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Daily Glass: While I Was Out

September 28, 2021 Leave a comment

This September probably was my worst blogging month ever. Whatever the frustrating reasons are, this is not the self-reflection blog (it is, of course, but only for wine, food, and life-related matters), so one thing we are not going to do is an analysis of that “dry period”. However, it was dry only for the words, but not for the wines, so let me share a few of the recent delicious encounters with you.

Let’s start with the 2009 Alban Vineyards Reva Estate Syrah Edna Valley (15.5% ABV), which I opened to celebrate our anniversary. Alban makes some of the very best Rhône-style wines in the USA, and this Reva Syrah didn’t disappoint – beautiful fruit on the nose with a touch of barnyard, layers of red and blue fruit on the palate with spicy, peppery underpinning. Delicious.

Next, we continue with a number of Field Recordings wines. It is no secret that I’m biased toward Field Recordings wines, ever since I discovered them more than 10 years ago (this is the only wine club I belong to). Field Recordings wines don’t cease to amaze with Andrew Jones’ talent to find one-of-a-kind vineyards to make one-of-a-kind wines.

2020 Field Recordings Domo Arigato (Mr. Ramato) Skin Contact Pinot Grigio Central Coast (12% ABV, $25, 52 barrels made)  is skin contact Pinot Grigio, made in Ramato (copper) Italian style. A beautiful complexity on the nose without going overboard, fresh fruit and herbs, clean and unctuous on the palate – when the friend stopped over, we finished the bottle without even noticing. This wine is a blend of Pinot Gris from two sites on the Central Coast, each of which spent a month on the skins and then was aged in the neutral oak barrels.

2019 Field Recordings Festa Beato Farms Vineyard El Pomar District (11.5% ABV, $25, 100% Touriga Nacional, 12 months in Neutral American oak barrels, 6 barrels produced) really surprised me. Touriga Nacional is not the grape California is known for. Also, from my experience with Portuguese wines, Touriga Nacional from the Douro definitely benefits from a long time in oak (I much prefer Douro Reserva over the regular wines), so I opened the Californian rendition without much of the expectations.

Wow. Festa actually means Party in Portuguese, and what a party it was! Wild berries on the nose – wild blueberries and wild strawberries. The same fresh, crunchy, crispy, fresh wild berries on the palate, but well supported by the medium to the full body of the wine and perfectly balanced in and out, creating one delicious mouthfeel. Another wine you can’t stop drinking once you start.

Let’s take a short break from the Field Recordings wines and let’s go visit Washington with the help of 2013 Brian Carter Cellars Byzance Red Wine Blend Columbia Valley (14% ABV, 53% Grenache, 22% Syrah, 17% Mourvedre, 5% Counoise, 3% Cinsault). I got this wine at one of the Last Bottle marathons, going strictly by the region, age, and price – never heard of the producer before. Turns out that Brian Carter had been making wines in Wahington since 1980, and he has a passion for blending – which this wine perfectly demonstrated. In my experience, 8 years is not an age for many Washington wines, so I opened the bottle not without trepidation. To my delight, the wine was simply superb – fresh cherries and blackberries on the nose, ripe cherries, mocha, and dark chocolate on the palate, soft, round, perfectly balanced, exciting, and delicious. And I didn’t need to wait for it even for a second. Pop, pour, enjoy. This is the wine that brings an instant regret with the first sip – why, why I didn’t buy a full case??

This next wine I want to talk about might surprise you, and this is something I very rarely discuss in this blog – it is Sake I want to share with you. As we planned to have sushi for dinner, the family requested sake to drink with it. I stopped at the wine store on my way to pick up sushi, and this Hananomai Sake Jun-Mai-Ginjo (15%-16% ABV) was recommended. What a great recommendation it was! I almost got the point of regretting buying only one bottle, as everyone couldn’t stop drinking it – nicely perfumed, light fruit notes on the palate, delicate and balanced – it perfectly complemented our eclectic selection of the sushi rolls.

And now, back to Field Recordings.

2018 Field Recordings Happy Accident Alicante Bouschet Vignoble Guillaume Jean Paso Robles (11.1% ABV, 10 months in stainless steel, 5 barrels produced) is another atypical California wine – made from the Alicante Bouchet grape. This is one of the few so-called teinturier grapes – red grapes which have not only red skin but also red flesh, thus producing red juice when pressed, without the need for skin contact (famous Georgian Saperavi is another example of the teinturier grape). Alicante Bouschet is a cross between Petit Bouschet and Grenache, and it was widely planted in California during Prohibition and lately increasingly planted in France, as well as in Spain and Portugal. The name of the wine has its own story, which I simply quote from the description I got with the wine club offering email: “Many things can go sideways in the cellar as we are ushering the fermentation along. In most wineries, a surprise visit from brettanomyces to your cellar could be a curse, but in this situation we are celebrating it. The funky wild yeast that is popular in the beer world brings out a signature funk. This signature funk, though, took 5 barrels of Alicante to another level.  As a famous painter once said, there are no mistakes, just happy accidents.

The wine offered an inviting nose of the fresh berries, continuing with tart, the dry mouthfeel of red and black fruit, and medium to full body. I think this wine would well benefit from another 3–4 years in the cellar, but it was quite enjoyable as is right now.

And that concludes our daily glass ride – hope you had some tasty wine discoveries lately!

United In Ink

July 26, 2021 Leave a comment

How about some ink, friends?

Does it sound strange?

In my wine vocabulary, wine is wine. I’ve heard people sometimes referring to wine as “juice” – if this term is used by the winemaker, they definitely have a pass – for the average wine consumers, it sounds a bit disrespectful. But that’s not the point here.

So it appears that the wine can be also referred to as “ink”. I only know of “Ink of Toro”, a different name for the Tempranillo growing in the Toro region in Spain, but otherwise, I never heard this term in conjunction with wine – until now.

When I’m offered the wine for the review, there is always the decision process involved – where the wine is from, do I expect to like it, would I be able to write about it, do I like the label. Labels, yes, let’s talk about labels.

When I got an offer to review new series of wines from Mack and Schuhle called United Ink, the first thing which caught my eye was the labels, cool-looking labels. After reading that wines are from the Pacific Northwest, the region I well respect, and having a previous positive experience with Mack and Schuhle wines, I quickly agreed to taste the wines.

If you look at the labels carefully, it is not only the majestic creatures you can observe – each label also features a variety of stamps:

I tried to find explanations for the label design on the Mack and Schuhle website, but there was nothing offered, so I reached out to the PR agency and got the following answers to my questions:

  • Why United Ink? What is the story/significance/idea behind this name?

The brand concept has to do with championing American viticulture and incorporating symbols including stars, traditional American tattoo art, and the idea of ink as a metaphor for wine

  • Freedom to Choose is written on all labels – what is the idea of this statement?

Freedom to choose great wines instead of the everyday, homogenized, manufactured wines at the everyday price points, not having to pay big $$ for wines of similar quality

  • “Hand made” stamp – any story behind it?

Hand crafted and blended by our winemakers Joe Dobbes and David Forsyth who are well respected in their regions

  • “Guaranteed” mark/stamp attached to all the labels – any reasons for that? The idea behind it?

Guaranteed quality and authenticity is our cornerstone. We used a union stamp to express this contract with our customers/consumers.

The wines themselves were rather an enigma, akin to their mythical counterparts on the labels. With the exception of Riesling which was tasty from the get-go, the three reds didn’t show well initially – to the point of me having doubts if I would be able to write a post about the wines (remember – I don’t write negative reviews). I shared my concerns with the PR agency and got an answer that the wholesaler mentioned that it seems that screw caps somehow play a negative role, causing the wines to dumb down for a few days. This is exactly what happened as you can see from my tasting notes:

2020 United Ink Riesling Columbia Valley (12% ABV, $12)
Straw pale
Intense nose of white peach, white plums, and honey
Tropical fruit, guava, ripe white plums, honey undertone, fresh, good acidity, well balanced.
7+/8-, it appears sweeter than one might want from Riesling, but good balance definitely helps. Should be great with tangy cheese. Excellent with Comte (complements). Excellent with Manchego.
8 over the next 3 days – good balance and lots of pleasure.

2019 United Ink Red Blend Columbia Valley (14.1% ABV, $18, 60% Merlot, 20% Syrah, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Dark garnet, practically black
Cherries, a touch of sapidity, black plums
Tart, tart cherries, nutmeg, salinity, good acidity on the finish, forest underbrush – an unusual expression. Spicy long finish with mouthwatering acidity.
7+, needs time. Was better on the second day.
8-/8 on the 3rd day – astringency disappeared from the finish, the wine became a lot more balanced.

2019 United Ink Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley (14.1% ABV, $18, 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc)
Dark garnet, almost black
Cinnamon, vanilla, sweet tobacco
Sweet tobacco, espresso, and dark chocolate on the palate, blackberries with undertones of the roasted meat. Unusual.
7+ initially
8- on the third day, a hint of cassis, improved balance.

2019 United Ink Pinot Noir Oregon (13% ABV, $22)
Dark Ruby
Plums, anise, a hint of smoke
Plums, smoke, light, appears under-extracted on the first day. A clear cigar profile on the finish.
7+ on the first day – need to see how the wine will evolve.
8 on the day 3 – violets joined plums with a touch of smoke and vanilla, round, well balanced, delicious

Here you are, my friends – the Ink of Pacific Northwest, for your imbibing pleasure. I’m happy the wines came around. If you will come across these wines, remember to decant them for at least 3-4 hours before drinking. Cheers!

Quick Trip Around The World

December 20, 2018 3 comments

Travel might be the biggest joy of human existence. Okay, if not the biggest, it is still one of the most essential ones. Travel leads to new experiences – and experiences are the moments which comprise our lives. I’m sure the joy of travel is not universal, but I’m equally sure that it actually is for the majority of the readers of this blog (hoping that there is at least someone reading it?).

Travel typically requires two things – resources and preparation. Heck, with unlimited resources you need no preparation – you can finish your work day, say “I feel like dining at Le Cinq tomorrow”, have your limo take you directly to the airport and off you go. For many of us, this would be just a scene from the movies – which doesn’t make it impossible, right?

For most of us, successful and happy travel would require a bit more effort – find the deal on the airfare, find the deal on the hotel, find out that your passport expired just a week before you need to get on the flight, then listen to the boss complaining that you are leaving without finishing all your important tasks, finally, throwing everything you need but mostly what you don’t into the suitcase 30 minutes before leaving for the airport and starting your so long anticipated travel totally exhausted. More or less, this is the picture, right?

Then every once in a while, there is something even the unlimited funds can’t buy. Time, I’m talking about. When you finish work at 6 in New York, there is no way to be in Madrid in time for dinner. This is where you need a magic trick – and I can offer you one. Actually, you don’t need any magic to travel instantly to many different places – all you need is … well, I’m sure you know it is coming … yes, all you need is wine. The wine has this capacity. Once you look at the label and see it says France, Spain or California, your imagination can easily do the rest. A well-made wine has a sense of place, so once you take a sip, you are instantly transported to the place where wine was made. And if you ever visited the winery or the region where the wine came from, I’m sure you can be instantly overwhelmed with the emotions and memories. No, it is not the same as simply been there, but I’m sure it will still do the trick.

Bodegas Godelia Compra Online

Bierzo, Spain. Source: Bodegas Godelia website

Let’s take wine and let’s travel – how about a quick trip around the world? Let’s start in Spain, in the region called Bierzo, located in the North East part of Spain, close to the Portuguese border. As with many places in the old world, the viticulture originated in the region in the times of the Roman empire. Today, Bierzo is best known for the red wines made out of the grape called Mencía, and Godello and Doña Blanca are the two primary white grapes in the region. Bierzo is known for its special microclimate, conducive for the grape growing, which can be characterized as the continental climate with ocean influence. Bierzo has today about 2,000 grape growers, 75 wineries, and produced about 9 million bottles of wine in 2017.

Two wines I want to offer to your attention come from the Bodegas Godelia, about 86 acres estate in Bierzo. The winery was created in 2009, however, their vineyards are much older, from 20 to 90 years old, depending on the grapes, and located at the altitudes of 1,600 to 2,000 feet.

2015 Bodegas Godelia Blanco Bierza DO (13.5% ABV, $17, 80% Godello, 20% Doña Blanca)
C: light golden
N: intense, pear, guava,
P: lemon, honeysuckle, crisp acidity, medium + body, delicious
V: 8-

2012 Bodegas Godelia Mencia Bierzo DO (14.5% ABV, $19, 12 months in oak)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: warm, inviting, medium+ intensity, a touch of barnyard, spices
P: cherries, baking spices, medium body, violets
V: 7+ on the 2nd day, needs time. Mencia is known to produce massive, chewy wines, so this wine is no exception. 6 years of age is nothing for this wine – it might start opening up after at least another 6.

Tuscany

Hills of Tuscany. Source: Barone Ricasoli website

Where should we go after Spain? How about Italy? Let’s visit Tuscany, where 2015 vintage was simply outstanding. Of course, Tuscany is best known for its Chianti wine. At the heart of the Chianti region lays a much smaller region called Chianti Classico – this is where the Chianti wines historically originated from. Inside Chianti Classico, let’s look for the winery called Barone Ricasoli – one of the very first producers in the region, taking its history since 1141. Barone Ricasoli property has a grand looking castle, where some of the stones are still original since 1141, 600 acres of vineyards and 65 acres of olive trees. While Barone Ricasoli is mostly known for the reds, they also produce a few of the white wines, a Rosato, grappa, and of course, the olive oil.

I want to offer you two of the classic Chianti wines from the Chianti Classico area (pun intended):

2015 Barone Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico DOCG (13.5% ABV, $18, 80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
C: Garnet
N: Tar, leather, sandalwood, tart cherries
P: Tart cherries, plums, clean acidity, sage, a touch of tobacco, medium plus body, good structure.
V: 8, was excellent from the get-go, got more complexity on the second day.

2015 Barone Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG (14% ABV, $23, 80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
C: Dark garnet
N: Cherry, Sage, Rosemary, leather, medium plus intensity.
P: Supple berries, tart cherries, firm structure, young tannins, a touch of tobacco, good acidity, tannins on the finish
V: 8, great potential. Right now needs food. While perfectly drinkable now, with time will become a truly delicious sip.

Languedoc image

Languedoc. Source: Languedoc-wines.com

We need to complete our old world portion of the tour, so I think the stop in France is a must. How about a quick visit with Paul Mas in Languedoc? Languedoc is the largest wine producing region in France, located in the south, producing a tremendous range of white, sparkling, Rosé and, for the most part, red wines. Domaines Paul Mas is one of my favorite producers I have written about many times. What I love about the wines of Domaines Paul Mas is that you literally can’t go wrong with any of the wines produced at the domain – Sparkling, Rosé, white or reds. Not only the wines taste great, but they are also priced very reasonably – Paul Mas wines saved my wallet at the restaurants on multiple occasions, so they definitely deserve some respect. Here are the wines I want to bring to your attention:

2016 Paul Mas Estate Single Vineyard Collection Chardonnay Saint Hilaire Vineyard Pays d’Oc (13.5% ABV, $12.99)
C: Light golden color
N: Meyer lemon aromatics, hint of white peach, Bosc pear
P: Crisp, tart lemon on the palate, ripe Granny Smith apples, clean, refreshing. Good mid-palate presence, medium finish.
V: 8-, very good.

2016 Paul Mas Estate Single Vineyard Collection Pinot Noir Saint Hilaire Vineyard Pays d’Oc (13.5% ABV, $12.99)
C: Dark ruby
N: Fresh raspberries and cherries on the nose
P: Soft, supple, fresh berries, crisp, fresh, perfect acidity, excellent
V: 7+/8-

2016 Paul Mas Estate Single Vineyard Collection Malbec Saint Hilaire Vineyard Pays d’Oc (13.5% ABV, $12.99, 90% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc))
C: Dark garnet
N: Fresh raspberries and blackberries in the nose, nicely inviting
P: Soft, supple, fresh berries, crisp, fresh, perfect acidity, excellent
V: 8-

How is your day going so far? Feel like traveling somewhere? How about we will take a trip to sunny California? California is a big place, so to narrow it down we are actually heading to the Santa Barbara County. Here is a perfect example of the wine being a connector and an instant transporter – as soon as I hear “Santa Barbara County”, the brain instantly serves up the memories of the first Wine Bloggers Conference I attended, WBC14, which took place in Santa Barbara County. Moreover, one of the best experiences of that trip was a visit to the small town of Solvang, which is an incredible place for any wine lover. While visiting Solvang, we tasted the wines produced by Lucas and Lewellen – thus seeing that name on the label was an instant memory trigger.

The wine I want to offer to your attention today is perfectly representative of the capabilities of the Santa Barbara County wine growing region, and at the same time is very non-typical for California. Lucas and Lewellen produce the line of wines under the name of Toccata, which are all Italian varieties and blends, all grown in California. This Toccata Classico was a perfect enigma – varietally correct Tuscan beauty, only made from start to finish in California. In a blind tasting, my guess 100% would be “Chianti!”.

2015 Lucas & Lewellen Toccata Classico Santa Barbara County (14.1% ABV, $29, 50% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Freisa, 5% Petit Verdot, 18 months in French Oak, 346 cases produced)
C: Garnet
N: Fresh cherries, touch a leather, medium+ intensity
P: Ripe cherries on the palate, bright, firm structure, fresh, crunchy, touch of leather, excellent complexity, nicely integrated tannins
V: 8+, an excellent rendition of the old world wine in the new world.

vista trinidad ventisquero

Trinidad Vineyard, Chile. source: Viña Ventisquero website

Hurry up or we will be late for our last destination – Chile. About 25 years ago, Chile was mostly known as a “one-trick pony”, offering bargain-priced Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay. Today, Chile is one of the leading wine producing countries in the world, offering a substantial range of perfectly executed wines, from Chile’s own trademark, Carménere, to Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache, and many others.

Today we are visiting Viña Ventisquero, the winery which started only 20 years ago, in 1998, and now offering a diversified set of wines, coming from the different regions and made with the finest attention to detail.

Vina Ventisquero

2017 Viña Ventisquero Grey Glacier Single Block Apalta Vineyard Valle de Colchagua (14% ABV, $18, 62% Garnacha, 19% Carinena, 19% Mataro, 6 months in French oak)
C: Ruby
N: Fresh raspberries, medium plus intensity, beautiful
P: Restrained, dark fruit, medium body, minerality, clean acidity, tart raspberries
V: 8-

2014 Viña Ventisquero Grey Glacier Carménere Trinidad VIneyard Maipo Valley (14% ABV, $19, 18 months in French oak)
Dark garnet
A perfect nose of Carménere – mix black currant berries with blackcurrant leaves
Medium to full body, soft, silky, fresh blackcurrant present, anis, good acidity, good balance, very pleasant overall
8/8+, excellent wine

That concludes our trip, my friends. Wasn’t it easy to travel with wine, in the comfort of your living room? Cheers!

New and Noteworthy: Few Spanish Wine Recommendations

May 12, 2016 9 comments

I’m an eternal optimist, for sure – I keep creating new “series” of the posts (like the one you now see in the title – New and Noteworthy) in the hope that I will remember to use it all the time. Well, I had or still have a number of series in this blog, but very few of them are current ongoing. Will see what will happen with this one. Here is the idea behind this series: I do get to taste many of the newly released wines, some of them are samples, some are not; the wines which I like I intend to share with you in this series of posts. ‘Nuf said, let’s go.

CVNE winesMy love affair with Rioja started after tasting of the beautiful line up of Viña Real, CVNE and Imperial Rioja (all essentially produced by CVNE), all the way up to the 1964. They were all delicious red wines. For the long time Rioja associated for me only with the red wines, until I tasted Lopez de Heredia Blanco and Rosato, both being about 15 years old and delicious. This is how I discovered that Rioja actually is not only red wines. My next discovery of Rioja white wines was Rioja Monopole (100% Viura), which (to my shame) is produced since 1915 – well, “live and learn” (or “better late than never”, whatever you prefer to comfort yourself). And few years ago I also encountered the Rioja Rosato – so now I definitely know that Rioja is a lot more than just delicious reds.
Recently I had an opportunity to taste the latest releases of few of the white and Rosé wines from Spain, not only from Rioja but also from few other regions, and I want to share those wines with you. I don’t know if this is luck, or if I lost all of my taste buds already, but I liked all the wines I tasted – below you will see my tasting notes on the 6 wines, and I would gladly recommend all 6 to you. As a bonus, all 6 are also a great value (under $20). Well, you will be the judge once you will have an opportunity to taste these wines.

Cune Monopole Rioja2015 CVNE Monopole Rioja (13% ABV, SRP: $13, 100% Viura) – the oldest continuously produced white wine in Rioja, starting from 1915. I didn’t realize this was a 100th vintage (assuming there was no break in production years).
C: straw pale
N: beautiful white fruit with tropical fruit nuances, lemon, intense
P: clean, crisp and round at the same time – is it possible?, white stone fruit, medium to full body, refreshing, nice acidity on the finish
V: 8-, this wine would brighten up any summer day

Bodega Berroia Bizkaiko Txakolina2014 Bodega Berroia Bizkaiko Txakolina DO (12% ABV, $19, 85% Hondarrabi Zuri, 10% Riesling, 5% Folle Blanche, Vegan) – Txakoli is dangerously looking but actually easy to pronounce (just say “Cha-Coh-Lee”) wine coming from the Basque country in Spain. My first encounter with Txakoli was about 8 years ago – it is a clean and refreshing wine, perfect all year around and especially in summer. Similar to many other Spanish whites, it didn’t make it in the US in any major way, but you can still find some of the Txakoli wines in the wine stores – and they well worth your attention.
C: Straw pale
N: concentrated, intense, inviting, touch of peach, candied fruit
P: fresh, undertones of candied fruit but with dry core. Somehow reminiscent of grapefruit, but without much sweetness of bitterness. Medium body and intriguing, leaves you with a sense of mystery which is hard to grasp.
V: 8-/8, excellent and dangerous. Once you start drinking it, it is hard to stop.

Cune Rioja Rosado2015 CVNE Rosado Rioja (13.3% ABV, SRP: $13, 100% Tempranillo) – shhh, don’t tell anyone, this was my favorite wine out of the group – but it is a secret.
C: Dark, concentrated pink, bright fresh cranberry juice level
N: intense, floral, with fresh berries and the leaves – imagine smelling the raspberries right on the brunch with leaves on a hot summer day
P: wow, crunchy strawberries and cranberries which just plop in your mouth as you bite them. Clean acidity, super refreshing and every sip is asking for the next.
V: 8+/9-, outstanding, one of the very best Rosé I ever tasted.

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Viña Real Rosado2015 Viña Real Rosado Rioja (13% ABV, SRP: $15, 85% Viura, 15% Tempranillo) – you don’t need my comments here – Viña Real needs no introduction to Rioja wine lovers.
C: orange onion peel
N: very restrained, hint of herbs
P: ripe strawberries, good acidity, medium body, unusual. Second day: delicious, round, refreshing, cohesive. Just needed to let it breeze
V: 7+, need to try again to make up my mind. Second day: 8-, excellent, clean, good fruit presence and perfectly refreshing

acienda de Arínzano Rosè2015 Hacienda de Arínzano Rosè Tempranillo Pago de Arínzano (13.5% ABV, SRP $19.99, 100% Tempranillo) – Pago is the highest denomination for wine quality in Spain, above DOC, and it is not easy to achieve it. You can think of Pago as single winery becoming its own appellation – as Arínzano is in our case. What is also interesting about this wine is that it comes from the Tempranillo vineyard which is designated for the production of the Rosé wine, so Rosé here is the goal, not an afterthought.
C: bright pink, beautiful
N: inviting, herbal notes, strawberries, fresh
P: outstanding. Soft, polished, fresh strawberries, excellent balance, lip smacking delicious, medium body.
V: 8, excellent wine, easy to drink with perfect balance.

Laguardia de Viña Real2012 Laguardia de Viña Real Crianza Rioja (13.5% ABV, $12.99, 100% Tempranillo) – can’t leave you without a red, can’t I? Viña Real Rioja Crianza is one of my favorite wines, and it is also one of the best value wines for about $15 or under (depending on where you shop). I never had, however, Laguardia de Viña Real, so was definitely interested in trying this wine when I saw it in the store.
Once I poured it in the glass and took sip, I was not happy. The wine was rather lean and biting, not what Viña Real usually offers in the glass. I decided to decant it, and then after about two and a half hours, the magical Rioja showed up.
C: dark garnet
N: eucalyptus, cigar box, cherries
P: fresh fruit, herbs, sweet oak, medium to full body, well noticeable acidity
V: 8- (after decanting), very nice wine, but give it 5 years or so.

We are done here – let me know if you tried any of the wines I mentioned above and what you think of them. Cheers!

3 Sensual Reds For Your Valentine’s Day

February 13, 2016 12 comments

As the Valentine’s day is getting closer, I want to succumb to the popular trend and offer you some wine recommendations for that special overcommercialized-pink-hearts-everywhere-please-buy-at-least-something holiday.

Any day is what we chose to make out of it – including the holidays. What I like about Valentine’s day is that if anything, it is a celebration of love – and that I support wholeheartedly.

Are there special wines which are better suited to celebrate love and romance? Of course, however, I don’t have in mind any wines with special aphrodisiac qualities, or anything which will make one magically more desirable after staffing oneself with 32 oz of hearty porterhouse stack. Instead, I want to talk about sensual wines.

What is a sensual wine? First of all, this is the wine of impeccable balance and harmony – fruit, acidity and tannins are perfectly present and well noticeable, but everything is precisely weaved together, nothing sticks out, you just want to say “wow” after each and every sip. It is the wine which has luscious mouthfeel, it rolls of effortlessly, offering layers and layers of pleasure. But every sip still holds a mystery which makes you want to know “what is next”, it is like work of an artist which gives you just enough curves to let your imagination go wild. It is so easy, effortless to drink that you simply can’t put the glass down, as every sip leaves you desire for more. A beautiful foreplay, if you will.

Of course the truth is in the eye of the beholder, and if you tired of me talking nonsense, feel free to click away. However, if you will allow me, I will be glad to recommend three of such wines to extend the pleasure of your Valentine’s Day. As an added bonus I want to mention that you will not need to break the bank to get either one of these wines.

Let me start with 2012 Kaiken Ultra Malbec Uco Valley, Argentina. When I tasted this wine for the first time, I was blown away by the silky layers, succulent fruit and perfect balance; I couldn’t find better way to describe this wine than to call it “sexy” – this is a perfect example of the sensual wine.

Sensual wine number 2 is 2011 Emiliana Coyam Colchagua Valley, Chile. Very similar to the previous wine, it is velvety, smooth and layered. And mind-blowing. The fruit is bright and clean, and delivered with a tight core of round tannins; overall, a perfectly playful wine.

Third sensual wine I want to recommend is 2013 Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon. Of course Oregon is a world power when it comes to Pinot Noir. Talking about Oregon Pinot, I would typically use terms such as “powerful”, “thought-provoking”, of course “elegant” is quite appropriate too. However, “sensual” would be a perfect descriptor for this Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot. Abundance of the fruit and berries which are rarely found together in one glass – cranberries, strawberries, blueberries, all clean, vibrant, layered, polished and practically effervescent. Ultimately seductive, as you can’t put the glass down until every drop is savored out of that bottle. As sensual as the wine can be.

Here we go, my friends – a few recommendations to make your Valentine’s Day even more romantic and yes, sensual. Cheers!

Spanish Wine Recommendations, Part 1 – Wines under $20

March 24, 2015 23 comments

List, list, list – who doesn’t like to make lists? Especially the lists of your favorites, where you basically regurgitate something familiar, and you can happily stumble on each and every entry, basking in the happy memories for a moment or three. Yep. That’s the wine list I’m talking about, people. Nope, not the restaurant wine list (that one more often than not is only a source of frustration) – the list of your favorite wines it is.

A short while ago, I was asked by one of the readers for some Spanish wine recommendations. Spanish wines as a group are probably my most favorite, so I happily engaged in the e-mail conversations. After few e-mail exchanges, I got the idea – how about I would simply create a list – a list of Spanish wines I would gladly recommend? Yep, I liked the idea, hence the post which I’m presenting to you.

Before we start, let me clarify a few things. First, I will split this list into the 3 parts – wines under $20, wines from $20 to $50, and the last one will be from $50 onward, with no limitations – no, Spanish wines can’t really compete with Petrus or DRC, but there are some wines there which would clearly require an expense account or lots and lots of passion. Another important note is that I will bring to your attention particular wines from the particular wineries – but for the most cases, without specifying the particular vintages – I tried absolute majority of recommended wines throughout the years, and wines had been always consistent, hence they are on the list. Ahh, and one more thing – I will not be trying to make balanced recommendation – the wines will be heavily skewed towards the reds – sorry about it. Okay, let’s get to it.

While I promised to focus on the reds, I have a few perennial favorites among Spanish whites which I have to mention.

White  Wines:

Bodegas La Cana Albariño – the wine is more round than a typical Albariño, with lesser acidity, but it is nevertheless delicious. Typically around $15.

Botani Moscatel Seco DO Sierras de Malaga – incredible aromatics followed by the dry, perfectly balanced body. One of my favorite summer wines. Around $16

Bodegas Angel Rodriguez Martinsancho Verdejo Rueda – might be the best Verdejo in Spain from a small artisan producer. Wonderfully complex. Around $16

Red Wines:

Let’s start with Rioja. Believe it or not, but good Rioja is hard to find in this price category, so here are few names which I know are consistent:

Bodegas LAN Rioja – one of the best values in Rioja, typically at $12 or less. Consistent, round, balanced. Not going to blow your mind – but not going to disappoint either. A perfect party wine too – often available in magnums.

CVNE Vina Real Rioja Crianza – outstanding introductory level Rioja from one of the best Rioja producers. Once you try it, you wouldn’t want to drink anything else. Typically around $15.

Grupo Olarra Bodegas Ondarre Reserva Rioja – soft and round, with nice brightness and acidity. A great introduction into the Rioja wines. Around $15.

Continuing with Tempranillo, here are a few more recommendations:

Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero DO – Ribera del Duero is a source of powerful, clean 100% Tempranillo wines – but there are practically none available for under $20. Emilio Moro is a happy exception at around $18. Layered wine with broad shoulders. Great introduction into the Ribera del Duero region.

Viña Mayor Reserva Ribera del Duero DO – another excellent Tempranillo rendition from Ribera del Duero – dark, concentrated and polished. Can be found under $20.

Bodegas Ochoa Tempranillo Crianza Navarra – Tempranillo is the most planted red grape in Spain, so of course the wines are made everywhere. This wine is an excellent rendition of Tempranillo – round, polished, with nice fruit and traditional tobacco notes. Around $16.

Bodegas Volver Volver Red Wine DO La Mancha – another Tempranillo rendition, this one simply bursting with raw power. Powerful, brooding, very muscular wine – which is a great pleasure to drink at the same time. Around $16.

Here comes another darling of the Spanish red wine grapes – Garnacha, a.k.a. Grenache in the rest of the world.

Bodegas Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha DO Campo de Borja – one of the best red wines you can buy overall for $12. Simple and delicious.

Alvaro Palacios Camins del Priorat, Priorat DOCa – okay, this is a Garnacha blend, but considering that this wine comes from Priorat, one of the most exclusive winemaking regions in Spain, you should hardly complain. An excellent introduction into the region – dialed back red fruit and mineral complexity. Around $15.

And the last from the best known traditional Spanish varietals – Monastrell, a.k.a. Mourevdre in the rest of the world.

Bodegas Luzón Luzón Red Wine, DO Jumilla – simple, fruity, approachable, and nicely balanced. Almost an exception in this list at about $10.

Bodegas Carchelo Carchelo “C” Red Wine, DO Jumilla – a blend of Monastrell, Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon. After my first encounter with this wine I coined the term “dangerous wine” (or at least I think this was the wine) – what makes this wine dangerous is the fact that after the very first sip you can’t stop until the bottle is empty. Perfect balance of fruit and power. Around $15.

Torres Atrium Merlot, Penedes – as a fun fact, did you know that Torres is the biggest wine producer in Spain? Well, this might not be a fair recommendation, but still. I had this wine only once, but it was extremely memorable. The recommendation might be not fair as I’m not sure you can get it in the store – in Connecticut, it reserved for the restaurants only. I had it in Florida in a restaurant for $26, and if you will be able to buy it in the store, it would be around $12. If you can find it anywhere – go for it, as the wine is simply stunning, with or without taking the price into account.

Before we part, one more note. Outside of well-known grape varieties, such as Tempranillo, Garnacha and Monastrell, don’t be afraid to take the risk with lesser known Spanish varietals in the under $20 range. Look for the white wines made from Godello, or the reds made from Mencia, Bobal, Trepat and the others – there is a good chance you will not be disappointed.

And we are done! I was not trying to give you a comprehensive list – theses are all my favorites, you can just print this post and go to your local wine store, if you feel inclined, and then we can compare notes. The next post will cover wines in the $20 – $50 range – there are lots of treats there, my mouth starts watering as soon as I start thinking about those.

To be continued…

Wine Gifts – A Practical and Pragmatic Guide

December 10, 2014 9 comments

Happy Holidays Wine Gifts. I see a smirk on your face – come on, there are millions of advice shared already, by millions of people – aren’t we had enough? Yes, I hear you – but before you click away, give me a few seconds to explain myself.

I generally resist the urge to write holiday wine recommendations and wine-related gift guides, primarily for the reason that I’m sure the plentiful advice is available, coming from all possible sources – wine catalogs, wine writers, bloggers, magazine columns and so on. And I also often think “I already wrote about it – why again?”. To my surprise, it appears that I have never written a Wine Gifts post in this blog. I swear I had it in my head numerous number of times – but apparently, it never made it out of it. So that gives me a justification to write this post, and share my views on the wine gifts. That and an upcoming Off The Vine Radio talk show segment with yours truly, where we will be talking exactly about the subject of wine gifts on Friday, December 19th.

Before we get to the details of my view on the wine gifts, let me make a few things clear. First of all, if you just need a random wine present for the person you only have to get the gift for, but don’t care about for real, you can stop reading this post right now – I’m sharing my personal viewpoint on the gifts for the wine lovers you actually care about. Now, with that disclaimer in mind, did you notice the words which appear in the title – “pragmatic” and “practical”? I really mean it, so again, please allow me to explain. Let’s start with “pragmatic“, and let me give you an example. I don’t know how many of you aware of Laguiole steak knives, but they are beautifully designed and perfect for the job of both enhancing the aesthetic pleasure of dinner and actually cutting the meat. If you buy them from the catalog, you will pay in the US roughly $200 for the set of 6. If you go to the Home Goods store in the US, you can find (yes, you have to look for them, they are not always available) the same knives for under $20. Did you get my point? No, I’m not asking you to be frugal with your dear friends – if you can afford to present someone with the bottle of Screaming Eagle, by all means, go ahead and do it. But at the very least, you have to know what you are paying for and you should go after the good quality at the price which makes sense to you, not at the price you think you need to pay to feel good about your present.

Now, the second word, “practical“, is probably even more important. You will make the best present if you will have an idea of what your gift recipient actually wants, or at the very least, needs. Nobody needs the 15th bottle opener, 56th cork stopper or an Estate Bottle Opener which will force the gift recipient to make a decision – keep a microwave in the kitchen or through it out to install that Estate Opener thingy on that counter. Also, to make the gift practical, measure it up for yourself – would you like to receive it? If you don’t believe that bottle icicle is a good idea, don’t give it to someone only because you don’t have any better ideas. Make it practical, make it useful. Capeesh? Now, let’s talk about wine gifts.

Ahh, sorry, one more note – I don’t want to make this post super-long, so instead of trying to sketch it and somehow lump all together, I will split it out into a series of a few posts. Now we are done with all the disclaimers, so let’s get to it.

Wine Isle

Let’s start with the most obvious – Wine. This is the most obvious, but not a straightforward present. All depends on your budget and the taste of the recipient. If someone hates Chardonnay, you better know about it in advance. If someone is dreaming about that special Burgundy bottle, you better know about it. Knowledge is power, as you will be able to make the best gift. Wine is actually one of the few presents where you don’t need to worry if the person already has the same bottle – two bottles of Chateau Lafite are always better than one. But even if you don’t know exactly what the other person want, don’t despair – there are a few strategies you can use. Let’s look at your choices again.

  1. Wine, when you know what the other person wants. The easiest case, as we said. If current vintage of the wine is readily available, go to the store and buy it. If the vintage is not current or the wine is not available, start from the wine-searcher – it will help you to locate your wine at one of the online retailers. If you are looking for the collectible or an old wine, your best bet is a reputable retailer. I wouldn’t buy it on eBay, but rather look online at the store like Benchmark Wine Company (you can find all the relevant links on my site in the section “buying wine”. Or ask the person at your local store – you never know what you can find in your local store – remember that not all the wines are put out on the shelf. Don’t be afraid to ask.
  2. When you don’t know the exact wine the other person wants. Now, if you know general preferences, do your research online or go to your local store. Don’t be afraid to surprise the person. If someone likes Cabernet Sauvignon wines, you don’t have to buy only California or only Bordeaux. Look for the other regions and countries – Argentina, Australia, Chile, South Africa, sometimes Italy and even Spain can be a source of wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon wines. However, if you don’t want to take the risk of gifting the wrong bottle, there are still more options.
    1. Go by the special date. Know a person’s birth year? Anniversary date? The date the kids were born? Aware of any other date which has a special meaning for the recipient? This might be your best solution! Wine-searcher might be a great tool for you, as you can simply type in just the vintage and hit search – you will get a full list of what wines are available, and where. This will not work for the current vintages, of course, but if you will put in something like 1984 or 1995, your selection will be quite manageable. And – don’t be afraid to miss the mark – an old wine will serve more as a memento, and even if it doesn’t taste amazing, it will still be greatly appreciated. But again, don’t be afraid – you will be surprised how good some of the old wines are. I recently had 1966 Pinot Noir from California, and it was outstanding…
    2. Buy a mixed set. Within your budget, get a few different bottles. Get creative – go for the different regions, do a mixed case of white and red, buy a few different wines from the same producer. With the mixed set, first of all, I’m sure the recipient will greatly appreciate the thought, and there is a good chance that the person will like at least some of the wines. But – beware of the pre-packaged wine gift sets. If you know the wines in the set – go for it. If you just see a random set in the store, don’t get it without the recommendation of the store clerk you know and trust. Very often, wineries would package together wines which sell well and the wines which don’t sell at all.
    3. Get a gift set from the winery. Have your favorite winery? Check if they are offering the gift sets with the direct delivery to the recipient – I know that a lot of wineries in California, and I’m sure other states, are offering beautifully packaged special wine sets. It might be a touch expensive, but if you are willing to pay, this might be a present which will be remembered for a long time.
    4. Give a gift of the Wine Clubs. If you don’t know what the other person wants, give a gift of the wine club! Many wine clubs, like an International Wine of the Month Club, will allow you to get a fixed duration subscription – not sure about 1 month, but you can do a three-month subscription. There are of course many other choices – again, do the research online. But – I don’t recommend the newspaper clubs, like Wall Street Journal, New York Times and so on – their wine selection generally sub-par. Don’t forget that many wineries are offering their club subscriptions, and so do many wine stores and online retailers.
    5. The Wine Store Gift Certificate. This sounds like a last resort, but it might be an excellent choice too! Unless you are strictly against giving money as a gift for the holidays, a gift certificate will allow the recipient to enjoy your gift twice – first time when receiving it, and then the second time when using it to buy the wines of her choice.

If the wine itself is your gift, I hope I gave you some useful choices, so let me stop now. But – we are not done. There are plenty more wine-related gifts to be considered, therefore, I’m not saying good bye. To be continued…

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