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Failla is a family business that manifests itself in the home-like interior of the tasting room/lounge. A husband and wife teamed together to create Failla named after Anne-Marie Failla, the wife of the winemaker Ehren Jordan.

Living room or a tasting room?

The winemaker Ehren Jordan had an interesting path to winemaking. Without any degree in oenology his experiences from being a wine salesman, wine waiter in Aspen, tourist guide at Phelps winery and later under the helm of French oenologist Jean-Luc Columbo working at the Cornas vineyards in the Rhone valley, all formed his aptitude to wine making.

After his European trip he returned to California and worked for the celebrated brand Marcassin (their wines have a wild boar on their labels). Their vineyards on Sonoma Coast with the steep hillsides are similar to those of Cornas (Rhone Valley). He made a great job there and recognizing the wine-producing potential of the then little known Sonoma Coast, he bought a parcel with only five plantable acres that later became Failla’s Estate Vineyard. The area has a distinct cool climate (elevation minimum 1000 feet), is just above the foggy layer typical for the North coast of California, so the three varietals planted there – Syrah, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – can thrive. It has been farmed organically since the beginning.

Until today the winemaker imprints his European background into his wines. As Robert M. Parker (the famous wine critic) observed, he creates “European-inspired wines, that combine flavor, intensity and elegance.”  Today Ehren Jordan makes a Rhône-style Syrah, Burgundy-resembling Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Ehren Jordan: Failla winemaker

Ehren loves to fly. No wonder he pursued this quite rare hobby. He has been sourcing Pinots from the Keefer Ranch, Occidental Ridge, Hirsch Vineyard and Peay Vineyards on the Sonoma Coast as well as from Willamette Valley in Oregon. Since the 2005 vintage from Rancho Santa Rosa in the Santa Rita Hills North of Santa Barbara, and finally since 2006 Appian Way Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. The Chardonnay comes from the Phoenix Ranch and Hudson Vineyard in Napa Valley, Monument Tree from Anderson Valley as well as from the Keefer Ranch in Russian River Valley. The Syrah, some Chardonnay and Pinot is planted at the above mentioned Estate Vineyard in Sonoma Coast. He also makes a little bit of Viognier from Alban Vineyard in Edna Valley. He covers so many parts of California (he abandoned the project in Oregon), that he has to commute constantly between these vineyards if he wants to keep quality in check. Flying his own little plane makes sourcing grapes from all these diverse areas possible.

A winemaker commuting to work on a plane.

The wines

Failla is not producing millions of bottles, it is more a boutique winery making between 70 – 700 cases (approximately) a year of each wine, depending on the vintage conditions.

Failla Chardonnay Hudson Vineyard 2010 has a buttery nose given by malolactic fermentation of a more aggressive malic acid into a creamier lactic acid (you find in sour milk products, fruits and vegetables). It is a medium bodied wine with a good dose of acidity balancing the level of alcohol (14.1%), so you do not feel it on the palate. Sweet spices like cloves add depth and roundness, exotic touch of ripe bananas enhance the sweet sensation on your tongue, but a long salty finish refreshes your mouth, ready for the next sip.

Failla Syrah Hudson Vineyard 2010 Napa Valley: plump and juicy in the mouth, gamey and meaty on the nose, this Syrah has it all and it is by far not shy. Its expressive rich body shows ripe blackberry and currants, masculine character of game and crisp acidity that enlivens the wine and racy tannins on the backbone. Have it with meat or seared mushrooms.

Failla Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard 2010 Sonoma Coast: lush fruit, black berries, huckleberries and rhubarb are spiced up by anise and white pepper. Lovely balance and acidity that is refreshing and rounding up tannins that are rather steely cut than big and rough. Long spicy finish with lingering black fruit ensures that will not stop after one glass, craving more of this easy-going fruity sensation.

Although I liked all of the Pinots (and have a couple of bottles of each at my cellar), I do not write my tasting notes here. I rather suggest that the rest you should go to taste yourself at the winery. These wine are really worth it. The Marcassin Pinot lovers will appreciate this wine tremendously.

Address: 3530 Silverado trail, N.; St. Helena; California; CA 94574

Contact: Tel: +1 (707) 963 0530

Tours and tastings available by appointment only.

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The vineyards of Luberon

The House of truffle and wine of Luberon is located in a picturesque old village of Menerbes, just a short ride from the region’s commercial hub of Apt. Driving through the hilly countryside crowned with the lush vineyards one wonders about how all these different wines might taste.

Truffle museum

Now, you can stop wondering and just stop by at La Maison de la Truffe et du Vin in Menerbes and try as many wines as your palate desires. Here, you can also learn a bit about the diamonds of human food gems – the truffles. The exhibition is well-presented, organized and extremely interesting not only for connoisseurs but also anyone seeking knowledge about good things in life. I have learned that there are truffles in countries one would not expect them to be found. For example in the US or in China. The quality though is a far flight from the truffles from Piemonte (Northern Italy) and Provance (South of France). You can discover more about the types, prices, quality, recipes and history of truffles at this great museum.

The view

Truffle museum

There is also a restaurant serving dishes – of course – made all with truffles and offering wines from Luberon. It has a lovely garden with magnificent views across the lush valley. The menu spans from truffle scrambled eggs, risotto to deserts made with truffles! We came after lunch so we have not tried it, but it looked seductive so it is on my “must do” list for my next trip to Luberon.

The restaurant’s terrace

Wine tasting cellar

Heading downstairs you will find the wine tasting cellar, where a very helpful gentleman guided us through the wines and later gave us to taste everything we have selected. The choice of local wine here is tremendous. From whites, through rosés and reds you will find bottles from a majority of the wine producers in the region. Not everyone though submits their wines to the Maison de la Truffe et du Vin. The reason might be that the tasting is free of charge and some producers do not wish their wines to be tasted in other places than their own property and restaurants.

It is a shame though, since offering their wine for tasting here is a great opportunity for the wineries to promote their wine. On the other side of the coin the wine enthusiasts as well as newcomers to the region can find their favorite wine from Luberon excluding the products from those not participating.

Luberon’s rose wines

We were surprised how many red wines we liked. Most people know only rosé and white wine from the region, but as this tasting taught us there are some great value gems in the realm of red wines as well. Even the current French legend, the Rhone Valley based producer Michel Chapoutier makes red blend from the area.

Address: Place de l’Horologe, 84 560, Menerbes, France

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A Soirée Grands Crus (loosely translated: Evening of Great Wines) took place this month at the port of Cap d’Ail, just out of Monaco. The event was an excellent opportunity for the local wine enthusiasts to taste both – some famous as well as lesser known white, red and sweet wines from the Bordeaux area.

All the proprietors were present and explained everything about their wines and vineyards in person. Having all of these busy and successful people at one place is a rarity in today’s global world of wine business. As it is these days, the majority of the bigger prestigious wineries sent their ambassadors to give the tastings to the public as well as to the professionals.

Jazz band at A’Trego

Present were 35 domaines bringing each two vintages of their wines. You could find the acclaimed wines from the Château Pichon Longueville, Carbonnieux, De Pez and Giscours from the left bank as well as Château Gazin and Michel Rolland’s Le Bon Pasteur from Pomerol from the right bank.

For the price of almost €200 it was not the cheapest tasting I have attended, yet it was accessible to the wider public treating us to canapés, view of the Mediterranean sea and life jazz music. At the end, it was a pretty good deal. Not like most of the press and professional tastings in the typical exhibition hall, back room of a restaurant or rarely a sit down guided tasting. The last is still very analytical and uptight rather than enjoyable and relaxing.

Mme Michel Rolland and wine entusiasts at one table

I chose starting upstairs with the white wines in the open-air bar where the breeze of the sea freshens up ones face after a couple of glasses of wine. (Despite I am mostly spitting out the wines during a tasting, I always get a bit pinkish skin tone (simply said a blush) on my cheeks from the alcohol being swirled in my mouth).

The most striking whites were from Château de Chantegrive, Domaine de Chevalier, Château Latour-Martillac.

Tasting notes:

Château de Chantegrive 2008 – a 50/50 blend of Semillon and Sauvignnon Blanc, the two common grapes used in white bordeaux. This Graves native is a lovely, fruity, yet intense wine, with aromas of apricot and ripe pear. The Semillon is responsible for the intensity. A great summer companion if you desire something more pronounced than a crisp Sauvignon.

Domaine de Chevalier 2008 – dominated by Sauvignon Blanc (85%) and only polished by ripe fruit flavors of Semillon (15%). Using new oak for part of the blend (30%) left some wood tones on the palate, with vanilla and smoke accompanying it. It is a complex wine where ripe yellow fruit is balanced by spices such as white pepper and clove. Pessac-Léognan is well-known for excellent white wines and Domaine de Chevalier is doing a justice to its fame.

Château Latour-Martillac 2008 – another Pessac-Léognan based winery, yet its wines are very different than the Domaine Chevalier’s. Sauvignon Blanc in its 2/3 majority in the blend brings on the herbaceous, fresh and zesty tones. High acidity and long finish ensure long pleasure from this wine.

From the red wines I liked the 2002 vintage from Château Trottevielle, 2006 from Gazin, 2006 from Le Bon Pasteur and 2004 from Château Clerc Milon. Overall, the reds were better than the whites in terms of complexity and that is perhaps why these days the red Bordeaux is much more praised, than the whites. Nevertheless, the white Bordeaux are underrated as once they were more popular than the local reds and they offer lots of pleasure.

Château Gazin in Pomerol

Château Trottevielle 2002 – grapes from the Saint-émilion Grand Cru vineyard must speak complexity and be capable of longevity. In the case of this wine they really do. On the palate dark fruits accompanied by spices become alive with high acidity and long tannic finish. It is balanced very well as it starts intensely, is mellow in the mid-palate and ends with tongue-awakening tannins – like an U shape.

Château Gazin 2006 & 2009 – both vintages were showing great, although the 2009 needs some time in the bottle as the tannins were very fresh and mouth squeezing, although not harsh so the wine was drinking well. Both vintages were concentrated with blackcurrant and both high acidity and tannins in the right balance promising long aging potential.

Château Le Bon Pasteur 2006 & 2009 – again both showing very well, but in the case of this child of the legendary wine consultant Michel Rolland even the 2009 was very elegant and balanced. As is common on the right bank, the wine is mostly Merlot with an addition of Cabernet Franc (about 20%). Elegant, well-balanced, smooth and red with dark fruit, in the younger vintage showing more of a ripe strawberry. Madamme Rolland was a lovely lady sharing her travel stories with us eagerly. She loves Argentina and their family property at Clos de Los Siete. A dream came true for her and her famous husband she met during studies when she had a little idea about what oenology (the subject her future husband studied) was.

Château Clerc Milon 2004 – this Pauilac Cabernet blend achieved greatness in 2004. Its masculine character with espresso roast sweetened by cassis and white chocolate,  is refreshened with hint of menthol. A very well balanced wine produced by the Rothschild family.

Cosy end of the wine tasting evening

The end of the evening was more than relaxing with the lounge chairs seducing all the present people at the restaurant’s terrace to sit down. Many of the tasting participants forgot about the spitoons and just comfortable settled in one of the seats and enjoyed a glass of their favorite wine from the tasting. For me it was harder to choose one, I would have to end up at least with three glasses in my hand lounging in the chair, and that would look improper for a lady, so I spit the last delicious sip of red and moved back home.

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As you drive from Tucuman to Cafayate the lush green fertile hills with flora resembling my native Central Europe turn into an almost life-less dessert with the rising altitude. The land gets drier, rocky and all you can see are giant cacti some more than 200 years old. Colorful rocks with hues if red, brown and grey add a bit of artsy atmosphere into an otherwise plain surface.

From hill to hill you can spot some wild horses, cows, goats and sheep feeding themselves with everything green they can spot on the occasional pastures. They look so piecefull, harmless and content that one wishes to join them in their worry-free lives.

On the way to Yacochuya

Mountains and vines

In this setting one would rarely expect seing vines, what more the vines giving lush and complex wines. Yet, the reality is different than it might seem. If Michel Rolland, the world’s most famous oenologist and consultant, trusted such climate and took on the challenge to assist on creating spectacular wine here, then something must be right.

Potential of the land

More than right, indeed. It is the altitude and big temperature difference between the cool nights and hot days that make growing of top-quality vines around Cafayate possible.

Most of the best winemakers in the region believe in Cab.Sauvignon and think of Malbec as more suitable for Mendoza. Not Michel Rolland and his old friend and Alvaro Etchart, the primary owner of the estate Yacochuya. The old Malbec is the key to success to his intriguing and concentrated wines. The main winemaker at the winery today  is Alvaro Etchart’s son Marcos, while Michel Rolland remains consulting for the estate.

Marcos Etchart at the winery

Journey to the winery

Getting to San Pedro de Yacochuya becomes an unforgettable trip if you cycle or walk there, even for cars it is quite a bumpy ride. Once you leave the main road, pass through an alley of trees pampering you with shade, you get to even a dustier and more rocky road. Going slowly higher up, the pungent rays of the sun during summer days require increasing willpower to continue on the seemingly short journey to San Pedro de Yacochuya off the main well-tended road.

The winery is located only five kilometres from the main road, but the gradually worsening conditions as you accent towards the winery (2035m above the sea level) make the trip challenging. Beware of the dust, especially when a car passes by  as it stirs the suffocating mass of dust and may cause a difficulty in breathing. When it happened to my sister I thought she might die on the spot. She could not breath, we had no water to clean her sinuses and mouth so the only solution was to stop and wait until her breathing got back to normal.

Passing a school we thought: “hurrah we are there”, but, to our slight disappointment and surprise at the same time, we had to continue further. Who would think of a school here? Quite far from the town. Nevertheless, later we have learned that it is quite usual in the area.

The winery

Arrival to the Yacochuya winery was an ultimate reward for our physical as well as psychological effort. Stunning views from a tranquil patio by the winery’s visitors entrance calmed down our pumping hearts and exhausted minds. Marcos Etchart, the winemaker welcomed us and took straight to the premisses where tanks filled with this year’s wine were awaiting us to sooth our thirst and fill our minds with joy. After a short explanation about the family winery, it’s history, relationship of his father Alvaro Etchart with the legendary French oenolog Michel Rolland, and the techniques employed in wine growing and wine making as a result of his consultancy, we moved to tasting.

The bodega San Pedro de Yacochuya

Wine tasting

We tasted various wines from the tanks and later the barrels. Yacochuya produces a small quantity of aromatic Torrontes, in 2011 also a deeply coloured rosé from Malbec, unoaked and oaked Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and in some years also a locally popular Tannat. Using French oak is the rule of thumb, the length of ageing and also the age of the barrels varies according to the quality level of the resulting wine. The highest range of wine is aged for 18-24 months in the new French barrels.

All the wines are extremely concentrated, with soft tannins and enormous depth. The most interesting for me and my sister (a sommelier) was the spicy Cabernet Sauvignon. Red pepper and dark berries on the nose with hints of leather from the wood and big, concentrated yet balanced with approachable soft tannins. It is like a birthday cake for adults. Dark berries add the sweet feel, the alcohol (above 15%), the festive atmosphere.

Wine art at the winery

During our visit, Don Alvaro Etchart was not around, which was a bit shame since his love of poetry and connections in the local wine trade are profound. The family house is just above the winery and it’s perhaps the view or the waterfall on the property that inspires him to seek the beauty of life in poetry. Surely, meeting him and tasting the tremendous wines at the San Pedro de Yacochuya winery near Cafayate is a good reason for my return to the region.

I missed the poetry, but not the art hanging all over the tasting room. This particular one was for my personal appetite for art the most appealing.

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The annual ‘Grande’ Italian wine tasting at the Landmark hotel in London organised by the prominent wine magazine Decanter today didn’t stay in a shade of its sister event held in November.

With 300 fine wines to taste it wasn’t a humble demonstration of the product beloved by many Italians who proudly share their passion for the liquid of gods – wine.

Decanter Italian Fine Wine Encounter 2010 ticket

From Piedmont to Sicily, you could meet 80 Italian top wine makers and compare their various wines.

Not always the best known enchanted your palate. Often even the producers themselves disclosed their personal affection for one of the lesser known wines.

For me as woman was encouraging to hear from some male wine connoisseurs as well as from the producers themselves the avowed ratings of Moscatos. Yes, I mean that delicious sweat wine made from muscat grapes with decently low levels of alcohol celebrated by many light drinkers.

Moscato is one of these wines which many people who aren’t keen on wine still relish. It isn’t punchy at all and with its floral honeyed taste it is not only refreshing but also a ‘healthier’ and lighter variety of a desert wine if not a dessert itself.

Moscatio d’Asti is perhaps a king, but there are many gripping moscatos in other Italian regions. You can go as far as to Sicily and appreciate the diversity of this sweat treat.

My favourite though still is Nivole, Moscato d’Asti DOCG from Michele Chiarlo which was recommended to me by by my friend from Asti. After tasting it again together with other competing moscatos I was assured that this one wok my heart. Moreover, it is easy to get in the UK. I usually get it at Whole Foods at High Street Kensigton. It is quite inexpensive – around  £7 per bottle.

There were many icons to taste but I must admit that I am quite biased towards Gavi. This area (also a town) in Piedmont produces the most enchanting white wines. To name just some producers with a lovely Gavi: Tenuta Carretta, Batasiolo, Antica Tenuta La Giustiniana, and others.

I visited Sicily last summer and fell in love with their (even sometimes quite high in alcohol) wines. Planeta is one of the newer producers, but no doubt one of the best ones with the nicest staff. I like most of their wines, but this time I tasted their  red Burdese Sicily IGT 2006 and was awestruck by its perfect balance while enjoying the black currants in the body.

I think I wrote too much about my personal indulgences on this year’s Italian Fine Wine Encounter. I wish you were there and tasted it on your own tongue and filled your mouth with the Italian vino bianco, rosso and perhaps some sparkling prosecco.

Don’t cry though. The Decanter organises three Fine Wine Encounters every year and you can at least have a read about each of them on their web site if my report wasn’t satisfying enough.

If you have any queries though, do not hesitate to write me. I am more than ready for your curious questions.

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Nesting in Graves between the villages of Martillac and a bit bigger Léognan you will find Châteav Smith Havt Lafitte.
Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

The owners Florence et Daniel Cathiard

It was bought by the end of the eighties by a former French ski champions Monsieur Daniel and Madame Florence Cathiard who transformed the estate tramendously.

Today, the old marries here with the state of the art technology and wine making procedure.

The love for art of Madame Cathiard is imprinted on the surrounding vineyards. You can admire a statue of a rabbit which enchanted her tasteful eyes on an exhibition in London so she decided to put it right in the middle of the vineyard.

Rabbit sculpture in front of the Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

Sculpture of rabbit in front of the Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

The history of the estate reaches as far back as the 14th century. It went from one owner to the other, but it seems that it flourished the most in the hands of its present proprietors.

Their daughter even launched her own successful wine therapy centre and cosmetic line called Caudalíe known from Paris to New York. You can indulge your senses and body in their original wine based therapies in the adjoining spa which together with the five star hotel is called Les Sources de Caudalie.

Wine based cosmetics Caudalie

Smith Haut Laffite's cellars

Back to wine. The Château has 55 parcels, each the size of 1 hectar. From this 11 ha is white wine and the rest are red grapes of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot  (the so called Bordeux blend).

Châteav Smith Havt Lafitte can proudly claim that it possesses one of the biggest (if not the biggest) underground wine cellars in the whole Bordeaux area. The 2009 highly promising  vintage was just resting in the oak barrels during our visit.

We tasted two wines. One red and one white. Unusually, on the advice of the vineyards own oenologist, we drunk the red first.

The 2006 vintage resembled dark cherries and berries with slight tannins on the palette. Even though it was still quite young (7-10 years is often recommended for Bordeaux red wines) it was very drinkable and complex wine.

The white wine was a miracle. The Châteav Smith Havt Lafitte 2007 is a favourite of many ‘degustateurs’ as our friendly guide disclosed and I can confirm I am among their ranks. The fatty round body with hints of apricots, pineapple and even grapefruit with a very long aftertaste makes from it a drink of the gods. No wonder that renowned wine critic Robert Parker gave it staggering 94-96 ranking (out of 100). Jancis Robinson described it as “Sweet, rich, heady nose. Big and broad and heavy and almost sweet. Good citrus(lime) acidity too. Interesting and not just run of the mill…Massive richness – ambitious!”. She gave it 17 points (out of 20).

However, reviews are reviews and we all have distinguished and unique taste buds so you should make up your own mind by tasting it. I highly recommend it as it sparked my interest in white Bordeaux.

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