Wines of Croatia: A visit to Konavle

Konavle Wine MapWhen traveling internationally I often find myself in the market aisles trying to make heads or tails of the offerings they have available. Such was the case last week in Cavtat where I came across a few rosés. Given I was on the shores of the Adriatic and seafood was on the mind this of course had appeal. In checking the labels I found one from the local southern Dalmatian region of Konavle which I had earlier read about. I had scanned the nearby mountain side and wondered how they could make wines from grape exposed to so much sun. Only later did I learn that a mere 20km or south of Dubrovnik a small sets of hills rise near the sea creating a small valley that traces down towards the border with Montenegro.

The rose mentioned above was made out of kadarun, an autochthonous varietal from Konavle which as least one believes could make a nice, light summer red which is something Croatia currently lacks (Editor’s note: though the recent rosé of Plavac Mali I had from Vinarija Bartulovic is a nice substitute). This is just a sampling from my very enjoyable conversation with Ivo Ivaniš which also covered natural wine (really just turning the clock back to what Ivo’s grandfather did), his career as a wine taster and the best use of oak (and from which country) in the wine making process .

Dubrovacki Podrumi tasting roomThat wine, which I bought by the way, was made by Dubrovacki Podrumi. One of the 8 or 9 wineries that call this region home. Dubrovacki Podrumi was originally founded in 1876 but despite its history it is going through somewhat of a rebirth. For many years, under Communist rule, the winery was controlled by the government where the focus was on quantity not quality. This was followed by the destruction levied by the Homeland War in the early 1990’s. It wasn’t until 2002 that the winery was again privatized. When Ivo’s brother became a shareholder in the newly privatized Dubrovacki Podrumi he returned to Croatia from the Netherlands where he had lived for the past 16 years.

Dubrovacki Podrumi MerlotinaAnd with that the pendulum swung to quality not quantity. Ivo was brought on as a consultant, along with Jan van Lissum, for the top label of wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Plavac Mali produced from 40 year old vines. Each of these wines sees a combination of Croatian, Hungarian and French oak (new and used). After spending time in the barrel it usually finishes aging in stainless steel or large casks prior to bottling. I had a chance to taste each and came away impressed. The Cabernet (Trajectum) is soft and smooth, the Plavac Mali has juicy, dark fruits with lasting, smooth tannins and the Merlot (Merlotina) is one anybody who claims not to the like the grape should be made to try. I am generally not a fan (and wasn’t swayed just because Ivo’s twitter handle is @merlotina) but was stunned by the depth, the fruit. In a word “opulent”. Looking forward to spending some more time with this one as I left the winery with a bottle in hand.

And while the top end impressed, the standard offerings held up nicely especially given their $5-$7 price point in local markets. In addition to the rosé I had a chance to taste the Malvasija Dubrovacka (fuller bodied than those from Istria) and Crljenak Kaštelanski (one of the parents of Zinfandel). And this level of quality has been true of nearly all of the wines I’ve tasted over the last two weeks. Stateside they are more likely to run you $10-$15 but consider giving one a try. Better yet visit the Dubrovnik area (it’s stunning!) and be sure to take a break from the beaches and history to taste some vino!

How about you? Have you tried Croatian wine? If so what’s your favorite? Any tips to share?

Quick Takes Vol. II

Hi-Tech Tasting Notes…

Quick Takes Vol IIMy 2nd installment of “Quick Takes” as I aim to share some thoughts on wines that have made it across my table recently. Here we have a quick trip around the globe with a nice group of wines. Nothing disappointed here. The Buena Vista still deservingly holds the top spot in my Trader Joe’s Top 10 Wine List and is surprisingly still available. I’ve gone through 8+ bottles and just bought another half case. Though slightly more expensive the Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Spätlese was something else and at $8 the Tintara is certainly worth revisiting. Here’s the details (most links go to CellarTracker) on this group:

2008 Buena Vista Pinot Noir – (13.5%) Initially this one comes across as more earthy and minerally before opening up to dark, lush (mainly cherry) fruit with sandalwood and spice. The rich, creamy finish lingers softly with cherry-cola spice. Once given time to breathe this one is smooth and easy drinking throughout. That said be sure to crack the top on this one an hour or two prior to planned consumption. If you can handle that this one offers some nice QPR at $10.

2007 Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape* – (14.5%) Grenache 48%, Syrah 28%, Mourvèdre 14%, Cinsault 5%, Divers 5% – Earthy and juicy with nice, ripe cherry and dark currant flavors that come across as a touch creamy here. The palate is backed by components of floral, graphite and mineral acidity before leading to a dry, herbal finish with lasting, smooth tannins. Nice depth to the rich fruit here but the complementary acidity it this balanced throughout. This wine is layered and enjoyable. 93pts Wine Advocate, $52.

2009 Hans Lang Riesling Vom Bunten Schiefer* – (12.5%) A QbA designate this is dry and clean on the tongue. Wound tight with lemon rock acidity (hints of orange peel) and grapefruit minerality it stays zingy and refreshing until the finish goes all wrong (charcoal, heat and totally counter to expectations). Not sure what is going on here but it certainly hurts my overall impression of the wine…

2009 Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese* – (8%) Yes you read that right; 8%! This is what I am talking about. More rich then sweet with honey, apple and pears coupled with a bright lemon acidity through a nice crisp finish. Really digging this wine. Pure and delicious! At $33 it is a bit spendy but worth every penny and more…

2007 Tintara Shiraz – (14%) Picked this one up for $8 (marked down from $18) on sale. Smoky, rich and dark fruit on a spiced nose with hints of minerals and meats. Warm and juicy on the palate with a similar profile though perhaps a touch tarter than the nose would indicate. More mineral too which leads into a nice lasting finish with fine grained tannins. Smooth, balanced and nice acidity. I’m a fan. A nice QPR at 8; perhaps I should grab half a case for short term cellaring?

2010 Goldwater Sauvignon Blanc Wairau Valley* – Lifted, grassy nose. bright citrus palate with refreshing acidity and a touch of dry mineral talc on the finish. New Zealand Sauv Blanc through and through. Nice but not a standout. Drink with company.

Those with * indicate wines that were received as samples.

Quick Takes Vol. I

Hi-Tech Tasting Notes…

Quick Takes v1 - Hi-tech tasting notes...As per usual just because the writing slows doesn’t mean the enjoyment does. To that end I have nearly thirty empties awaiting my attention before disposal. My wife asked nicely that some find there way out of the house very soon and given Mother’s Day is just around the corner I thought it would be wise to oblige. So the first group I grabbed? You guessed it! Those with the easy to find tasting notes. This was a steady and consistent group. If I were to buy one again it would be the Mas Carlot which I picked up on closeout from K&L Wines for $9.99. A nice, complex white and my first experience with Clairette to boot. Here’s the details (all links go to CellarTracker) on this group:

2008 Cavas De Crianza Malbec – (14.5%) Brief notes here as a friend brought this over and we opened it for dinner. Not bad but average and over oaked for me. That said nothing wrong here but given the plethora of values (Alamos, Pascual Toso, Terrazas de los Andes) in this category (at ~$12) wouldn’t buy again…

2010 Mas Carlot Costières-de-Nîmes Clairette de Bellegarde – (13.5%) 100% Clairette – My first experience with this varietal which starts crisp and floral with orange rinds. As it warms it turns to nectarine stone fruit with a nice mineral backbone and crisp, refreshing finish. This one is well worth the $10 introduction to the AOC Clairette de Bellegarde and its primary varietal. Grape explorers should definitely track this one down!

2010 Domaine de Moulines Vin de Pays de l’Hérault – (13.5%) Pitched to me as a marriage saver (my wife loves CA cab, me not so much) this one starts with green apple on the nose and a zesty, mineral driven palate framed with lemon rind acidity. The backbone is crisp and surprisingly rich yet focused which I am always happy to find in a Chard. That said my wife not so much. So while we both found it quaffable it didn’t hit the target for either of us. At ~$12 that seems fair enough…

2009 Navarro Vineyards Grenache – (14.6%) Very nice, balanced and bursting with red (cherry) and purple (plum) fruit flavors. A little too rich for me to be in love but I sure enjoyed flirting with the “new”. That said at ~$23 I still prefer something a bit more earthy and nuanced in style.

2008 St. Supéry Vineyards Moscato – (9.6%) Had some friends bring this one over. Ripe and sweet with lush peaches. This isn’t your light and crisp Moscato. A bit too sweet for me to enjoy with anything besides desert. If you want to serve this as an aperitif I recommend doing so over chilled. That said a nice wine if served within the proper context.

How about you? Drink anything worth sharing this week?

Wines of Germany: Riesling & Co. World Tour 2012

Wines of Germany: Riesling & Co. World Tour 2012 Today I was lucky enough to attend the Riesling & Co World Tour 2012 when they made their pit stop in San Francisco. The folks at Wines of Germany always put on an excellent and enjoyable event which I look forward to year after year. And it was indeed a fun day of tastings. Rieslings across the spectrum, a handful of Sylvaner and Pinot Noir (or Spätburgunder depending on the label) and a few miscellaneous sparklers, reds and whites. So what were the standouts?

Well it is fun to catch up with favorites. First up was St. Urbans-Hof from the Mosel (where the picture at the top of this page was taken) and their lineup once again shined. The balance here was impeccable as was the ability for the wines to remain light while retaining such presence and weight. While I’ll be looking for any of these the 2011 Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Spätlese (~$22) was once again (like the ’09) bedeviling. Next up were Leitz from the Rheingau (again hard to go wrong here but the 2011 Rudesheimer Klosterlay Kabinett is hard to beat at ~$18) and Schloss Schönborn (here the 2010 Hattenheimer Pfaffenberg Kabinett, ~$18, stood out). From there it is always nice to talk with Claus Burmeister, the CEO and winemaker at Weingut Heitlinger, who is as engaging and entertaining as they come. Not to mention his 2010 Pinot Blanc was something else. I’d surely recommend it but Claus mentioned he’s in search of a new importer stateside so hopefully that happens soon…

Weingut Clemens BuschNow onto the best part; new discoveries. And boy oh boy did I find a great one today in the likes of Clemens Busch. Their lineup was thrilling from top to bottom. The 2010 Rothenpfad (~$32) was my wine of the day but I am eager to spend more time with their whole portfolio. Hat tip to my friend John Trinidad, the man behind SF Wine Blog, for making sure I didn’t miss this one. They are represented by Dee Vine Wines here in the Bay Area so fingers crossed I can score some soon. When and if I do I’ll certainly share…

And finally what would a day of German tasting be without some aged and sweet wines. My favorites here were the ’89 Spätlese from Brüder Dr. Becker which still seemed fresh, the 2006 Beerenauslese from Weingut Knebel and the 2004 Eiswein from Dr. Fischer. Guessing these are all nearly impossible to find but if you happen to stumble upon them you’ll be happy you did!

I was lucky enough to have Angela join me at this event so you can likely look forward to another perspective soon. But in the meantime what’s your favorite German wine? Leave me a note in the comments below as I’d love to hear…

5 things I’ve learned in 5 years…

Happy Birthday to me!Or another way of saying happy birthday to me. Jason’s Wine Blog turned 5 today. Started shortly after returning from Australia with a simple post it has been a roller coaster of a ride ever since. I’ve met loads of people (both online and off), made new friends and become part of a community that has helped me grow, learn and explore the world of wine. So a hearty thanks to all of you for participating and helping me along the way!

So to celebrate (like only a blogger would) I thought I would share 5 lessons I’ve learned along the way so here they go…

  1. There is a lot to learn and explore – I just recently noted on twitter that according to CellarTracker I had tried 123 varieties across 20 countries. Some friends shared their approach is much narrower (and therefore deeper) but as you likely already know I am an explorer by nature. I imagine some day in the future I might spend six weeks exploring Chinon but for now I still need to try my first Zweigelt and so many more. There’s a great, big beautiful world out there!
  2. Your palate and preferences will change – When I first started I was interesting in finding and being able to explain a single bottle of wine I enjoyed. Soon I wanted to open multiple bottles of the same varietal to explore nuances. From there it was specific winemakers or trying to understand the sense of place that makes a Sonoma Coast Pinot different from those of Russian River. This just speaks to how I like to taste changed but my palate has also evolved over time. Years ago I bought 3 cases of the 2004 Rosenblum “Heritage Clone” Petite Sirah but now I much prefer the wines of La Clarine Farm. It will be interesting to see what I enjoy 5 years from now as my palate continues to evolve…
  3. There is (much) more to wine than Trader Joe’s (or your local grocer) – Yes its convenient as we shop there, yes they are affordable, yes many are good but if you want to expand and grow your palate you need to look outside the wine aisles of Trader Joe’s. To start with find a local wine store. Go in and ask what tastings they have coming up. Ask them what their best value or favorite wine is under $10 (or the price point of your choice is). You will soon find they can turn you onto some very compelling offerings in the $8-$12 range. In the Bay Area I am lucky enough to have K&L, Arlequin and many more at my fingertips. So get out there and explore your neighborhoods!
  4. Know thy reviewers palate (and importers too) – This is perhaps my greatest lesson; if buying on points or recommendations keep a tally on what you like versus what you don’t from each source; palate matching if you will. In my early days I bought many Parker wines that were well rated and affordable that didn’t deliver for me. So when you buy a wine based on a review, my recommendation or that of the clerk in your local wine store do yourself a favor and keep score. This can apply to importers as well. Get to the know some of their portfolios (which you’ll likely explore at some of those tastings I recommended above). I know I am well aligned with Jon Bonne’s palate and therefore buy his recommendations with confidence; Parker not so much anymore. Find your match!
  5. You don’t have to compare everything – I’m analytical by nature so my instinct is to logically order things. In the case of wine, especially coupled with the fact that I’m a writer (don’t laugh please…), that means always wanting to know which is better or best. For example when enjoying my 2nd orange wine, the Pheasant’s Tears late last year my mind immediately raced to the Coenobium which knocked my socks off earlier that year. The thought? A side by side tasting to determine which was better. Some days later it occurred to me what a waste that would have been. Don’t get me wrong there are many times where comparing and contrasting is a great way to learn. But in this case it seemed wasteful to not just enjoy each for what they were free of any other considerations. Sometimes you just have to stop and enjoy what is in your glass!

So there you have five years worth of learning in a nutshell. And just for trivia sake if anyone ever ask which was the the first wine ever reviewed on Jason’s Wine Blog the answer would be the 2001 Navarro Pinot Noir Methode Alancienne.

Ode to the Rhone (Rangers)…

Rhone RangersOh how I love the Rhone. The region in France, the 22 grapes (11 red, 11 white) that are part of its heritage and the variations of these wines made around the world. Now I could go on and on about the many reasons but I would never get to my point which is that the 15th Annual Rhone Rangers Tasting here in San Francisco is just around the corner (March 24-25th, 2012 at Fort Mason) and I have a pair of tickets to giveaway.

For context more than a 100 wineries will be on hand pouring (over 500 wines) including many of my favorites So where to start? Perhaps with some of my long time favorites like Bonny Doon, Tablas Creek, Unti Vineyards and Ridge. There are also quite a few on the list I’ve recently become a fan of that I would love to explore further such as Clos Saron, Core Wines, Quady North and Zaca Mesa. And lastly of course those I’ve yet to try but heard many good things about like Alta Colina, Inspiration Vineyards and Two Shepherds.

The best part? If you find something you like you can buy it on the spot at the event. So much better than having to try (many times fruitlessly) to track it down later. But the tasting isn’t the only thing happening. There is a full schedule consisting of a winemaker’s dinner and a number of seminars including the “Come Taste the Unusual” I’d love to attend. Perhaps it’s for the best (for my wallet) that I will be out of the town that weekend.

That said hopefully you can be there. And with that now it is your turn to share. I mentioned I have a pair of tickets to give away. To make it easy let me know (here or on Facebook) what your favorite grape of the Rhone is and/or your favorite wine made from these varietals. That will get you into the drawing which I’ll do at 5pm PST on Monday March 19th. If you convince me to go out and buy a bottle based on your story I’ll even throw in a bonus entry. So there you have it. Let’s get to sharing…

For full details, more information or to buy tickets check out the following:

Well hello there 2012!

Baby StellaLooking here at the calendar I’m a little embarrassed to be telling you all Happy New Year on March 6th that said I do have some valid reasons. First off I took on some additional responsibilities at the day job, for those that didn’t know I don’t write for a living ;-), in early November and have been hard at work integrating those into my daily schedule. But perhaps more importantly we were going through the final month of our third pregnancy which ended on January 22nd when our daughter Stella joined us. And boy did I have high aspirations for what I was going to write about during my two weeks of paternity leave but as you can see that didn’t happen…

So that leaves us here. I usually begin each New Year (see here, here and here) with some thought and reflections. All in all, 2011 was certainly my least enjoyable year of the five I have been blogging. First and foremost getting my site hacked what seemed like a hundred times and continually working through that madness drained a lot of energy and enthusiasm that I would have rather focused on writing. 2005 Sandler Sonoma Coast Pinot NoirSo a sincere apology to the many commenters I left hanging! I owe you all in 2012. And as for the writing itself I wasn’t able to overcome my biggest flaw which is writing about things I deeply enjoy. Like this 2005 Sandler Pinot Noir (which I opened the night of Stella’s birth) or my visits to wineries like Domaine Spiropoulos and Gentilini. For whatever reason it paralyzes my tongue and/or fingers. I don’t think I can find the words (or sometimes I blame it on not having the time) to truly convey my appreciation of these experiences…

After I published the Top 10 list in early December I had grand visions of doing the 12 days of Christmas to help those wondering what to buy the wine geeks in their lives. Making this list is as far as I got and it included things like orange wine, Savoie, Gamay, Gruner, Riesling and Rioja. Further I want to spend more time writing about new wineries I discover, long time favorites and new regions that excite me (like Core, Unti and the wines of Mt. Etna). So here is to 2012 and making sure I write about those things. My plan is to kick start this effort with my annual A to Z list soon; fingers crossed that is…

Happy Thanksgiving!

Yesterday we celebrated my favorite holiday of the year! What I love about Thanksgiving is that you get together with your family and loved ones to share a meal (and of course some fine wine), enjoy the conversation and spend some treasured time together. Absent of the commercial aspect of the upcoming holidays it is a chance to take a step back from the everyday and be thankful for the many things we have in life. And one of those things is those of you reading here. Thanks to you readers I have a place to share my love for wine and get rewarded with your enthusiasm, your knowledge and even your wine tips. Without these reciprocate exchanges this blog would long ago have been a thing of the past. So thanks for keeping it going and from my family to yours Happy Thanksgiving! And here’s to hoping you drank well…

A bubbly start to the day...The inevitable Chardonnay course

2002 Navarro Deep End RieslingThanksgiving Turkey 2011

2004 Ridge Vineyards York Creek Zinfandel1998 Josef Friederich Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Auslese

#PinotSmackdown, Oregon & Flowers Winery

#PinotSmackdown

This past Thursday was #PinotSmackdown, an “all-day global celebration of the world’s most expressive wine grape combined with a knock-down, drag-out cage fight between YOUR FAVORITE Pinot-producing regions!”, and I’ve had Pinot on my mind as of late. The 2001 Navarro Pinot Noir Methode Alancienne was one of my first loves and I have long been a fan of this grape. Affordability has long been the biggest barrier between me and drinking more Pinot. The value hunter in me has learned you typically have to spend the majority of a $20 bill (if not more) to get a taste of the best this grape has to offer. That said when you do get a taste what treat it is!

Oregon Wine Map

I mentioned I’ve had Pinot on the mind as of late and this is directly related to the fact that I am currently vacationing with my family in Oregon, a Pinot Noir haven. Couple this with watching the #PinotSmackdown conversation stream by I began to ponder further. Navarro has long been, and is still to date, the benchmark by which all other Pinots are measured. I’ve had some great ones from Three Sticks and Alta Maria and sampled quality offerings from France, New Zealand, Chile and more. Which leads me to Oregon which I am exploring as I vacation now. Yes I’ve had some in the past but this is my first time in given it singular focus. My initial impressions is that the style better suits me than the vast majority of Pinot Noir made in California.

Pinot Shopping in Oregon

That said when a California Pinot suits my style (which seems to most often happen on the Sonoma Coast) it leaves me swooning and wishing for more. Nowhere has that been more evident than when I visited the wine shop yesterday and stood in the aisle perusing which bottle to try next. As mentioned I’ve been drinking local and had ever intention of doing so until I once again crossed the border but then something caught my eye on the top shelf. 2009 Flowers Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (pdf), a wine that had recently haunted me, in such a good way, as part of a recent TasteLive event. I restrained only to later that evening finding myself at the dinner table thinking about nothing but that Flowers Pinot. And this is why my #PinotSmackdown vote goes to #CA (the twitter hashtag to use when casting your vote for California). That said I’m a day late and a buck short as the voting has closed. And it appears my vote may have mattered as California came in 3rd to Oregon (New Zealand was the winner; visit Wine Tonite for full results) losing by a mere four votes. Rumors are there is a recount underway but for the time being I’ll send you back to your regularly scheduled programming… Stay tuned for more on Flowers Winery soon and in the meantime let me know what your favorite (or region for) Pinot is. Cheers all!

#Wines4JapanSF Ticket Giveaway and Specials

#Wines4JapanSF #Wines4JapanSF is right around the corner and for those that didn’t see my last post we have an exciting list of people lined up to pour. I’m quite sure there will literally be something for everyone. With all the details coming together nicely we are looking to make a final push on ticket sales and hoping to sell out the event! To that end I have 10 free tickets to give away here and another 10 “2 for 1″ special offers. So how do you get yours? Read on my friends! I’ve think I’ve made it as easy as possible…

To get your free ticket just be one of the first 10 to leave a comment letting me know which of those pouring you’ve either experienced in the past or are most looking forward to trying for the first time. For those that are interested in the 2 for the price of 1 offer head on over to ticketfly buy your ticket and email me the confirmation (jason at jasonswineblog dot com) and your bonus ticket will be awaiting you at will call when you arrive.

For those that can help spread the word I’d certainly appreciate it and hope to see you there!