Life is better on the corner, the place where great wines meet reasonable prices!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The U.S. Uncorked: Top 10 Wine-Travel Destinations [Part One]

"In vino veritas," or "There's Truth in Wine,” is referring to the often confessional loquacity of the intoxicated. ~ Pliny the Elder

Seeing another list recently featuring what readers [some travelers] believed were the top destinations here in the U.S for wine loving vino-sapiens, I was inspired to write my own. Especially in light of the fact, that two of them had me wondering where and a third closer to where I live had me wondering why?

Please don't get me wrong, I'm in complete agreement with seven of the ten and I've been to all but three of those listed in that article. But I think the criteria for making the selections seen on that "list" were made from an entirely different perspective than the list I'll be compiling below. And yes, unlike many other writers I've been to each one of these areas, more than once. 

My main criteria is going to be related to wine-regions which I believe are making some serious juice [wines with soul] representing the very best in winemaking, reflective of the terroir the vineyards reside in and overall consistent quality vintage after vintage. What you will not find, commodity wines, the bottles you'll typically find crowding the bottom shelves of your local grocery store aisle either. 

Before I proceed, slow your roll, just a moment. The numerical order below has zero correlation to any idea of which region I think is the best or not the best and is purely coincidental. It’s only for purely practical purposes that the numbering is useful for maintaining orderly article. So with that clarification stated it’s without any further ado, it's time to jump into it. 

1. Red Mountain: Benton County, WA: I've been to this area more than a few times, the wines here are more than exceptional, they're a true testament to following your dreams and the desire to make wines with soul. I've never had a bottle from this area, where I thought "ewww" I never want to try that again. I still have bottles of Red Mountain tucked-away in my cellar. To this day, I still purchase [for myself] and recommend this region at my day-job. 

You'll find getting there; is quite simple really, via a quick flight from Seattle. White EarthBlue SkiesRed Mountain. On the list below is many of my favorite vineyard sites. But if you want great value, please see my friends at Terra Blanca who make everything from the pop-and-pour Tuesday evening wine, to the more sophisticated wines to lay-down and enjoy later. Key Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. 

2. Paso Robles, California: For those living in either San Diego and or Los Angeles, Paso is a very easy wine-destination to access. Staying downtown is my preferred and recommend option. There are many delicious off-the-beaten-path white wines [Rhone Zone] and rock-star red wines, based on Syrah [plus others] and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Staying downtown, [which I recommend] you have walking-distance access to world-class restaurants and other more affordable but equally good dining choices. From downtown you can be in the vineyards within 10 to 15 minutes or feel free to access many of great choices for tasting via the plethora of tasting room there. Key Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon and Rhone Zone faves.

3. McMinnville, OR: Some of you may be wondering why I chose what is known as the sub-appellation of the greater Willamette Valley AVA. The answer is simple, because for me it makes a great jumping off spot to visit a majority of the other sub-appellation in the area. Once you land at the airport in Portland, it’s a quick hour to drive the 40 miles to McMinnville. It’s a city that rocks a small-town vibe, but still has plenty of upscale restaurants to tempt you. And with an abundance of B&B’s in the area finding a comfy place to stay is all too easy. Key Varietals: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris.

4. Sonoma County, California: In Sonoma, you'll find a less hurried pace, than in the neighboring Napa Valley. I don't look at one being better the other, only different. Both offer the thirsty vino-sapien vastly different wine experiences, while there make sure you make the drive out to coast. The scenery is gorgeous, you can follow the Russian River, if the adventurous type, maybe even bust-out the kayak. 

Either way do yourself a favor and get out to see all you can of Sonoma, it's far more than just a grape wine-destination. If you fancy yourself a cycling enthusiast, then this is definitely the place for you. Key Varietals: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

5. The Napa Valley: Now some folks generically think of Napa, as just being about one thing or another like big-brawny Cabernet Sauvignon. And while there's more than a grain of truth to that notion, from my many experiences Napa is so much more than big-gun Cabernets. Napa has so many different characteristics to-it via its many sub-appellations, it can be a little like trying to catch the wind. 

So slow, take your time and remember the road to exploration can be found beyond highway 29, the corridor which runs length and breadth of the valley floor. I like to take my tasting adventures appellation-by-appellation. If it has been some-time since you've been here, don't forget to check-out the newly revived downtown Napa, it has nicely re-developed, re-energized and has a great vibe. Key Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Pinot Noir via Los Carneros. 

5. Santa Barbara County: How in world was this amazing wine producing region was completely left off the list in favor of more obscure places is really perplexing, to say the least. A sad-fact which still has me scratching my head in amazement. But that said; hey Los Angeles and San Diego this wine-travel destination is even closer than a trip to Paso, there's even a quaint Danish Village like a step-out of time to explore, great-golf, an abundance of amazing wineries to visit; like Foxen, MelvilleStolpman VineyardsRusack and more. If you need my complete recommendation list, just email me. 

Remember folks this is the same wine producing region where Miles and Jack got Sideways in more ways than one. If you plan to visit this region, I'd recommend staying in Solvang, instead of the city of Santa Barbara itself. Solvang in my opinion makes for the perfect jumping-off spot to hit a majority of the wineries and, with amazing Los Olivos, where great dining and many tasting-bars abound. It's so nearby you'll wonder why you've not made the trek before. Key Varietals: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Rhone Zone Whites and Reds.

Check back here on Travel Tuesday for the complete updated list via Part Two

Monday, June 24, 2013

Wine Collections: Dos and Don'ts

"There's nothing serious in mortality. All is but toys; renown and grace is dead, The wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees is left this vault to brag of. " ~ William Shakespeare

Once the wine bug has bit, it's difficult, if not impossible to want to start collecting different wines. You want to explore, you [hopefully] want to try new things, but you're just not quite sure where to start. If that is you, then I've got some great news for you. 

Because I've [and the @1WineDude] contributed to an article recently about building a wine collection and how to avoid some common pitfalls. A fun and informative read; which I believe answers many of the questions that a young novice wine-drinker may have about the in and outs of starting a wine collection. The funny thing is tho, I don't believe neither Joe nor myself realized we were answering very similar questions that would appear in the same piece. But that said, this is honestly the kind of advice I wish I had, back when I got started.

Below are some of the types of questions you'll see answered with blunt honesty, acquired from years of experience, trial and error. 
  • What are some of the basics I should have in a well-balanced wine collection? 
  • How can I tell if an expensive wine is worth the price? 
  • When I find a wine I like, what do I need to know to find other wines like it? 
  • How can I try new wines without spending a lot of money? 
So whether your ambitions are just for a couple of cases that you wish to keep on hand or something a bit more serious like actually collecting and storing wines to age; I think the advice contained in this article will help you get moving in the right direction. 

What is better than one golden rule, how about fifteen? Because you don't want to be tied-down [see above] to any particular formula or method when you start building a wine collection, I've found one more article that I know will provide [similar] sage advice. Until next time folks remember life is short, so sip long and prosper cheers!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Road Trip: Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey County

"Pinot Noir is a wonderful varietal that produces intriguing wines of great complexity.” ~ Veteran Winemaker Joel Aiken

As Spring has been sprung, summer vacation planning is in full swing for many of us. I'm no exception, so I'll be packing the blog-up to take on the road with me to the wonderful Santa Lucia Highlands. One of California's premier wine-destinations that I've always talked about visiting, but had somehow never made the time. 

So I'm about to scratch this one area off my list with a short visit coming up in a couple of weeks. I couldn't be more excited. I'm busy lining up a few places I'd like to stop during my stay, but with so much to see and really only enough time to plumb the depths, I'll have to plan wisely. 

Over the years, I've written about many of the great wines to be found here. But the one varietal which seems to excel here is Pinot Noir, unfortunately for many this AVA flies under-the-proverbial-radar. I know many folks wine-geeks like myself are excited about this region already. But I was hoping to shine a new light on it for the everyday garden variety vino-sapiens who may be looking for something new. 

The video above gives just a small taste of the sights and sounds I'll be seeing shortly and I hope you enjoy it. And just below is a video about the Mer Soleil Vineyards I'll be visiting first-hand myself. Until then I still have ten days or so of planning left and a few other posts to write before hitting the wine-trail once again. So as always remember "life is short" so sip long and prosper cheers!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Wine of the Week: Brancott Estate 2011 Pinot Noir

Consumers don't need—or want—centralized gatekeepers telling them what they should or shouldn't drink. David White 

According to Mr. White, [if you believe his statement] none of you should be reading this review. But according to my own tracking numbers, there's is at least 5 or 6 vino-sapiens out there reading [well let's just say perusing] this blog. So to Mr. White and everyone else reading this I say Kia-Ora!

Now to the reason I'm featuring the Pinot Noir as my Wine of the Week, well it's simple really. It's because for the price point, a wine of this quality will be hard to beat. It's no block-buster, but it's not meant to be. This wine is however the answer to the question about which wine to uncork on a perhaps oh-so nothing special Tuesday evening. 

This wine even saves you need of a cork-screw because it comes sealed via a drink-now and drink-often screw-cap. And for an easy quaffer like that, it makes for the perfect convenience factor. A pop and pour selling for a SRP of $10 to $12 most places leaves little to think about, when wondering whether to stock up or not. 

If you'd like to know more about this wine, the winery and the great folks behind the label, then I would invite you to drop by the brilliant Brancott Estate web-site. From the map located on the back-label you can easily get a quick glimpse of where the grapes come from and just how far this wine traveled before finding its way to a wine-store shelf near you. 

“Wines from New Zealand, and in particular wines from Marlborough, will always be a rare commodity,” Ollie Davidson

You can also whip out your smart-phone, scan the QR code to be easily transported to unlocking more fun facts about the wine you're drinking. Btw, for anyone who may be keeping score this bottle was sent as a sample. 

Now for the tasting note part of the article, I know, I know just hold onto your horses here it's. But again remember Mr. White's dire warning above you don't need me or anyone else telling you what to drink. So without telling you, I'm telling you drink this, you won't be disappointed. That's of course if you have reasonable expectations.  

Now that said, once I got the bottle opened via a quick flick-of-the-wrist, poured a few ounces, I immediately noticed the bright [but very lightly colored] cherry, raspberry core. On the nose a light perfume of crisp summer fruits, strawberries, cherries and cranberries dancing around, black-tea and rich earth. Taking out my deluxe tasting straw from a recent boxed-wine, I sampled this delightful Pinot Noir.

Again a nice, light current of fresh summer fruit washed over my palate, inviting the next slurp. The baskets of ripe strawberries, raspberries, cherries and a note of cola delighted me again and again. The right tannin and acid balance played nicely with fruit, making for a fun Tuesday evening wine experience, paired against the roasted chicken, herbed potatoes and steamed broccoli. My score for this wine is 88 points. 

For anyone thinking about this years coming harvest in New Zealand; there's quite a bit of "buzz" how amazing it potentially will be. The only problem as they see it; is that the continued consumer demand for New Zealand wines continues to outpace supply. Something which could possibly raise the cost of acquiring the 2013 vintage. 

“There’s a lot of speculation that this year’s [2013] dry and sunny growing season will result in the vintage of the century here in New Zealand because we haven't seen a weather pattern like this in 70 years,” ~ Darryl Woolley

Now on the other hand, is a Sauvignon Blanc [see above] from the same producer and yes a sample like the other. Many of you know, I'm not a fan of aggressive styles of Sauvignon Blanc, this one in my opinion could be this year's poster-boy. But the year is still young and there are still many other candidates I'll be considering. 

If you're a fan of big, new-cut grass, lemon/lime/grapefruit and varying degrees of sweet ripe to over-ripe tropical fruits, then this just may be the wine for you. Putting my nose in the glass was bad enough, but giving it a slurp or two was very off-putting for me. I just can't get past the level of perceptible sweetness either, or the odd bell-pepper thing in the background. These are the types of aromas and flavors which send me running [scrambling really] for a great Sancerre. 

I know some you folks love this style of Sauvignon blanc, but this vino-sapien want no part of it. Thankfully there's a great big wine world and we all have many different wines to choose from, unfortunately this is not a wine I can recommend. My score 83 points. It sells for a SPR of $10 most places. 

Now one last quote to put the entire wine industry of New Zealand in a clear easily understandable light. 

"To put things in perspective, New Zealand’s total vineyard acreage—North and South Islands combined—is less than a tenth of the acreage planted in California, and just a bit more than the vineyard acreage in California’s Sonoma County." ~ Darryl Woolley

Rock on New Zealand, who says great things don't come in small packages? Just knowing that one small factoid, at least in my book makes me appreciate NZ all the more. There are so many different wine/vine growing regions found around the world and this is one I can't wait to visit for myself someday, it's definitely a destination which on my bucket list. Perhaps I'll even find a Sauvignon Blanc to my liking, until then folks remember life is short. So sip long and prosper cheers!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Travel Tuesday: Bodegas Hermanos Peciña S.L.

"Drinking good wine with good food, in good company is one of life's most civilized pleasures." - Michael Broadbent #Wine

And meeting these three last year was one of highlights from my trip to Rioja last year. Their passion, their dedication and their desire was evident in everything they told us, everything I seen while I was there and each wine I sniffed, spilled, swirled and eventually slurped down with reckless abandon. 

If you ever wanted abundant authenticity in a bottle, this is the place to find it. There's no clever or slick marketing going on here, no cutesy animals on the label, and no failed attempts to be overly clever with the label verbiage. Is authenticity a big deal to you when it comes to wine? If not, maybe you're not far enough along the path to notice, but if you keep going I think it will become a priority for you.

Some on the cynical side of the equation may just scoff at my pursuit for authenticity in regards to wine. Perhaps you’re thinking; "oh it [authenticity] has just become another brand to be sold and packed to an unsuspecting group of slack-jawed vino-sapiens who wouldn't know better anyway".

Wait a minute folks, just slow your roll for second, I’m just as skeptical and cynical as the next guy; the rose colored glasses had been slapped off my face by the hard-cold realities of life long ago. Nay I say, the wines of Rioja offer the customer something far more than a vain spectral performance, attempting to hold its self up as the paragon of wine virtue.

Did I have to go all the way to Rioja to find this kind of authenticity? The quick answer is no, it can be found here domestically. But in my opinion there's something far more "real" here than what meets the eye, something generations old, pumping the blood [Tempranillo] in the heart of tradition.  

I'm not sure my words can adequately describe the sense of place I found during my visit, not only in the wines, but also in the folks behind the label, the people who call Rioja home. In the picture above you can see the Peciña's, three generations with Pedro Senior in the middle and Junior, on the left. 

Okay I hope I've some how tempted you to stick around for part two of this Travel Tuesday tale, where I'll get into the tasting notes and the great food, [the cook I wanted to take back with me to the U.S.] so stick around the next installment will appear here tomorrow cheers!

The stair-way to heaven? Hmmm, perhaps? 

See what happens when wine-bloggers think they've seen it all? 

Shhhh, be very, very quiet the Gran Reserva wines are sleeping. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Father’s Day Ideas: 2009 Castello Banfi "Cum Laude"

"My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me." ~ Jim Valvano

As we all know Father's day is right around the corner, as for me I plan to just hang out with my dad in the afternoon, take him out to lunch for some Philly-Steak sandwiches. I'll be tuning out my phone, looking, listening and smiling as he tells me the same stories over and over. But for that afternoon the stage will be all his and he'll have my wrapped attention, because in that moment there will be no other place I want to be. And to my Son, I want to say for the whole world to know, even though you're not near-by, I'm very proud of the man you've become. Rock-on!

Okay so the bottle of wine you see pictured above arrived early yesterday morning, all the way from Connecticut of all places to my door step here in San Diego. It did rest comfortably up until about 7PM, when I popped its cork, oh-my. If the wine had arrived earlier [like last week] maybe it would have shown better in the review, who knows really. For everyone looking to check the environmental-sensitivity box Banfi has it covered, cheers to that!

As you may have guessed already, yes this is a sample. It comes from one of my favorite producers Castello Banfi, known for their readily approachable, yet authentic Italian wines. A producer who makes everything from value-oriented Chianti to highly sought after Brunello Riservas. Now I was hoping to receive the Brunello for this review, but as I've learned on more than one occasion you have to roll with the punches [or even punch-downs] in the wine-biz. 

In the bottle is a blend of four different grapes; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese and Syrah. Each individually vinified and then blended together before bottling, where the wine rested for six months before being released.  In my opinion this highly-honored cuvee, could have gone in a slight more authentic direction with Sangiovese playing a larger role. 

I also say that because as the back-label indicates this wine spent 12 months in French oak barriques, this is not traditional. It's a wine made for the California palate and I get that. Now that said, this is a wine which I would highly recommend decanting for an hour or more to help it loosen up a bit. It's the style of wine which should pair nicely with this weekend's possible back-yard barbecue plans and especially so if those plans include one of your favorite cuts of steak. 

It's the perfect Father's day style of wine, broad shouldered and definitely masculine in style. A bit of a diamond in the rough tho, you have to give this wine a chance to open up to see its full potential unfold. It's not a wine to be gulped down, like your sons and/or daughters in the school-yard during lunch, sucking down those juice boxes like there's no tomorrow. So no put away those straws, this a wine to be slowly sipped and enjoyed with a fat-prime-time T-Bone or maybe even a Porter House, maybe even a fat Philly Steak Sub? 

Okay folks the moment you've all been waiting for, the tasting notes: In the glass, you'll find a beaming crimson core inviting the first splash across the gums. The aromas attempting to escape from the glass are more like bunglers attempting to escape the loony-bin, none-the-less you still get a vibrant black/blue-berry compote wrapped around some cedar and a faint whiff of wet-earth. 

The tannin structure is immediately stiff [right from the bottle] but after some decanting, they mellow considerably and meld into the background. This wine shows off its balance with vibrant acidity and while the red/dark fruits are abundant, they don't over-stay their welcome. This wine weighs in at 14.5% on the ABV scale, sells for a SRP of $35 and is widely available. Score 89

That's all I've got for you today folks, I hope you all enjoy your weekend. And for crying-out-loud go spend some time with your Father, quit all the navel-gazing belly-aching I hear going on so much. Give him a hug, tell him you know he's not perfect be neither are you. Pop some corks, share a meal and try to remember all the good times. Until next time folks remember life is short, we have few chances/opportunities to get things right, so as always sip long and prosper cheers!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Wine of the Week: 2010 Hawks View Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon

"We are geographically agnostic, just because we can't grow it doesn't mean we shouldn't produce it" ~ AJ Kemp Hawks View Cellars. 

One of the best indicators I have when confirming what I think is a superb bottle of wine; is having a bit of tussle with Mrs. Cuvee over who gets the last pour from the bottle, she often wins that contest. Her and I pop the cork on more than a few bottles each week [not disclosing the actual number] and this one was a special treat. 

This is the second or third time [sorry I've lost count] I've encountered this wine. I grabbed [and when I say "grabbed" I mean paid cold-hard cash] a couple of these beauties before departing from last year's Wine Blogger Conference, I'm so glad I did.  

While staying with the great folks at Youngberg Hill [what, you haven't booked a stay there yet?] a grape-wine-destination found just 10-15 minutes outside of fun-in-the Oregon-Sun McMinnville. 

I took the opportunity to catch-up with them again last year, to see how things are shaping for the coming harvest. And yes because I do this little blogger thang here, they waived the normal tasting fees associated with sharing their wines with fellow vino-sapiens [full disclosure]. 

Now I'm keeping my fingers crossed, that this coming year's harvest will arrive early, like the first part of September and I hope [dear reader] you'll will do the same on my behalf. 

The reason has a bit of a selfish-motive, I'd like to take them up [Hawks View Cellar] on their generous offer to work as part of this years 'Harvest' crew. I know it's back-breaking hard-work but that has never scared me off, I think it's great idea for bloggers/writers to refresh their sense of wonder every now and then and this is the perfect opportunity to do just that. 

That said, it's time to dive back into the nitty-gritty details of the review, the reason you all [talking like five people] stopped by here today right? So here we go.
2010 Washington Cabernet-Sauvignon: The grapes were harvested from the Double Canyon vineyard found just across the Oregon border, [see above] an 88 acre site located in Alderdale, Washington. It's quite an amazing vineyard site, one which falls within the Horse Heaven Hills American Viticulture Area [AVA]. I hear the vine rows are two miles longs and hang precariously above the Columbia Gorge. 

At the time of purchase [yes, I put my money where my mouth is] this wine had not been released, but they were generous enough to sell me a bottle [or two] at the tasting room SRP of $40. The first time I tasted this wine it had only been in the bottle for just 75 days. In the glass, you'll find it's big, bold, and brooding, leaning toward a [petit sirah] PS in color.

I knew back then, [yes, boasting] this wine was going to be a freaking monster of finesse, flavor and fun to uncork at a later time. I recommended it immediately to anyone who would hear me, but sadly my praise [which may have sounded more like adulation] fell upon deaf-ears [crickets]. 

So once more here I am again beating the drum, attempting to bring attention to what I know you'll find is an amazing bottle of wine. Soon as you pop the cork, you'll find truck-loads of blackberry, dark rich-ripe plum; crème de cassis [not kidding either] which pulsates on the palate, making you wish you had another bottle or two on stand-by. The plush, well integrated tannin and the judicious use of oak combine their wonder-twin powers for a silky long finish.

It does still have a bit more Washington-State Merlot style to me, a bit sweeter and softer then a Napa Valley Cab-Sauv. But for the average vino-sapien, this wine is every bit as approachable as you'd hope any domestic wine would/could be. Grab some for yourself that is if there is any left, I stand by previous score of 92 points and highly recommend it to you. So until next time folks remember life is short, sip long and prosper cheers!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Travel Tuesday: Bodega Miguel Merino [Part Two]

We shall not cease from exploration and, at the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. - T.S. Elliot

Good morning everyone, another mid-week Wine Wednesday is upon us, but what will you pop the cork on today? I hope it will be something new and novel, something as yet unexplored.

Explorers, where have they all gone? It's a thought on my mind these days; as I quietly sit behind this computer screen recalling the fond memories of last summer's travel adventure to Rioja. Just think about it with me for a second; our history is replete with explorers [some of fame and others of infamy]. But instead of looking outward, many are focused within, what some call navel-gazing. It dose beg the question tho, where has the spirit of exploration gone? Have we all given in collectively to subtle clamor of our routines, careers and the demands of daily life? 

Coco Chanel is quoted to have once said, "There is no time for cut-and-dried monotony!" She is right, frankly I couldn't agree more, life is too short to settle for less. Which is why it’s important [IMO] to continuing exploring, even if that exploration comes via the purchase of a bottle of wine you've never tried before. Yes, yes you agree to this notion, but you may be asking yourself what is left to explore? 
Before I started writing this wine-blog, sadly I didn't give much thought to travel or exploration of any kind. I was caught up in the monotony of daily life, which is easy to do. But as I began to discover new wines from different regions of world, I was not content to just pop the cork and enjoy its contents. No I wanted to visit these regions directly and see for myself where the grapes are grown, and meet the great folks behind the label. One of whom I will be introducing to you very soon.

To answer the question I posed above; c'mon really? There’s a whole world just waiting for us all to explore and it’s my hope that some-how my story may inspire you to do the same.

As you can see from the picture above [no not the Guggenheim doggie] that is the beautiful plaza which I could see from the window of my room, right outside the Hotel Carlton. Located in a beautiful Spanish city called Bilbao. If I had to choose a city to retire in, it would be this one. It’s so close to many exciting regions and fun destinations, but at the same time has a small town look and feel. I never felt like a tourist here, I just one of many welcomed and appreciated visitors traipsing through the city. 

I told you this was going to be a long post, now you see why I've broken it up in parts. It's going to be like the old adage about, "How to eat an Elephant" blah-blah. So after a wonderful 24 hours in Bilbao [eating, drinking, merriment] it was time for our journey to begin. We had the opportunity to visit many wineries, while we were there, a week long odyssey on the Rioja wine trail. 

One of the visits which really grabbed my attention was the time we spent with Miguel Merino [see below], who met us outside his Bodega situated in the small town of Briones, Rioja Alta. He had just come from the vineyards, still clutching his pruning shears, his shirt rumpled and yet beaming with gracious hospitality. 
If a man could be described of not just having a dream; but actually pursuing it with passion, it would be Miguel Merino. After spending what some would call a "career" as export director for several wineries in the area, instead of taking a break [retirement] he decided it was time to make wines with soul

If you've ever run into someone who has a knack for throwing together amazing results, but looking at how it was done perplexes you by the apparent lack of modern top-of-the-line equipment/facilities then prepare to be amazed, because these wines are block-busters of true Riojan style.  

Their vineyard sites can be found in Briones in the heart of the Rioja Alta, chock full of old-vine Tempranillo grapes just waiting to have their potential unlocked. It's an area renown for its chalky soil and ideal climate marked by an Atlantic influence, one which leaves a stamp of authentic Riojan style on each of the wines bottled at their less than modern facility. 

I know this story could have been so much more exciting if only our group of purple-stained-grinned writers had been doing a 30-day Yoga-challenge [navel gazing] whilst on this trip to palate-provoking Rioja, but we did have our moments of intrigue at the wine-fortress of Ben-ja-min Romero [but that's another story and yes knives were involved].
The tasting room built into the bottom floor of a newly restored 19th century castle, was quite intimate as was the table crowded with the many different wines we encountered that afternoon. Did I have a favorite? Of course I did, and we were generously offered to take one of our favorites back home with us. My choice, the 2004 Miguel Merino Gran Reserva, a wine you can still acquire from the folks at K&L, who are selling this gem for a stupid-low price of $40. 

What you experience after uncorking wine from Miguel Merino is a unique, traditional Riojan wine experience; one which can not simply be duplicated by planting a few cuttings here domestically. Miguel's use of wild-yeast in the fermentation process, his use of new American, French and even Hungarian oak and farming practices keep the wines true and may I even say wildly authentic. If you'd like to know more about the process, you can read more here.

Okay here comes the tasting note and scoring part of the article. If you're anti-score just imagine the numerical scores are words like good, very good and yummy. For everyone else who's not going to wince over seeing a 'score' associated with a wine review, then please take note. These wines scored some high praise from me, enjoy. My general impressions of his wines ranged from very good to great and I recommend that you grab a few to fill your cellar.

2004 Miguel Merino Rioja Reserva Vitola: In the glass, a brilliant garnet color beams from the glass. Initial tart, tight, chewy tannins. A rustic wine, still boasting of nearly ripe strawberry, cherry, plums and herbals, licorice. A wine I’d lay down to approach later. Dried herbal notes on the nose and bright earth. SRP $40 Score: 91

2004 Miguel Merino Rioja Gran Reserva: A wine with a big-bright future. At the time, I thought that this wine will need more time to develop. I was right, but the time frame for its maturation was less than a year. Back then, I wrote "very tight, but tasty tart cherry/plum flavors, herbal [cigars] tobacco, leather and dark mocha looming in the background. Today, this wine is a block-buster of flavor and finesse. My score 95 points and ready to rock! SRP $40

2005 Miguel Merino Rioja Reserva: Elegant smoothness on the palate, plush plum, black-berry and leather. The nose is very inviting and enticing. A wine brimming with complexity and polish. The finish is very pleasing, sports good grip and I'm loving the finally integrated tannins. SPR $30 Score: 92

2008 Miguel Merino Rioja Unnum: This wine is a project Miguel's son has put together using 100% French oak, and is a wine which sports a new world vibe right out of the gate. Finely ground espresso, spicy tobacco, licorice and tightly wound dried dark fruits. This wine had the silkiest mouth feel, still drying tannins on end. Boat loads of red and dark fruits, brighter and definitely much flashier. Much better if you lay it down for the long term before approaching. SRP of $45 Score: 91

My visit to Rioja was an amazing adventure, one I will never forget. It still makes an impact on my wine point of view with each and every wine I encounter today. I know some wine-blogs want you to believe you can get that same exact experience from bottles of wine which sell for far less [have the same place names], but the truth is that advice is simply misguided. 

Most us understand you get what you pay for, but some vino-sapiens unfortunately still don't subscribe to that idea, thinking all wines are created equal. If you have a chance/opportunity to experience authentic wine culture for yourself, go for the gusto and never look back. Until next time folks remember life is short, so sip long and prosper cheers!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Travel Tuesday: Bodega Miguel Merino

“Traveling; first it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller” Ibn Battuta

Never has a statement been proven to be more true as the one I've shared above. After my trip the Rioja Wine region last year, I had so many great stories which I've only now felt compelled to tell to all of you. 

It was in June of last year, that I went Rioja for a week-plus, I was part of a contingent of other bloggers, many of whom you know and love [some more and some less]. That said, those joining me on this auspicious trip to one of thee most exciting wine regions in the world were; Joe RobertsRichard JenningsWine Harlots, and Gregory Dal Piaz

What a great group, I've only known the others from social-media [Twitter, FB] interactions, save the Harlot who has had the good fortune of traveling with me on other trips [ha-ha]. Good times were had getting to know each other over many plates of Jamon, slurping down countless bottles of Gran Riservas and of course who could forget the wee-fee enabled Rioja Car [who knew it had four-wheel drive?].

I did have a busy travel calendar last year, that's safe to say. My passport was nearly worn-out, mostly because it spent a considerable amount of time in my back-pocket [not a wise-move]. But those be the facts Jack. Now speaking of facts, the [full disclosure speaking for myself] trip was sponsored by the folks at Vibrant Rioja

But the other part of the story not shared by the rest of the group came via my request to arrive one day early, so I could acclimate a bit better to the time change. But what I didn't see coming was because my connection times were so close together landing at CDG, that I had would have to sprint [not a pretty sight either] several concourses, take elevators, escalators, rides buses and ultimately beat [via more sprinting] several other passengers onto the last plane departing for Bilbao. 

I arrived on the airplane [the very last one] after some very clever persuading of young Air-France employee, who I'm sure didn't understand nearly a word I said. But none-the-less I made my connection; tho sweating like the proverbial stuck-pig, we're talking profuse [ewww, I know]. And unbeknownst to me without my luggage [ugh, not again]. But I have to give the flight-attendants mad-props, they let me have the first seat right up-front, handed me wet-towelettes and were fanning me with magazines [sigh indeed]. 

I thought about all those other folks I beat to the punch, with a small twinge of guilt, but hell it was every-man for himself. I was not going to let anything spoil a beautiful evening in Bilbao, along with my favorite room at the Hotel Carlton which has a [free wee-fee] great view of the plaza and is just a block or two away from the famous Guggenheim. But when I landed at the tiny airport in Bilbao, my luggage was no where to be found [ugh]. 

But, I didn't worry to long as I was met my a very kind young-lady [from Ground Force] who knew all about my situation and even knew my name. I caught a cab from the airport [20 euros] and while I was out on the town, my luggage arrived on a later flight [whew].

This post is already getting long, so I'm going to finish it up via a part-two post and if you're left wondering about the wine pictured above [spoiler-alert] which I will get to later in part-two. Uh let me just say in word, WOW! A true wine with soul, that beats with the heart of traditional Rioja. But stay tuned the story about Miguel and his wonderfully authentic winery will be well worth the read. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Wine Studio: Spending time with Nebbiolo

“Fermented beverages have been preferred over water throughout the ages: they're safer, provide psychotropic effects, and are more nutritious.” ~ Dr. Patrick McGovern, et al

It would seem the Nebbiolo grape has the correct name as it literally means little fog. Why do I say? That's simple; because from my experience most vino-sapiens find themselves in a fog when it comes to understanding the "grape of kings and the [and what some believe] king of grapes". If you'd like to find out more about the amazing history of this grape, there's a quick tutorial to be found here.

One of a few funny [not funny ha-ha] things about Nebbiolo is that like Merlot, Chardonnay and other grapes most folks are accustomed to, it's relatively easy to say or ask for in a restaurant. One of the other things I find interesting to note is that not all Nebbiolo is Barolo, but all Barolo is Nebbiolo. 

While it may seem like I'm attempting to be too clever by-half, but hold on. There's a kernel of truth to what I'm saying. So don't run-off. See, to be called Barolo and get that fancy neck-label [its papers] it has to be more than just Nebbiolo. 

It has to meet some aging requirements first, sorry but there's no squishy feel good way to get out of those requirements either. What are those aging requirements? "To earn the name Barolo, the wines must undergo at least 38 months' aging prior to commercial release, of which 18 must be spent in barrel" If you'd like to read more I'm going link to the answer here.

What many have come to know as “Classic” Barolo with the traditional requirement of at least ten years in the cellar to tame those powerful tannins, has seen a shift toward what some call the international style. With some producers moving away from tradition and are moving towards more wines which are more approachable sooner. 

This new direction is of course not without a bitter controversy. There are those who think of themselves as the traditionalist, who believe any attempt to change the face [brand] of Barolo is nothing short of heresy. While the other group, known as the "modernist" [producing a more approachable wine in the short-term] who want to simply cash in on big-score, drink now and drink often crowd. Folks [vino-sapiens] who don't have the patience to wait 10 years for those wines to age. If you'd like to read more about this true wine battle I'd encourage to check out this great article.

But at the moment we are going to skip that whole scene by me introducing you a wine you may not be familiar with, that comes from the same great region. You see the wine pictured above is a fantastic representation of what nearly every producer of Barolo does and, that's they make other wines simply labeled as either Nebbiolo d’Alba or Langhe Nebbiolo.

The wine you see above above is produced by Ettore Germano, a wine we will examine much closer in the coming weeks of #WineStudio. These wines are produced from same grapes that could ultimately be called Barolo, only they're not aged quite as long. The distinction between a Nebbiolo d’Alba and the nebbiolo which is labeled Langhe is that it's from an even wider geographic area. If you'd like to learn more about what goes on be-hind the label, here you go.

The wine you see pictured above was a superb representative of what a wine with soul should be. From the first drop to the last splash, it over delivered in finesse and flavor. The color you can see in the glass is amazing, the nose a virtual potpourri of dried red/dark fruits, herbs and leather. After the first slurp, you’ll find this wine to be very generous, slapping your palate with vibrant red-currants, strawberry, licorice, and  dried-violets. It has a SRP of $23 and in my estimation well worth the price of admission. 

I hope you all can join us tonight in the #WineStudio as we uncork some great wines from Beni di Batasiolo which I will be reviewing here next later this week. Tonight in the Studio please help me welcome Stefano Poggi, [Twitter handle] @Batasiolo_US Italian Brand Manager for GioWine to the #winestudio who has graciously agreed to join us once more for a trip through their brilliant wines. While their website is currently under-construction, I was able to come up with a basic info sheet about the winery if you'd like to give it a swirl. Until next folks remember life is short, so sip long and prosper cheers!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Good-bye Gran Reserva?

I came across this article just the other day, whose title intrigued me quite a bit, it's entitled the "Gentle Soul in a World of Bold Fruit" via the Pour Blog [NYT] [Read More]

After I popped it open on my browser, I got half way down the article and came across this paragraph, one which made me want to stand and applaud. Describing what a Gran Reserva is and is not, could not be stated any better than this. 
These graceful, elegant wines captivate both sensually — their polished textures feel so good in the mouth that you are drawn irresistibly to the next sip — and intellectually, by almost demanding your attention as you seek out each elusive nuance." Eric Asimov
Not only does Mr. Asimov make some great points about the so-called demise of the Gran Reserva style of wine, he also gives many compelling examples of why this great style of wine isn't going anywhere anytime soon. 

Having recently returned from Rioja just last summer where I had to the opportunity over and over again to sample many different Gran Reservas and having visited one of the wineries he mentioned in his article I would have to heartily concur, the Gran Reserva style of wine is here to stay. 

If you've not had [popped the cork] a beautifully aged Gran Reserva for yourself from the likes of López de Heredia, La Rioja Alta or Muga you are in my opinion missing the boat. Until next time folks remember life is short, so sip long and prosper cheers!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Cork-screws, Wine Bottle Openers and Foil Cutters oh-my!

"The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters, is simplicity." - Walt Whitman

And simplicity is the key, when it comes to uncorking a bottle of wine. Uh-huh right, so now you've done it. Done what you ask? You've become a wine swirling, sniffing and slurping vino-sapien. But you probably didn't even see it coming, did you? I know for most folks who are new to wine, maybe surprised to find that you'll actually need some tools to get into those bottles. 

If you've only been a beer drinker in the past, gone are days of the simple key-chain adornment aka the bottle opener to get into your new favorite adult-beverage. Even most of your favorite top-shelf spirits merely require a firm grip and a snap of the wrist to gain access, not so with wine.

Now you're faced with the real dilemma of how to get that bleeping-cork out of the bottle and, preferably without looking like a complete novice. After all you'd just like to enjoy great bottle of wine, which may have spent  considerable time picking out online or via your favorite wines shop. 

So now what do you now? Read on dear vino-sapien, read-on. Because I've put together an easy list of must-have items for wanna-be wino, that will have you popping corks like a [To some; a fancy over-paid waiter] sommelier-on-speed.

To get into your favorite bottle of wine you're going to need some not so serious hard-ware. Of course you could just live on screw-cap closures and boxed-wines to get by, but you know that's not practical. So let's be honest, if you really want to get serious about wine, then you'll have to invest in the right tools of the trade.

These 'tools' don't have to be expensive; but you could spend near a kings-ransom to acquire some of the basic tools [but you don't have to]. Taking a quick-spin around the Internet via places like Amazon, Beverage Factory and Wine-Enthusiast websites, you'll find a plethora of different options. But don't sweat it, with today's review on 'openers', I will try to shed some light on the basic tools I think every vino-sapien should have in their arsenal.  Tools that will get the job done right and with little fuss or muss. Of course at prices that fall into what I call the reasonable-range.

1. The Heavy Wing Cork-Screw: This one is perhaps my very favorites. I've had the same one for years and it has popped many corks [oh-my]. These cork-screws are heavy-duty lean mean bottle opening machines. All you have to do is place it on top of the bottle, give the head a few twists, the arms come up, you push down and the bottle is open. You can even use top of it for opening that occasional bottle of beer, chilling in the fridge. This one is my personal favorite; it's nearly fool-proof.

Also great for busting through wine-bottles covered in waxy plastic-like substance instead of the traditional foil capsule. Those bottles do have a certain curb-appeal to them from a marketing stand-point, but in reality are just a pain. 

Another wonderful feature is that it allows you bust right through the foil, if you don't want to use or don't have a foil-cutter. They do have one draw-back though, if the cork you're trying to extract happens to crack and break-off, you will be in a world of hurt [unless you have the next piece of equipment, the waiters-friend].

This is the one I use most often Farberware Bar And Wine Series Winged Corkscrew and it sells for $12, you can pay more, but won't get more. A word of caution though stay away from the plastic ones and keep your thumbs well away from the area where it sits on the bottle-top.

2. The Waiters-Friend: This is perhaps one the very best pieces of equipment you will find on the wine market today, it's so small and compact and some have a built-in expandable foil-cutter. Making it very easy to carry one with you at all times, something you will see on a regular basis if you dine-out enough. Or maybe you were given one by your favorite winery as a gift.

Like I mentioned above, these cork-screws are perfect for getting that broken cork out of the bottle, it works every-time I use it. The prices on these can range anywhere from ridiculous [$200] to reasonable [$8]. Oh-boy do I have plenty of these hanging around the house myself, but my favorite one is called the "Boomerang" [$18] and has a unique feature that many others don't have which is the expandable four wheel "foil-cut" which easily removes the top of capsule exposing the cork and removes the possibility of cutting your finger on the knife-like foil cutters on similar cork screws.

3. Foil Cutters: Okay these are pretty useless unless you happen to be one of those cork-dorks like me, who likes to keep the top of capsule like they are small pieces of art. I mean honestly I have foil cutter myself but if you have either of the corks screws I mentioned above you won't need this piece of equipment. Now if you happen to buy one of the"rabbit" lever style openers, then you'll will still need a good foil cutter.

Because the one that comes with the rabbit opener "sucks" at cutting foils. So if you really want one, that works great, I would recommend the one that I have which is called the "Screwpull" and sells for $10. It makes short simple work of any and all foils no matter how big a mouth that bottle-top may have and leaves the capsule top in pristine collector condition.

4. Lever-Style: Ah yes the lever style wine-opener, this one has become a huge favorite for many of the wine-swirling and slurping masses, which of course come in types of shapes, sizes, colors and prices. I do of course own two of them myself and for awhile used it all the time, but after a while the worm or the auger as they are called became dull, making it difficult to pierce the cork all the way.

It's a great idea and works much better than the other two I mentioned above, however its weak-link is the the worm itself, is so thin and not very sharp it needs to be replaced too often. Making its negatives out-weigh the positives. They can be purchased in a variety of price ranges, from $23 to more than $123, folks if you really want one the find something in the middle range, as they are all about the same.

5. Cordless Wine-Opener: Last but not least, is the newest [relatively speaking] wiz-bang tool on the market today, the electric, cordless cork-remover . I know many folks enjoy these immensely and have great success with them. But I'm not one of those folks; I don't have one and frankly don't see the need to add it to my wine tool chest, it just seems superfluous. I've used them before and seen other folks using them, they're pretty easy and not something I'd recommend.

The price ranges on these can be a reasonable $32 or a silly $140, depending upon how important you may want to look while removing a cork, but on the reasonable side of the equation for $19 you can get one that works like a champ . This product is especially recommended for anyone that may lacks hand or wrist strength or folks suffering from PTSD [not to make light of this real illness] in regards to accidents with other cork-screws mentioned above. 
Possible Draw-Backs: Honestly folks, I'm not sure how often you have to replace the worm or how long the rechargeable battery will last. But those are both considerations for not getting this product in my opinion, unless hand strength is an issue for you. 

Those top two cork-screws are my everyday favorites both are relatively inexpensive. Yet both are dependable, versatile and ever so easy to use, that even a cave-man like me can to do it. So like the commercial from the now defunct Mervyns, where folks had their faces pressed against the glass, chanting open, open, open you too can get those wine bottles opened with the greatest of ease. So until next time folks remember, sip long and prosper cheers!

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