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Wine Collections: Dos and Don'ts

Date: Mon, Jun 24, 2013 Wine Tasting

"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 Joenormyself 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 morearticlethat I know will provide [similar] sage advice. Until next time folks remember life is short, so sip long and prosper cheers!

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Road Trip: Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey County

Date: Thu, Jun 20, 2013 Wine Tasting

"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-destinationsthat I've always talked about visiting, but hadsomehownever made the time.

So I'm about toscratchthis 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 gardenvarietyvino-sapiens who may be looking for something new.

The video above gives just a small taste of the sights and sounds I'llbeseeing shortly and I hope you enjoy it. And just below is a video about the Mer Soleil VineyardsI'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!

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Wine of the Week: Brancott Estate 2011 Pinot Noir

Date: Wed, Jun 19, 2013 Wine Tasting

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 brilliantBrancott Estateweb-site. From the map located on the back-label you can easily get a quickglimpse 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 yoursmart-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 bedisappointed. That's of course if you have reasonable expectations.

Now that said, once I got the bottle opened via a quickflick-of-the-wrist, poured a few ounces, Iimmediatelynoticed 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, herbedpotatoes and steamedbroccoli.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 wehaven'tseen 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 ofaggressivestyles 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/grapefruitand 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 getpastthe 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 easilyunderstandablelight.

"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 meappreciate 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!

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Travel Tuesday: Bodegas Hermanos Peciña S.L.

Date: Tue, Jun 18, 2013 Wine Tasting

"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 whowouldn'tknow 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 realitiesof 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 oftradition.

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 PedroSenior 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.

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Bubbly, Sparkling Wine or Champagne?

Date: Mon, Jun 17, 2013 Wine Tasting

"Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right" Mark Twain

"In victory,you deserve Champagne, in defeat, you need it." -- Napoleon Bonaparte.

"Champagne is the only wine that leaves a woman beautiful after drinking it."-- Madame De Pompadour

"Champagne, if you are seeking the truth, is better than a lie detector. It encourages a man to be expansive, even reckless, while lie detectors are only a challenge to tell lies successfully."-- Graham Greene

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

Date: Fri, Jun 14, 2013 Wine Tasting

"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 theenvironmental-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 crimsoncore 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!

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Wine of the Week: 2010 Hawks View Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon

Date: Thu, Jun 13, 2013 Wine Tasting

"We are geographically agnostic, just because we can't grow it doesn't mean we shouldn't produce it" ~ AJ KempHawks 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-SunMcMinnville. I took that opportunityto catch-up with them again last year, to see how things our shaping for the coming harvest. And yes because I do this little blogger thang here, they waived the normal tasting feesassociatedwith sharing their wines with fellow vino-sapiens.

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.

Now 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 WashingtonCabernet-Sauvignon:The grapes were harvested from theDouble Canyonvineyard found just across the Oregon border, [see above] an 88 acresitelocated 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 thetasting 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; crèmedecassis [not kidding either] which pulsates on the palate, making you wish you had another bottle or two on stand-by. Theplush, well integrated tannin and the judicious use of oak combine their wonder-twin powers for asilkylong 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 of92points and highly recommend it to you. So until next time folks remember life is short, sip long and prosper cheers!

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Travel Tuesday: Bodega Miguel Merino [Part Two]

Date: Wed, Jun 12, 2013 Wine Tasting

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 ofinfamy]. 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, franklyI 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'tgive 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 theGuggenheim 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 oldadageabout, "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 longodyssey 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 Bodegasituated in the small town of Briones, Rioja Alta. He had just come from the vineyards, still clutching hispruning 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 doneperplexes 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-grinnedwriters 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 ofnewAmerican, French and even Hungarian oak and farming practices keep the wines true and may I even say wildlyauthentic. If you'd like to know more about the process, you can read morehere.

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'associatedwith 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 isa 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 groundespresso, 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 exactexperiencefrom 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 experienceauthenticwine 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!

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Travel Tuesday: Bodega Miguel Merino

Date: Tue, Jun 11, 2013 Wine Tasting

“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 Roberts,Richard Jennings,Wine Harlots, andGregory 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 [fulldisclosure 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 cleverpersuadingof 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 unbeknownstto 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 theHotel Carltonwhich has a [free wee-fee] great view of the plaza and is just a block or two away from the famousGuggenheim. 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.

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Wine Studio: Spending time with Nebbiolo

Date: Mon, Jun 10, 2013 Wine Tasting

“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 foundhere.

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 akernelof 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 thoserequirementseither. 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 moreI'm going link to the answerhere.

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 greatarticle.

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 nearlyevery 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 fromsame grapes that could ultimately be called Barolo, only they're not aged quite as long. The distinction between aNebbiolo d’Alba and thenebbiolowhich is labeledLanghe 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 yougo.

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 fromBeni di Batasiolowhich I will be reviewing here next later this week. Tonight in the Studio please help me welcomeStefano Poggi,[Twitter handle]@Batasiolo_USItalian Brand Manager forGioWine to the #winestudio who has graciously agreed to join us once more for a trip through theirbrilliantwines. 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 aswirl.Until next folks remember life is short, so sip long and prosper cheers!

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Good-bye Gran Reserva?

Date: Mon, Jun 3, 2013 Wine Tasting

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 andapplaud. 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 ofLópez de Heredia,La Rioja AltaorMugayou are in my opinion missing the boat. Until next time folks remember life is short, so sip long and prosper cheers!

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Wine of the Week: 2009 Casanova Di Neri 'Rosso"

Date: Fri, May 31, 2013 Wine Tasting

“When a man is in love very little is enough to throw him into despair and as little to enhance his joy to the utmost.”Giacomo Casanova

Ugh, can you believe that the wonderful month of May is nearly over? We are about to stretch out our arms while the warmth of June slowly creeps in over the weekend. If you don't live in San Diego, you have my apologies in advance, because it's going to be a picture perfect weekend here.

I know, I know you may be thinking, "uh, didn't you already have a wine of the week?". Ha, why yes I did and thanks so much for paying attention. That means, as hard as it's for me to believe that you are reading my blog. You folks really are funny, but I truly appreciate each and everyone of you for being here.

Now about the wine pictured above, which I will point out again is NOT a sample, instead it's wine I purchased via the sweat of my brow. This wine is from a producer which some dismiss as making an international style, but none-the-less this so-called declassified Brunello which sells for a SRP of $18 is one of the best values going in Italian wine.

It's 100% Sangiovese Grosso, and it's 100% approachable now, even into the future if you could wait that long. Which unfortunately, many folks where I work couldn't wait after I recommended this beauty and purchased all the 2009 to be had at the shop and or that Ken could get his hands on.

But the good news is that, the 2010 is in plentiful supply and ready to rock, just not to the same extent as the 2009, because the ten was a cooler vintage. That said, if you want a truly authentic Tuscan wine experience look no further than this beauty from Casanova, a wine that comes dressed to impress, from the time the cork is popped to the last drop to fall from the bottle.

What you’ll find as you get the first slurp of this [09/10] wine in your glass is layers of sweet, complex dark and red fruit, balanced by vibrant acidity. Nicely polished tannin's, invite slurp after slurp. You’ll find both wines offer a plush, full, smooth flow across your palate. A wine which finishes, clean and becomes the center of attention [but won't get in the way of food] as the finish seems to last and last.

And oh if you're wondering what to pair? I know I often recommend consulting your Italiancuisine recipes cards, but to be perfectly honest either of these wines will easily pair with just about anything you throw at, of course there are exceptions, but really they're few. Until next folks, remember life is short, so sip long and prosper cheers!

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Wine of the Week: 2011 Dourthe Le Grand Rosé Cuvée

Date: Wed, May 29, 2013 Wine Tasting

“Wine makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day life more civilized.” — André Simon

Whether it's after a long hot-day at the office or you just finished that last bit of spring cleaning, it's nice uncork a bit ofcivilizationisn't? And with that idea in mind, how about a delightful wine from Bordeaux?

I’m a firm believer in that quote, hardly a day goes by without me popping the cork on something new and/or interesting. But for many it’s so easy to get stuck in the same wine-rut; going back to same familiar label again and again.
But I would encourage you to take a chance on something that possibly may be new to you. I’m talking to folks who may have been enjoying domestic US wines for the longest time and have never branched out, based solely on the fear of the unknown.
You'vemost likely seen bottles of wine which say, “Bordeaux” on the label, but you may have been reticent to give them a swirl. That fear of the unknown can keep folks off the path to discovery and frankly it’s quite understandable.
But the honest answer is; "thewines of Bordeaux have something to offer everyone in every price point and in every style imaginable".I know many you may be thinking, “but I only like white wines” okay great Bordeaux has that covered for you as well.
And you can even grab some great rosé wines, the unofficial iconic wine of summer. So really no matter what you may be looking for in great tasting easy drinking wines, Bordeaux has something to offer even the garden variety vino-sapien.
But the wine into today's Wine of the Week spotlight is going to be the Dourthe Le GrandRosé Cuvée. As you may know by now, I'm partial to wines labeled as a "cuvée" and this is one you shoulddefinitelycheck into obtaining for your up-coming pool-side adventures.
Wow, thisrosé wine just sayssummer in a glass. Say hello to Bordeaux with this blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot provide the swagger of fruity/floral aromas with a slap of blackcurrants, pinned against a solidstructure, made in a dry-style.
If that was not enough summertime ripe strawberries enchant you, while finely toned elegance plays its part on the palate, providing a vivid canvas for summer-time sipping. Bold, fresh and just waiting to please, the price is easy on the eyes as well at a SPR of $11-$13. Until next folks, remember to sip long and prosper cheers!

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How an AVA is Born: Above the Fog on Howell Mountain

Date: Wed, May 29, 2013 Wine Tasting

Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence. ~H. L. Mencken

Have you ever "loved" a place so much that you went out of your way to help have it legally defined? A group of winemakers from Howell Mountaindid and this video is their story. I hope you'll stick around long enough to see how it all unfolded and why Howell Mountain wines are so distinctively different from those just a few miles away on the valley floor.

Have you ever wondered how does an AVAcome into being and what does that mean anyhow? And what difference does it make to the wines you drink? Can anyone simply apply for a new one, just because they want to?

These are all good questions; many of which are addressed indirectly in this great video about the birth of an AVA. One, which just happens to beamongthe top AVA's in the Napa Valley. The video is just a little over 10 minutes long and I'm pretty sure this blog is one of the few places where you can still view it.

One thing I'm sure of; after having watched it, the next time you find yourself in the Napa Valley you'll be wondering what is going on above the fog. Until next folk, remember life is short so sip long and prosper cheers!

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