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Daily Glass: The More I Drink, The Less I Understand?

February 20, 2019 2 comments

Wine is an enigma.

But you already know that.

The wine had been a serious object of obsession for more than 20 years for me. I went through multiple education programs. Read an uncounted number of wine books and articles. Most importantly, drunk a lot of wine – from the bottles, from the barrels, the juice of freshly harvested grapes and the juice which only had been fermented for a few days. Two days old wine and 80 years old wine. I taste roughly thousands of wines every year (with the help of trade tastings). Yes, the wine is an object of obsession. And yet, I would never say that I figured it out, that I fully understand it.

Wine is an enigma.

Tournon Mathilda Shiraz Victoria AustraliaThe curse of wine is rather simple – until the cork is pulled (or unscrewed), you don’t know what to expect. A lot of wine bottles look ultimately attractive outside – bottle’s shape and weight play an important role, and then you got the label which, when properly done, is an ultimate seduction device. But once the cork is out, it is only the content that matters – and here we learn that not all the beauty from outside can be found on the inside. The worst part? Until the first sip, we have no way of knowing what we will find, even if we tasted and loved the wine before! Sadly, this is a classic case of any investment prospectus disclaimer – “past performance is no guarantee of the future results”. It is quite possible that you tasted and loved the wine before – nevertheless, every new bottle is a perfect screw up (or a beautiful surprise) opportunity. The wine is an enigma.

Back in 2014, I tasted 2011 Michel Chapoutier Tournon Mathilda Shiraz Victoria, Australia (13% ABV, $14.99) and was blown away by the beautiful purity of that Shiraz. The wine had a clean, herbs-driven profile full of freshly ground pepper – you really had to taste it to believe it. I was so impressed with that wine that it became wine #4 on my Top Dozen list in 2014. I got 6 bottles or so (at $14.99, a great QPR) and was slowly enjoying it over the years. But not always. I remember trying to impress a friend with this wine when I found it available in a restaurant in Florida by the glass. That simply did not work – the wine was flabby and mostly insipid. Then I had opened a bottle last year, only to be able to say “what just happened???”. The wine had just some single note fruit, no pepper, limited acidity, and in a word, was not fun. I was further put down with this wine last year after tasting the current vintage release at the trade tasting – that wine was insipid, cherry cough medicine style.

When I pulled my last bottle from the shelf a few days ago, the thought was – yeah, whatever, let’s just free up some space. Unscrew, pour, sip – oh, my, everything was back as when I fell in love with this wine – fresh pepper, sage, rosemary, intensely herbal with tasteful addition of ripe black plum – as wow wine as it can be. Don’t ask me for explanations or theories – as I said, the more I drink, the less I understand.

Wine is an enigma.

Tallulah Cabernet Sauvignon

The second story is less unusual, but still in line with what we are talking about here. I got the 2009 Tallulah MD1 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.1% ABV, $75) after reading the skillfully crafted sales pitch by the folks at Benchmark Wine Company. What’s not to like there? Excellent winemaker, Mike Drash; beautiful label, great story of naming the wine after winemaker’s daughter, and maybe most importantly, the cult grape from the cult region – Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. The first experience with the wine was at the “ohh” level – tight, closed, by all means not ready. The next time I had the same wine was back in 2014, it fared better – I gave it 8- rating, but mostly for the potential, not so much for the actual pleasure delivered by the wine back then.

Looking for the wine to drink last Saturday with the steak (looking for the wine is a physical process of moving the shelves of the wine fridges in and out – I don’t have any record-keeping in place), I saw the bottle top with the characteristic “T” on it. Similar to the wine we discussed before, the thought was “well, why not – I need to free some space anyway”. The first sip solicited an instant “oh, wow” – a Cabernet perfection in the glass, vibrant cassis, eucalyptus, touch of cherries, sweet oak, perfect mid-palate weight, clean acidity, impeccable balance – the wine Napa Valley is so famous for was right there – in my glass.

While working on this post I looked for my previous notes on this wine, and I only found a short reference in the post about “Month in wines”, written precisely 5 years ago, in February of 2014. To my big surprise, in that post, I found the following line: “…definitely needed more time, let’s say, at least 5 years…” – the fact that I randomly pulled this MD1 bottle exactly 5 years after and the wine evolved beautifully – well, I guess, this is just a happenstance…

Wine is an enigma.

But that what makes it an ultimate fun.

What To Drink During #ShirazWeek

February 21, 2015 10 comments

ShirazWeekYep, another wine holiday is upon us. This time, it is a week-long holiday, so you will surely get your opportunity to celebrate. What holiday, you ask? #ShirazWeek. Yep, the whole week dedicated to the Shiraz wines.

As we know, Shiraz is just a different name for the grape called Syrah, one of the most popular red grapes in the world. Today Syrah is literally growing everywhere – France, Spain, Italy, even Portugal, United States, Chile, Israel, South Africa, Australia and many others. But – what is the first country which comes to mind when you hear the word Shiraz? For me, the answer is simple – Australia.

Australia is one and only wine making country where you will not find wines called Syrah (well, may be you can, but with extreme difficulties). South Africa is probably next – most of South African Syrah wines are called “Shiraz”. For the rest of the world, Chile is often uses the name Shiraz, and you can find some of US wines called Shiraz as well (quite rare – Syrah prevails by a huge margin), and then it is Syrah all the way.

Shiraz is most popular red grape in Australia, with the plantings been second largest in the world after France. A quick question for you – do you know where the oldest, continuously producing Shiraz vines are located? Well, yeah, I’m sure it was easy to figure out in the context – yes, in Australia, in Barossa Valley, planted in 1847, now reaching a tender age of almost 170 years. Over the years Shiraz had its ups and downs, with the vineyards ripped out, including the old vines, with overproduction and quality problems – but it still remains Australia’s darling, and a world-class wine on its own, well worthy of a celebration. Shiraz is produced everywhere in Australia, but Barossa, Coonawarra, Clare Valley, Hunter Valley, Margaret River and McLaren Vale are probably the most famous regions for that wine.

Now, let’s talk about what to drink in honor of the #ShirazWeek. Of course I don’t think you should be drinking Shiraz for the whole week – but then you should do whatever you think is right – I’m merely here to provide some suggestions. As a self-made oenophile, I went through lots of Australian wines the bargain aisle has to offer – I had my fair share of Yellow Tail, Rosemount, Wolf Blass and Lindeman’s – the wines that comprise the glory and the curse of the Australian wine industry. But – I’m sure you don’t need my advice with that group. Let me instead suggest some names which I think would be worthy of your attention. The list below has no particular order – but these are all the producers I can related to, one way or the other. While some of these wines will be more expensive than the others, I don’t expect you to need to break the bank to taste any of them, so don’t be concerned.

d’Arenberg – very well known producer in McLaren Vale, with many family generations involved in the winemaking. Footbolt Shiraz (under $20) and Dead Arm Shiraz (around $70) both worth your attention.

Jim Barry – Jim Barry is a well known producer in the Clare Valley. While they make a number of wines, the one I particularly recommend is Jim Barry McRae Wood ($50), a single vineyard Shiraz – very focused and delicious.

Two Hands Wines – their wines are exuberant, over the top, and never shy in alcohol – but they also manage to achieve an impeccable balance. Try whatever you can get your hands on. The wines are generally priced in the $30 – $100 range.

Mollydooker Wines – a wonderful producer in McLaren Vale. I love the way their wines are named – Carnival of Love, Blue Eyed Boy or Two Left Feet, for instance. Again, try anything you can get. Similarly to the Two Hands, their wines are priced in the $25 – $100 range.

Henry’s Drive – a producer in Padthaway in South Australia. I came across their Dead Letter Office Shiraz as a recommendation from Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, writers of the Wall Street Journal’s Tastings column, where 2005 Dead Letter Office Shiraz was rated as Delicious!, a highest honors in the Tastings column. I had an opportunity to taste and concur – and according to the Wine-Searcher, the 2005 is still available online at $26.

Pirramimma – a producer in McLaren Vale. I have to be honest – I never tried their wines, but – the 2005 Shiraz was listed in that exact same Tastings column with exact same Delicious! rating, hence my recommendation. I have a bottle of this wine, and will probably follow my recommendation soon.

Elderton Wines – another great producer from Barossa. I had an opportunity to try 2002 Elderton Command Shiraz, and this wine was simply stunning. It will set you back about $90 or so – but in that price category, it is well worth every penny.

M. Chapoutier – best known for their French Syrah wines, M. Chapoutier started producing Shiraz in Victoria, Australia in 2002. Tasting 2011 Domaine Tournon Mathilda Shiraz was literally a mind-blowing experience and it was one of my absolute favorite discoveries of the last year (here is my post). At less than $15, this might be the best Shiraz you can ever taste at a price.

There are lots and lots more Shiraz producers in Australia – as I said before, the list above only includes wines I can relate to, so feel free to suggest your favorites.

And just in case money are no object, I would like to suggest two Shiraz wines I didn’t have the opportunity to taste, but they should be able to provide a holistic experience, at least based on the price ($600+) and according to the people who tasted them. I’m talking about Penfolds Grange and Henschke Hill Of Grace Shiraz Eden Valley – both wines should be absolutely magnificent – but I will let you confirm or deny it in case you had the firsthand experience.

Now you are ready to celebrate the #ShirazWeek – and don’t forget to share your experiences on the AussieWine web site. Drop me a note too – I want to know what is in your glass and how do you like it. Cheers!

 

Month in Wines – April 2014

May 4, 2014 4 comments

April was a good month for the good wines, with some of the gems worthy of Top Dozen consideration. Syrah and Pinot Noir were probably the biggest stars, but not the only stars. I already wrote about some of the wines before, so I will not inundate you with the repetitive details, and instead will simply give you the reference to the prior post. All the wines are rated on the 10 points scale, with + and – adjustments. These summary posts only include the wines with the ratings of 8- and higher – in the very very rare cases, I might include 7+ wines if I feel that the wine was simply unique.

Let’s go!

2010 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton AVA, Oregon (14% ABV, $45) – dark and delicious, and will age well for the next 10-12 years. 8+

2010 Renieri Invetro Rosso Toscano IGT (14% ABV) – delicious Super-Tuscan, powerful, round, a pure joy. 8+

2011 Michel Chapoutier Tournon Mathilda Shiraz Victoria, Australia (13% ABV, $14.99) – simply spectacular. A clear pepper profile on the nose and the palate. A stunning beauty. 9

2003 J.L. Chave Offerus Saint-Joseph, France (13.5% ABV) – Barnyard, touch of spice (pepper), dark and delicious. 8

2005 Domaine Philippe  Bornard Arbois Pupillin La Chamade Ploussard (12.8% ABV) – beautiful, powerful, multi-layred. Pleasure in every sip. 8+

2012 J Wrigley Estate Pinot Noir Proposal Block McMinnville AVA (14% ABV, aged 10 Month in French oak, 250 cases produced. $45 SRP) – chocolate, mocha, a bit of mushrooms. Nice and balanced, and will age well. 8-

2010 Joel Gott Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (SRP: $47.99) – perfect Claret, if you will. This wine would rival many top California Cabernet Sauvignon wines, which would also cost at least 2-3 times as much. 8

2007 La Rioja Alta Vina Alberdi Rioja Riserva, Spain (SRP: $19.99) – Perfect balance of fruit, structure, power and earthiness which only Rioja possess. Beautifully round and delicious. 8+

2001 La Rioja Alta 904 Rioja Gran Riserva, Spain (SRP: $47.99) – Mature and delicious, with lots of subtle nuances. A thought provoking wine. 8+

2009 Shiloh Legend Judean Hills, Israel (14.2% ABV, 45% Shiraz, 40% Petite Sirah, 9% Petite Verdot, 6% Merlot, each grape vinified and oak-cask aged separately for 8 month, then blended and aged for another 8 month) – round, velvety, delicious, with dark fruit core and firm structure. Perfect balance of power and concentration. 8

2012 Tousey Chardonnay Estate, Hudson River, New York (12% ABV) – a Chablis on Hudson would be a good way to define this wine. Chablis style minerality and hint of gunflint on the nose, creamy and round on the palate, with subtle apple and vanilla notes. Delicious Chardonnay. 8-

2012 M. Chapoutier Les Vignes des Bila-Haut White Côtes-du-Roussillon (13% ABV, $13.99, blend of Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris and Macabeu) – in a word, delicious. Bright white fruit on the nose, fresh lemon, some earthiness. Perfect balance on the palate, each sip makes you crave for another. 8+

2004 Bodegas Ondarre Rioja Reserva Rioja DOC (13% ABV) – dark fruit on the nose, with the hint of eucalyptus and cigar box. Palate full of dark fruit with earthy profile, supple tannins and bright acidity, very balanced. 8-

2010 Chapelle-St-Arnoux Côtes du Rhône  AOC (13.5 % ABV, $10.99) – nose of inviting dark fruit, the same on the palate with addition of dark chocolate notes and rounding acidity. Very dense and well structured for Côtes du Rhône. A steal for the price (sorry, it was some sort of closeout). 8

2010 Les Trois Chemins Côtes du Rhône AOP (13% ABV, $8.99) – fresh red fruit on the nose, blackberries and cherries, more of the same on the palate, coupled with bright acidity. Simple and elegant, and beyond steal at the price (again, a closeout of sorts). 8-

That concludes my report on the April wine highlights. Did you taste any of these wines? What were your best wine experiences of the month? Cheers!

Syrah – Nice and Spectacular, Plus a Case Buy Recommendation

April 20, 2014 14 comments

Syrah wines have a special status in our house – this is my wife’s most favorite type of wine, so I’m always trying to keep some on hand. With the status of “favorite”, it is customary for us to open a bottle of Syrah for different celebratory occasions. Sometimes, Friday feels like a special occasion (I’m sure you can easily relate to that), so yes, Syrah it was.

I was thinking about opening this wine for a while. As I don’t employ any cellar organization systems, neither software nor paper, I simply have a general idea of the wines I have, and then I get more opportunities to touch many bottles in the search of one to be opened. I noticed that particular Syrah bottle during few of the recent searches, so I was mentally getting ready to part with it (most of the bottles I have are in the single bottle quantities, so yes, I need some mental prep to deal with that). Thus when the Friday came, it was an easy decision – it will will be a Syrah Friday (well, to be entirely honest, Syrah Friday decision was made on Thursday, but I don’t think it matters here all that much).

Saint Joseph Offerus

2003 J.L. Chave Offerus Saint-Joseph, France (13.5% ABV), a 100% Syrah from Northern Rhone appellation. Just to give a you a bit of the reference, J.L Chave (Jean-Louis Chave) represents the latest generation of the winemaking family from Northern Rhone. Their first Hemitage wine was produced in 1481. Try to remember J.L. Chave name next time you are looking for the Rhone wines, you can’t go wrong with their wines.

Talking about this 2003 Syrah – no sign of age on the color – dark, concentrated garnet ruby. On the nose, the wine had a whiff of the barnyard, which I personally find very attractive, and some dark fruit. The palate was showing more of the dark fruit, plums and blackberries, with a touch of minerality and clean acidity. Elegant, round, perfectly structured, full bodied, with spicy kick in the back and long finish. The bottle disappeared without a trace. I think “restrained elegance” would be the best descriptor for this wine. Drinkability: 8

And then there was another Syrah. About a week ago, I got an e-mail from PJ Wine,  one of the best wine stores in New York, describing “secret” Shiraz. That wine was made by an excellent French producer, Michel Chapoutier (a seventh generation winemaker himself), in Australia, and it had 94 rating by Robert Parker, while priced under $12. I generally don’t buy the wines based on ratings, and I also consider that we have a “palate misalignment” with Mr. Parker, but 94 points and $12 is definitely something to think about. When I saw the wine in my local Cost Less Wines, I simply had to get it (it was $14.99 here in CT).

Tournon Shiraz

2011 Michel Chapoutier Tournon Mathilda Shiraz Victoria, Australia (13% ABV) – screw top is off, wine is poured. Bright ruby color in the glass. First smell and the very first reaction – what is it? Really? Pepper? Wow! Yes, peppery notes are the signature of the Syrah grape – but I’m used to finding it after the sip, not in-you-face once you smell the wine. Here it was – bright, fresh black pepper, as I was smelling the pepper mill instead of a glass. The first sip extends the “wow” moment even further – it is a rare luck in my experience, when there is a full match between the smell and the taste. Here is was – freshly ground black pepper, perfectly present without overpowering the taste. The black pepper was elegantly weaved into a core of red plums and tart cherries – delicious, sip after sip. This was definitely an exciting wine – clean, elegant, alive, sexy and vibrant. The grapes for this wine were macerated for 2-3 weeks in stainless steel and cement tanks for the better tannins extraction, and then aged for 12 month in stainless steel and cement tanks (no oak!). A pure expression of a beautiful Syrah. This is the wine to be experienced – and to buy by the case. It is gone at PJ Wine, unfortunately, but according to the wine-searcher, it is still available in the number of other stores find this wine. I don’t say it too often, but I feel this is very appropriate now – this is the wine to buy by the case! Drinkability: 9

That concludes the tale of two Syrah wines. While Offerus was very classic old world version, the Tournon Mathilda was definitely an eye-opener for me – if you can find this wine, you should experience it just to get acquainted with Syrah in its pure expression – it was a very delicious encounter for me. And I guess I need to look for more Robert Parker recommended wines – either his palate is changing, or may be its mine… Cheers!

 

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