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June – What a Month, in Wines and Pictures

July 10, 2019 1 comment

The Vessel Hudson YardsJune might be my favorite month of the year. There are many reasons for me to say that. For one, it is the very beginning of summer. It is like a Friday night when the whole weekend is still ahead – the same thing with June, the summer is just starting. Then it is the month of my birthday and Father’s Day, which means I get to celebrate a few holidays which are related to me. Throw in the end of school celebration and occasional graduation, and you can clearly tell June brings a lot of reasons to be happy.

This June of 2019 went particularly overboard with all the goodness. At the beginning of the month, I got invited to so many wine tastings and dinners that I had to simply decline the number of invitations. Those which I managed to attend were an absolute standout. Tasting of South African wines was small, but superb, with lots of simply delicious wines. Right after the South African wine tasting, I met with Stefano Ruini, the winemaker for Bodegas Luce, tasted through yet another excellent set of wines and finally realized that Luce, the wine I tasted and admired before, is a Merlot Sangiovese blend produced in the heart of the land of Brunello.

The last event of the same day was a dinner with Michael Benedict and John Terlato of Sanford and Benedict Winery, a pioneer of California Pinot Noir, which took place at the spanking new Hudson Yards, at the Wild Ink restaurant, overlooking freshly minted The Vessel.

My next day was even more memorable, with two hours of the pure joy of talking to Stu Smith of Smith-Madrone Winery in Napa Valley, and tasting (a better way to put it: been blown away by) Stu’s wines, which were simply a standout.

That eventful week ended with the L’Ecole 41, iconic Walla Walla producer’s lunch and vertical tasting, where I finally discovered for myself what is all the fuss about Ferguson.

Then there was Father’s Day, with all the cooking fun and an opportunity to open a special bottle of wine – it is always easier to pull a better bottle when you have a good reason to do so.

My cooking fun was more of the usual – BBQ. However, I experimented with the way the meat was prepared. The chicken breast was marinated overnight in the onion juice if this is a thing – simply a big Vidalia onion pulverized in the blender and then used as a marinade – with the addition of the bbq spices. The lamb was marinated overnight in the buttermilk also with the addition of rosemary, sage, and the spices. The result was outstanding – both chicken and lamb came out juicy, tender, and delicious.

The wine story started with the 2018 Field Recordings Morro View Edna Valley (13.9% ABV, 100% Grüner Veltliner) – fresh undertones of grass, Meyer lemon, bright, crisp acidity – a perfect sip for the summer day.

Two of the Martinelli wines joined the party. Martinelli is most famous as the grape growers, however, they also produced a number of wines under their own name, albeit those are rare. First, we had 2009 Martinelli Syrah Zio Tony Ranch “Gianna Marie” Russian River Valley (15.4% ABV), which took a bit of time to open up into the a delicious, blackberries and pepper concoction, firm and supple.

I only had two bottles of Martinelli so I had no plans to open both on the same occasion. However, when my oldest daughter came and said “Dad, I can have a glass of wine over the next two hours and I want California Pinot Noir” (she has medical condition which generally prevents her from enjoying any type of alcohol), the only wine my brain could think of was 2010 Martinelli Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast (15.5% ABV), as I saw this bottle in the fridge the day before. This was a classic California Pinot Noir, which I generally describe as “plums and smoke” – soft, layered, good amount of fruit without going overboard, delicious long finish – an excellent example of the California Pinot Noir – and by the way, perfectly balanced – 15.5% ABV was absolutely unnoticeable.

The last wine I had high hopes for … well, didn’t work out. Back in 2012, I had 2004 Retro Petite Sirah, which was one of my top dozen wines of 2012. This time I opened 2007 Retro Petite Sirah Howell Mountain (14% ABV), hoping that 12 years is enough for this wine to at least start opening up. Nope, no such luck. The fruit was nowhere to be found, the wine mostly had sapidity, coffee and roasted meat notes on the first day, despite being decanted. It slowly improved day by day and showed some glimpses of the fruit on the third day, but still, it didn’t deliver the pleasure I was hoping for.

Well, let’s stop here. I will tell you about the rest of June in the next post – with lots (lots!) more pictures.

To be continued…

Overwhelmed…

December 1, 2013 22 comments
Tua Rita Redigaffi 2009

Tua Rita Redigaffi 2009

I don’t know how this works for you, but sometimes (lots more often than I want to) I find it very difficult for blogging to keep up with the life. Once you are bitten by the blogging bug, even the routine experiences always raise the question in your mind – “does it worth a blog post”. And the answer is often “yes” (it is your personal blog after all, your life’s journal). But from the “yes” answer to the blog post your happy with, there is a thorny road, filled with sudden and unexpected traps, gaps, and changes of directions – the thing called “life”. Life gets in the way, and the unwritten posts become the heavy load, as pleasant as a toothache, drilling your brain with similar persistence “and remember, you still didn’t write that blog post… Yeah… What is wrong with you, huh? Come on already”.

As you might be able to deduce from this lengthy prelude, this blog post will be one of those, supposed to be written a while ago, but coming to life only now. Well, I still think it still has a merit, but you tell me.

At the beginning of September, I was lucky enough to attend 4 trade wine tastings in the row. The trade tastings are conducted by the wholesalers and distributors for the wine trade – retailers and restaurateurs – to introduce new wines coming to the market. These trade tastings are very large in size – they might consist of 100 tables, each table featuring 6-10 different wines, so total number of wines can be easily in 600-800 range. Nobody can taste each and every of the 600 wines within 4 hours which is the typical duration of the tasting – you have to chose what do you want to taste.

Now that I described the trade tasting to you, let me ask you a question – let’s just conduct a mini poll with only one question – do you think the trade tasting is a hard work, or it is all fun, and all the attendees are there just to drink free wine and have a good time?

Now, let’s rephrase the question:

Let me tell you – it is a hard work. You only have a few seconds to evaluate wine. You don’t have the time for the full assessment – most importantly, even if you try to do the full assessment, you don’t have the time to write down your notes after you sip, swish, suck the air, swish again, spit, move to the next. After 5 Barolos in the row, your mouth becomes completely numb, and you need somehow to restore your taste buds. You grab a piece of Parmesan cheese (either that or a sip of a cold sparkling wine), and your taste buds gradually recover, only to be hit again and again. By the end of the 4 hours, you are really overwhelmed, but generally happy.

So the four trade tastings I attended were definitely overwhelming, but exciting at the same time, as I had an opportunity to taste wines I would never be able to taste otherwise, like, for instance, Tua Rita Redigaffi. Of course when you focus on quantity, the quality might suffer – as the desire is to taste as many wines as possible, looking for unique profiles and new discoveries, it is obvious that something has to give. So in my case, I didn’t even try to write down full wine descriptions or rate the wines on my standard 10 points scale. To move fast from wine to wine, I used the “+” signs where + technically means “well, ok”, ++ means “very good”, and +++ means “excellent”. I guess “+++” should be equivalent to my standard 8 rating, but the problem is that thinking about actual numerical ratings for me requires time, and using this system of pluses was allowing me to move from wine to wine a lot quicker. Oh yes, and to stay with my traditional system of half points, I also used half of the plus sign (-|) to mark the wines which I thought were better than, let’s say, ++, but not as good as +++.

So below you will find a huge (I’m not kidding) list of wines I liked during the 4 tastings I attended. Absolute majority of those wines are +++ wines, but yes, you will see wines with other ratings too. I also sometimes used a single word or very short sentences to convey my impressions better, so you will see it reflected in the list below. Additionally, when available, I listed the grapes and some additional information about the wine.

Before I will let you ponder at the list and look for the familiar wines, I want to present some of my general conclusions based on those 4 tastings. Here we go:

  1. One must be humble around wine and never make any assumptions as to taste and value of the wine without actually tasting it. My experience with Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is an example of that (before tasting it, I couldn’t understand why would anyone pay for it double+ price of any other New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – now I do).
  2. Once you cross $60 (approximately), California Cabernet Sauvignon become “one better than the other”.
  3. Looks like 2010 was a great year in California, for sure for Cabernet Sauvignon – I didn’t taste a single bad wine from that vintage.
  4. I have a problem with California Chardonnay. It seems that all the complainers about too much oak, vanilla and butter finally had their way. Now, it is practically impossible to find those big and buttery wines, and most of the California Chardonnays produced today are dull, have no character and overall universally boring. Somebody, please change (fix) that!!!

Ready to look at the list? Hold on, here are some pictures of the wines in the tastings:

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I feel inclined to still add a few more comments, this time just explaining the logic of what you will find in the list. I was choosing the wines to taste based on the few factors:

1. Price – yes, I wanted to taste many expensive wines – go ahead, blame me for it.

2. Uniqueness – I don’t know when and if ever again I will have an opportunity to taste Tua Rita Redigaffi or Catena Zapata Adrianna single vineyard Malbec (both wines are part of my Must Try List) – so of course I made an effort to taste those wines.

3. Wines with rare grapes – as I continue my Wine Century journey, I still always look for the grapes I didn’t taste before. This time I added 4 – Moscatel Morisco, Sauvignon Gris, Kountouro Blanc and Tribidrag

4. Otherwise I was just following the lead of my friend Zak who was tasting wines for his store.

And (ready for it?), here is the list of the wines I tasted, sorted by the country – but I’m warning you – continue at your own risk – you might get overwhelmed too…

Reminder – unless otherwise noted, all the wines below are +++ wines, thus these are all the wines really liked, and it is only a fraction of what we had to work through…

Now – enjoy and cheers!

Read more…

Thursday Rant–Tasting Fees

April 4, 2013 2 comments

One of my fellow bloggers, TheDrunkenCyclist recently started a series of posts called Thursday Rant. His latest post managed to “hit the chord” as we call it – it is about winery tasting fees getting into totally absurd territories, especially when you are in the places like Napa valley. You should read the post below to see it for yourself – and then take a look at some of my suggestions:

Thursday Rant–Tasting Fees.

There are a few things which you can do to avoid a paying an exorbitant amount of money for the wine tasting, outside of simply not visiting the wineries – but all of them will require planning ahead.

1. Connect with the wineries on Twitter and ask them to make special arrangements for you and your group for the tasting. It doesn’t mean that your tasting will be complementary, but you might have an opportunity to taste some interesting wines.

2. Talk to the people at your favorite wine store – tell them you plan to visit a particular winery. Your wine store is often connected to the winery either directly or through a distributor – the winery might be very accommodating to your needs.

Cheers!

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