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Posts Tagged ‘wine appreciation’

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 21 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!

And All The Fuss About Wine Reviews…

September 24, 2013 10 comments

wine ratingsFew days ago I read an article by Joe Roberts, talking about wine reviews. The article, called “Does The Wisdom Of The Crowd Provide Better Wine Reviews Than The Experts?“, and the subsequent comments were evolving around the role of the “crowd-sourcing” in the wine reviews from the sites such as Cellar Tracker versus traditional wine critics and wine experts, the value of wine ratings and all the other critical analysis of wine. Instead of commenting in the thread, I decided to express my thoughts in the form of this post.

Warning – this might be long. You might want to arm yourself at least with one glass of wine. Or more…

It is very interesting to observe “are the wine reviews and wine critics relevant” discussions to periodically flare up all over the blogosphere and all of the digital media. Some of those discussions and opinions are quite antagonistic, from “death of Wine Advocate predicted” to “the number of wine bloggers will decrease dramatically” to “blind tasting puts wine experts to shame again”. Some of them are supported by some facts and findings which authors deem indisputable. And some are written just purely for the entertainment or quick publicity purposes.

For all of us obsessed with wine, the subject of wine ratings and wine reviews is near and dear to the heart. The world seems to rotate around those 98s, A and B, 4 stars and all other metrics. Meanwhile, majority of the wine consumers couldn’t care less. Based on the number of studies, people buy wine based on the label, advice of the store associate and the price. By the way, the price factor is funniest of all (should be a subject of a separate post) – when we buy for ourselves, we always want to find $10 wine which will taste like a $100; when we need to bring a present, we ask for the advice to find the best wine at the top of our budget, and then spend a few extra bucks just not to look cheap. In any case, very few consumers concern themselves with the ratings which are abundantly displayed in many stores (interestingly enough, there are quite a few stores nowadays which are doing away with all those rating displays). Yes, the people who buy more expensive wines are interested to know what the experts think about the wine they are about to shell $50, $80, or a $150 for. Of course wine collectors track all those ratings as they are stock tickers (well, they kind of are). But considering the world of wine, those people are an absolute minority (okay, don’t bring up the 80/20 or 90/10 – that is not the subject of the post).

So Joe Roberts argues that Cellar Tracker ratings might replace all the expert opinions simply because they are the crowd sourced and it is proven by many sources, which Joe is citing, that crowd-sourcing is the way to go in today’s world. It is stated that the crowd-sourcing works because it is proven by TripAdvisor, Yelp, Amazon and thousands of other sources soliciting people opinions. Well, may be, but it depends. Let’s look at Yelp, as the food world is probably more related to the wine world than travel or gadget shopping.

Different people review restaurant on Yelp, and for the most of the cases the reader of the review doesn’t know anything about the writer. But if you think about an average restaurant, a lot of aspects of the review are based on the common sense. The understanding of the “good service” is pretty much universal. The understanding of “clean” versus “dirty” is also quite universal. “Run down” is pretty well understood. When the food is served cold, or you have to wait for 30 minutes for a cup of coffee, you don’t have to be an expert to universally recognize it. And if you ordered steak in a restaurant, I have reasonable expectations that you know how good steak tastes like.

No, you can’t take the ratings on Yelp for granted. People get upset, people get unreasonable – true. But this is where crowd-sourcing works the best. If a restaurant on Yelp has four stars out of five, based on the average of a 150, or 300, or better yet, 1000 reviews, you know that your chances of good experience are pretty high. If the restaurant has five stars based on 3 reviews, you know that means nothing in terms of your potential experience. The fact that that restaurants are judged on the multitude of factors, many of which are universal and even independent of the type of restaurant (clean Thai restaurant with good service is not any different from clean steakhouse with good service), gives you a certain level of reliability of the crowd-sourced ratings.

Wine is different. There is no foundation to all those ratings, outside of smell, taste and ability to deliver pleasure. But – “tastes good” is highly individual. If someone only likes to drink California Cabernet, convincing the person that this Sagrantino was a great wine might be difficult. Now, if you look at the crowd-sourced ratings, like Cellar Tracker offers, it means nothing, as based on the rating alone you can’t align your base with the people who wrote the reviews. You don’t know if the person who rated that St. Joseph Syrah at 78 simply doesn’t like barnyard undertones, or the wine is actually bad. You have to read the review to try to figure out what is wrong with the wine, and why the reviewer didn’t like it, may be he was just in a bad mood or had the wrong food with it.

When it comes to the wine critics, the situation is different. Yes, I know, the most famous of them are periodically accused of bias and various forms of dishonesty, but this is not relevant here. As the critics, they are able (and expected) to judge the wine objectively. Also, wine critics typically have their area of expertise, like James Suckling focusing on Italian wines, Steve Heimoff on California or Allen Meadows on Burgundy. I’m not trying to say that if a critic rated the wine at 95, it means that this will be a great wine for you no matter what – but at the same time, that objective persistency, consistency of the ratings and narrow focus of the critic allows you to align the base, and then have a quick opinion, a probability of liking the wine based on the given rating by a known critic. I don’t buy my wines based on the ratings, and I’m not willing to pay $100 more for the bottle of Cabernet only because Parker gave it 96 versus the wine next to it with only a 90 rating – but that rating allows me to establish a frame of reference.

Let’s look at the big picture. We can see an increased interest to wine all over the world. We also see an increased wine production all over the world. People “en mass” are increasingly more comfortable and more knowledgeable about the wine, especially if we are talking about Millenials and younger generations. And that does lead to the reduced role of “The Wine Critic” (Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate, etc). But – the need for the critical information about the wine is increasing, and as people gain more knowledge and learn to trust their own palates, they are willing to take wine advice from the lesser figures than Parker or Suckling, and they are willing to take it from many different sources – blogs, twitter, web sites and other digital media outlets. People are building their own tribes. This is where Cellar Tracker comes to play – but only for the people who are inside, only for the people who uses the service and is able to align the base. My personal “wine experts” tribe consists of many bloggers I started following over the years, one by one. Reading their posts, tasting the wines they are talking about, having a dialog, I was able to build my alignment, little by little, one glass at a time. I know that I can rely on and willing to take Jeff’s (the drunken cyclist) advice for the Pinot Noir, or Oliver’s (the winegetter) for German Rieslings, Julian (VinoInLove) and Stefano (Clicks & Corks) for any of the Italian wine, or Alissa (SAHMmelier) for the wines of Texas. This is not my unique experience – I truly believe this “tribe concept” works for everybody, more and more so.

Are you still with me? Wow, I really have to thank you for sticking along. Let’s round this up. No, the wine world is not going to rotate around Cellar Tracker. Yes, the role of The Wine Critic will decrease, but in the end of the day we will still have more of them. There will be ever increasing number of people who will be willing to share their experiences (and sometimes put it in the form of numbers), and there will be ever increasing number of people willing to take that advice. Crowd-sourcing? Kind of, but very different. May be “Tribe-sourcing” is the word. The world of wine is big, and it is only getting bigger – I think we all can perfectly get along.

Don’t know about you, but I need a glass of wine. Cheers!

How Possessive Are The Wine Lovers?

September 17, 2013 32 comments

MWWC_logoIf you are following wine blogs, you might have noticed the theme “possession” showing up here are there. Yes, this is no accident – the common linking factor is the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (MWWC for short), in its third incarnation.

The theme for the first challenge was “transportation” – it was relatively easy to tie up to the wine both directly and allegorically. The theme for the next challenge was “trouble”, which sent me home scrambling  – “trouble” is not the first thing which comes to mind when you are looking at a glass of wine. In the end of the day, many bloggers successfully found the connection and produced a lot of interesting posts. The current theme, “Possession”, is a whole different game. On one side, it has a direct connection to the wine – but it is too direct for the nice intricate piece. “I possess wine. Sometimes, wine possesses me. The end”. On another side, it is almost forcing you to go into pretty much the exorcism route, which can be played, but this is not necessarily pretty (need examples? Do a google search for “wine possession” – you will find some stuff which might make you afraid to visit your cellar when it is dark).

So as you can deduce from my rant, I don’t have a good play on the theme. What you will find below is rather a collection of random thoughts, centered on the wine appreciation, with the nod towards the “possessive” relationship of wine lovers with the subject of their love.

So how possessive the wine lovers are? We can find few different types of “possessiveness” among the wine lovers as such. First, there are wine collectors (of course, that is an obvious one). But even among wine collectors there is one extreme group which I would like to exclude from the actual category of the wine lovers. That is the group which rather collect the money than anything else. Wine is strictly an investment for them, and they never think about bottle of wine in terms of the actual content. For this group, the wine is only an object which will appreciate in value, and at some point it will be exchanged for cash and profit. This group also includes the worst possible type – the wine-possessive ego-maniacs. For this group the wine which they stock in their cellars is intended to be an ego-booster – “I spent on that bottle 10 times more than you did”, and “my bottle is bigger and more round than yours”. In the end of the day, I’m not even sure if this group even belongs to the true wine lovers category.

Then there are those who love wine, but don’t care to possess it at all. Folks in this group happily drink the wine at any occasion, they serve the wine at their parties, and they buy a bottle on the way home when they feel like it. But they really don’t “possess” wine, as they don’t keep much wine in the house, and most importantly, they don’t assign any special attributes to any bottles.

And then comes the rest. The group of wine lovers who possesses the wine and actually, is possessed by the wine at the same time (I’m including myself in this group, so I’m continuing here from the collective of “we”). We keep the wine. We make the wine special by associating special mementos with those bottles – “ahh, this is the year we got married”, “remember we had this wine in Tuscany”, “this is the year our son was born”, “remember that winery visit”. We do our best to keep those bottles cool, quiet and comfortable. And then we wait. While buying the wine with mementos, we are also investing, of course. We are investing into exciting anticipation of how special this wine will taste when we will finally open it. While we hold on to the bottle, we can re-live that future moment over and over. We are possessed with finding the right moment for that special bottle. But what is important, that right moment also includes the right people. How many times have you thought “ohh, if they (whomever “they” are) are coming over, I got this special bottle we have to open”. Yes, we are possessed with wine. But we don’t buy it just to enjoy by ourselves. We are also possessed to share. We  want to share the experience. We want to share the special moment. We don’t want to keep it to ourselves. Without special moment or a special company, that bottle never gets to be opened.

And that is what I want to leave you with. Possessed by wine. Possessed to share.

Wine Gadgets: Pourers

May 30, 2013 14 comments

As it was introduced a week ago (here is the post), we are starting to discuss a subject of the wine gadgets in the Thursday posts. Gadget post might not happen every Thursday – but at least you are about to read one now.

I don’t plan to rate gadgets – but I will tell you if I think you should own one. I will tell you what I like and don’t like. I will tell you why I think the gadget useful – or why I think it is not. I don’t really plan to acquire new gadgets just for the purposes of these posts – but this might change in the future.

Now, let’s proceed with our first gadget – The Pourer.

Even with such a simple accessory as a wine pourer, there are many many different types available:

  • Standard pourer
  • Measuring pourer – you mostly see those at the wineries and wine tastings. They allow you to dispense the exact amount of liquid with every pour
  • Pourer/stopper combination
  • Aerating pourer

I own a substantial number of pourers of different forms and sizes:

2. VacuVin Wine Server Crystal - my favorite, most elegant

2. VacuVin Wine Server Crystal – my favorite, most elegant

Why would you want to use pourers? I see two reasons:

  1. Aesthetics of pouring wine into the glass. Somehow, I find it more aesthetically pleasing looking at the wine going into the glass when the pourer is used
  2. Cleanliness of the bottle, hands and tablecloth. Using of the pourer prevents the wine from dripping all over the bottle, which subsequently leads to round stains on the tablecloth (especially when you deal with the red wine).

Just so you can relate to what I’m offering here, compare this two pictures. First one – pouring wine just standard way:

Pouring wine

Pouring wine. See that drip in the making?

and this one – pouring wine using Crystal Wine Server:

Pouring wine using Crystal Wine Server

Pouring wine using Crystal Wine Server

Which one do you find more elegant (and I’m not even talking about dripping)?

Are all of the pourers the same? Not at all. Not all pourers will fit all the bottles (interestingly enough, some of the screwtops offer a particular challenge for pourers as they often have a bit wider neck than the regular bottles). Some of the pourers are more versatile, some of them less. Some allow an easy addition of wine stopper, and some just don’t. Some of them also can work as aerators, but I will reserve that subject for the time when we will talk about aerators.

If you look at the five I presented to you above, they are all slightly different. #1, VacuVin Black Wine Server will fit a lot of bottles, will be okay with most of the screwtops and will allow the use of any bottle stoppers. This is definitely an advantage.

I find #2, VacuVin Crystal Wine Server the most aesthetically pleasing. However, it might have challenges fitting the screwtops (might simply fall out of some of them), and has probably the shortest lifespan (the bottom cracks). No stopper can be used together with this pourer.

When it comes to #3, it doesn’t even look like a pourer, right? But this ring performs an important function of stopping the drips, so as far as I’m concerned, it is pretty much a pourer. And it will fit on majority of the bottles, which is also a plus.

Pourer #4 is a flexible pourer – it is more or less a piece of plastic which you can fold and insert into absolute majority of the bottles. Works similar to #2, classic pourer and of course it should be taken out when you will need to recork your bottle. The advantage is that it is quite universal and will fit various bottle types.

Pourer #5 is a pourer/stopper combination. It works quite well, but has limitations – it will not fit some of the bottles with the thinner neck. Otherwise it is simple and I think looks pretty good.

Bottom line: considering that pourers are inexpensive for the majority of the cases, I would recommend to have variety on hands, so you will be prepared to enjoy bottles of any forms and sizes in style, and without annoying drips.

Variety of pourers can be found on many web sites and in catalogs – here is selection which can be found on Amazon: Wine pourers.

What do you think? Do you own pourers, and if you do, do you use them? Do you think they make sense or do you think they are just waste of the money? Comment away!

And now, to make it even more entertaining, I’m adding a simple poll here – with every new poll I will provide results from the previous one. Let me know if these are good questions or if you want to know something else.

Whew, and we are done here. Cheers!