Category Archives: Guest Blogging

Oenophilogical: Dry Creek Fumé Blanc 2011

Somewhere, beyond the Sea

Somewhere, beyond the Sea

For this instalment of my summer guest blogging series “Somewhere, Beyond the Sea” I am very happy to present you with the work of Joe, who runs the wine blog Oenophilogical. Joe has captured my attention with his focus on affordable wines (something I care about deeply) and his concise and well written tasting notes. Joe also shares my love for Rieslings and even has tried some other, more obscure German grapes. As we explored what he wanted to write for this series, he was the one that most surprised me with his idea. I hope you like it as much as I do. Thanks, Joe!

Dry Creek Fum Blanc 2011

Is it possible to sail a dry creek and end up somewhere over (beyond) the sea?  Yes, indeed!  The first and most important thing you have to do, of course, is find the right place to begin – the right dry creek.

That would be Dry Creek Vineyard where the flagship (their wording, not mine) white wine is a Fumé Blanc.  Gracing the label of that refreshing wine is a beautiful picture of a sailboat.  Why is there a beautiful picture of a sailboat on that bottle of wine?  Well, first it’s important to note that Dry Creek isn’t dry – not really.  It’s an active stream in California that runs through the counties of Mendocino and Sonoma – stopping off at Lake Sonoma – and then continuing on it’s way past Dry Creek Vineyard to the Russian River.

You should also know that the folks from Dry Creek Vineyard are sailing enthusiasts.  In fact, Dry Creek Vineyard is the official sponsor of several major sailing regattas around the U.S.  Because of their passion for sailing, they have been putting sailboats on their wine labels since 1984 which has earned them the moniker “the wine for sailors.”  They see similarities and a kind of symbiosis in a love for both good winemaking and sailing.  Here’s how they put it. Winemaking and sailing actually have a lot in common.  Like winemaking, sailing is fun, adventuresome and romantic.  Like sailing, the art of winemaking demands the skill, discipline and determination of a group of people committed to the same goal.  Sailing and winemaking are a study in choreography and teamwork – each person contributing something essential to the ultimate success or failure of the team. Now, I had read about the Dry Creek “wine for sailors” and decided I wanted to try one.  I have to admit that I’m not a sailor.  The only sailing I’ve done was in a Sun Fish on a lake at a camp I went to for two summers when I was a boy.  And yet I find many images of sailing to be beautifully majestic and calming while at the same time redolent of excitement, exploration, and exploits.  I have two prints of paintings by Winslow Homer that have hung alternately in my offices and my home over the years that have brought me much joy.  So I wanted to sample one of those wines. The Dry Creek wines aren’t sold at all the stores in my area.  Very few, as it turns out.  So I had to undertake a little adventure of my own in searching for this selection.  To my surprise, I found the last store I visited (Calvert Woodley) in the throes of a major sale on white wines.  They advertise these things, of course, but I just can’t keep up the way I’d like to.  Anyway, it must have been the winds of fate that blew me into the store at that very moment.  You see, they only had one bottle of the Dry Creek Vineyard 2011 Fumé Blanc left in stock when I arrived.  And I got it!  It had to be kismet. Having secured my treasure, I took it home with me to be opened and enjoyed as a reward for my dogged determination.  Here is what I recorded in my “ship’s log” about the wine. Winemaker:  Dry Creek Vineyard Varietal:  Sauvignon Blanc 11bWine:  Fumé Blanc Vintage:  2011 Appellation:  Sonoma County, CA Price:  $12.99 Notes:  This Dry Creek signature white is light yellow with a green tinge.  On the nose I found a peach-o-rama.  Seriously, there was copious peach scent in the bouquet.  It was appropriately light on the tongue with very bright acidity.  On the palate I found white peach, lime, and honey with pear and floral notes.  The finish had a grassy bracing zing.  It was a dry white, and the label confirmed that with an alcohol content of 13.5%.  I thought it was very enjoyable.  I could absolutely imagine pairing this Fumé Blanc with a nice grilled fish or shrimp dish. I have to thank The Winegetter for his challenge to write a post on – about, around, through, for, from – the theme “Somewhere Beyond The Sea.”  This post answers that call to the best of my ability.  I was very honored that he would invite me, among others, to share a guest spot on his blog this summer. Finally, drinking my “wine for sailors” and looking at the sailboat depicted on it’s label brought me daydreams of distant beaches, warm breezes, and idyllic surroundings.  And it inspired me.  Perhaps because The Winegetter was, himself, inspired to the theme for this blog series by the well-known Frank Sinatra tune “Somewhere Beyond The Sea,” I was moved to write a song.  For better or worse.  Ha!  The goal of the song is to celebrate some of the thoughts and feelings that I associate with sailing, adventuring and the allure of the sea.  My tune is called “Somewhere Over The Sea.”  I’ve included a home-brewed demo of the song below.  I’m not expecting a Grammy nomination for this, but I do hope folks enjoy listening to it.

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Talk-a-vino: Surrounded by the Ocean – Truro Vineyards

Somewhere, beyond the Sea

Somewhere, beyond the Sea

I am happy to present you with a second article by Anatoli Levine of Talk-a-Vino for my summer guest blogging series “Somewhere, Beyond the Sea”. Anatoli, as most of you might have noticed, has been a source of knowledge and has been very generous over the last year by sharing and encouraging me. It has been a special pleasure when he volunteered a second article which literally takes place between the seas. Thank you, Anatoli!

Surrounded By the Ocean – Truro Vineyards

Ocean to the left, and ocean to the right. Vines in the middle.  Almost precisely half a mile in each direction. Ocean is Atlantic, to be precise. And the vines? Truro Vineyards.

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Truro Vineyards is one of the only two vineyards and wineries which are located on Cape Cod. While Truro Vineyard came into existence only in 1992, the same land was successfully farmed for almost 200 years, producing grains and feeding cows. Sandy soils and maritime climate came in handy when the time came to produce grapes.

As many other wineries on the East Coast (both New York and New England), Truro winery takes an interesting approach to the  wine making. Well, I don’t mean here specifically how the wine is made, but rather how the grapes are sourced. The grapes which are growing well locally of course are sourced locally. Truro vineyards include 5 acres of Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The grapes which are not doing well locally, are brought from the other regions, where they are actually doing well – like Zinfandel and Pinot Grigio from California, or Vignoles from Finger Lakes. The rest is in winemaker hands…

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The winery is definitely fun to visit, starting from the little signs telling you in which direction and how you need to go to reach Napa (3,100 miles) and Loire (3,561miles) – the last number makes me curious – with such a precision of 1 mile, where exactly in Loire are we supposed to be? Well, no matter, as guess what – it will be hard to prove them wrong…

There will be grapes...

There will be grapes…

I love seeing the vines in all different stages – last year I took my first pictures of the vineyards in the Fall, with the beautiful range of colors. This year – it is vineyards in the Spring, when you know that the grapes are coming… it will just take a bit of TLC and time… (yep, going fancy here – Tender Love and Care, in case you are wondering).

Fun outside continues with the fun inside – there are so many little things, like printed napkins, which help you not to take the wine too seriously:

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And of course, there were wines, some of which we tasted, and some of them we did not (there was no open bottle of Sparkling wine, so I only have a picture, but no taste).

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The tasting was organized and run every 30 minutes (there were a few of the winery tours throughout the day, but for the most of the cases I’m skipping those). The tasting consists of 5 different wines for $10, so it is good to spilt the tastes with the companion, as the whole tasting flight consists of 10 wines. This is what we did, so I managed to taste all 10 wines. Without further ado, here are my notes.

2012 Pinot Grigio (California fruit) – kind of okay, some green notes, but if I don’t have to be politically correct – meh. NR

2010 Estate Chardonnay – 100% local grapes, barrel fermented and aged  for 9 month – well, yeah, it was Chardonnay, I presume – some butter notes, but all over the place, very disorganized, lots of acidity and no fruit support. NR

2012 Vignoles (Finger Lakes fruit) – very nice, refreshing, sweet start, hint of tropical fruit and peaches. Drinkability: 7+

Cape Blush Lighthouse – a blend of Cayuga (Finger Lakes region) and Cabernet Franc – too sweet, needs acidity. Good strawberries, a bit flat overall. But the shape and form of the bottle easily compensates for all the shortcomings. NR

Yep, we are on Cape Cod

Yep, we are on Cape Cod

2011 Cabernet Franc – 100% local fruit. Outstanding. Classic Cabernet Franc nose, same on the palate – green bell peppers, red fruit, very clean and balanced. Drinkability: 8

2011 Zinfandel – California fruit (typically arrives in mid-September). Excellent wine. Very un-Californian, clean raspberries profile, pretty light for the typical Zinfandel , easy to drink. Drinkability: 8-

2011 Merlot – local fruit. Nice structure, good red and black fruit on the palate, good balance. Drinkability: 7.

2011 Triumph – Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Again, very classic Bordeaux in style, with red fruit on the palate, some dry herbs and touch of dark chocolate, medium body. Drinkability: 7.

Cranberry Red – another lighthouse-shaped bottle. Blend of Rougeon and Syrah grapes with infused cranberries. I had high expectations based on the appearance, and it didn’t work for me at all. Not good. NR.

Diamond White – one more bottle in the lighthouse series. 100% Moore’s Diamond grape.  Excellent overall – lychees, tropical fruit, pineapple and honeydew are clearly distinguishable, but all well balanced with underlying acidity. This can be considered a light dessert wine – it doesn’t come through as heavy.

Well, friends, your virtual visit is over. If you are visiting Cape Cod, Truro Vineyards definitely worth your time, an oasis of vines and wines almost in a middle of the ocean.

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Until the next time – cheers!

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Kawavino: Trebinje – The Wine Capital of Republika Srpska

Somewhere, beyond the Sea

Somewhere, beyond the Sea

For this instalment of my guest blogging series “Somewhere Beyond the Sea” I am happy to present you with  the writing of fellow wine blogger Mariusz Rybak, who writes the excellent blog Kawa & Vino . Mariusz is a young man that travels the unbeaten wine paths. While his writing on Italian wines is great, I find his pieces on wines, wine making and wine culture in the Balkans the most compelling thing about his blog. He has opened my eyes for this region that I know next to nothing about. His style is educational and entertaining. He has really made me want to visit the area now. I am very happy that he readily agreed to write a post for this series. Thank you, Mariusz!

Trebinje – The Wine Capital of Republika Srpska

Trebinje is a small town, lost in the dry mountains of the southern edge of Herzegovina. Hidden in a deep valley, it may resemble end of the world, when entering it. But I knew that there are some experienced producers of quality wine there and my trip to this town did not disappoint me at all. More: I could not stop marveling over the assets Trebinje enjoys.

Trebinje

Trebinje

As lost as it may appear, it is not difficult to reach – situated in the corner between Croatia and Montenegro. It is all about a short drive from Dubrovnik or Herceg Novi, both highly touristic spots of the eastern Adriatic coast. The town is located in Republika Srpska, which should not be confused with Republic of Serbia. The former one is a part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, within its patchwork-like postwar political and administrative system.

Staying in the centrally situated hotel “Platani,” I had the small historical center around me, and the old famous plane trees above, after which the hotel was named. Tired, I went to the first nicely looking restaurant: “Tarana”. Over there I ordered 0,5 liter of their house wine and a plate with Herzegovinian prosciutto ham (pršuta) and hard cheese marinated in olive oil (sir iz ulja). This is one of the places where “vino de casa” is not worse than any other one sold by bottle – their white is Žilavka from Anđelić. This was divine food and, as I discovered later, only a modest beginning. The aforementioned Žilavka got a medal from the Decanter: a dry but fruity wine, of a golden-green color, elegant in its structure and so different from many rich, strong whites of the Mediterranean climate.

The next day I took a cab to the Monastery of Tvrdoš, which is – I guess – not more than 5 km from the town center. The typically small Orthodox church is from the very beginning of the 16th century, constructed on the ruins of older temples, the earliest one from the 4th century. But the big part of the winery is rather new. The monastery has a long wine making traditions, which suffered from the Turkish, and later from the two World Wars, the communism, and the war in Yugoslavia. As a matter of fact, they started their quality wine production only in the early 2000s. In the cellars, I was warmly received and the long talk, I enjoyed with one of the cellar workers, was only shortly disturbed by groups of tourists coming to visit the church and have a tasting of wines and spirits.

Tvordos Monastery Winery

Tvrdos Monastery Winery

The monastery has seven wine and three spirit labels, the spirits produced from grapes too. As every respectful producer of the region, they have their Žilavka, an autochthonous variety, appreciated much by the Austrian-Hungarian emperors, who sourced it from a Hungarian producer in Lastva, a village to the south of Trebinje. Tvrdoš’ Žilavka was a beautifully balanced white, mineralic and with refreshing acidity. The strong sun, additionally reflected by limestone, makes the wines strong though, this one containing 13,7% of alcohol. The vines grow on stony, dry and poor soil with their roots reaching deep into the rock. It is not unlikely that the name could be traced from the word “žilavost,” meaning tenacity and strength. I’ve heard once that genetically Žilavka is not that far from Riesling and indeed whoever loves German and Austrian Rieslings most probably will appreciate tenacious whites from Herzegovina too. But also the Chardonnay “Oros” (Greek for “mount”) proved to be an elegant wine – with its fruity and honey notes and spiciness. My first red was Merlot, blended from two vintages: 2008 and 2009. It’s called “Izba” – an old Slavic word for cellar or pit-dwelling. In medieval times, monks kept their wines in such an izba. This light plumy wine was beautifully rounded by oak, its exciting herbal notes underlined. Good start before the 2007 Cabernet “Hum.” There are few Cabs that I don’t find tasting like all others, myself being only a moderate fan of this variety. In this one, I love its fresh acidity, forest berries – first of all, European blueberries, and bitter herbal accents. But Tvrdoš’ champion is Vranac, my bottle being from 2010. The harshness and fruitiness are mixed in a lovely tradition of this part of the world. Vranac gives wild and strong wines, acidic and heavy, particularly in its most prominent terroirs around Lake Skadar in Montenegro. In Serbia and Herzegovina, producers try to make it rather modern, tame it and reach this way more elegant creations. This one is even sweetish in aftertaste, revealing caramel-like, cherry and dried cranberry notes.

Wines of Tvordos Monastery

Wines of Tvordos Monastery

For a late lunch, I went to a restaurant that was recommended by everyone I asked for a good place to eat. I won’t keep its name secret, although I maybe should. Still, I’m aware that the mountains of Herzegovina will stay a barrier high enough to quick and exaggerated commercialization, and thus tradition destruction (see: Dubrovnik). In the “Konoba Studenac,” I had fresh trout, the restaurant being situated at the Trebišnjica river. I took also grilled red bell peppers, which are marinated with garlic and herbs – an all-Balkan tradition. The wine I had was again Žilavka from Anđelić’s cellars. The river simmered, the wine simmered – I felt like a dessert, and it had to be happiness, because otherwise I was full after all that fish they served me. I had a huge portion of tulumbe pastries.

On Monday, I started my week in the Vukoje winery, which is considered one of the best wineries in the whole Southeastern Europe, their tasting room wallpapered with medals and prizes. The producer has even more labels than Tvrdoš, so this time I tried only some wines, selected by my host. We started with the 2007 “Zlatna Vukoje Selekcija Bijela” – a product from selection of best Chardonnay (60%) and Žilavka (40%) grapes. They call this cuvee a golden selection and indeed there is sun and aromatic herbs inside, so typical for the local whites. The wine is oaked for 12 months, and enchants drinker with notes of almond, dry figs and quince. The second glass was filled with 2007 Cabernet “Tribunia.” Tribunia is an ancient name of Trebinje and designates a varietal wine series from international grapes. This elegant Cab seduced me by its forest fruit and tobacco (?) notes. Its sweet and tart notes as well as tannins were well balanced. Oak was used only to its advantage. Also, it has a potential for aging to satisfy with increased complexity of its fruity bouquet. Further, we compared Vranac “Rezerva” from 2006 and 2008. The former one is not available in the market anymore – what a pity! Its smell – alluring honey, sour cherry, chocolate and tobacco notes, becomes richer every time your nose is diving into the glass… pepper, cinnamon… there is the original wildness of Vranac visible, reemerging with age. The younger Vranac was less acidic, with notes underlined by oak more assertive. Its original wildness was tamed and hasn’t reappeared yet. There is something like honey acidity – kind of modern character but with traditions! Personally, I preferred the older one, but I strongly believe in the potential of the young.

The cellars at Vukoje

The cellars at Vukoje

In the afternoon, I went to Vukoje’s restaurant, kept much in the Slow Food spirit. They source the majority of their ingredients from the local organic producers. I begun with a „Herzegovinian plate” being a mix of several delicious starters, for example, hard goat cheese aged in olive oil, two or three kinds of pršuta, cheese and herb pita (more like burek than pita bread from the Middle East). All this was served with freshly baked bread. My aperitivo was a glass of travarica – grape rakija with several herbs, rosemary being the most important one. The main dish – chicken breast fillet, stuffed with collard leaves (Serbian: raštan, Croatian: raštika), with slices of ham and in creamy mushroom sauce – was served with wine: Vukoje’s Žilavka. This was an awesome combination, although afterwards I came to the conclusion that a glass of Pinot Noir would be even a better pick.

Vukoje Wine Bottle

Vukoje Wine Bottle

From the restaurant I took a taxi to the Anđelić’s cellars. I was lucky since I arrived in the moment when they were closing. Here, like in other two wineries, they are expanding their production and facilities for visitors – an impressive growth in this hardly known part of Europe!

Since I knew their Žilavka, I started with Chardonnay “Žirado,” and this was a shock. This aromatic, buttery but fresh wine, with a scent of ripe apple, was dry and tasted like semi-sweet, but what’s more, it tasted like “Jagoda” from the winery of Botunjac, in Serbia. However, Jagoda is a unique variety in the Župa region, so how comes that Chardonnay gives a wine with impressively similar aroma and character? Funnily, the producer said that it perfectly goes with štrudla cake. So does the “Jagoda!” Confused, I grabbed the glass of Rosé from Merlot, called “Lira.” It has an interesting copper color, like diluted port wine. The smell was intense, kind of cooked strawberry. Astonishingly, this is the strongest wine of the cellar: 14,5% of alcohol. The first red was a cuvee of Vranac, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot called “Tribun” – a very subtle and balanced wine of beautiful color. Pure Vranac, also from 2009, had of course more temperament; yet, it had a delicate aroma of bilberry and something earthy. Afterwards I got a drive to the center and my wine trip to Trebinje was basically finished, my bag full of notes, my head full of memories.

Trebinje seems to be an exception al piece of earth, hot and dry, but giving balanced and elegant wines, although usually quite heavy and rich. Beautiful as a town, close to such touristic attractions like Dubrovnik, Mostar and Kotor, it surely deserves more attention… especially from wine lovers.

The heart of Republika Srpska's wine country

The heart of Republika Srpska’s wine country

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