Monthly Archives: June 2013

Somewhere, Beyond the Sea…

Somewhere, beyond the Sea...on Zanzibar.

Somewhere, beyond the Sea…in this case: Zanzibar.

Many of you might know that I am a travel nut. In fact, Nina and I both are. For most of my life, I have felt miserable when coming home from a foreign trip. I usually dread being picked up at the airport, too, because unlike the pick uppers (is that a word?), I am usually not that happy to be back home. My parents used to pack me and my brother into the car pretty much every summer and we would make the 15 hour+ trek down to Lake Bolsena in Italy, where we would spend the next weeks camping. Those were my favorite weeks of the year. My aunt had an apartment in Spain, so we would also go there on occasion. When 12, I was put on a bus with my classmates to spend two weeks with a family in France, while barely speaking the language…it was scary, but awesome!! At age 16, I first traveled to the US and that never really stopped. Then, at age 23, I lived in Seoul, Korea for five months…you get the picture.

Glacier Hopping in Alaska

Glacier Hopping in Alaska, Summer 2009

Having grown up in Alaska, Nina has that same hunger for going and living abroad (as many Alaskans have, which is something I came to realize over the last years). In the summer of 2008, we met in Botswana where we were both living and working for three months. After we got together (pretty much right after I left Botswana), I spent considerable time with her in Philadelphia, where she was pursuing her undergraduate degree. Upon her graduation in 2009, she moved to Germany and we spent two happy years in Trier, where we got married in September 2010 and traveled a lot: from Portugal to Switzerland, from France to the Czech Republic and so forth. In 2011, we were lucky enough to go on an archaeological dig (that is another story) in Kenya, right by Mount Kenya and later Mount Kilimanjaro. We tagged on our honeymoon on Zanzibar, an island in the Indian Ocean…

Crossing the Equator

Crossing the Equator in Kenya, Summer 2011

As you can see, traveling has been a big part of our life together, and so it will be again this summer. As you are reading this, we are packing and getting ready for a two month trip to South East Asia, heading to Bangkok first to see good friends of ours, then on to Northern Thailand, Laos and Cambodia and venturing further South through Thailand, maybe to Singapore, hopefully to Indonesia. It is a trip that we have been wanting to take for a long time. And we finally felt ready for it. We haven’t really much planned out, which is part of this trip’s appeal. It is about experiencing the cultures, not ticking off places.

In the Mayor of Pommard's cellars, Summer 2010

In the mayor of Pommard, France’s cellars, Summer 2010

But, you may rightly ask: Why am I telling you this (beside a rather blatant attempt at making you jealous)? Because given that we have no clue where we will be at any given time, let alone whether we have access to the internet, and given that it is unlikely that we will be drinking much wine (although we plan to visit a Thai winery or two – yes, they exist!), I was foreseeing quite the conundrum for my blog. After some pondering, I reached out to a number of bloggers whom you might be familiar with because they are active on my site and are writers and persons that I greatly appreciate. I asked them if they could imagine contributing a guest post to keep The Winegetter alive and active over the summer. And, lucky for me (and hopefully you!), almost everyone agreed pretty much  immediately. I am extremely grateful for this awesome community I have found.

In the Douro valley, Portugal

In the Douro valley, Portugal, Fall 2010

I have given this guest blogging series the theme “Somewhere, Beyond the Sea”, after the Frank Sinatra song. I have always loved this song and I think the topic is broad enough to give my guest bloggers the most leeway to explore it. I encouraged them to write about wine, but also told them they could approach the topic from any angle they want. The articles I have received so far are just what I wanted. I have enjoyed reading them and hope so will you. If you are not familiar with the guest bloggers’ blogs, I encourage you to check them out. They have given me so much to think about, laugh about and connect with over the last year, and my hope is they might be something for you as well…

The articles are set to appear pretty much once per week, sometimes twice. You will recognize them visually by the photo on top of this post, which will precede the articles with an introduction written by me. The series begins on July 3. I will try to sneak in some articles from our trip, but cannot promise when or whether this will happen. The Sunday Reads series has been stacked to last for a while, so you will still see content coming from me. Also, please forgive if I don’t reply to comments immediately. But I will definitely try to comment whenever I can.

So, with this, I bid you all farewell for a while, knowing my blog is in good hands. At the latest, I will be back beginning of September… Have a fabulous summer, wherever and with whomever you spend it!

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Sempre Vive: A Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Vertical 2002 – 2006

The line

The line

I need to start with an apology: Somehow the camera took almost completely worthless photos, and we forgot to take pictures of the wines in glass…so, the photo component of this blog sucks. Sorry about that.

Over a week ago, we had the last of our wine tastings with friends before the summer break. It was a special thing, because two of our friends are leaving the city for good, so this was also the last tasting in that combination. It has really been a great experience tasting with these people whose opinions on wine I have come to appreciate a lot, and who have made these meetings so much fun. There was just always a good vibe around the table.

In order to celebrate this occasion, I had decided we should do a vertical tasting of Napa Cabernet Sauvignons. When I came across this opportunity on Wines Till Sold Out, I could not resist it for various reasons: I like verticals (see my last wine related post), they offer a glimpse into the handwriting of a winemaker, maybe even terroir, but also into how a particular wine from a particular area ages. Take into account that weather differences can play their role, too, and you have your hands full. I picked this vertical, a 2002 to 2006 of Cabernet Sauvignon not because I am very fond of that grape (I am not) or the area (I have mixed feelings), but because I know that at least three of our tasting group really like bolder red wines. And one of them is among those leaving us. The final push was the offer: WTSO offered five consecutive years, from the same winemaker and the same plot of land. And that for 99 bucks. I figured it was worth a try. An initial quick Internet search did not show many results for people that had tried these, so we were left to our own devices.

The wines came with an info package about winemaker and plot and vintages, which I thought was a neat idea. Let me fill you in, briefly. The wines are named Sempre Vive and are made by Romeo Cellars. The grapes stem from a vineyard in Calistoga, south of a reservoir between two forests. This is said to create hot days and cool nights (with temperature drops of up to 40 degrees between day and night). The oldest vines in that block were planted in 1971, the majority are 37 years old. Apparently, the clone of Cabernet Sauvignon that was planted back then was unknown, so after DNA testing it received the owners’ son’s name…

The winemaker of these wines is Alison Doran, whose father owned Simi Winery. She spent the majority of her working life at Firestone Vineyard from 1976 until 2000. Today, she works for several clients in Napa and Sonoma, including Romeo.

When considering how to conduct the vertical, I weighed the options (young to old or vice versa or even adjusting for taste and not look at the vintage) and had tremendous feedback and help from many you, see here. I decided to go with Anatoli and Jeff’s advice and try the wines first and then arrange the order. It made the most sense to me. I was also pretty shocked when Anatoli remarked that these wines were way too young still…hey, we are talking 2002!! That’s 11 years!! WOW.

So, I opened the bottles and tasted them after 90 minutes. I then determined the sequence, although, quite frankly, I felt a bit overwhelmed with making that decision. I went with 2004 – 2003 – 2006 – 2005 – 2002. The wines remained open for re- and cross-tasting after we were done with the sequence and then most of us ranked the wines and I will give you our ranking in the end.

First up, as explained, was the 2004 Romeo Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Old Vine “Sempre Vive”. The info sheet stated that 2004 was a short, tough year with late rains in spring, frost and a cool summer with heat spells in September. The grapes were harvested on September 23, 2004, spent 18 months in 50% new French oak. The wine was released on June 1, 2008. It has 15.1% ABV.

In the glass this wine was medium dark red. The nose showed marzipan (sweet almond paste), some alcoholic notes, caramel, then some cherries and berries. Someone noticed ripe strawberries. On the palate, this wine was medium-bodied, very very spicy and had a jammy warmth to it. There was definitely some heat from the alcohol and its tannins weren’t exactly shy. I still felt it was quite balanced. I later got some mint aromas too. The finish, though, was surprisingly short.

This wine split the table. Two of us really, really disliked this wine (curiously, one of them being a bold, heavy red wine lover!) because, to quote them “their mouth went numb from the alcohol”.  I’d say it was a mixed start, the heat was an issue, but the wine still had some interesting aromas to it.

Our second wine was the 2003 vintage. According to the notes, 2003 was a great season with welcome April rains and a warm finish of the season. The grapes were harvested on October 17th, 2003 (a month later than 2004!), aged for 18 months in 50% new French oak. Release date was June 1, 2007. The wine has 14.9% ABV.

In the glass, the 2003 vintage was a rather dark red. All of us smelled manure (not in a good way!), and that was a bad reminder of this stinker that we tried at an earlier tasting. Once you got over the manure, it showed a fruity nose with blackberry and what I would call raspberry-balsamic aromas. Weird. On the palate, this wine was light to medium bodied, a lot spicier than expected. There was a sizable amount of acidity, but one could also tell that the grapes were riper than in 2004, because the wine tasted somewhat sweeter than the 2004 (a bit too sweet for me). It was more herbal than the previous wine, some got black olive aromas, I thought it was smoky with a dark bitter chocolate aroma in the finish.

Next up the 2006 vintage, which was reportedly a cool season with roller coaster hot spells in the fall and uneven ripening that led to reduced quantities. Harvested on October 18, 2006, aged for 18 months in 63% new French oak and released on June 1, 2010, 13.68% ABV.

The color of this vintage was striking: It was a full bright black currant color. The nose was fresh and bright, full of raspberry, blackberry, some vanilla and again marzipan. On the palate, it was medium bodied and nicely velvety to begin with. There was some acidity, tannins, well balanced. I did enjoy the first sips of this wine a lot, except for the shortish finish. Otherwise it seemed nicely balanced. And then it collapsed. Every following sip seemed flatter than the one before. Someone remarked the finish was awkwardly dusty. I don’t really know what happened to that wine, but it just fell apart…that was very sad.

We moved on to the 2005 vintage, which saw a long, cool season with rains in the end. Not exactly ideal. The grapes were harvested October 17, 2005 and aged for 19 months in 50% new French oak. The wine was released on June 1, 2009 and has 15.15% ABV.

It presented itself in a dark ruby red. The nose was full of unripe aromas: greens, herbs, some mint, some red currant. I thought the nose was so, so. Not exciting exactly. In the glass, I did like this one quite a bit. It was light to medium bodied, spicy and had some good branch aromas (I sometimes like that, as in this case). There was definitely too much heat, a general problem for me when wines go over 14.5% ABV. The finish was actually rather long, albeit just of medium length. I thought this one paired well with the goat gouda we had with it…

The final wine in this line up was the 2002 vintage, the oldest of the day. The grapes saw a long relaxed season with some early hot spells. The grapes were harvested on October 7, 2002 and spent 20 months in 50% new French oak. The listed alcohol level was 14.3% ABV. Release date: June 1, 2006.

In the glass, we found a slightly brickish red color. The nose was full of earthy aromas, some age, the fruit aromas had definitely receded from this wine. On the palate, this wine tasted like an older wine, with earthy aromas, some tobacco and leather. Don’t get me wrong, the wine still tasted quite fresh. Its medium body was carried by noticeable residual sugar that led to a long finish. I’d say a bit more old world flavors, which I definitely appreciated. I liked this wine quite a bit. It had some bitter aromas in the finish, but I did not mind those.

Again, there they are...

Again, there they are…

So, staring at my notes, I am wondering: What have I learned from this tasting? I am not quite sure. First of all, I am not sure the order really worked. It was a rather cumbersome guess work what the wines would taste like later when fully explored, and I don’t think I was fully comfortable making that decision. Second, the wines were….so, so. I didn’t expect too much because I tend to have problems with Cabernet Sauvignon single varietals, but others around the table also didn’t seem really satisfied with the experience. Third, I didn’t really get an overarching theme in the wines that I would have identified as the winemaker’s hand or the terroir…I guess I am just not as experienced to get that stuff…The coolest thing about the tasting were the corks, though: The 2002 and 2003 cork did not have a website on it, but an email address that ended in How awesome is that???

We still had fun, and we naturally opened a bottle of Riesling to cleanse our palate and finish off the evening. More about that in another post…

Oh, and our ranking? Well, mine went like this (best to worst): 2002, 2004, 2005, 2003, 2006.

But I was outvoted (only four voted – best wine got 5 points, lowest 1 point):

Groupwise we ended up with 2002 (19 points), 2005 (13 points), 2003 (11 points), 2006 (9 points), 2004 (8 points).

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A bread rant

A while back, my blogging and now real life friend Erica of Now Entering Flavor Country, an excellent and entertaining food blog, overheard (well, that’s probably not the right word given that I was pretty much yelling at her) me ranting about the horrible bread selections I find in America. It’s a big deal for me. So she asked whether I wanted to rant about it on her blog…

And I am extremely thankful she asked. Because I finally wrote all my misery down. And that is, believe it or not, therapeutic. American bread sucks. Period.

If you want to see what else I had to say, go check out the post and check out the site while you are at it…

“My wife says the easiest way to identify two Germans anywhere in the world is by listening to their first five minutes of conversation. Because, according to her, they will –100% guaranteed – complain to each other about how bad the bread is wherever they are and ask whether the other has found at least “decent” – or palatable – bread in the vicinity…”

Continue reading here.

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