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Retrospective: 11 Years of Top Wines

January 5, 2021 2 comments

While I was working on the Top Wines list of 2020, it almost hit me – 2020 was the 11th year the list of the top wine experiences of the year was produced.

In every Top Wines post, I make an effort to explain my approach to the creation of the top wines list – it is all based on emotions solicited by the wine. The easier it is to recall the wine and relive the moment, the better it is.

I often state that the order of the wines is not so important (this is how I want it to be, but it is usually not the case – the order has meaning) – with the exception of wine #1. Wine #1, the Top Wine of the Year, is always the most memorable. For a few years, I even had difficulties deciding on just one top wine, so I had multiples of wine #1. Strange, I know – but I always have a simple excuse – this is my blog…

All of the Top Wines lists can be found via the Top Wine Ratings menu on the top of this page. However, what do you think of taking a look at the top wines from these past 11 years, just for fun? I would like to enjoy those memories again – and see if I still have them as vivid as I like to think. Let’s see:

2010: 

2007 Mara Laughlin Road Ranch Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($45) – I can attest that this was one of the best California Pinot Noirs I ever tasted. I still have a bottle each of Mara Pinot Noir 2007 and 2008 (2008 was a complete opposite to 2007, very lean and green) – should make it for an interesting evening one day.

2011: 

2010 Fiction Red Wine Paso Robles by Field Recordings ($20) – this was my first discovery of the Field Recordings wines, and that Fiction was unbeatable, it offered an incredible experience. I also loved the label and the story on the back label of that wine, which, unfortunately, disappeared in the later vintages.

2012:

2010 Antica Terra Phantasi Oregon White Wine ($100, Magnum price in the restaurant) – Definitely a memorable wine, a blend of Rhone varieties – I can close my eyes and imagine the taste of this wine in my mouth. While this is one of the most memorable Top wines, the wine in the second place was not any less memorable – 1947 Rioja Imperial. Also, it appears that I didn’t even include another wine from the same dinner when we experienced the Phantasi, 1998 Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon in the Top Dozen list, which is a huge oversight…

2013:

1970 Quevedo White Port – tasting 43 years old elixir together with the winemaker, in the old cellar, directly from the barrel? It rarely gets any more memorable than that.

2014:

1966 Louis M. Martini California Mountain Pinot Noir ($NA) – I found this bottle at the store in Chicago. As this is my birth year, I couldn’t resist getting this bottle for a whopping $25. To my absolute surprise, the wine was perfectly drinkable and delicious. And the label is just purely nostalgic…

2015:

2011 Emiliana Coyam Colchagua Valley Chile ($35) – ordered this wine at the restaurant without any knowledge, mostly going by the price – OMG. This is one delicious wine.

 

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2016:

2002 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill Champagne ($230) – one of the most memorable top wines. While I loved the taste, I could smell this wine indefinitely. Really, I have no need in drinking it, but I can’t let go of the aroma…

2017:

1982 Olga Raffault “Les Picasses” Chinon Loire ($85?) – this was unquestionably great – one of my most favorite grape varieties (Cab Franc), legendary vintage (at least in Bordeaux), great producer. The sad part? This is one of the few “Wine of the Year” wines I can’t recall the sensation of taste, smell, or the setting …

2018:

2008 Zenato “Sergio Zenato” Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG ($100) – Amarone is one of my most favorite wines in general – but I have exactly the same issue here as with the Olga Raffault – no detailed memories. I’m sure it was a good wine as it made it to the alternative #1 winner.

2013 Three Wine Company Suscol Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Block 5 Napa Valley ($60) – One of the very best Cabernet Sauvignon I ever tasted. We had this wine during tasting dinner at the restaurant during one of our traditional “adult getaways”. This was round and supremely delicious.

2019:

2013 Smith-Madrone Cook’s Flat Reserve Spring Mountain ($225) – Smith-Madrone makes beautiful wines. This wine can be described in one word – Pure. Pure indulgence, and pure, unadulterated pleasure.

2016 Tara Red Wine 2 Syrah Atacama Chile ($40) – I have a sad habit of not being able to write a post after a great winemaker dinner, as was the case with Tara wines. Magnificent Syrah, coming from the vineyards which in reality shouldn’t have existed because of the incredible salinity of the soil. As I say in such cases, this is the wine to be experienced.

2017 Peju Province Winery The Experiment Napa Valley ($100) – a prolific Napa Valley jewel. Power and balance, or balance and power – whatever description suits you more.

2020:

1999 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino DOCG ($NA) – Meditazione vino. The whole group meditated over this wine, as it was simply a gift from gods. Incredible. If wine is not “just another beverage” to you, you would understand. And I wish for you to experience meditazione vino at least once in your life…

Here we are  – 11 years of top wines. This was definitely an interesting exercise – while I enjoyed recalling each and every one of these wines, this was also a great opportunity to think about my Top Wines process. I’m reasonably pleased with top wine selections during these years, but ideally, I would like to do better – every wine on such a list should solicit a memory and an emotion. Oh well, we should call this “the room for improvement”, right? Cheers, my friends!

 

Top Wines of 2016 – Second Dozen

December 30, 2016 2 comments

Here we are again – another year is about to become a history, which means it is time for one of my favorite wine aficionado exercises – reliving the best wine moments of the year to create the list of Top Dozen wines of 2016.

Ever since this blog started back in 2010, Top Dozen list was always a feature – here are the links for 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. Many years I couldn’t even limit myself to one dozen, thus some of the years had two dozens of top wines. It seems that 2016 is one of those years – so I’m really trying hard to stay within that two cases limit (how many of you were successful with limiting yourself at the wine store, raise your hands, please), will see where I will end up.

The way these Top Dozen lists are built is simple. These are the most memorable wines I had throughout the year. As I was preparing for this post, I looked at some of the wines in the past Top Dozen posts and had an immediate “ahh, I remember that…” emotions. Wine creates emotional connections, wine creates and enhances memories – this is what makes the wines “top list”-worthy.

I always try to present the wines randomly – and I’m reasonably successful, with the exception of the wine #1 – that wine is always the most memorable wine of the entire year, and sometimes that internal deliberation takes a while to complete.

I wrote about some of these wines during the year – some, but not all. If there is already a post about the wine in this Top list, the link to such post will be included. I also include the pricing information where available, but not any of the technical details of the wines or my ratings – the idea is to focus on what made those wines memorable.

Without further ado, here we go:

24. 2013 Domaine de la Vallée du Bras OMERTO Vin Apéritif de Tomate Moelleux Québec ($20) – the tomato wine? Yes, please, any time! This was a delicious treat which nobody could believe can be made out of tomatoes. As you can see , this wine has the vintage designation, so it would be fun to taste a flight and try to pickup the differences. In any case, the wine is reminiscent of a nice Riesling or a Muscat, slightly off-dry style. Try it for yourself!

23. 2012 Kaiken Ultra Malbec Uco Valley, Argentina ($25) – sexy is the word. Layered, seductive, silky smooth. Not sure will get you laid, but worth a try!

22. NV Champagne Emile Leclère Cuvèe Du Bicentenaire ($26) – growers champagne at that price? Thank you WTSO! Toasty, rich, voluptuous – lots of delicious Champagne pleasure in every sip.

21. 2016 Field Recordings Nouveau California ($20?) – It is a rare treat to drink the wine that young and that delicious. Outside of the name, there is nothing really “Nouveau” about this wine – it has enough restrain, but still delivers plenty of succulent, balanced fruit with classic California Pinot Noir flair. Would love to get more of this wine, but I think it was a rare treat for the club members – thank you, Andrew Jones.

 

20. 2011 Masciarelli Marina Cvetić Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva ($28) – “rich and opulent” – describes this wine completely. Dense, smooth, texturally present – drinking this wine is truly a decadent experience.

19. 2014 Maeli Fior d’Arancio DOCG Sweet ($27) – this was a perfect starter to the memorable lunch with Gianluca Bisol. While sweet, the wine was effervescent, elusive and seductive. It would be equally perfect at the end of the meal – albeit if you will be able to find it.

18. 1998 Mauritson Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley California ($31) – love surprises! This was clearly an odd bottle in a tiny liquor shop in Florida, I’m sure forgotten there by some accident. The wine, however, was spectacular – lots of mature fruit, enough freshness and acidity, an abundant pleasure in every sip. Yum!

17. 2014 Attems Pinot Grigio Ramato Venezia Giulia IGT ($18) – it is hard to believe the conversion of somewhat pedestrian Pinot Grigio left in the contact with the skin for 24 hours – onion peel, sapidity, intrigue – definitely the next level of enjoyment.

16. 2013 Borra Vineyards Heritage Field Blend Lodi ($25) – if you love smoke and tar in the wine as much as I do, this is your wine. Spectacular depth, tobacco, tar, dark fruit – this is how delicious power tastes like. I’m so glad about my discovery of the Lodi wines in 2016 – this wine is a great example of what Lodi is capable of.

15. 2015 Henri Cruchon Nihilo La Côte AOC Switzerland (25,00 CHF) – ahh, fresh crunchy fruit, live, succulent, delicious – organic, biodynamic, pure – the wine I would be happy to drink every day.

14. 2013 Carlisle Grüner Veltliner Steiner Vineyard Sonoma Mountain ($30) – if you want summer in the glass, this wine might be it. Perfect balance of fresh fruit and grass, sprinkled with lemon zest. Refreshing and delicious.

13. 1998 Patrick Lesec Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes ($NA) – the barnyard hint on the nose is often polarizing for the oenophiles, but I’m squarely in the “love it!” camp. Add to that touch of barnyard smoke and ripe plums, and you will get a delicious, mature adult beverage. Judging by the wine like this, I need to drink Burgundy way more often (I wish I could). 

This was not easy, but we are done for now. Cheers!

To be continued…

 

Valentine’s Day Wine Experiences

February 19, 2015 15 comments

Valentine's Day wine line upLast week I gave you some recommendations for the wines to serve on Valentine’s Day. Now, let’s see if I followed my own recommendations.

Of course the plan was to start the evening with the Champagne – and then there was a … but. I recently got my hands (told you many times before  – I love my friends) on the very interesting sparkling wine from UK. What was the most interesting for me even before I tried the wine is that it contains one of the extremely difficult to find, rare grapes called Schönburger. As I mentioned last time regarding my quest to complete all the grapes in the original Wine Century Club application, Schönburger was one of those “last standing”, extremely difficult to find grapes – and the Carr Taylor Brut was the only wine containing Schönburger, which Wine-Searcher was able to find pretty much anywhere. In case you are curious, Schönburger is a rose grape created in 1979 in Germany as a cross of Pinot Noir, Chasselas and Muscat Hamburg, As an added bonus, the Carr Taylor Brut contained another grape I never heard of, another cross from Germany called Reichensteiner.

Okay, now that I provided a full disclosure, let’s talk about the wines. NV Carr Taylor Brut Sparkling Wine, England (12% ABV, $35) was an excellent start for the evening. Fine bubbles, very intense, very reminiscent of Champagne. Hint of toasted bread on the nose and may be a touch of almonds. The palate had all the toasted and yeasty notes, packaged together in compact but bright way – the wine had no sweetness, but nevertheless was perceived as a fuller body than a typical Champagne. I would gladly drink this wine again any time – if it would be available in US. Drinkability: 8-

Now it was the time for Champagne – Pierre Peters “Cuvée de Réserve” Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne (12% ABV, $55) – very classic, a hint of brioche on the nose, and nice toasted notes on the palate. Quite honestly, after the first sparkling wine, I wanted a bit more life in the glass – this was clean and fine, but more of the usual. Drinkability: 7+

Our next wine was a white Burgundy. Considering my limited experience with Burgundy, I was concerned if 10 years old wine would hold well (all of you, Burgundy buffs, please stop laughing out there – I’m still learning), so the Valentine’s Day seemed to be quite a good occasion to find out. This 2005 Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard La Romanee, Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru, France (13.5% ABV, $65) was outright delicious – beautiful nose of fresh apples, and then apples and honey on the palate – full bodied, supple, with perfect lingering weight in the mouth – this was really a treat. Too bad it didn’t last – but this was definitely an excellent wine. Drinkability: 8

Time for the reds, don’t you think? Remembering the pleasure of the Antica Terra Ceras Pinot Noir (here is the post in case you missed it), I wanted to try another Pinot Noir from Antica Terra – this time it was 2011 Antica Terra Botanica Pinot Noir Willamete Valley (13.2% ABV, $75). The nose was very similar to the Ceras – cranberries, touch of forest floor, lavender, bright and intense. On the palate, this wine had much bigger shoulders than Ceras. Ceras Pinot Noir need no breathing time – it was ready to drink from the moment the bottle was opened. Botanica needed a bit of time. After about 20 minutes in the glass, it showed its structure, dark concentrated fruit, touch of coffee, earthiness, all with a perfect balance, and again, finesse. Drinkability: 8

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And then there was Opus One. 2001 Opus One Napa Valley (14.2% ABV, $250). Quite honestly, when I learned that we will be opening Opus One, I was a bit concerned. Yes, this is one of the legendary California Cabernet Sauvignon wines, and yet when I tasted it before, I was not blown away. And when you are not visually excited about $250 bottle of wine, you feel that something is wrong with you, don’t you think? Bottle is opened, and wine is poured in the glass. Based on the color, the wine looks like it was bottled only yesterday – dark, very dark garnet. On the nose, the wine was somewhat muted but pleasant – touch of black fruit and eucalyptus. On the palate, the wine was simply closed – and aggressively tannic, with a touch of green brunches on the finish. Well, to the decanter, of course. After about an hour in decanter, the wine definitely changed for the better, showing touch of cassis and coffee notes on the palate – the tannins still stayed, but reduced, and the finish became spicy, peppery if you will – still not leading to the “wow” which you want to find in the bottle like that. Oh well. Drinkability: 7+

As we were waiting for Opus One to come around, another bottle was pulled out – 1996 Robert Sinskey Vineyards RSV Stag’s Leap District Claret Napa Valley  (13.9% ABV, $55). This wine amply compensated for the Opus One shortcomings – in a word, it was delicious. Perfectly young appearance in the glass was supported by the fresh fruit on the nose. And the palate had cassis, touch of mint, mocha, sweet oak, silky smooth tannins, perfectly layered and perfectly balanced. This was Napa Valley Cabernet at its peak, and it was not afraid to show it. Drinkability: 8

Logically (Valentine’s Day!) we had to finish on a sweet note. This was my first experience with Austrian dessert wine, and it was also a first experience with Kracher – I only heard the name before, but never tasted the wines. 2011 Kracher Auslese Cuvée Burgenland, Austria (12% ABV, $22) had everything you want in the dessert wine and nothing you don’t – delicious light honey notes, lychees, vibrant acidity, lemon peel – it was an outstanding way to finish the evening. Drinkability: 8

That is the story of our Valentine’s Day wine experiences. Well, I can’t leave with the wines alone – the food was delicious too, so let me at least share some pictures – I spent time working on them, you know. Here we go:

And we are done here. So, what were your Valentine’s day wine highlights? Cheers!

 

Wine Gifts – A Practical and Pragmatic Guide, Part 3

December 12, 2014 7 comments

Happy HolidaysAnd we are on the finishing stretch! Third and the last installment of the Wine Gifts Guide. We already talked about wines and wine gadgets as two large gift categories. This post will be a bit different from the previous two. If I pressed and pressed the need to be practical and pragmatic when it comes to the wine and wine gadgets, it will be hardly applicable to this last group of potential wine gift recommendations. You will easily see why it is so, and without further ado, let’s get to it.

Here is the last of my list of potential wine-related gifts:

  1. Wine Books. Yes, wine lovers still read books. If anything, we use books as a reference. There are plenty wonderful wine books which will make any aficionado happy – the famous World Atlas of Wine, Wine Grapes Guide, Jura Wine, Food and Travel, and hundreds and hundreds of others. It is hard to go wrong with the book – the only issue might be if the recipient already has the exact same book, so I guess our principle of “practical”, knowing what the other person has, would still come handy. Nevertheless, the wine book would make a great present for the most of the wine lovers.
  2. Wine Education. Wine education is fun, it is almost priceless for the wine aficionado. You can never know it all, and even if you think you do, you will still learn a lot, given the opportunity. There are many wine classes and wine schools offered around the country and I’m sure, the world. Yes, you will need to spend some time to find the reputable wine school and wine educators. But the gift recipient will really appreciate it. For instance, a famous Windows on the World Wine School taught by Kevin Zraly – you can buy a gift certificate for a single class at $125, and the series of the 8 classes would cost $995. Yes, it is a lot of money, but hey, my job is to give you ideas, it is your job to get from the dreams to the reality.
  3. Wine Experiences. Yes, this is a broad category, and it includes a lot of possibilities – but these are the experiences we are talking about. I don’t want to sub-divide this category too much, but you definitely got options. Here are few:
    • Grand Wine Tastings. A ticket to the Boston Wine Festival Gala Dinner will cost about $250 per person. Wine Spectator Grand Tour is $225 per person. You will create memories forever by sending special people in your life to such an event.
    • Wine Master Classes/Dinners/Vertical tasting. If you can score tickets to the event of this kind, they will run about $450 – $600 per person – but hey, I’m sure you have people in your life who are well worth it. Again, guaranteed memories for life.
    • Wine Travel. Send your grown up kids on the 10 days wine tour in Tuscany – I guarantee you will change their life forever. Or – grown up kids, remember how much your parents did for you? Send your parents on the trip of the lifetime while they can still enjoy it! Remember, the best things in life are not things. Collect the experiences and help others do the same.
  4. Wine Art. Similar to the books, I’m sure most of the wine lovers will be happy to get a beautiful painting. Yes, there are lots of options, in all different price ranges. If you live in the US, you can find very nice paintings in your local Home Goods store, where it will cost you $25 – $50. Yes, it will be mass produced art, but I personally own a few of those, and they make me happy when I look at them. But you don’t have to be confined to the home decoration store selection – you can look for the actual artists who creates paintings and other forms of art, all wine related. Here are two references for you – Leanne Laine categorizes herself as “The Women in Wine Artist” – she has a lot of beautiful wine-themed paintings which are available from her website. Another artist I know of, Ryan Sorrell, creates beautiful mosaics from the wine bottle foil tops – here is the link to Ryan’s website. These are just two artists I know of, but I’m sure you will find more artists – and again, I think wine art is a great gift category on par with all others.

Well, believe it or not, but we are done! I don’t have any more wine gift recommendations for you, and this series is over. I only hope that I was able to give you at least a tiny amount of useful information, and if you got a wine lover in your life, your shopping task will be a little bit simpler. If you will find this information useful (and especially if you will not), I would love to hear from you. Happy Holidays and Cheers!

Dangers of Wine Drinking

March 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Nope. It is not what you think. I’m not going to talk about hangovers. I’m not going to talk about alcoholism, not going to talk about fights and any kind of other stupid things you can do when “under influence”. Wine for me associated with life and experiences in that life, and that what I want to talk about.

To be even more precise, consider this post to be simply of a venting nature, as I had my expectations broken. Friday night we had a small get together, and so for that occasion I had a pleasure of thinking about bottle of wine which I want to open. How about Bordeaux? No, I don’t have anything which is the right age. Barolo or Brunello? We are getting together after work, not enough time for the those to breathe. Hmmm, how about California Cabernet? Sounds good, ok. And…yes, I know, 2003 Neyers Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – perfect! That wine it is outstanding, and I’m very happy with my decision. Mind you, the decision process takes place the day before. So the expectations are building. There is anticipation of opening of the special bottle, and it is a happy thought.

And then the special moment comes. The bottle is open. Those of you who already know what I’m going to say, raise your hand. It is corked. It is kind of corked on the mild side, if this makes sense, and you can drink it, but it doesn’t taste right at all. The pleasure is gone. Expectations not fulfilled, and while you are sipping the wine you keep looking for the right taste, hoping your taste buds deceived you on the first sip. This is not the post asking to stop using real corks and switch to screwtops – I’m not convinced that screwtops are right for wine, as they interfere with normal process of aging wine in the bottle. I’m simply talking about experiences and expectations, and how quickly your expectations can fall apart – and instead of elevating the mood, can put you down.

Anyway, this is my rant for today. I still have more of the Neyers bottles left, so I hope the next one will taste as expected – but this time I will be looking for a good surprise, rather than fulfilling the expectations. I’m sure you got the story of your own – and will be glad if you can share it.

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