Nido de Abeja 123 Reserva 2005

img_2680I selected this wine just for me.  Why?  Because I wanted to enjoy entering Christmas with luxury and richness.  This wine is BIG.  14% alcohol.  50% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon 25% Syrah, this wine is a Ferrari.  It’s a reserva which means it is has the highest quality of grapes, sees a long time 12 to 24 months in oak barrels, and a minimum of 36 months of ageing before it is released.  If the vintage wasn’t so good the Consejo Regulador of the D.O. may not even allow producers to label the wine “reserva”.  The wine is generally smooth, full complex and capable of lasting up to 10 years.  And there is the rub, this wine is 11 years old, by far the oldest bottle I owned, it’s time had come.  And I didn’t want to share with anyone.

 

First teachable moment, always write down the date you purchased the wine, write it on the bottle with a marker or make a simple excel spreadsheet.  Next, determine a drink by date.  You can determine this by the winemakers notes generally found on the internet or use the the vintage chart.  This way you can enjoy the wine and not pour it down the sink.

 

In the glass this wine was beautiful “ruby red” and clear, yeah there was a hint of it’s age, it was a little “brick” at the rim.  Second teachable moment, you can read a wine by it’s colors.  The rim or “parentheses” the edge of the wine in the glass, young wines will be clear, moving to red as it ages, “brick” as it enters old age.  This wine was mostly clear red, but it did have a hint of brick.

 

The nose was great, the oak came through like a champ, I loved the aroma, went back again and again.  The aroma of the wine is one thing I truly love about wine.  I have big snowball type glasses especially for the experience.

 

The taste was WOW, everything I had hoped for. I love a DRY wine and this was DRY.  All the dark fruits were present with a little spice.   The wine was full bodied, well structured and very complex.  I could have done better pairing the  wine, but Moo Shu Beef was the best I could do.  I think most Sommeliers would have strangled me with their Tastevin if they knew.  I drank the bottle over two days as I usually do, the wine only got better.  Last glass I got the lees, which is the sediment in the bottle, not a problem and I would have been shocked if I hadn’t found any.

 

The wine is made by a brother sister team Carlos and Pilar Martinez-Bujanda Irribarra in the La Mancha area of Spain, that’s right Don Quixote, Sancho, Aldonza the whole crew.  Now most of the reviews on the wine had notes about the wine being made in La Mancha, like they were apologizing that this wine came from the wrong side of the tracks or something. There is something to be said about that.

 

Spain is a old wine making country, with a long history, but until recently Spainish wine did not have a good reputation.  Spain  has more land planted with grapes than any other country in the world 2.9 million acres. Spain entered the modern winemaking era late only about 30 years ago so they have had a lot of catching up to do.

 

La Mancha itself  is huge, 500,000 acres of vines, it’s not only the largest wine region in Spain but in all of Europe.  The name came from when the area was under Moorish rule it  was called “al-manshu” which means “parched earth”.  And it is, hot in the summer temps as high as 104 degrees are normal and in the winter it’s cold sometimes below zero. Remember big means “BULK” which it the main reason for La Mancha’s bad rap.

 

When you think Spain think “value” which is why you’ll see a ton of Spanish wines in wine clubs and the “best buy” area of wine stores.  There are two DOC’s in Spain one you’ll all know Rioja the other is Priorato, extra points if you can find it on a map, possibly the best wines in Spain are from these two areas.  The Winedar will have us visiting both regions in 2017 I’m sure.

 

There are 54 DO (Denominacion de Origen) in Spain very similar to the AOC’s of France.  One of the most historic is Jerez.  This is the home of Sherry.  Sherry is to Spain as Champagne is to France or Port is to Portugal or Schlitz is to Milwaukee.  Sherry comes in seven different styles from bone dry to make your teeth hurt sweet.  I’ve never tasted Sherry so stay tuned to Griffy on Wine and we’ll explore it together.

 

While shopping be on the lookout for wines from these regions of Spain Ribera del Duero, Penedes we’ve reviewed wines from this area in past blogs Cava sparkling wines, Rias Baixas home of Albarino whites.  Whatever you choice is now is a great time to enjoy Spanish wines.

 

Let me finish with an old Spanish proverb “Beber este vino es como hablar con Dios” – Tasting wine is like talking to God!

 

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North Coast California Cabernet Sauvignon

 

A reader suggested that I might want to do a blog on North Coast California Cabernet Sauvignons because recent vintages supposedly have been excellent.

 

This was just a great suggestion for a variety of reasons; 1) I’m a varietal guy, it’s all about the grape, I usually don’t pay attention to when the wine was made.  2) It forces us to explore at least briefly the AVA and vintage charts, tools a wine drinker should know about. 3)  It’s an  interesting story. 4) he’s right the 2012 and 2013 vintages have been really good.

 

So, let’s dig in!

 

When he asks about North Coast California what he is actually referring to is the North Coast AVA or American Viticultural Area.   AVA is a designated wine grape region as defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco tax and Trade Bureau.  It’s not even close to the European system of AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlee) which truly tries to protect the place of origin of a wine.  Where as a vineyard  in the United States can and often does belong to more than one AVA that usually can not happen in Europe. Europeans have a greater sensitivity to terroir where place is most important.  In the United States we are more focused on the varietal than where it is made.

 

North Coast AVA is huge!  Covers over 3,000,000 acres and including 48 sub AVA’s.  Places like San Francisco, Lake County, Martin County, Mendocino County, Napa County, Solano County and Sonoma County all are part of the North Coast AVA.  So, as you can see picking a “north coast California wine”  can be a little difficult.  Both Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator list Napa and Sonoma for Cabernet in their vintage charts.

 

With the place somewhat defined, let’s talk about vintage charts and why they are important to wine drinkers.  A vintage chart is a historical tool tracking vintages in different wine growing regions for a number of years to decades.  They summarize the quality and character of the wines.  They are general in nature, they can help you make good decisions when faced with unfamiliar wines or help you determine when wines you have already purchased will be drinking there best. Remember the “vintage” is the year the grapes are harvested.  There are usually three components to the chart;

 

  1. Description; sums up the growing season details the weather data such as average temperature rainfall and major storms, or frosts.  Cool rainy years produce light early maturing wines, hot dry years can yield unbalanced wines that don’t age well.  Vintner’s reports and sample tastings.

 

  1. Score 50 to 100.

95 – 100 Classic Great Wines

90-94 Outstanding

85- 89 Very good

80-85 Solid

75-79 Mediocre

50-74 Save your money drink beer

 

3) Drink recommendation

Drink:  Drink now because you will see little improvement if stored.

Hold:   these are age worthy wines that have yet to fully mature and need more time in    the bottle.

Drink or Hold: enjoy now but will benefit from more aging.

Past Peak:      wine is declining, if you have some, drink it now.

You can find these on line at any number of sources most popular are Wine Enthusiast or Wine Spectator.

 

Why is vintage important?  From a straight wine perspective you can’t make a great wine with crappy grapes, just not possible.  With modern technology you can make a decent wine from crappy grapes maybe even a good wine, but what are you willing to pay for it to take a chance?

 

Technology is flattening the vintage curve.  If you look at the charts over a long period of time the vintages are all improving, because growers have so many new tools to offset the ravages of mother Nature.  Better Weather forecasting allow growers to take action.  Example using helicopters to “dry” the grapes after rain to prevent mildew and rot.  Heaters to protect from frost.  I was just reading about a vineyard who purchased a $400,000 optical sorter that reads the grapes “stats” with an x-ray.  The winemaker and the grower hand sort a sample of grapes to get a profile of the type of grape they want they program the scanner, the scanner “profiles” the grapes selecting the ones that fit the profile. Did it help?  Read the book “A perfect Score” it’s the story of HALL Wines “Kathryn Hall” which got a perfect score of 100 from Robert Parker in 2013.  Those grapes were from the 2010 vintage and if you look at the charts, 2010 was not a great year.

 

The vintage chart will tell you what you can expect from each years vintage and why.  Where this becomes important is it gives you an idea of what you should be paying for it. Best example is buying wine futures. For us mere mortals it’s useful when buying wine in a restaurant.   Here’s why, you see a bottle of wine from a 2012 or 2013 vintage at the restaurant for $125.  You order, the waiter brings you the bottle, make sure his thumb or finger is not covering the vintage date, because your 2013 might be a 2010 and it’s not worth the $125 but more like $75.  Same thing if you are buying wine in a wine shop check that vitage date with the chart it might be past peak.  If you ordered online and the vintage date isn’t what you ordered, send it back.

 

Picking a wine to recommend would be hard from this area because it is so large.  Cabernets from this area are also expensive.  I’d suggest looking for second labels or second vins as the French would say.  These are wines made by the same rock star winemakers but at a fraction of the cost say 50% less.  The concept of second Labels began in Bordeaux in the 18th century as a way of producers to use wine not chosen for the First label rather than sell it as bulk.  It’s still a very high quality wine, without all the pampering at the winery as the first growth.  Less time aging maybe not in new oak barrels and most are more approachable for drinking than the Flagship wine.   Here are some suggestions Caravan second label to Darioush Estates my pick was Decoy second label to Duckhorn, Slingshot second label to Stewart Cellars and Turn 4 for all you NASCAR fans this wine is made by Bennett Ranch  owned by Randy Lynch owner of the Lynch Racing.

 

I hope I answer the reader’s question, I enjoyed writing the blog, I hope you enjoyed reading it.  If you have other questions send them to jgriff4039@hotmail.com.

 

Merry Christmas!

 

Beeline

 

img_2660They say anyone can whistle, but it takes an orchestra to play a Symphony!

What?

Yeah, I have no idea where I was going with that either, but today’s wine is called Beeline, but the story is the varietal, it’s Symphony.

Nope, I’d never heard of it either. It’s a creation of Dr. Harold Olmo of UC Davis. Sometimes called the “Indiana Jones of viticulture” because of his overseas travels in search of wild and unknown grape vines and a little bit of a Frankenstein for having created over 30 new grape varieties to help support the California wine industry.   Dr. Olmo was a remarkable character, wines with names like Ruby Cabernet, Rubired, Emerald Riesling, Carnelian, Centurion, Flora, Royalty, and Symphony were all his creations over a 50 year career.  The reason you haven’t heard of these varietals is they are mostly used as blending wines to added color or tartness to more familiar wines.  They were also created to grow well in California’s Central valley.  Today they are found around the world in hot Continental climates like Australia, Argentina, Chile, Israel and South Africa.

Dr. Olmo began working on Symphony in 1948.  The grape is a crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache gris.  It took the good doctor 30 years to get it right.  It was introduced as a blending grape in 1981 and was patented in 1983.  Almost all of Symphony is grown in Lodi California. After tasting the wine, I can’t understand why more people are not working with the grape.  Maybe I’m overly enthusiastic because of my ABC affliction (Anything But Chardonnay), or possibly I’m attracted to any grape varietal I haven’t heard of before, but I thought this wine was great.

Beeline is a blend of 77% Symphony, 15% Chardonnay, and 8% French Colombard.  Color in the glass was a bright yellow straw.  Nose of flowers, peaches, or oranges.  Taste was rich and full, tart, spicy like ginger and peach.  Sweet, which usually I don’t like, but this was not syrup sweet, this was fresh pop sweet. Thankfully not a hint of oak.  This wine was paired with horseradish cheddar cheese and let me tell you it was good!

This reminded me of another sweet wine I love Liebestropfchen.  I wish you luck pronouncing and it sounds like a sneeze so God bless you.  In German it means “little love drops” and according to it’s maker Johnson Winery in New York the wine tastes like French Sauternes.  Now,since most French Sauternes and I don’t believe there is any other kind, are all north of $50 a bottle, I can’t afford French Sauternes so I’ll take their word on it, if anyone would like to donate a bottle, I’ll be glad to let you know if they are right.

So, we have an unknown varitel that tastes great, pairs well with cheese, spicy Hors d’oeuvres  or Chicken, Pork or Fish entrees, or makes a great sipping wine all by itself. Varsidal, interesting, great tasting and under $20.  I suggest you give it a try.  

Traveling Vineyard

Where do you get your wine?

I know it’s sounds like a credit card commercial.

But it’s an interesting question.  You see, I enjoy exploring the economics of wine almost as much as the wine itself. Like wine itself the the business of wine is constantly evolving and changing.

For most of you, when the urge or need to buy some wine hits, off you march to your selected wine store, maybe a large super store like Total Wine, with 15 of every type of wine known to man, (trust me they aren’t even close to having all of them), or the local liquor store, or maybe a specialty shop.  Where if you are like most people buy the exact same brand you bought the last fifteen times, or armed with a list of recommended best buys, (which you most likely can’t find because of screwy state laws or the tyranny of wine Wholesalers), end up standing,  helplessly immobilize because of the shear number of possible selections.

You might be lucky and the shop is conducting a “tasting”, and if the sample does not evaporate before it reaches your lips you might get a hint of the wine actually tastes like.  And and then feel obligated to buy it. If your really lucky the person pouring might actually know something about the wine, it’s history, the winemaker’s vision for the wine, the terroir where the wine is made,  what it pairs with, hey they might know the varietal.

Then, there’s the internet.  This has been a great game changer for wine shoppers.  The simple fact is the wine you want is on somebody’s shelf somewhere just waiting for you to buy it.  Problem is it’s not in you local shop, nor is it within driving distance, or even in your state, or for several states around you for that matter.  But there it is on the internet, yes, you are willing to wait, you want this wine, so you fill out all the blocks on the computer, only to find out the wine can’t ship to your state.  The simple truth is in no other time has more wine be available for wine drinkers than right now, the vast amount of which has been made unattainable to you by archaic state liquor laws.  

Vineyard direct, this is a very good option if you live around a prime wine producing area, like California, Washington, Oregon, Long Island, Finger Lakes area of New York, Virginia, parts of Texas, Missouri, Colorado or Michigan.  Fact is every state in the United States has at least one vineyard.  The state of Connecticut has 35 licensed wineries.  They produce pretty good wine, however, not one of them makes a Albarino, so if that’s what you want you’d be out of luck.  But I do recommend visiting and tasting locally made wines, it’s great fun and a wonderful education.

How about wine clubs.  I’ve belonged to one for years.  I get new wines, wines I can’t get in stores, picked by experts.  I can’t remember ever getting a bad one, but sometimes I hate the fact I can’t pick the wines myself.  And to be honest you get a lot of the same types of wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, maybe a Riesling or Zinfandel.  I’m a wine adventurer I don’t want ordinarily, I want new, different and unexpected.  My view is overall this is a great option but it has it’s limitations.

But there is something new Traveling Vineyards.  Think Tupperware for wine.  In home direct sales.  This concept combines many of the good attributes above, with some additional really cool stuff, but unfortunately still has some of the negatives.  Here’s how it works; you or a friend agree to hosts a party with 10 to 16 guests.  The wine guide, the representative from Traveling Vineyards picks  5 wines to be sampled (just like the wine store).  They supply the host with suggested foods to go with each of the wines (pairings).  At the event the Wine guide educates and demonstrates attributes and methods you can employ to enjoy your wine more.  They also have wine gadgets that you might find useful.  You taste 5 wines, with food and get to to purchase a bottle or two of the wines you tried, or a selection of 26 other wines currently in the wine guides portfolio.  Your wine is shipped to the host for distribution in about a week.  Transportation charges are around $10 for up to one case of wine, that’s about half of what a wine club charges.  Traveling Vineyards also has a wine club, where you get 4 bottles every two months of 6 bottles every two months.

The brains, money and palates for Traveling Vineyards is located in Ipswich Massachusetts.  Rick Libby owns the company.  Francis Sanders is the Wine Director and Huib Geerlings is a partner with Rick Libby and travels the world looking for wines to offer.  Both Mr. Sanders and Mr. Geerlings are wine tasting machines.  Francis was once challenged to ID 16 wines in a blind tasting, he was able to tell the place, the varietal and year of all 16 wines.  He is also a cartoon artist and I think is responsible for many of the labels on the wines.  They select wine from smaller artisanal or boutique vineyards, buy the total production and private label the wine, just like Trader Joe’s or a Wine Club.

But they also have a secret weapon Sommology!  Developed by Eddie Osterland America’s first master Sommelier, this tool allows you to get pairing suggestions for each of the wines sold by Traveling Vineyards. Each bottle on the back label has a key, scan the key with your cellphone or go to Traveling Vineyard’s website and select the wine you are interested in and click “pair”  you be given three groups to select from cheese, small bites or entrees.  Need a recipe, no problem, click on the “G” for google and bam! You are ready to cook!

My overall impression of Traveling Vineyards was positive, the wines were tasty, the information was well presented and absolutely will increase your enjoyment of wine.  Plus, you’ll have a blast buying wine in your living room with your friends.