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Posts Tagged ‘wine appreciation’

Your Wish Is My Command

May 22, 2019 Leave a comment

Oenophiles are very generous people.

I’m not speaking in general terms here – we are only talking about the wine. But when it comes to wine, we are ready to share. We want to share the experience. We want to share the joy of what we consider a great sip of wine with the whole world. It doesn’t always work – what tastes amazing to you, might be unimaginable plonk for someone else – everyone’s palate is different. But when it works, the experience is priceless. When the person takes a sip of the wine and says “OMG”, this is the best feeling in the world. Been able to help someone to share your joy and discover something new is incredible, and I can’t really describe it – I just truly hope you get to experience it at least once.

And then there are some key words which spur oenophile into the action. “I always wanted to try that wine”. “I never tasted the wine from that region”. “Trying this wine was always my dream”. “If I can ever find that wine”. All of these are the phrases which should be used very carefully around oenophiles, as these are the trigger phrases. They make an oenophile jump of joy and immediately devise the plan on mediating the issue in whatever way possible. If you consider yourself an oenophile, I’m sure you can relate. If you are not – I hope you know at least one.

Recently at the birthday party, an old friend said: “I always wanted to drink aged wines, but I don’t know how to find them, they are probably expensive, and I don’t know anything about them”. Can you imagine my ears perked up as soon as I heard it? Oenophile’s joyous moment, an opportunity to share the wine – yes! I gave her advice as to where she can find some aged wines (Benchmark Wines, for instance), but the brain already was put to the task. When we decided to get together for dinner, the first thing I said was “I’m bringing the wines”.

Aged Wines

After some deliberation, I came to an agreement with oneself regarding the wine program – you can see the whole program in the picture above. I was happy that I had a reasonably aged sparkling wine – Guido Ferrari. I wrote about Ferrari wines many times, these are definitely some of my favorite sparkling wines. 2005 is still a baby, as this is a current vintage, but still – this is an excellent sparkling wine, and it was a sample so I had to open it in any case – sharing with friends makes me very happy.

I definitely wanted to have a Rosé as part of the repertoire, but the absolute majority of Rosé is not made for aging – and those which age well, are either impossible to find, or very expensive, or both. So yeah, no Rosé. For the white, I decided to go with another one of my favorites – barrel-aged Verdejo, 2009 Shaya Habis. 10 years is not that much in terms of wine age, but most of the white wines don’t age that well, and I didn’t have a nice Burgundy, Chablis or white Rhone to offer instead, so I think 10 years old Verdejo should be interesting enough.

Red wines generally can age. I decided to go with “middle-aged” wines, even though the “middle” varies dramatically between the wines and the regions. My selection – 1995 Estancia Meritage, a Bordeaux style blend from California, 1995 Quinta do Poço do Lobo from Portugal (one of my top dozen wines of 2018), and 1998 Kirkland Ranch Merlot from California. I saw that the folks on Cellar Tracker considered Estancia to be past prime for a while so this will be an interesting experience, no matter what. And the 1998 Merlot I never had before, so this is an excellent opportunity to try it. 2007 Sauternes for dessert? 12 years is not much of age for the Sauternes, but this was one of the few older dessert bottles at my disposal so this would have to do.

The above part of the post was written before the tasting. Now, it is time to tell you how the wines actually fared.

Vintage-designated sparkling wines with some age are not a simple thing for uninitiated wine lovers – many say that Dom Perignon is amazing only because they know how much it costs, not because they enjoy it. This 14 years old, 2005 Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatory was outstanding in my opinion – fresh, complex, elegant, it was truly a beautiful, minerality-driven Chardonnay, enframed with some fine bubbles. You know what was the best part? To hear my friends say “wow” and “I really like it”. Mission accomplished.

1995 Estancia Meritage Alexander ValleyWe continued with 2009 Shaya Habis Rueda (100% old vines Verdejo, barrel aged). This wine is one of my favorite Verdejo renditions, typically offering lots of complexity – but I never had it with 10 years of age. The wine was still young and crisp, with minimal fruit expression and tons of minerality, tons. Again, I consider this wine a success as one of my friends literally hugged the bottle and kept drinking this wine, repeating every few minutes “wow, and I even don’t like the whites!”.

Now, it was not without trepidation that I opened 1995 Estancia Meritage Alexander Valley (67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc), taking into account the negative sentiment on the CT. But – my fears were unfounded. The wine was a perfect example of the nicely aged California wine – yes, it mellowed down and was tertiary aromas-driven, but it stayed that way during the whole evening, and it was a perfect example of what aging does to the wine – simply the next dimension. The aromatics which you can enjoy endlessly, an abundance of lip-smacking plums, touch of eucalyptus, good acidity – a great experience. And yet another “yes” vote in our wine program – everyone liked the wine. Were they simply polite? I don’t know. I hope they actually liked the wine, as I wholeheartedly did.

2007 Haut Charmes SauternesThe next wine I brought simply as a “safe bet”, just in case Estancia would not work out. While Estancia was fine, I was happy to open this wine, if anything, at least, to compare two of the wines from the same vintage – of course, from very different wine regions. 1995 Caves São João Quinta do Poço do Lobo Reserva from Bairrada in Portugal didn’t change its standing “you are drinking me too early” even for a bit (the wine was only released last year, and I was raving about it before) – elegant, restrained dark fruit and herbs – two of these 1995 wines couldn’t be any more different than they were. Again, I think people liked this wine too – but it was too far into the evening to keep track. In any case, I’m glad I still have a few more bottles left.

We didn’t open the 1998 Kirkland Merlot – will have to wait for another occasion – but 2007 Haut Charmes from Sauternes was delightful and all apricots, both the nose and the palate. Ripe apricots, candied apricots, apricot jam – all of it was in every sip – oh yeah, don’t worry, all apricots were supported by acidic core. I don’t know if this was a common expression for the aged Sauternes, but there was a lot of pleasure in every sip of that wine.

This is my story of helping friends to experience aged wines. If you ask me, this was a complete success as people got to enjoy something new and different. Have you had any of these wines? What would you open for your friends to try? Cheers!

 

Open That Bottle Night – OTBN 2019

February 21, 2019 Leave a comment

Wine fridgeWine lovers – this is your public service announcement, so listen carefully.

Open That Bottle Night is Saturday, February 23, 2019.

I repeat – OTBN is taking place this coming Saturday! Are you ready?

Okay, so all of you who are familiar with the OTBN, please say “thank you for the reminder” and quietly retreat to your cellars in attempt to solve the unsolvable.

For those who don’t recognize the OTBN term, let me explain.

Open That Bottle Night (OTBN for short) movement was originated by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, writers of the Wall Street Journal’s Tastings column. Back in 2000, they decided to help people to put their best wine bottles to the best possible use (e.g., drinking and enjoying them) by designating last Saturday in February as special “pull that cork” day.

All of us, wine lovers, have that “special bottle”. The birth year vintage, a gift from a special friend, a bottle brought from the special trip, a bottle signed by winemaker, special wedding present, or something special we managed to score many, many years ago – it is really not important what makes that bottle special. However, with all those “special bottle” designations, we keep waiting for that special, right, proper, one and only moment to pull that cork – and subsequently, we are risking one of two things:

  • we might not be around to enjoy that special bottle of wine (not trying to use any “scare tactics” – this is just a part of life)
  • the wine might not be around for us to enjoy it – ever heard of “past prime”?

Nobody knows what is the “right time” for the wine. We have our expectations, of course, but it is in human nature to doubt oneself, and thus we keep arguing with ourselves about the “right moment”. The “right moment” is also something entirely individual – the right age of the wine, a long-fought-for job promotion, wedding anniversary, significant birthday, or simply the right company. And so we are waiting and waiting and waiting – and risking one of the two outcomes I mentioned before. This is where OTBN comes to the rescue. OTBN makes an opening of that prized bottle a good enough reason in itself – it is really a celebration of life as it happens.

Ever since its creation, OTBN was getting an increased following from all over the world, with people from China, Hong Kong, Australia, Japan, Europe and, of course, the USA, gladly reporting about the opening of those long-cherished bottles – and their personal life stories.

It is the right time, wine lovers, to get that bottle ready. If you need any additional instructions, the Wall Street Journal took care of it by publishing the guide to the OTBN, so now you are guaranteed not to make any mistakes. Go, start thinking about that special bottle you are going to enjoy this Saturday – to celebrate life. And don’t forget to share your special moment with all of us. Will be waiting.

Daily Glass: The Beauty of Aged Wine

March 30, 2018 4 comments

Many wine critics and professionals alike insist that majority of the wines should be drunk while young, and only a few, less than 5% of all the wines produced, can be successfully aged. Well, I can’t speak about the percentages here – I’m a wine consumer, not a wine statistician – but I do like the majority of my wines aged.

Why do people age the wines? There are many reasons. Collectors age wines because they might (and many definitely will, if you pick right) increase in price. Well, that is not the type of wine aging which is worth our attention here, so let’s leave it aside. Many people age wine because they have a special memory attached to those bottles – birth year, memory of the trip, given by a special friend, signed by the winemaker – the OTBN was invented specifically for those people (I’m one of “those people” too, never sure if the moment is already right, or if it can become “righter”). And then there are those who believe that the wine might will improve with age, and therefore, willing to put some bottles aside and wait for the right moment, which we often refer to as “wine at its peak”.

When we finally open that aged bottle of wine, we enjoy it more often than not. There are many reasons and many ways in which we enjoy that aged wine – some of those are purely related to the taste, which we expect to change for the better; some of those reasons are purely emotional. Drinking 50 your old wine at your 50th birthday is definitely a moving experience – the wine might not be perfect, but hey, it is as old you are, give it some respect! Drinking the wine brought from the trip to Italy 20 years ago is guaranteed to send you down the memory lane, letting you re-live those special moments and recreate its pleasure. The wine might not even taste that great (yeah, I knew I should’ve spent another $50), but who cares – those were the times! But the best of all is when, after the aging, we actually get to drink the wine which evolved and got to its peak.

Very often we praise the aged wine for how youthful it tastes (it is especially true of the wines under the screwtop, which pretty much don’t age at all while closed). Assuming the wine was tasty from the very beginning, this is great and deserves full respect, but this is not really what we want when we are tasting the aged wine. We are looking for the next level of taste, for the wine at its peak, for the wine which evolved. We want the wine to deliver a truly special tasting experience, we are looking for the whole bouquet instead of just individual aromas, we are looking for the interplay of complexity which young wine can rarely offer. We are looking for the wine which can possibly become a life-changing experience. We are looking for the wine which can be pondered at, which can stop the conversation and just let the wine lovers be.

A few days ago, a friend was coming over, and it was right before her birthday. Of course, when someone is coming to the house for a dinner, my worry is always to have the right wine for the occasion. So I asked my wife what year our friend was born, and when I heard “1986”, my immediate thought was – “hmmm, I think I have a bottle”. Memory served me right, and the desired bottle was retrieved.

So the bottle at hand was 1986 Chateau Cordeillan-Bages Pauillac AOC (12.5% ABV, $54.97). After inspecting the cork, I decided to try the regular corkscrew first, before getting out the two-prong opener. It actually worked fine, as you can see. Next was the sigh of relief after a quick sniff – no sign of any faults, and off the wine went into the decanter, both to avoid the sediment and to add to the aesthetics (the wine simply looks grander in the decanter, isn’t it?).

Once in the glass, the first sniff simply extorted the “OMG”. The complexity of the aromas was mind-boggling. Rutherford dust, smoke, roasted meat, cassis, minerality, baking spices, graphite, an incredible bouquet. The palate showed soft dark fruit, clean acidity, fresh, vibrant, graphite, well-integrated tannins, pencil shavings, all with the super-sexy, velvety texture. The 32 years old wine – incredible, and it was a conversation stopper. (Drinkability: 9+).

Trying to understand how and where I got this bottle, I figured that I have to thank PJWine, one of my favorite wine stores in New York, for that. The wine is produced at the Chateau Cordeillan-Bages, a tiny property of only 5 acres in Pauillac, planted with 80% of Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% of Merlot. The property is owned by the Cazes family of the Chateau Lynch-Bages fame (5th growth in the 1855 classification), and it also hosts a 2 Michelin star restaurant and a Relais & Chateaux hotel. The Chateau Coreillan-Bages wine is typically only offered at the restaurant, but the Cazes family decided to make a library release to the public, and PJWine buyers were at the right time in the right place – the rest was a history.

Here you are, my friends – a beautiful wine and a special experience. Do you have the aged wine stories of your own? Share them below. Cheers!

Behind The Label

September 18, 2017 13 comments

We eat with our eyes first – everybody knows that. We drink in exactly same way. While looking for the wine to buy, we always start from the label. Of course, sometimes we might be looking just for the specific producer’s name – but way more often than not, wine consumer is lured by the appearance of the bottle before anything else. We let the bottle speak to us.

Wine producers always knew the effect of the bottle appearance, and always tried to design attractive and appealing labels – think about Château Mouton Rothschild, for example, which started their “Artist” wine label series back in 1945. 20-25 years ago, the design, and most importantly, production capabilities were limited both in style and the cost. But not today- there are literally no limits to how creative the wine bottle design can get in today’s world. It is hard to tell what exactly makes the wine label instantly attractive, but we all can recognize that special label when we see it. I shared my fascination with the creativity of the wine labels on the multiple occasions in this blog – here is one example for you.

You don’t have to agree with me, but I see creative wine labels as objects of art. Art at large is a form of the human expression. Art takes lots and lots of different forms – beautiful building, successful surgery, a sublime glass of wine, a flower, a painting. I’m sure there are countless studies written on the subject, and I will not even try for the slightest bit to delve into it, but I’m convinced that art as a final expression always has its source, the origin, it is inspired – and this leads to the fundamental question – what inspires the art? I will leave you to ponder at that, and meanwhile, let me turn our conversation towards the … wine, of course.

Vilarnau Barcelona Cava When I saw the label of Vilarnau Brut Reserva Rosé, my first reaction was “wow, this is a beautiful bottle”. The next question was – what does it mean? Yes, I read the description connecting Vilarnau Trencadís Edition cavas to the work of famous architect Antoni Gaudí, but I still wanted to understand the true inspiration behind this label. I reached out to the winery, and asked a few questions – here is our short conversation:

[TaV]: Vilarnau produces Cava since 1949. When Trencadís labels were used on Vilarnau Cava for the first time?
[V]: We launched the Trencadis labels at the end of 2014.

[TaV]: What was the inspiration behind the Trencadís labels?
[V]: This form of mosaic is very famous in Catalunya, Spain. Inspired by the Park Guëll in Barcelona and the famous artist Gaudí. Vilarnau is the “Barcelona Cava” and we felt it was fitting to use such an iconic design to decorate the bottles.
Trencadís’ is a type of mosaic used in Catalan modernism, created from broken tile shards. The technique is also called ‘pique assiette’. The mosaic is done using broken pieces of ceramic, like tiles and dinnerware. The Catalan architects Antoni Gaudí and Josep Maria Pujol used trencadís in many projects, among which Barcelona’s Parc Güell is probably the most famous. Vilarnau being so close to Barcelona (not only geographically, but also with heart and soul), it was natural to pick up this typical artistic theme for our winery.

[TaV]: Are the Trencadís Cava target the specific market, or do they sell equally well world-wide?
[V:]: We are currently exporting this label to almost 30 markets (principle markets being the USA, UK, Germany, and Belgium) and the number is growing as consumers love the design and the wine.

[TaV]: Do you have plans to add any new wines to the Trencadís series?
[V]: When we first launched we only had the Brut Reserva NV in the trencadis design but we have added the Rosado Reserva to the range two years and the Brut Nature Vintage and Demi-Sec last year

[TaV]; Do you have plans for any other “creative label” designs under Vilarnau name?
[V]: Barcelona is a constant inspiration to us and we are full of ideas, however, we have so much to do with the Trencadis design that we probably won’t launch anything new for the next 2 years or so.

Vilarnau Barcelona Cava glasses

The beautiful label is very important, it sets the expectations and makes you anticipate more from the wine. But – the content of the bottle is better to support the beauty of the label, or the joy of wine drinking will quickly dissipate.

I’m happy to say that the NV Vilarnau Brut Reserva Trencadís Edition Rosé D.O. Cava (12% ABV, SRP: $15, 90% Trepat and 10% Pinot Noir, 15+ month in the bottle) didn’t disappoint. Beautiful intense pink color, classic Sparkling nose, with a touch of yeast and toasted bread on the nose, supported by fresh tart strawberries and lemon notes on the palate, crisp, succulent and invigorating. A perfect sparkling wine by itself, and at a price – almost an unbeatable value. (Drinkability: 8-/8).

What do you think of Art of the [wine] Labels? Do you have some favorites? Cheers!

Finding Peace with Chappellet and 2007 Napa Vintage

April 14, 2017 2 comments

Chappellet Mountain Cuvee Vintage. An essential word in the wine lovers’ lexicon. “How was the vintage” often is a defining question, something we certainly have to find out and then store in the brain compartment for important wine facts. Depending on the stated greatness, some vintages might keep their recognition almost forever, like 1949 or 1982 Bordeaux, and 1964 or 2001 Rioja. The vintage by itself is no guarantee of quality of the particular wine from a particular producer, but it is generally considered that in the better vintages, there are more good wines available across the board.

2007 was lauded as a truly outstanding vintage in Napa Valley in California. According to the Wine Spectator vintage charts, 2007 [still] is the best vintage since 1999, with the vintage rating of 97. When the first 2007 Napa wines appeared, I was very eager to taste them – only to be disappointed for the most cases. In my experience, the wines were lacking finesse and balance, they were often devoid of fruit and had demonstrably attacking and astringent tannic structure. My main thought tasting 2007 Napa wines was “it needs time, and a lot of it”.

Chappellet is one of the famous producers in Napa, making wines for more than 40 years, now in the second generation of the family; their wines are highly regarded by consumers and critics alike. Some time back in 2010 I scored a few bottles of 2007 Chappellet Mountain Cuvee Napa Valley (14.9% ABV, Cabernet Sauvignon 51%, Merlot 46%, Malbec 1%, Cabernet Franc 1%, Petit Verdot 1%). My first taste was also one of the early posts in this very blog, and nothing short of disappointment (read it here). Continuing tasting throughout the years, I was still missing that “aha moment”, an opportunity to say “ahh, I like it”. It particularly applies to the 2007 vintage of Chappellet, as in 2014 I had an opportunity to taste the 2012 vintage of the same wine (Mountain Cuvee), and the wine was quite pleasant.

A couple of days ago I was looking for the wine to open for dinner and the last bottle of 2007 Chappellet caught my attention. Well, why not? 10 years is a good age for the California wine – let’s see how this wine is now ( even though I have not much of a hope based on the prior experience). Cork is out, wine is in the glass. The color, of course, shows no sign of age, still almost black. But the nose was beautiful – fresh, intense, inviting, with a touch of cassis and mint. The first sip confirmed that the wine completely transformed – open, rich, succulent fruit, cassis and blackberries, supported by the firm structure of the tannins without any overbearing, eucalyptus and touch of sweet oak, clean acidity. Perfectly powerful, but also perfectly balanced with all the components been in check. Now this was the “ahh, this is so good” wine which I would be glad to drink at any time. (Drinkability: 8+/9-).

This delicious experience prompted this post. I’m glad to find it with my own palate, that “needs time” is not a moniker for the “crappy wine”, but a true statement. I’m sure this is not universally true – some wines are simply beyond the help of time – but this definitely worked for this particular wine and for the 2007 Napa vintage. I don’t have any more of this 2007 Chappellet, but I have other 2007 Napa wines, and I just upped my expectations significantly.

Have you had similar experiences? How would you fare 2007 Napa vintage? Cheers!

Open That Bottle Night 2017 – What A Night!

February 28, 2017 23 comments

Let’s say you have a bottle of an excellent wine. Do you know how to make it better than it is? I guarantee you this works every time, so listen carefully. You share it with a friend. Yes, that makes any excellent wine into an amazing one. Works like a charm.

Saturday, February 25th was Open That Bottle Night (OTBN for short) – the night when there is no bottle in your cellar which is off limits. If you are not familiar with OTBN, you can read more here. What made my OTBN twice as special was the visit by Oliver and his wife Nina.

For me, the decisions around wine are never easy. I typically buy wine in the single bottle quantities (okay, maybe four at the most, when I need to get a free shipping from WTSO) – thus any bottle can qualify as a special one. As an exception to my long and almost painful decision process, for this OTBN I had a very clear idea – 1982 Olga Raffault Chinon, of which I had a single bottle. The bottle out of the wine fridge and ready for the prime time.

This is what I was looking at after cutting the top foil:

old corkAs you can tell, this is not very encouraging. However, if you like older wines and get an opportunity to open them, you know that the state of the top of the cork is nothing to fret about. More often than not, behind most terrible looking mildew there is a delicious wine.

As this was 35 years old wine, I didn’t want to take any chances and used the two-prong opener to pull the cork out. This turned out to be an unnecessary precaution – while cork looked red throughout, it was perfectly firm and came out as a single piece without any crumbling – here is our OTBN corks collection, the red one is the one I’m talking about:

okd corks And for the wine… what can I tell you… This 1982 Olga Raffault “Les Picasses” Chinon, Loire looked perfectly fresh in the glass – not a sign of losing color.  Here are the two glasses, one is with 1982 Cabernet Franc, the second one is with 2014 – care to guess which glass contains 1982?

two glasses cab francYes, the one on the left is with 1982 wine, but I believe you would agree that the color shows perfectly young. The nose and the palate were an incredible study in Cabernet Franc flavor profile 101. The wine opened full of bell pepper – both on the nose and the palate. In about 10 minutes, the bell pepper was gone – and what was left was pure, unadulterated black currant – stunning, full flavorful black currant, also known as cassis if we want to use traditional French terminology. The wine had perfect structure, firm, with fresh acidity, almost crisp – and loads and loads of black currant. This was truly a treat.

 

We followed with a beautiful rendition of Ruchè – 2012 Poggio Ridente Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG San Marziano (organic grapes). Ruchè is a little known red grape, cultivated in the Monferrato region in Piedmont, capable of making very concentrated wines. This particular bottle, brought by Oliver and Nina directly from Italy, was fresh and open, with nicely restrained palate with mostly herbal flavors, and a twist – dried mango undertones. Nina was the one to identify the dried mango, while I was desperately trying to figure out what that strange flavor was – but that was a spot-on descriptor. An outstanding wine by all means.

Our next wine was 1989 Kaseler Nies’chen Riesling Auslese Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. No issues with the cork (makes me happy). Still fresh, clean light golden color (28-years old wine!). The nose and the palate were singing in unison here, and the music was simple – peaches and apricots. Slightly underripe peaches and fresh, plump apricots. The balance of sweetness and acidity was impeccable – the wine was fresh and alive, without any sign of age. Wow.

As an added bonus, the grapes for this wine were harvested in November of 1989 – the year and a month when Berlin Wall was demolished – and this is what the label of this wine commemorates.

 

Our OTBN night didn’t finish there. You would expect us to go to something nice and sweets after such a beautiful Riesling, right? In the conversation, it came out that Oliver doesn’t like Tempranillo wines. Being a Spanish wine buff, I had to fix that immediately, so I had to pull out the big guns. 2001 La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Rioja Reserva Especial was absolutely beautiful from the get-go – cedar box and eucalyptus on the nose, soft and gentle cherries on the palate, fresh, round. I hope I made Oliver a convert – but will see about that the next time we will meet.

There you are, my friends. A stunning OTBN with great wines and great company. Hope you enjoyed your OTBN as much as we did – feel free to share your OTBN stories below. Cheers!

What Is A Good Wine?

April 19, 2016 11 comments

wine_in_a_glassLet’s say you are given a glass of wine. Can you tell if this is a good wine or not? Before you will jump on the obvious, let me clarify this question a bit – the wine is in the perfect condition – it is not corked, it is not cooked, it is not oxidized – there are no common faults of any kind, this is just a well made bottle of wine. So, is it good or not?

Is this question even makes sense? Can such a question be answered? Let’s talk about something more common first – food. Imagine you are in a restaurant for dinner, with friends and family. The dishes start arriving, and here is a side of french fries. There is a very good chance that if the fries are executed properly – good color, nice consistent cut, crispy and not soggy, with the right amount of salt, tasting fresh – everybody at the table would universally agree that “the fries are good”, and you can only hope that there were enough fries ordered for everybody to share. What  also important here is that nobody would be shy to slam these very french fries if something is not up to snuff – too much salt, fried in the old oil etc – everybody is confident in their ability to judge french fries to be universally good and tasty, or not.

Stepping up from the side dish, let’s take a look at the main dishes ordered around the table. Someone got steak, someone got lobster, someone is enjoying vegetarian lasagna. Now, it would be much harder to build taste consensus around the table for all these dishes. One person likes steak rare, and the other one only eats it well done – it will be very hard for these two to agree what is good and what is not. Someone might be allergic to a shellfish – there is no way they can even touch the sauce from that lobster dish to attest to your “this is sooo good” claim. So yes, it is hard to build a consensus here, but people are confident in their own right about the dishes they ordered to be able to judge good or not. If steak doesn’t have the right level of doneness, it will be sent back. If lobster is not seasoned right – well, not sure about “sent back”, but I’m sure the problem with the dish will be stated and discussed at the table.  And of course if one states that their dish is delicious, then the whole table must try at least a tiny bit to experience “the goodness” (at least this is how it works in our family).

Now, arriving at a wine, the situation is different, and often dramatically. Unlike french fries, the wine still has an aura of mystery, of a special knowledge required to be able to understand and appreciate it, and to claim if it is good or not. The same people who are very confident to send underdone or overly salty (to their personal taste!) steak back to the kitchen, will be very shy and even afraid to say anything if the wine is obviously corked – they will take it as their own inability to properly understand the wine, and therefore will not say anything. Of course the situation is not as consistently dramatic as I present it here – wine today is very popular, and increasing number of people feeling confident enough around it to state what they like and not; however, step out of the oenophile circle, and go dine with people who drink wine occasionally, and I guarantee you will hear “ahh, I don’t know anything about wine” as an answer to the question if they like the wine or not.

In reality, making a personal “good/not good” decision about the wine is as easy as in the case of french fries. I took the “Windows on the World” wine school back in the day, which was taught by Kevin Zraly – Kevin is single-handedly responsible for teaching tens of thousands of people to understand and appreciate the wine. Of course, the question “is this a good wine or not” was one of the most important questions people wanted to get an answer for in such a course. Kevin’s explanation was very simple: “Take a sip of this wine. If this wine gives you pleasure, it is a good wine”. You can look at it as overly simplistic, as there are many factors affecting the perceived taste of wine – where we are, who we are with, the label, the story behind the label, the temperature, the mood, yada, yada, yada. Of course this all matters. But still, for majority of the cases, we are looking for pleasure out of drinking the glass of wine – the way it smells, the way it tastes, with all the little discoveries we make as we let the wine open up and change in the glass (“ahh, I taste blueberries and chocolate now”) – all those little pleasant moments we experience with every sip, it gives us a pleasure of enjoying a glass of wine; if we are getting the pleasure, this is a good wine. Yep, I said it was simple.

Very often pleasure is simplistically associated with erotic and sex, or at least that would be the very first thing which will come to the mind of many once they hear the word “pleasure” – oh no, I see your condemning look, of course I’m not talking about you, you are wired differently. Meanwhile, we derive pleasure from everything which surrounds us, and from everything we do – and if we don’t, we work hard to fix it. Every waking moment of our day is a perfect illustration to this. If we start our day from a walk or maybe a meditation – it is a pleasure of being one on one with yourself, deep in your own thoughts. Think about the pleasure of hugging that morning cup of coffee or tea and smelling the aroma. We look at the watch on our hand – it doesn’t have to be the Rolex or Philippe Patek to be admired and to create a feeling of pleasure. We put on a shirt or a blouse, look in the mirror – and we are pleased with the way we look (okay, fine, we might not be – but again, then we get to work hard to fix it). After the day at work, we come home to be welcomed by a wagging tail and a scream “mommy is home” followed by a huge smile and a hug – tell me that this is not what defines pleasure. No, not everything we do gives us pleasure – but those little bits and pieces of pleasure are what we seek, every time, every day.

Wine is simply a complementing part of our lives. Today we are in the mood for the white shirt, tomorrow – for the blue with yellow stripes; similarly, today you might want the glass of Pinot Noir, tomorrow it can be Tempranillo. We are constantly changing, and so do the things which we will get the pleasure from. People go from carnivores to vegetarians to vegans and back to carnivores – as long as we find pleasure in the way we are at the moment, that is all that matters. No matter what is in your glass, if it gives you pleasure, it is a good wine. It really doesn’t matter what the experts said about the wine you are drinking. It really doesn’t matter what your friends say. If this is White Zinfandel in your glass, and it gives you pleasure, it is a good wine. If this is massive, brooding Barolo, and it gives you pleasure, it is a good wine. If this is big, oaky, buttery California Chardonnay, and it gives you pleasure, this is a good wine – don’t let anyone who says that Chardonnay should be unoaked and acidic to persuade you otherwise. It is okay to have your own, individual taste – we do it with everything else, and wine shouldn’t be any different.

If the wine gives you pleasure, it is a good wine.

This post is an entry for the 24th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC24), with the theme of “Pleasure”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance, New.

 

Speak Up!

July 31, 2015 21 comments

wine_in_a_glassThis post is not really a rant, even though it can be classified as one. I would rather see it as a plea – not directed at someone particular, but to anyone who enjoys even an occasional glass of wine.

Wine can be intimidating at times. Heck yes, wine is often intimidating. It has an aureole of mystique. It seems to demand the special knowledge to be enjoyed, the years and years of hard study. And quite often, the “exclusivity” notion is enforced by the very people whose job is to help, to make the wine less intimidating, to make sure that “the customer” will simply enjoy the glass of wine.

True – the wine, as any other discipline, has a great depth of technical knowledge. It is not easy to make a good bottle of wine; it is very difficult to make a great bottle of wine. You need to study for many years almost 24×7, learn the exact names of hundreds of small villages in Germany, to become a Master Sommelier (there are only a few hundreds of them in the world). All of it is true. But not necessarily unique – most of what humans do today in so called “work” requires lots of studying and lots of specialized knowledge.

But wine is yet again different. While it requires knowledge to produce and explain it to others, when it comes to its basic purpose – drinking, it is, whether by itself or with the food – it is very simple. Forget all the nuances of the taste. Forget all the fancy descriptors and ratings. When it comes to the content of your glass, it is really all binary – you either like it or not.

Nobody questions their own ability to decide whether they like the burger or not. Or any other food for that matter – in most of the cases, people have no issues declaring “this is good” or “this is bad”. But when it comes to the wine, majority start second-guessing themselves. People often sheepishly say “but I don’t know much anything about the wine”. This proverbial “luck of knowledge” is used as an excused to keep quiet. People are afraid to state their opinion around wine, as they don’t want to appear disrespectful, or even worse, totally ignorant and not worthy. At the same time, when someone takes a sip, they know immediately whether they like the wine or not.

Now, let me get to the “Speak Up” part. No, I’m not advocating that everyone will start proclaiming “this is crap” or “this is nectar” on the very first sip of the wine in the various situations. For example, if you will open a bottle of young red wine, immediately pour it into a glass and take a sip, your first reaction might be “this is too sweet!”. Give this wine 5 minutes to breathe, and your next sip often will be totally different experience, with earthiness, minerality and acidity. As another example, the first taste of the cold white wine might feel extremely acidic, but the wine will mellow out right after. So, no, “speak up” is not about always declaring your opinion right away.

What is important for me is that if you drink wine even on a semi-regular basis, you know what you like and what you don’t. In case when you don’t like the wine, you also know why is that – too acidic, too sweet, too wimpy, too tannic, doesn’t taste well with food. There can be lots of reasons for not liking the wine. And it is all fine – taste is personal, and two people next to the same bottle don’t have to share the same opinion; there is nothing to speak up about here. With one exception: when the wine is spoiled.

There are many possible issues with wine, which affect its taste – these are called “wine faults”, and the end result is what we call a spoiled wine – the wine which tastes bad. This is not the case “I don’t like it”, this is the case “it is spoiled” – and nobody should drink it. Have you ever tasted spoiled milk, when the sweetness of milk is replaced with the off putting smell and sour taste? What you do with the spoiled milk? Anything but drink it, right? There are many potential faults in wine – brettanomyces (often called “brett” for short), volatile acidity, oxidation, heat damage (so called “cooked wine”), cork taint and many others (in case you want to read more, here is Wikipedia link). Some of the faults are less offensive than the others – for instance, brett is associated with barnyard aromas (so called “funk”) in the wine, which some people love (yours truly would be one of them). But most of the faults really kill the taste of wine; spoiled wine doesn’t deliver any pleasure the wine is supposed to bring.

One of most prominent offenders is the cork taint – typically caused by the cork material which was not cleaned properly – and the result of the cork taint is called a corked wine. What gives it away first of all is an aroma of the old, wet, musty basement – you know that smell, I’m sure you do. But this is not the worst part. On the palate, the corked wine is sharp, bitter, and devoid of fruit – the fruit is nowhere to be found in the corked wine. Sometimes the smell might be very minor, but then the sharp palate will give this fault away. And corked wine is something which you are not supposed to drink. Nor you should let anyone to drink that. This is the case when you have to trust yourself – and speak up.

How many of you ever been in the situation when you tasted the wine (or just smelled it) and said to yourself “this is corked”? And then, even when you are 100% convinced it is corked, you just kept quiet – you didn’t want to offend the host, you thought “ahh, may be something is wrong with me”, “but people already had been drinking the wine from this bottle for a while, how it can be corked”? Been there, done that? It’s okay, this blog is truly a non-judgement zone, please share your experiences. But I’m seriously telling you, if I may – I insist – speak up. Trust yourself and speak up.

I’ve done this many times in many different settings. Sometimes, the corked bottle is one and only, and all you can do is just to dump it or put it aside to return to the wine store (please note – most of the reputable wine stores will take the corked wine back and refund your money – they are not losing anything either, as they also will return the wine to the producer). But the best case is when the other bottle of the same wine can be open instead – and it shows all the beautiful aromas and fruit the wine was supposed to have. This is the best learning experience, of course – but even if you didn’t have that experience, you still have to speak up.

You need to understand that by keeping silent, you are not doing anyone any favors. If you keep silent, you drink the wine which tastes bad. You let others drink the wine which tastes bad. You letting down the winemaker as well. In many (most) cases, the corked wine is not even producer’s fault. And if you and others end up drinking bad tasting wine, you might say to yourself “I will never buy this wine again” – and trust me, this is not what the winemaker had in mind when the wine was produced with love and care.

You have to speak up – and you got nothing to lose. If you are wrong, and the wine is not corked but simply need the time to breathe – so be it. But I’m sure that once you experienced the corked wine, you will be able to identify it again, so if you think the wine is corked, there is a very good chance that it actually is. Trust yourself and speak up. When the next bottle is open, and everybody sigh with relief and pleasure, your host will be the first to thank you. And if you will feel happy, leave me a comment too. Cheers!

Crisis in Wine

July 22, 2015 23 comments

MWWC_logoThis post is an entry for the 18th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC18), with the theme of “Crisis”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany.

Let me ask you a question – do you associate wine with crisis? Not really? Ahh, you are even puzzled why I asked? Let me elaborate. This question is not about “business of wine” – that part is self-evident. Every business has its crisis moments. Some are relatively small, like broken truck with day’s harvest of grapes, leaked barrel or malfunctioning bottling line. Some are bigger, like hail storm during July or a frost in late May. Some are huge, like earthquake in Napa valley or phylloxera epidemic. But – business problems “come with the territory” – the only way to avoid them is not to be in the business at all.

Now, my question about wine and crisis is not about the business, it is about people who like to drink wine. I mean, really like it. Those who make wine into a passion. They often referred to as oenophiles. Or wine aficionados. Or wine geeks. Depending on the circumstances, also known as “wine guy” or a “wine gal”; it is not foreign for them to be called a “wine snob”. Anyway, if you belong to this category, you already identified yourself. If you don’t (but you’re still reading this blog, so thank you), you know who I’m talking about. So I have to tell you that we, oenophile (yes, I closely identify as one), go hand in hand with crisis. We readily create the crisis around the wine, then we work our hardest to resolve it – and we feel proud and relieved that we actually did. Need examples? Here we go.

A wine oenophile is invited to the party (no, this is not a beginning of the anecdote). The bottle of wine is selected, with love and care, very often from one’s cellar, and oenophile almost arrives at the destination, when the horror thought takes over – “what if this bottle is corked, what am I going to do then??? Why did I forget to bring a second bottle, just in case, why?”. If you been there, done that, raise your hand. Have you ever contemplated a fallback solution “if this bottle is bad, I know where the nearby store is so I can quickly drive there and pick up something else”? Yep, oenophiles are crisis-prone like that.

A dear and wine loving friend is coming over to the oenophile’s house. Peering at hundreds bottle strong cellar, the thought process starts – “I think this bottle of Pinot should be good. But I don’t think she is into Pinot too much. May be the Cab? No, that might not work with the meal… Or may be that 1990 will do??? And then Amarone? No, no, no! I DON’T HAVE THE BOTTLE TO OPEN!!!” Do you feel the drama? Do you see the crisis once again, which requires a quick action – unquestionably it will be averted, and oenophile and the friend will be happy (unless the bottle(s) will be corked, but we don’t want to even go there), but the crisis is clearly there.

The simplest form of oenophile’s crisis might take place during the daily ritual of opening the bottle for the regular evening – after touching and pulling out tens of the bottles (from that hundreds bottle strong cellar), the spine-chilling thought comes in: “I don’t have the bottle I can or want to drink right now, what do I do?!?!”

There are many more crisis moments we can talk about – the horrifying moment at the restaurant, where after the 5th scan of the wine list oenophile realizes that there is nothing there which one want to drink or can afford; the process of selecting wine to pair well with food; looking at the rare bottle in the shop and thinking that you must buy it now or you will never see that vintage again. I’m sure you got my point by now (or even well before now), and I’m sure you even feel pity towards that oenophile who have to deal with crisis all so often. But – that is the best form of crisis, as it is immediately forgotten at the first sound of the popped cork and whiff of aroma accompanied by the words “ahh, this is good”. This is one form of crisis which oenophiles are happy to have in their lives – and I’m sure many people will be too. Cheers!

Of Wine And Balance

March 21, 2015 13 comments

Domaine de Saint Paul CdPWhen assessing the wine, there are many characteristics which are important. The color, the intensity and the type of the aromas on the nose, the bouquet, body and flavors on the palate, the finish. When I’m saying “important”, I don’t mean it in the form of the fancy review with “uberflowers”, “dimpleberries” and “aromas of the 5 days old steak”. All the characteristics are important for the wine drinker thyself, as they help to enhance the pleasure drinking of the wine.

One of the most important wine characteristics for me is balance. Well, I’m sure not only for me, otherwise the organizations such as IPOB (In Pursuit Of Balance) wouldn’t even exist. Of course as everything else around wine, the concept of the balance is highly personable – or is it? What makes the wines balanced? What does it even mean when we say that “the wine is balanced”? This is the big question, and I don’t mean to ponder at it at a great depth, as this is a purposefully a short post. But nevertheless, let’s just take a quick stub at it, shall we?

In my own definition, the wine is balanced when all the taste components are, well, in balance. Okay, don’t beat me up – we can replace the word “balance” with the word “harmony”. In a typical glass of a red wine, you will find acidity, fruit and tannins (which is mostly a perceived tactile sensation in the form of drying feeling in your mouth). You will also often find other flavors such as barnyard, toasted oak or burning matches, which are typically imparted by the vineyard’s soil and/or a winemaking process, choice of yeast, type of aging and so on. But – in the balanced wine, nothing should stand out – you don’t want to taste only fruit, only tannins or only acidity – you want all the components to be in harmony, you want them to be complementing each other, enhancing the pleasure you derive from drinking of the wine.

And then you got an alcohol. On one side, I should’ve listed the alcohol above, as one of the components of the taste – alcohol often can be associated with the perceived “weight” of the wine in your mouth, which we usually call a “body”. Alcohol can be also related to the so called “structure”. But the reason I want to single out an alcohol is because way too often, we tend to use it to set our expectations of the balance we will find in the glass of wine, as this is the only objective, measured descriptor listed on the bottle. You might not taste the “raspberries and chocolate” as the back label was promising, but if it says that the wine has 14.5% “Alcohol by Volume” (ABV), this would be usually very close to the truth. Of course there is a correlation in the perceived balance and the alcohol in the wine – if you taste alcohol in direct form when you drink wine, it will render the wine sharp, bitter and clearly, unbalanced. But – and this is a big but – can we actually use the ABV as an indicator of balance, or is it more complicated than that?

When IPOB started, this was their premise – search for the wines with lower alcohol content (don’t know if it still is). Typical ABV in the old days was 13.9% (there were also tax implications of crossing that border). So should we automatically assume that any wine which boasts 14.5% ABV will not be balanced? I do have a problem with such approach. I had the wines at the 13.5% ABV, which were devoid of balance – including one from the very reputable Napa producer who will remain unnamed. And then there is Loring Pinot Noir, where ABV is dancing right under 15% (at 14.7% to 14.9%). Pushing envelope even further, you got Turley and Carlisle Zinfandels, where ABV is squarely stationed between 15% and 16% (occasionally exceeding even that level). Have you tasted Loring, Turley or Carlisle wines? How did you find them? To me, these wines are absolutely spectacular, with balance been a cornerstone of pleasure.

What prompted this post was the wine I had yesterday – 2007 Domaine de Saint Paul Cuvée Jumille Chateauneuf-du-Pape (95% Grenache, 5% Muscardin), which was absolutely delicious, and perfectly balanced, with round, smokey, chocolatey profile. The wine also had a touch of an interesting sweetness on the finish, which prompted me to look carefully at the label – and then my eyes stopped at 15% ABV, with the first thought was “this is amazing – I don’t find even a hint of the alcohol”. Judging by this ABV number alone, the “alcohol burn” would be well expected.

Yes, the notion of the balance is personal. Still – what makes the wine balanced? Can we say that some types of grapes, such as Grenache or Zinfandel, for instance, are better suited to harmoniously envelope higher alcohol levels? Is it all just in the craft, skill, mastery and magic of the winemaker? I don’t have the answers, I only have questions – but I promise to keep on digging. Cheers!

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