Sunday, December 8, 2013

2007 Rottlan Torra Priorat

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to say that Priorat is my very favorite wine region in the world.  Wine has been made there for many centuries, but it is unique in that the wine industry there pretty much shut down when Phylloxera hit the region in the late 19th century, and it never really recovered as a wine making region until the late 20th century.  As a result, Priorat has a very unique blend of old world terroir and tradition with some modern influence from the pioneers who "rediscovered" the area in the late 1970s and early eighties.  Priorat wines are typically pretty bold and muscular, but they have an added depth and dimension of minerality that is believed to come from the "llicorella" which is what the local Catalans call the mixture of slate and mica that dominate the soil in the region.  Priorat reds are typically blends that are dominated by Garnacha and Carinena, but may also contain Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Syrah.  Typically the only thing keeping me from drinking more Priorat is the high price tag, which is why I'm so excited about this 2007 Rottlan Torra.

The 2007 Rottlan Torra is a deep garnet red in your glass.  The nose brings elements of blackberry and dark cherries along with a pretty strong spice component to it.  I also get a hint of cola, which is somewhat unexpected in a Priorat, but it seems to work well here.  On the palate, you get delicious cherry fruit with well integrated tannins that are just a little dusty and stony. Very good acidity leads to a long finish that is pretty amazing for a wine that costs less than $15. 

From a pairing standpoint, I would serve this with a nice steak or any grilled red meats.  It would also go nicely with traditional Spanish tapas meats such as jamon iberico, chorizo, or morcilla. 

Overall, this is a really nice wine that is an amazing find for just over $14!  I'm going back to the store to stock up on this one!



Friday, November 8, 2013

Quick Review: 2009 Muruve Toro by Bodegas Frutos Villar

Today I am reviewing the 2009 Muruve Toro from Bodegas Frutos Villar.

The Basics:  This wine is from the Toro region in the northwest of Spain where the locals refer to the Tempranillo graped used in the wine as Tinta de Toro

In Your Glass:  The wine is deep purple in color

On The Nose:  Dark cherry and blackberry fruit dominate the nose.  Notes of vanilla and some herbs and baking spices round it out. 

On The Palate:  Dark berry and sweet cherry fruit are front and center.  Smooth tannins provide some structure and lead to a rather long finish for a wine in this price range.

Overall:  Toro is always a great region to look to for Tempranillo values, and this one does not disappoint.  It packs a lot of punch for a price tag right around $15.  This Tinta de Toro would pair perfectly with an authentic Spanish Jamon Iberico and aged Spanish cheese. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

2011 Pfneiszl Kekfrankos "Ujra Egyutt" Sopron Quick Review

So its been awhile since I've posted anything new due to an extremely busy summer where I spent lots of time sipping wine but very little taking notes or writing about it.  In the interest of keeping more active online, I have decided to add "Quick Reviews."  These will have less background story on the winery, region, etc...and be just more to the point on the wine, so here goes...

The Basics:  From the Sopron region in northwestern Hungary, the wine is made from the Kefrankos (aka Blaufranksich) varietal.

In Your Glass:  The wine is garnet red in color

On The Nose:  Red fruit dominates the bouquet.  I get some strawberry, sour cherry, some floral notes, and just a bit of barnyard that doesn't overwhelm.

On The Palate:  Sweet and sour cherry fruit that is beautifully balanced with nice acidity and a bit of minerality.  Light bodied with very mild tannins.

Overall:  This is a very nice, easy drinking wine that can be had for under $15.  It's a lighter red that is very food friendly and versatile.  We paired it with some grilled Hungarian sausage and it worked very nicely.  This is also a great summer red that benefits from a little chill before serving on a warm summer day when you just don't want white.


Monday, May 27, 2013

2011 Bodrog Bormuhely Harslevelu Dereszla

On the day of this American holiday, my mind is on Hungarian wine and American freedom.  As a first generation American with two Hungarian parents, I'm particularly grateful for those who have fought to keep the United States a truly free country that welcomed my parents from a place that was not at all free at the time.  Fortunately a lot has changed since then, and things are much better in Hungary today than they were 57 years ago when my father left.  The iron curtain is gone.  Democracy is doing its thing, although not without controversy and intense fighting amongst rival political parties, which sounds pretty familiar for us Americans these days. 

I could go on about the change in Hungary, but I'm selfishly most interested in the change in the wine scene in Hungary and the availability of good Hungarian wine in the US today.  The fall of communism in Hungary marked the beginning of a resurgence in high quality Hungarian wine, and today the world is reaping the benefits.  The relatively small geographic area of Hungary has a large diversity of microclimates and many unique wine regions.  You can find a wide variety of reds and whites from throughout the country, some of which are made from traditional, international varieties like the Bordeaux style blends coming out of Villany in the south.  There are also many native Hungarian grapes and lesser known varietals from other parts of Europe that are making some really interesting wines.  These are varietals like Kekfrankos, Kadarka, Furmint, and today's subject, Harslevelu, which can be quite a mouthful to say and is pronounced HARSH-leh-veh-loo.  Harslevelu is often found as a blending component in the botrytized wines of Tokaj, but it can also be found in dry blends or on its own.  It is known for fantastic aromatics and very nice acid, and there are some really nice examples that are finally making their way to the United States.

One of these is the 2011 Bodrog Bormuhely Harslevelu Dereszla.  Pale gold in color, the wine brings aromas of mixed citrus peels - lemon, lime, and tangerine - as well as some notes of peach and honey.  In your mouth, the lime dominates, and although its bone dry, it reminds me a whole lot of key lime pie.  The acidity is fantastic and refreshing and leads to a really nice finish with a bit of salinity. 

Overall, this is a really interesting wine that would pair very well with shellfish or just a warm summer day.  At a price tag in the low $20s, its not an everyday wine, but its a great choice when you want something unique, different, and delicious. 


Saturday, May 18, 2013

2007 J & J Eged Hegy Dulo Kekfrankos

Earlier this month I wrote about Hungarian wine with an offering from Tokaj, which is Hungary's most famous wine region.  Right behind Tokaj is the relatively well known region of Eger.  Unfortunately for many people in the United States, Eger was only well known for making communist era Bull's Blood, which was truly pretty awful stuff at the time.  Without getting too deep into the politics of all, the communist regime in Hungary treated wine just like any other agricultural product and was only interested in maximizing production.  The quality of what they produced didn't matter all that much.  They just wanted a lot of it. 

It was only after the communist regime fell, that grape growers and wine makers in Eger realized that they had some great terroir that in past centuries made great wine.  They realized that with some care and attention to quality that they could make some really nice wines.  Today in Eger, there are some really fantastic wines that almost have me forgetting all the times that my parents served me the awful communist era stuff. 

Today's subject is a really nice Kekfrankos from Eger.  Kekfrankos, also known as Blaufrankisch, is one of the main varietals used in Bull's Blood and is often bottled on its own as well as in red blends.  The 2007 J & J Eged Hegy Dulo Kekfrankos is a deep garnet red in color.  The nose brings aromas of sweet red and sour cherries with a very pleasant and subtle hint of barnyard.  With a sip, you get some of the same cherry flavor as well as some cranberry and strawberry fruit.  The fantastic acidity really has the sour cherry and cranberry shine on the finish. 

The acidity combined with the medium weight and mild tannins, makes this a very food friendly offering.  Having grown up on Hungarian food, I find myself wanting Chicken Paprikas or a nice, traditional Hungarian pork stew to go with this, but it would also pair well with any braised meats like osso bucco or lamb shanks.  For a price in the mid $20s, this wine really delivers a lot.  Look for it in your favorite wine shop or check it out at



Saturday, April 27, 2013

2011 Bott Teleki

I wish I could take a poll and find out how many of my readers in the United States are familiar with Hungarian wines.  I'm guessing that many have never had a Hungarian wine.  The unlucky of those who have tried one have probably had a bad bottle of Bull's Blood.  The fortunate ones may appreciate the wonderful botrytized wines of the Tokaj region, but likely are not familiar with the many other delicious wines of Hungary.  The Blue Danube Wine Company is working hard to change all that.  Blue Danube is an importer that is focused on the wines of Hungary, Croatia, Austria, and many other emerging wine regions in Eastern and Central Europe.  Thanks to their efforts, you can now find some of these unique and delicious wines in restaurants and retail shops in the greater New York City area where I live and in many other parts of the country. 

Within the rather small, geographic area that makes up Hungary, there is an amazing diversity of microclimates and different wine regions.  There is no disputing that the best known is Tokaj in the northeast corner of Hungary near the Slovakian border.  Tokaj has been classified as an appellation longer than Bordeaux, and the botrytized wines of Tokaj have been recognized as a top wine in Europe for centuries.  Louis XV himself referred to Tokaj as the "Wine of Kings, King of Wines" back in the 18th century.  What is interesting today is that the world is starting to discover that the Tokaj region can also produce fantastic and unique non-botrytized and dry white wines, and that brings me to today's wine. 

The 2011 Bott Teleki is made from two indigenous Hungarian varietals.  The blend is 80% Furmint and 20% Harslevelu (HARSH-leh-veh-LOO).  The bottle is in the Mosel/Alsace style and one of very few wines that I see using a glass closure.  In your glass, the wine is pale gold in color.  The bouquet is really interesting and rather complex.  It's almost Riesling like in its mix of fruit and floral notes, but its not quite as sweet smelling as Riesling.  The apple and citrus along with floral notes make for a great nose that I could just breathe in for hours.  On the palate, the fruit leans more towards white stone fruit.  Apricot and peach flavors abound, and the wine has a fantastic medium weight and mouthfeel to it that is just right.  Perfect acidity that does not overwhelm, leads to what is a really long and fantastic finish for a white wine.  

At just under $30 per bottle, this is not an everyday value, but it is a great wine for special occasions and the right food.  As I drank this, all I could think about was pairing it with my Hungarian mother's incredible roasted duck that she often serves at the holiday table.  It would also pair beautifully with other game birds or even work well for a Turkey dinner. 

If you haven't had a dry Tokaj wine, go seek one out and try it.  Also, feel free to contact the fine folks at Blue Danube Wine Company at to find out more about Hungarian wine.




Sunday, April 14, 2013

2011 Saint Cosme Cotes-du-Rhone

I am a big fan of the Southern Rhone for everyday values as well as some of the great village level wines from places like Chateauneuf du Pape, Rasteau, and Gigondas.  I first discovered Saint Cosme through their phenomenal and incredibly consistent Gigondas, and I have enjoyed many vintages of this delicious but not inexpensive (about $40 per bottle now) Grenache driven blend over the years.  It was only recently that I discovered that Saint Cosme also has a great Cotes-du-Rhone that you can take home for a little over $10/bottle.  It has quickly become one of my everyday favorites.

The 2011 Saint Cosme Cotes-du-Rhone is rather unique in that it is a Southern Rhone wine that is not Grenache based.  It is 100% Syrah, which is much more typical of the Northern Rhone.  In your glass, the wine is intense purple in color.  The nose brings aromas of blackberry, black raspberry, and black pepper along with a bit of garrigue and that almost gamy, meaty smell that most of my favorite Syrahs have.  In your mouth, this wine is very true to the nose with great blackberry fruit.  The little bit of funky game, garrigue, and mild tannins give remarkable balance and complexity to a wine that I paid less than $12 for.  This wine is a steal.

Pair this delicious and inexpensive Syrah with lamb, game, or any grilled red meats, or at $12 a bottle just sip it on its own.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

2011 Bedrock Wine Company Pagani Ranch Heritage Wine

Bedrock is a different sort of winery.  It starts right from their own description on their website which states, "Bedrock is an itsy-bitsy winery making wine in a converted chicken coop," and it gets better from there. They even state some unique and interesting objectives on their website, many of which are in line with what I'm looking for:

  • To channel the fruit of ancient vines into powerful, elegant, and distinctly Californian wines.
  • To spread the gospel of Syrah in California by sourcing fruit from great terroirs throughout the North Coast.
  • To proclaim the greatness of Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon by sparing no expense on wines of uniqueness and personality.
  • To reclaim rose’ from the excesses of saignee and focus on precision, delicacy, aromatics, and food friendliness.
  • To make fascinating and quixotic white wines from unique sites and interesting varietals.
  • To make California Pinot Noir that ages as well as ’74 Swan.
  • To dream big but keep production low!

  • I only wish that more California wineries were thinking this way.  California has so much great terroir, but so little of it actually makes it to the average consumer.  There are simply too many places in California where its easy to make boring but OK wine at a low cost that appeals to the casual consumer who is more interested in brand or varietal than in place or terroir.

    Unlike the winery itself, Bedrock's lineage is not all that small.  Winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson literally grew up in a winery.  His father Joel Peterson is the man behind the much bigger and better known Ravenswood Winery.  Morgan was exposed to wine at an early age, and today he is using that background and knowledge to make unique and interesting varietal wines and blends. 

    The Pagani Ranch Heritage Wine is a true, old fashioned field blend.   Made up of approximately 65% Zinfandel with the rest primarily Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet, Grand Noir, Carignane, and Mourvedre that is all picked and fermented together, this wine is a throwback to the days before California became obsessed with single varietal wines. 

    In your glass, the Pagani Ranch Heritage is deep purple in color.  The bouquet brings aromas of cherry, black raspberry, and a little dried plum with a wonderful but mild funk to it.  On the palate, you get black cherry and blackberry fruit with a good dose of tannins and excellent acidity.  This is a wine that has enough balance from all the different elements to break my general rule of not liking wines that are 15% alcohol or more.  All the flavors, tannins, and acid linger around for quite some time after each sip, which makes this very interesting wine that much more enjoyable. 

    From a pairing standpoint, I think this is surprisingly food friendly given the high alcohol.  It would be great with good old fashioned, smoky BBQ or any grilled red meats.  It would also pair beautifully with a roaring fire on a cold winter night. 

    Overall. its not an everyday wine at $37/bottle, but it is an excellent example of what place rather than manipulation can bring to a great wine.  If I were tasting this blind, I would bet big money that it was from the south of France from someplace like the Languedoc or even Bandol.  It is very nice stuff with that little bit of delicious funk and complexity that makes you not only enjoy, but also contemplate each delicious sip.            

    Sunday, January 13, 2013

    Our Visit to Clos de L'Obac in Priorat

    Our Visit to Clos de L’Obac in Priorat

    Very old vines in Gratallops
    Priorat is one of those wine regions that seems to struggle a little bit in reputation.  Those who really know their wine are familiar with it and typically rank it among one of the best wine regions in the world.  Many casual wine drinkers, though, have never heard of this little gem nestled in the mountains of northeastern Spain about 2 hours from Barcelona.  

    The winemaking tradition in Priorat is long and storied.  Carthusian monks started making wine at the Scala Dei monastery in the 12th century, and the region continued making wine for centuries until it was devastated by phylloxera in the late 19th century.  Phylloxera didn’t just destroy the wine industry here, it essentially wiped out entire wine producing  towns.  The pre-phylloxera population of Priorat was about 25,000 people.  In 1979, when the area saw what would prove to be the beginning of its resurgence, there were only 1200 people left in the area.  There were deserted homes and properties everywhere, but there were also a lot of available vineyards that had old vine Garnacha dating back to just after the phylloxera infestation.  At this time there were some young and eager winemakers who believed that the land in Priorat was something special, and they set out to prove that great wines could be made in Priorat, especially near the village of Gratallops.  This group included well known names in the wine world like Alvaro Palacios and Rene Barbier as well as a young gentlemen named Carles Pastrana, who started the Costers del Siurana winery, which is better known by the name of its flagship red, Clos de L’Obac.  Early on, they shared winery facilities and worked together to restore the former glory of the region, and 33 years later I think its safe to say that they succeeded.  

    The beautiful Priorat landscape
    Our visit to Priorat really began with the scenic drive in to the area.  The land itself is stunning with hills, steep cliffs, and valleys everywhere that are all lined with mostly terraced vineyards.  The Montsant mountain range in the distance provides a perfect backdrop for this spectacular visual experience.  The soil in Priorat is so rocky that the average backyard gardener wouldn’t believe that anything can grow in it.  The local Catalans call is llicorella, and it is a mixture of different colored slate and shale with some mica mixed in and very little actual soil.  The rocky nature of the soil is part of what makes the terroir here so special.  Vines are forced to work extremely hard to get nutrients and water.  In many spots the roots go down well over 50 feet into the rocks, which helps to insure that the vines don’t get overwatered in the rain or under watered in the dry summers.  

    The entrance to the winery
    Upon arriving to the winery, we were immediately greeted by Carles Pastrana himself who would be our guide and host for the next 2.5 hours.  Carles is one of those charming, magnetic personalities who makes you feel like a long time friend in a matter of minutes.  He took us through his whole operation, which is producing about 30,000 bottles annually from his estate vineyards.  He explained how everything works in his winery, and he shared with us some of his winemaking philosophy.  In an age when so many wineries try to produce a consistent house style from year to year, Carles believes that wine should be vintage specific and that each year’s wine should express what happened in the vineyard in that particular season.  Carles referred to this as allowing each vintage to express what the “hand of God” brought that year.  He also relayed a great story about a conversation he had with Robert Mondavi on this topic.  Mondavi told Carles that he strives to make Opus One taste the same every year, to which Carles replied, “Then why do you put a vintage on the label?”  I would have loved to see Mondavi’s face upon hearing that question.  Carles and his winemaking team is also passionate about their barrel program.  They use only French oak since they feel American oak imparts too much sweet flavor, and Carles passionately believes that “wine should taste like wine and not wood.”  

    The winery itself is small and charming, and Carles displays some fantastic photography of vineyards, barrels, roots, fermentation tanks, and just about everything related to the winery.  After our tour it was finally time to get to tasting the wines.  The tasting room was absolutely first class.  Our wines were all poured in great stemware and covered with these really neat glass lids.  The glasses were on a personalized paper placemat with each wine label printed just below the glass.

    The tasting table with the custom
    glass tile ceiling above.
    Our first wine was the 2008 Kyrie, which is 35% Garnacha Blanca, 30% Macabeo, 30% Xarello, and 5% Muscat.  It had a honeyed, floral nose with notes of white stone fruit and apple.  The body was medium-full and it had very nice acidity that led to an unusually outstanding finish for a white.  Carlos said his team set out to make a white that can age for 10 to 20 years, and I think its fair to say that his mission has been accomplished.  The 2008 Kyrie would pair perfectly with shellfish and would also work well with other seafood and many cheeses.  

    The second wine was the 2004 Miserere, which Carles described as the feminine counterpart to his masculine Clos de L’Obac.  The wine was deep purple in color and had intense blackberry fruit dominating the bouquet with a floral element in the background.  The wine is a blend of 27% Garnacha, 27% Tempranillo, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the remainder evenly split between Merlot and Carinena.  On the palate I got great fruit with layers of smoke and spice from the Tempranillo that added a deeper level of complexity to the wine.

    Our third wine was the flagship 2004 Clos de L’Obac, which was absolutely fantastic.  The blend is 35% Garnacha, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, 10% Merlot, and 10% Carinena, as it is in every year its been made.  This consistent blend from year to year is part of Carles philosophy that vintage should be unique and express the ‘hand of God.”  In your glass, the wine is deep purple in color.  The nose has fantastic blackberry and black raspberry fruit with a hint of cherry as well, but it is the fresh minerality that really completes the bouquet.  You can almost smell the llicorella in your glass.  The wine is very well balanced with beautifully integrated tannins and a very nice, long finish.  This is truly a world class bottling.  Carles also gave us a taste of the 2002 Clos de L’Obac which was similar but much more delicate and nuanced that the more powerful 2004 vintage.  It was a very obvious example of what different vintages can bring to the same vineyards.  

    Our personalized tasting placemats

    The last wine we tasted was the 2006 Dolc de L’Obac, which was the rare fine red wine that is sweet.  The wine leaned more towards red as opposed to black fruit than the dry reds we tasted, and it also had a sweet caramel flavor to it that thankfully wasn’t the overly burnt caramel that results from over-toasting of barrels.  Its also interesting to note that the sweetness did not come with the thick, syrupy quality that so many sweet wines have.  Carles told us that making this wine was a real challenge for his team.  He was very concerned about how to stop fermentation.  He didn’t want to use high amounts of sulfites nor did he want to go the route of fortification as he feels that the high alcohol completely changes the flavor of the wine.  In the end he decided to quickly freeze the wine to kill the remaining yeast and stop fermentation with 50-60 grams/liter of residual sugar.  I am generally not very big fans of sweet/dessert reds, but I may have finally found my match here.  This was very tasty and unique.  

    Carles Pastrana with Lynne and me
     tightly clutching my cool new briefcase.
    After we finished tasting and hearing Carles plentiful and colorful stories, we got up from the tasting table to buy some wine.  Before I bought anything, though, I asked Carles about a wooden Clos de L’Obac briefcase he had on display in the tasting room.  He told me that is was a prototype that he designed for Porsche who is going to order a few hundred of these cool looking briefcases that hold 5 bottles of wine in the padded inner compartment.  When I asked Carles how much he would want for the prototype, he simply said “if you like it, its yours - take it.”  I thought that my perfect day couldn’t get any better after this, but Carles proved me wrong.  Upon learning that a couple in our party was celebrating their 5th anniversary, he disappeared for a few minutes and returned with a bottle of 1990 Clos de L’Obac that he gave to us and insisted that we open and enjoy at Cellar de Gratallops, where we were going for lunch.  This 22 year old Priorat was simply stunning and a perfect end to the single best winery experience of my life.