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Top Twelve of 2014

December 31, 2014 11 comments
1966 Louis M. Martini Pinot Noir

1966 Louis M. Martini Pinot Noir

And here we are – Talk-a-Vino Top Dozen of [most memorable] wines from 2014. I already presented to you the second half of the top list (here is the link), together with all the explanations regarding rationale and all the dos and don’ts, so instead of repeating myself, let me jump directly to the wines. If you still need explanations, use the link above.

12. 2005 Domaine Philippe Bornard Arbois Pupillin La Chamade Ploussard, Jura, France ($50) – To a degree, this wine was representative of a great Jura tasting I attended. As most of Jura reds, it had an impression of lightness masking a great level of complexity – fruit, herbs, minerality, sapidity – a very impressive package. It is not easy to find, but worth looking for.

11. NV Ayala Champagne Brut Majeur ($32) – one of my very favorite Champagnes. It has everything I want in the Champagne – yeastiness, toasted bread, apples, clean and vibrant acidity – with all the elements coming in the “just enough” amount. A perfect Champagne sip every time – try it for yourself.

10. 2012 Centanni Rosso Di Forca Rosso Piceno DOP, Italy ($19) – I was familiar with the wines of Marche region in Italy for a while – but my preference was always with the Marche whites – until I tasted this wine. Luscious, layered, with impeccable aromatics and complexity – delizioso!

9. 2010 Marco Sambin Marcus Veneto IGT ($NA) – A soulful wine – is that a good enough description?

8. 2010 Vineyard 511 Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain ($125) – Stunning California Cabernet Sauvignon – restrained and tightly weaved, as you would expect from the mountain – side fruit, and then balance, balance, balance.

7. NV Foggy Ridge Serious Cider, Virginia ($16) – discoveries, discoveries, discoveries – 2014 was anything but short on those. Who knew that cider (just think about the word – somehow, the mental picture doesn’t equate to “greatness”) can be so amazing? Phenomenal acidity, coupled with such a firm structure and effervescent lightness that you say “wow” and pour yourself another glass. Seek hard cider, people, as it has greatness!

6. 2012 Mark Ryan The Dissident Columbia Valley ($34) – yet another wine chosen to represent a great discovery of 2014 – wines of Washington state. This wine was a quintessential representation of Cabernet Sauvignon blends I tasted during the visit, with a pure cassis expression and impeccable balance. Yes, I’m abusing the “balance” descriptor, nevertheless – a beautiful wine.

5. 2011 Fekete Béla Olaszrizling, Somló, Hungary ($25) – yet another discovery: there is lots more to the Hungarian wines than Tokaji and Egri Bikavér (red wine also called Bull’s Blood). It appears that Hungary has lots of volcanic soils, and the winemakers there can bring it on (yep, the famed “terroir”) to the forefront of your glass. This wine was complex, mineral driven with the pure gunflint notes, and simply delicious.

4. 2011 Michel Chapoutier Tournon Mathilda Shiraz Victoria, Australia ($14.99) – you could see my raving mentions of this wine in a many posts throughout the year. Sorry, but I can’t help it – this wine is so unique and different, with such a purity of the peppery expression of Syrah – you can’t help it but to say “wow” with every sip.

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3. 2012 Willis Hall Viognier Columbia Valley ($22.99) – may be the best Viognier I ever had. If not The Best (this is a very hard nomenclature when it comes to wines), but definitely one of the very best. Perfumy nose and elegant, silky smooth body. Simply delicious.

2. 2007 Pago Marqués de Griñon Emeritus, DO Dominio de Valdepusa ($75) – until I tasted this wine, yes, I knew that Spain produces good wines from the international grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon. But at such level? This wine was a true revelation – classic Cabernet Sauvignon with cassis, mint, eucalyptus and finesse.

1. 1966 Louis M. Martini California Mountain Pinot Noir ($NA) – I had no expectations when I opened the bottle of the 48 (!) years old wine. To be more precise, I was not expecting anything good. What I found in my glass was simply mind blowing – still fresh, still elegant, perfectly recognizable as Pinot Noir and delicious! This was the first wine ever to receive a 10 rating from me – I hope it tells you something.

And we are done here, my friends – the last post of 2014! I wish you happy, healthy, joyous and peaceful 2015, full of amazing discoveries!

Happy New Year 2015!

Month in Wines – July 2014

August 4, 2014 2 comments

Uff, July was a busy wine month! Especially taking into account the Wine Bloggers Conference experiences, there were quite a few wines which were on the high mark. Anyway, below are the wine highlights of the month – the wines which were rated 8- out of 10 or higher. Here we go, without any particular order:

NV Ruffino Prosecco DOC – nice apple on the nose, good firm acidity with the touch of apple on the palate. An excellent sparkler. 8-

2013 La Garagista Coup de Foudre Pettilant Naturel, Vermont (11% ABV) – Minerality through the roof, round and delicious until the very last drop. 8

2012 Bellangelo Dry Riesling Finger Lakes (12.3% ABV) – Perfect Riesling nose, clean fruit, minerality and excellent acidity. 8

2013 Bellangelo Dry Riesling Finger Lakes Seneca Lake (11.3% ABV) – nose of white stone fruit, honeydew. Touch of green apple and expressive minerality on the palate. 8

2012 Bellangelo Semi-Dry Riesling Finger Lakes (11% ABV) – nice white fruit on the nose and palate, shouldn’t be consumed ice cold, as it removes form the wine. 8-

2013 Bellangelo Semi Dry Riesling Finger Lakes Seneca Lake (10.8% ABV) -apricot on white peaches on the nose. Very refreshing and a pleasure to drink. 8

2013 Château du Rouët Rosé Cuvée Réservée Tradition Côtes de Provence AOP  (12.5% ABV) – strawberries + perfect acidity = refreshing summer wine. 8-

2013 Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc St. Helena – Napa  – outstanding. Grass, cat pee, lemon, refreshing and balanced – what else you can wish for? 8

2012 Donnachiara Fiano de Avelino DOCG Montefalcione (13% ABV) – sweet fruit on the nose, plump, open, touch of minerality and fresh cut grass, nice acidity. 8-

2013 Aridus Viognier Arizona – beautiful nose, classic floral Viognier , very elegant (despite a touch of heat), nice saltiness on the palate, great complexity. 8-

2012 Sevtap Istanbul Sauvignon Blanc Santa Ynez Valley (12.4% ABV) – unusual nose, beautiful concentrated fruit, refreshing. 8-

2013 Imagine French Colombard California (13.6% ABV) – simple, refreshing, nice lemony notes and acidity. Perfect for the summer day. 8-

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2007 Ar. Pe.Pe Rosso di Valtelina DOC (13% ABV) – Nebbiolo at its best. Not the powerful rendition covered in impenetrable oak armor, but naked, vulnerable grape, in its sweet plum and sapidity (thank you, Stefano!) elegance. Really a beautiful wine. 8

2011 Ravenswood Zinfandel Teldeschi Single Vineyard Dry Creek Valley, California – delicious, layer after layer. Restrained, with smokey raspberries and herbs, perfect fruit, silky tannins and savory notes. Did I say “delicious” already? 8+

2012 Field Recordings Petite Sirah Huerhuero Vineyard Paso Robles (15.1% ABV) – wow. Sweet fruit, blueberries, blackberries, over the top wine – but with an excellent balance. If you have the bottle, don’t open it now – it will evolve over the next 4-5 years. 8+

2011 BellinghamThe Bernard Series Small Barrel S.M.V. Coastal Region WO, South Africa (14% ABV, 75% Shiraz, 22% Mourvedre, 3% Viognier) – Very restrained, firmly structured, perfect acidity and with a good portion of the dark magic of Shiraz. 8-

2011 Casa Bianchi Premium Leo Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina (15% ABV) – nose of supple fruit, herbs and spices, touch of eucalyptus and dark chocolate.  Very dense, balanced and smooth on the palate. 8-

2010 Vineyard 511 Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain – sweet plums and cassis on the nose, touch of eucalyptus, great density, elegant and with the excellent aging potential. 9-

2011 Rodney Strong Vineyards Symmetry Meritage – open herbaceous nose, touch of red fruit, raspberries, cherries, firm structure, firm tannins. An excellent Bordeaux blend. 8

2006 Jordan Winery Cabernet Sauvignon – beautiful nose, open fruit, touch of earthiness, cassis, the same on the palate. Perfect Cab! 8

2010 Jordan Winery Cabernet Sauvignon – wow, open, explicit nose, eucalyptus, soft fruit, wow again. young tannins. 8

2011 Taken Red Wine Napa Valley – blueberries and blackberries on the nose, nicely restrained, perfect acidity, firm tannins, good structure, excellent balance. 8

2012 Sevtap Zig-a-zig-ah Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Ynez Valley – eucalyptus, pure, beautiful, dark fruit, cherries, overall an excellent wine. 8-

2012 Sevtap Pillow Talk Petit Verdot Santa Ynez Valley (14.25% ABV) – concentrated, earthy, almost black color, notes of barnyard. Very balanced overall. 8-

2012 Sevtap Wish You Were Here Sangiovese Santa Ynez Valley (13% ABV) – Tobacco and earthiness on the nose, clean tobacco and coffee flavor profile on the palate, an excellent balance. 8-

2010 Lions Peak Vineyards Roaring Lion Cabernet Sauvignon  – classic Cab, cassis, green bell pepper, soft, round, supple, good open fruit. 8-

2010 Lucas & Lewellen Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 6 Santa Barbara County – classic cab, cassis, belle pepper, perfect structure. 8

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And we are done. What were your special wine experiences lately? Cheers!

Wine Bloggers Conference 2014: Live Wine Blogging

July 26, 2014 16 comments

I’m continuing my stories from the Wine Bloggers Conference 2014 (here are the links to the Day 1 and Day 2 posts). The subject of this post is tasting of the wines in the time-constrained scenario, or the Live Wine Blogging sessions (also some attendees called it “speedtasting”).

When it comes to the wine tastings of the large scale, I pride myself with being a professional. I’m attending trade wine tasting events for many years, and I don’t have any issues being faced with 300-400 wines in only 3 -4 hours of time. No problems. You use spitton, and you are very decisive about what you want and don’t want to try. I also take pictures and very minimal notes (typically the “+” signs with few descriptors) to designate the wines I like.

The Live Wine Blogging Session was yet a very new and different experience. All attendees sit at the round tables. Each table has a number in the  middle. Winemakers are ready with their wines and information in hand. As soon as the host says “go”, winemakers approach the tables they are next to, start pouring their wines and talk about them. 4 minutes 30 seconds into this, the host shouts a “30 seconds warning”, and on the 5 minutes mark the next instruction is “winemakers, go to the next table” (next table with the higher number it is). The session lasts for 50 minutes – 10 wines, 5 minutes per wine.

This is the “Live Blogging Session” – so the bloggers are expected to share their impressions live in real time as they taste the wines. What do you think about the 5 minutes time allotment for this task? I found it quite challenging. Yes, 5 minutes is more then plenty to figure out if you like the wine or not. But to come up with some reasonable impressions and taste descriptors (don’t think “nice wine” is a good qualifier) and to share them with the world with the 140 characters limit is not a simple task in my opinion. I don’t know how the winemakers felt, but for sure I was exhausted by the end of each 50 minute session.

Another feature of this live wine blogging exercise is complete unpredictability – the only known factor is the color of the wine which will be served in the session (White and Rose or Red). The wines come from all over the world, and there are lots of participating wineries, so at every table attendees only get to taste a fraction of the total selection available for the session. The wines also represented a broad range of price points – from $10 simple Washington Riesling to the $125 rare California Cabernet Sauvignon.

I did my best to adhere to the principal of the “live blogging” and posted all notes on twitter as we tasted the wines, in real time (if interested, look  for twits with #wbc14 hashtag). For what is worth, below are the notes as they appeared on Twitter, with the small processing I did to make them more concise.  To give you a “live” example, here is how the twits looked like in the real time:

Twitter SnippetHere are my notes for the white wines (each line represents a separate twit, so mostly I had 2 twits per wine, with some exceptions):

2013 Main & Geary Chardonnay Sonoma – beautiful nose, tropical fruit, apple, touch of vanilla and green apple on the palate

2012 Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley – a lot of white fruit on the nose, palate: touch of grass, steely acidity
Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc is made to age. long finish, very acidic. Food wine

2013 Aridus Viognier Arizona (!) – beautiful nose, classic floral Viognier – wow palate!  Very elegant (despite a touch of heat)
also nice saltiness on the palate, great complexity. Most favorite so far

2012 Alta Maria Vineyards Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley – great nose, nuttiness, vanilla, touch of butter
closed on the palate, Chablis like acidity. needs time!

2012 Fess Parker Viognier Santa Barbara County – nice nose, minerality and gunflint. Sweet fruit on the palate, very balanced, short-med finish
finish is longer than I thought, nice acidity. Very good overall

2011 Scratchpad Chardonnay Central Coast – label and the bottle – creativity through the roof!!!
Chablis-like nose, minerality, touch of vanilla, but the palate is somewhat single dimensional. Malo noticbl

2012 Pacific Rim Riesling Columbia Valley, WA – Sweet nose, nice acidity, good fruit – but overall doesn’t resemble Riesling
it is a nice wine for $10, but it wouldn’t pass for Riesling if I crave one. Okay summer wine

2013 Urban Legend Grenache Blanc Capay Valley – beautiful nose, white ripe fruit, fresh, clean
fresh palate, good acidity, white stone fruit, minerality – very pleasant. Medium finish

2012 Uproot Grenache Blanc Santa Ynez Valley – restrained nose, nice minerality, melon, earthiness
palate: acidity, spices, nutmeg, minerality, clean, refreshing. very Good overall

2013 Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc St. Helena – Napa: beautiful fresh cut grass on the nose, SB at its best! Clean, fresh
Cat Pee on the nose, yes!!!
palate: perfect, fresh, lemongrass, acidity, touch of gooseberries – wow, just a classic!!! fav!!

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Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc was definitely my most favorite wine of that session. Aridus Viognier from Arizona was most unique (I don’t get to taste too many wines from Arizona). The “prize” for most creative design goes to the Scratchpad Chardonnay, taking into account both the cool label and a little pencil which hangs of the bottle top – unfortunately, the taste didn’t fully support the creativity of the bottle.

And here are the reds:

2012 Garnet Vineyards Estate Farmed Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – beautiful ruby color, touch of smoke, earthy, herbaceous
beautiful sweet fruit on the palate, young gripping tannins, pomegranate, slight heat in the back
long sweet finish. Needs a bit of time (2012)

Vineyard 511 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain – dark garnet color, sweet plums and cassis on the nose, touch of eucalyptus
beautiful! Great density, soft, approachable, with firm tannins, perfect acidity. will evolve greatly

Rodney Strong Vineyards 2011 Symmetry Meritage – open herbaceous nose, touch of red fruit, raspberries
nice Bordeaux blend, cherries, firm structure, firm tannins

2011 Rios de Chile Reserve Carmenere – barnyard, smoke, complexity on the nose, bacon and roasted meat
beautiful, round,concentrated, dark fruit, herbs, spices

2006 Jordan Winery Cabernet Sauvignon – beautiful nose, open fruit, touch of earthiness, cassis, the same on the palate. Perfect Cab!
2010 Jordan Winery Cabernet Sauvignon – wow, open, explicit nose, eucalyptus, soft fruit, wow again. young tannins

2010 Adelaida Cellars Touriga Nacional  – mind blowing nose, beautiful fresh fruit, wild berries – strawberries and blueberries
spectacular palate of fresh berries, firm, concentrated, excellent balance. Great wine

2011 Danza Del Sol Cabernet Franc Temecula Valley  – varietally correct nose, touch of cassis and eucalyptus, green bell pepper
great palate, fresh fruit, balancing tannins and acidity. An excellent effort

2012 Ferrari Carano Siena fresh berries nose with hint of smoke and tobacco
sweet fruit on the palate, some cherries, round and delicious. Excellent balance

2011 Carr Winery Cabernet Franc Santa Ynez Valley interesting nose – mineral, with some cherries, eucalyptus, cassis
soft, delicious palate, with more eucalyptus, cassis and greens bell pepper. Perfectly balanced and soft

2010 Grassini Wines Estate Cabernet Sauvignon on the nose, young fruit with some smokiness, minerality
lots of sweet fruit on the palate (too much for me), mocha, good structure

2011 Taken Red Wine Napa Valley – blueberries and blackberries on the nose, nicely restrained
palate – delicious, perfect acidity, firm tannins, good structure, right amount of fruit and excellent balance

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The red wines line up was very impressive, it is hard to pick the favorite. The Adealida Touriga Nacional from Paso Robles was probably the most unusual (my first 100% Touriga Nacional wine from US), and very tasty. Jordan is always a stand out for me, and both 2006 and 2010 were delicious. My wine of the day was still the Vineyard 511 – a rare treat from the Diamond Mountain district (tiny area of 500 acres in size) in Napa Valley, perfectly structured and impeccably balanced wine; the conversation with Ed and Irene Ojdana who makes the Vineyard 511 Cabernet Sauvignon was a pleasure in itself. I also have to mention Taken Red wine from Napa Valley, which was simply put on our table after the session concluded – this was an excellent wine, created by Carlo Trinchero and Josh Phelps, both coming from the very well respected winemakinig families in California.

Here we are – two speedtasting, live wine blogging sessions. I know that this exercise is very polarizing for many attendees – some hate it, and some love it. I’m in the latter category, and I definitely enjoyed the sessions and already looking forward to the repeat at the next year’s conference. What do you think – would you love it or hate it? Cheers!

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