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Charles Smith Wines: Eve, Boom Boom!, and The Velvet Devil to Tempt Your Tongue!

16 Jun

Charles Smith. If you’re like me, hearing that name is enough to scroll down to the reviews. If not, please continue:

Few names in recent years have acquired such rock star gravitas in the wine industry. Wait, You don’t know him? Taste his wines. Don’t have one available? Ok, so in 2016, Constellation Wines bought five of his brands for $120 million. Are you impressed yet? You should be. And I say this, being a superman of the CS Cabernet Sauvignon, because that wine has been one of the top, under-$20 Cabernet Sauvignon wines you can find in the USA, PERIOD.

So when offered a chance to taste a few, I jumped. YES, I want to taste them. I tasted two of these wines for five days. and the other… well, it lasted an hour before it was gone. (Not sorry.) The labels look like a tattoo chosen by a millennial based on their favorite song. So? It’s not about the label, it’s about the juice.

The motto reads loud and clear on the back of the bottle: “Land to hand, vineyard to bottle.” Charles Smith is irreverent and fanciful, yet an incredibly serious winemaker: these wines are seeing at least some portion whole cluster pressed, with fermenting on the lees. Straightforward, the best fruit he can give you from sustainable farming, ideal fermentation, a carefully controlled pH and moderate ABV. So? Ok, fine: TASTING NOTES!

 

Eve Chardonnay 2014 by Charles Smith Wines, Mattawa, Washington. 13.5% ABV, MSRP $13/Bottle.

Color is pale gold, while the nose offers tangerine peel, wildflower cutting, and gravel. On the palate, pure green apple- no wonder the name. It is like taking a bite of a chardonnay apple from the Garden of Eden. Straightforward, fruit forward, less acidity than I expected with a hint of marzipan. On the finish, notes of silt, clay and yeast. At this price point, what chardonnay lover would say no? An easy purchase, at double the price! At street prices, I’d easily put three bottles in my cart. You should do the same.

 

 

 

Boom Boom Syrah 2015 by Charles Smith Wines, Columbia Valley, Washington. 13.%5ABV, MSRP $18/bottle.

Color is a gorgeous, opaque dark orchid/byzantium. The nose shows blueberry, black plum, and crushed  violet while the palate offers up blackberries, plum jam, cassis and black cherry. Secondary notes of pepper, potting soil, wet slate, sandy loam and old wood. I love a good syrah but shy away from the fruit bombs- Boom Boom does a tremendous job of maintaining balance in the wine from opening until day five of tasting, never being overly fruity and only showing a hint of bitterness on day 5. With this gorgeous color, balance of flavor, and gentle alcohol content, how is this still on the shelves? When word gets out, you’ll have a hard time finding this for under $20.

 

 

Are you ready to be severely tempted? You better be…

The Velvet Devil Merlot 2014 by Charles Smith Wines. Columbia Valley, Washington.  ABV 13.6%, MSRP $13/bottle.

Color is a garnet center with purple edging. The nose offers boysenberry, cherry pie and a hint of tobacco leaf.  On the palate, bright, acidic flavor of dark cherries, maturing blackberries, and blueberry. Secondary notes remind me of damp Northwest: wet earth, and young, freshly hewn wood. On the medium-long finish: plum wine, crushed leaves, sand, and the distinct mineral flavors of volcanic rock. And pour me another taste… (just watch, you will do the same.)

OK: I was hoping for the velvety mouthfeel I get from Chateau Margaux, but let’s be honest: should I expect the same mouthfeel from a $13 wine that I do from a $600-$900 bottle? No, but for the cost of this wine, the mouthfeel IS quite velvety. Why? Because Smith is giving us 94% Merlot and adding a few tremendous blending grape (cab sauvignon, malbec, and our beloved friend cabernet franc) and aging in new French Oak to take this wine from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Put this wine in front of ten people, and (incorrectly) they will probably not call it Merlot. It just has a totally different vibe! But they will call it delicious, and they will ask for a second glass, then a third. So will you- and the bottle will be dry, as mine is from tasting pour after pour. Trust me, this Velvet Devil is going to stick a pitchfork in your plans and you will love it.

 

Boom.

 

Now go rock your weekend with a Charles Smith Wine, you can thank me later by sending me a bottle.

For more information on these wines, check out: www.charlessmithwines.com/

 

à votre santé!

 

Locations Wine AR5 Argentinian Red Blend

30 Dec

Argentina.

Mendoza’s Uco Valley is ripe here.

And nowhere have I seen that ripeness as evident as right in this bottle of wine.

 

locations-ar5

 

Locations Wine AR5 Red Argentinian Blend; %14 ABV, MSRP $18/bottle. 

Color is magenta with light purple edging. Boysenberry, cassis, menthol and lavender oil are demonstrated on the nose. In the mouth, juicy black plum meets blackberry jam, spice box, saddle leather, slate, gravel and wet stone. Plenty of acid keeps the palate hopping, while firm tannins round out this young and exciting wine.

With a classic and bold Argentinian flavor profile, this blend of malbec & cabernet sauvignon paired beautifully with meatballs and pasta, as well as a bite of dark chocolate before the bottle was empty.

Adjectives like intense, explosive, and vibrant fit this wine well. I had expected to taste it with Thai, Mexican, and a classic American steak, but my brother-in-law and I quickly polished off the bottle without thinking. I expect you, too, will find this wine so easy to enjoy that it’s gone before you realize it.

It has been a while since I tasted the Andes and Argentina. But the taste of them are both bold and fierce in this bottle.

At this price, you should have a few of them in your cellar. Not because of the 95-point score it received from the 2016 Sommelier Challenge Wine Competition, and not because Robert Parker thinks the winemaker, Dave Phinney, is a wine god. Buy it just because it’s damn good wine that your mouth will thank you for. 

 

locations_ar-pr_-2

 

à vôtre santé!

Bodegas Salentein Wines from Valle de Uco, Argentina

2 Dec

salentein-wine-line-up-1

 

 


Bodegas Salentein 2015 Reserve Chardonnay; Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5%ABV, Average street price  $18 USD.

Color is pale sunshine with green tinge. Gentle aroma of grilled pineapple, lemon-lime and wildflowers on the nose. In the mouth, golden delicious apple and citrus fruit mixes with powerful acidity. Directly behind the fruit, heat crosses the top palate while the back palate reels from the tannins and tart lime peel. Notes of vanilla, baked bread, and chalky limestone on the medium-long finish. A gorgeous, delicate chardonnay that is a pleasure to drink. Alone it may be a touch acidic, but with mild cheese or white meat, the wine is a perfect complement and palate cleanser. For friends who won’t drink Chardonnay made outside of California, here is something you need to taste- a subtle, mature, underscored hit of a chardonnay that smacks your interest early on and shows you how a star is born. If you can’t tell, I was very impressed by this chardonnay, which demonstrated clearly to me that truly great white wines are also possible from the famed Mendoza wine region Valle de Uco!

 

salentein-chardonnay

 

Bodegas Salentein Killka Collection  Torrentes 2015; Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. 12.5%ABV; Average street price $15 USD. 

Pale gold in color with a beautifully floral nose that features sweet honeysuckle and jasmine. In the mouth, fruit starts with bosc pear and a blend of secondary notes of tart lemon zest, star fruit and pineapple. Bright acidity with a hint of bitters that works well in the character. Chalky loam on the short finish. A great choice to enjoy under the hot sun when well chilled, this wine can quickly transition from being a tasty and refreshing apéritif to complement a salad and fish course, capable to handling shellfish, ceviche, or  grilled salmon, bass, and even seared tuna.

salentein-killka-torrontes-2015

Killka Collection Red Blend 2014; Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% ABV, Average Street price $15/bottle. 

The color shows a garnet center shifting to deep ruby. The nose offers  red plum, cherry, and rose bush with a hint of menthol. In the mouth, sour cherry and ripe red plum are dominant fruits. Notes of aged oak, vanilla bean, schist, granite, and sodium round out the finish. Ideal for grilled meats. The blend is of 50% Malbec, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah and 5% Petite Verdot.

salentein-killka-red-blend-2014

 

Bodegas Salentein 2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon; Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. 14%ABV, Average street price  $18 USD.

Deep purple in color with a nose of eucalyptus, forest floor, and pencil shavings. In the mouth, a harmonious & moderate blend of fruit, acid and tannins. A dark fruit mix of aged blackberries, black currants, and prunes, with secondary notes of potting soil, tobacco, old leather, toasted oak, graphite and wet stone. Features a medium long and very dry finish; this wine is a solid value in reserve cab and a classic, firmly masculine expression of Mendoza’s terroir.

salentein-reserve-cabernet-sauvignon-2014

 

Bodegas Salentein 2014 Reserve Malbec; Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. 14%ABV, Average street price  $16 USD.

Dark ruby color with a nose of blueberries and black plum. On the palate, a driven and singular focus of blackberry, with secondary notes of cherry cola, freshly cut grass, black pepper and spice box. The strong acidity and powerful tannins leave a real bite on the finish making this a great complement to grilled meats.

 

salentein-reserve-malbec-2014

 

If you taste these wines blind, you won’t immediately think of South America or Argentina. But you WILL think: “These are delicious, wonderful wines.” 

 

à votre santé!

Drinking World Wines in Toronto

14 Nov

I continue to be out of the country working on a new Broadway musical, trying Canadian wines when our production schedule allows. Wine selections at the LCBO (basically, the Canadian Liquor Store) are OK by my standards, but not stellar. I managed to find a bottle of Michael David’s Chardonnay from Lodi, here in Toronto of all places…along with many bottles of Zinfandel. That bottle made me very happy with great memories of picking viognier in the MD vineyard this past August, and I drank it and fondly recalled fun adventures with my WBC friends. 

 

Michael David Winery 2015 Chardonnay. 13.5%ABV, $23CAD/bottle from LCBO. Color is pale gold. Nose of green apple, white peach, and hibiscus flower. In the mouth, the fruit profile is a balance of golden delicious apple, honeydew melon and pineapple. Secondary notes of peach, cedar, vanilla, and clay on the medium-short finish. For me, this bottle was a delightful memory of the 2016 harvest in the MD vineyards. While I enjoyed this, I wished the LCBO had stocked the MD Viognier as well.

mdchardonnay

 

jvb-graping-copy

This is a shot of me from the viognier harvest in the MD Vineyards.
Photo by Randy Caparoso!

 

 

Working in the entertainment industry often means very long hours and few days off. Since arriving,  I thankfully have managed to get to a couple of nice restaurants in Toronto that feature excellent wine lists that are worthy of sharing!

 

Nearby the Royal Alexandra Theatre at Byblos, the middle eastern fare is warm and inviting. Their lamb shoulder is braised for 12 hours and falls off the bone, succulent and savory, accompanied by a garlic paste, shug (a hot pepper blend) and house-made pickles and turnips, with tasty sides of rice and brussel sprouts. With the help of my trusty iphone (it’s a dark restaurant) I scanned the wine list and found an appropriate comfort wine to match the house specialty.

Chateau Musar “Hochar Père et Fils” 2011, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. This red blend is deep garnet in color with an opulent, floral nose. On the palate, mature black plum, fig, cherry, and the distinct quality of baked fruit is met with notes of earth, leather, mocha, allspice, black pepper and cinnamon. On the dry, lengthy finish there are beautiful flourishes of oak, along with gravel and sandy limestone on the side palate.  It is a heady aroma and velvety mouthfeel, a gorgeous second wine from a brilliant winemaker. I have long been a fan of Chateau Musar, with an ’04 and a few bottles of the 2000 remaining in my cellar, and I was trepidatious at the youthful age of this bottle, but ended up being very pleasantly surprised. I thoroughly enjoyed this blend of 50% cinsault, 30% grenache, 10% carignan, and 10% cabernet sauvignon. 14% ABV, Street price avg $33 USD, (obviously not what I paid in the restaurant.)

 

hochar-2011-1

 

 

Further down King Street is a hidden gem suggested by my co-workers for having a high quality (and somewhat pricey) wine list. Buca is a northern Italian restaurant that is reknowned for savory delights and curing their own meat;  you can see examples of their delicacies hanging in a cooler as you walk down a hallway to the bar and to one of the two dining rooms. We obliged our evening hunger by ordering shared dishes, starting off with olives stuffed with sausage and fried to hot, crisp, and salted savory perfection;  hand-rolled ricotta gnocchi stuffed with taleggio cheese; carpaccio di mango; and a pizza salumi di buca- delightful, mouthwatering bites. Strongly salted meats and powerful, savory flavors beg for a tremendous wine, and the sommelier did not disappoint! A native Italian (whose name I sadly did not understand when I asked), we chatted, I inquired about some of the ‘hidden treasures’ on the wine list, and he came back with his arms full of options,  from which I selected his very last bottle of a reserve Nebbiolo- and I was very glad I did!

Ar.Pe.Pe.’s  2011 Sasella Stella-Retina Valtellina Superior Riserva, Lombardy, Italy. The color is deep ruby while the perfumed nose offers crushed rose petals and lush vegetation. This wine opened up beautifully with a bit of time in the glass to offer mature raspberry, dried cherry, and african violet. Secondary notes of vanilla, wet earth and aged leather on the finish with hints of toasted almonds, sodium, wet stone, and granite. A beautiful soft mouthfeel; feminine expression of aged fruit meets bright acidity and firm tannins. 100% Nebbiolo, 13.5% ABV, Street Price around $52 USD.

 

sasselica-stella-retica

 

The clock is ticking until my return to the USA! I still have two bottles of Canadian red wines I need to review before my time is up here in Canada. Keep an eye out, and enjoy. Life is beautiful and precious, and I hope we all see the beauty every day in our loved ones and the world around us.  -JvB

à votre santé!

 

 

Sbragia Family Vineyards- Wines that Sing in the Glass

22 Aug

Sbragia Family Vineyards is a Sonoma winemaking family I did not know before..

And now it is one I will never forget.

Sbragia Family Vineyards 2012 Gino’s Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, CA.  15.1%ABV. MSRP $44/bottle. Sample provided by Bacchus Capital Management.

Color is garnet with violet edging. The nose shows red and black fruit, eucalyptus, anise and green pepper. In the mouth, plenty of black and red berries meet spice, black pepper, chewy tannin and nice acidity. Big in flavor, hot on the back palate when the alcohol crosses the threshold. Tasty by itself and with food, this matched up beautifully with pizza, chili, and by itself in the afternoon sunshine on the back porch. Refrigerated after opening the bottle, it lasted nicely for over a week while maintaining freshness and proper balance. Some great value found in the street prices of this wine. #HeyNow!

Sbrag ZIN

 

 

Sbragia Family Vineyards 2014 Home Ranch Chardonnay, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, CA.  14.5%ABV. MSRP $30/bottle. Sample provided by Bacchus Capital Management.

Color is deep straw verging on golden sunlight. On the nose, baked apple pie, pineapple, a hint of baked bread  while toasted cashews tantalize the senses with a strong sense of alcohol. On the palate, white stone fruit, kiwi, lemon zest, marzipan, and vanilla, with granite on the long finish that leaves a zesty heat across the top palate. #SoNice!

Sbrag Chard

 

 

 

Sbragia Family Vineyards 2012 Monte Rosso Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Moon Valley District. Sonoma County, CA.  14.8%ABV. MSRP $65/bottle. Sample provided by Bacchus Capital Management.

What a gorgeous & classic California cab: deep ruby in color. Eucalyptus, menthol, earth, wet leaves and green pepper with cedar on the nose.  Massive cassis and blackberry fruit up front. Some mid-palate spice, some heat, forest floor, saddle leather, and a soil-rich minerality on the finish with lasting heat, lovely oak and a lingering body. Lovely to drink now but what perfection might this be in 5-10 years with the alcohol muted and the fruit sliding back? This wine drank beautifully for a week of evenings when stored in the fridge… rationing a half-glass of heaven each night. This drinks so well right now but I can’t wait to see what it is like in 2022. #BOOM!

 

Cab 2

 

Ed Sbragia of Sbragia Family Vineyards provides a classic California edge with a long-term family history and pedigree you can taste in the glass. Get a few bottles, pop them with friends, and listen got everyone tell you how good they are. They are just that crowd pleasing.

 

à votre santé!

 

Iconic Wines go Lodi!

4 Jul

I’m a fan of small, independent winemakers. Over the last couple of years I’ve been fortunate to try wines from Iconic and quickly became a fan of their Heroine Chardonnay (my original review of Heroine Chardonnay is here).

So of course, I jumped at the chance to taste their current lineup and meet winemaker Birk O’Halloran and his partner Karl Antle from Iconic Wines on a crowded Times Square rooftop.

17 floors above Broadway, it’s much quieter without traffic but like fighting through a crowded, subway-car-like-bustle to get close to the wines being poured. Grabbing a plastic cup of pink wine, it would be easier to down it and ask for another like black and white movie scene featuring a gunfighter in a saloon. But this is an entirely new situation. So I sipped…at first… before asking Birk for another. And I understood why the line for the wine was wrapping down the side of the building past the bocce court to the elevators.

 

Birk

Birk O’Halloran, star winemaker, sporting (1) a bottle of Secret Identity rosé, (2) a bottle of Heroine chardonnay, and (3) a Jamie-Lannister-from-Game-of-Thones-styled-beard. Beard not for sale on line (currently) at http://www.IconicWine.com. 

 

Rose Front

Shhh! It’s so darn tasty, it’s a secret! 

Rose Back

Enter Secret Identity Dry Rosé 2015. MSRP is $18, and a mere 11% ABV, the winemaking details were a real surprise- the grape blend includes zinfandel and syrah! To the casual drinker, what you need to know is that this is a superbly dry, crisp, light, delicious rosé. You would be shocked to see an entire rooftop of NYC power-brokers drinking this, but believe me, they loved this wine as much as I did. It will rock with seafood, appetizers and light entrées but I doubt the bottle will last that long. It will delight your palate, disappear almost magically from your glass, and you will find yourself wishing you’d picked up several bottles.

In addition to Heroine and Secret Identity, Iconic has launched a new SK line- the Sidekick wines!

Iconic’s Sidekick or SK category, starting with SK (Sidekick) Chardonnay.

Sidekick Front

Sidekick back

 

2014 SK Sidekick Chardonnay, Napa, CA. MSRP $18, 13%ABV. Beautiful aromatics of honeysuckle, apricot and hay. The palate features stone fruit: crisp green apple and white pear with even acidity and a floral aftertaste. Stainless steel fermentation unlike their flagship Heroine Chardonnay which is matured in oak- because every hero needs a sidekick! A perfect introduction to California chardonnay, and a great primer for Heroine- to which you might become addicted. Yeah, I went there. And that’s how I treat bottles of Heroine Chardonnay in my cellar.

 

Iconic Wine 2014 SK Sidekick Cabernet Sauvignon. Because LODI! 

Iconic Cab front

iconic cab back

Lodi’s cabernet grapes are the star of this new wine for Iconic. Bold plum and blackberry lead on the front palate, followed with cassis and black earth. Silky tannins with notes of cedar, anise, granite and potting soil. Great on its own or with red meat, and at $18/bottle MSRP, it is a tremendous value- a real steal in California Cabernet!

Each time I have tasted Iconic’s wine, I have been impressed by the flavors, attention to detail, structure, and my overall enjoyment of their products. One of my surprises came when I included the 2013 Heroine Chardonnay in a neighborhood tasting where it was unanimously the public’s preferred wine in a tasting of pricey, worldwide options. I hope you take an opportunity to find their wines (currently in more than 37 of NYC’s finest restaurants) and other locations, found here.

I’m especially excited about Iconic’s relationship with Lodi in choosing great fruit for their wines. I have been a fan of Lodi for a while, but I the upcoming #WBC16 Wine Bloggers Conference. I will be participating with over a hundred other wine bloggers, meeting with Lodi winemakers, and tasting their wares.

Heroine Label

The Heroine Wine Label. What’s better than a superhero? A super Heroine!

à votre santé!

Recanati: Worlds Collide, Part 2

22 Feb

This is the promised follow-up to a tasting I did with Recanati Winery. If you missed  that post, you can read it here

After meeting Lenny and Gil from Recanati Winery, I was determined to find their wines locally in NY. It did not take me long. While running errands, I made a stop at Mayfair Wine & Liquor on Union Turnpike in Queens, NY, and hit on my first try.

Wandering the aisles, I picked up a bottle of Recanati Rosé and took it over to chat with John, the store owner. John is used to me trying his new wines, inquiring everything about his products as well as his sales trends.

He looked at the bottle of rosé in my hand. “Ah, that’s very good,” he told me, “An excellent value and compares well to Loire Valley rosé. I also have others from this winemaker.” He waved me over to another area of the store, showing me Recanati reserves, blends, and single grape wines.  “They sell very well, from the basic blends I sell at $11/bottle to the special reserves. They make some excellent wines across the board, and people come back for more.” I picked up the Yasmin Red. “That is tremendous value, I sell it for $11/bottle; it drinks like wine that sells for $25-30. And their reserve wines, which goes in the low $20’s, are just excellent wines. Forget that they are kosher,” he says with his hands gesturing me to pick one up, “they are excellent wines, whatever you compare them to.” I smiled & nodded, but didn’t want to let him know I had tasted Lenny and Gil’s line just a few days prior. I picked up the rosé, the Yasmin red, a syrah, and the reserve cabernet, the latter two I had tasted previously and just wanted to enjoy again. (Now, come on, every bottle I drink can’t be a wine review. Sue me, I’m paying for them.)

 

2014 Recanati Rosé, Galilee, Israel. 13% ABV, $14/bottle at Mayfair Wine & Liquor. 

Color is a medium-clear and very ruddy pink: an amaranth/magenta center blending out to a clear edge. The aroma shows fresh strawberries with a hint of gardenias. In the mouth, tart raspberry and dried cranberry notes dominate with a spice balance. Good acidity and strong tannins emanate from the side palate for a satisfying, clean finish. This wine is a blend of 70% barbera and 30% merlot grapes, which gives more body and pairing opportunities while still being a nice wine to enjoy on its own. Mental note: I should try this with turkey & cranberry sauce for a possible Thanksgiving wine. Very nice!

rose

 

2014 Yasmin Red Blend by Recanati Winery, Galilee, Israel. 14% ABV, $11/bottle. 

Color is deep garnet at center shifting to ruby with medium opacity. Red currants, jasmine, and hint of almond on the nose. On the palate, red plum, cassis, black pepper and baking spices are followed by a hint of cherry pie and a note of chalky limestone. This blend would be a perfect house red, as it has the flexibility to pair with most styles of food from white meats to game to a roast, and just the hint of sugar that would allow it to pair with a vegan roast vegetable platter.

Yasmin

 

I am constantly reminded while enjoying these bottles (as well as the middle and high end wines from Recanati) that these wines compare better to European and New World wines more than they do to other Mediterranean wines I’ve previously enjoyed. I had several bottles open at a time and they maintained quality and freshness over several days when stored in the refrigerator after opening. The fact that they are kosher wines from Israel are a secondary bonus to those who want kosher wines, when ultimately they simply stand on their own, and compare beautifully to well-made wines from across the world.

 

reserve

shiraz

à vôtre santé!

 

Recanati: Worlds Collide & Make Brilliant, World-Class Wines

7 Feb

Want to try something new?

Just for a  few minutes, I want you to ignore everything you know about wine regions, and just taste the wines made by Recanati.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. At least, not for someone who has tasted a lot of Israeli wines. I was interested to taste the wines from Lenny Recanati (owner) and Gil Shatsberg (head Recanati winemaker) but I had no expectations. I went in with a positive attitude, trying to provide as much of an open mind as I could possibly muster, and hoping to ignore all preconceived notions.

High hopes, indeed.

What I found was a brilliant blend in business: a historic approach to understanding viticulture and terroir, an essence of a classic French Château approach in making world-class, elegant wines, all while referencing the approach of a scientific, modern, new world winemaker. The results speak for themselves: a library of delicious wines, and serious accolades, like an inclusion in the 2014 Wine Spectator Top 100.

But let us not get ahead of ourselves.

I focused on experiencing  this tasting with a clear palate and an open mind. In doing so, I managed to wash myself clean of my assumptions of what an Israeli wine is, and just treated these like wines. Not kosher wines (which indeed, they are) but just as wines. And below are my tasting notes, some pictures, and some bottle shots.

Recan SBlanc

Recanati Sauvignon Blanc 2014. 13%ABV, $15 MSRP. 

Pale straw in color, citrus nose with kiwi accents. A direct, spot-on demonstration of sauvignon blanc from a blisteringly hot climate whose brutality on the grape provides a textbook, citrus-forward wine. Pineapple, lychee, and citrus in the mouth evoke a crisp, clean and clear wine, made entirely in stainless steel and exuberating freshness. Lovely on the palate.

Recanati Special Reserve White

Recanati Special Reserve White 2012. 13.5%ABV, $50 MSRP.

Medium gold in color, with a nose featuring white peach. On the palate, a blend of savory, sweet and acidity. White pear and green apple with just a hint of fat that rounds out the body nicely and makes the wine compare favorably to a white Bordeaux or Oregonian  blend. Beautiful winemaking, these grapes are hand harvested and pressed only as whole clusters. Using only free run juice, it is fermented sur lie and aged in French oak barrels.

 

Recan LineUp

Recanati Reserve Petite Syrah 2013. 14.5% ABV, $32 MSRP.

Deep purple color with ruby edges. Nose of concentrated black plum. Delightful fruit, I immediately compared this to Santa Barbara styles of  Syrah, although with less pepper on the back palate. Nice example of single vineyard petite syrah: strong and bold all around, big fruit with matching acidity and tannins. Tasty.

Recanati Reserve Petite Sirah

Recan Syrah

Recanati Reserve Syrah Viognier 2012. 14.5% ABV, $40 MSRP.

A blend of  97% syrah with 3% viognier, color is opaque purple with a nose of blackberry and cassis, granite notes on the medium finish. More elegance than the single vineyard syrah, fruit is demure and the wine seems refined and genteel, making it easier to pair with more dishes, offering elegance and austerity.

Recanati Reserve Syrah -Viognier

 

Recanati Reserve Marselan 2013. 14.5% ABV, $50 MSRP.

Inky black color with purple edging, the Marselan is a classic French blending grape rarely shown as a single vineyard. On the palate, blueberry, black plum, powerful acid, white pepper, vanilla, notes of schist and clay on the long finish with abrupt tannins.

Recanati Reserve Marselan

 

Recan Wild Carignan Label

Recanati Reserve Wild Carignan 2013. 14.5% ABV, $50 MSRP.

Dark ruby in color; nose of raspberry, red plum, and bell pepper. On the palate: black plum,  blackberry, stewed strawberries, dried raspberry. Notes of vegetation, vanilla, black pepper, limestone, and toasted oak.  A wine that is dry farmed, non-irrigated, brutal on the grape and as a result, shows stunning flavor. Delicious and unusual: a grape that used to be commonly planted but now is becoming rare.

Recan wine label

Recanati Special Reserve, 2012. 14% ABV, $60 MSRP.

This wine starts with the best barrels of each grape being pulled aside for the special reserve blend . This year, it is a blend of 30% cabernet sauvignon, 30% syrah, 25% marselan and 15%carignan.
Tasting notes: color is a bright ruby, nose of red fruit with eucalyptus and dusty rose. On the palate, red cassis, blackberry compote, blueberry and rose petals. Layered, full bodied, balanced, and beautiful. Aptly named.

Recanati Special Reserve

Recan 3 labels

Lenny, Gil, and their wines made an impression on me. These wines do not remind me of anything I had tasted before from Israel, so perhaps I have managed to shed my preconceived notions. Yes, these are great kosher wines, but the more important point is that in comparison to both old world and new world wines, regardless of kashrut: these are great wines, period.

Recan 3 Reds

My experience in tasting this wines reminded me how important blind tasting is. It’s imperative to recognize that all the knowledge and time we gain in becoming a wine connoisseur can be wasted if we let ourselves judge a wine based on any preconceived notions. Did I think I would love wines from the Mediterranean as much as those from France, Italy, California, New Zealand, and Oregon? No. But why not? Much like Gaston Hochar,  Jacques Puffeney, or Heidi Peterson Barrett, Lenny and Gil are doing something very right. And I also love that their line of offerings includes entry level wines under $15, serious reserve wines in the $30 range, and premium selections over $40.

Intrigued? Of course I am. And now I intend to find out more.

Look for Part 2, forthcoming.

 

à votre santé!

Tasting Hungarian Wine: Kékfrankos and Bulls Blood!

12 Jul

I recently attended a tasting of Hungarian wines. Previously my experience with Hungarian wines have included Tokaji, Tokaji, and Tokaji. While I enjoyed Tokaji (both in the sweet Furmint and aromatic Muskotály), I knew there was more to taste. So come along with me and learn about what other wines are available from this old-world wine region! The host of my tasting was named Martin and when I inquired, he explained that most Hungarian winemakers still use traditional, old-world methods of pressing, punching down wines by hand, and barrel aging- often using the same barrels over multiple times. Here are my notes, in tasting order:    Lajvér Avantgarde Szekszárdi Cuvée Blanc is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, and Czerszegi. Nose of distinct grapefruit. In the mouth, bright citrus, white stone fruit, green vegetation, and considerable heat with a finish that shows spice, flint, and shale. IMG_1269 Günzer Villányi Mont Blanc blends both Muscat Ottonel and Welsch Riesling. With a slightly green tinge and a sugary nose, it shows apricot and citrus with a balanced, gentler acidity and a short finish. IMG_1270 Lajvér Avantgarde Szekszárdi Cuvée is 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Cabernet Franc and 20% Merlot, a wine made by blending barrels of aged & fermented single grape wines together. It reminds me of nouveau beaujolais, tasting like a young, bright, fruit-forward wine that hasn’t fully congealed. IMG_1271 Lajvér Avantgarde Szekszárdi Bikavér has an unusual nickname, “Bull’s Blood”. Legend says that during the Turkish invasion of 1552, local soldiers defending the castle of Eger were fed a red wine that was mixed with the blood of bulls to strengthen their resistance, and after 39 days of intense and bloody combat, the invaders departed, leaving the castle intact. Bikavér is the same blend of 40% Cab Sauv, 40% Cabernet Franc and 20% Merlot, as the Cuvée above but a big difference is key: the grapes are blended and ferment in the same barrel together, making a very different and homogenous wine. Medium violet in color, the nose is dusty rose and forest floor with green pepper and granite. In the mouth, strong  black plum, boysenberry, and cassis meet solid tannin and a medium long finish. This is a wine to seek out and taste for yourself. IMG_1272 Mészáros Pál Szekszárdi Merlot is a fragrant wine with dominant flavor of boysenberry with some blackberry, subtle acidity and gentle tannins. Vanilla clay, and reticent oak notes follow. Might pair well with early courses or gentle main courses, this is a relaxed red with a hint of savory maturity. IMG_1273 Mészáros Pál Szekszárdi Kékfrankos is the one from the group I’d suggest that should not be missed by any serious oenophile. This 2012 bottling is 13% ABV and shows red and black fruit, balanced acidity, powerful tannins, and lots of spice. From the new world wines, this wine sits between a red zinfandel and syrah, with a sense of lush gracefulness. The tasting note I finished with was “really lovely”, and I marked this as a buy for my personal cellar. IMG_1274 Lajvér Avantgarde Szekszárdi Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 features 14%ABV and falls into the “classic cab” category, not to be mistaken with any of the new world cabs that feature big fruit up front, this one is nice, dry, subtle, and restrained. Medium purple in color, blackberry is dominant on the palate with medium acid and a medium short finish showing aged oak, forest floor, and chalky clay. IMG_1275 Lovassy Tokaji Muskotály Félédes is a sweet dessert wine/apertitif with fragrant nose of yellow peach and island mango. In the mouth it shows honey and candy with a short almond finish. A distinctive flavor that managed to not be either too sweet or too musky, there is a satisfaction in the balance that offsets the sweetness to prevent it being too much, and it was as popular at this tasting as Tokaji wines have been – hard to keep in the glass, surprisingly easy to drink, and often in short supply. IMG_1276   I was excited to taste a real cross-section of Hungarian producers in one sitting, and hope you get the opportunity to do the same. I expect you also will be pleasantly surprised, and hope readers will now expect and trust in finding quality, old-world wines made by hand in the under $20 range. There is indeed a good cross-section of Hungarian wines available, from whites, reds, and dessert wines, as well as the three not-to-miss wines in my opinion: the Bikavér, Kékfrankos, and Tokaji dessert wines. Enjoy!

à votre santé!

If Chile Had a Margaux, This Might Be It!

18 Dec

François Lurton’s Gran Araucano Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Lolol Valley, Chile. 14.5% ABV, $35 list, currently $35-45 street.

I would never have tried this wine but it was suggested to me over and over from various vendors who know what I like, and that I prefer to buy wines in the under $20 for my readers but my personal preferences run higher. After the third time someone suggested this to me, one vendor finally put the bottle in my hands and said, “If you don’t like it, bring it back and I’ll exchange it.” For a perishable item like wine, that’s a sales pitch from someone who trusts his product!

The color is deep ruby, and the nose is surpassingly complex and aromatic w/ black plum, spice, forest floor, a little funk and menthol. A nose like a champion, almost worth the price of admission for the nose alone.

On the palate, tart cassis is the powerful first impression. Swirled around the mouth, the upper palate gets the heat plus red plum,  pepper, oak, some clay. The tongue continues with cassis and now adds plum and blackberry, while the back palate senses silt, darker notes like forest and potting soil, and now tannins creeping in, first slowly, then with full force. Acidity and tannin take a second place to the fruit and nose in this wine, but are in no way diminished. This is a well-made wine, worthy of the price tag. Great for roast meats, strong flavors- even though I enjoyed it with mediterranean fare.

It was crafted with care by masters of French classic wines, no doubt, because I have a hard time putting down the glass, or it keeps refilling itself.

If Chile had a Margaux, this might be it. I would love to taste this wine again in five and ten years. If you take the time to google this wine, you might find the series of awards it has won. Or you might just find what matters: a place to buy a bottle or two so you can enjoy. If only I had cellar space for a full case!

gran araucano

 

à votre santé!

 

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