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#WineChat, #WineChat, #WineChat, #WineChat!

December 4, 2015 Leave a comment

I guess you are thinking that I accidentally fell asleep at the keyboard, and the same word was repeated multiple times in the title. Or may be I’m working on the new wine riddle. Well, no, I’m not asleep and I’m not good at creating riddles. But over the next few days, there will be 4 different #WineChats or #WineChat style events which I would like to bring to your attention.

Lazy Bones Cabernet Franc Paso Robles

First, on Friday, December 4th (which is today!), we will be celebrating Cabernet Franc, one of the noble grape varietals and one of the “parents” of the Cabernet Sauvignon. This #CabFrancDay celebration is started by Lori and Michael of Dracaena Wines, and the culmination point of the celebration will be a live #WineChat on Twitter, starting at 8 PM Eastern time. The celebration is easy to join – pour yourself a glass of Cabernet Franc (you got lots of choices – Bordeaux, Loire, Languedoc, California, Australia, New York state, Oregon, Argentina and many other regions), open Twitter and chat away.

Finger Lakes Wines Sparkling and Dessert

Next virtual event will take place on Wednesday, December 9th, 7 – 8 PM Eastern – Finger Lakes Wine Alliance will conduct its traditional Sparkling and Dessert Wines tasting. The event will take place on Twitter using hash tag #FLXwineVT, together with the live broadcast on UStream. 6 wineries will participate in the tasting – Damiani Wine Cellars, Fox Run Vineyards, Glenora Wine Cellars, Lakewood Vineyards, Standing Stone Vineyards and Thirsty Owl Wine Company.

Left Coast Cellars Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir

After you and your fingers will take one hour break, it will be a time to join a #WineChat! At 9 PM Eastern, Luke McCollom, General Manager, Viticulturist and Founding Wine Maker of Left Coast Cellars from Oregon will be discussing “the advantages of a single vineyard estate”. All you need to do to join the conversation, which I’m sure will be very interesting (I published a two-part interview with Luke McCollom a short while ago – part 1 and part 2), is to open Twitter and join the conversation with the hash tag #WineChat.

Frescobaldi Wines

Last but not least, on Thursday, December 10th, there will be a virtual tasting of 700 year old Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi’s “CRU wines from its signature estates (Castello di Nipozzano, Castello di Pomino, Tenuta di Castelgiocondo, Tenuta di Castiglioni)”. The tasting will start at 1 PM Eastern (was originally scheduled for 2 PM), and it will be done as a live broadcast over UStream. Tasting will be conducted by Lamberto Frescobaldi, President and 30th generation of Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi. Join in!

I hope you will find time to join at least one tasting – the conversations at those events are always live and entertaining. Until the next time – cheers!

 

 

Riesling, Oh Riesling – Finger Lakes Riesling Deep Immersion with #WineChat

September 16, 2014 18 comments

IRF tasteprofileThere is nothing obscure about Riesling. Unquestionably one of the “big three” white grapes (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling). Celebrated through various social media events – “The Summer of Riesling”, “Riesling Month”. An established, de-facto pairing for the Asian or any spicy cuisine for that matter. “Fastest growing white wine in America”. And nevertheless, one of the most unknown, under-appreciated and misunderstood wines, if you ask me.

Walk into any general wine store, and try to find Riesling wines. Are they right in the first aisle, next to the California Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc? Nope. Oh yes, a lot of Rieslings come from Europe, so they definitely will be right next to the Burgundy and Loire. Oops – not here again? Here they are – in the back of the back, a side aisle, a small section, ask the sales guy, he will show you. And this is not limited to the wine stores only – most of the restaurant wine lists have one or two Riesling wines, usually in the cheapest group. Similar story in most of our cellars – how many bottles of Riesling do you have on your shelves? A few? And this is despite the fact that Riesling is one of the most age-worthy wines in the world…

So how do these two realities of “one of the fastest growing” and “last row seat” co-exist? I think perception has a lot to do with this. Since Riesling can be sweet, and often it is praised for its sweetness, consumers are stuck in the notion Riesling = Sweet. Take a look at the Wine Spectator ratings – highest rated Kabinett Riesling (typically showing only a hint of sweetness) got 93 points; and then 8 (eight!) Rieslings got 100 points (the absolute top) rating – by the way, it is 8 of only 75 wines which got 100 points from Wine Spectator – and all 8 are Trockenbeerenauslese, the highest sweetness designation. Thus for lots and lots of wine drinkers, Riesling is a dessert wine, and while we love dessert wines a lot more than we are willing to admit, the dessert wine designation means “only for the special moments”.

Can this perception be changed? Of course. How? By educating people. This was one of the reasons for the International Riesling Foundation (IRF) to be created in 2007. The idea behind foundation was exactly this – to make people aware of what Riesling has to offer, and to help people better understand Riesling wines. One of the outcomes of the IRF efforts became the Riesling Taste Profile. According the the specification of that profile, four taste categories are defined – Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet and Sweet. Based on the given set of parameters (sugar, acid and pH), the IRF developed a technical chart which allows winery to estimate how the consumers will likely perceive the wine across the 4 defined taste categories. After that, the winery can print that taste profile on the label (you can see an example at the very beginning of this post) – and then the consumer can quickly set the expectations just by glancing at the label.

Finger Lakes Rieslings

Well, it is good to have an informative label, but when it comes to the wine world, seeing doesn’t really equates to believing. But tasting does. This is where the #winechat comes to the rescue. Last week, a group of enthusiastic oenophiles had a chance to dive deeply into the world of 2013 Finger Lakes Riesling, by tasting through the 8 different wines and sharing the excitement with each other. And the wines were definitely very exciting, full of pleasure in every sip. Finger Lakes region in New York deserves all of your attention  – but I already shared my thought about the region at length in the two earlier posts this year, so I will have to refer you to those (first Finger Lakes #winechat and the post about Bellangelo wines).

Below are my notes regarding the individual wines. These notes are based on the longer evaluation of the wines than we would otherwise have during the 60 short minutes of the #winechat, so if you are talking part in another #winechat session on that subject, I suggest you will start tasting your wines now. One last note regarding the wines. As this is my third encounter with the Finger Lakes wines this year, I would like to offer two “bits of wisdom” based on that experience:

  1. Don’t over-chill.
  2. Let ’em breathe.

Terroir, minerality are important components of Finger Lakes wines – by serving the wines a bit warmer than you normally would, say at around 50F, and letting them breathe for may be an hour, you will do yourself a big favor and will find a lot more pleasure in every sip. At least I did. Without further ado, here are the 8 beautiful wines:

Thirsty Owl Riesling Finger Lakes2013 Thirsty Owl Wine Company Riesling Finger Lakes (11.0% ABV, $14.95). IRF scale not shown. On the nose, touch of minerality (gunflint), apricot. Overall nice and restrained. Palate: Clean , crisp acidity, touch of honeysuckle, golden delicious apple. Medium finish, overall very refreshing. Drinkability: 8-

Knapp Riesling Finger Lakes2013 Knapp Dry Riesling Finger Lakes (12%ABV, $15.95) – On the IRF scale, this wine is at the lower part of the Medium Dry style. White apples, honey and lemon on the nose. On the palate, candied lemon peel with fresh lemon juice, complemented by the cut-through acidity. Medium finish, overall a nicely balanced wine. Drinkability: 7+

Boundary Breaks Riesling Finger Lakes2013 Boundary Breaks Vineyard #239 Dry Finger Lakes (11.6% ABV, $19.95) – right in the middle of “dry” on the IRF scale. This is my second encounter with Boundary Breaks Riesling, and I find that this wine needs breathing time to show itself. Initially, closed on the nose, then opening to show distant hint of lemon, touch of minerality. On the palate – wave of sweetness first, with cut through acidity, lingering for a bit and then finishing dry. Tasting at a later time adds some fresh apple and more minerally undertones. Drinkability: 7+

Red Newt Cellars Riesling Finger Lakes2013 Red Newt Cellars Dry Riesling Finger Lakes (11.8% ABV, $17.00) – right in the middle of “dry” on the IRF scale. On the nose, shows minerality, touch of fresh grass. hint of fresh lime, overall very intense. On the palate – nutmeg, hint of mango, fresh herbs and lemon, crisp, dry. Excellent balance and overall very pleasant. One of my very favorites from the tasting. Drinkability: 8

Swedish Hill Riesling Finger Lakes2013 Swedish Hill Riesling Finger Lakes (11.8% ABV, $15.99) – IRF scale not shown. Fresh white fruit on the nose, touch of candied lemon. Nose quite intense. On the palate – rich, velvety, ripe peach with touch of fresh lemon, clean acidity, excellent finish (medium plus). Texturally quite unique. Drinkability: 8-

Fox Run Riesling Finger Lakes2013 Fox Run Vineyards Dry Riesling Finger Lakes (11% ABV, $17.99) – According to IRF scale, the wine is right on the border between Dry and Medium Dry. On the nose, subdued notes of peach and honey, touch of lemon, intense. Palate is elegant, mineral-driven, with green apple, touch of Meyer lemon, overall dry and very balanced. Drinkability: 8

McGregor Riesling Finger Lakes2013 McGregor Vineyard Riesling Finger Lakes (10.5% ABV, $19.99) – IRF scale is not used. A lot is happening on the nose – cantaloupe, honeysuckle, candied orange, openly sweet and intense. On the palate – ripe apricot, honey, ripe white apple, elegant acidity, perfectly refreshing, very good balance. Drinkability: 8-

Chateau Lafayette Reneau Riesling Finger Lakes2013 Chateau Lafayette Reneau Riesling Semidry Finger Lakes (11.5% ABV, $14.99) – IRF scale is not used. On the nose – rhubarb, floral, touch of grass, white apple. On the palate – honeysuckle, ripe peach, touch of minerality and grass, lemon zest, clean acidity, excellent balance, soft and round mouthfeel. Another top favorite from the tasting. Drinkability: 8

Here we go – 8 great wines, and the region for you waiting to be discovered. September is still on, and it is an official Finger Lakes Riesling month – make an effort to find your new love – a versatile ( and affordable!) wine which you can drink now or put away to enjoy in a few years (or 10 or 20, this is entirely up to you). Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, Few Words About Wine Blogging, FLX Riesling #WineChat Tonight and more

September 10, 2014 2 comments

Meritage time!

Let’s start with the answer to the wine quiz #113: Grape Trivia – Pinot Blanc.

In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about white grape from the Pinot family, Pinot Blanc.

Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: Below is the list of some of the countries growing Pinot Blanc. Sort this list by the area plantings of the Pinot Blanc, from the lowest to the highest:
a. Austria, b. France, c. Germany, d. Italy

A1: Might come as a bit of a surprise, but the correct sequence, based on the 2010 data,  is France (3,230 acres), Austria (4,785), Italy (7,715) and Germany (9,675)

Q2: Wine Spectator calls wines rated in 95-100 range Classic (the highest and the most prestigious category). True or False: there are Pinot Blanc wines rated in the Classic category

A2: True. By a very slim margin, but there are 2 Pinot Blanc wines with the 95 rating (there are plenty in the Outstanding, 90-94 range). As a matter of fact, one of those 95 pointers comes from the New World – 2009 Erath Pinot Blanc Dundee Hills Sweet Harvest from Oregon got that “classic” rating in April 2011 issue.

Q3: In Europe, Pinot Blanc was often confused with and often treated during winemaking the same as _______

A3: Chardonnay. Historically, Pinot Blanc was growing side by side with Chardonnay, and was often confused for one. Similar to Chardonnay, it can be made in both unoaked and oaked styles with equal success.

Q4: In California, the grape which was brought in as a Pinot Blanc, in reality happened to be  ____?

A4: Melon de Bourgogne, French grape used in the production of Muscadet wines.

Q5: True or False: from 2000 to 2010, worldwide plantings of the Pinot Blanc dropped more (percentage-wise) than the plantings of its sibling, Pinot Gris, have increased.

A5: False. From 2000 to 2010, the plantings of Pinot Blanc dropped by about 15%, while the plantings of Pinot Gris more than tripled worldwide.

When it comes to the results, I’m glad to say that the number of players took a stub at this quiz – but, somehow the quiz happened to be somewhat difficult (I usually miss the difficulty in my own assessment, unfortunately). Nobody was able to answer all the questions correctly, but I would like to acknowledge Next Stop TBD who got correct answers for 3 questions out of 5. Thank you all for playing!

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

Alfonso Cevola, who writes an excellent blog “On the wine trail in Italy”, shared his sad outlook on the wine blogging community with the post titled Wine Blog Death Watch: Two wine blogs that are bright lights in a forest of darkness. Well, it is not all doom and gloom in that blog post. First, Alfonso introduces two new wine blogs which he likes. And may be most importantly, speaking from the 9 years of blogging experience, he also gives an advice to the wine bloggers. His advice is very short and concise, and I would dare to say, literally the best you can get. Alfonso has only six bullet points, so taking just the key items themselves, here is a summary of what he suggests: “Write for yourself. Read great writers. Do not look at stats. Write consistently. Don’t follow the trends. Find your niche.” Touche. I can only add “amen”.

Tonight we will take a deep dive into the world of Finger Lakes Rieslings – the #winechat with 8 producers, 8 excellent wines from the 2013 vintage – join the conversation! The logistics are as usual – at 9 PM eastern, open a twitter client and search for #winechat – from there, the conversation is on, and don’t forget to use hashtag #winechat on all your tweets.

Do you know that when you drink the wine (or any alcohol for that matter), you should have water in between the glasses? It supposed to prevent hungover (some of the latest research suggests that it might not be true, who knows), and water is generally good for you. Some of the creative types designed nested glasses which would simplify this task for you – both wine and water are readily in your hand at any time, wine glass on top of the water glass. You can read about this glasses in the Dr. Vino’s blog post.

Got a bit of time on your hands? Wine Spectator is running an annual wine video contest, and you can help to decide who made the best video. Wine Spectator selected 9 videos as the finalists, so your job would be simple – watch those videos and decide who will be the Grand Prize winner. Here is the link to the page for you to watch the videos and take vote.

And we are done here. The glass is empty – but the refill is on its way! Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, #CabernetDay August 28th, Social Connect, Restaurant Tix

August 20, 2014 1 comment

Meritage time!

It’s been a while since the last Meritage post, but finally it is back. First and foremost, let’s start with the answer to the wine quiz #110, How Well Do You Know Your Wines, Part 5.

In the quiz, you were supposed to identify 6 wines, using the picture on top of the wine bottle’s cap. Here are the pictures, now with the answers:

When it comes to the results, we didn’t have a winner today (yes, it was a tough one), but I would like to acknowledge M. w. (no web site) and Duff’s Wines for correctly identifying the wine #4, Chappellet. Well done!

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

First and foremost – next Thursday, August 28th, is a 5th annual #CabernetDay. What does it mean for you? You get to celebrate two of the world’s noble grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are both included. How to celebrate? Here is an easy schedule for you. First, find the bottle of your favorite Cabernet wine – any country goes. Then, open it on Wednesday, August 27th, and join the #winechat at 9 pm Eastern on Twitter. Then, publish a blog post about your favorite wine on Thursday, the 28th (or share it any way you like in social media), and may be even join some of the parties taking place on August 28th all over the country. Would that work? For more information, you can start with the #CabernetDay facebook page.

Now, which winery do you think has the most influence in social media? This week, it is Chateau Ste. Michelle from Washington. Okay, I’m sure you are not terribly surprised – Chateau Ste. Michelle is one of the biggest wineries in the US, so it makes sense. Care to guess number 2 this week? Think about it before you will continue reading. Done? Okay. And the #2 winery among most engaged in the social media is… Biltmore winery from North Carolina! I understand these are the social media engagements we are talking about, but still – I didn’t expect that. All these data are available through the VinTank service called Social Connect – of course it is intended for the wineries interested in tracking their full social media standing and engagement with the consumers, but the Social Media Index scoreboard was quite interesting to check. Play away!

And the last one for today. I’m sure you heard that instead of taking reservations, some of the restaurants sell tickets for the dinners. Particularly, Alinea and Next, two of the restaurants of the famous Chef Grant Achatz in Chicago, are both selling tickets, with the price vary based on the day of the week, dinner time and number of people in your party  and there is no such thing as party of one at the moment). The ticket system was born out of the need, as phone reservations were just failing miserably, trying to cope with demand of all the guests desiring to score a reservation. Here is the blog post detailing creation of this restaurant ticket system, which is quite sophisticated. Warning – the post is very long, and has terrible color scheme – but still might worth your time. Selling tickets reduced the number of no shows practically to 0, and made sure that the restaurant is always filled to the optimum capacity. I understand this side of things. And I understand that great dinner is an experience, thus selling tickets for dinner is not very different than selling tickets for concert, performance or Broadway musical. But – at the same time, it is only a dinner, right? What do you think? Would you gladly buy tickets for your next dinner?

And we are done here. The glass is empty – but the refill is on its way! Cheers!

#winechat Finger Lakes Wine Tasting – An Interesting Experience with Happy Ending

June 5, 2014 5 comments

Here we go again – another #winechat experience. Lots of wines and lots of talking – with your fingers. The subject of this #winechat – wines of Finger Lakes region in New York.

Finger Lakes

Finger Lakes is a picturesque area in the upstate New York, very close to Canada, consisting of multiple lakes – technically, Finger Lakes consists of 11 lakes, but most of the people will be able to name only 3 or 4. Outside of being a popular tourist destination, Finger Lakes is actually one of the very first wine making areas in the US – the first winery was established in 1836, and by now the region has well over a hundred wineries.

Despite such a long history, the wines of the Finger Lakes region are still considered up and coming. For the most of the cases, consumers might be familiar with Finger Lakes Riesling, a bit of Gewurztraminer and some of the Icewine, with the Finger Lakes wines mostly available only in New York and some of the neighboring states. As of late ( last 2-3 years) the situation is slowly changing for the better, both in regards to quality and availability of the Finger Lakes wines. It is also important to note that the improvements I’m talking about concern both white and red wines, with the wineries such as Fox Run, Ravines and Charles Fournier delivering full spectrum of wines worth drinking and talking about.

When I got a note about #winechat dedicated to the Finger Lakes wines, I was hesitant at first regarding my participation. The reason was simple. Yes, the quality of the Finger Lakes wines is improving. However, about 4 years ago, when my daughter was going to Ithaca college, located right by the Seneca lake, I visited few of the nearby wineries, and was quite disappointed with the wines I tasted. Therefore, the prospective of tasting bunch of wines and not being able to write anything about them, was rather daunting. After the internal back and forth, I decided okay, let’s give it a try, and signed up for the #winechat. A few weeks later, the box arrived, containing the 8 bottles – 3 different Rieslings, 3 Chardonnays and 2 Gewurztraminer. From the whole set, I only recognized the name of Dr. Konstantin Frank as a producer I heard of before ( I never tried Gewurztraminer which was included in the tasting set).

Finger Lakes Wines

About a week later, it was the time to taste the wines. I freed up the space in the fridge and put all the bottles in to get them ready.

Talking about an “interesting experience”, let me explain what I mean (yes, I know – somehow, when you read “interesting”, you don’t expect anything good). The #winechat usually starts at 9 PM. But of course it would be quite challenging to taste 8 wines in the real time, take notes, and support many simultaneous “finger” conversations at  the same time. Therefore, I decided to start an hour before, so I would have enough time to taste all the wines in the thoughtful fashion. I invited my friend Zak to share the tasting with me. We started from the Rieslings, then moved on to Chardonnays, and finished with Gewurztraminers. The first Riesling was okay, but then everything went downhill – the wines were simply from the series “nothing to write home about”, with the exception of Dr. Konstantin Frank Gewurztraminer – that was one and only highlight of the tasting. We kept looking at each other with Zak in disbelief, as this was definitely not expected from the set specially selected for the tasting. Needless to say, at the end of the tasting (I managed to participate in the chat, albeit not as enthusiastically as I normally would), I was rather disappointed. And I had 8 wines to finish or dump. What I decided to do, is to put them aside, and give them another chance, one by one. I used the gas canister (not sure I had much gas left though) to replace the air in all the bottles and put the corks back. One bottle went into the fridge, and the rest were standing, waiting for their term.

Now, for the really interesting part. The next day or a few days later, all, yes all the wines (okay, exclude Dr. Konstantin Frank from here, as it was good from the beginning) tasted better! I couldn’t believe it, and I couldn’t understand it – but they did. Better fruit, better balance, softer, smoother – all of them. Well, thinking about it, the Rieslings only improved a little bit or not at all, but the improvement was very noticeable for all Chardonnay wines. Giving it another thought, I think I’m finally starting to “get it”. When I open a bottle of wine, taste it and decide that it is not ready because it is too tight and closed, I’m generally not surprised, I ofthen expect it, and I put it aside to give a day or a few to open up without any commotion. In case of this Finger Lakes tasting, I had multiple wines opened at the same time, and especially all of the Chardonnays had the nice oak treatment, thus required time to open up – this is not my typical case, hence the issues I had. So bottom line is that I was [again] humbled around wine, and still have lots to learn. Well, not the worst problem to have in life, isn’t it?

I will let you decide how “interesting” my experience was. Below you will find tasting notes, both the initial ones, and those I added after re-tasting the wines in a few days.

Here we go:

2012 Red Newt Cellars Tango Oaks Vineyard Riesling (11.5% ABV)

C: practically clear

N: Initially: golden delicious apples, a bit grassy; 2/3 days later: white fruit

P: Initially: high acidity, not enough fruit, tropical fruit, mango; 2/3 days later: white flowers, hint of sweetness on the palate with nice acidity and addition of minerality.

V:nice, simple, 7/7+; Final: 7+/8-

2012 Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars Round Rock Riesling (12.7% ABV)

C: practically clear

N: Initial: candied walnuts, Later on: light, delicate, good white fruit

P: Initial: white fruit with grassy notes, minerality; Later on: a distant hint of Petrol, clean and fresh acidity, elegant, well balanced.

V: Initial:  7+, Final: 7+/8-

2011 Boundary Breaks Riesling Reserve #198 (8.9% ABV)

C: practically clear, almost transparent

N: Petrol (hint of)! white fruit, apricot, honeysuckle.

P: sweet (spatlese or may be even auslese level), needs more acidity, but not bad

V: needs savory food, 7/7+

2012 Knapp Barrel Reserve Chardonnay (13% ABV)

C: straw pale

N: Initially: closed, practically nothing. Later on: nice apple notes, touch of vanilla, pleasant and inviting.

P: Initially: touch of pineapple, white apples, neutral – drinkable, but not fully enjoyable. Later on: nice, cutting acidity, backbone of white fruit, touch of herbal bitterness, but quite round and refreshing. Minerality on the palate, like a limestone. Medium finish,

V: 7, Final: 7+/8-

2012 Lakewood Vineyards Chardonnay (13,9% ABV, 617 cases produced)

C: straw pale

N: Initially: minerality, pretty closed otherwise. 3 days later: very classic nose, with vanilla and toasted oak, nice and clean.

P: Initially: flat, malolactic obvious, touch of vanilla. After 3 days: excellent flavor concentration, good acidity, butter and vanilla, medium to full body, good balance.

V: initially: 6-, final: 7+/8-

2012 Swedish Hill Winery Reserve Chardonnay (13% ABV)

C: straw pale

N: Initial: hint of gunflint, minerality, white fruit. Later: Vanilla and oak, very inviting, with Chablis-like gunflint

P: Initial: oak, vanilla, flat, needs more acidity fruit, opened up reasonably , improved with time, butterscotch, still needs more acidity; 3 days later: great concentration of vanilla, apple and butter, nicely balanced with very persistent depth.

V: 7+, Final: 8-

2012 Hector Wine Company Gewurztraminer

C: Golden color

N: Initial: Beautiful, concentrated fruit; Later: Very pleasant nose of tropical fruit with some spiciness – guava, mango.

P: Initial: Lots of green notes, bitter, biting, not balanced. After 3 days: bitterness subsided, with only a hint left.

V: 6, Final: 7-

2012 Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars Dr. Frank Gewurztraminer (12.5% ABV)

C: golden

N: beautiful fruit, inviting

P: perfect balance, fresh fruit, touch of spiciness, best of tasting

V: 8-

There you have it, my friends. To tell you the truth, I had a different take on the events in the tasting initially, but I’m glad I was able to figure it all out. And this story did have happy ending, as practically all the wines showed very well. Lessons learned – be humble, and give your wines a chance [to breathe].

Before we part, I would like to thank Finger Lakes Wine Alliance for providing the sample for review. Cheers!

Of Ancient Vines and Rhone Varietals – #winechat with Cline Cellars

May 9, 2014 11 comments

ClineCellars CorksThink California wines, think California grapes – what is the first grape which comes to mind? I would guess that Cabernet Sauvignon would be the first. Zinfandel, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay will trail near by (not in this exact order, of course). Are those the best grapes making the best California wines? Yes, before you beat me up, “best wine” is highly subjective, so let’s not drill on that. But – what else is there in California? Ever heard of Rhone Rangers? In the 1980s, a group of California winemakers made a significant effort to popularize Rhone varietals – Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Roussanne, Marsanne and many others. While this group of winemakers didn’t have any set structure,  they became collectively known as Rhone Rangers. As the result of the work of this group, Syrah and Grenache became prominent players on the California wine landscape, with the other traditional Rhone varietals taking more on the supporting roles.

Fred Cline, the founder of the Cline Cellars winery in Contra Costa County, was one of the original Rhone Rangers. While Cline Cellars is most famous for their Zinfandel wines (7 different bottlings are produced), it also makes a number of wines from the traditional Rhone varietals. On Wednesday, April 30th, the worldly virtual tasting room, called #winechat, opened its doors to all the wine lovers, coming in to experience and to talk about the Cline Cellars Rhone-style wines. While Cline Cellars winery was officially founded in 1982, the family owned the vineyards since 1800s. After founding the winery, Fred Cline spent a lot of time and efforts to preserve and where necessary, to restore the ancient vines (some of the vines are 80 – 120 years old), hence the name “Ancient Vines” which you can see on the labels of many Cline Cellars wines. Today, Cline Cellars uses sustainable farming methods and it is Green String Certified winery. Wonder what it means? As explained by the @ClineCellars during the #winechat: “Since 2000, Cline Cellars farms the Green String way: naturally & sustainably &avoid chemical pesticides, fungicides & fertilizers”

ClineCellars Wines

So, how were the wines, you ask? During the #winechat, we had an opportunity to try 3 different wines. We started with 2012 Cline Marsanne Roussanne Sonoma Coast (14.5% ABV, 66% Marsanne, 34% Roussanne). Every time I say “these are some of my favorite grapes/wines/etc.”, I feel a bit uneasy. The reason is simple – when it comes to the wines, I like them all. Every time I talk about the subject, I can come up with the new list of favorites, so using that “some of my favorites” moniker feels almost like lying, just a tiny bit. Oh well. So yes, Marsanne and Roussanne are some of my favorite white grapes – the wines from Marsanne and Roussanne, both are core Rhone white grape varietals, are quite rare, no matter where they come from, so every opportunity to taste such wines is always very exciting.

When it comes to Marsanne and Roussanne wines, the interesting thing is that those wines should be consumed at the room temperature. I tried chilling various Marsanne/Roussanne wines, and it never worked for me. This wines works the best at the 18°C – 20°C/64°F – 68°F. Here are the notes:

Color: Light golden
Nose: Minerality, white flowers, touch of honey, touch of white peach, white grape aroma as the wine opened up.
Palate: Touch of sweetness, caramelized sugar, minerality, very complex.
Verdict: This is one delicious wine, which you can enjoy on its own or with some chicken and mushrooms dish, for instance. Drinkability: 7+

Our next wine was 2013 Cline Mourvèdre Rosé Contra Costa County (13.5% ABV, ~100 years old vines), another traditional Rhone varietal. I tried to play with the temperature on this wine, but it really didn’t work – this wine should be only served well chilled.

Color: Intense pink
Nose: Fruit forward, with lots of ripe strawberries
Palate: Strawberries, cranberries, nice acidity (when well chilled!). Very classic and supple Rosé.
Verdict: Ahh, it pairs so well with the strawberries! Serve either as an Aperitif, or with the fresh light salad (like kale and strawberries), or with the fresh fruit after a meal. Very refreshing. Drinkability: 7+

Last, but not least was 2012 Cline Cool Climate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast (14.5% ABV, aged for 9 month in oak) – yes, not a Rhone varietal, but a California classic, coming from the classic area as well. The climate conditions of Sonoma Coast, with the fog settling down and cooling off the grapes every evening, allow grapes to ripen slowly and to build up a structure and nice acidic core. This wine was very much on par with the good California Pinot Noir expectations:

Color: Dark garnet
Nose: Smoke, minerals, touch of cherries, mushrooms, forest floor, roasted notes
Palate: Minerality, plums, nice acidity, well balanced.
Verdict: Very versatile wine. Perfectly enjoyable on its own, also paired well with wide variety of foods – fresh strawberries (!), roasted chicken, and believe it or not, but bacon cheddar (cheddar cheese with pieces of bacon) was the best pairing! Drinkability: 7+

As an added bonus, this wine even comes with the recipe attached to the back label – very clever idea!

That concludes yet another #winechat report. What is left to say is Thank You. First of all, thank you to the @ClineCellars for providing the excellent wines and enduring the barrage of questions during the intense one hour conversation. And of course, thank you to the Protocol Wine Studio, spearheading the whole #winechat program. And for you, my dear readers? Thank you for reading and come on over! See you next Wednesday on Twitter in the #winechat room. Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, Wine Blog Awards!, 2013 Bordeaux and Rioja, #winechat tonight

April 30, 2014 5 comments

Meritage time!

Let’s start with the answer to the wine quiz #100, Grape Trivia – Blends, Part 4.

For the long time, the grape trivia series was focused on the single grapes. But now we are stirring things up, so all the questions in the quiz are about blends (well, even if it is a blend of one ), as most of the wines in the world are actually blends. As usual, there were 5 questions in the quiz.

Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: True or False: Even if the bottle of wine states the vintage and is made out of 100% of the same grape, there is a very good chance that the wine is still a blend. Explain your answer.

A1: True. Now, this proved to be a very difficult question. Not the “true or false” part of it, of course – but practically nobody (with one exception) managed to provide a satisfactory explanation as to why even if the wine is made out of 100% of the same grape, it is very likely to be still a blend. If wine technical data says that it is made from 100% of Chardonnay, for example, there is no way that any other grapes where blended in. However, have you seen the words “30% malolactic fermentation” or “aged in 15%  new French oak barrels”? For the most part, the wine you get in the bottle is the blend – the blend of wines from the different barrels, the blend of wines fermented with different yeasts, or somehow else differently processed. Also (as it was correctly noted in one of the answers), the wine can be made from exact same grape, but be a blend of different vintages (up to 15% allowed in US wines).

Q2: This white grape is known to produce beautiful, delicately perfumed wines. In some appellations in France, it is also the only white grape allowed to be blended into the red wines. Do you know what grape it is?

A2: Viognier. While it makes great wines on its own, it can be blended with Syrah in Northern Rhone or Shiraz in Australia to change the bouquet of the resulting wine.

Q3: What is common between Cabernet Franc, Riesling and Vidal?

A3: All three varietals are used to produce Icewine in Canada.

Q4: Which one is missing?

Rondinella, Corvina, Molinara, ?, Croatina, Negrara, Oseletta

A4: My intended answer was Corvinone, as the grapes listed above are all used in production of Amarone wines. However, I learned quite a bit myself from the answers, and I understand that in Amarone, similar to all other regions in the world, there is an effort to bring back to life many indigenous varieties, thus ForsellinaPelara and Rossignola would be also all correct answers.

Q5: I’m drinking a delicious French white dry wine, made out of Clairette and Roussane. What AOC designation this wine most likely has?

A5: Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Some of the best white wines in Châteauneuf-du-Pape are made exactly out of the combination of these two grapes. It is possible that such wine would be produced in just a Côtes du Rhône appellation, however, it would be rather expected to see Marsanne as part of the blend, which is a lot easier to produce than Roussanne. However, Marsanne is not allowed in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines.

When it comes to the results, I’m very happy with participation in the quiz. However, there was only one full answer for the question #1, which is proven to be most difficult. Thus we don’t have the grand winner(s) this time around, but I would like to definitely acknowledge Gene Castellino (no web site), Julian of vinoinlove and Jennifer (no web site) who all correctly answered 4 questions out of 5. I also would like to acknowledge Steve of Caspernick blog, who provided a good explanation for the question #1. Thank you all for playing, well done!

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

Once again it is the time for Wine Blog Award nominations! This is an 8th annual Blog Awards round, where the best wine blogs are getting their peer recognition. There are 9 different categories for the Wine Blog Awards, so there are plenty of opportunities to get your favorite blogs acknowledged. Here is your link for the Blog Award nominations. And if you like what you read in this blog, I would greatly appreciate your nominations! Note – there are less than 3 days left – nominations are closed on May 2nd, so hurry!

Looks like 2013 vintage didn’t fair too well in some parts of the Europe. Here is an article for you, explaining why 2013 Bordeaux are better be avoided (in a few simple words, it is all about price/performance). Also, 2013 Rioja doesn’t seem to be the vintage to really look forward to – it was rated as “Good” by the Rioja DOC counsel, which is behind “very good” and “excellent” ratings which were given to most of the recent vintages. Of course the things can be worse – there are possible “satisfactory” and “average” ratings, which are even lower than “good”, but those are assigned very rarely. Well, as usual in the average vintages, you need to look for the better producers – as an example, La Rioja Alta Vina Alberdi from 2003 vintage (also rated “good”), was an outstanding wine. Here is the link for the Decanter article where you can read more on the subject of 2013 Rioja.

Last, but not least – new #winechat tonight! This time the subject is the Rhone and Zins of Cline Cellars. I think everybody know Cline Cellars from California as a Zinfandel producer, but looks like we are in for some interesting surprises tonight (Mourvedre, anyone? Marsanne/Roussanne?). To join the #winechat, just click this link at 9 PM Eastern time/ 6 PM Pacific, and you are in! For more information about past and future #winechat events, please use this link for the #winechat FaceBook page. Talk to you tonight!

And we are done here. The glass is empty – but the refill is on its way! Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, Wine and Biodynamics, Rioja Week in New York, Water Witching and #winechat tonight

April 23, 2014 2 comments

TribidragMeritage time!

Let’s start with the answer to the wine quiz #99, Grape Trivia – Blends, Part 3.

For the long time, the grape trivia series was focused on the single grapes. But now we are stirring things up, so all the questions in the quiz are about blends (well, even if it is a blend of one), as most of the wines in the world are actually blends. As usual, there were 5 questions in the quiz.

Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: Sangiovese is the main grape used in production of Chianti. By itself, sometimes it might lack the intensity of the color. For a while, another grape was added to Sangiovese wines specifically to enhance their color. Can you name that grape?

A1: Colorino. It was popular addition for a short while, but now only very few producers still add it.

Q2: I’m blending together Xarel-lo, Macabeo and Parellada. Which wine I’m most likely making?

A2: Cava – the Spanish sparkling wine. These three grapes are generally a classic blend for a Spanish Cava.

Q3: In the past, this white grape used to be blended into the Chianti wines, and now its use is simply prohibited in some of those Chianti wines. Can you name that grape?

A3: Trebbiano, a.k.a. Ugni Blanc, a.k.a. Malvasia Fina (be careful – just using the name Malvasia is incorrect). It used to be a required grape in the Chianti blend, which was leading to diluted, dull wines. Since 2006, Trebbiano use is banned in Chianti Classico wines.

Q4: You can say whatever you want, but Bordeaux and Burgundy are the hallmarks of wine world, and everybody try to measure up to them. Name two regions in Italy, one sometimes compared to Bordeaux, and another one to Burgundy.

A4: Tuscany is often compared to Bordeaux, and Piedmont, or to be more specific, Barolo wines, are often compared to the Burgundy. While Tuscany/Bordeaux parallel is more of the terroir/climate based, the reason for Barolo/Burgundy comparison lies in complicated Vineyard/Sub-zone/Cru/Parcel system of wine identification in Barolo.

Q5: Name the missing grape: Crljenak Kaštelanski, Primitivo, ?, Zinfandel

A5: Tribidrag. All the listed grapes are close relatives of Zinfandel, with Tribidrag being recently discovered as direct predecessor of Zinfandel.

When it comes to the results, we had a great participation in the quiz, and we have a winner – Julian of VinoinLove, who correctly answered all 5 questions! Julian get the coveted prize of unlimited bragging rights. Also Gene Castellino (no web site), Jeff a.k.a.the drunken cyclist and Mario Plazio (no web site) are all answered correctly 4 questions out of 5, and they get the honorable mention. Well done, everyone – and we are going to continue blending things up for a while.

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

Last week’s #winechat was all about Biodynamics – we were talking about the wines of Youngberg Hill, the winery in Oregon, were the wines are made using biodynamics. I understand that there is a lot of controversy surrounding the concept of Biodynamics, with all the cow horns, bladders and water manipulations – but a lot of it makes sense if you think about the whole approach holistically. I want to share with you a great article from The Oregonian, which explains in detail how biodynamics works in the vineyard.

Rioja is coming to New York City! Starting Saturday, April 26, there will be a whole slew of events taking place all over the city – seminars, tastings, grand tasting, wine and tapas event and more. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience the vibrancy of the magical Rioja – here is your link for all the information regarding the Rioja festivities. I will be attending the trade tasting and seminar on Thursday – drop me a note if you plan to be there as well.

Heard of water witching? It appears that Marc Mondavi, a son of the legendary winemaker Peter Mondavi, not only makes wine in California – he also possesses special abilities to find water under ground, using set of two special rods. Whether you believe in the water witchery or not, this video and the blog post are quite interesting.

Last but least for today – don’t miss the #winechat tonight! Last from the Oregon Pinot Noir series, tonight we will be talking about the wines of J Wrigley Vineyard – #winechat is easy to join on twitter, just follow the #winechat hashtag, and they are always fun! 9 PM Easter/ 6 PM Pacific – don’t miss it!

And we are done here. The glass is empty – but the refill is on its way! Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, WTSO Magnum Marathon, #MalbecWorldDay, Can Wine Critic be Objective?, Pinot Noir #winechat

April 16, 2014 4 comments

Meritage time!

Let’s start with the answer to the wine quiz #98, Grape Trivia – Blends, Part 2.

For the long time, the grape trivia series was focused on the single grapes. But now we are stirring things up, so all the questions in the quiz are about blends (well, even if it is a blend of one ), as most of the wines in the world are actually blends. As usual, there were 5 questions in the quiz.

Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: This grape was created as a cross between Cinsaut and Pinot Noir. Can you name the grape?

A1: Pinotage, the famous grape of South Africa

Q2: Take a look at this list of the grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, ?, Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris. Two questions:

a. Name the missing grape

A2a: Pinot Meunier. Listed above are the names of all grapes allowed to be used in the Champagne region in France, so the missing grape is Pinot Meunier

b. What wine is made most often by blending some of these grapes?

A2b: Champagne!

Q3: Which grape is missing?

– Tempranillo, Garnacha, ?, Graciano

A3: Mazuelo. This is the list of the grapes typically blended in production of the Rioja wines.

Q4: This dry red wine from California is related to famous Caymus, and made out of the unknown, secret blend of grapes. Can you name this wine?

A4: Conundrum. The famous Caymus wines are made by Wagner family in California. The same Wagner family produces the wine called Conundrum, both white and red, where the exact composition of the blend of grapes is kept secret.

Q5 Carménère to Merlot is the same as Douce Noir to ?

A5: Bonarda/Charbono. Carménère grape (originally from Bordeaux), was mistaken for Merlot for the very long time in Chile. Similarly, the popular Argentinian grape Bonarda, which happened to be identical to the Charbono grape in US, was actually the almost forgotten french grape called Douce Noir in Savoie region.

When it comes to the results, I’m glad to report that again there was good participation in the quiz. We also have a winner – Wayward Wine , who correctly answered all 5 questions, and thus gets the coveted prize of unlimited bragging rights. Jeff the drunken cyclist and Suzanne of apuginthekitchen get honorable mention for correctly answering 4 questions out of 5. Well done all!

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

WTSO is on it again- the time has come for the famous Wine Til Sold Out Marathon! Mark April 22nd in your calendar – it will be go big or go home day – WTSO Magnum Marathon. Starting from 7 AM Eastern until midnight, WTSO will be offering wines in the 1.5L or 3L format. Each wine will be available for 30 minutes or until it will be sold out. All new wines will be announced only on Twitter, so make sure you follow @WTSO if you want to get real time notifications about new wines.

Do you like Malbec? There is a good chance you do, as many other people around the world. Just two easy references for you – shipments of Argentinian Malbec to US increased from 1.9 million cases in 2008, to over 4 million in 2013. Argentinian wines are also most popular wines among people of 25-34 years old in UK – for more interesting details on Argentinian Malbec, here is an article for you to read. Why all of a sudden we are talking about Malbec in the news section? Because tomorrow, April 17th, is Malbec World Day! Get the bottle of your favorite Malbec, pour the glass and join the celebration! Oh yes, and don’t forget to tweet about your favorite Malbec using the #MalbecWorldDay hashtag.

With hundreds of thousands of different wines produced around the world every year, we need to have some guidance as to what is new, what might worth our attention, what might not. This is where the wine critics come into a play – to help us navigate that ocean of wine by writing the wine reviews and rating the wines. Here comes an interesting question – can the wine critic be 100% objective, or can her work be influenced by personal preferences? Here is an interesting post on Jamie Goode’s wine blog, which raises this question – be sure to read the post and all the comments, it is quite a lively discussion.

Few more updates regarding the #winechat (if you are not familiar with the concept of #winechat, here is the blog post which will explain it). Last Wednesday, the #winechat was focused on Lenné Estate Pinot Noir from  Yamhill-Carlton AVA in Oregon. Continuing the Oregon Pinot Noir theme, the subject of tonight’s #winechat is biodynamics of Youngberg Hill vineyards. The next week’s #winechat subject is wines of J Wrigley Vineyards from Willamette Valley in Oregon. All #winechat take place on twitter on Wednesdays at 6 PM Pacific/9 PM Eastern time. You can always participate using the #winechat hashtag. Join the conversation, it is fun!

And we are done here. The glass is empty – but the refill is on its way! Cheers!

When The Vines Work Hard – #WineChat with Lenné Estate

April 14, 2014 6 comments

Lenné_Estate_Pinot Noir“You’ve got to work hard, you’ve got to work hard, if you want anything at all” – one of my favorite lines from the song by Depeche Mode, a popular electronic music band from the 80s. Yes, the notion of ‘working hard” is half banal, half extreme, and half misunderstood (I’m sure you are admiring my math skills here with three halves, aren’t you). People often (mostly?) achieve the best results when faced with adversity, when they need to overcome something, work against difficult circumstances, work hard. Give people everything they want – and they stop growing. Vines are like people. When water and sun are plentiful, the vines can produce a lot of grapes – but those individual grapes can be pretty dull. When the vines need to fight for survival, those much fewer grapes the vines will bear, will have the flavor and finesse almost unachievable in the “nice and easy” setting.

When Steve Lutz, the proprietor and winemaker at Lenné Estate in Yamhill-Carlton district in Willamette Valley in Oregon, planted the Pinot Noir vines for the first time back in 2001, 35% of those vines died. Ever heard of Peavine soils? In today’s age of internet, you can easily learn anything you want – so if you want the exact definition of Peavine, you can find it here. But, in the simple terms, Peavine is a mixture of clay and rocks – yeah, not your ideal agricultural setting. So the vines had to work hard to survive, go deep into the soil to find water and nutrients. The payback for all the hard work? A great fruit, the grapes which render themselves to the complex and intriguing wines.

Last Wednesday, April 9th, I participated in my second #winechat – a guided virtual tasting which takes place most of the Wednesdays at 6 PM Pacific/9 PM Eastern, in the Twittersphere next to you. The theme of the wine chat was, as I’m sure you guessed already, the wines of Leniné Estate. Steve Lutz was participating in the #winechat, explaining about Peavine soils, talking about his Pinot Noir wine and answering numerous questions (#winechat conversations get generally quite active, with #winechat being among top trending topics on Twitter).

In addition to been able to talk to the passionate people with vast knowledge of the subject, what I personally like about the #winechat is that I get to spend dedicated time in my grape geek setting, my grape laboratory. I get to play with the wine and take detailed notes. Coming to the Lenné Pinot Noir tasting, I read in the technical notes that the wine is expected to age well for the next 8-12 years. To me, the immediate thought was – let’s decant!

DSC_0375I decanted a small amount of wine about 2 hours before the tasting and put cork stopper into the bottle.

2 hours later, we started the #winechat – 2010 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton AVA, Oregon (14% ABV, $45). I started with the wine in the bottle, which was at 21°C/70°F.

Color: Dark Ruby

Nose: Smoke, raspberries, touch of mint, nice, open

Palate: Beautiful sweet fruit in the back, touch of dark chocolate.

Next, I made a big mistake. I decided that I need to chill my Pinot Noir slightly, so I put the wine chiller on. Of course I got carried away with the chat twitter stream, so when I said “oh, crap” and removed the chiller, after about 5 minutes on the bottle, it was already too late. At 12°C/53.6°F, the nose became completely muted, and wine became mostly sweet with some acidity, but the complexity was gone. For the rest of the chat, I kept waiting for the wine to come back to me – chilling is easy, but you can’t play any tricks with warming the wine up, you just have to let air to do its [slow] magic. At 16.2°C/61.1°F , the classic nose came back, together with the palate of cherries and ripe strawberries. Meanwhile, the decanted wine also played in somewhat of a strange way – the wine was showing smooth and elegant – but every sip was leaving me wanting more acidity.

The #winechat was over, so I pumped the air out with VacuVin (my standard routine) , and put the bottle aside, to be continued the next day. And the next day – without decanting or any temperature games – the wine was shining! Beautiful nose of cranberries and cherries, with touch of smoke and barnyard – call it funkiness or earthiness, I call it barnyard – just a touch. Beautiful palate with acidity, strawberries and cranberries in the front, then soft, but very present tannins started to gently grip the front of the mouth, and mocha and sweet cherries showed in the back, with pleasant minerality. The finish was lasting almost a minute. Overall this was the perfect example of balance and finesse which may be only Pinot Noir is capable of.

Verdict: this was beautiful wine, which can be enjoyed now (just don’t do anything stupid with the temperature), but will deliver even more pleasure with time. Drinkability: 8+

That’s all I have for you for today. Now you know – Wine Wednesday is always better with #winechat – join the conversation! Cheers!