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5 Highlights and Hundreds of Wines

October 1, 2015 13 comments

Copain Syrah Les Voisins Yorkville HighlandsLast weekend I attended a trade wine tasting – my first and pretty much the last for this year. My schedule simply didn’t align to do more, but may be it is even for the better?

I’m sure that most of the people see it very simply – “wine tasting = fun”. I tried many times to explain in this blog that “wine tasting  = hard, tiring work” – no doubts 9 out of 10 people point to this statement and start laughing – but this is totally fine with me.

The tasting was organized by one of the Connecticut wholesalers – Worldwide Wines, to showcase all the new arrivals from the wineries and importers they represent in the state. According to the invitation, about 1,000 wines, beers and spirits were offered in the tasting. Duration of the event? 3.5 hours. Which simply means, if you want to taste them all, you have to move at a speed of roughly 5 wines/beers/spirits per minute. Yep, 5 per minute, 12 seconds each.

Of course nobody is trying to taste them all – you have to come with the plan. As I’m not operating a retail business, my plan was simple – to taste best of the best, simply based on the names. I mean no disrespect, but it means that Heitz takes precedence over Castle Rock, same way as Gaja would go over Cavit. This year, I managed to complete my plan quite successfully – you will see tasting notes below. At the end of these 3.5 hours I was really, really tired – but hey, it was worth it.

I managed to try close to 200 wines (including some spirits – no beer though), out of which I will share with you a bit more than a 100 – the wines which I really liked (yep, there were a lot). As this will be a very long list, I will first try to come up with 5 main highlights, before leaving you with bunch of wines to scroll through. But even before we get there, I can tell you that pretty much anything we tasted from California from 2012 vintage was excellent; there were 3 Gaja wines present in the tasting, and they were delicious, with Gaja Chardonnay, Rossj-Bass, being off the charts; for the first time I tried line of Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Nickel & Nickel, and they were very good; also for the first time (consistently missed it from a year to a year), I tried Darioush line of wines, and they were excellent. Now, for the promised 5 highlights, here we go:

  1. California Chardonnays are back! Well, this is a personal statement, of course. Over the past 4-5 years, I developed a tendency to avoid California Chardonnays in any tastings – I find all that  “unoaked” stuff boring. I’m not looking for the “oak bombs” as they were called in the past, but I like my Chardonnays with vanilla, touch of butter and some weight on the palate. This year, out of the 10-12 Chardonnays which I tasted, there was not a single one I didn’t like. Of course I had some preferences, but still, as a group, they were outstanding. You will see the list of all Chardonnays I had a pleasure of tasting in the list below.
  2. There were lots and and lots of red wines I tasted at the event, many of them of the cult status – Sassicaia, Heitz, Shafer, Joseph Phelps and others. They were all excellent wines, but still, my absolute favorite red wine of the tasting was Copain Les Voisins Syrah Yorkville Highlands ($24.95) – the wine had stunning clarity of the Syrah, with pepper and restrained earthy profile.
  3. My top pick for the white wines might be even more surprising – Villa Wolf Gewurztraminer Pfalz, Germany ($10.49!!). I personally consider Gewurztraminer a very difficult grape to do right, for sure for my palate – this wine had such a beautiful balance of spiciness, fruit and acidity, it was simply a perfect sip in the glass. There is yet another highlight which goes to the white wines. Talking about a “group”, 5 white wines from Abbazia di Novacella in Alto Adige in Italy, where literally one better than another – every sip got a “wow” reaction – Kerner, Gruner Veltliner, Sylvaner, Sauvignon Blanc – one better that the other, literally. Abbazia di Novacella Alto Adige
  4. Not a revelation for me anymore, but still something to ponder at – there are amazing spirits made in the USA. Case in point – St. George Spirits from Alameda, California. You know, I don’t drink vodka at all, as it has no taste, and here I absolutely loved Green Chile Vodka from St. George. And then there was Gin, Absinthe, Coffee liquor  – one “wow” after another. I want to include here their motto, as written on the web site: “We don’t distill to meet your expectations, we distill to exceed your imagination“. Yep.
  5. Last highlight is more of a note to self – “don’t drink Port in a middle of tasting”. For sure if it is a Heitz Ink Grade Port. Okay, let me explain. Generally people have a tendency to leave tasting of the sweet wines “for later”, just to make it easier for the palate. Problem is that by the time you decide to go back to those dessert wines, the tasting is way over. When it comes to the Heitz Ink Grade Port, I heard that it is amazing, but equally powerful, so it is better to leave it “for later” – thus I never tasted it before. This time around, I said “that’s it – I’m tasting it now”. Boy, what a mistake. The Heitz Port is a very interesting wine, made from 6 noble Portuguese grapes, typically used in production of the Port – of course this time growing in California, at one of the Heitz vineyards. This Port was delicious, but it had tremendous power of tannins, multiplied by the factor of the sweet dried fruit, all together shutting down your palate for good. I was desperately searching for the chunk of Parmesan, as I don’t think anything else can restore your palate in such a case. So yes, it was delicious – but I’m not drinking it again in a middle of the tasting…

As promised, those were my highlights. From here on, prepare to be inundated with my brief notes on lots and lots of wines. I used the “+” system for rating, and I didn’t include practically any wines with the “++” rating (there might be one or two). Also, lots of wines were absolutely exceptional, so they got the “++++” ratings. Last explanation: the price in the brackets is so called Connecticut minimal bottle price – the state of Connecticut dictates minimum price at which the wine can be sold to the consumers – retailers are not allowed to go any lower than that “min bottle” price. Therefore, it is likely that prices in many stores in Connecticut will be higher than what I included here. It is also quite possible that you can find lower prices in other states. Lastly, I tried to group the wines mostly by the grape type and/or type, to make it easier for you to navigate. Hope you will find this list useful.

Here we go:

Sparkling Wines:
NV Charles Heidsieck Brut ($55.99) – ++++, yeasty!!
NV Champagne Barons de Rothschild Rosé ($99.99) – +++, excellent
NV Champagne Duval Leroy Premier Cru ($45) – +++1/2, perfect balance
NV Champagne Duval Leroy Rosé ($59.99) – +++

Chardonnay:
2013 Calera Central Coast Chardonnay ($19.99) – +++
2013 Laetitia Chardonnay Estate, Arroyo Grande ($15.49) – ++++
2013 Copain Tous Ensemble Chardonnay Anderson Valley ($18.99) – ++++, beautiful
2013 Darioush Signature Chardonnay Napa Valley ($37.99) – ++++
2013 Far Niente EnRoute Chardonnay ($39.99) – +++, very nice
2013 Flanagan Chardonnay Russian River Valley – +++
2014 Heitz Wine Cellars Chardonnay ($24.99) – +++, great acidity
2014 FARM Napa Valley Chardonnay ($18.99) – +++, nice, bread notes
2014 Hooker “Breakaway” Chardonnay Knights Valley ($14.99) – +++, great QPR
2013 Merryvale Chardonnay Napa Valley ($24.99) – ++++, wow! classic!
2014 Crossbarn Chardonnay Sonoma ($21.99) – +++, perfect
2013 Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Russian River ($38.99) – ++++, beautiful, vanilla, wow!

2013 Maison Roche de Bellene Bourgogne Blanc Vieilles Vignes ($18.99) – ++++, Chablis-like, great minerality and gunflint

2013 Gaja Rossj-Bass Langhe ($77.99) – ++++

Cabernet Sauvignon and blends, California:
2012 Darioush Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($99.99) – ++++, beautiful
2012 Darioush Signature Merlot Napa Valley ($45.99) – ++++, excellent
2012 Darioush Caravan Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – +++1/2
2012 Darioush Signature Cabernet Franc Napa Valley ($46.99) – ++++, excellent

2012 Nickel & Nickel CC Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon ($79.99) – ++1/2, tannic
2012 Nickel & Nickel Quarry Cabernet Sauvignon ($79.99) – +++, clean, excellent
2012 Nickel & Nickel Sullenger Cabernet Sauvignon ($79.99) – +++, excellent

2012 Flanagan Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County ($68.99) – +++, nice

2010 Heitz Wine Cellars Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($45.99) – +++1/2
2009 Heitz Wine Cellars Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($63.99) – ++++, clean, excellent
2006 Heitz Wine Cellars Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($59.99) – ++++, excellent
2010 Heitz Wine Cellars Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($174.99) – ++++, powerful
2009 Heitz Wine Cellars Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($174.99) – ++++, beautiful

2012 Honig Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($35.99)- +++1/2
2012 Honig Bartolucci Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($62.49) – ++++, beautifully refined

2012 Hoopes Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon ($49.99) – +++, nice

2012 Joseph Phelps Insignia ($189.99) – +++
2012 Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon ($55.99) – +++

2011 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon, Hillside Select, Stags Leap District ($178.49) – +++1/2, excellent

2012 Hooker “Old Boys” Cabernet Sauvignon Na[pa Valley ($29.99) – +++, nice

2013 Venge Scout’s Honor Proprietary Red, Napa Valley ($31.99) – +++1/2, delicious!
2013 Venge Silencieux Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($36.49) – ++++, beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon

2010 Merryvale Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($49.99) – +++, very good

2011 Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon Napa ($94.99) – +++1/2
2011 Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon Dr Crane Beckstoffer ($128.99) – ++++, wow!

2013 Pine Ridge Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($49.99) – +++1/2, very clean

2012 Hanna Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley ($29.99) – +++, herbal

Pinot Noir:
2013 Calera Central Coast Pinot Noir ($24.99) – +++1/2, very nice
2012 Calera deVilliers Vineyard, Mt Harlan Pinot Noir (34.99) – +++1/2, nice balance
2012 Calera Ryan Vineyards, Mt Harlan Pinot Noir ($36.99) – +++

2013 Laetitia Pinot Noir Estate, Arroyo Grande ($19.99) – +++
2013 Laetitia Pinot Noir Reserve du Domaine (32.00) – ++++

2013 Copain Tous Ensemble Pinot Noir Adderson Valley ($23.99) – ++++, wow
2012 Copain Les Voisins Pinot Noir Anderson Valley ($28.99) – ++++, delicious, elegant!

2012 Wild Ridge Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($40) – +++, wow! concentrated!

2011 Merryvale Pinot Noir Napa Valley ($29.99) – +++1/2, classic CA Pinot

2012 Foley Pinot Noir, Rancho Santa Rosa Estate ($32.99) – +++1/2

2013 Siduri Willammette Valley, Oregon ($24) – +++, excellent
2013 Archery Summit Premier Cuvee Pinot Noir ($35.99) – ++++, beautiful
2012 Archery Summit Red Hills Estate Pinot Noir ($59.99) – ++++

2011 Maison Roche de Bellene Bourgogne Rouge Vieilles Vignes ($18.99) – +++
2011 Maison Roche de Bellene Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes ($38.99) – +++1/2

White Wines:
2014 Heitz Wine Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($16.49) – +++1/2, excellent, clean
2014 Honig Sauvignon Blanc ($15.49) – +++, delicately balanced
2013 Honig Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc ($19.99) – +++, nice, complex
2013 Merryvale Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($19.99) – +++, beautiful!

2013 Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris ($18.99) – +++, nice

2014 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner Alto Adige ($19.99) – ++++, wow! acidity!
2014 Abbazia di Novacella Gruner Veltliner Alto Adige ($19.99) – ++++, wow!
2014 Abbazia di Novacella Sauvignon Blanc Alto Adige ($19.99) – ++++, wow!
2014 Abbazia di Novacella Sylvaner Alto Adige ($19.99) – ++++, wow!
2013 Abbazia di Novacella Praepositus Kerner Alto Adige ($25.99) – ++++, wow!

2012 La Monacesca Verdicchio di Matelica 750ml 2012 12 $144.00 $12.99
2012 La Monacesca Verdicchio di Matelica Mirum 750ml 2012 12 $224.00 $19.99

2013 Villa Wolf Pinot Gris Pfalz ($11.99) – ++++, wow! clean
2014 Villa Wolf Gewurztraminer Pfalz ($10.49) – ++++, wow! beautifully balanced!

2012 Maximin Grunhause Riesling Feinherb Mosel ($15.99) – ++++, petrol!
2014 Dr Loosen Riesling Kabinett Blue Slate Mosel ($14.99) – ++++, beautiful, bright fruit

Red Wines:
2012 Copain Tous Ensemble Syrah Mendocino County ($18.51) – +++, nice, a bit too simplistic
2011 Copain Les Voisins Syrah Yorkville Highlands ($24.99) – ++++, oustanding

2012 Shafer Relentless, Napa Valley ($84.99) – +++, very good

2012 St. Francis Reserve Merlot ($39.99) – +++
2012 St. Francis Reserve Old Vines Zinfandel ($39.99) – +++1/2

2014 Lawer “Knights Valley” Syrah Rosé ($17.99) – ++++, outstanding
2010 Hooker “Blindside” Zinfandel California ($13.99) – +++, good
2011 Hooker “Home Pitch” Syrah Knights Valley ($12.99) – +++

2012 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia ($174.99) – +++, clean, balanced, wow
2013 Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto ($44.99) – +++, beautiful Cabernet-like

2010 Tenuta di Biserno ($149.99) – +++
2012 Tenuta di Biserno Il Pino di Biserno ($59.99) – +++, herbal profile

2012 Ornellaia Le Serre Nuove Bolgheri ($50.99) – +++1/2

2012 Gaja Ca’Marcanda Magari Bolgheri ($69.99) – +++
2010 Gaja DaGromis Barolo ($71.99) – ++++

2008 Masi Riserva di Costasera Amarone della Valpolicella ($51.00) – +++
2008 VAIO Serego Alghieri Amarone della Valpolicella ($69.99) – +++, outstanding
2006 Masi Mazzano Amarone della Valpolicella ($116.00) – ++, somewhat disappointing for the single-vineyard Masi

2008 Marchesi di Fumanelli Amarone del Valpolicella ($54.49) – ++++, delicious, sweet fruit
2007 Marchesi di Fumanelli Octavius Amarone del Valpolicella Riserva ($100.99) – +++, nice

2012 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Rosso, Umbria ($19.99) – +++1/2, powerful
2013 Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino ($22.99) – +++, simple, nice
2012 Feudo Maccari Saia Nero D’Avola ($26.99) – +++, great minerality

2012 Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Chile ($16.99) – +++
2012 Los Vascos Carmenere Reserve Chile ($16.99) – +++

2011 Antigal UNO Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, Argentina ($15.99) – +++, nice, classic

2009 Elderton Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Barossa, Australia ($57.99)- ++++, beautiful
2009 Elderton Command Shiraz Barossa, Australia ($73.95) – ++++, beautiful, roasted notes
2013 Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon McLaren Vale, Australia ($29.99) – +++, perfect

2008 Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande, Douro, Portugal ($14.99) – +++1/2 – delicious
2012 Crasto Old Vine Reserva, Douro, Portugal ($34.99) – +++

2012 Chateau Musar Jeune Rouge, Lebanon ($15.99) – +++1/2, excellent
2007 Chateau Musar Rouge, Lebanon ($N/A) – +++1/2, beautiful

2012 Domaine de Beaurenard Rasteau ($17.99)- +++
2012 Domaine de Beaurenard Boisrenard Chateauneuf du Pape ($49.99) – +++, green
2013 M. Chapoutier La Bernardine ($39.99) – +++

2011 Chateau Moulin de Duhart Pauillac ($38.99) – +++
2009 Chateau La Grave a Pomerol ($55.99) – +++
2009 Blason de L’Evangile Pomerol ($74.99) – ++++

2012 Perrin Cotes du Rhone Nature Organic ($9.99) – ++1/2, an outstanding QPR for an organic red wine
2012 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge ($79.99) – +++

2011 Rust en Vrede Estate Stellenbosch, South Africa ($32.99) – +++1/2
2010 Anthonij Rupert Optima Western Cape South Africa ($26.99) – +++1/2

Dessert wines:
2013 Donnafugata Ben Rye ($30.99) – +++, very nice
NV Heitz Wine Cellars Ink Grade Port ($27.99) – ++++, wow!

Spirits:
St. George Green Chile Vodka ($22.49) – flavor is stunning, with clear presence of Jalapeño and other green earthy peppers. Sipping
St. George California Citrus Vodka ($22.49) – another wow flavor, smooth and delicious
St. George Botanivore Gin ($27.25) – mellow with super-complexity. May be the best gin I ever tasted. Definitely sipping quality
St. George NOLA Coffee Liqueur ($27.25) – good morning, sir. Here is your coffee, extra strong.
St. George Absinthe Verte ($22, 200 ml) – find it and try it, as I can’t describe it. This is first absinthe produced in US after Prohibition. Would gladly drink it at any time.

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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