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Wine, Beer, and Road Trip

June 21, 2022 Leave a comment

Some road trips require long planning. Some are just spontaneous. The road trip we took two weekends ago was somewhat in between, more on the spontaneous side. I had a Marriott certificate expiring by the end of the month, and I couldn’t let it go to waste. Balancing places I would like to visit with the low value of this certificate, travel madness ensuing in the country, and the desire to stay within a 3-hour driving radius from home narrowed down the search. The town of Reading in Pennsylvania offered a reasonable combination of all the factors I mentioned above, so this is where we decided to go.

There are many advantages when traveling by car, such as ultimate flexibility of the schedule. The ability to bring your own bottle of wine to the hotel is another big one. This is exactly what we did.

I don’t know what possessed me to bring 2016 Saxum as the wine of choice, but this is what I did. By the time we settled in the room and were ready to have a glass of wine, the day reached my favorite “Kodak moment” – the sunset. I obviously couldn’t miss such a beautiful sky painting – at the same time, I couldn’t resist an opportunity to include the bottle of Saxum in the picture. First the bottle, then the glass.

You know how they say “no people/animals/objects were damaged during the filming of this video”, right? This was not a video, just a picture. And no animals were hurt. No people were hurt either (I think?). As for the objects… Well, the glass didn’t survive my adventurous stupidity. This was a standard wine glass, which can’t really stand on top of the wine bottle. It almost felt, and I was lucky enough to catch it before it went down. Someone with a better belief in the laws of statistics would take this “almost fall” as a fair warning. But not this guy. I put the glass back and continued taking pictures, trying to get the wine label into the picture. Until glass finally met the ground (ground – 1, glass – 0), giving my wife and me an opportunity to dance next to the window sill for the next 20 minutes trying not to cut ourselves with the tiniest remnants and also remove wine traces from surrounding surfaces. Felt like an idiot for the next 2 days. Oh well – maybe I will learn? Or not…

On the positive side, the 2016 Saxum Bone Rock James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles Willow Creek District (15.9% ABV, 72% Syrah, 10% Mataro, 9% Graciano, 6% Grenache, 3% Roussanne) was absolutely surprising and spectacular. The surprising part was that this 6-year-old wine from California was perfectly drinkable upon opening – I would never expect it. The spectacular part was in the layers and gobs of fresh, succulent fruit, unending pleasure of interplay of blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and sweet oak, balancing acidity and full-bodied power each sip was offering. The wine was even better on the second day, becoming a touch more mellow. The same wine perfectly complemented the cigar on day 4. I’m sorry about the glass, but I’m really happy with my first Saxum experience.

Then there was beer. Clearly, I drink a lot less beer than wine. Nevertheless, I have a full appreciation for a glass of well-made beer (about 25 years ago I was one of the first members of the Beer Across America club, at the very beginning of the American craft beer revolution). Even more than a glass of beer, I like the opportunity to experience a tasting flight – which we found at the Chatty Monks Brewery in West Reading.

The Chatty Monks brewery binds itself as a “nano-brewery”. I have no idea what that means, I can only assume that they are implying that their production is much less than the microbrewery (microbrewery in itself is a highly contested term – for a long time Samual Adams defined itself as a microbrewery, while their volumes were clearly not at the “micro” level). Anyway, let’s leave the size aside and talk about the taste.

A tasting flight at Chatty Monks includes 4 beers which you can select from the list of beers available on tap. Out of the 14 available beers I went with Alondra which was a stout – the only dark beer available and I prefer dark beer whenever I can; Split Face which is defined as Pretzel-Style amber lager (no idea what pretzel-style means); Pray for More, a New England IPA, and Tree Trimming, which is described as “winter warmer” – again, no idea what that means.

Of these 4, we absolutely loved 3, which were each delicious in their own way. The beer lovers will have to forgive the wine lover trying to describe the beer experience, but Alondra, Split Face, and Pray for More were perfectly balanced and round, each in their own category. I rarely perceive the bitterness of the stouts, including Guinness, and the Alondra was just rich, creamy, coffee-like, and delicious. Split Face was fresh and bright, with enough body to complement fried foods. And Pray for More was probably the most exciting IPA I ever tasted – while it had the characteristic bitterness, it was complemented and leveled by bright citrus, and orange notes – altogether making it irresistible. We loved the beers so much that even got all 3 to bring home – except that Pray for More was sold out in the standard cans so we got one big 32 oz can which was made for us right on the spot. If you are ever in the area – this is the beer to crave.

We talked about wine. We talked about beer. Now, the last part – the road trip. We had more or less one full day for all of the explorations. Luckily, we had been to this part of Pennsylvania many times, so exploring Amish villages, lifestyle and museums was not on the itinerary. In addition to immensely enjoying driving around green pastures with cows, sheep, and horses, going up and down little hills on the narrow country roads, we visited a couple of places we had not seen before. One was Reading Pagoda, a fully authentic rendition of a traditional Asian structure, enacted first in 1908. Apparently, this is the only pagoda in the world with a fireplace and a chimney – which we were unable to see as the building itself was closed. But we were able to fully enjoy the views of the town of Reading, from the south end of Mount Penn where the pagoda is located. You can also see it through the lens of my trusted iPhone:

Another stop we made was to see the covered bridge called Wertz’s Covered Bridge, one of the covered bridges located in the Berks County – also the longest single-span covered bridge in Pennsylvania at 204 feet across. It was really fun imagining all of those carriages traversing the creek since 1867 when the bridge was built. You can close your eyes and hear the sound of the horseshoes hitting the wood pavement as carriages are slowly pulled through the bridge… Well, here are a few pictures, I’m sure you can add the horses as you see fit…

That makes it a full account of the wine, beer, and road trip experiences. Next, we will talk about some fun wine experiences on Cape Cod. Stay tuned…

Lists Worth Waiting For

January 24, 2019 7 comments

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

Let’s talk about wine collecting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alban Vineyards

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

Carlisle Winery

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

Cayuse Vineyards

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

Horsepower Vineyards

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

No Girls Wines

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

Peter Michael Winery

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

Saxum Vineyards

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

Sine Qua Non

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

Turley Wine Cellars

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

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

Hope you will find this useful. Cheers!

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

 

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