts.

The first foray into magnificent world of Rioja was with the 1993 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Blanco. I will gladly challenge you to find a bottle of 19 years old white wine which will taste as fresh as this 1993 Rioja. May be you will have some luck with white Hermitage, Chablis or some of the white Burgundies, or may be some of the really obscure grapes like Romorantin – but in any case I’m sure it will not be easy. This wine was fresh and complex, with mineral notes, hint of white apple, perfect mid-palate weight and still bright acidity. Definitely a ”wow” introduction into the ”wow” lineup of reds.

Needless to say that we started with 1947 Rioja. Considering the tender age of 65 years, the first challenge of course was to get the cork out. I wish we had one of those glass cutting devices described in the PJ Wine blog post, which simply allows you to cut the whole neck of the bottle with the cork in it, and not worry about cork crumbling into your wine – well, we don’t drink wines of that age often enough, so we had to stick with more conventional tools, like the two-prong cork puller.

It almost worked.. and then not. It took two people and good 5 minutes of time to get cork our, little by little, piece by piece – but we managed to do it almost clean, with may be one or two tiny pieces falling back into the bottle.

Cork is out, and wine goes into the glasses. First thing to note is color, which is still red and not brown – of course it is not purple, but it is dark garnet red. And for the taste… Should I simply tell you that wine was magnificent and leave it at that? Well, okay, it wouldn’t be fair. Let’s continue. On the nose – coco powder, cedar dust, hint of cinnamon, smoked paprika. On the palate – good amount of red fruit, wine comes in bright and youthful, with good acidity. Then second wave came in as wine opened up a bit, with more sweet fruit and then tannins kicking in. I don’t want to bring in exotic animals to describe this wine, as Joe Roberts did with a black panther, so my description will be simple – grace and elegance. I can only wish to have the same grace and elegance myself when I will reach that age.

Moving along, it is now time for the 1976 Rioja. 29 years younger than the previous wine and… ahh, so different! Barnyard on the nose, very pungent, savory, with hint of the same barnyard on the palate, dried cherries, earthiness. If umami is a part of the wine tasting profile, this wine definitely had it.

And for the 1995, we decided to give it a little breathing time – it spent 2 hours in the decanter. The wine was fresh, with beautiful garnet color, bright fruit, very good acidity and soft tannins, touch of eucalyptus and cedar box. Very youthful and upbeat, if you will.

After tasting this line up of the magnificent Rioja wines from the same producer, the most interesting question in my mind is ”how will these wines evolve?”. Even the 1947 didn’t reach the end of life considering the way it was showing, never mind 1976 and 1995. Will pungency of 1976 stay, or will it evolve to something akin to 1947 in 29 years? How will 1995 taste in 48 years, and will it even last that long? These are all great questions I will not get an answer to – but this is part of the wine connoisseurship game – think about the future but definitely appreciate and enjoy what you have right now (huh – feel free to beat me up in the comments for banalities).

So far we I didn’t tell you about the food – there was a lot of great food. While you can’t taste it anyway, here is at least a picture of one of the dishes – roasted potato encrusted striped Bass:

We also had “death by chocolate” desert which perfectly paired with Pinord Moscatel, which happened to be well aged (the bottle simply got lost under the shelf and was “discovered” many years later).

Overall, this was a great experience, which will stay in memory for a very long time. To tell you honestly, I think it will not be easy to top off this experience, but as the very least I can promise to share all that with you. Wish you all great fun with wines – cheers!

Wine and Time

January 10, 2012 3 comments

Of course time had being here forever, always moving, and always in one direction (someone, please prove me wrong!). Wine had being around for about 8,000 years, first appearing in the ancient Georgia (no, not the one down south, but the one from the Caucus region, on another continent). Wine is one of the few products literally not changed for such a long time in its form and its production methods – sans reverse osmosis machines, electrical presses and micro-oxygenation boxes. Considering such a long history, you can imagine that relationship between wine and time is very complex, and you would be right.

First, time is a necessary part and an attribute of the wine making process. For the vast majority of wines, if you read winery’s description of the wine, you will see something like “aged for so many month in …”. Sometimes the wine is aged in stainless steel tanks. Sometimes the wine is aged in clay vessels (very popular in Georgia now, the vessels are called Kvevri and produce very distinct wines). Lots of red wines are aged in oak barrels – American oak, French oak, Hungarian Oak, new oak, old oak – variations are endless. For many wines, duration and the type of the aging is a sole decision of winemaker (no pressure, but this decision will greatly affect quality and the taste of wine, and will define success and failure for it). For some of the wines, aging in a specific type of barrels is mandatory before the wine can be released – Rioja Gran Reserva should be aged for a minimum of 2 years in oak barrel and 3 years in the bottle to be officially designated as Rioja Gran Reserva. Barolo must be aged for 3 years, at least two of them in the oak barrel, and Barolo Riserva should be aged at least for 5 years. During the aging process, the wine is changing. Oak imparts very specific flavor, which we, humans, tend to like. Oak aging also acts as a preservative and helps wines to live long life.

Once all the aging is complete (in the tanks, barrels and bottles – whatever the aging was), wine is released – and this is when the second phase of the wine and time relationship kicks in.

This second phase is as tricky, if not trickier, as the first. Have you heard the phrase “needs time” in relation to the particular bottle of wine? If you will look at the wine reviews in Wine Spectator or any other publication which provides wine reviews, you would often see one of the phrases “Drink now”, “Best 2014-2020”, “Best after 2013” – these are the suggestions for how long the wine should be kept in the cellar before it should be consumed.

Why is that? What with all this aging? Why not open the bottle right away and just drink the wine? What was discovered at some point (don’t ask me when, but it was long time ago) is that wine actually changes its taste as it spends time in the bottle (the aging). And it doesn’t just change the taste arbitrarily, it tastes better. Young wines are often sharp, or somewhat single-toned in their taste – you might get pronounced acidity, or only sweetness, or lots of white apples – but only white apples. During aging, trace amounts of air are making its way into he bottle, and they lead to the wine changing its taste, improving to the better in majority of the cases – it becomes complex, bite softens up, bright and diverse fruit tones compensate for the pronounced acidity and the wine brings a lot more pleasure compare to the young wines. Mature wines deliver more pleasure – this is the whole philosophy behind wine aging.

Simple and easy, right? Well, this is were everything becomes complicated and confusing – as not all the wines should be aged (do not try to age Beaujolais Noveau, please) and also it is very tricky to make sure you would drink the wine at its peak – as whatever comes up, goes down in mother nature. This is where time transforms from the friend to the foe – and as a foe, it is merciless. After reaching maturity and staying there for a while, the wines are typically starting their decline in the taste (wine loses fruit, become very acidic, may be oxidized – and it stops delivering pleasure). Different wines made in the different styles will have different peak times and different lifespans. Some of the Jerez, Madeira and similar wines can go on literally for the hundreds of years. Good Rioja, Barolo or Bordeaux can be perfectly aged for 50 years or longer. Simple Cote du Rhone might only last for 3-5 years, same would be true for many of the Chardonnay wines. There is not crystal ball telling you precisely how long the wine will last and when will it taste the best – human trial and error is the best way to find that out. Of course there are many factors which might help you to decide whether to age the wine and if yes, for how long – the winery, the winemaker, the region’s wine style, success of the vintage and many others – but in the end of the day you would need to do the work (err, I meant the wine drinking) as the wine ages to find out when it tastes best to you.

So, does it worth to age wines if you don’t know what will happen to them in the end? For anyone who is into wines, and who had an opportunity to try a mature wine, the wine which reached its optimum taste, I’m sure this is a no-brainer question – yes, of course, and please, please give me more.

How one can experience aged wines? You got a few options. First, you can age it in your own cellar. Second, you can buy aged wines, either in a good wine store, such as Cost Less Wines in Stamford or Benchmark Wine Company. Note that you have to buy aged wines only from the trusted source – not aging the wines in the right conditions will simply ruin them, so you have to trust your source. Third option is to attend a wine tasting, such as PJ Wine Grand Tasting, where you can taste really amazing wines. However, you don’t have to wait of the Grand tasting, which takes place only once a year. If you live in a close proximity to Stamford, CT, you can attend a wine tasting at the Franklin Street Works gallery on Thursday, January 19th at 5:30 pm (here is the link for RSVP). The event is free and open to all. Here are the wines which will be presented in the tasting (the list might change at any time):

2003 Riesling, Mosel Saar River, Germany

1998 Merlot, Italy

2009 Stag’s Leap Hands of Time, Napa Valley

2009 Stag’s Leap Hands of Time, hyper-decanted using Nathan Myhrvold’s methodology.

So you should come and experience the relationship between time and wine for yourself – there is a good chance that you will even enjoy it! Cheers!

Tasting Spanish Wines – Blind, Of Course

November 14, 2011 1 comment

Once again, we got together with the group of friends to play a fun game of blind wine tasting. This time the subject was Spain (in the past we had a lot of fun blind tasting Pinot Noir and Sparkling wines – you can read the posts here and here).

Why Spain? Spanish wines are getting a lot of recognition among wine lovers of all walks. On average, they deliver the best quality for the price (QPR) among most of other wine regions, and in the end end of the day they simply taste great and deliver lots of pleasure. So the theme was set, the bottles wrapped (every participant have to bring a bottle wrapped in paper bag) and opened, and the numbers are randomly assigned to the bottles.

We had total of six wines, all red. The idea would be may be to identify the grape (an added bonus, of course), but mainly to see a consensus as to which wine would be the most favorite of the group – blind tasting has a great leveling effect – you are not intimidated by the price or a label, so you can stay true to your taste buds. Just to set the stage as to what are the most popular Spanish grapes, I prepared the following cheat sheet, which I’m including here in its entirety:

Off we went, so for what it worth, here are my notes as I took them during tasting – no corrections afterwards:
1 brick dust on the nose, good acidity, pepper – tempranillo
2 young wine, good fruit, open – mencia, monastrell?
3 earthy, tame fruit, age, good fruit, dark color, great acidity, pomegranate, smokiness
4 feels like it is corked, but I hope it is not. Fruit at the bottom. Final verdict – corked.
5 beautiful, most balanced, good fruit, plums- Grenache?
6 classic Rioja, cherries, acidity, best of tasting.

So, reading the descriptions, what do you think those wines are? This is always not an easy guess, as your mind is racing trying to pinpoint taste, texture and any other sensations you are experiencing at the moment against your mental database of the wines you tasted (that database is either resisting and says “nothing found” or goes all the way and says “it is similar to all 10 of these”).

And here are the actual wines:

 

1. 2004 Bodegas Muga Rioja Selection Especiale
2. 2009 D. Ventura Vina Caneiro Ribeira Sacra DO
3. 2005 Arrayan Syrah, Mentrida DO
4. 2004 Bodegas Ondarre Rioja
5. 2009 Emilio Moro Finca Resalso, Ribero del Duero
6. 1994 Campillo Rioja Gran Reserva

 

Now for the popularity vote, here is how it works. Everybody can vote for up to two wines (but don’t have to). If there will be one wine which will receive a majority of the votes, it will be declared a winner. If two bottles will receive the same number of votes, we would vote again for the one favorite out of the two.

Can you guess which wine won? If you guessed “Bodegas Campillo” (as the very least judging by the label to the left), you are correct. It won by the unanimous vote – everybody liked it. Distant second was Arrayan Syrah (half of the group voted for it). Bodegas Campillo was classic and pure Rioja, with all the clean flavors of cherries and cedar box, great acidity and very fresh, not even a hint of 17 years of age. Arrayan Syrah was probably the most unusual and unexpected wine in the group – beautiful, balanced, and very pleasant to drink. But just to give due respect to all 6 wines we tasted, all except the corked bottle were very good wines, worthy of being in the competition.

If you feel encouraged to try blind tasting on your own, I would suggest to avoid doing it for the whole country. Single region or a single grape (or a stable blend, such as GSM or Bordeaux) would work much better to showcase the range of possibilities. But other than this remark, I think blind tasting is the best way to learn about your wine preferences, to have great experience and to have fun! If you got blind tasting experiences of your own – please share them here! Cheers!

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