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Argentina Beyond Malbec with Achaval-Ferrer and #WineStudio

April 26, 2017 4 comments

Achaval-Ferrer Cabernet FrancOf course, Argentina wine industry can’t be subsided only to Malbec  – Torrontes and Chardonnay for the whites and Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon (and Bordeaux-style blends, of course) for the reds comprise an absolute majority of Argentinian wines available at any given moment. You can find some Argentinian Bonarda, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, but they don’t carry the full recognition of the 4 main grapes.

Winemaking has a long history in Argentina, starting in the 16th century and entering an international trade in the second half of 19th century. If we will take into account that most of the grape plantings in Argentina are at high altitude, with climatic conditions and terroir overall ideal for the grape growing and providing protection against many grape diseases, such as phylloxera, we will quickly realize that Argentina is home to some of the best and oldest vineyards in the world. However, it is only during the last 20-25 years Argentinian wines start receiving a full international recognition they deserve, with Malbec been the brightest shining star.

Achaval-Ferrer winery was founded in 1998, and over its relatively short history, became a leading winery in Argentina, garnering numerous awards and high critic scores for its wines. To the great pleasure of wine geeks, wines of Achaval-Ferrer were also a focus of April #WineStudio educational program, allowing us to experience some of the very best wines Argentina is capable of producing – Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blend called Quimera. But for the last April session, Achaval-Ferrer and #WineStudio took us on the trip in entirely new direction with the inaugural vintage of the Cabernet Franc wine.

I guess it is time to reveal one of my (no, not darkest) deepest wine secrets – I have “a thing”, an obsessive passion for the Cabernet Franc wines. I can’t explain to you why or how. I don’t know how it happened that out of most grapes, the words “Cabernet Franc” make me literally jump. No matter how tired I am at the end of the large tasting, say to me “let’s go try Cab Franc” and I’m ready to run. Thus you can imagine how excited I was at this opportunity to try a new first release of Cabernet Franc.

There was a lot of excitement around this wine, seems everybody really enjoyed it. As for all the wines of Achaval-Ferrer, the grapes for this Cabernet Franc came from the high altitude vineyards (3,280 ft above sea level) in the Uco Valley, mostly sustainably farmed. Here are my tasting notes:

2015 Achaval-Ferrer Cabernet Franc Mendoza Argentina (14.5% ABV, $24.99, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 months in 3-year old French oak barrels)
C: Dark garnet
N: intense, baking spices, dark fruit, mint, dark chocolate
P: medium-full body, fresh cut-through acidity, mint, hint of cassis, touch of white pepper on the finish, smooth, long finish with tannins kicking in at the end and lingering.  Needs time…
V: 8, nice, can be drunk on its own, will be great with the food, and will evolve with time – at least 10 years. The wine opened up more on the second day, and I’m sure will further improve on the 3rd.

Definitely an excellent wine which will be hard to find – 1,400 cases total production, and a lot of this wine went to Morton’s steakhouse (so if you plan to visit Morton’s keep that in mind) – but it is well worth seeking. If you will score some of these bottles, lay them down in the cellar and let them evolve. At least this is what I would do.

This wine concluded a delicious #WineStudio experience with the Achaval-Ferrer wines, and to sum it up, I want to leave you with the twitter quote from Tina Morey, the host of #WineStudio:

I can fully sign under every word here – beautiful, expressive wines, well representing what Argentina is capable of. Salud!

Geekiest Way to Celebrate #MalbecWorldDay – #WineStudio Blind Tasting with Achaval-Ferrer

April 21, 2017 4 comments

Achaval Ferrer WSET 3 tasting Starting in 2011, April 17th is the day when we celebrate Malbec – one of the noble French grapes, which almost disappeared in France, but found its new life in Argentina, where it became a star. I don’t want to bore you with the Malbec history – you can read it on your own in many places, including few posts in this very blog (here is a bit about the history of the Malbec grape, and here you can take a Malbec quiz).

Typical “grape holiday” celebration usually includes an opening of an upscale (high end, memorable, etc) varietally correct bottle. Our today’s celebration was a bit different, as it was based on the concept of pure, unadulterated, geeky wine lovers’ fun  – a blind tasting, and, of course, guessing.

This blind tasting was a part of the educational program run by the WineStudio during the month of April. In case you are not aware of the Wine Studio, it is a brainchild of Tina Morey, and it is wine education and marketing program which helps to expand people’s wine horizon and help them discover new regions, new grapes and new wines. April program, quite appropriately (April is designated as a Malbec wine month), was focused on the wines of Achaval-Ferrer, one of the very best wine producers from Argentina.

To facilitate the blind tasting, all the participants received a set of two bottles, some wrapped in colorful foil, and some in the black plastic – mine were the second type:

About an hour before the session I opened the bottles to let the wines breathe a little, as it was suggested by the organizers. And then the session started.

Of course, this was not the usual blind tasting. There are many ways to run the blind tasting, some of them quite extreme – for instance, tasting the wine without any known information from the black glass – an extreme sensual challenge. Going less extreme, in a typical blind tasting you will have at least some kind of limits installed – Pinot Noir grape, for instance, or wines of Pauillac. Our #winestudio blind tasting was on one side a lot less challenging, as we knew that the wines were made by Achaval-Ferrer, so we didn’t expect to find Petite Sirah in any of those bottles, and we even knew the vintage years, 2013 and 2012. At the same time, for sure for me, it was almost more challenging, as I was trying to guess the wines based on what I knew about Achaval-Ferrer and thinking about what they might want to showcase in the tasting,  instead of focusing on the actual wines.

We were asked to evaluate wines using WSET Level 3 tasting grid (you can find it here if you are curious). Here is a summary of my tasting notes – I’m distinguishing the wines by their vintage:

Wine 2013
APPEARANCE
Clarity: clear
Intensity: deep
Colour: garnet
NOSE
Condition: clean
Intensity: medium
Aroma characteristics: touch of funk, mint, underbrush, blackberries
Development: youthful
PALATE
Sweetness: off-dry
Acidity: medium+
Tannin: medium
Alcohol: medium
Body: medium+
Flavour intensity: medium+
Flavour Characteristics: cassis, eucalyptus, mint, blackberries
Finish: medium-
CONCLUSIONS
Quality level: outstanding
Level of readiness for drinking/potential for ageing: can drink now, but has potential for ageing

Wine 2012
APPEARANCE
Clarity: clear
Intensity: deep
Colour: garnet
NOSE
Condition: clean
Intensity: medium+
Aroma characteristics: tar, tobacco
Development: developing
PALATE
Sweetness: off-dry
Acidity: medium+
Tannin: medium
Alcohol: medium
Body: medium+
Flavour intensity: medium+
Flavour Characteristics: red and black fruit, salinity, raspberries, anis
Finish: medium
CONCLUSIONS
Quality level: outstanding
Level of readiness for drinking/potential for ageing: can drink now, but has potential for ageing

As it is usually the case with the blind tastings, I didn’t do well. I really wanted the wines to be pure Malbec and Cab Franc, and this is what I included into my final guess:

then, of course, I second guessed myself and changed the answer:

When the bottles were finally unwrapped, we found this beautiful Bordeaux blend called Quimera  been our Quimera for the night – it is no wonder every back label of Quimera explains the name: “Quimera. The Perfection we dream of and strive for. The search for an ideal wine”.

The wines were 2013 and 2012 Quimera, both classic Bordeaux blends, but with a high amount of Argentinian star variety – Malbec. Both vintages had the same composition: 50% Malbec, 24% Cab Franc, 16% Merlot, 8% Cab Sauv and 2% Petit Verdot. Just as a point of reference, I still have a few bottles of 2008 Quimera, and that wine has 40% of Malbec. Both wines were beautiful, but very different in its own right – and they will for sure age quite nicely. This was definitely a treat and yet another testament to the great wines Argentina is capable of producing.

Here you go, my friends. Another great night at #winestudio, celebrating the grape well worth a celebration. Next Tuesday, April 25, we will be tasting Achaval-Ferrer Cabernet Franc, their new single-varietal bottling – been Cab Franc aficionado, I can’t tell you how excited I am. Join the fun – see you at 9 pm! Cheers!

Learning With #WineStudio – Coup de Foudre Pétillant Naturel from Vermont

August 7, 2014 4 comments

Coup de Foudre Bottle TopHave you tasted wines from Vermont? Do you know what Pétillant Naturel is, or have you tasted any of them before? Yep, me neither – until I joined the #winestudio event a few weeks ago. In case you are still not familiar with the concept (which you should be by now!), #winestudio events are intended to showcase unique and often lesser known wines and wine regions; these events are usually organized in series, take place every Tuesday on Twitter (just search for the hashtag #winestudio), and represent great learning opportunity.

The event I’m talking about was part of the series discovering lesser known wines of United States – Colorado, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin – not a bad line up, huh? This particular session was dedicated to the wines of Vermont, and for me, there couldn’t be a better wine selected to represent the Vermont in the series. Just look at the bottle top in the picture – how many wines did you see with this type of closure? Yep, not many. And the learning? Wow, all the way!

Let’s start with Pétillant Naturel. It was the first time I encountered this type of wine, and looking for the information on internet, I discovered that I’m almost missing a train (well, I’m on it now). Classic méthode champenoise sparkling wines are made with the secondary fermentation taking place in the bottle. Pétillant Naturel wines are also sparkling wines, but made with the first(!) fermentation finishing in the bottle. No blending, not chaptalization, only the grapes and (usually) the natural yeast. The resulting wines are typically more fruit forward and expressive of the terroir, and also lighter than Champagne and such. They also develop only half of the pressure of the typical Champagne bottle, thus a standard “beer bottle” closure works quite well. Talking about “missing the train”, it appears that Pétillant Naturel wines are made all over the world and have quite a substantial following – here is an interesting article from the Wine & Spirits magazine.

Let’s continue with the learning and let’s talk about the wine. First, I love the name – French expression “Coup de Foudre” stands for “love at first sight” (unfortunately, the winery will not be able to use this name going forward, as there is now the winery in Napa Valley under the same name, so going forward the wine will be called “CdeF”).

I don’t want to use the term “natural wine” here due to the associated controversy in the wine media, but I will let you be the judge of it. The La Garagista winery is using organic methods and in the process of conversion to biodynamic. The grapes for this wine had been hand harvested and foot tread (!), and fermented with the natural yeast in the glass semijohn for about 5 weeks, then bottled to finish fermentation under cap as pétillant naturel. I think this is as natural as the winemaking can be.

And the love at first sight (and sniff and sip) it was for me! 2013 La Garagista Coup de Foudre White Pétillant Naturel, Vermont (11% ABV) had a yellow tingled color in the glass, quite intense. The nose was hard to describe – minerality was the first thing which was coming to mind, but also it was light, balanced, showing flowers and fresh bread, touch medicinal. On the palate, the wine was very refreshing, with herbs and touch of white stone fruit + minerality. If I can give you a frame of reference, the natural wines of Jean-Pierre Robinot and Frank Cornelissen come to mind, with their pure expression of terroir. I couldn’t stop drinking this CdeF wine, and the best overall descriptor I can come up with is “delicious”. Drinkability: 8

Added [personal] bonus – this wine is made out of the grape called Brianna, which is a cross between European varieties Bourboulenc and Tibouren Gris – this is a new grape for me, so I’m inching forward towards the coveted 500.

That’s all I wanted to share with you. If you like to learn more about unique wines and regions, do yourself a favor and join the #winestudio conversations, I’m sure you will be happy you did. If you can find this Coup de Foudre wine anywhere – buy a case (and send me a few bottles, will you?) Also, go and look for the Pétillant Naturel wines – you might discover the new love. Cheers!

 

Beautiful Land, Beautiful Wines, and Pursuit of Passion – #WineStuidio Experience with ZGR Imports

June 20, 2014 10 comments

Once again, I’m starting the blog post with rhetorical and repetitious opening: have you ever had… (I can imagine some of you rolling your eyes and may be even clicking away… but let me finish, nevertheless) the wines from the region called Le Marche in Italy? With high degree of confidence, I would guess that many of you would say “no” – while better known in Italy and in Europe, wines of the Region Marche are not all that familiar to the wine consumers in US – but it is what we will be talking about here.

Region Marche is located in the Central Italy, up on the Adriatic Sea. As many other areas in Italy, Marche boasts beautiful hills, serene beaches and old city citadels, the towers and the walls which you can see when you drive along any of the highways and the roads. And of course, you can find wine and olive oil pretty much everywhere.

When I visited Marche for the first time about 9 years ago, the area was known best for its white wine called Verdicchio. Verdicchio is actually a white grape, which is known to produce slightly perfumed, brightly acidic, medium bodied wines. Two of the best production areas for Verdicchio are Verdicchio de Castelli di Jesi DOC and Verdicchio di Matelica DOC. When it comes to the reds of Le Marche, I was not all that impressed at that time. Rosso Piceno, one of the most popular red wines in Marche, a blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese, which I tasted during my visit, was rather simplistic. Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, one of the indigenous red grapes of Le Marche, was also rather unimpressive, with the wines coming through as too acidic and too light. All in all, my first encounter with the wines of Le Marche left me with great impression of Marche’s whites, and so-so opinion of the reds. Another conclusion we can make that I simply was not very lucky with my selection of red wines.

It was then. Now, a bit more than a month ago, I participated in the virtual educational event on twitter called #WineStudio. In the past, I wrote a number of times about #WineChat events, where people get together for the virtual wine tasting on Wednesday night. The difference between #winechat and #WineStudio is that #WineChat events are usually a single-time events (one hour on Wednesday night starting at 6 PM Pacific/9 Eastern), but #WineStudio events usually span the period of three weeks, with one hour long sessions every Tuesday nights at 6 PM Pacific/ 9PM Eastern. And another (most important) difference between two events is #WineStudio’s focus on education, on presentation of the wine region and the host itself, where the host can be wine importer or a distributor.

While I definitely had a delay with this post (this time it was not really a procrastination – life was simply getting in the way), as it often happens, the delay was helpful. Last week Matt Kramer published a wonderful article in the Wine Spectator, called “The Most Powerful Force in Fine Wine Today“, where he was explaining the role and importance of the wine importers in educating wine consumers and creating the appreciation, demand and overall market for the fine wine. One of the major traits all of the successful wine importers have in common is passion. It is the passion for the wine region, passion for the winemakers, passion for the wines what makes them successful. And passion for the Le Marche – the land, the people, the wines – was clearly showing in conversation with Jonathan Zeiger, the principal at ZGR Imports, our host for the Le Marche #winestudio event.

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Jonathan’s company solely focuses on the wines of Le Marche, and I can tell you, that focus and the passion were clearly showing in the wines. Jonathan explained that while Verdicchio is well known and well established, the rising star in the region is the white grape called Pecorino (yes, it is the grape and not the cheese). The wine which we tasted, clearly supported that claim. 2012 Centanni Pecorino Offida DOCG, Italy (14.5% ABV) – the wine started as acidic and grassy, and when warmed up a bit, became creamy and round. It became a a supple white, with lots of big flavors, very concentrated, but still refreshing, and quite unique and different. Drinkability: 8-

And the reds… Both red wines were designated as Rocco Piceno, and both were the blends of Sangiovese and Montepulciano – but this is where the similarities end. To say that I was blown away by the first taste of Centanni Rosso di Forca would be an understatement. 2012 Centanni Rosso Di Forca Rosso Piceno DOP, Italy (13.5% ABV) – one of the best Pop-and-Pour wines I ever had. From the moment the glass “cork” was pulled out, it was a luscious, luxurious, round and delicious wine, one sip after another. Loads of fruit, silky smooth tannins, perfectly present texture, velvety mouthcoat (are you salivating by now?), perfect balance. Drinkability: 9-.

During the last session of the event we tasted 2010 Rio Maggio Rosso Piceno DOC (13.5% ABV) – excellent wine, but very different from the previous one – dark restrained fruit, a touch of cherry pit, perfect acidity. The wine was very restrained, but equally elegant at the same time – it was very vinous, if that makes sense to you as a descriptor, and thought provoking. Drinkability: 8-

There you have it, my friends. You should really follow the passion – the passion of the people who make the wine, and the passion of the people who go out of their way to bring those wines to you – and that quest for passion will never fail you. Discover the passion – and you will drink well. Cheers!

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