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Between The Worlds

June 26, 2019 7 comments

What lies on the intersection of the Old World and the New World?

Yep. Starting with the question. As many of you have come to expect. Let me repeat – what lies on the intersection of the old world and the new world? Of course it is the wine we are talking about.

I can spin this question differently if you want. What is the name of the major winemaking region (a country, rather) which is most often overlooked at dinner tables, wine stores, and restaurant wine lists? Yes, give it a thought. I’m sure you know the answer. But it is too obvious, which makes it difficult.

Let’s continue?

If you said “South Africa”, pat yourself on the back. You got it. Yes, it is South Africa. The wines of South Africa are often described as “old world wines masquerading as the new world”, and when you taste the wines from the region, you can easily see why such description makes a lot of sense.

I wrote about wines of South Africa many times in the past, also including them into the “best hidden secrets” series. Winemaking history of South Africa goes back more than 400 years, to the mid-1600s. From there on, South African wine had good times, bad times, phylloxera, political issues, boycott, and lots, lots more. Many times in history the wine production was focused on quantity and not quality, which obviously had consequences and not a good ones.

I had been tasting South African wines for quite a while, and I have to say that I perceive a definite upswing in quality. As I mentioned at the beginning, South African wines are still rare and underrepresented in the modern wine scene, for sure in the USA – nevertheless, every time I get a chance to taste South African wines, they make me say “wow” more often than not.

Case in point – recent tasting of the South African wines in New York. It was not a large tasting, by all means, maybe 60–70 wines, but out of those 60–70, I probably was wowed by at least a half of them, which is very unusual for the trade tasting, maybe with the exception of Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri. Below are my brief notes – as I had a bit more time than at the typical trade tasting, but absolutely not enough to do a full assessment, I’m using words instead of plus signs. Plus, I share here some of my general impressions.

Let’s go:

I love Graham Beck wines – their sparkling wines represent great value. These wines are similar to Champagne, as they undergo secondary fermentation in the bottle, so any time you are looking for the bubbles but want to spend the half of what you will spend on the Champagne, see if your wine store carries Graham Beck wines.

NV Graham Beck Brut Methode Cap Classique WO Western Cape – love it! Fresh, generous

NV Graham Beck Brut Rosé Methode Cap Classique WO Western Cape – beautiful, elegant

2012 Graham Beck Rosé Methode Cap Classique WO Western Cape – a touch of strawberries, toasted notes, excellent

2013 Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs Methode Cap Classique WO Western Cape – wow! Elegant, clean, polished

2012 Graham Beck Brut Zero Methode Cap Classique WO Western Cape – good

NV Graham Beck Bliss Demi-Sec Methode Cap Classique WO Western Cape – beautiful! Touch of sweetness, good acidity, elegant

I had some past (and delicious!) experience with Glenelly Chardonnay, so I was definitely looking forward to tasting their line of wines:

2018 Glenelly Unoaked Chardonnay Stellenbosch – excellent

2016 Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve Stellenbosch – excellent, a touch of vanilla, burgundy style

2015 Glenelly Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvignon Stellenbosch – excellent, cassis forward

2012 Glenelly Estate Reserve Stellenbosch (45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Shiraz, 11% Petit Verdot, 6% Merlot) – restrained, clean, herbaceous, salinity. The wine is built for the long haul.

2012 Glenelly Lady May Stellenbosch (89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc) – Bordeaux style, needs time

This was an unknown producer for me:

2018 Beau Joubert Oak Lane Chenin Blanc – Sauvignon Blanc Stellenbosch – unusual, might be a touch sweet

2017 Beau Joubert Oak Lane Merlot – Cabernet Sauvignon Stellenbosch – simple

2017 Beau Joubert Oak Lane Shiraz – Cabernet Sauvignon Stellenbosch – earthy, nice pepper note

2013 Beau Joubert The Ambassador Stellenbosch – needs time

2014 Beau Joubert Fat Pig Stellenbosch – port style, very good balance, tasty

Yes, there was food too:

Let’s get back to wines.

The next set of wines surprised me in a lot of ways – packaging (labels), creative wine names, unusual grape varieties for South Africa (Barbera? Touriga Nacional?!) and most importantly, tasty wines. When I commented to the lady who was presenting the wines how unique and tasty the wines were, she said very unpretentiously “ah, it is my brother, he is always running around with new ideas, experimenting with the wines”. Little did I know that Bruce Jack is a star winemaker who was making wines for more than 25 years and who has almost a cult following. I can tell you, as the proof is in the pudding, this line of Drift Estate wines offered plenty of proof.

2018 Bruce Jack Year of the Rooster Rosé Western Cape – nice and restrained, excellent Rosé rendition. You would never guess the grape this wine is made out of – Touriga National. Yep. As I did a bit of research, I found out that 2017 was made out of Pinotage, and 2016 out of … Touriga Franca. Yep, talk about South African wines.

2014 Bruce Jack Moveable Feast Red Blend Western Cape – excellent. Dark fruit, spices, just excellent.

2017 Bruce Jack Gift Horse Single Vineyard Barbara Western Cape – another hit. Dark fruit, tar, pencil shavings, tobacco, just wow. Yep, a South African Barbera.

2016 Bruce Jack There Are Still Mysteries Single Vineyard Pinot Noir Western Cape – beautiful, elegant, restrained, truly a mix of the new world and an old world. If you didn’t discover yet South African Pinot Noir, go on, try to find this wine.

And a few more wines:

2018 Boschendal Rose Garden Rosé South Africa – excellent, restrained, Provençal style. Merlot + Pinot Noir blend

NV Boschendal Brut Rosé Methode Cap Classique South Africa – excellent

2016 Boschendal Elgin Chardonnay South Africa – Burgundy! Wow, spectacular wine – might be the best 9fnthe tasting.

2016 Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc Coastal Region – (3 Chenin Blanc vineyards, vines are 35 to 47 years old) – petrol on the nose, beautiful, clean, delicious.

2014 Bellingham The Bernard Series SMV Coastal Paarl Region (Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Viognier) – Elegant! Excellent

2014 Brampton Roxton Stellenbosch (41% Syrah, 33% Petit Verdot, 26% Malbec) – outstanding. Lots of power. This wine is named after a bull.

That competes my report. What do you think of wines of south Africa? Any favorites? Cheers!

Wine, Wine, Wine – Notes from Martin Scott 2018 Grand Portfolio Tasting

November 6, 2018 3 comments

Martin-Scott is one of the largest wine wholesalers (distributors) in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, with a very extensive portfolio well representing all major winemaking countries of the world. I had a pleasure to attend Martin-Scott portfolio tastings in the past, and they were always great with a lot of delicious discoveries. When I had an opportunity to attend the portfolio tasting about a month ago, I was very happy to be able to include it into my schedule.

I wrote about trade portfolio tastings many times in the past. They might seem a bit overwhelming, as you are presented with about 1000 wines and only 4-5 hours of time to taste them. At the same time, the range is incredible and you get an opportunity to expand your wine horizon and always find new favorites.

Here are my general impressions from the tasting:

  1. I know this is my pet peeve, and I keep talking about it at every occasion, but I have to say it again – new vintages of California reds are using way too much oak. There were lots of California reds from the 2015-2017 vintages which were literally not drinkable due to very high tannins content, to the point of your whole mouth getting numb. Unfortunately, some of the bigger Washington producers follow suit and also make over-oaked red wines. I really don’t understand this trend. Yes, using lots of new oak makes wine more expensive. But it doesn’t make it more enjoyable, for sure when it is young.
  2. White Burgundies are amazing. I rarely get to drink those wines for the variety of reasons, so I was literally blown away by the beauty and finesse of most everything I tasted. You will see this love expressed in the ratings below.
  3. South Africa produces some spectacular wines. Check the full list below to see what I really enjoyed.
  4. There are some excellent spirits made in … Sweden. You really need to taste them to believe them.
  5. I was able to add one more new (rare) grape to the collection – the grape called Souvignier-Muscaris from France.

Before I will inundate you with my brief notes, just a reminder for the trade tasting ratings I use. Considering the amount of time versus amount of wines, there is no way I can do much of the thoughtful analysis for a hundred plus wines I manage to taste. Thus I use the “+” signs, with “+++” meaning excellent. When I came up with this system, I really didn’t plan to go beyond “+++”, but you will see now “++++” and even “+++++” (very rarely – maybe one in the whole tasting) – you understand what it means. I also use “-|” as a half-point. The list below only includes wines with at least “+++” rating. As these are all new releases just coming into the stores, essentially all the wines on the list represent a “buy” recommendation – whatever you can find and afford. All prices below are an approximation of the suggested retail prices. I’m sure that the actual store price might be lower for many of those wines.

Now, I will leave you to it. Cheers!

 

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Overwhelmed…

December 1, 2013 22 comments
Tua Rita Redigaffi 2009

Tua Rita Redigaffi 2009

I don’t know how this works for you, but sometimes (lots more often than I want to) I find it very difficult for blogging to keep up with the life. Once you are bitten by the blogging bug, even the routine experiences always raise the question in your mind – “does it worth a blog post”. And the answer is often “yes” (it is your personal blog after all, your life’s journal). But from the “yes” answer to the blog post your happy with, there is a thorny road, filled with sudden and unexpected traps, gaps, and changes of directions – the thing called “life”. Life gets in the way, and the unwritten posts become the heavy load, as pleasant as a toothache, drilling your brain with similar persistence “and remember, you still didn’t write that blog post… Yeah… What is wrong with you, huh? Come on already”.

As you might be able to deduce from this lengthy prelude, this blog post will be one of those, supposed to be written a while ago, but coming to life only now. Well, I still think it still has a merit, but you tell me.

At the beginning of September, I was lucky enough to attend 4 trade wine tastings in the row. The trade tastings are conducted by the wholesalers and distributors for the wine trade – retailers and restaurateurs – to introduce new wines coming to the market. These trade tastings are very large in size – they might consist of 100 tables, each table featuring 6-10 different wines, so total number of wines can be easily in 600-800 range. Nobody can taste each and every of the 600 wines within 4 hours which is the typical duration of the tasting – you have to chose what do you want to taste.

Now that I described the trade tasting to you, let me ask you a question – let’s just conduct a mini poll with only one question – do you think the trade tasting is a hard work, or it is all fun, and all the attendees are there just to drink free wine and have a good time?

Now, let’s rephrase the question:

Let me tell you – it is a hard work. You only have a few seconds to evaluate wine. You don’t have the time for the full assessment – most importantly, even if you try to do the full assessment, you don’t have the time to write down your notes after you sip, swish, suck the air, swish again, spit, move to the next. After 5 Barolos in the row, your mouth becomes completely numb, and you need somehow to restore your taste buds. You grab a piece of Parmesan cheese (either that or a sip of a cold sparkling wine), and your taste buds gradually recover, only to be hit again and again. By the end of the 4 hours, you are really overwhelmed, but generally happy.

So the four trade tastings I attended were definitely overwhelming, but exciting at the same time, as I had an opportunity to taste wines I would never be able to taste otherwise, like, for instance, Tua Rita Redigaffi. Of course when you focus on quantity, the quality might suffer – as the desire is to taste as many wines as possible, looking for unique profiles and new discoveries, it is obvious that something has to give. So in my case, I didn’t even try to write down full wine descriptions or rate the wines on my standard 10 points scale. To move fast from wine to wine, I used the “+” signs where + technically means “well, ok”, ++ means “very good”, and +++ means “excellent”. I guess “+++” should be equivalent to my standard 8 rating, but the problem is that thinking about actual numerical ratings for me requires time, and using this system of pluses was allowing me to move from wine to wine a lot quicker. Oh yes, and to stay with my traditional system of half points, I also used half of the plus sign (-|) to mark the wines which I thought were better than, let’s say, ++, but not as good as +++.

So below you will find a huge (I’m not kidding) list of wines I liked during the 4 tastings I attended. Absolute majority of those wines are +++ wines, but yes, you will see wines with other ratings too. I also sometimes used a single word or very short sentences to convey my impressions better, so you will see it reflected in the list below. Additionally, when available, I listed the grapes and some additional information about the wine.

Before I will let you ponder at the list and look for the familiar wines, I want to present some of my general conclusions based on those 4 tastings. Here we go:

  1. One must be humble around wine and never make any assumptions as to taste and value of the wine without actually tasting it. My experience with Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is an example of that (before tasting it, I couldn’t understand why would anyone pay for it double+ price of any other New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – now I do).
  2. Once you cross $60 (approximately), California Cabernet Sauvignon become “one better than the other”.
  3. Looks like 2010 was a great year in California, for sure for Cabernet Sauvignon – I didn’t taste a single bad wine from that vintage.
  4. I have a problem with California Chardonnay. It seems that all the complainers about too much oak, vanilla and butter finally had their way. Now, it is practically impossible to find those big and buttery wines, and most of the California Chardonnays produced today are dull, have no character and overall universally boring. Somebody, please change (fix) that!!!

Ready to look at the list? Hold on, here are some pictures of the wines in the tastings:

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I feel inclined to still add a few more comments, this time just explaining the logic of what you will find in the list. I was choosing the wines to taste based on the few factors:

1. Price – yes, I wanted to taste many expensive wines – go ahead, blame me for it.

2. Uniqueness – I don’t know when and if ever again I will have an opportunity to taste Tua Rita Redigaffi or Catena Zapata Adrianna single vineyard Malbec (both wines are part of my Must Try List) – so of course I made an effort to taste those wines.

3. Wines with rare grapes – as I continue my Wine Century journey, I still always look for the grapes I didn’t taste before. This time I added 4 – Moscatel Morisco, Sauvignon Gris, Kountouro Blanc and Tribidrag

4. Otherwise I was just following the lead of my friend Zak who was tasting wines for his store.

And (ready for it?), here is the list of the wines I tasted, sorted by the country – but I’m warning you – continue at your own risk – you might get overwhelmed too…

Reminder – unless otherwise noted, all the wines below are +++ wines, thus these are all the wines really liked, and it is only a fraction of what we had to work through…

Now – enjoy and cheers!

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