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Posts Tagged ‘wine tasting’

Let Your Palate Lead The Way

October 19, 2020 1 comment

Wine can be intimidating.

Scrap that.

Wine is intimidating.

I’m always the first to disagree with the exact words I just wrote, but go watch the movie Somm, and tell me if you agree. Don’t have time to watch the movie? Go read about the German wine quality system, and then try to explain it to someone. Yes, wine is intimidating.

And no, it is really not.

If you are on a quest for the world’s most coveted wine expert title, such as the Master Sommelier – thinking of wine will keep you up at night. But if you want to casually enjoy a glass of wine, there is nothing intimidating about it.

Wine is simple. Wine is binary. You either like it or not. There is nothing else to it.

All you need to learn about the wine is to … trust your palate. Let your palate lead the way. It can be unnecessarily difficult, as humans generally are easily intimidated and influenced – “everyone likes it!”, “I paid $100 for this bottle”, “the experts said it was the vintage of the century”, “there were only 500 bottles produced”, yada, yada, yada. And nevertheless, the wine is personable, the wine is individual, it is only you who can tell if you like the wine or not – no matter what anyone else thinks or says. If you will learn to trust your palate, the intimidation will be gone out of wine at that very moment.

The best (and possibly the only) way to deal with this intimidation is through the blind tasting. When you are presented with a random glass of wine, you have no options but just to form your own opinion – swirl, sniff, sip, spit, repeat – say whatever you want, but all the external influences are out. It will be your own palate which will tell you “yeah, can I have more, please”, or “never again”. The value of the blind tasting goes even further than just conquering the wine intimidation – it also helps to deal with preconceived notions. Do you have a friend who keeps saying at every occasion “boy, I hate Chardonnay, how much I hate it”? Now imagine that person praising the delicious wine in their glass, only to find out that that was that exact Chardonnay they thought is the worst wine ever? In the wine world, blind tasting is the ultimate judge and jury, and your palate is all you got to rely on – and thus you have to simply trust it, as you are you.

Learning with and about your palate is not necessarily simple. Yes, you can go to the store, get a bunch of wine and create your own blind tasting – but it might be difficult not to cheat, right? How about leaving that arrangement to the professionals? Cue in the Palate Club.

Palate Club offers an opportunity to learn about your palate through the blind tasting – and then use that knowledge to find the wines which might better match your preferences. The way it works is this. You start by ordering a tasting kit. You can start with the red or white wines, and the cost of the kit at the moment of this writing is $49. The kit arrives neatly packed in the box, with 4 half-size bottles (375 ml) wrapped and numbered.

The next thing to do is to download the Palate Club app on your phone, install it, and create your profile. Once you have done that, you are ready to discover your palate’s wine preference. After you taste the bottle, you need to rate it using the app. The process is very simple as you have to rate the wine between the 1 and 5 stars. Once you rate the wine, you get a page with all the information about that particular wine. Once you will rate all four wines in your set, you will get your initial wine palate profile.

In your palate profile, you will find characteristics such as oak, fruitiness, acidity, and other – along with explanations for the numbers in your palate profile. Every time you will rate another bottle, the values in your profile will change accordingly – what you see below in the picture, are the new values after I rated the wine number 5. Right on your profile page, you will also receive recommendations for the wines to try. As palate Club is a wine club, you can also sign up for the regular wine deliveries which will be based on your preferences.

Blind tastings are always fun – and I never do too well in them. For what it worth, below are my notes and the names of actual wines – you can see that I got ways to go to work on my blind tasting skill:

#1: California Pinot? Plums, smoke, medium to light body. Touch of an alcohol burn (wine: 2014 Pinot Noir Carneros)

#2: Not sure. syrah? Clean acidity, nice round fruit, Rutherford dust, good power. California Cab? (wine: 2015 Côtes du Rhône Réserve)

#3: Chianti? Nice cherries, needs a bit more body. I would rate it 3.5… why is that never a thing? (wine: 2014 Chianti Classico)

#4: California Cab or Cab blend? Dark fruit, baking spices, good acidity, round tannins. A touch of the alcohol burn, similar to the first wine (wine: 2015 Mendocino Zinfandel)

Now, let’s go back to the major point of this post – trusting your own palate to avoid intimidation by the bottle of wine. Would the Palate Club help you reach this goal? In my honest opinion – yes. Of course, the profile which you create has limited value outside of the Palate Club, as outside of the Palate Club nobody rates fruitiness and tannins of the wine on the 100 points scale. However, the fact that you can get your friends together and play with your wines and learn your wine liking and not liking is really something to appreciate and enjoy. Blind tasting holds the ultimate wine truth, and with the palate Club’s help, you can uncover it – and learn a thing or two about your own palate. I think this is a win-win. What do you think?

Tre Bicchieri 2020: A Mixed Bag

March 4, 2020 5 comments

Tre Bicchieri is the highest distinction awarded to the Italian wine by the popular Italian wine guide, Gambero Rosso. About 45,000 wines are reviewed annually by the team of wine professionals, and about 1% of those wines (465 in 2020) receive the right to put coveted sticker depicting three wine glasses (Tre Bicchieri) on their wine bottles – if they so desire, of course.

Every year these best wines are presented around the world in the series of wine tasting events. I attended Tre Bicchieri tasting in New York which was one of the stops in this annual extravaganza.

I always make an effort to attend the Tre Bicchieri tastings – it is a great opportunity to taste the wines which at least someone considers to be the best Italy can produce. This tasting is typically quite overwhelming with more than 200 wineries, some of them presenting not 1, but 2 or even 3 wines, 4 hours, and a very constrained space with lots of people roaming around. 2020 event included 204 wineries – even with 1 wine per winery, you would have to taste one wine per minute to be able to taste them all – and this is only assuming that all wineries show only one wine, which is mostly not the case.

I always complain about the organization of this event – instead of grouping the wineries by the region, they are all grouped by the distributor. I’m sure this simplifies the logistics for exhibitors, but this doesn’t help attendees even for a bit. Another gripe is that you are given one single glass to use during the tasting, and you have no options of changing is once it becomes sticky and such. Of well… maybe one day organizers will read this blog? … yeah…

This year I decided to use a different navigation tactics – instead of trying to go sequentially from table 1 to table 204, or trying to frantically scavenge the show guide which is only available upon entering the event, and trying to find who you want to see by running through a 200-strong list, I decided first just to walk around, look for familiar names and taste what I want to taste first. Using this method, my first sip at Tre Bicchieri 2020 was 2016 Sassicaia, which provided a perfectly elegant opening to the event. Once I was done with a first walk, I took a pause to now look through the show guide and identify who did I miss and then go again and revisit.

Tre Bicchieri 2020 – busy as always

Thinking about the experience of Tre Bicchieri 2020, I’m not sure I can easily give you a simple and coherent summary of the event. One interesting observation was a noticeable number of Rosato wines represented at the event. I missed Tre Bicchieri tasting last year, but from the previous years, I don’t remember seeing much, if any, Rosé. I also tried to do the Amarone run (meaning: taste as many Amarone as I could), and it was not successful. With the exception of the Pasqua Amarone, which was not amazing but at least drinkable, the most of the rest simply were way too tannic and lacking any pleasure – I really don’t understand what was a rationale of awarding the coveted Tre Bicchieri to the insipid wines, outside of just recognizing the pedigree of the producers.

There were some excellent whites (Italian white wines still grossly underrated on the global scale), excellent sparkling wines (Giulio Ferrari, anyone?), and amazing values (like stunning $9 Sangiovese again from Ferrari), so, all in all, it was a good tasting, but overall I felt a bit underwhelmed. Anyway, here are my “best of tasting”, “worst of tasting” (if it’s okay to be so obnoxious), and notes on other wines I found worth mentioning. I’m using my “plus” ratings here, with “+++” meaning “excellent”, and “++++” being better than excellent :). With the exception of one wine, no wines with less than +++ are included in the list.

Tre Bicchieri 2020 Show favorites:
NV Barone Pizzini Animante Extra Brut Franciacorta – ++++, superb
NV Ruggieri & C. Cartizze Brut Veneto – ++++, outstanding, dry, clean
2008 Ferrari Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore Trento – +++, excellent
2018 Elena Walch Alto Adige Pinot Grigio Vigna Castel Ringberg – ++++, outstanding
2017 Leonildo Pieropan Soave Classico Calvarino – ++++, excellent
2018 Donnafugata Sicilia Grillo SurSur – ++++, excellent
2016 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia Bolgheri Superiore – ++++, beautiful, perfect balance
2016 Le Macchiole Paleo Rosso Bolgheri Tuscany – ++++, 100% Cabernet Franc, excellent, perfectly drinkable

Sparkling:
2014 Bellavista Franciacorta Brut Teatro alla Scala Lombardy – +++, superb
2011 Barone Pizzini Franciacorta Dossagio Zero Bagnadore Riserva – +++, excellent
2018 Ruggieri & C. Valdobbiadene Extra Dry Giustino B. – +++, excellent
2018 Andreola Valdobbiadene Rive di Refrontolo Brut Col Del Forno – +++, excellent

White:
2016 Il Colombaio di Santachiara Vernaccia di San Gimignano L’Albereta Riserva – +++, excellent, clean
2018 Rosset Terroir Spraquota 900 Valle D’Aosta – +++, Petite Arvine grape
2017 Ottella Lugana Molceo Riserva – +++
2018 Ottella Lugana Le Creete – +++, excellent
2018 Elena Walch Alto Adige Gewürztraminer Vigna Kastelaz – +++, amazing aromatics, excellent

Rosé:
2018 Varvaglione 1921 Idea Rosa di Primitivo Puglia – ++-|. I was told that it was an attempt to create a Rosé for the red wine drinkers. I’m not sure it was ultra-successful, but it was drinkable.

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Red:
2018 Corte Sant’Alda Valpolicella Ca’ Fiui – +++, high acidity
2013 Corte Sant’Alda Amarone della Valpolicella Valmezzane – +++, not bad but too tannic
2013 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Costasera Riserva – +++
2016 Donnafugata Etna Rosso Fragore Sicily – +++, tart, clean
2017 Pasqua Passimento Rosso Veneto – +++, excellent, approachable, excellent value (sold at Trader Joe’s)
2015 Pasqua Amarone della Valpolicella Famiglia Pasqua – +++, excellent
2011 Paolo Conterno Barolo Ginestra Riserva – +++, excellent
2018 Montalbera Ruché di Castagnole M.to Laccento – +++
2018 Montalbera Ruché di Castagnole M.to la Tradizione – +++, nice, needs time
2016 Ferrari Tenuta Podernovo Auritea (Cabernet Franc) Toscana IGT – +++, excellent
2017 Ferrari Tenute Lunelli Montefalco Rosso Ziggurat – +++, excellent
2011 Bertani Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – +++, very good
2015 Bertani Tenuta Trerose Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Simposio Riserva – +++
2016 Planeta Noto Nero d’Avola Santa Cecilia – +++, excellent
2018 Elena Walch Alto Adige Schiava – +++, easy to drink, light
2015 G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole – +++, excellent
2016 Varvaglione 1921 Primitivo di Manduria Papale Linea Oro – +++, good

Dessert:
2016 Donnafugata Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryé Sicily – +++, good

Amarone run:
Tenuta Sant’Antonio (burnt finish, the real impression of a burnt wood), Allegrini (too much oak), Speri (too much oak), Masi single vineyard (too much oak), Corte Sant’Alda (too much oak), Pasqua single vineyard (too big, too tannic), Monte Zovo (too much oak)

This is my story of visiting the Tre Bicchieri 2020 in New York. Have you attended any of the Tre Bicchieri events? What is your take on those? Salute!

It Might Be Gone Already

November 13, 2019 10 comments

Oenophiles are strange creatures. We love wine and derive out of it a tremendous amount of happiness, joy, and pleasure. We are also somewhat of a masochistic type. We like to torture ourselves around our beloved beverage. We can spend a lot of time trying to select a bottle of wine for a Monday night – multiply that by 10 if we are talking even about a casual Friday night. We need to take into account everything – the mood, the weather, who are we sharing the wine with, and on, and on.

One of the biggest problems we are always trying to solve is called “is it the time”. Yes, we know that it is a gamble. There is no science to know when the wine is ready to drink. And as we always like to enjoy the wine at its peak, we can take forever to decide on that right moment. And this is where the danger lurks – instead of getting the wine at its peak, we might be facing the wine which is … gone.

There are two types of special bottles we, oenophiles, get nervous around. There are those which we are trying to age to precisely hit the bullseye, the “oh my god” moment when tasting wine at its peak. The second type are those wines which we call “special”. “Special” is personal – a single bottle which reminds us of a wonderful trip or a moment in life, a special present from a dear friend, a super-rare or a super-expensive bottle we want to hold on to for as long as possible. Sometimes, this can be one and the same bottle which hits both characteristics. For the second type of “special” bottles there is the OTBN – ”Open That Bottle Night”, an event celebrated on the last Saturday in February, invented to help people to part with those special bottles. For the bottles we are waiting to become perfect… well, it might be the same OTBN, or maybe we just need to convince ourselves that “the time is now”.

This is what we decided to do, setting the theme for our wine dinner as “It might be gone already”. Usually, we set the rules for our tastings – what wines, what regions, what price ranges, etc. But for this dinner there were no rules – whatever anyone wants to have open, whatever the reason is to believe that the wine might be past prime (or not) – everything goes.

We managed to assemble a lot more wines than we were able to drink, so many of the wonderful bottles will have to wait until the next occasion. However, we still did great, finding lots of great surprises and enjoying the program very much. Here is my account of our tasting.

We started from a very simple wine – 2007 Saint-Hilaire Brut Blanquette de Limoux, a sparkling wine from the Languedoc, from the winery which claims that they were the first to make the Methodé Traditionelle wines, before Champagne ever saw a first bubble in the bottle. This is one of my most favorite sparkling wines – it is inexpensive ($12.99 or so), and tasty. But – 12 years old? That sounds like a little much for a wine like that. Nevertheless, it was perfect – still fresh, still a good amount of bubbles, a touch of yeast – a perfect start for our evening.

We continued our bubbly explorations with something of a truly next level – 1990 Dom Ruinart Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Champagne. Another perfect encounter – crisp, focused, a good amount of yeast and toasted bread – an outstanding vintage Champagne without a sign of age.

Italy is better known in the world as the source of great red wines. However, Italian whites shouldn’t be ignored. Jermann makes some of the very best Italian white wines, and these wines are unquestionably a world class. Vintage Tunina is a flagship wine, made out of a field blend of Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia, and a small percentage of a local sweet grape. According to the notes on the Jermann website, Vintage Tunina can age for 7–8 years, 10 in the exceptional vintages. This 2006 Jermann Vintage Tunina Venezia Giulia IGT was 13 years old, and in a word, it was superb. Bright, vibrant, whitestone fruit and a touch of honey, medium+ body – an outstanding wine.

Our next white was 2007 Château St Jean Chardonnay Reserve Sonoma County – it was not as impressive as Vintage Tunina, but still was not over the hill, with a good amount of white apple, a touch of butter, and good acidity. I never had this wine before, and understand from the people who did that the wine was starting its journey down the hill, but it was still quite enjoyable.

I was trying to convince my friends that our next wine was not ready to be opened – 2011 Antica Terra Erratica Rosé from Oregon. I had 2010 last year, and the wine was mind-blowing (ended up being wine #2 on my Top Wines list of 2018). After being ostracized – “what are you talking about, it is 8 years old Rosé ?!?!” – I angrily pulled out the cork. 2011 was equally mind-blowing to the last year’s 2010. Pungent, lip-smacking, full of smoky cranberries and herbs, medium body – delicious. I don’t know for how long this wine can age, but I would definitely love to see it with at least another 5 years of age. Oh well…

Now, we are reaching practically a culmination point of the evening – 1966 Château Leoville Poyferré St. Julien. Well, it was conditionally the culmination point – when I received this bottle 2 years ago, the capsule showed a significant amount of wine stain, which is an indication of the wine potentially slowly sipping through the cork. But – it was 1966, so that alone deserves the utmost respect.

As we expected, the wine was past its prime. It had dark brown color in the glass – a color you expect to see on a well-aged tawny port, but not on Bordeaux at any age. The wine had the tasting profile of a nice hearty stew, but again, not the Bordeaux. To be entirely honest, I enjoyed a few sips of it (my friends refused it almost instantly), but this was definitely not the wine anyone should drink.

I’m not going in the right order, but let’s talk about maybe the biggest disappointment of the evening – 2010 Yves Boyer-Martinot Meursault-Perrier. 9 years old white Burgundy should be way too young to drink. But then the Meursault wines have a known issue – Premature Oxidation, or PremOx as it is often abbreviated. Fear of PremOx was a driving factor behind the decision to open this wine. Unfortunately, the fear was justified – kind of. The wine was not oxidized – but it was literally undrinkable. It showed a little sign of life at first, and we decided to decant it – however, it didn’t help. The wine showed very tired, some stewed plums, no vibrancy of any kind. Definitely not a good surprise.

Let’s get back to the red wines. Our next wine was 1978 Barbera. The label lost practically all of its color, so I don’t know who was the producer. But the bottle had been very important memorabilia – at the age of 9, our friend Stefano was helping to bottle that exact wine, so it clearly had a special meaning. The wine was still drinkable, had good acidity and some dark fruit. Not amazing, but well drinkable.

The next two red wines aptly compensated for all the misgivings of our tasting. 1997 Shafer Firebreak Napa Valley, a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, was excellent. The core of the dark fruit and espresso, firm structure, excellent balance, the wine was alive and delicious. It is a pity that this wine is not produced anymore, as Shafer replaced all the plantings of Sangiovese with the other grapes – this was definitely a delicious wine.

And maybe for the biggest surprise of the evening, let me present to you 1995 Navarro Correas Coleccion Privada Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza. What, you never heard of this wine? Me too! Until our tasting that is. When originally acquired, the wine price was something under $10. So who would expect that 24 years old simple Argentinian Cab would age so beautifully? The wine was fresh, no sign of age, tart cherries on the nose, the same tart cherries, herbs and a touch of sweet oak on the palate – the wine was going and going. A tasty, totally unexpected, surprise.

We had to finish this tasting with a dessert wine, didn’t we? 1988 Franciscan Estate Johannisberg Riesling Napa Valley, as rare and precious as you can find, as this wine is simply not produced anymore. This wine was definitely at its peak – beautiful figs, honey, and a perfect dose of acidity – an excellent finish to our great tasting.

Let’s try to summarize our tasting. Out of 11 wines, 6 can be safely designated as an “amazing experience”. Three wines were “good”. Two wines were a flap. I would take it as a very respectful, and very successful outcome – I’m sure you can think of a lot more tastings with a much lesser degree of success and enjoyment.

Here you are, my friends. Feel free to copy the idea – if you have anything reminiscent of a cellar, I’m sure you got the bottles that might benefit from being open. Open now, before it is too late. Cheers!

What Do I Need To Know To Enjoy A Glass Of Wine

October 26, 2019 2 comments

Glass and the candleSo you are wondering what do you need to know to enjoy a glass of wine.

This is actually a very simple question. Let me give you a very simple answer.

Nothing.

Nothing at all. You need to know nothing about the wine.

You don’t need to know who made it, where was it made, how was it made, what grapes were used, how much it costs. None of this matters.

The wine in your glass is binary. You either like it or not. If you are not sure if you like it, then ask yourself another simple question: “do I want a second glass, or not?” If you want a second glass, then it goes into the “I like it category”. If you don’t – well, you got my point.

I’ve not been fictitious or sarcastic here. I’m very serious. Wine is food. No, it is not a necessity, it is rather a luxury, it is a food you can live without. But still, wine is food, with about 100 calories in a standard size glass of dry red wine. When you take a bite of steak, your impression is binary – you either like it or not. The same is with wine – when you take a sip, you either like it or not. End of story.

Now, let’s get things straight. I’m not trying to invalidate here the whole wine ecosystem, where millions of people are studying and make their living around the oldest continuously produced beverage in the world. I’m not saying that wine is a simple subject. Depending on one’s life outlook, nothing is simple in this world, and the wine has unlimited levels of complexity (simple fact – at the moment of this writing, there are only 269 (!) Master Sommeliers (highest distinction of wine knowledge) in the world). Nevertheless, for a casual encounter with a glass of red, white, or pink liquid in the tulip-shaped glass, there are only two possible outcomes – “I like it” and “I don’t like it”.

Yesterday during the wine dinner I asked my neighbor at the table if she enjoys the wine we were drinking. “Well, I don’t know enough about wine”, she started, instead of simply answering the simple question – “yes, I do”, or “no, I don’t”. I heard this answer many times, and I find it instantly annoying. There is nothing you need to know to enjoy the wine in your glass. You don’t have to be a chef or a food critic to say if the omelet in front of you is tasty or not. The same is with wine – it either tastes good to you or not.

There is definitely a lot of intimidation around the wine. There are wine magazines that tell you what you should be drinking today. There are wine ratings – “here is an excellent wine for you – it got 95 points from Robert Parker”. You have no idea who Robert Parker is, but you would never admit it, “ahh, of course”. There are knowledgeable friends who tell you “try this – you are going to love this”. There are sommeliers and wine stewards at the restaurants who tell you that this is the best wine for your dinner tonight (nevermind that this is one of the most expensive wines on the list). All these things are part of the intimidation around the wine, and yes, it is very hard to say “hmmm, I don’t like it” if Robert Parker said that he did. But – you really have to learn to trust yourself. Everyone’s palate is different. There are only 4 basic tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter – we can skip the umami for this conversation) – but everyone perceives those tastes differently, has different sensitivity to each one of those (if you ever had to reduce salt consumption, you know that after a month or so of such a low-sodium diet, any restaurant dish comes as oversalted). And so what you taste is completely unique to you, and it is only you who is entitled to state “I like it” or “I don’t like it”, without any regard to any professional opinion in the world.

Again, I want to repeat my statement – you don’t need to know anything about wine to know if you enjoy it or not. But – and it is a major, major, supersized but – you might want to know about the wine as this might simply increase your level of enjoyment of that same wine. But even in this case, you don’t need to become an expert to better enjoy thye wine. You can start simple. When you find the wine you like and enjoy, take notice of the producer and the name of the wine (there are many apps today which can help you simplify this process). This can help you next time at the restaurant, trying to select wine from the list – once you see the wine you already tried and liked, this instantly reduces intimidation. Of course, it will also help you in the wine store, so you will get the wine you know you liked.

vinca minor cabernet sauvignon back label

Maybe once you recognize some producers, you might start taking notice of the regions the wine is coming from. You might find, for example, that you are usually enjoying white wines from Germany and red wines from Piedmont. This knowledge can help you further in your quest for the enjoyable wine, as even when you have your favorite producer and wine, you might not be able to always find that specific wine at a restaurant or in the store. In this case, you can use that knowledge to select the wine from the different producers but still from the same region, as this still increases your chances of liking the wine.

You don’t have to stop at the producer and region, and you can continue your wine knowledge acquisition literally forever, as the subject of the wine is endless. Vintages, vineyards, single vineyards, blocks and plots, grapes, blends, terroir, climate conditions, winemakers, oak regimen, age of the vines, visits to the wine regions, and on, and on, and on – all of this knowledge might help you enjoy the wine more. I can even take it further and tell you that all this knowledge might change the perceived taste of wine, as, for example, trying the wine made at the winery you visited can trigger happy memories, and definitely make the wine to taste even better – to you. Very important – this knowledge will only change the way the wine tastes to you. If the friend you are sharing dinner with never visited the winery, he or she can’t necessarily share your excitement and wholeheartedly say that they enjoy the wine if they don’t. And that’s okay. Everyone’s palate is different, and tasting and liking of the wine are strictly individual.

Remember this next time you are at a restaurant. If you know about the wines, don’t intimidate your friends. they don’t have to like what you like. At the same time, if you know nothing about the wine, don’t get intimidated by anyone or anything. “The truth is in the eye of the beholder” – if you don’t enjoy the wine, it is your truth, and it is nothing to be ashamed of or to worry about. Everyone’s palate is different. End of the story.

I hope you learned today everything you need to know to enjoy a glass of wine. Which is, literally, nothing. And nothing should be standing in your way of enjoying the wine in your glass. Cheers!

 

Impromptu Evening With Friends? A Bottle of Golden Bordeaux is All You Need

November 26, 2018 6 comments

You just came home from work. It was a hard day. The boss [again] didn’t get your idea, and you didn’t get much support from your coworkers either. All you want to do is to crawl into the old trusted chair with your feet, open the book, and get lost in its pages. Tomorrow will be another day, and all the problems will magically solve themselves. Or you will force them to solve themselves. No matter what, but “me evening” is about to begin.

The doorbell rings. Really? The doorbell? What the heck? You sure didn’t invite anyone over. Get the sleepers on, let’s see, maybe it is just a late package. Ahh, it is not a package. It is your friend. And she just had a rough day at work, and she needs at least an ear, and hopefully not a shoulder.

Walk her in, get her situated on the couch. Then you get this burning feeling – something is amiss. Oh yeah, of course – there is nothing on the coffee table, and your friend sheepishly confirms that she is really “not that hungry”, and your perfectly know what it means – while nobody is looking for a 5-course meal, a little something would be great.

You didn’t shop for a while, and all you got is some crackers, some chips, salami and a bit of cheese. And of course, you need to bring a bottle of wine, which is a must for the free-flowing conversation, but what wine would pair well with such an eclectic spread of crackers and salami?

So let’s stop here, as I’m not writing a fiction novel, and let’s analyze the situation. We got chips, crackers, cheese, and salami – what would pair well with it? I’m sure you have your own take on this, but let me give you mine – how about some Golden Bordeaux to pair with this eclectic mix?

If you are curious what Golden Bordeaux is, I’m sure you can easily guess it – heard of Sauternes? Have you ever seen a bottle of Sauternes? Yes, it typically looks like a liquid gold, hence the reference to the Golden Bordeaux.

The term “Sauternes” here is used rather generically, and Golden Bordeaux might be more suitable than just Sauternes – however, while the Golden Bordeaux makes sense, I’m not sure how common the term is.

Of course, first and foremost, Bordeaux is known for its reds (anyone who experienced Bordeaux whites from Pessac-Léognan would easily disagree, but still). However, Bordeaux is a lot more than just the reds. On the left bank of the Gironde river, which splits Bordeaux in half, lies the region called Graves. Inside of Graves resides the small region of Sauternes with its neighbors Monbazillac, Cérons, Loupiac and Cadillac, as well as Barsac which is a sub-region of Sauternes. Together, all these regions are the source of the Golden Bordeaux, the unique white wine made from the partially raisined grapes due to their contact with so-called Noble Rot. It is common to describe Sauternes as sweet, dessert wines – but the flavor profile of these wines goes way beyond just sweet, offering layers of complexity, and therefore suitable for a lot more than just a dessert course.

A few weeks ago, a group of wine aficionados got together for the virtual tasting of the Golden Bordeaux, hosted and guided by the kind folks from Snooth. This tasting went beyond just a standard format of tasting and discussing the wines – we also had an opportunity to experiment with the variety of savory and spicy snacks, which included Sweet Potato and Beet Crackers from Trader Joe’s, Sriracha Cashews, Jalapeno Chicken Chips, Gusto by Olli Calabrese Spicy Salami, and Jack Link Sweet & Hot Jerky. Spicy and sweet, as well as sweet and salty are well-known combinations for anyone who likes pairing wine and food. However, these Golden Bordeaux wines go beyond just sweet, often adding a layer of forest mushrooms and herbs to their taste profile, which helps to complement the ranges of savory dishes.

I had a few surprises and personal learnings in this tasting. I never paid attention to the mushroom undertones in the Golden Bordeaux, so this was definitely an exciting discovery. I also never thought that those wines need some breathing time – and I was wrong, as you can see in the notes below – another little memory knot is in order. I also found out that not all food can be good for the tasting – the Chicken Jalapeño crackers were so spicy for me, that I had my lips burning for an hour in the tasting. It would be fine if this was a pairing and conversation with a friend, but for the next time around, I plan to taste the wines first, and only then try it again with spicy food.

Now, here are my notes from the tasting:

2016 Château Manos Cadillac (13.5% ABV, $12.99, 95% Semillon, 2.5% Sauvignon Blanc, 2.5% Muscadelle)
Light golden color
Peach, honey, beautiful nose, very inviting
Delicious palate, peach, candied peach, caramel, good acidity 8/8-
Very nice with beets crackers from Trader Joe’s

2014 Château du Cros Loupiac (13% ABV, $12, 90% Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle
Golden color
Complex nose of caramel and herbs, a touch of spicy notes, great complexity
Beautiful concentration on the palate, candied fruit, golden raisins, perfect balance. 8+
Amazingly elevates sweet and hot beef jerky, wow

2016 Château Loupiac-Gaudiet Loupiac (13% ABV, $17, 90% Sémillon, 10% Sauvignon Blanc)
Light golden color
Sweet apples, herbs. Later on: truffles!
First reaction: Sweet apples on the palate – need more acidity
After 20 minutes: good acidity, mushroom, forest floor. 8-
Excellent with hot beef jerky

2011 Château Dauphiné Rondillon Loupiac (13.5% ABV, $28, 80% Semillon, 20% Sauvignon Blanc)
Golden color
Honey, plums, candied plums
First reaction: Burned sugar, then medicinal. Ouch
After 20 minutes been open: sugar plums, white plums, good acidity showed up. 7+/8-
Later on – mushrooms on the nose (really a discovery for me), caramel. Savory caramel on the palate. Interesting – definitely a food wine.
Very good with salami and sweet potatoes crackers

2015 Château La Rame Sainte-Croix-du-Mont (13% ABV, $22, 100% Sémillon)
Golden color
Very restrained, a touch of tropical fruit, distant hint of honey, gasoline added after 20 minutes
First reaction: Candied fruit, really sweet, can use more acidity. 7
After 20 minutes: vanilla, cookies’n’cream, light, good acidity. 8-/8
Tried with hot beef Jerky – not bad

2016 Château Lapinesse Sauternes Grand Vin de Bordeaux (14% ABV, $20, 100% Sémillon)
Golden color
Lemon, lemongrass, touch of honey, white plums
Candied fruit, apples, good acidity. 8
Didn’t make much difference with spicy salami

2006 Castelnau de Suduiraut Sauternes (14% ABV, $90, 99% Semillon, 1% Sauvignon Blanc)
Dark gold color
Honey, candied lemon, touch of caramel
Beautiful palate, fresh caramel, butterscotch cookie, good acidity. Very rich. 8-
Very good with beef jerky, also with jalapeño chicken strips

Here you are, my friends – Golden Bordeaux and eclectic snacks. Get a few bottles on hand – the wines are versatile, and can be enjoyed in many ways – especially when the late night friend pops in.

The Golden Bordeaux wines are definitely underrated – here is the great opportunity to surprise yourself and your friends. And you can thank me later. Cheers!

Sent with Writer

WBC18: Merlot Deep Dive with Masters of Merlot

October 18, 2018 3 comments

I remember my first “deep dive” into the Washington wines at the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery a few years ago, where I was told about the power of Washington Merlot. The explanation was given on the example of a group visiting Chateau Ste. Michelle from California, who were complaining that Washington Cabernet Sauvignon was too soft and mild as opposed to the Cabernet Sauvignon from California. The group was offered to taste the Washington Merlot wines next, and this is where they found the right amount of “power” they were looking for (or maybe even a bit more).

WBC18 Masters of Merlot tasting

While attending Wine Bloggers Conference 2017, I was able to start the conference experience on a very high note with the deep dive pre-conference session on the California Cabernet Sauvignon, where we learned about one of the most classic California Cabs you can find – Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon. This year, at WBC18, we started on the equal, or maybe even higher note with the pre-conference session on Merlot. Very appropriately for being in Washington, and for the October being the #MerlotMe month, we were able not only taste a line of Merlot wines but to compare side by side the wines made by two of the Merlot pioneers and, unquestionably, the Masters – Duckhorn Vineyards from Napa Valley and L’Ecole No 41 from Walla Walla Valley.

Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot

Dan and Margaret Duckhorn started Duckhorn Vineyards back in 1976, becoming one of the first 40 Napa Valley wineries. Even in those early days, it was clear that Cabernet Sauvignon was The Grape everybody wanted to work with. At that time, Dan and Margaret decided to proceed in their own way, and instead of joining the Cabernet Sauvignon movement, be unique and different and embrace the Merlot. Ever since their inaugural vintage in 1978, they never looked back and became known as Napa Valley Merlot pioneers and one of the best Merlot producers in the world, starting with their first release of Napa Valley Merlot in 1979. Today, Duckhorn Vineyards expanded dramatically and now comprise multiple wineries and brands around the USA – however, Merlot is the heart and soul of Duckhorn wines, and it is not surprising that 2014 Duckhorn Vineyards Three Palms Vineyard Merlot was the Wine Spectator’s 2017 Top 100 Wine of the Year.

L'Ecole No41 Merlot

L’Ecole No 41 was founded by Baker and Jean Ferguson in 1983 when it became 3rd winery in Walla Walla, and 20th winery in the Washington state. Today the winery is run by the 3rd generation of the family, and sustainably farms estate Seven Hills and Ferguson vineyards. Merlot is the king in Washington, so it is not surprising that the L’Ecole crafts some of the best Merlot wines in Washington – however, their Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Bordeaux-style blends are equally world-famous.

Now that you know the bit of the history, let’s talk about our tasting. In our Masters of Merlot session, we had an opportunity to taste side by side Duckhorn Vineyards and L’Ecole No 41 Merlot from 2008, 2012 and 2015 vintages, plus a cherry on top (thank you, Duckhorn Vineyards) – 2015 Three Palms Merlot. Before I will leave you with the tasting notes for these beautiful Merlot wines, I just want to share some general observations. The three vintages of Duckhorn Merlot we were comparing had a different grape composition between the vintages while maintaining the same oak treatment for all the wines. As I mentioned in my summary post about WBC18 experiences, Washington weather is very consistent, so L’Ecole No 41 maintained the same grape percentages between the vintages and the same oak regimen – the changing parameters were only harvest dates and the vineyard source composition, which gradually shifted from solely a  Seven Hills vineyard in 2008 to the 50/50 share between Seven Hills and Ferguson vineyards in 2015 (L’Ecole folks are ecstatic about the potential of the Ferguson Vineyard, now introducing more and more single vineyard wines from it).

Masters of Merlot tasting WBC18

Now, it is (finally!) time to talk about the wines. Here we go, in the tasting order:

2008 L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $?, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in French oak)
Rutherford dust on the nose, chewy, dense, tart cherries, needs time! I want more fruit! Would love to try it in 5-8 years.

2008 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $70, 86% Merlot, 9.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3.5% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc, 16 months in French oak)
Raisins on the nose, very explicit, beautifully dry on the palate, sage, anise, tart, showed a bit of Rutherford dust after swirling, great acidity. Amarone! I want to drink it NOW!

2012 L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $30, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 76% Seven Hills Vineyard, 24% Ferguson Vineyard, 18 months in French oak)
Espresso, Rutherford dust (a bit less explicit than 2008). More fruit on the palate, bright, beautiful.

2012 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $65, 88% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec, 16 months in French oak)
Delicate, fresh plums, a touch of truffle notes, plums and lavender on the palate, delicate, fresh, round.

2015 L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $36, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 50% Seven Hills Vineyard, 50% Ferguson Vineyard, 18 months in French oak)
Dark fruit, Rutherford dust, dark berries, a bit of bell pepper on the palate, plums, sapidity, interesting minerality. Needs time.

2015 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $56, 85% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot, 16 months in French Oak)
Closed nose, a touch of mint, however – palate is beautifully ripe, open, clean, fresh fruit.

2015 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Three Palms Vineyard Napa Valley (14.7% ABV, $98, 91% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.5% Petit Verdot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in French Oak)
Rich, opulent, caramel, anise, sage, on the palate coffee, ripe fruit, mocha, dark chocolate. Big and delicious.

Masters of Merlot tasting

Were these wines similar, even between the different wineries? Of course. I love the presence of the Rutherford dust on many of the wines we tasted – after tasting best of the best in Rutherford in Napa Valley – the BV wines, I picked up that term and I always use it describe the perceived dusty impression of the wine’s aroma. L’Ecole Merlot was a lot more structured and minerally-driven. I would safely say that 2-3 hours in the decanter would help those wines a lot. The Duckhorn Merlot were a lot more fruit driven but offered an impeccable balance with that fruit. If I have to pick the favorite, it would be between 2008 Duckhorn (ahh, that Amarone-like beauty) and 2015 Duckhorn Three Palms, but there were really no bad wines in this tasting.

There you have it, my friends. Beautiful Merlot wines, easy to love and appreciate, and most importantly, offering lots of pleasure. How is your Merlot Me month going? What are your discoveries or the old favorites?

I have to say special thank you to Constance Savage of L’Ecole No 41 and Kay Malaske of Duckhorn Vineyards for offering this special tasting to the wine bloggers! Cheers!

Guest Post: Why You Need to Drink Wines From Victoria, Australia, and Where to Try Them

August 3, 2018 4 comments

Today I want to offer you a guest post by Lucia Guadagnuolo who is a tour host and blogger for Wine Compass. When she’s not traveling or indulging in the fried delights of Southern Italian cooking, Lucia enjoys discovering the ever-changing food and wine scene in her hometown of Melbourne, Australia. She’s also recently completed the WSET Level 3 Award in Wines.

Becoming well regarded in the wine world for its cool climate expressions, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise of an Australian wine region. Warm sunny beaches and rugged Australian outback is what we’re used to seeing, and big bold Shiraz is probably what you’re used to drinking. While this might be true for the majority of Australia’s wine producing regions, Victoria, which is located in the South-East of the continent, experiences quite a cool to moderate climate. This, of course, is due to its latitudinal position, but also the cooling breeze from the Southern Ocean. So what does all this mean for those of us interested in exploring more of the wines from Australia? It means subtle, but varied expressions of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The two most planted varieties in the region, in both Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula, where most plantings of these varieties are found.

Australia has somewhat of a more relaxed approach to winemaking than some of the more traditional, old world countries. This means winemakers have the freedom to experiment and create wines from many different varieties that rival those of France, Italy and Spain combined. This same creative nature and desire for something different extends to the cellar door experience. Smaller boutique wineries, producing premium wines, are offering an intimate experience for visitors. You’ll often find the winemakers themselves pouring you a tasting, and giving you first-hand knowledge about the wine in your glass. It really doesn’t get much better than that!

So now you know why you should be drinking wines from Victoria, let’s find out the best places to try them…

Yileena Park – Yarra Valley

Carved into a hillside at the base of the Christmas Hills in the Yarra Valley, Yileena Park offers a unique and homely cellar door experience. They make premium wines that really highlight the great quality fruit being grown in the region today. Most of the wines at Yileena Park are aged for a minimum of four years before release, the reserve range is aged for 6 years, and the reserve Cabernet Sauvignon aged for 8 years before it’s available at the cellar door for purchase and tasting.

While you enjoy your wine, you get to experience endless views of the Steels Creek mountain range and devour a platter of smoked olives, cheeses, nuts and olive oil – all produced using the very barrels that their wines are matured in. Owners Bob and Diane are also always on hand to chat about the current vintage, and those gone by.

Pimpernel Vineyards – Yarra Valley

This quiet little cellar door in the heart of the Yarra Valley, is making a lot of noise in the wine industry, undoubtedly producing some of the best premium wines in Victoria. If you love your Pinot Noir, then you’ll be spoiled for choice with a significant range available and open for tasting. You can even compare different Pinot clones and the different winemaking techniques used to produce wines from each one. They also produce some outstanding Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Syrah, and Shiraz, as well as some amazing blends.

Quealy Winemakers – Mornington Peninsula

A true testament to the Australian spirit of doing things a little bit differently, Quealy Winemakers on the Mornington Peninsula have set the standards in the region for growing unique varieties. The first to plant Pinot Grigio in the region and sell Friulano commercially, they have a range not often seen on the Peninsula. Pioneer winemaker Kathleen Quealy is often on hand at the cellar door to give you an insight into their winemaking techniques, and is always willing to give guests a private tour of the winery. Also, one of the few producers using terracotta amphora to mature their wines, which you’ll be lucky enough to sneak a peak at when you stop by for a tasting.

Ocean Eight – Mornington Peninsula

Set on a beautifully manicured garden landscape, this winery and cellar door really is picture perfect. In fact, the only thing better than the surrounds, are the wines. Not for sale anywhere else in the world outside of this very cellar door, you absolutely must visit Ocean Eight when on the Mornington Peninsula. Their premium range includes Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. Not a huge offering, but what they do, they do extremely well. Enjoy a tasting in their underground cellar, you won’t regret it.

Wine Compass are the Victorian wine country specialists and offer private guided tours of both the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula, with bespoke itineraries specifically tailored to you.

 

Discover Wines Of Loire Valley

April 23, 2018 5 comments

What do you think of the wines from the Loire Valley? Why, you say you are not sure? Come on, give yourself a credit – there is a good chance you had Loire Valley wines, but maybe you simply didn’t associate those wines with the Loire Valley? Let me help you – Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé (not to be confused with Pouilly-Fuissé), Muscadet, Vouvray, Touraine, Anjou, Saumur, Chinon – had any of the wines with these words on the label? Ah, of course, you are saying? Then now you know – those are all the wines from the Loire Valley in France.

Loire Valley appellations map. Source: http://www.loirevalleywinetour.com/

The Loire Valley is not the most famous winemaking region in France, but it deserves the utmost respect. Here are some facts for you. Number one region in France for production of the white wines. The largest producer of the sparkling wines in France outside of Champagne. Number two producer of Rosè wines in France after Provence. The largest in France vineyard declared UNESCO World Heritage site. 79 sub-appellations and denominations and more than 2,000 years of winemaking history. These numbers speak for themselves. And to round up the stats – five grapes (Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgeois, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir) comprise most of the Loire wines, but a total of 24 grapes are used there.

A few weeks ago, I was happy to attend the “Spring To Loire” trade tasting in New York City, alongside the inimitable, one and only JvB Uncorked – we definitely had lots of fun tasting through the Loire wines together. It was also literally the first tasting this year which I managed to attend, so “happy” is the right word. Besides, I love Loire wines, with Chinon and Saumur been personal pet peeves, as producers of delicious Cabernet Franc.

The tasting was unquestionably interesting. First, it had a couple of curious moments. There was a seminar which offered an excellent introduction to the region, tasting all major styles and varieties. Two of the reds in the tasting were rather green and aggressive. At the end of the tasting, I asked a lady sitting next to me how did she liked the wines, and she told me that she didn’t like the red wines individually, but she mixed them (!?!?) and they became more palatable – truly a wow moment in the professional tasting. And then it was another lady who (accidentally or not) dumped what seemed like a whole bottle of perfume on herself – trying to smell nuances of the wine standing next to her was beyond mission impossible. Some memorable moments…

Okay, let’s talk about the wines. I have a few favorites which I will be happy to mention, but first, let me give you my broad stroke impressions.

  1. Sancerre had a much lesser amount of fresh cut grass than I was expecting. Okay, I’m not an expert on Sancerre evolution, as I rarely drink them. However, based on what I remember from my education and some of the previous experiences, classic Sancerre is supposed to have pronounced grass and cat pee notes – didn’t find much of the Sancerre like that. Touraine Sauvignons, on another hand, were delicious across the board with an abundance of the freshly cut grass.
  2. Many of the Muscadet-Sèvre-et-Maine wines were lacking the characteristic acidity. When going for Muscadet, I’m expecting acidity which will plucker my mouth and make the cheeks to go meet each other. Many Muscadet in the tasting were nice white wines, but they were lacking their prized quality.
  3. The Chenin Blanc was a star. We had a number of delicious Vouvray and not only wines, which offered bright acidity, sometimes a touch of sweetness, a round mouthfeel – all which you would expect from a nicely done old world Chenin.
  4. Many of the Chinon and Saumur Reds were too tannic. This was a total surprise – the wines were fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks, nevertheless, the mouth was drying up almost as much as if you would be tasting the young Barolo. I was told that the whole cluster fermentation and aging was a culprit, but this was not a pleasant surprise. I really expect much more elegant and approachable wines to come from those regions. Nevertheless, we managed to find a few of the superb reds.

Done with my general impressions – here are some limited notes on my favorite wines.

Sparkling:

Crémant de Loire:
NV Maurice Bonnamy Crémant de Loire Brut (SRP: $16.99, 65% Chenin Blanc, 20% Chardonnay, 15% Cabernet Franc) – nice, refreshing, yeasty
NV Maurice Bonnamy Crémant de Loire Rosé (SRP: $16.99, 100% Cabernet Franc) – toasted bread and strawberries, nice, refreshing, great mouthfeel
NV Ackerman Crémant de Loire Brut (70% Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc for the rest) – this wine was presented in the seminar, so I had a bit more time to spend with it – great nose, toasted bread, fresh, a touch on a sweeter side but still very nice

White:

Melon de Bourgogne:
2017 Sauvion Muscadet-Sèvre-et-Maine AOC (SRP $13.99) – crisp, fresh, great acidity
2014 Château de la Cormerais Monnieres-Saint Fiacre Muscadet Sèvre et Maine (SRP $19.99) – outstanding. fresh, clean
2012 Domaine de Colombier-Mouzillon-Tillières Muscadet Sèvre et Maine (SRP $19.99) – great complexity

Sauvignon Blanc:
2016 Domaine Pascal Jolivet Les Caillottes Sancerre AOC (SRP: $38) – steely acidity, crisp, a touch of grass.
2015 Domaine Pascal Jolivet Sauvage Sancerre AOC (SRP: $73) – this wine was just ok. The only reason to include it – this was probably the most expensive wine in the tasting, and it really didn’t deliver.
2016 Domaine Michel Vatan Calcaire Sancerre AOC – presented at the seminar – on the nose, minerality, lemon, distant touch of the grass, crisp, fresh. Excellent acidity on the palate, very nice overall.
2017 Raphael Midoir De Silex et Tuffeau Touraine AOC (SRP $14.99) – outstanding. Classic nose, delicious.
2016 Pierre Prieuré & Fils Domaine de Saint-Pierre Sancerre AOC (SRP $19.99) – excellent, fresh
2016 Raphael Midoir La Plaine des Cailloux Touraine-Oisly AOC (SRP $19.99) – outstanding, great complexity.

Chenin Blanc:
2016 Château de la Mulonnière M De Mulonnière Anjou – presented at the seminar – delicious. White stone fruit, peaches on the nose. A touch of sweetness and perfect balance on the palate. Outstanding.
2017 La Croix des Loges Anjou White AOC (SRP $14.99) – outstanding. Clean, fresh, touch of sweetness.
2014 La Croix des Loges Trois Failles Anjou AOC (SRP $22.99) – outstanding, gunflint on the nose, clean, balanced palate.
1977 La Croix des Loges Bonnezeaux AOC – yes, 1977, this is not a typo – this was an off the list, off the charts treat – a Chenin Blanc dessert wine, still elegant and complex.

Other:
2017 Domaine du Colombier Vla de Loire IGP ($14.99, 100% Sauvignon Gris) – excellent, fresh, complex.

Reds:

Cabernet Franc:
2015 Domaines des Varinelles Saumur-Champigny AOC (SRP: $20) – amazing similarity with Lodi wines on the palate – soft, aromatic, touch of cinnamon, ripe blueberries and raspberries, hint of blueberry compote. The similarity with Lodi is mind-boggling. Let’s not forget that this is Cabernet Franc wine, so there must be something there which can explain it. Need to dig deeper into this, I’m really curious.
2015 Domaines des Varinelles Laurintale Saumur-Champigny AOC (SRP: $24) – muted nose, and practically identical on the palate to the previous wine from the same domain. I will look into it… But two superb wines by all means – the wine are coming from the old world, but clearly, are screaming “new world”.
2017 Domaine du Raifault Chinon AOC (SRP: $17.95) – wow! Cassis on the nose, cassis on the palate – spectacular. This was my best of tasting red wine. This wine is not available in the US yes (we tasted one of only two bottles brought in for tasting) – in the process of being imported. Once it arrives, do yourself a favor – go find it and buy a case, or two. You can thank me later.
2016 Sauvion Chinon AOC (SRP: $17.99) – interesting dense nose, great palate, sandalwood, smoke, fresh, present. Tannins are still aggressive, but not as much as others.

Pinot Noir:
2014 Xavier Flouret Domaine de Chatenoy Menetou-Salon AOC (SRP: $20.95) – great Pinot Noir – excellent fresh nose, great balance of dark fruit on the palate, outstanding. 15 generations of vignerons know what they are doing. Definitely one of the highlights of the tasting.
2015 Domaine Gérard Millet Sancerre Red (SRP: $25) – fresh, crisp, herbs, spices, light.

Blends:
2014 Domaine de la Chaise Touraine-Chenonceaux AOC ($22, 70% Cabernet Franc, 30% Côt) – fresh, delicious, cassis and tobacco, excellent balance

The Spring is finally here (or at least it seems so in New York), so go on, find some Loire wines to explore on your own. Cheers!

Spain’s Great Match – Rare Grapes, Delicious Wines, Great Values

October 13, 2017 7 comments

Spain's wine regions

Source: Wines from Spain USA

I discovered the real greatness of the Spanish wines about 10 years ago, thanks to the wonderful seminar at maybe the best source of the Spanish wines in New York – the PJ Wine store. I had an occasional Rioja here and there before, but tasting through the full line of best of the best in Rioja, starting from the legendary 1964 vintage, was a true eye opener, and ever since, Spanish wines hold a special place in my winelover’s heart. If I need an ultimate solace in the wine glass, yes, 9 out of 10, it will be a Rioja.

Spain has the biggest vineyard area plantings in the world, so no matter how great Rioja is, Spain is so much more than just the Rioja. As I became a big fan of the Spanish wines (search this blog under the “Spanish wine” category), it became truly fascinating to follow all the changes and see the appearance of the totally new regions and reincarnation of the ancient, authentic grapes – Spain is home to about 400 grape varieties, out of which only about 20 can be considered “mainstream”.

What is the better way to learn about new wines if not the [big] wine tasting? Thanks to the Wines from Spain USA, the 24th annual “Spain’s Great Match – Wine, Food, Design” event offered exactly that – a big wine tasting (more than 300 wines), educational wine seminars and authentic Spanish food.

I had a pleasure of attending these events for the last few years, including the special 30th Anniversary of Spanish wines in the USA, where the incredible tasting in the main seminar included once-in-a-lifetime wines such as 2005 Clos Erasmus from Priorat, a Robert Parker 100-points rated wine. Every year’s event offered unique and different educational opportunities as well as the tasting of the latest and greatest wine releases from all major Spanish regions.

The first seminar offered during this year’s event was focused on the Spain’s rare grapes. Ask a winelover to come up with the list of the commonly used Spanish grapes – I’m sure that going beyond Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache) and Albariño will be challenging. Some of the adventurous wine geeks might add Graciano, Viura, and Verdejo.  Meanwhile, remember – 400 varieties – versus 6 which we just mentioned. Spanish winemakers definitely got some options.

So the first seminar, led by Doug Frost, one of the only 4 people in the world who are both Master Sommelier and Master of Wine,  Gretchen Thomson, Wine Director for Barteca Restaurant Group, overseeing the largest in the country portfolio of Spanish wines, and Michael Schachner, Spanish and South American Editor for Wine Enthusiast Magazine, addressed exactly this issue. We had an opportunity to taste and discuss 10 wines made from the little known Spanish grapes.

rare Grapes seminar led by Doug Frost MS/MW

Spain's Great Match

Spain's Great Match

Gretchen Thomas at the rare grapes seminar Spain's Great MatchAs some of you might know, I’m a grape geek myself. The little box in the upper section of the Talk-a-Vino web page shows a counter for the number of grapes I had an opportunity to taste, so from the 10 grapes we tasted, I found only one I didn’t have before. The wines were interesting, however, I would not necessarily agree with the choice of wines to showcase particular grapes – but I wouldn’t stand a chance against such a distinguished panel of experts, so you can dismiss this statement. 🙂

Anyway, for what it worth, below are my tasting notes. Don’t have any good pictures for you, as I had no opportunity to take pictures of these wines in between the different events. Here we go:

2016 Ameztoi Txakolina D.O. Getariako Txakolina (Grape – Hondarrabi Zuri)
Beautiful nose, fresh, lemon notes, herbs, inviting. Crisp, cut through acidity, touch of fizz, would perfectly match oysters, seafood, most reminiscent of Mucadet.

2014 Bodega Chacón Buelta D.O. Cangas (grape: Albarín Blanco, new grape for me)
Off-putting nose – strong gasoline, aggressive herbal notes. The palate is interesting – lychees, pear, appears almost oxidative/”orange”.

2016 Avancia Cuvée de O D.O. Valdeorras (grape: Godello)
Intense nose, white stone fruit, nicely restrained, peaches undertones with clean acidity on the palate with clean acidity – excellent

2014 Bodegas Maranones Picarana D.O. Viños de Madrid (grape: Albillo Blanco, high altitude vineyards, 2000–2500 feet, barrel fermented)
Open, intense, touch of gunflint, reminiscent of Chardonnay, apples, vanilla – excellent. Plump, Marsanne-like on the palate, touch of tannins, very nice overall

2016 Armas de Guerra Tinta D.O. Bierso (grape: Mencía)
Intense, freshly crushed berries on the nose. Outstanding on the palate, tannins, burst of pepper, crisp, dry, very little fruit, medium body. Very interesting and different expression of Mencía.

2011 Raúl Pérez Prieto Picudo V.T. Castilla y Léon (grape: Prieto Picudo)
Delicious nose, open berries, sweet oak, overall on the nose – classic California. Lots going on on the palate – touch of sweetness, blackberries, nice swing of tannins, medium+ body.

2015 Bermejo Listán Negro D.O. Lanzarote (grape: Listán Negro, 13% ABV)
Smelling a cement truck – just fresh cement, plus intense herbal notes. Chipotle, poblano peppers dominate noticeably dusty palate – unique and different. (Too unique?)

2015 Ànima Negra ÀN V.T. Mallorca (grape: Callet)
Fresh open nose, fresh blueberries, and strawberries. Funky undertones on the palate, aggressive tannins (French oak), limited fruit. Interesting food wine

2014 Mustiguillo Finca Terrerazo Pago El Terrerazo (grape: Bobal)
Closed nose. A tiny hint of fruit, more perceived than real. Tight palate, noticeable oak, touch of cherries, good balance of fruit and acidity. Needs time. Want to try again in 10–15 years.

2013 Torres Cos Perpetual D.O.Ca. Priorat (grape: Cariñena)
Nice nose, cherries, dark chocolate, fresh leaves undertones. Aggressive tannins, green notes (tree branches), initial sweet notes immediately followed by astringent profile.

Spain's Great Match

Spain's Great Match

Spain's Great Match

Spain's Great Match

Spain's Great Match

Our next seminar was dedicated to the wines and culture of the Castilla y León, an administrative region in the Northern part of Spain. Castilla y León includes a number of winemaking regions – some of the best, essentially – Ribera del Duero, Toro, Rueda among others. The seminar was led by charismatic Marnie Old – I have to honestly say that this was one of the very best wine seminars I ever attended – great delivery, lots of energy, excellent presentation.

We had an opportunity to taste 7 different wines and also try some of the Castilla y León authentic foods – a few kinds of cheese (Valdeon, a blue cheese, was my favorite), Jamon (Jamón Guijuelo, to be precise) and more. I really didn’t care for the Rosé, so below you will find the notes for the wines we tasted:

2016 Bodegas Vitulia Albillo Gran Selección Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León ($18, 12.5% ABV, 100% Albillo Mayor)
Simple, crisp, acidic, refreshing. Plus another new grape.

2016 Bodega Castelo de Medina Verdejo Rueda D.O. ($19.95, 13.5% ABV, 100% Verdejo)
White stone fruit, intense, fresh, floral fruit on the nose. Palate is dominated by the herbs, similar to Sancerre, lemon, medium body, very nice

2016 Bodega Javier Sanz V Malcorta Rueda D.O. (13% ABV, $26, 100% Verdejo Malcorta)
Javier Sanz’s effort is dedicated to restoring pre-phylloxera vineyards – this is where the fruit for this wine came from. The nose is a pure wow – intense, camphor oil, sandalwood, rosemary. Palate is delicious, perfectly balanced, candied lemon, nutmeg, medium+ body, clean acidity, an excellent wine. Yes, and another new grape.

2016 Vino Bigardo Tinto Experimental (100% Tinta de Toro) – an interesting wine. Made by a rebel winemaker, who doesn’t want to make the wine according to the appellation laws, so the wine is unclassified. 20–100 years old wine, 45 passes during the harvest, micro-fermentation. Nose has lots of young, bright fruit, freshly crushed berries, reminiscent of Monastrell, unusual. Young fruit on the palate, but with undertones of stewed fruit, hint of the roasted meat. This is experimental wine all right, but this is not a successful wine in my book.

2009 Bodegas Matarredonda Libranza 28 Reserva Especial DO Toro ($45, 100% Tinta de Toro, ungrafted vines, on average 70 years old)
Spicy nose with a whiff of cinnamon, sweet oak, classic Cabernet nose overall. On the palate very tight, the real Toro, powerful, dark fruit, nice – but needs time. Pairs surprisingly outstanding with the local Valdeon Blue Cheese.

2014 Bodegas Balbás Crianza Ribera Del Duero D.O. ($27.99, 90% Tempranillo, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18 months in French oak barrels)
This wine comes from one of the founding estates in the region, established in 1777.
Dusty nose, muted fruit, distant hint of dried cherries. On the palate – cherries, cherry pit, roasted meat, coffee, great concentration, fresh, clean – very good wine overall.

I was registered for two more seminars, but then there were lots of wines to taste, so I decided to proceed with the tasting. Below are mentions of the wines I liked. I have separated the wines into my top choices (both white and red), and then separately sparkling (Cava), white and red wines I feel comfortably happy to recommend. For what it worth, here we go:

Top wines:
2016 Bodega Javier Sanz V Malcorta Rueda DO ($26) – see my notes above, definitely was the star
2014 CVNE Monopole Blanco Seco Rioja ($22) – Monopole is one of my favorite white Rioja in general, but this wine is taken to the next level by spending some time in oak – lots of increased complexity. Delicious.
2013 Bodegas Prineos Garnacha DO Somontano ($12.99) – round and delicious. Great value
2011 Bodegas Beronia III a.C. Beronia DOCa Rioja ($79.99) – 70 years old vines. Unique and beautiful, produced only in exceptional vintages. standout.
2015 Bodegas Garcia Carrión Mayoral Reservado DOP Jumilla ($12.99, Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot) – a standout. Perfectly balanced, great flavor profile and QPR which can’t be beat.
2014 El Coto Crianza DOCa Rioja ($13) – an incredible value, perfectly soft and round
2008 El Coto de Imaz Gran Reserva DOCa Rioja ($44) – perfectly drinkable, but can still age. Delicious and a great value.
2010 Gratavinum GV5 DOCa Priorat ($80) – excellent wine

Also very good:

Cava:
NV Anna de Codorniu Blanc de Blancs Brut Reserva DO Cava ($14.99) – never disappoints. Great value.
NV Anna de Codorniu Brut Rosé DO Cava ($14.99) – one of my perennial favorites.
2010 Parés Baltà Cava Blanca Cusiné DO Cava ($40) – very good quality, comparable to vintage Champagne.
NV Segura Viudos Reserva Heredad DO Cava ($25) – another one of my favorites. Delicious.
2010 Torelló 225 Brut Nature Gran Reserva DO Cava ($35) – very good

White:
2016 Bodegas Sommos Las Bas Gewürztraminer DO Somontano ($25.99) – Gewurtztraminer is a tough grape for making a round, balanced wine – and this one was exactly that.
2015 Baigorri Barrel Fermented White DOCa Rioja ($30) – very nice
2016 Bodegas Beronia Viura DOCa Rioja ($14.99) – clean, refreshing
2016 El Coto Blanco DOCa Rioja ($11) – outstanding and an excellent value
2013 Bodegas Enate “Chardonnay 234” Enate DO Somontano ($12.99) – classic, very good.

Rioja:
2013 Bodegas Muga Reserva DOCa Rioja ($28) – one of the iconic producers, very good wine.
2011 Marqués de Riscal Reserva DOCa Rioja ($18) – excellent value
2005 Marqués de Riscal Gran Reserva DOCa Rioja ($48) – very good
2010 Marqués de Riscal Baron de Chirel Reserva DOCa Rioja ($79) – very good
2011 Bodegas Faustino V Rioja Reserva DOCa Rioja ($15) – very good value
2005 Bodegas Faustino I Rioja Gran Reserva DOCa Rioja ($35) – another very good QPR example
2012 Bodegas Beronia Reserva DOCa Rioja ($19.99) – excellent
2008 Bodegas Beronia Gran Reserva DOCa Rioja ($31.99) – excellent, and great value
2012 El Coto de Imaz Reserva DOCa Rioja ($24)
2008 Viñedos y Bodegas Sierra Cantabria Finca El Bosque DOCa Rioha ($95) – probably the most expensive wine in the tasting, and it is not ready to drink. Needs time, lots of time.
2007 Señorio de San Vicente San Vicente DOCa Rioja ($52, new grape – Tempranillo peluda)

Other red:
2016 Bodegas Sommos Merlot DO Somontano ($25.99)
2012 Bodegas Viñas Del Vero Secastilla DO Somontano ($44.95)
2009 Bodegas Paniza Artigazo Edición Limitada DOP Cariñena ($24..99)
2010 Bodegas Corral Don Jacobo Rioja Reserva DOCa Rioja ($22) – delicious and a great value
2014 Bodegas Volver DO LaMancha ($16) – one of my perennial favorites, big and powerful
2012 Finca Villacreces Ribera del Duero DO ($35) – this wine never disappoints – perfect example of what Ribera del Duero is capable of
2013 Bodegas Hacienda Monasterio, Ribera del Duero DO ($40) – delicious
2015 Bodegas Garcia Carrión Mayoral Chester DOP Jumilla ($12.99, Monastrell/Petite Verdot)
2014 Bodegas Garcia Carrión Pata Negra Apasionado ($12.99, Monastrell/Petit Verdot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah)
2014 Torres Salmos DOCa Priorat ($35) – very good
2015 Teso La Monja Almirez DO Toro ($52) – still needs time
2007 Teso La Monja DO Toro ($25) – nice, but definitely needs time

And then, of course, there was food. Cheese and olives were a staple, and many other dishes were carried out all the time. I also discovered my new favorite sparkling mineral water – Vichy Catalan.  It is sold at some of the stores, such as Fairway Market, so if you like sparkling water, you might want to give it a try.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. Spain’s Great Match is an annual event, so even if you missed this year, you should definitely plan to attend the next – you can see a full schedule here. Also, if you live in or will visit Chicago, you can still attend it on November 2nd. Either way – drink more Spanish wines, my friends! Cheers!

Of Cabs and Tomatoes, or Having Fun with a Blind Tasting

November 29, 2016 7 comments

“By the way”, my friend texted me, “your text says “tomato wine” – was that an autocorrect”? My response was “Nope. You’ll see”.

Drinking wine is fun (if you disagree, you shouldn’t read this blog). There are many things which we, oenophiles, self-proclaimed wine aficionados, can do to maximize that fun. We age wines, we decant wines, we use fancy openers and pourers, we play with temperature and glasses of different forms and sizes.

One of ultimate fun exercises oenophiles can engage in is a blind tasting. Blind tasting is a “truth serum” for the wine lovers, it levels the playing field for all. Blind tasting eliminates all “external” factors – price (ha, I paid $300 for this bottle, beat that), prestige, winemaker’s pedigree, weight of the terroir (ahh, Bordeaux, it must be amazing), cute and elaborate labels, critics and friends opinion – and leaves your palate one on one with the content of the glass. Don’t say “I hate Chardonnay and I never drink it”, as you don’t know what is in your glass. Don’t say “I don’t like Australian wines”, as you don’t know what is in your glass. Anyone who ever played the game of the blind tasting can surely attest to what I’m saying here. If you never experienced fun and joy of the blind tasting, you are missing and you are missing a lot – but it is easy to fix.

Our tradition of wine dinners goes back more than 5 years, and most of the wine dinners include blind tasting part (here are the posts for some of the past events – Pinot Noir, Champagne, Chardonnay). A few weeks ago, we managed to align everyone’s schedule for a wine dinner and a blind tasting with a simple and non-pretentious subject – Cabernet Sauvignon :).

wine tasting readyRemember the dialog at the beginning of this post? I have friends who know my obsession with the wine, and always try to surprise me with various oddities. One of such oddities was a bottle of tomato wine which they brought from Canada. I didn’t want to drink that wine by myself, so the wine dinner was an excellent opportunity to share it with friends. As guests were arriving, I decided to play a role of the mean host (okay, not too mean). Outside of the friend who knew about the tomato wine, the rest were presented with the pour of the white wine and the request to guess what grape that might be. Literally nobody wanted to believe that this was a tomato wine – I had to show the bottle as a proof.

Have I tasted this wine blind, I’m sure I would be in the same boat as all of  my friends – this 2013 Domaine de la Vallée du Bras OMERTO Vin Apéritif de Tomate Moelleux Québec (16% ABV) was fresh, with good acidity, touch of raisins on the nose, medium to full body and notes of the white stone fruit on the palate – for me, Vouvray (Chenin Blanc from Loire) is the one which comes to mind to give you the best analogy. This wine is produced from the locally grown heirloom tomatoes – and it is also a vintage – I’m seriously impressed (find it and taste it).

And to the blind tasting off we went. 10 wines were wrapped in the paper bags, opened and randomly numbered (my daughter usually does the honors), then poured into the glasses. The only thing we knew that all the wines will be predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon – no price or region limits.

Below are my notes, in our tasting order, both with my initial impressions and some updates over the next few days as I tasted leftover wines. And by the way, don’t think of this tasting of some stuck-up, snotty process – we openly exchange our thoughts, but each person’s individual palate is an ultimate purveyor of truth here:

#1:
C: almost black
N: restrained
P: bright fruit, pronounced tannins, delicious.
P: 2nd day – outstanding, firm structure, eucalyptus, dusty profile, tannins are still fresh.
V: 2013/2014, new world , considerably improved by the end of the tasting!

#2:
N: blueberry pie notes
P: beautiful, bright, cassis, blueberry pie with tobacco undertones on the second day, excellent
V: Lange

#3:
N: savory,
P: crispy, fresh, great fruit
P: 2nd day – firm structure, perfect balance, dark cocoa, cassis. Truly an enjoyable wine
V: nice finish,

#4
N: strange, rotten cabbage, musty cellar
N: 2nd day: an improvement, tobacco with touch of barnyard on top of cassis
P: nice, bright,
P: 2nd day: great improvement, very enjoyable, shouting a bit of mature fruit with bright acidity and touch of fresh plums.
V: India?

#5:
N: coffee, mocca, dust, excellent
N: 2nd day: coffee and roasted meat
P: nice fruit, bright, spicy
P: 2nd day: palate shifted towards savory too much meat. Probably perfect with the steak, but craving more balance on its own.
V: nice, young

#6:
N: blueberry pie, nice
N: 2nd day: pure candy on the nose, more of a lollipop quality, or may be stewed strawberries.
P: sour cherry, wow
P: sour cherries continuing, albeit more muted than yesterday
V: nothing from Cab, but nice. An okay wine.

#7:
N: nice balance, good fruit
P: great, dusty palate, firm structure, excellent, precision
V: outstanding

#8:
N: nice dusty nose,
P: crispy, tart, limited fruit
V: not bad, but not great.
V: day 2 – past prime 😦

#9:
N: nice, classic
N: 2nd day: added perfume and explicit anise notes
P: beautiful, excellent, mint, classic
P: 2nd day: dark, powerful, compressed, espresso, a lot more dense than the day before.
V: excellent
V: 2nd day: less enjoyable than the day before, closed up, lost the finesse.

#10:
N: young berries, same on the day 2 but a bit more composed.
P: young crushed berries
P: 2nd day: a bit more restrained. Young berry notes without supporting structure. Not my wine, but might have its audience.
P: 5th day: the sweetness is gone, and the classic Cab showed up, touch of cassis and mint, excellent
V: 1st day – it’s ok, 5th day – very impressive

During the tasting, we decide on two of our favorite wines. After tasting is done, we take a vote, with each person allowed to vote for two of their favorite wines. These are just two favorites, without prioritizing between the two. Below are the results of the vote for our group of 11 people:

#1 – 1
#2 – 1
#3 – 7
#4 – 1
#5 – 0
#6 – 2
#7 – 4
#8 – 1
#9 – 4
#10 – 1

As you can tell, the most favorite wine was wine #3 (7 votes out of 11), and the second favorite was a tie between wines #7 and #9, each of them getting 4 votes out of 11. Now, drumroll please – and the most favorite wine of the blind Cabernet Sauvignon tasting was … 2006 Staglin family Cabernet Sauvignon! Staglin Family Cab is definitely not a slouch in the world of cult California wines, and the group clearly fell for it. Here is the full lineup, in the order of tasting:

cabernet wines from the blind tastingHere are the details for all the wines:

#1: 2012 KRSMA Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Hampi Hills Vineyard, India (13.5% ABV)
#2: 2013 LangeTwins Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Lodi, California (14.4% ABV)
#3: 2006 Staglin Family Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, Napa Valley (14.9% ABV)
#4: 2002 d’Arenberg The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon McLaren Vale, Australia (14.5% ABV)
#5: 2014 Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon WO Robertson, South Africa (14% ABV)
#6: 2015 Vinca Minor Cabernet Sauvignon Redwood Valley California (12% ABV, 1 barrel produced)
#7: 1995 Château Clerc Milon Grand Cru Classé Pauillac AOC (12.5% ABV)
#8: 2000 Château Lanessan Delbos-Bouteiller Haut-Médoc AOC (13% ABV)
#9: 2009 Tasca D’Almerita Tenuta Regaleali Cabernet Sauvignon Sicilia IGT (14.5% ABV)
#10: 2014 Crosby Cabernet Sauvignon California (13.5% ABV)

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10 wines, 6 countries, 10 different regions, $7.95 – $150 price range, 1995 – 2015 vintage range – I think we did pretty well in terms of diversity. Staglin Family being the favorite wine is not that surprising (but still interesting, considering that it is the most expensive wine in the lineup at $149). My biggest surprises, though, were super-solid KRSMA Cabernet Sauvignon from India (India? really?), an excellent Cabernet Sauvignon from Sicily (who would’ve thought!), and the cheapest wine in the group, Crosby Cabernet Sauvignon ($7.95), which opened up magnificently 5 days after the bottle was opened – of course, nobody has a desire to wait that long for the wine, but forgetting a few bottles in the cellar might be a right move.

The dinner quickly followed the tasting (after 110 glasses were safely removed from the table). I don’t have much in terms of pictures, but we had Russian Meat Soup (recipe here) and beef roast as the main dish. The deserts were pretty spectacular and paired very well with Cabernet wines:

And that concludes my report about our great fun with Cabernet Sauvignon wines and the blind tasting. Now is your time to share your blind tasting and odd wines stories – and if you had any of the wines I mentioned here, I want to know your opinion about them.

Lastly, if you never experienced the pleasures of the blind tasting, you must fix it as soon as possible. Cheers!

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