3 Romanian restaurants received Awards of Excellence from the prestigious Wine Spectator magazine from the US for their impressive wine lists and I am involved with one of them. All of them listed in the print copy magazine.
If it’s MON, chances are you might receive a call and get a new invitation to attend a new session with the very special Wine Club. I used to hate MON, but recently I discovered that I started to look forward to it. A call from this club is synonymous with a successful night out.
So here we are: I got invited once again. I did not know what’s going to be served but the surprises were at least very interesting and provided enough material for constructive discussions. We met at Casa di David and I have to say food was exquisite. Matching the wines with the food was smartly picked so the overall experience was flawless.
We had a seafood assortment containing Carpaccio of Dentex, sea-bass, shrimps, octopus and tuna served with a white from Languedoc, pasta with tomatoes and basil with an Australian Shiraz and a juicy magret de canard with a perfectly roasted crunchy skin on the outside with citrus fruit and sweet sauce pairing a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
2010 Chateau Capion Le Colombier Terrasses du Larzac Languedoc
Blend of 65% Viognier and 35% Roussanne. Yellow straw color. A well developed and sweet nose, reminding more of a sweet wine, showing lavish aromas of honey and linden mixed with dried stone fruits. Full, ample and unctuous on the palate, low acidity but still gaining credits by showing richness. Medium plus finish, a bit spicy. (88/100)
The salty flavors of the sea food dish paired extremely well with the sweet aromas of this white wine.
2008 M. Chapoutier Domaine Tournon Lady’s Lane Heathcote-Victoria Shiraz Australia
Decanted and left to breath for almost 2 hours and it still did not open up completely. This is far away from the unpleasant Australian fruit bombs. Deep red color. The nose is well developed and tempered, but showing good complexity and depth. It is ripe but there is more than just fruit behind it. Full bodied, rich and powerful, well balanced, the wine remains velvety on the palate, with sweet ripe tannins that feel completely integrated and flavors of dried figs, liquorice, black pepper, blackberry and bilberry jams. The finish is long with spicy, pure blackberry essence. The wine is big but it is elegant and well contained. 14.5% (90-91/100)
It paired pretty well with the pasta dish.
2008 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Napa Valley
This one was decanted and left to breath for about 2h and a half. Opaque, deep red-purple color. This is an absolutely amazing wine. It has 15.5% alcohol, but it is perfectly balanced and you wouldn’t guess the high level.
A well developed, intense, elegant and complex nose, it has depth and it shows layers as it opens up. The aromatic profile shows sweet cassis, liquorice, smoke, leather, prunes, bilberry, cedar and sandalwood. Remarkably well structured, balanced, rich and elegant, this full bodied wine displays intense flavors complexity, which makes it rather difficult to describe, but it is the reason why it is a success. It is rich in tannin and from the first sip you can feel it is a manly wine, supple, showing distinguished flavors of prunes, blackberry, cedar and dark chocolate. The finish is long and rich. A wine that is perfectly enjoyable as it is now, but also with tremendous aging potential; it can evolve further and develop even more complexities. 15.5% (93/100)
It matched very well the duck breast’s juiciness, while the sweet sauce brought freshness to this wine.
Have I mentioned I love some MONDAY’s ?
On May 31, 2012 I attended a tasting of 6 wines from Kendall-Jackson organized by Lerida, the Romanian importer of these wines, at Hilton Hotel in Bucharest. The event was organized as a small wine fair, where people could go from one table to another and taste each individual wine, and started with a short presentation of the producer and its wines given by Mr Sergiu Nedelea.
I found out that Kendall-Jackson controls approximately 6,000 ha of vines in Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara County and is producing wines for nearly three decades. The Romanian importer offered two whites and four reds from the Vintner’s Reserve range for the tasting.
As an overall impression, these cannot be characterized as subtle wines – especially the whites that march rather heavily on toasty oak flavors, while the reds are intended for relatively short to medium term drinking. All wines are pleasantly balanced and have good, relatively low alcohol levels (13-13.8%), with minty aromas (the reds) that make them easier to drink and enjoy.
2010 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Sauvignon Blanc can benefit from a little aeration in the glass. It starts with a pronounced smoky nose initially, but, as it settles down, it gives some nice floral aromas underneath the ripe white fruit. Round and mouth-filling with a honeysuckle finish.
2010 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay is deeply gold colored and has intense aromas of toasty oak and butter, full bodied and creamy on the palate, with intense tropical flavors and a medium finish. This is a bit too oaky for me.
I also tasted:
– 2008 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Noir, highly extracted, but balanced overall;
– 2008 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Merlot that shows a good structure, probably the best of the 4 reds tasted, and feels supple on the palate;
– 2008 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Shiraz with pronounced spicy aromas, a dense and rich nose, but also showing some unusual metallic flavors (other people I discussed with sampled the same wine from a different bottle that showed a cooked character, so it seems there are some bottle variations for Shiraz). Balanced and enjoyable overall.
– 2007 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was rather closed both on the nose as on the palate, and only after a few good tens of minutes in the glass showed a more expressive, fruit driven profile.
It does seem to me that this starts to become a regular annual event. Just like about one year ago, I received an invitation to visit Recas Winery at the beginning of March. The same means of transportation: one hour by plane as they are situated 550 km NW from Bucharest, but this time the crowd invited was slightly different than in the past. If last year the guests were only people writing about wine in a professional or amateur way, this year’s group was far bigger (25 people) and far more varied. There were also journalists from financial and food publications, owners or part-owners of restaurants from Bucharest and people from marketing agencies. You could not get a more diversified group of people visiting a winery.
The purpose of our visit was to taste their new wines, with emphasize on the new Castel Huniade range. Castel Huniade replaces the old Castle Rock brand and it covers the range of 15-17 Ron wines. Just as the management mentioned, this seems to be the preferred range of wines for weddings and it is demanded by most of hotels, restaurants and other enterprises involved in the hospitality business.
Mr Philip Cox was, just like last year, our host during the visit. The visit started with a tour of the premises and detailed explanations about each step involved in the wine making process. It seems that Recas winery is among one of the few very successful producers in Romania as last year they faced more demand than their actual production for some of the wines. Their premium wines: the red Cuvee Uberland and the white Solo Quinta were real blockbusters, completely sold out way before the new vintage was even harvested. Mr Cox explained that currently they produce about 12 Millions L of wine per vintage and the aim is to increase to 18 Millions by 2015. Their exports increased significantly – 130%, last year they sold about 1 Million bottles in UK through Tesco. The exports are expected to increase from 40% of the total production to 50%. The most most notable success, that Mr Cox is very proud of, was the selection of Solo Quinta 2011 by Maze – a British Michelin star restaurant belonging to Gordon Ramsay – as one of their white house wines.
Mr Cox was very transparent about the company’s strategy and mentioned they are always looking in advance what are the global fashionable trends in wines and they try to go along those lines. This is a fairly big winery,with around 950 ha under production, and they started to extend more with acquisitions in Minis, near Arad area.
The visit was structured to start with an initial tasting of the Castel Huniade range in the morning, lunch, visit in the vineyard and then a tasting of Cocosul and Sole range, Cuvee Uberland and Solo Quinta in the afternoon. Castel Huniade range comprises of 8 wines: whites are Riesling, Feteasca Regala, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, a rose and three reds, Merlot/Feteasca Neagra, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot/Pinot Noir. Many of these wines are off-dry and semi-sweet which I find fatiguing to enjoy, but it does seem to appeal to a vast majority of consumers. If I were to point some favorites of this range I would choose the only dry of the reds: the Cabernet Sauvignon and the off-dry Feteasca Regala from the whites.
Lunch consisted of a five course menu prepared by their own chef that heads the winery’s restaurant. The dishes were matched with foreign wines, the winery having a significant portfolio of imports consisting of top International brands: MASI, Robert Mondavi, Piccini, Planeta, Louis Latour and many others.
The menu: salmon carpaccio with salad and parmigiano / grilled shrimps with green beans soup / duck breast with Gorgonzola, nuts, quince jam, rice and baby carrots / beef steak with cheese and black truffles sauce, tagliatelle and endives / dessert: pastry with apple and vanilla sauce.
The wines served during the meal were: 2010 Nederburg Chardonnay South Africa, 2007 and 2010 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc New Zeeland, 2009 Planeta Chardonnay, 2009 Cono Sur Carmenere Reserva, 2005 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and for dessert we had, just like the previous visit, a sweet 2005 Traminer produced from vines that are no longer existent.
I particularly enjoyed 2009 Planeta Chardonnay: gold yellow color, expressive nose, elegant, with plenty of flavors of butter, vanilla, yellow flowers,ripe yellow fruit, honey, unctuous on the palate, an oxidative character, rich, with a long finish (91/100).
2005 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon was a perfect choice for the truffles infused sauce served with beef. The wine has a rich nose, with plenty of aromas of truffles, meat, peppery, but also generous ripe black fruits and bell pepper like typical Cabernet Sauvignon aromas, finely grained tannins, good structure and, considering the 15% alcohol, it feels pleasantly balanced, with a medium long spicy finish. It is however the type of wine that feels too much after 1 or 2 glasses. (91/100)
2005 Traminer does not have a label. The wine was made in very limited quantity, was never released on the market and nor will it be. It is gold colored, and has very nice aromas of kerosene, smoke, apricot, lime and pear, rose petals, a vibrant acidity that balances very well the natural sweetness and an intense long, lively finish. It goes very well with the dessert. (91/100)
After such a generous lunch, a walk into the vineyards was most welcomed. We also got the chance to take some nice pictures of the area that provides the grapes for Cuvee Uberland. The soil is rich in white clay and can be easily seen in the middle of the hill next to the winery.
Back at the winery, we started the next tasting. The former Cocosul brand was also re-branded and is now called Cocosul dintre vii. We tasted a Sauvignon Blanc, a Dry Muscat and a Pinot Noir from this range. I enjoyed the Dry Muscat the most. We tasted Sole Feteasca Regala and Chardonnay 2011, Solo Quinta 2011 and Cuvee Uberland 2009 and 2011. I confess liking more the 2011 Sole Chardonnay than the 2011 Solo Quinta (which contains up to 80% Chardonnay). The Sole Chardonnay comes along as a more serious wine to me, not having the Muscat like profile of Solo Quinta.
2009 Cuvee Uberland is a lot more different than last time I tasted it from barrel more than 1 year ago. Back then, it felt really big, with a body builder like profile and very ripe fruit flavors. Now, the wine seems to have lost a lot of its over-the-top muscles and metamorphosed into a more supple wine. It is however very young, it has a wide spectrum of flavors, but I find it hard to enjoy at the moment, due to a pronounced presence of its tannins on the finish.
2011 Cuvee Uberland from barrels has all the attributes of a wine situated in full transformation. The acidity is over the board, but the layers of fruit are there, the structure is in place and it seems to have a supple, but yet full body.
Cuvee Uberland’s style varied a lot from its inception. The first vintage produced – 2006, was supple and marching on elegance rather than power. Then, 2007 was powerful more than anything else, closer to an Amarone, as they employed a similar technique of drying the grapes ( cut and left on the vines for 3-4 weeks). The next vintages are more of a balancing between the two different styles, using with the same technique of drying the grapes. Cuvee Uberland was produced in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011. The 2010 vintage did not offer the right conditions to produce grapes of the quality required to make Cuvee Uberland.
For more pictures from this visit please click here.
Taking advantage of the longer weekend, numerous members of the family came over to our house and enjoyed a lovely time. Plenty of home cooking was made with freshly caught fish, lamb to match the religious celebration and complimentary wines.
Over the weekend as you can read below, I had the chance to sample two whites from Stirbey from the newly launched 2010 harvest. Based on my assessments, I can say that the 2010 was a great vintage for their whites. The wines are characterized by a charming lively acidity, great depth given by a distinguished minerality and a lower alcohol level, making them easier to drink. I also remember a tank sample of Sauvignon Blanc Vitis Vetus, offered to me by their winemaker, Oliver Bauer, while visiting them on the 1st of May, 2011. As opposed to the Feteasca Regala Genius Loci that spends time in oak barrels, the SB Vitis Vetus sees a long time aging on its lees, but only in stainless steel tanks. The 2010 SB Vitis Vetus maintains also the mark of the vintage and breathes a strong seducing chalky minerality.
Coming back to our menu, on SAT with cold tomato gazpacho, goat cheese and pies stuffed with cow cheese and green leafed vegetables we had a Cramposie Selectionata(an indigenous local white grape variety) from Dragasani.
2010 Stirbey Cramposie Selectionata
A pale light lemon color with fizzy acidity in the glass. Fresh nose with distinguished minerality, citric notes and apricot. Lively acidity on the palate with charming minerality, lemon and grapefruit peel like flavors and a medium fresh finish. 12.5% alcohol. The wine has great freshness and minerality with welcoming low 12.5% alc making this wine a blockbuster for the hot summer. (85-86/100)
I am a big fan of the 2010 Cramposie.
For the second course: grilled turkey breast stuffed with garlic and green chilly with boiled and then roasted new potatoes we had an American Zinfandel.
2008 Dashe Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley
Dark purple-ruby red colored rim. Intense nose with plenty of raspberries, black cherry, spices – cloves and chocolate. Concentrated and fat on the palate, heady wine, showing a velvety structure with nice complexity, with great spicy red cherry flavors and a medium plus peppery finish. 14.5% alcohol. A young Zinfandel. (87/100)
On SUN with grilled fresh fish with two sauces: one made with olive oil, lemon, mint and parsley and another one made with garlic, yoghurt, dill, mint and a touch of mineral water, we had a Sauvignon Blanc also from Dragasani.
2010 Stirbey Sauvignon Blanc
Medium light yellow lemon color with fizzy like bubbles on the walls of the glass. Fresh nose with textbook Sauvignon Blanc typicality with shades of charming minerality giving a very interesting complexity. Lively acidity as well, with great minerality and citric fruit bitterness. Medium finish with great freshness in the aftertaste. 13% alcohol. (85/100)
For the second course: lamb prepared in the oven with salad, I opened a Feteasca Neagra from Recas. I received this wine exactly at the launching event that Recas organized about 1-2 years ago in order to celebrate their 2008 wines. I had this wine in my cellar ever since. As SAT we tried a 2008 Zinfandel I thought why not making a study case and open a wine from the same vintage, but from the acclaimed Romanian grape – Feteasca Neagra.
2008 Cramele Recas La Putere Feteasca Neagra
Deep dark red-purple color, very youthful. Intense nose with sweet aromas of red fruits jam, dry plums, black berry, oaky with a strong caramel with milk like flavor(probably from a higher toasted barrel). Lush sweet red and black fruit flavors, medium bodied, polished tannins and velvety mouth-feel, vanilla, with caramel and chocolate aromas in the medium aftertaste. A very aromatic, but seducing Feteasca Neagra. (86/100)
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This is the second bottle from Ridge that I taste during a short time interval. The first one I had a couple of weeks ago, Ridge Lytton Springs 2007, I really liked a lot so I was excited to try a different bottle from the same producer.
2007 Ridge Geyserville
This is a blend of 58% Zinfandel, 22% Carignane, 18% Petite Sirah and 2% Mataro(Mourvedre). The carignane and petite sirah were exceptional in the 2007 vintage therefore the final blend contains the same percentages of these grapes as the acclaimed 1991 vintage. The wine has 14.4% alc. Price $29.99
The wine has a dark red almost opaque color. The nose is very different from the bitter-sweet nose felt initially in the Lytton Springs. Geyserville is more of a fruit bomb with a sweet creamy nose with dark fruits: ripe blackberry, boysenberry, plum and spiced by cedar wood and white pepper flavors and a discreet wine lees aroma hidden in the background. In the mouth the wine is medium to medium plus body with a rich mouth feel, good acidity, pleasant fruit aromas of plum, blackberry and dark chocolate. The firm tannins give this wine a dry medium finish with a certain degree of astringency, nothing disturbing leaving a thick layer of ripe sweet blackberry on your cheeks. It has a very interesting finish as the mouth remains dry and sweet in the same time in the aftertaste. A Very good+ to Excellent wine.
As the memories of tasting these 2 wines are still fresh in my mind I can clearly say I do prefer the Lytton Springs more as it is more complex and not so much of a fruit bomb.
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The weekend offered some very good food experiences and fortunately it wasn’t a total failure in terms of wine drinking. After the two wines I opened on FRI, SAT was a chance to reunite with my family for lunch and drink some wine again. Romania still offers easy access to inexpensive organic food. Therefore SAT we had a really tasty home made meal with slowly cooked organic rooster and duck: rooster cooked for 3 h in a garlic sauce and duck cooked for 4 h with tomatoes, garlic and some other spices. The aromas were heavenly.
I picked a wine from my cellar that was a 1st time for me, both the producer as the grape variety: an American Zinfandel made by the well known Ridge. It is common for this producer to have at least one wine listed in the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines of the year. For my occasion this was a challenging choice to match duck with an American Zinfandel.
2007 Ridge Zinfandel Lytton Springs
Price: $30.99 bought by my wife during a trip to the US
The wine is actually a blend of 71% Zinfandel, 22% Petite Sirah and 7% Carignane and spent 15 months in American oak. It is the very first time I drink a Zinfandel and I was expecting a bombastic wine with the full specter of aromas of M&M’s, especially because of the high percentage of Petite Sirah. Petite Sirah is bigger and bolder in flavors than a regular Syrah grape.
The wine has an opaque purple color. The nose shows an interesting bitterness with strong flavors of creamy dark fruits, ripe dark cherries, blackberry, plum, vanilla and chalk. This is a very well balanced nose. In the mouth the wine is medium plus to full body, really smooth, round, with pleasant acidity, with dark chocolate, ripe dark cherries, plum, tea leaves, a hint of minerality, ripe blackberries and firm tannins that can be felt shortly on the back end after which the wine becomes smooth again. There is a nice balance of all its components and that firm grip of the tannins on the back end makes this wine vibrant and really juicy. The wine has a medium plus finish and a beautiful smooth bitterness with dark chocolate and coffee in the aftertaste and no sign of heat from the 14.4% alc. Excellent+ wine for me and I am sure this wine can age and evolve well. I find this wine a perfect mix between Old World and New World styles.
I was pleasantly surprised by how good this wine is and I am really looking forward to open the 2007 Ridge Geyserville that I still have in my cellar. I hope it will be tasty too.
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