Monthly Archives: November 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

CANADA, Princess Royal Island (BC) Sunset with S-shaped cloud formation

Happy Thanksgiving to all our North American readers!

Enjoy the holiday and, quoting our 7-year-old daughter, “be thankful for all good things in life!” – for us here, a serene sunset with great pastel colors and an otherworldly cloud formation such as that displayed above would certainly qualify! ūüôā This image was taken on a beautiful, uninhabited small island off the coasts of British Columbia, Canada.

In the spirit of giving thanks, I am offering a 15% discount on any of the prints in the galleries of my Website, including Limited Edition ones, until Monday December 2! If you like any of my photographs, head over there, pick your favorite and at checkout enter code TKSGV13.

Also, if you are interested in finding out how we are celebrating, head over to Flora’s Table and check it out for yourselves! ūüôā

If you would like to see more images of mine, feel free to browse my Galleries.

As per my copyright notice, please respect my work and do not download, reproduce or use the image above without first seeking my consent. Thank you :-)

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Wine Review: Three First Drop Shiraz from Down Under

First Drop WinesAs most of you know, the wine-related part of this blog mainly focuses on Italian wine, although non exclusively as now and then I post about non-Italian wines that I have tasted and enjoyed: so far, I have posted about French, Portuguese and New Zealand wines: it is now time to talk about Australian wines.

Australia is one of the largest wine making countries of the New World, coming right after the USA and Argentina. A few official data: in 2012 in Australia there were 91,000 HA of red wine vines (almost 50% of which were Shiraz/Syrah, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) and the South Australia region accounted for almost 60% of the entire red wine production. In terms of white wines, in 2012 Australia had 57,000 HA of white wine vines (almost 50% of which were Chardonnay, followed by Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon) and the South Australia and New South Wales regions combined accounted for over 70% of the entire white wine production. The overall Australian wine production in 2012 was about 1.2 billion liters (Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics)

One of the obvious consequences of so large a production is that out there you may find some excellent Australian wines but also some… less than stellar ones. So, not wanting to go through a potentially long trial and error process, I decided to ask Laura, an Australian wine expert, accomplished cook and last but not least author of the food blog Laura’s Mess, if she would be willing to help me in my quest for quality Australian wineries whose wines I could taste and review, by giving me a few pointers (by the way, should you not be familiar with Laura’s blog already, do pay her a visit because it is a food blog that is definitely worthwhile following, both for the great content and for the beautiful food photography).

Well, Laura went above and beyond what could be considered “fellow blogger courtesy” as she went to great lengths to provide me an overview of Australia’s main wine regions and a detailed description of her favorite producers and wines in each of them. Laura, thank you so much once again for your invaluable guidance in helping me learn more¬†about the Australian wine world.

Anyway, after going through Laura’s terrific survey and cross-referencing the producers that impressed me the most with the reality of what is available in the US market (and the awful lot of good stuff that unfortunately is not), I decided to start my Aussie tasting experience from First Drop, a young winery based in Australia’s prime wine region of the Barossa. This is because they came highly recommended from Laura, they focus on a variety that I like a lot (Shiraz/Syrah), their vineyards are in one of the premium Australian wine regions (the Barossa Valley, in South Australia) and last but not least I managed to find a US online retailer who carries most of their lineup. So I went ahead and placed a sampler order, buying four of their red wines, from entry-level to top of the line, which would hopefully give me a nice overview of the First Drop range.

These are the four bottles that I bought:

  1. First Drop, Shiraz “Fat of the Land” Greenock Cru, Barossa 2009
  2. First Drop, “Two Percent“, Barossa 2009 (a 98% Shiraz, 2% Tempranillo blend)
  3. First Drop, Shiraz “Mother’s Milk“, Barossa 2011
  4. First Drop, “Half & Half“, Barossa 2010 (a 50% Shiraz, 50% Monastrell blend)

Today I will publish my tasting notes of wines number 2, 3 and 4. The Fat of the Land will have to wait both because of my impressions about the three wines that I have tasted (keep reading if you want to know how I liked them!) and because wine number 1 is one First Drop’s top of the line single-vineyard crus, which in the US retails for a not inexpensive $72 price tag and therefore I want to give it a few years of cellar time before enjoying it since it is still pretty young. Now, of course, were First Drop’s US importer to ever send me a sample to try out right away, I would be very happy to oblige… ūüėČ

But let’s now cut to the chase and see how those three First Drop wines that I tasted performed.

As always, for my review I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

1. First Drop, “Half & Half”, Barossa 2010 ($18)

First Drop, Half & HalfAs mentioned, this is an unusual 50% Shiraz, 50% Monastrell blend. The must ferments for 6 days on the skins, then the wine goes through malolactic fermentation and ages for 15 months in French oak. In the US, it retails for about $18.

In the glass, Half & Half poured ruby red and viscous when swirled.

On the nose, its bouquet was moderately intense, moderately complex and of fair quality, with aromas of cherry, red berries, coffee, black pepper, and hints of animal fur and tobacco.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, with high ABV and smooth; it was acidic, moderately tannic and moderately tasty. It was medium-bodied and balanced, with intense and fair mouth flavors of cherry, red berries, red fruit candy, and dark chocolate. It had a medium finish and the evolutionary state was ready (i.e., fine to drink right away, probably better if you let it rest for a couple more years in your cellar).

Overall, Half & Half was a pretty good, entry-level red in the First Drop range, a wine with no frills: smooth, with medium tannins, easy to drink and quite pleasant in the mouth. One might wish that its bouquet were a bit more intense and complex (maybe some decanting/aeration could have helped, despite the wine’s young age?), but all in all it is a solid, every day wine, given especially its reasonable price point.

Rating: Good Good Р$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

2. First Drop, Shiraz “Mother’s Milk”, Barossa 2011 ($18)

First Drop, Mother's MilkThis varietal Shiraz is fermented for 8 days on the skins, then goes through malolactic fermentation and is aged for 18 months in French oak barrels. In the US it retails for about $18.

In the glass, Mother’s Milk poured ruby red and¬†viscous when swirled.

On the nose, its bouquet was intense, moderately complex and fine, with nice aromas of plum, blackberry, sweet tobacco, leather, cocoa and black pepper.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, with high ABV and smooth; it was acidic, tannic and moderately tasty. It was full-bodied and balanced, with intense and fine mouth flavors of plum, blackberry, tobacco, dark chocolate and black pepper. It had a medium finish and the evolutionary state was ready (i.e., fine to drink right away, probably even better if you let it rest for a couple more years in your cellar).

Overall, I very much enjoyed my bottle of Mother’s Milk (sounds kind of creepy, I know, but that’s the name they picked!) Considering its appealing price point and how young the bottle I had was, Mother’s Milk was a good to very good performer, with intense and pleasant aromas and mouth flavors and a high ABV that was however well integrated into the wine’s structure and counterbalanced by already smooth tannins. Allowed to mature for two or three more years in bottle, I think the wine’s already pleasant aromas and mouth flavors would further evolve into an even more compelling, cohesive red that will be an even better value for money.

Rating: Good to Very Good and definitely Recommended Good to Very Good Р$ 

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

3. First Drop, “Two Percent”, Barossa 2009 ($35)

First Drop, Two PercentThis is a 98% Shiraz, 2% Tempranillo blend that ferments for 8 days on its skins, goes through malolactic fermentation and then is aged for 24 months in French oak barrels. In the US it retails for about $35.

In the glass, the Two Percent poured ruby red and viscous when swirled.

On the nose, its bouquet was intense, complex and fine, with pleasant aromas of cherry, plum, raspberry, cigar box, vanilla, coffee, black pepper and rhubarb.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, with high ABV and smooth; it was acidic, tannic and tasty. It was full-bodied and balanced, with intense and fine mouth flavors of cherry, raspberry, vanilla, dark chocolate and black pepper. It had a long finish and its evolutionary state was ready (i.e., fine to drink right away, but certainly even better if you let it rest for a few more years in your cellar).

Overall, I loved Two Percent! Considering how young it was, it already performed as a show stopper: a big wine with an elegant, complex bouquet and lush, chewy mouth flavors, a silky smooth texture and perfectly integrated tannins, plus a long, lingering finish that just makes you want more. Definitely excellent value for money. Wow.

Rating: Very Good and definitely Recommended Very Good Р$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

Now I can hardly wait to try that Fat of the Land bottle… ūüėČ

Wine Spectator‚Äôs Top 100 Wines of 2013

A few days ago, Wine Spectator magazine has published the entire list of their Top 100 Wines of 2013… according to them, of course! :-)

Like last year, these are in a nutshell a few comments about their 2013 top 10 wines:

  • CVNE‚Äės¬†Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva 2004¬†is Wine Spectator‚Äôs Wine of the Year 2013¬†(rated 95 points) as well as the first Spanish wine to date to earn top ranking in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list: congratulations!
  • Five¬†U.S. wines made it to the Top 10 (3 from California, 1 from Oregon and 1 from Washington State), up from¬†three last year
  • Only one Italian wine made it to the Top 10 scoring¬†sixth place and 95 points (Giuseppe Mascarello‚Äės Barolo “Monprivato” 2008 DOCG), same number as last year but better placement, up three spots
  • France put¬†three of their wines in the Top 10,¬†down from¬†four last year
  • A wine from Bordeaux’s Right Bank was awarded second place (and 96 points)¬†in the Top 10: Chateau Canon-La Gaffeliere 2010, a Saint Emilion Premier Grand Cru Class√© B (for more information and a photograph of the Chateau, check out our previous post on the Saint Emilion appellations and wine classification)
  • For the presumable happiness of The Drunken Cyclist¬†ūüėČ a Pinot Noir from Oregon¬†scored third place in the Top 10:¬†Domaine Serene‘s Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Evenstad Reserve, 2010 (rated 95 points)
  • Just like in 2011 and 2012, 9 of the top 10 wines are red and only one is white, Kongsgaard‘s Chardonnay Napa Valley 2010 (fifth place, rated 95 points)
  • Four out of the top five wines are below the $100 price mark, with the Wine of the Year 2013 being the least expensive at $63 and confirming how much good value for money can be found in a Rioja, even a top of the line one like CVNE’s; on the other hand, all wines in sixth to tenth place are above $100¬†(thank you, Anatoli, for suggesting this additional bullet!)

For more detailed information and access to the full Top 100 list, please refer to Wine Spectator’s Website.

Saint Emilion Chronicles #5: Saint Emilion and its Wine Appellations

Saint Emilion: 
Clos La Madeleine and its vineyards

First off, you may be wondering: what about chapters 3 and 4 in the Saint Emilion series??? Well, those have only been published on Flora’s Table¬†as they were not wine related nor were they specifically about photography, so if you have not seen them and you are interested in finding out about Saint Emilion sweet treats (macarons and cannel√©s) and the place we stayed at during our Saint Emilion visit, just head over there and see for yourself! ūüėČ

Saint Emilion: Les Grandes Murailles (the Big Wall) and the vineyards of Chateau Les Grandes Murailles

Now, on previous posts we have talked about the town of Saint Emilion and one of its churches – it is about time that we start talking about wine. This post will provide a general overview of the area from a wine standpoint, while future posts will focus on a few chateaux.

Saint Emilion: old grape press and vineyards of Chateau Canon

As we said in the introductory post of this series, Saint Emilion is a town that is¬†located in the Libournais area, on the right bank of the Dordogne River, not far from Bordeaux. From a wine standpoint, the area surrounding the town of Saint Emilion is divided into several different appellations (known as “AOC” – in French, “Appelation d’Origine Control√©√®“).

One slightly confusing thing to bear in mind is that Saint Emilion AOC and Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC are two different appellations that for the most part comprise the same territory. However, the regulations of the latter are stricter than the former as they require lower production yields and a 12-month minimum aging period. So, a bottle that is labeled “Saint Emilion Grand Cru” only indicates that it has been produced under the rules of that AOC, but not necessarily that it is one of the Grands Crus that are part of the Saint Emilion wine classification (more on this later), which instead are identified as Grands Crus Class√©s or Premiers Grands Crus¬†Class√©s, depending on their ranking.

Saint Emilion: Chateau La Gaffeliere and its vineyards

The two largely overlapping appellations of Saint Emilion AOC and Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC encompass a territory of, respectively, 5,600 and over 4,000 HA where the dominating grape variety is Merlot, beside Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The average annual production is in the ballpark of 235,000 HL for Saint Emilion AOC and 150,000 HL for Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC.

Saint Emilion‚Ä®: Chateau Lassegue and its vineyards

As we alluded to above, in 1954 the¬†¬†Winemaking Syndicate of Saint Emilion decided to compile a classification of the best estates (or Chateaux) in the Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC¬†based on criteria such as quality, sales and renown: this classification was published in 1955 (which is why it is often referred to as the “1955 Classification“) and is supposed to be revised and updated every 10 years, although in fact the updates have been more frequent (since inception, it has been updated in 1959, 1969, 1986, 1996 and 2012).

Saint Emilion: 
Chateau Cheval Blanc and its vineyards

The 1955 Classification divided the estates that made the cut into the following three tiers (in parentheses you can find the number of chateaux in each tier, based on the 2012 revision of the 1955 Classification):

  1. Premier Grand Cru Classé A (4)
  2. Premier Grand Cru Classé B (14)
  3. Grand Cru Classé (64)

Originally, there were only two Chateaux in the first tier of the 1955 Classification: Chateau Ausone and Chateau Cheval Blanc, while two more estates have been promoted to the Olympus of the Saint Emilion wines in the context of the 2012 revision of the 1955 Classification: Chateau Angelus and Chateau Pavie.

Saint Emilion: Chateau Pavie and its vineyards

If you are interested in finding out more about the 1955 Classification, on this Website you can find the complete list of the estates comprised in each of the three tiers of the classification.

For completeness, bear in mind that in the Saint Emilion area there are also four satellite appellations, as follows: Saint-Georges-Saint-Emilion AOC, Montagne-Saint-Emilion AOC, Puisseguin-Saint-Emilion AOC and Lussac-Saint-Emilion AOC.

Saint Emilion: church emerging from the vineyards in Pomerol

Another famous appellation in the greater Saint Emilion area is the adjacent Pomerol AOC, a small 770 HA Merlot-centric appellation which is home (among other premium estates) of the world-famous, super-exclusive, very rare and √ľber-pricey Petrus. The estates in the Pomerol AOC were not considered for the purposes of the 1955 Classification (which, as we said, was limited to those in the Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC): this explains why Petrus is not part of it.

Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

Exclamation Mark: Double Arch at Night

Double Arch at night

I took this image of beautiful Double Arch at night in Arches National Park (UT).

By using a wide angle on my camera and of course setting it up for night photography (in which regard, you may want to check out the night photography primer that I published on an earlier post), I managed to capture both openings of Double Arch in such a way that, silhouetted against the starry night sky, they took the shape of a giant exclamation mark. ūüôā

¬†Hope you enjoy it! ūüôā

If you would like to see more images of mine, feel free to browse my Galleries.

As per my copyright notice, please respect my work and do not download, reproduce or use the image above without first seeking my consent. Thank you :-)

Wine Review: Two Chardonnays from Piemonte – Coppo, Chardonnay “Monteriolo” Piemonte DOC 2007 & Chardonnay “Costebianche” Piemonte DOC 2010

Disclaimer: this review is of samples that I received from the producer’s US importer. My review has been conducted in compliance with my Samples Policy and the ISA wine tasting protocol and the opinions I am going to share on the wines are my own.

Today we are going to review two Chardonnays from the northern Italian region of Piemonte, made by Italian producer Coppo.

About the Grape

A few notions about Chardonnay as a grape variety, that you can also find on our Grape Variety Archive page, along with several other varieties that we have previously reviewed.

Chardonnay is a white-berried variety that is indigenous to the French area between Lyon and Dijon, encompassing Burgundy and Champagne. The earliest documented mention of Chardonnay dates back to the late XVII century in the village of Saint Sorlin (today known as La Roche Vineuse) under the name “Chardonnet“, although the variety takes its name from the village of Chardonnay near the town of Uchizy in southern Burgundy.

DNA analysis showed that Chardonnay is a natural cross between Pinot and Gouais Blanc.

Chardonnay Rose is a color mutation of Chardonnay, while Chardonnay Musque’ is a mutation with Muscat-like aromas.

Chardonnay is one of the most versatile and adaptable white grape varieties, which explains in part why it has been so extensively grown all over the world. Chardonnay grapes are generally high in sugar levels and do not have a dominant flavor of their own, so the wines made out of them tend to take on a variety of aromas depending on where the grapes are grown and how the wines are made. Thus Chardonnays run the gamut from subtle and savory to rich and spicy still wines as well as being one of the base wines for Champagne and other Classic Method sparkling wines.

Chardonnay is a typical international variety given how widely it is cultivated on a worldwide basis, from native France, to Italy, North and South America and Australia.

As always, this grape variety information is taken from the excellent guide Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012.

About the Producer and the Estate

You may find information regarding the producer, Coppo, and the estate in the first post of this series of reviews of the Coppo lineup.

Our Reviews

The Coppo lineup comprises three Chardonnays: beside the top of the line Riserva della Famiglia (which is currently not available in the US), Coppo makes the mid-range Monteriolo and the entry-level Costebianche, both of which we are going to review today.

As usual, for my reviews I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

1. Coppo, Chardonnay “Monteriolo” ($60)

Coppo, Chardonnay "Monteriolo"The first¬†wine that we are going to review is Coppo, Chardonnay ‚ÄúMonteriolo‚ÄĚ Piemonte DOC 2007.

1.1 The Bottom Line

Overall, the Monteriolo was a good, solid¬†‚Äúgently-oaked‚ÄĚ Chardonnay.¬†Both its bouquet and mouth flavors are¬†pleasant and ‚Äúclean‚ÄĚ, if just a tad subdued, presenting a nice balance between secondary and tertiary aromas. In my view, however,¬†the $60 suggested retail price is pretty steep and makes the Monteriolo face tough competition in the premium Chardonnay market segment.

Rating: Good to Very Good Good to Very Good Р$$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

1.2 Detailed Information

The 2007 Monteriolo was 12.5% ABV and was made out of 100% Chardonnay grapes harvested from Coppo’s vineyards near the town of Canelli, Piemonte.

The must fermented for about 12/15 days at 59F/15C in stainless steel vessels. The wine then rested for nine months in 50% new and 50% previously used French oak barrique casks, plus eight additional months in bottle before becoming available for sale. The Monteriolo has a suggested retail price in the US of $60, but can be found for retail prices in the neighborhood of $50.

Let’s now see how the Monteriolo performed in our tasting.

In the glass, the wine poured golden yellow and quite thick when swirled.

On the nose, the bouquet was quite intense, quite complex and fine, with aromas of citrus, apple, herbs, and hints of butter, vanilla and roasted hazelnut.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, quite warm, smooth; fresh and quite tasty. It was balanced and medium-bodied, with quite intense and fine mouth flavors of citrus, apple, butter, and hints of vanilla and roasted hazelnut. The finish was quite long and the evolutionary state was ready (meaning, fine to drink now, but may improve with one or two years of cellaring).

2. Coppo, Chardonnay “Costebianche” ($20)

Coppo, Chardonnay "Costebianche"The second wine that we are going to review is Coppo, Chardonnay ‚ÄúCostebianche‚ÄĚ Piemonte DOC 2010.

2.1 The Bottom Line

Overall, the Costebianche was a pretty good Chardonnay. Its bouquet is pleasant, although a bit narrow and veered toward tertiary aromas, those that develop with oak aging, that in this case tended to be¬†dominant over the fruity aromas. Also, I found the Costebianche a little ‚Äúthin‚ÄĚ in the mouth – I wished it had a little more body (this feeling is confirmed by its quite low ABV and glycerol levels, which both contribute to determine the structure of a wine). All in all, a fairly good, if a bit ‚Äúsoulless‚ÄĚ, wine.

Rating: Fairly Good Fairly Good Р$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

2.2 Detailed Information

The 2010 Costebianche was 12% ABV and was made out of 100% Chardonnay grapes harvested from Coppo’s vineyards near the towns of Canelli and Aglianico.

The wine underwent partial malolactic fermentation and then six months of aging, during which 70% of the wine rested in French oak barrique casks and the remaining 30% in steel vats, plus six additional months in bottle before becoming available for sale. In the US the Costebianche has a suggested retail price of about $20.

Let’s see how the Costebianche did in our tasting.

In the glass, the wine poured straw yellow with greenish hints and quite thick when swirled.

On the nose, the bouquet was intense, fairly narrow and quite fine, with aromas of Granny Smith apple, roasted hazelnut, and butter.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, quite warm, quite smooth; fresh and tasty. It was balanced and light-bodied, with intense and fine mouth flavors of citrus, Granny Smith apple, roasted hazelnut, butter, and wild herbs. The finish was quite long and the evolutionary state was ready.

Hunting High and Low: American Bison

Grand Teton National Park (WY): Bison (Bison bison) at Antelope Falls

A while ago I posted a close-up shot of an American bison (Bison bison), while today’s image is a full-body portrait of the king of North American land mammals (by size, at least).

The reason I post this image is essentially to say that a new gallery is up on my Website with a selection of my bison shots, so feel free to check it out if you like this animal.

A few facts about the American bison (Bison bison). For starters, it is not called buffalo, it is called bison. As mentioned, weighing about 900 to 2,200 lb/400 to 1,000 kg, bison is the largest land mammal in North America. These large grazers have poor eyesight, but excellent senses of hearing and smell, which help them defend themselves from predators. Their sharp, curved horns can grow up to 2 ft/60 cm long.

It is estimated that centuries ago between 20 and 30 million bison freely roamed throughout North America, from Alaska all the way down to Mexico. Then, unregulated hunting in the XIX century (aimed also at depriving Native Americans of their primary food source) almost entirely wiped out the species, to the point that just a little over 1,000 bison were left in 1889. Today things have somewhat improved, and we can count about 500,000 bison in North America.

Unfortunately, however, the most part of that number are not pure bison, but animals that have been cross-bred with cattle and are raised as livestock (about¬†97% of the continental population is managed for private captive commercial propagation). Only about 30,000 “real” bison are in conservation herds and about 11,000 are in wild free-ranging and semi-free-ranging populations.¬†Yellowstone National Park has the largest population of free-roaming plains bison (about 4,000).

As a result, the American bison is classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in light of its dependence on an ongoing conservation program, a very limited number of viable populations (five), and the small size of the populations.

Sources: Defenders of Wildlife; National Geographic; BBC Nature; IUCN Red List

If you would like to see more images of mine, feel free to browse my Galleries.

As per my copyright notice, please respect my work and do not download, reproduce or use the image above without first seeking my consent. Thank you :-)