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Chakana Winery & a Master Class in Terroir

27 Nov

When I was packing for my trip to Argentina, I never stopped to consider the proper clothes for hopping into a pit dug in a vineyard.  Luckily, things are generally casual there & pit hopping is a definitely a casual experience.

The view from the back porch at Cavas Wine Lodge

Last week I made a super quick trip to Mendoza Argentina to visit Chakana Winery.  Sometimes you plan these trips so that you can visit local attractions.  Sometimes they are a mini vacation with some wine tasting along the way.  This wasn’t one of those trips.  We got on a plane in Los Angeles at 3:45 PM on Wednesday, arrived in Santiago Chile at 7 AM the next day, got on a plane to Mendoza & arrived there around 10 AM. Juan Pelizzatti, owner of Chakana Winery and Ed Fields, owner of Natural Merchants Importing picked us up at the airport & we headed to the Intercontinental Hotel.  By the time I got to the hotel & gratefully took a shower, it was lunchtime a day after we left.  That gave me less than 48 hours for the visit before heading home at 7:50 Saturday morning.

We went to lunch at Cavas Wine Lodge in Luján de Cuyo.  It is a boutique hotel surrounded by their own

Lunchtime

vineyards.  They have a spa & a number of adobe style villas.  They also have an excellent restaurant that serves wine made from their vineyards.  While there, we met more of Juan’s team: winemaker Gabriel Bloise and viticulturist Facundo  Bonamaizon.  We also tried through a number of their wines while eating way more delicious food than was reasonable.

After lunch, we took some time to look at the vineyards on the property.  Most of them are planted in the pergola style (sometimes called a tendone style).

Vines trained on pergolas

This is an ancient method, used by the Romans, that is now found primarily in Argentina, Brazil, & Italy.  In this system, the vines are trained high off the ground.  These were maybe 5 feet high.  In some places this is used to plant other crops between rows.  It is also used for arid climates to preserve moisture.  That applies to Argentina for sure because the Andes create a rain shadow.  Mendoza receives less than 9 inches of rain per year & anything less than 10 is considered a desert.

After lunch we drove out to Chakana Winery.  Despite the desert climate, it was a beautiful drive.  I hadn’t realized how many gorgeous roses were planted in Argentina.  Everywhere we went over those couple of days, we saw roses.

When we reached the winery, the first thing that we saw was a pond.  The pond is the source of water for the vineyards on site at the winery.  Almost every winery has a similar pond.  They are created with snow melt from the Andes.  The water is regulated by the government.  There are valves that control the release of water into the pond & government agents have the keys to them.  One of the big challenges of starting a winery in Argentina is getting access to this water.  Dry farming is extremely difficult in the area, particularly when starting a new vineyard.  Even with the ponds, water is limited & the vines receive less water than in many other parts of the world. That means that site selection is extremely important.

At the winery we checked out the tanks & barrels.  They have a wide array of options.  They are always experimenting to find the best process for each grape.  Depending on the grape & the vineyard, the wines might go into stainless steel, or concrete tanks (20,000 liters/over 5,000 gallons), or a large concrete egg (which has some interesting convection properties during fermentation).

For wines that see oak at Chakana, the current choice is 100% French oak.  They are looking at buying some Hungarian oak for experimentation.  Having 100% French oak doesn’t mean that there isn’t any diversity.  They primarily use standard size Bordeaux barrels, but also have some large barrels that hold over 900 gallons.  They also use their barrels for a number of years.  The theory is that some wines work well with a strong flavor from the oak & some do better when the barrel is essentially neutral.  Then it allows the wine to breath & age slowly.  That breathing adds complexity to the wines.  It isn’t free though.  They actually top off their barrels every 10-15 days.  They lose approximately 10% of their total volume of wine on wines in oak.  There aren’t a lot of other businesses where it is a standard business practice to lose 10% of your product off the top.

We finished up the afternoon in the vineyards around the winery.  The vines there are planted north to west to give them shade in the afternoon.  The ozone layer is thin over Mendoza & they have particularly long days during their summer.  Long, cool days are good for producing phenologically ripe grapes that retain their acid.  The downside to that is that with the thin ozone layer & long days, it is possible for the grapes to get sunburn.  They are mitigating the possibility by the angle of planting & by leaving more leaf cover than you might in other growing regions.  The other thing that you notice about vineyards in the area is how many of them have netting for hail protection.  It doesn’t rain much in Argentina, but when it does, it can come in the form of severe hail storms.  This link takes you to a truly amazing hail storm from a month ago.

Wow! That’s serious hail.

This vineyard tour started our clinic on the 4 horizons of soil (topsoil, subsoil, parent material, & bedrock).  At

Sandy soil in the epit

Chakana, they dig pits in various places in each vineyard.  This allows them to see what they are actually working with in the vineyard. We visited a pit in the vineyard at the winery.  This pit showed that the soil is sandy with some clay & loam.  The wines made from these grapes tend to be lighter.  That’s great for some grapes, & not for others.  We tried a wine sample made just from grapes from the vineyard.  It was solid stuff, but seemed like it might be best in a blend with grapes from a vineyard that contributed more structure.

We also checked out their long line of compost material.  The winery switched to biodynamic farming a few years back & that compost is an important part of the process.  For those who aren’t familiar with biodynamic viticulture, here’s a super quick explanation.  Biodynamic viticulture is an organic farming concept that looks at the entire farm (& the earth) as a living, interconnected organism.  In theory, it is about 100 years old because it grew from the teachings of Rudolph Steiner in the 1920’s.  In reality, much of it is based on the concepts of farming from ancient times.  There are a number of things that have to happen based on the position of the moon & stars.  That sounds a little hippy dippy to some people, but realistically, that is the way farming was done for thousands of years.  Neolithic farmers couldn’t check the Farmer’s Almanac or use their computers to find the best time to plant or harvest.  There are a number of organic solutions produced to improve the soil of the vineyard & the health of the plants.  I don’t understand exactly why biodynamic farming works, but I have seen that it does.  I think part of it is that in biodynamic farming requires the viticulturist to pay extremely close attention to the vineyard & the soil.  The end result seems to be extremely healthy soil, which makes for high quality, healthy grapes.  It is a lot easier to make good wine when you start with good grapes. Juan says, “even if we do not understand how the relationship with the cosmos works, I think paying attention to it is a very interesting thing.”  For those that are inclined to think this is a marketing gimmick for new age wines, it is worth pointing out that Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, one of the most prestigious, most expensive wines in the world uses biodynamic production techniques.  Juan added, “In regular agriculture, the idea of having high yields & lowering the cost still makes some sense because you need to feed the world & all of those things, but in viticulture, where you want to make quality wine & rally yield is not a factor… what really people are paying the price of good wine, not for the cheap wine…then the yield is not relevant, so why would you use conventional agriculture?.”

Chakana has a real commitment to biodynamics.  In fact, they will be hosting the 7th South American Biodynamic

That’s a lot of compost

Conference later in November.  They are also certified with Fair for Life, which is a fair-trade certification. Many wineries in Argentina use child labor & they don’t, so that is part of the certification. Another part of the certification is that they must create a fund from their income that contributes to the community.  Juan said “We are trying to create an environment where labor is well paid, & somehow we contribute to the society where we are & to the local community we are in.” They are also the only non-GMO certified winery in Argentina.

After about 6 hours of sleep, we were ready for day two with the Chakana team.  Mostly ready, might be more accurate.  Nonetheless, bolstered by large quantities of terrific Argentine coffee, we set out to visit more vineyards.

We drove from the winery to Tupungato.  Tupungato has a few different meanings.  The base for it all is the Tupungato volcano.  It is one of the highest mountains in the Americas.  It is also a stratovolcano.  I had no idea what that was, so I looked it up.  It turns out that it is a volcano built up from successive eruptions over the ages.  They tend to be extremely steep.  They are the most common kind & my quick google search was happy to tell me that famous stratovolcanos include Krakatoa, Vesuvius, & Mount St. Helena.  It looks fairly safe though unless you have to climb it.  Tupungato is also the name of a town of about 30,000 people around 40 miles from Mendoza.  Finally, it is the name of a wine region.  It is the northernmost sub region of the Uco Valley of Mendoza.  It is marked by volcanic rocks, basalt, granite, & calcium carbonate.  The average vineyard in Tupungato is at 4,200 feet (1300 meters) above sea level.   The sunlight exposure is more intense then at lower elevation, but because of that elevation, you get a big diurnal shift (difference between day & night temperature).  There are also cool breezes from the Andes.  Putting those elements together is a prescription for quality wine with grapes that hang for a long time, slowly building sugar without losing acid.

When we got to their Tupungato vineyard (Gualtallary sub appellation), Tupungato Winelands, we learned the

Stony Vineyard

somewhat odd story of its creation.  The area was designed to be a resort/second home destination.  A real estate development company bought the land & sectioned it off.  They have built polo fields, a golf course, & a hotel with a spa.  The idea was for people to build a second home on a plot there & then have a vineyard on their property.  They could then have the grapes made into the wine.  It is an appealing thought to have your hacienda looking out at the Andes over your vineyard while sipping wine from that vineyard.  So far, not that many people seemed to have agreed with me though.  As it is, these developers seem to have stumbled onto one of the best vineyard sites in the area.  Juan explained to us that he paid real estate prices for his 8 hectares of vineyard property.  That’s about 3 times the going rate for traditional vineyard land.  I think he may have gotten a bargain though.  It is a fantastic rocky area.  There really isn’t much soil to speak of.  It is mostly rock, ranging from small stones, to huge boulders that must have made it miserable to plant.

Vineyard pit in Gualtallary

We immediately went to one of their pits.  That’s when I had to hop in to see just how big some of these rocks were & to see the roots weaving down among the rocks.  The vineyard is filled with basalt, granite, & calcium carbonate.  When you turn over a rock, you see the calcium carbonate on the bottom.  Micro-organisms (microbes) pull the calcium carbonate from the basalt.

This appears to be virgin soil. As far as anyone knows, nothing was ever cultivated here previously.  After looking around at the rocks piled everywhere in the vineyard & right below the surface, I can see why it wouldn’t be anyone first choice to grow crops.  The fact that it is virgin, rocky, deprived soil, makes it a great place for them to plant own rooted vines.  Most vines planted today are grafted.  The roots are from American vines (vitis labrusca, vitis riparia, etc.), while the part that produces grapes is from vitis vinifera (with common names like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.).  This is because of a tiny louse commonly called the Phylloxera aphid.  It eats grape vine roots & kills the European varieties.  The American roots evolved with it, so they are resistant.  Since the bugs aren’t in this particular area, it is possible to plant vines that are ungrafted.  It is a bit of a risk, but some believe that you get better, healthier grapes that way.

After looking at vines & climbing in the pit, we headed over to the hotel/spa for some lunch.  It is named the Auberge du Vin.  It is part of the Starwood Preferred Guests program, so if you have extra Marriott points to burn, check it out.  We ate at their restaurant, which was Epic.  I mean it is named Epic.  The food itself is actually extremely good, if not epic.  After eating way too much food & trying some terrible Argentine beer (Cerveza Quilmes seems to be the Argentine equivalent of Miller lite), we were sufficiently fortified to visit another section of the same vineyard.

This section included some of the original area & an area that they are planning to plant.  In the unplanted area it is easier to see the structure of the land.  Once upon a time, there was a river flowing through the area.  The river is long gone, but you can see its path on the surface.  Gabriel & Facundo showed us that the real difference is actually below the surface.  We looked at two different pits.  They were dug on opposite sides of the old river bed.

On one side of the long-gone river, there was a relatively thick layer of topsoil.  The water seems to have pushed the sand & clay up onto the bank.  There were still plenty of big rocks, but it looked a little more like something you might actually use for farming.  On the other side, there was virtually no topsoil.  The ground seemed to be not much more than big rock piled on bigger rock, piled on boulder.  There was much more basalt, & much more calcium carbonate.

We opened 2 bottles of wine.  One was from one side of the river bed & one from the other.  The old river bed wasn’t more than a few feet wide, but there were miles between the two wines.  The wine from the side with sand & fewer rocks was a good Malbec.  It had most of what you want in an Argentine Malbec.  The wine from the stony side was a revelation.  It was a massive wine with plenty of spice, layers of blackberry & plum & that almost indescribable taste that we call minerality.  They were both good wines, but one was a world class wine.

To keep those grapes separate requires a lot of work.  The grapes from the sandier side are ready to be picked earlier than the grapes from the rockier side.  Facundo & Gabriel go through each row of vines & mark the spot for the pickers to stop on their first pass through the vineyards. They have to watch to make certain that no one picks grapes from the wrong vine, because even though it might be right next to one that they are supposed to pick, that vine won’t be ready for a week (or more).  It is a difficult job, but it means that each grape is picked at the correct time to make the best wine.  We discussed their plans for additional planting.  This time, they will have breaks at what was the river bank & the rows will follow the river rather than trying to have a clean alignment.  That will mean more work for them in the vineyard in many ways, but it will make picking easier & will ensure the best quality fruit.

We visited one more vineyard site.  There they were experimenting with closer planting of the vines to stress them a bit because the soil was perhaps a little too fertile.  We also checked out their piles of wood.  The piles are set up along rows, ready to be lit if there is a risk of frost.  Frost is the other big issue for Argentinian grape growing.

After all of that wine & viticulture it was time to head back to the winery to crack a beer & have an asado.  It was about a 40-minute trip. We stopped along the way at a little shop to pick up meat for the asado.  Gabriel explained that the butcher there got meat fresh daily & did his own work.  It was slow when we got there, but a line quickly formed while we waited for the butcher to be available.  Gabriel appeared to buy at least one of everything. We passed many other vineyards, lots of barren land, beautiful roses, & a large pen full of llamas.  Once we got to the winery, Gabriel passed out some of the beer that he & his wife make.  These beers are about to enter commercial

Lunatica Blond Ale

distribution in Argentina.  If you see a wine labeled Lunatica, you are in for a treat.  The guys at AmBev should just go ahead & buy Gabriel & his wife out now because their beer is so much better than something like Quilmes that I can’t see how anyone could drink Lunatica & go back to the other stuff.

Starting the asado

While we drank beer & ate cheese & prosciutto, Gabriel & Dario, the operations manager set up for the asado.  An asado is an Argentinian barbecue & it is the epitome of low & slow grilling.  There are professional looking setups, but this was a low-tech version.  Starting at around 6PM, they got a fire going on the ground out in front of the winery.  The wood was a mixture of wood from a tree & vine cutting from that year’s trimming.

Dusk at Chakana

Once the fire was roaring, which is pretty quick when you have grape vines, Gabriel had a big grill surface that he stood up against the flames to clean.  Then he set up bricks at 4 corners & set the grill on top of that.  Once the fire died down to embers, he slowly took coals from the fire & placed them under & around the grill.  He used a device that looked a little like an 8 iron to scoop up individual coals & place them.  Once that was just right, he started adding meat.

The grill is full!

The idea is to add the meat in stages until everything is on the grill.  Then everything slowly cooks & is ready in a sequence.  He didn’t pull the first item (chorizo sausage) off the grill until around 9 PM.  During those 3 hours we talked, snacked, & watched the sun set behind the Andes.  It was still somewhat light once the sun went behind the mountains & you could really see the snow on the peaks.  During the day, it was really too bright to see.  As it got dark, the only lights besides the winery were from the fire & from fireflies.  I love fireflies.  We used to watch, them or chase them & catch them all of the time in the summer when I was a kid, but I never see them anymore.  Juan told me that before they went organic in the vineyard, they didn’t have fireflies, but now they do.  There is probably a lesson in there somewhere.

The first meat comes off the grill 3 hours into the process

Finally, we sat down to eat & have some wine.  Dario or Gabriel would go outside & bring in one piece of meat, slice it, & then pass it around while the rest of the meat stayed outside.  It is amazing that nothing got over done.  Each piece seemed to come in at the perfect point.  It seems like there is a real art to the asado & Gabriel has mastered it.

Speaking of Gabriel mastering a difficult art, we got down to some serious wine tasting.  We were tasting through the Inkarri line of wines.  We had tasted them earlier, but tasting them with dinner is always best.  Inkarri is the newest line of wines from Chakana.  This first shipment was on the water when we tried them & they just hit the warehouse this week.  The name comes from the Argentinian myth of Inkarri.  According to legend, when the Spanish conquistadores executed the last ruler of the Incas, he said that he would return one day to avenge his death & reclaim his land.  The Spanish supposedly buried him in pieces around Argentina.  The legend is that he will grow larger & grow together until he can return, take back his kingdom, & restore harmony in the land.  The idea behind the wine name is that at Chakana, they are trying to reclaim the land from chemical, industrialized, wine production.  The symbol for Inkarri is an Inca symbol of the 4 dimensions of the world coexisting. Viticulture for the future is the tag on their wine boxes.

I have tasting notes for the wine below.  One thing that was particularly interesting was blending components of the wines.  As I mentioned earlier, they keep the grapes from the different vineyards, & sometimes even rows, separate.  We had bottles of wine from some of these different sites.

I tried a sample of 2017 Malbec from the Paraje Altamira vineyard.  The wine is very much still a work in progress, but here’s what I noticed: It had a big mouthfeel, with dark plum & red plum, blackberry, & other black fruits.  This was a good, full bodied wine, but I felt like it was missing something.  I feel like it was a bit of a donut with big fruit at the beginning & the end, but somewhat lacking in the middle.

I then tried a sample of the 2017 Malbec from the ​Gualtallary region (the stony Tupungato Winelands vineyard).  This wine had massive mineral notes on the nose.  It had meaty notes, an almost chunky texture, huge tannins, & plenty of spice.  It was a powerhouse wine.

I blended the two with 90% ​Gualtallary & 10% Paraje Altamira & it was amazing. It brought out an intense menthol note.  I tried a couple more blends before I decided to just drink the finished wines upon which Gabriel had already worked his blending magic.  These wines are well balanced & delicious across the board & I highly recommend them.  I’m not the only one.  They mentioned that Tim Atkins had been at the winery recently to sample the Chakana wines.  He asked about trying a couple of the Inkarri wines that weren’t quite finished.  Despite the wine not being ready for release at that time, he tried the red blend of Tannat, Cabernet Franc, & Petit Verdot & gave it 92 points.  The Chardonnay received 93 points.

We finished the meal by trying their Chakana Straw Wine 2013.  That was a late harvest viognier where the grapes were dried before vinification.  It is a delicious sweet wine.  It has the high acid to balance the sweetness.  It seems full of honey, floral notes, lemon zest, & nuts.  It was a tremendous way to finish a meal.

By this time, it was midnight.  It was time to call it a day.  Juan took us back to the hotel.  We got back at 1 AM.  That gave me almost 3 ½ hours to sleep before heading to the airport for an early flight to Lima Peru & then another to Los Angeles.  It was both a short & a long trip.  I would love to go back some time with a little more time to spare.  Next time I might wear work boots instead of wingtips.

Tasting notes

Chakana sparkling wine (50/50 blend of Chardonnay & Pinot Noir)

This is made using the tank method.  It is a pale wine with crisp peach, melon, & fig notes & some golden apple notes.  I think it is an interesting wine that expresses some different aspects of the grapes than I might have expected.

Chakana Sparkling rose’ (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & a touch of Malbec for color)

This is a mineral focused sparkling rose’.  It also shows melon, which is somewhat unusual for a rose’ & some classic strawberry.  The strawberry lingers on the long finish along with the high acid.  Some of the mineral notes linger as well on this complex sparkler.

Inkarri White Blend 2016 (60 % Sauvignon Blanc, 20 % Chardonnay, 20 % Viognier)

60% of the wine is aged in 225L French oak barrels for a minimum of 8 months. 40% of the wine is aged in concrete vats without epoxy sealing. The alcohol is 13.5%.  Acidity is 4.86g/l. Residual sugar is 3.75g/l.

This is a solid white blend.  It has notes both on the palate & in the mouth of nut, toffee, lemon zest, pineapple, honeysuckle, & apricot.  It has a medium body & a medium finish.  It would be nice paired with seafood, pork, or slightly spicy Asian food.

Chakana Torrontes 2017

14.5% alcohol.

This is an aromatic wine with intense floral, peach, & melon aromas.  It is a clean, simple, intense wine.  It has pure melon & peach.  The high alcohol doesn’t show in an aggressive manner.

Chakana Chardonnay 2016

13.5% alcohol.  This wine shows honey, pear, & green apple on the nose.  On the palate, I tasted cream, baked golden apple, ripe pear, peach, & honey along with some nice baking spice.  This is an easy wine to pair with food.  It has enough acid to stand up to food with a creamy texture.  This is a very good white wine for many occasions.

Inkarri Chardonnay 2016

12.5% alcohol.

This is a tasty chardonnay.  It has sweet spice, with some nice golden apple notes.  It has a creaminess, but it isn’t over the top.  This is an easy drinker, but it has enough acid to pair well with food.

Chakana Rose’ 2016

95% Malbec & 5% Syrah blend.  13% alcohol.

This is a simple, but enjoyable rose’.  There isn’t a lot more than strawberries & cream going on her, but that is pretty nice on a hot day.

Inkarri Bonarda 2016 (for California wine drinkers, I should mention that this is the same grape as Charbono)

13.5% alcohol. Residual Sugar 2.30 g/l · Acidity: 5.79 g/l. 40% of the wine is aged in 225L French oak barrels for a min. of 8 months.

The nose shows earth, black cherry, plum, & baking spice.  It has sweet tannins, baking spice that blends well with the fruit, sweet spice, red cherry, black cherry, & plum on the palate.  While this is a single varietal wine, I think it would appeal to fans of reds blends.

Inkarri Syrah

60% of the wine is aged in 225L French oak barrels for a min. of 8 months, 40% of the wine is aged in concrete vats without epoxy sealing.  Alcohol 14 %. Residual sugar 3.75 g/l · Acidity: 4.86 g/l

On the nose, this shows plenty of spice, both pungent & sweet.  It also shows tobacco, blackberry, black fruit, lavender, plum, & black cherry.  On the palate the flavors on the nose come through along with some added leather & pepper notes.  This is a fairly complex wine with medium plus acid & a long lingering finish.  This is a great food wine.  It really opened up after a few minutes in the glass.  It might not hurt to decant this wine if you have time.

Inkarri Malbec 2016

20-30% of the wine is aged in 225L French oak barrels for a minimum of 8 months, 70% of the wine is aged in concrete vats without epoxy sealing. Alcohol 13 % Residual Sugar 1.87 g/l · Acidity: 5.10 g/l

This is a fresh & fruity approach to Malbec.  It is more about the blackberry, red cherry, & blueberry fruit & sweet spice, but it has complexity, with hints of leather & tobacco towards the back.  There are hints of soil.  The tannins are integrated & sweet.  This wine has a lot going on, but it doesn’t make you think about it.  This is an easy drinking wine.

Inkarri Cabernet Franc 2016

100% of the wine is aged in 225L French Oak new and used barrels for 12 months. Alcohol 13% . Residual sugar 2.23 g/l · Acidity: 5.46 g/l.

This wine has a pronounced nose, with toasted nut, coffee, herbs, & forest floor notes.  The rich coffee & dark roasted green herbal notes on the nose are rewarded with rich, dark fruit, dark herbs, coffee, & a certain meatiness on the palate.  The tannins are high, but well integrated.  The finish, with coffee & black fruit rolled in herbs.  Some blueberry appears towards the finish.  This is a very tasty wine.

Inkarri Winemaker’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

100% of the wine is aged in mostly new French oak for 12 months. Alcohol is 13.5%, Residual sugar 1.93g/l, Acidity 5.46 g/l.

This is clearly Argentinian Cabernet Sauvignon.  If you are expecting Napa, you may be disappointed, but if you approach it on its own terms, it is an elegant wine.  The nose has floral, herbal notes before you get to the fruit (blackberry & plum).  There is also a beautiful mineral note to the nose.  On the palate you get more of the herbal notes & some nice spice to go with the blackberry & plum.  The oak shows as nut & coffee, but it doesn’t overpower the more delicate flavors of the wine.

Inkarri Winemaker’s Reserve Malbec 2016

60% of the wine is aged in 50hl French oak barrels for 12 months, 40% of the wine is aged in concrete vats without epoxy sealing.  Alcohol 14 %. Residual sugar 1.67 g/l · Acidity: 5.4 g/l.

The wine has a pronounced aroma, with meaty, leathery notes combined with blueberry, black cherry, & coffee.  The tannins on this wine are high & may need a couple of years to settle down.  The medium plus acid & big fruit balance it out nicely though.  The fruit has clean notes, but also has a roasted note, perhaps like ripe fruit in coffee.  There are leathery, meaty notes as well.  This is a well-designed wine that is nice on its own, but could really use some grilled lamb to show its best.

Inkarri Red Blend 2016

50 % Tannat, 30 % Petit Verdot, 20 % Cabernet Franc

Aged in a 35hl (924 gallon) French oak barrels for 12 months.  Alcohol 13.5 %  Residual Sugar 2.33 g/l·  Acidity: 5.16 g/l.

This is a deep dark wine.  On the nose there is oak, black cherry, mineral notes, with earth. On top of all of that, there are beautiful floral & rose notes.  On the palate, the floral notes come across as lavender.  There is pencil lead, blackberry, forest floor, fresh fruit, including red cherry.  This is a complex wine.  It has delicate floral, lavender notes on the nose, but it isn’t a light wine.  The football analogy for this wine would be a great left tackle.  It is big & strong, but light on its feet. The wine has strong dry tannins, but they are supple & integrated.  This has a long-lasting finish with long lasting tannins.  This is an elegant, but huge wine.

Chakana Straw Wine

100% Viognier.  16.5% alcohol

That was a late harvest viognier where the grapes were dried before vinification.  It is a delicious sweet wine.  It has the high acid to balance the sweetness.  It seems full of honey, floral notes, lemon zest, & nuts.

 

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Backup quarterbacks + Time for the Texans to sign Kaepernick

7 Nov

I have always hated the saying “If you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one.”  I don’t think it was bad for the San Francisco 49’ers to have Joe Montana & Steve Young.  When Montana went down, Young stepped in & went on to a Hall of Fame career.  It was tense at times when Aaron Rodgers backed up Brett Favre & it ended poorly, but can anyone say having the two of them on the team meant that they didn’t have a good quarterback?

Having a solid backup is important.  It is rare for something to work out like Tom Brady coming off the bench when Drew Bledsoe was injured or Kurt Warner coming in for Trent Green.  You definitely need at least a Matt Cassel in 2008 level backup if you have a team that wants to compete for the Super Bowl (& that team didn’t make the playoffs).

This week we have seen two teams that didn’t have a competent replacement & one that did.  Case Keenum will probably never be an All Pro, but he is a competent quarterback.  Seeing the Vikings win this year with essentially their 3rd stringer is a testament to their team, their coaching, & their front office.  It isn’t always pretty, but Keenum is completing 63.9% of his passes & while he only has 7 touchdown passes, he only has 3 interceptions.  He’s on pace to pass for a little more than 3,000 yards.  That won’t win any personal awards, but it keeps the team in games & as good as their defense is, they will always have a chance.

On the other side of the spectrum, I watched Tom Savage & Brett Hundley play this week & they both failed to pass a basic eye test of quarterback competence.  They both took too long to get the ball out.  They both threw balls far enough out of bounds that they didn’t give their receivers a shot at catching the ball.  They both threw late & behind the receiver.  Savage is probably more disappointing because he got starter snaps during the preseason & started the first Texan game.  It truly makes me wonder what the Texans were seeing in preseason.  How could they have seen this & thought for a second that Savage was the best option.  Deshaun Watson had the team averaging over 30 points a game before he got hurt & the rest of the starting cast is basically the same.  Football is a team sport & you never want to give one player too much credit or too much blame, but it is pretty easy to see where the problem is here.  The Hundley situation is a little different.  Rogers got most of the reps & Hundley was never expected to play.  The result is the same though.  Both teams had a chance at some post season success & losing one player seems to have doomed them (obviously the Texans have lots of injuries, but they looked like a playoff team until this week).

As awful as the Colts are, they now have a solid starting quarterback with starter Andrew Luck gone for the season.  I certainly think they should have acted sooner, but after seeing Scott Tolzein in action for one game, they traded for Jacoby Brissett.  Brissett would have been better with more prep time.  He went from 3rd stringer for the New England Patriots to starter for the Colts.  He has passed the eye test.  Even though he hasn’t had the time to develop connections with his receivers, he is still playing fast & has completed 61.1% of his passes with 7 touchdowns & 4 interceptions.  He has an 85.6 passer rating & is on track to throw for 4,000 yards.  The Colts were wrong to go into the season thinking Tolzein would work, but at least they owned up to it.

The Texans haven’t.  They signed Matt McGloin & T.J. Yates to back up Savage.  Neither is particularly impressive.  Yates has a background with the Texans & his claim to fame is that he quarterbacked the team to its first ever playoff win.  The truth is that he was terrible in that game & played terrible in losing the playoff game the next week.  He has a 72.8 career passer rating & has thrown 2 more interceptions than touchdowns in his career. Matt McGloin played for coach Bill O’Brien in college, so he had familiarity.  It didn’t help.  He was cut.  Recently, when asked about Colin Kaepernick, coach O’Brian said “Colin Kaepernick is a good football player, hasn’t played in a while.”  Now they have signed Josh Johnson, who last threw a pass in an NFL game in 2011.  Johnson sports a 54.2% career completion rating, which is similar to his 57.7 passer rating.  He has thrown 5 touchdowns & 10 interceptions for his career.

I was never really a Colin Kaepernick fan.  I felt like he had regressed to a one read & then run quarterback.  He is a 59.8% career completions passer with 60% considered the minimum for a quality quarterback. With Hundley at 55.1% for his career & Savage at 55% (45.6% this year), though, 59.8% is starting to look good.  On the political front, while I agree with some of Kaepernick’s positions, I thought his protest was poorly done & I can’t respect someone who doesn’t like election results, but refuses to vote.   “I think it would be hypocritical of me to vote,” Kaepernick said. “I’d said from the beginning I was against oppression, I was against a system of oppression. I’m not going to show support for that system. And, to me, the oppressor isn’t going to allow you to vote your way out of your oppression. (CSN)” That being said, he has donated a million dollars to good causes & being a dumbass has never been an impediment to a job in the national football league.

Kaepernick is a slightly above average quarterback who can make some plays with his legs.  If he is your starter for a year, he will throw for a little more than 3,000 yards & he will get you a 7/3 touchdown to interception ratio.  His career passer rating is 88.9.  The league average is 83.2.  Despite coming close to winning a Super Bowl, you probably shouldn’t count on him as the key factor to get you to one.  He won’t hurt you though.  Right now, I think that he is better than 11 quarterbacks who are currently starting.  That sounds about right for his talent level.  He is someone who would hover between the 20th -25th best quarterback in the NFL.  That’s not great, but it beats the alternative.  It really tests my belief in the NFL as a meritocracy that no one will sign him.

I think that the best move would be for the Houston Texans to sign Kaepernick.  I know that many Texans fans hate him because of his political beliefs & would make a lot of noise about boycotting games (which are already sold out).  I’m sure someone would get on local TV burning some Texans gear.  That’s a given.  There are a lot of fans that might be conservative, but hate to see their team lose.  I think that if Kaepernick came in & played average for him, that the Texans have a solid chance to win 5 more games & possibly 6.  The offense that the Texans were running with Watson was somewhat simplified & Watson was able to use his legs when protection broke down.  That sounds like a prescription for Kaepernick to succeed.  They have won the division twice in a row at 9-7 & it could happen again.  That would mean more money for the owner & a lot more fun for the fans.  Speaking of the owner, this could be a positive move for him.  First, it would probably be a get out of jail card (so to speak) for his bad image thanks to his recent “can’t have inmates running the prison” quote.  It would also most likely shut down Kaepernick’s collusion lawsuit against the NFL.  It would be hard to prove collusion if he gets a chance to start for the Texans.  I don’t know if McNair would get anything besides a pat on the back from the other owners for ending the lawsuit, but it couldn’t hurt.

The nice thing here is that this could be a win/win for everyone.  Kaepernick would get a legitimate chance to show that he can still be an effective NFL starter.  If he wins, he can go somewhere else next year with a chance to start, or stay & make decent money as a backup & the Texans won’t have to worry about screwing up the position if Watson has trouble coming back from his second ACL tear.  On the other hand, if he plays poorly, Bob McNair & the Texans can say that they did their best to field a winning team, the collusion lawsuit goes away & takes Kaepernick with it.  Then we can all quit reading about how he deserves a chance because he will have gotten one.

I’m not advocating this because I have strong political beliefs about Kaepernick.  I don’t.  I have strong feelings about football though, & watching Savage & Hundley play this week was just miserable!

One final thought on quarterbacks & miserable football; wow the Browns suck.  Having two good quarterbacks doesn’t mean that you don’t have one.  Having three crummy quarterbacks that you regularly yank from games means that you don’t have one good one, or that your coach has no clue, or both.  At least the Packers & Texans can take consolation in knowing that they will never approach the futility of the Cleveland Factory of Sadness.

A visit to Domaine Gioulis

2 Jul

I was recently part of a group that visited Domaine Gioulis Winery & vineyards in Klimenti (or Kliméndi) Greece.

greek wine jug

Wine jug in Corinth museum. This was designed to be poured from 3 different directions for ease of service.

Here are the wine related things that I can remember of the experience.  There would be more, but there was so much wine, beer, liquor & food that some details have inevitably or fortuitously been lost.

After studying at the University of Bordeaux, agronomist and oenologist George Gioulis founded Domaine Gioulis in 1993. He was joined by his brother Konstantinos.  The vineyard he planted was one of the first to be certified organic in the country and is the only one to hold National Organic Program (NOP) certification in the U.S.  Their vineyards are some of the highest in Greece as well.

Gioulis family

The Gioulis family in Corinth

While George is still the owner, much of the day to day operation is in the capable hands of his children.  Dimitris Gioulis is the wine maker & his sister Ermioni Gioulis is the marketing manager.

The village of Klimenti is in the province of Corinth (generally known in America as the recipient of 2 fairly cranky epistles from the Apostle Paul). It is on the slopes of Mount Ziria in northern Peloponnese. The town dates to 1,400 AD. In Klimenti, winters are harsh & summers are relatively cool (generally staying below 90 F).

Because the climate is sunny with adequate, but not high rainfall, it is a good area to pursue organic practices.  The winds coming from the Mediterranean and the mountain breeze from the Ziria Mountains also help to reduce the need for chemicals to battle the various molds, mildews, and nematodes that can be the bane of a grape grower’s existence.

We visited two of the Domaine Gioulis vineyards and drove past a third that is laying fallow due to frost issues.  They have around 60 acres under vine.

The first vineyard we visited sits at close to 1,000 meters elevation (3,280 feet).  It is one of the highest, coolest vineyards in Greece.

vineyard1

Vineyard at 960 meter elevation

The vineyard is surrounded by hills and trees.  The soil is calcareous with clay and limestone.  Calcareous soils are found in some of the most famous growing regions in the world (Chablis, Champagne, Saint-Émilion).  The soils drain well and do not retain heat.  The drainage (and relatively porous soil) forces the vines to dig deep for water and establish healthy root systems.  The fact that they don’t retain heat means that the grapes ripen more slowly.  This allows them to retain acidity while hitting, or in this case just barely hitting, phenolic ripeness.  It also allows the red grapes to build solid tannins.  That’s a recipe for flavorful grapes, which leads to flavorful wines.

 

There is distinct variation of the mesoclimate in the vineyard. At one point, there is a gap in the surrounding hills & you can feel cool wind coming in from the Mediterranean.  The vines closest to this area may be harvested weeks after others in the vineyard.  There is a huge tree on a hill near the gap.  It has a beautiful view that on some days allows you to see through to the Mediterranean.  Thanks to the ample shade and the breeze, it is a perfect spot for a break or a picnic.  At this vineyard, there are some fairly steep plantings of vines.  This is a vineyard that requires a maximum amount of manual labor.  To make matters more interesting, Dimitris claims that they occasionally run across vipers in the vineyard.

The second vineyard that we visited was at around 800 meters elevation (2,624 feet).

D and E in the vineyard

Ermioni and Dimitris in the vineyard

It is still a cooler/higher altitude vineyard, but it is a bit flatter.  It is still harvested by hand as well.

The vineyards are planted with both native and international grape varietals.  Greek grapes planted include Agiorgitiko and Moschofilero. International varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, and Chardonnay.

During an amazing lunch at the winery, we tried through the wines.

lunch by the barrels

Set up for lunch by the barrels at Domaine Gioulis

The wine kept coming and the courses never seemed to stop.  Here are some of the wines we tried with a few notes.

Sofos is the brand of wine that Domaine Gioulis sells in the United States.  The name means “Wise One” in Greek.  You would be wise to check out these wines.

Sofos White Blend 2016 (50%Chardonnay/50% Moschofilero)sofos white

This is a lovely wine.  Moschofilero is a grape from the Muscat family and as with so many of those grapes, it has a beautiful perfumed, flowery smell.  It is pronounced something like Mos ko fee’ le ro. It can be tough to grow because it ripens late and doesn’t handle heat well.  That certainly isn’t a problem at their vineyard!  This wine shows the fragrant rose and perfume notes that you expect from the grape.  The Chardonnay is here probably more for weight and texture than scent, but it does contribute some citrus and melon notes.  On the palate, the wine is medium weight (unoaked), with medium plus acidity.  It is bursting with pear, apricot, white peach, and melon flavors.  There is also a hint of lemon and spice.  It has a medium plus finish.  This is a wine that is delicious on its own.  It also will pair well with seafood, chicken, pasta, and many other meals.

Domaine Gioulis Rose’ 2016 (100% Cabernet)

This is a solid Cabernet rose’.  It has red fruit and intense strawberry notes.  It has nice acidity, which makes it a good food wine.  I must admit that I didn’t take detailed notes on this wine.

Domaine Gioulis Agiorgitiko 2016 (100% Agiorgitiko)agiorgitiko

I really feel like this is a grape variety that could be a big hit in the U.S. if it weren’t such a tongue twister for most of us.  It is actually the most planted grape in Greece.  It is sensitive to fungal infections, but since the Domaine Gioulis vineyards dry quickly, this is not a real problem for them.  The wine made from this grape is sometimes referred to as the blood of Hercules because Hercules supposedly drank this wine around the time he killed the Nemean lion.   The grape is pronounced Ah yor yee’ ti ko according to http://www.allaboutgreekwine.com/varieties.htm, although my phonetic version is ah yur  E tico.  Either way, it doesn’t roll off the tongue for most people & it isn’t pronounced the way it is written.  That’s a shame, because the spicy, aromatic, fruity wine it produces is exactly the sort of thing that appeals to a broad swath of wine drinkers.

We tried some of the 2016 Agiorgitiko from a tank sample. It was fantastic! My notes say “the wine is damn near purple.”  That’s not a technical term, but it works here.  On the nose, it has floral notes of roses.  On the palate, it has nice acid, spice and spicy cherry.  The tannins are medium to medium minus. The finish is medium. We had it with goat & beef & it was great.  This may be hard to pronounce, but is almost too easy to drink.

Sofos Red Blend 2016 (50% Agiorgitiko/50% Cabernet Sauvignon)Sofos red

Cabernet Sauvignon is often added to Agiorgitiko.  The Cabernet provides acidity and power, while the Agiorgitiko provides spice and aroma. This ruby colored wine is an excellent food wine.  It has sweet spice and chocolate on the nose along with blackberry, raspberry, and a hint of tobacco.  That’s also a pretty good description of the palate.  I also noticed some plum on the palate that I didn’t notice on the nose.  The acidity is medium plus (higher than the 100% Agiorgitiko), the tannins are medium and are soft. The wine spends 6 months on oak and you definitely pick up some oak notes and structure, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with it. The finish is medium.  This is a wine that will pair well with a wide variety of foods including stews and grilled meats.

I was impressed with the winery.  Their commitment to growing native grapes, their commitment to organic growing practices, their high-quality standards, and their amazing hospitality all stood out.

I also was able to spend time talking to Dimitris and Ermioni and found them to be funny and intelligent, and thankfully, great English speakers.  Dimitris studied oenology at the University of Athens.  He has a deep knowledge of Greek history and is fiercely proud of his country.  Ermioni studied the business side of wine at the École Supérieure de Commerce in Dijon. She is finishing up her WSET Diploma, which I just finished last year, so we talked about the WSET and their way of testing and grading.

The only words I know in Greek are Ya mas, which translates to “to our health.”  That’s a common toast & an appropriate one for this winery.

I have many wonderful memories of our trip to Greece.  Listening to Sweet Child O’ Mine

by Guns N’ Roses with top of their lungs accompaniment by Melissa Dotson and Ruta Bliukyte while Dimitris drove us through the mountains was a standout.  Hanging out and drinking with three locals in Klimenti at 2 AM was pretty cool.  We wandered over & joined two men sitting outside a local store that was having the interior painted.  When they found out we were from America, they called a friend who had lived in America for a few years to come down and join us.  He was a Philadelphia Eagles fan, so we talked football.  I never expected to be in a tiny town in Greece discussing Donovan McNabb, but sometimes that’s how things go. We also visited the Acropolis, which was incredible

Temple of Athena

The Temple of Athena at the Acropolis

The Parthenon

The Parthenon

and had a tour of the museum of ancient Corinth.

Temple of Apollo in Corinth

The Temple of Apollo in Corinth

If you have an opportunity to visit Greece, I highly recommend it.  Until then, I recommend that you look for Sofos wine at your local wine shop.  If you can’t find it, check with their importer, Natural Merchants.  I’m sure that they will point you in the right direction.

Ya mas!

 

Domaine des Cèdres

27 Aug

Domaine des Cedres

The Rhône is a wine region in the Rhone Valley in Southern France.  It is divided into a northern & southern region with different rules for the two regions.  The only red grape allowed in the north is Syrah.  There are 10 different red grapes allowed in the south.

The southern Rhône has a Mediterranean climate (mild winters & hot summers).  Drought issues are bad enough in the Rhône that limited irrigation is allowed (irrigation is regulated by EU & appellation rules).  There is a large diurnal shift, so large pebbles are often grouped around the base of the vines to absorb heat during the day & then release it at night to keep the vines from getting too cool.

Cotes Du Rhônes are the most produced AOC wines in the area.  They are generally designed to be lighter weight easy drinking wines which are not intended for aging.

Cotes du Rhône Villages wines are a step up (or a ring in if you think about the appellation as a dart board).  Grenache is the primary grape & the wines are required to have at least 50% Grenache.  They can have 20% Syrah &/or Mourvèdre combined.  That leaves a maximum of 20% that can come from the other 6 grapes.  The minimum alcohol is 12%, which isn’t much of an issue given the heat & Grenache’s propensity for ripeness.  There is another Villages level that involves named villages, but that isn’t the case with Domaine de Cèdres.

Domaine des Cèdres was founded in 1906 & is owned by Dominique Pons & his wife Genevieve.  Dominique is the

Dominique and Genevieve Pons

primary winemaker.  They have 30 acres of vineyards planted on south facing slopes.  The soil is clay & limestone with the traditional Rhône stones.  They are a single vineyard producer rather than a négociant, like most Rhône producers.

The vineyards have been certified organic since 1973.  They currently farm bio-dynamically, but have not been certified. The Pons were named Pioneers of Organics in 2011.

These two wines are a nice example of the difference between Cotes Du Rhônes & Cotes du Rhône Villages.  You have the same producer & similar grapes, but very different wines.

Domaine des Cèdres Côte du Rhône 2014

60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 20% Carignan This was fermented & stored in cement & enamel tanks.

This has fresh fruit flavors, especially after sitting for a while.  It has medium plus acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, & medium flavor intensity.  On the palate it has sour cherry, cranberry, raspberry as the primary fruits.  The fruits seem slightly under ripe, not in a bad way, but very tart.  There is some black pepper & more white pepper. There is also a little bell pepper & some green herbaceous quality.  As it opens, there are some nice violet notes that are indicative of Syrah. The tannin is medium plus.  The finish is medium plus.  This is a juicy fresh red fruit wine that would be great with a burger or grilled meat.

Domaine des Cèdres Côte du Rhône Villages 2014

Older vines from higher up the slopes are picked for this wine.  The blend is Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan, but I don’t have the percentages handy.  The wine ages for a year in new oak.

This has medium plus acid, medium body, medium alcohol, medium flavor intensity, & a medium finish. The tannins are medium plus.  There is a clear blueberry note that almost seems like a northern Rhone Syrah. There is also a slight hint of bacon fat, although is fades after it has opened up. There is still some of that dry red fruit, particularly cranberry & sour cherry that the regular Cote du Rhone has. It has a meatier taste than the CDR.  This would work well with grilled or braised meat.  It would be great with grilled lamb. It even us a slight mint note that would be good with lamb.

Here are a few bullet points to remember about these wines

 

  • They are one of the earliest organic wineries in the region (certified since 1973)
  • They have used bio-dynamic practices since 2003, but are not certified
  • The wines are vegan friendly
  • They are estate wines
  • They are good picnic or grilling wines

 

Andrew Luck wasn’t ranked too low at #92 on the NFL top 100

27 Aug

There isn’t a ton of news during the off-season after free agency & the draft finish.  The NFL network has done a decent job of creating news out of nothing.  One very successful program has been their NFL Top 100 series.  Each year they manage to get 11 shows (with another 11 reaction shows & endless bits of commentary) out of a simple concept.  They poll the players & based on that poll, they show the top 100 players, 10 per episode except for the final two, where only 5 players are shown.  It is a fun program & it always gets a big reaction from players and fans about why they or their favorite player weren’t ranked or weren’t ranked high enough.

I usually just enjoy it & don’t think too much about it.  This year the indignation in the press & fan blogs for one perceived snub made me want to dive into it a bit more.

In 2015 Andrew Luck was named the 7th best player in the NFL.  In 2016, he fell all the way to number 92.

The media, sensing an opportunity for some eyeballs, went nuts.  The USA Today said “And this is exactly why NFL players do not, and should not, vote on major awards or All-pro teams.”  Chris Wesseling of Around the NFL referred to Luck’s “preposterously low ranking.” That was one of the calmer reactions.  Luck has been considered the next great NFL quarterback since the Colts seemingly tanked their entire season to draft him as the #1 pick in the 2012 draft.  It seemed crazy that he wouldn’t be highly ranked by the players despite missing most of the year with injury.

I actually think that he was lucky to make the list at all.  Part of that is based on his play in 2015 & part of it is based on how the list is compiled.  Let’s look at both aspects.

In 2015, Andrew Luck played in only 7 games.  There is a pretty good argument that he was injured & hurting during at least a few of those games, but the NFL chose not to look into the Colts potentially gaming the injury reports (can you imagine what they would have done if it had been Tom Brady?).  In those 7 games, the team won 2 & lost 5 games.

If you look at the NFL statistics page where they rate quarterbacks by 16 metrics & then rank them, you will see that Andrew Luck rated 32nd for 2015 among quarterbacks.  He managed to rank one spot higher than his backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, despite Hasselbeck having an 84 QB rating compared to Lucks 74.9.  At least 3 quarterbacks who ranked above Luck have lost their starting job this year (Brian Hoyer, Nick Foles, & Josh McCown).  There are a couple others who may not end up starting the majority of their games this year.  Hasselbeck has retired, but is worth noting that he led the Colts to 5 of their 8 wins in 2015.

In 7 games, Luck threw 12 interceptions.  At that rate, he would have thrown more than 27 interceptions in a 16 game season.  For comparisons sake, 27 interceptions are more than Tom Brady has thrown in the last 3 years combined (25).

One other statistic is worth noticing.  In the today’s NFL with the rules geared towards the passing game, starting quarterbacks are expected to complete at least 60% of their passes.  In 2015 Luck completed 55.3% of his.  That completion percentage places him #63 out of the 72 quarterbacks ranked.  That is terrible.

The other aspect of his ranking that we should look at is how the votes are tallied.  There isn’t actually a vote of the top 100 NFL players.  There is a ballot where players list their top 20 players.  Points are assigned for votes from 1-20 & the players with the top 100 point totals are chosen.  There is actually a huge difference between the two systems.  For one thing, one or two players ranking a player on their team in the top 5 can shoot them up in the polls.  For another it can leave out or lower the number for a player who isn’t a star, but is legitimately a player that everyone would agree was a top 80 player but not a top 20 player.

Looking at the Andrew Luck situation through that prism, it is kind of amazing that enough people chose him as one of the 20 best players for him to make the list.  If I were to make a list of the top 40 players in the NFL it would be hard to include him.  Off the top of my head, do you think Luck is really playing better than these guys…

Geno Atkins Jamie Collins Tyran Mathieu Ben Roethlisberger
Odell Beckham Jr. Fletcher Cox Gerald McCoy Richard Sherman
Le’Veon Bell Larry Fitzgerald LeSean McCoy Ndamukong Suh
Eric Berry A.J. Green Von Miller Earl Thomas
Tom Brady Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Joe Thomas
Drew Brees Todd Gurley Greg Olsen J.J. Watt
Antonio Brown DeAndre Hopkins Adrian Peterson Muhammed Wilkerson
Dez Bryant Julio Jones Patrick Peterson Russell Wilson
Kam Chancellor Luke Kuechly Darrelle Revis Jason Witten
Jamaal Charles Zack Martin Aaron Rodgers Marshal Yanda

That certainly isn’t a definitive list.  If I made a new one tomorrow, I’m sure I would change out 4-5 players.  The point is that Luck wasn’t better than 21 of these guys.

Every year is a new year & a new chance for players to rise above their past performance.  Every year time catches up with a great player & their level of play drops.  Next year at this time, Luck may have established himself as a top 20 player, but he hasn’t so far. Chris Wesseling & some other pundits should take a chill pill.

Wine at the Super Bowl and other thoughts on the game

28 Feb

In the lead up to Super Bowl 50 there were a number of articles about all of the great wines that you would find at Super Bowl 50 http://tinyurl.com/jququku  http://tinyurl.com/gvbk6cl .  As part of my dedication to making this the best blog that covers both wine & football.  I figured that I had better check it out.  A friend of mine who works for the NFL was able to hook me up with a ticket to the game & to the tailgate party.  He also arranged for me to ride to Santa Clara from the Hilton Union Square on the NFL friends & family bus.  Here are my random thoughts on the game & the game day experience.

Ready to start the big day, I got up at 5 AM to head to San Francisco.  I was really worried that traffic would be crazy on the Bay Bridge.  It turns out that even on Super Bowl Sunday, Sunday morning traffic is pretty light.  I was able to park at the parking garage with plenty of time to spare.

I met my friend at the Hilton Union Square just before he went to work at the game.  Then an hour or so later, his wife & her uncle & I hopped on the NFL friends & family bus to the stadium.  That is definitely the waIMG_3212y to get to the game.  It beat the heck out of driving to Santa Clara & paying $250 to park at the stadium. rings

At the stadium we milled around for a bit & looked at the stadium & the huge images of all of the Super Bowl championship rings.  Then they opened up the Tailgate party.

 

tailgateThe great wine that they were talking about was not at the NFL’s Official Tailgate party.  The tailgate was a huge event in a large building at the site that was divided into 3 rooms.  There were 50 different food sections serving mostly cold or lukewarm food.  There were also a number of bars that had beer & wine & a few that had spirits or one specific mixed drink.  There were only 2 wines available.  The first was a generic California Chardonnay.  I looked at my pictures from the event & can’t identify the label.  It was everything negative about California Chardonnay.  It had plenty of buttery diacetyl, layered with oak and tropical fruit.  I made it through about half the glass & then ditched it.  The red wine was a Freemark Abbey Super Bowl 50 red blend.  It was a decent red, but nothing special.  I noticed that it is available now for $99.  There are probably worse Super Bowl souvenirs that you could spend your money on, but I wouldn’t buy it thinking it was $100 worth of Napa juice.  I switched over to Jameson’s, which didn’t have a special Super Bowl package, but still tasted great.

sam hunt 2 sam huntThere was music in all three rooms.  In the center room for the tailgate party there was a large stage.  Two different acts played on that stage.  The stages at the end of each of the other rooms had cover bands (although at one point they had a dance group of young cheerleaders up there).  The center stage was for bigger acts.  The first person up was Sam Hunt.  For those who aren’t familiar with him, he is a country singer who played football in college.  He signed with MCA Nashville when pro-football didn’t work out for him.  Since then he has been nominated for CMA awards & Grammys, so I guess it worked out well for him.  Despite my love of country music, I’m not a fan of his work.  I did kind of like his cover of Love the Way You Lie by Rhianna & Eminem.  There wasn’t much of a crowd for his performance.  It was relatively early in the day, so that probably explained it.  The good news for fans was that you could pretty much walk up to the stage.

The second act to perform on the large stage was Seal.  Seaseall has been around quite a while & has sold over 30 million albums.  He had a larger crowd.  Part of that was because he is probably a bigger star & part of it was because the place was filling up by that point.  Seal did some covers & did some of his own songs & the reaction seemed to be pretty good.

The tailgate wrapped up about an hour before the game was set to start.  I headed off to find my seat.  That also gave me time to check out some of the things at the stadium.  They had some interactive games to play.  They also had tons of concession stands with food & souvenirs.  Since this was California, they even had vegan hot dogs.vegan dogs  The lines were long.  If you wanted something to drink though, you could just order it from your phone & have it delivered to your seat.  That was pretty cool, although $7 for a coke & $13 for a Bud Light was kind of crazy.  I passed on all of it though since I had enough at the tailgate party.

I watched the introduction of the former Super Bowl MVPs.  It was actually pretty hard to see them since I was pretty high up & they didn’t have them really in a featured location.  It was cool though.  I know that there were people who booed Tom Brady, but the section I was in had mostly Panther fans & a few Patriot fans, so we all cheered wildly for Brady.  I know that the boos were a story for a couple of days, but I think it was just some of the Broncos fans.

I was really impressed by the Broncos first drive.  Even though it ended with just a field goal, it looked like their offense was on track.  It turned out that was completely wrong.  Denver put up some of the worst numbers for an offense in Super Bowl history…especially for a winning team.first drive

The defenses for both teams were impressive, although poor quarterback play & some unimaginative play calling for the Panthers made them look even better than they actually were.

I should talk more about the game, but anyone who cares about it already knows what happened.  The Panthers had special teams issues & gave up weird fluke plays & Denver made enough out of them to win by 10.  I did have a few more thoughts on the first half.

Wow!  That punt return was weird.  I thought that Carolina might get a penalty for not allowing the returner room to make the catch.  Instead, Jordan Norwood ran the ball back 61 yards.  It looked like Carolina pulled up & didn’t go for the tackle at the point he caught it.  If they had tried, perhaps they would have gotten a penalty, but a 15 yarder would have been worth it.  Instead, it took a bit for them to really pursue.  They caught him, but it was still a record punt return.  That was the second worst example of the game of freezing in the moment instead of playing instinctively.

I was actually surprised that 61 yards was the record.  You would have thought that in 50 years someone would have taken one to the house from the end zone.

Owen Daniels had a solid game considering the quality of the quarterback play.  I always liked him with the Texans & following Gary Kubiak from job to job has turned ohalftimeut well for him.  I think that both the Texans & Ravens could have used him last year.  Instead, he gets a championship ring.

The end of the half was indicative of the way the game went in general.  The Panthers squandered multiple opportunities to put points on the board.  The Broncos made great plays on defense & special teams & put points on the board despite their pathetic offense.

Thoughts on half-time.

It was kind of funny watching the groups of women (& a few men) released to run out to be the crowd for halftime.  They did 4 groups.  Each group sprinted for their corner to get the best view.

Those of us at the stadium watched part of the half time show through a slit in the cards we held up.  I think we did an excellent job of holding up our cards.  They talked to us at every commercial break about being in our seats for the half time performance & coached us on how to hold up a card with one color on one side & another color on the other.  I guess they figured that we were really stupid or really drunk.  There was probably some truth to that for some of the crowd.

I think Coldplay really blew their opportunity.  Instead of taking the opportunity of the half time show & running with it, they turned over most of the performance to Beyonce & Bruno Mars, so they ended up as a supporting act in what should have been their big performance.  Usually after the game there are people talking about the half time performance for better or worse.  This time, people talked about Beyonce & Bruno Mars, but Coldplay vanished into the background.  They probably should have talked to Katy Perry or Prince in advance.

Second half thoughts

Ron Rivera & his coaching staff didn’t seem to make many adjustments to the offense at half time.  I was really expecting them to bring in another back to chip the pass rush & be available for screens.  At least I thought that they would stop the dive up the middle on 1st down.  I was wrong there.  A guy in the row behind me said something along the lines of “If they run into the middle for 1 yard again on first down I’m god damn leaving!”  They did & he didn’t.  I felt his pain though.

Up until Newton’s fumble in the 4th quarter, I felt like the Panthers were a play away from winning the game.  I kept expecting a broken play with Newton getting away & running for a score.  Once he fumbled, it was over.  Even the Broncos offense was going to be able to get 4 yards & make it a 2 score game with not much time left.fumble

There has been a lot said & written about whether or not Newton should have dived on the fumble.   Watching the replay, you can sort of see why he didn’t go for it.  At the time though, it really looked like he stepped back from it instead of trying to save their chance at winning.  In real time, it took so long that all of the Panthers fans were yelling at him to fall on it.  It just seemed to take forever.

I headed for the bus after that.  I have rooted against Manning for too long to watch him hoist the Lombardi trophy as if he had done much to win it.  Trent Dilfer has always been held up as the example of a quarterback who got a ring despite playing badly in the Super Bowl.  In Super Bowl XXXV, Dilfer only completed 12 of 25 for 153 yards and 1 touchdown, with no interceptions.  Manning was 14 of 23 for 141 yards, no touchdowns, 2 fumbles, & an interceptions.  He was lucky that he only threw 1 interception.

Post game

The staff was awesome throughout the event.  They were helpful in getting back to the bus.  Everyone I passed thanked me for coming to the game & wished me a good evening.  It was really impressive.

I passed the set up outside the stadium where Steve Mariucci & Kurt Warner were doing the post-game show.  I was surprised it was as far outside as it was, but I guess they had to get it up & running right away.postgame

The bus back to the hotel was great.  It saved a bunch of time & I was happy someone else was driving through the traffic.

I picked up my car from the parking garage.  Their posted sign said $28 for all day parking, but in the spirit of the Super Bowl, they charged me $45 anyway.

The drive home was easy.  I don’t think I have ever had such an easy time getting out of San Francisco.  Apparently the best time to get to the Bay Bridge is right after a Super Bowl is held in Santa Clara.  It isn’t a situation that comes up too frequently, but now I know.

There was a lot of talk before & after the game about whether race played a role in the perception of Cam Newton.  I thought his widely quoted comment “I’m an African-American quarterback that may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare me to.”  was full of crap.  Newton may have some abilities that make him different from other quarterbacks, but to pretend that people are racist because they have never seen an African-American quarterback in the Super Bowl, or haven’t seen an athletic quarterback is ludicrous.  The previous 2 Super Bowls featured Russell Wilson, who is an athletic African -American quarterback.  The first African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl was Doug Williams back in 1988.  There is plenty of racism out there.  There is no need to make it up.  In fact, if you are looking for racism, it is probably easier to find it in the post game coverage of the Broncos.  Von Miller was named the MVP, which made sense.  He was a dominant player on the field. He & Malik Jackson essentially won the game for the Broncos.  Unfortunately most of the post-game coverage  seemed to go to Peyton Manning.  I know it was mostly because he will probably retire & he is going out a winner, but in the immediate aftermath of the game, it seemed like way too much of the coverage was about the guy who did the least to help the team win. Miller got some TV appearances later & he & Jackson will both get huge paychecks, so that probably makes up for it.

Overall, I had a good time going to the Super Bowl.  It is definitely something that I wish every football fan could do at some point.

 

 

My favorite wines of 2015

28 Dec

These are my favorite wines of 2015.  I probably tasted some other wines that should have made the list, but if I didn’t write a note about it, I don’t remember it.  I did a number of handwritten notes for the Diploma class that I was taking & those generally were tossed.  I listed the wines by vintage with the non-vintage wines first.  These aren’t in order of preference.  I have prices by the wines, but of course prices vary. If I were to go through all of the wines I tasted in 2015 & taste them again, I’m sure that I would have come to different conclusions about a few.

My list this year is dominated by Bordeaux, Napa, & Champagne.  That isn’t because I prefer those regions to others.  It is a reflection of what I had the opportunity to try in 2015.  I don’t have any Burgundy on the list, although I had some very nice Burgundies this year.  I just didn’t have any that blew me away (that I managed to save tasting notes for at least).  I attended a couple of huge Bordeaux tastings & was able to pull from notes for over 200 Bordeaux wines that I tasted in 2015, so that region may be over represented.  That being said, they were great wines that couldn’t be left off the list.

There are four sweet wines on the list.  I know that some of my friends who like wine wouldn’t ever consider drinking a sweet wine.  These are all examples of why a great sweet wine can hold its own with any other wine in the world.  Anyone who opts not to try them because they don’t like sweet wines is just missing out.  I’m happy to drink their share.

With all of those disclaimers, I will say that there are some tremendous wines here.   If you have a chance, you should give them a try.

Please feel free to leave comments below & let me know what wines you liked best in 2015.

NV Extra Brut Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru Champagne Chapuy $46chapuy

This is liquid French toast.  I could add things like flavors of poached pear
& peach & spice.  I could mention the creamy nature of the wine or the nice minerality, but really liquid French toast says it all. 1,850 cases made.

NV Brut Rose’ Andre Clouet Champagne $42clouet

I tasted this on an evening when I tasted 85 Champagnes.  One of my notes for this wine is this is why so many others just got a “meh.”  This is a great rose’ Champagne, especially for the price.  It has rich red fruit, floral notes, & the classic toast brioche that you want.

 

 

1998 Chateau de Fesles Bonnezeaux  $601998 Chateau de Fesles Bonnezeaux

I drank this over the course of about 3 days.  It was just as fresh & wonderful on the third day as it was the first.  Even though it was almost 17 years old, it seemed youthful.  I probably could have left this in my wine rack for another 30 years.  There are honey, jam, & marmalade flavors. They never become cloying due to the crisp acidity.  Other intense flavors of this wine include beeswax, luscious apple & pear notes. La Revue du Vin de France has called Fesles the “Yquem of the Loire Valley.”

2000 Cuvee 2000 Henriot Champagne Cuvée des Enchanteleurs Brut $100henriot cuvee

This spends 12 years on the lees & it shows.  It has an intense nose of marmalade, orange peel, liqueur, acacia, peach, apricot, & toast, with other floral notes blending in.  The flavors follow the nose, with a nutty flavor thrown in as well.  The fruit is incredibly fresh given the age.  This tastes like a wine that could be spread on toast!  It is just an excellent creamy, rich wine.  It could pair with a wide variety of food, but I would prefer just to sip it.

 

 

2004 Brut Rose’ Dom Pérignon Champagne 60% Pinot Noir & 40% Chardonnay. $324Dom Perignon rose 2004

This had a high intensity nose with floral notes, red fruit & tart cherry.  On the palate, it had the red fruit & tart cherry, but it also showed some citrus…particularly grapefruit.  This wine has light pinot noir notes similar to a light Burgundy.  There are toast notes at the long finish.  This is just a delicious, complex wine.  It is great by itself, but would be wonderful with fish, chicken, or cheese.

2005 Clos des Goisses Champagne Philipponnat Brut $161

philponnatWhile I think this is excellent Champagne, I know that it won’t be for everyone.  It is a single vineyard wine, which is somewhat unusual in a region known for blending.  It does not go through malolactic fermentation to soften the acid, which is also not the way the majority of champagne is produced.  It s barrel fermented & then spends 9 years on the lees.  It is finished with a 4 grams per liter dosage of sugar, which is on the dry side.  It is 67% pinot noir & 33% chardonnay.  The finished product is creamy with a nice all-spice character & a lingering finish.

2009 Domaine de Baumards Clos du Papillon Savennières $36papillon

This has the minerality & smokiness that I look for in a
Savennières. I also tasted beeswax & honey, although somehow even with the honey flavor it is still dead dry.  This is a terrific food wine.  It would be easier to list the things that it wouldn’t pair with than to list all of the ones where it would.  Asian food would be a go to though.

2010 Chateau Rauzan Gassies  Bordeaux 2nd Growth Rauzan Gassies 2010(Margaux) $63

Dark ruby. There is an interesting nose to this wine.  It has dark fruit with leather & dust.  I would peg this as Bordeaux from a distance.  It has much more vibrant fruit than I expected, with blackberry & raspberry & some boysenberry.  There is some minerality, but not the leather that I expected.  It is really a delicious fruit forward wine.  This is either a great example of new wine making techniques in Bordeaux or a terrible one depending on how you feel about Parkerization.

2010 Chateau Calon Segur Saint-Estephe  $110 3rd Growth 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdotcalon segur

Deep ruby colored wine.  It has a beautiful nose, with red fruit black fruit spice & perfume.  If they can get this into cologne I would buy it.  There is a heavy toasted oak flavor that I am getting as coffee.  I’m also getting a lot of dark fruit on the palate.  The tannins & acid seem to be only medium.  This will age, but maybe not as much as some of the others from Bordeaux’s 2010 vintage.  If I had a case of this I don’t think that aging would be an issue though since I would drink it all before a year was out.  There is always a good reason to drink a wine like this, fireplace weather, nice steak, it’s Tuesday, whatever.  It has a long finish with some blueberry.

2010 Chateau Angelus St. Émilion Grand Cru $400

saint_emilion_chateau_l'angelus_2010This is almost black. It has blackberry on the nose with some liquorice.  The palate has intense anise with plum & raspberry.  It has medium plus tannin & acid.  This is a powerful wine.  It almost overpowers right now, but it is delicious & this won’t get anything but better for the next 10 years.

 

2010 E. Guigal Cote Rotie Brune et Blonde de Guigal $60Cote-Rotie
This has a garnet color.  It has a perfumed nose with blueberry, savory spices, rose, smoked meat, & acacia. There are nicely integrated, almost silky tannins.  Flavors of smoked meat with baking spices, savory spices, pepper, dark red fruit & some blueberry (almost smoked).  It’s a good quality wine that will improve with age

 

2010 Chateau Cheval Blanc St. Émilion Grand Cru $1,500
cheval blanc 2010a52% Cabernet Franc 48% Merlot.

This smells like St. Émilion. I get dust & cherry & raspberry.  On the palate I get darker raspberry medium acid & tannins.  It is a juicy & delicious wine.  I really don’t see how someone who doesn’t like merlot wouldn’t like this!  Rib roast would be great with this, but you can’t really go wrong.  It is hard to justify the price of this wine & I can’t see myself buying a bottle anytime soon, but it is an excellent wine.

2010 Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes Premier Cru Superieur 2010 $650yquem

This is cold liquid honey, only better. The acid is great, so the sugar isn’t cloying.  There is some lemon & citrus, peach, white flowers and lanolin, but the honey is overpowering in a good way.  This is a short review, but there isn’t much to add.  This isn’t just one of the great sweet wines of the world; it is one of the great wines of the world period.

climens2010 Chateau Climens 2010 Barsac Premiere Cru $125

Wow!  If you like Yquem, you should try this.  It isn’t as smooth, but it is honeyed & interesting & hundreds of dollars cheaper.  It tastes of honeyed, lanolin.  There are also tropical fruit notes including mango & pineapple.  I also noticed some apricot & vanilla.  It has really high acid. This is very nice.

 

2012 Spreitzer Rosengarten Grosses Gewachs VDP Riesling Trocken  Rheingau 13% $37.99

This medium gold wine has thick clear legs, which in this case are indicative of the sugar content.  The nose has a pronounced intensity with baked fruit flavors, peach, nectarine, apricot, nuttiness, & caramel. There is a botrytis note here as well. This wine is still developing. On the palate, the wine is sweet with medium plus acid which keeps the sweetness from being cloying.  The palate has a long finish that reveals that it is Riesling rather than Sauternes. There are mineral notes on the palate.  There is almost a mushroom taste, which indicates botrytis.  The big botrytis marker of orange marmalade is there as well.  This is an outstanding wine that can be drunk now, but should age well for years.

black bottleThe Black Bottle Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 $1,000

I know this wine is stupidly expensive, but every time I try it I really like it.  It has beautiful blackberry, raspberry, plum, chocolate & mint. There are nice medium plus tannins that have a green tea quality.  It has a long finish.  It is 15.2% alcohol, but I wouldn’t have guessed it was that high. This is an odd wine to review because I have tried two different vintages & really liked both of them.  At the same time, I think it is more expensive than Napa Cabernet should really be at this point.  I believe that it sells out each year though, so I guess it is worth it. Either way, it is a delicious wine.

2013 Antonutti Poppone (Not available yet in the U.S. about $20)poppone

Merlot & Pignola grapes are dried like an Amarone.  After fermentation, it goes into barrel for 12 months.  It tastes like roasted raspberry chipotle.  There is also some tart cherry.  This is a ridiculously interesting wine.  I want to drink a bottle of it while I’m grilling & then have it with grilled meat.

2013 Hofgut Falkenstein Riesling Sekt. Brut 11.5% Germany sektSaar BA $26.99

60-80 year old vines all grown on slate
This is a lemon green sparkling wine with persistent small bubbles. The nose shows  petrol, citrus, lemon, honey, honeysuckle, mineral, slate, & lime. It is dry, with high acid, medium alcohol, & medium  plus intensity.  I tasted citrus including lemon& tart & sour lime.  There was also white flower, honeysuckle, & honey.  This is a very good quality sparkling wine.  The intensity of complex flavors is enhanced by the high acid. This would be great with seafood. It is a mouthwatering wine. Drink now or over  3-5 years This might be cheating a bit since I don’t know that it is as good as the other wines on the list.  On the other hand, if you compare its price to some of the others on the list, it is just amazing quality for the price.

2014 Azienda Agricole Franco Roero Chardonnay  (No price here because it isn’t available yet in the United States)Franco roero chardonnay

This surprised me.  It is in a Bordeaux bottle & I expected something light.  Instead this is a heavy, textured Chardonnay with lots of toasted nuts. There is no oak so I have no idea how they do this. Citrus with lemon peel is a major component.  This is the best non burgundy Chardonnay I have had in some time.

tullio2014 Ca’ Tullio Traminer  Not available in the U.S. About $10 Euro

This is a dead dry Gewürztraminer.  It has lots of floral notes & fresh fruit on the nose that make you think that it is going to be sweet, but it finishes dry. It has floral flavors with plenty of lychees. This is really a fantastic wine for the price.  I will lay in a supply when this becomes available in the U.S.