Georgian Wine Tasting and Seminar: 2018 NYC

What does the image of Georgia conjure up in the American psyche? Other than peaches… wait, wrong Georgia… Perhaps mountains? I know my students may think of Medea, the strong, stubborn, lovesick princess of Colchis, daughter of the haughty Aeetes. Aeetes did have an eternal set of springs at his palace that poured forth honey, milk and wine… Thus, there is at least that connection (though Georgian wine history goes much further). I, on the other hand, along with everyone who grew up in the Soviet Union always think of…Pushkin (Pushkin is always the answer - no matter the question.) 

“На холмах Грузии лежит ночная мгла, / Шумит Арагва предо мною. / Мне грустно и легко; печаль моя светла; / Печаль моя полна тобою…” (The hills of Georgia, covered by the Night, / The mighty Aragva roaring below / My mind is both gloomy and light / My heartache is full of You…) 

I visited Georgia as a child, and I distinctly remember the impression it made: fresh, bright and vibrant. Yes, perhaps to an outsider, the Soviet period Georgia would not have made that impression, but for an urban child from a dull industrial city, this was a different world. Fresh lamb, fresh water, bright voices, fresh - and full of life - faces! And that water, flowing out of seeming every rock, sweet, mineral-laden and, surely, the cure for every disease. But wine? I was only eight… 

Georgian wine was THE wine of the Soviet world. Sure - there were some imports from Hungary and Bulgaria, and a few weak wines from Moldova, but Georgia made the wine everyone wanted and no celebratory occasion was complete without. When my family immigrated to the United States in the 90’s, Georgian wine was another link to the “old country”, a nostalgic pleasure. But the immigrant community drank (and drinks) wine that reminded them of the Soviet period, often sweet, overripe and medicinal - hardly a wine geek dream. They lacked…everything. But the culture of wine-making was not gone. With the passing of the Soviet period, the fledgling artisanal industry is on the rise in Georgia, a renewal that looks both to the past and toward the future. That is why I was excited to attend today’s tasting - to taste both the past and the future. 


And to learn, because speaking Russian does not make one an immediate expert on all things within the Soviet sphere. And surely - not the ancient tradition of Qvevri. Luckily I was able to get a seat for the seminar on these earthenware vessels and the traditions of Georgian wine-making, lead by Lisa Granik, MW. The complexity and the sheer level of intricacy was shocking. In my naivete, I never imagined how many choices and possibilities these vessels allowed. Starting from the clay itself and the firing method, to the cooling constructs and the soil the vessel is to be buried in. The qvevri themselves require amazing attention - the giant vessels require six days in a kiln, where they must be heated to over 1000°. And then, the process begins: what size does the winemaker choose? what lining (wax on the inside or perhaps a cement outside?) Stems or no stems, or some stems? And after six months - the wines are transferred to another vessel and the maturation process begins. Ms. Granik laid out the advantages and disadvantages of these and gave us a peek at the choices facing the modern winemaker. And then came the wines - bursting with personality and brightness.

Lisa Granik, MW

Bagrationi 1882 Classic Brut and  Rosé Brut: The Classic showed apple cider, green apple and peach on the nose, with some sweetness in the mid as well as a bright note of candied ginger. The Rosé was more floral, with strawberry and citrus dominating. 

Chateau Mukhrani Rkatsiteli and Saperavi: Bright, mineral and chalk Rkatsiteli, showing light herb over citrus in the middle. Refreshing wine. The Saperavi with more in the Bordeaux style, with oak adding a plush background to the mineral notes and the bright black fruit.

Vaziani Tsinandali and Mukuzani: Both wines showed a bright acidity, with the Tsinandali leaning toward citrus and candied grapefruit and the Mukuzani toward sweet herb, red fruit and mineral notes. 

Qvevruli Tetri really impressed me with its combination of modern and traditional approaches. Made in qvevri from a combination of three grapes, Kisi, Mtsvane and Rkatsiteli (thus the name), but aged in oak. Rich citrus notes combine with tannic, herbal and tangy citrus notes in the middle and back. Quite intriguing already. 

Marani Satrapezo Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane: I enjoyed both of these, with the Rkatsiteli showing more ripe citrus notes and the Mtsvane as a lighter and brighter sibling. Both wines combine the textural uniqueness of the qvevri method with the polish of the oak aging. Hard to choose one, but if I had to, the Mtsvane, with it bright citrus, won me over.

Marani Kvareli 2009:  This was one of my favorite wines from the tasting, showing a hint of age which added to the complexity of the wine. Ripe black and red fruit, warm spices over a berry middle, leaning toward blackberry, hint of tobacco leaf. Long ripe finish with great structure and a pleasant tannic grip. This really screams for a grilled lamb.  QPR alert as well.

Do-Re-Mi Kakhiri Mtsvane: Tannic, bright, intense orange from the skin contact, ripe citrus dominating. Intriguing! 

Kakhuri Gvinis Marani  Rkatsiteli (Qvevri): Orange color, ripe floral nose, tannic and bring in the middle with citrus and mineral dominating. Chalky, stony and bright - excellent wine begging for a summer dinner with a grilled fish or poultry on the menu. 

Artevani Saperavi 2015: With only 12471 bottles made - this was my favorite wine of the tasting. In fact - if this was the only wine i had today - it would have been worthwhile. Rich black fruit on the nose, changing by the minute, showing more spice one moment and more red the next. middle is ripe, plush and comfortable, like an old library armchair: grab a glass, sit down and… stay. While this wine would clearly benefit from some aging, it showed a finesse and concentration that was hard to match. The sweet fruit were backed by both structure and acidity, keeping the wine fresh and me reaching for another glass. 

Konstantin Khizder of Interbalt Products

Orgo Mtsvane Blanc de Blanc 2015: The surprises continued. Apple, bright citrus, hind of bread, bright mineral and apple in the mid, tart and fresh finish. A great sparkling wine!

Baia’s Wine Tsolikouri Qvevri 2016: Wow. This was my second favorite wine of the day. Intense red berry on the nose, high acid wine with citrus and green herbs, bright and stony, the wine dances on the palate, never stopping, always showing another facet. Fascinating wine from a young winemaker with a bright future.  

Naotari Saperavi 2015: Very light for a big wine, red fruit leaning toward cranberry, bright middle with minerality coming to the fore. refreshing and delicious.

Lukasi Saperavi: The other side of the grape, richer, darker black and red fruit, plusher and more serious. And yet, the wine remains fresh, with a long tart finish. 

I want to thank JoLynn Howe of Silver Lining for the invitation and the event - it was quite an eyeopening experience. I must say, I came away with a deeper appreciation for the region and its artisans, and, thanks to Lisa Granik’s seminar, a better understanding of the fascinating tradition of the Qvevri. The future of Georgian wine is clearly bright - but why wait? The present is already delicious!

20 Year Retrospective: 1998 Barolo and Barbaresco

What an absolute blast ! To be invited by a good friend (thanks Eric!) to join this amazing group of aficionados, to meet with Ian D’Agata, to taste mature(ish?) Barolo with excellent food (and service - Ai Fiori did a marvelous job)…what a day! Below are some notes from the night as well as photos. Overall - I saw a vintage that is mainly ready to drink (with a few exceptions) but is in early maturity - with all the beauty of ripe fruit still dominating the scene, and the tannic structure quite present - though no longer obscuring the enjoyment of the wine.

We began with the 2010 Larmandier-Bernier Champagne Grand Cru Les Chemins d’Avize (93 Points): stunning purity, bright citrus, lots of depth in mid, mineral and stone, long, mid is lemon curd …loved it - but as it was a “starter” to a giant tasting - I could only wish I had given it more time. Excellent

1998 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili (95 Points): stunner. one of the best 3 in an impressive lineup of 1998 Piedmontese tasting. Floral, Red roses and violets, plush cherry fruit in the mid, serious, with great tannic structure, red fruited, bright and yet quite rich as well, long cherry and spice finish. hints of earth already but that will likely come with more age. elegance and power…what else does one want?

1998 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Rabajà (93 Points): turns out - this is the first Giacosa i have ever had - “way back” in 2006 (to be fair - I only got into wine in 2003 or so…) and i loved it then. BUT it was also not going up against a lineup like the one tonight…It showed darker cherry tones than the Asili, with more plush fruit in the mid, hint softer, riper. There is some tar and earth under the ripe black cherry as well, and the structure to support it. I think it would have done well in any other flight today - but the Barbaresco flight was too strong.

1998 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano (95 Points): This was one of 2-3 wines tonight that i would qualify as “not ready”. Unlike the Asili , for example, that will surely develop but is just amazing now, this felt a lot like drinking potential. Don’t get me wrong - the potential is stunning…but I find it harder to grade it. The wine was showing lighter on the nose than the others, more elegant, refined, and yet somehow - richer as well. Lush but bright red fruit, silky tannin, barely a hint of development in the earthy tones, bits of dry fruit and herb. Long smooth finish… 95+++ and who knows what it will show in another 5 years? 10 ?

1998 Roagna Barbaresco Crichët Pajé (96 Points): I enjoyed this in 2006 at a trade tasting but…how well can you really taste something like this beauty from a small sip in a crowded room…This was my WOTN. By preference perhaps, by a hair… by the fact that it took no prisoners. Certainly the most masculine wine of the flight, maraschino cherry nose, earthy, powerful, stunning… mid is ripe but staying cherry, but more aggressive structure and mineral, earthy core. How can it stay “light” and yet show this strength? I could not stop drinking this. Impressed? more like blown away. It took on 3 Giacosa wines and came away with a win. 

1998 Vietti Barolo Brunate (93 Points): Rich ripe cherry, maraschino even…at times - the earthy notes of old Kriek. Rich yet quite elegant, black fruit in the mid, with black cherry giving way to hints of blackberry. earthy, sexy wine with a long plush finish… hard to not fall in love with.

1998 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis (91 Points): Perhaps stylistically it was not in my wheelhouse? hints of vanilla over the cherry, herbs and hint of dry flowers. dark fruit, elegant in the mid but rather rustic on the structure. lacking some finesse.

1998 Paolo Scavino Barolo Riserva Rocche dell’Annunziata (93 Points): This was a hard one to taste along with others…like bringing a BDX to a Burgundy dinner. Less about elegance and fruit, this was about structure and power. White gloves and spit-shined boots. oak is obvious but well integrated, full bodied, bruiser of a wine. Dark fruit, pine, black cherry, bright in the mid, with the power to lift any rich flavors in the meal. This is a Bordeaux drinker’s Barolo and a darn good one. 

1998 Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Granbussia Flawed : ouch. sherry, mint, herb, sour cherry in mid. but clearly off. too bad.

1998 Domenico Clerico Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra (92 Points): showing young, with floral notes - leaning toward violets, blackberry with hints of redder fruit as well. quite powerful mid, structured. grows redder with spice and herbs toward the back, tart cherry on the finish. It felt in need of some time to shine. 

1998 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia (93 Points): It is insane to be disappointed by an excellent wine, but…when you expect revelation and “only” find joy… rich cherry tones, silk and plush, elegant, bright in the mid… earthy, light, smooth…what exactly am I seeking? I don’t know… perhaps “intensity”? or “complexity”? surely it had both. I cant tell… but this was good,  very good. Maybe even great.. just not what I expected.

1998 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto di Serralunga d’Alba (94 Points): hello! yes.. whatever the Conterno was not giving - the Giacosa had in spades. This is not a shy wine. My notes here are simple - elegant sexy and bright. It made the Conterno into a wallflower. Hello indeed. Ripe bright cherry fruit, spicy with a hint of earth and a good amount of tannic structure still intact. Quite elegant for all its brashness, and simply delicious as well.

1998 Massolino Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda (93 Points): This was the other wine tonight that clearly needed more time and had significant potential. Power of the fruit is balanced by bright mineral notes and a racy, tannic mid. It drinks significantly younger than others, and perhaps a bit less elegant as well but makes up for it in power and earthy, mineral laden fruit.

1998 Vietti Barolo Lazzarito Flawed : sadly this too was flawed. rather tired, with sweet ripe fruit and rather soft in the mid. plums and cherries. 

1998 Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella Classico (95 Points): Well Dorothy, we surely aren’t in Piedmont anymore! Bitter chocolate, ripe red and black plum, warm spices, tea, smoke, plum pudding…do i really need to go on? pile on everything you can ever ask from an Amarone, add elegance, and that touch that only a “master” can bestow a wine… this is simply marvelous. even after the lineup we had - this was an unforgettable wine.

An incredible evening indeed!

In Pictures: 2018 NY Drinks NY

2018 NY Drinks NY

Originally Published by The Cork Report

This was my first time attending the NY Drinks NY Grand Tasting, and I was quite excited, with my Nikon and a 50mm lens ready. I knew I would get to see familiar faces, and try excellent new vintages, but I was also on the lookout for things I have yet to try, new people, new vineyards, and even new appellations.

Where did I start…? I confess – I love seeing friendly faces. Thus, I made a beeline to the Macari table to see Kelly Koch. There were several intriguing wines to try – but I was really looking forward to the “Lifeforce” lineup, fermented in concrete “egg-shaped” tanks. The “Lifeforce Sauvignon Blanc 2016” showed rich, tropical notes on the nose, quite unusual for the cooler climate of Long Island, but the middle brought us back, with its cool, bright citrus and lightness. The wines was quite intriguing on the palate already and the hint of soft creamy touches in the mid would, in my mind, pair well with richer fish and poultry dishes.

Another wine that must be mentioned – is the Macari Rose. Yes – a rose note from me, unusual already. But this was a unique wine – a blend of Malbec, Petite Verdot and Pinot Noir. The wine showed quite impressive floral notes already- with spring flowers and bright herbal touches, the mid was full of cranberry notes with bright acidity, and refreshing red berry finish. This wine screams summer – even on a cold winter day.

I really enjoyed the “Dos Aquas” 2013, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Named for the two “waters” of Long Island, and hailing from the excellent 2013 vintage, the wine showed excellent black fruit, iron and tobacco leaf on the nose, with a solid, bright mid-palate, hints of ripe sweet tannin and savory herb. While ready to drink, I could see aging this for a few years as well.

I have written already about my love for the work Kareem is putting in at Paumanok. The lineup is a solid endorsement of both the winemaker and the region – from the sparkling wine and to the single vineyard reds. It is hard to choose a favorite – though the “Minimalist” wines have been most intriguing to me as of late. But then again – what is summer on North Fork without Paumanok Chenin? And we all know how well the Assemblage can age… just take them all.

Talking about great lineups, have you tried the wines of Hermann J. Wiemer yet? No? Start at the top… by shaking hands with Oskar Bynke of course! And if that smile doesn’t convince you, I just heard they disgorged a 2015 Riesling Brut Sekt.

Often the “House White” gets overlooked, but don’t miss this beauty. The “Field White” is 45% Gruner Veltliner, 30% Riesling and 25% Chardonnay and the sweet, bright tropical fruit offer immediate pleasure. Honeyed and rich in the mid, with a hint of sweetness toward the back… the South may have sweet tea…but I will have a glass of this instead please…

On a more serious note, buy the 2016 Riesling Reserve Dry and put it away for a few years. While it is already pretty, with white peach, and bright, crisp mid, a bit of time will allow the hint of apricot on the back to come out, and the minerality will be fused with the autumnal fruit.

I remember having Standing Stone “Ice-wines” years ago, in fact, the 2001 was a favorite of mine. But that was another time. Now, with Jessica Johnson as the winemaker, Standing Stone is making a comeback. The 2017 Rose, made from 100% Saperavi is not a shy wine. Mineral, acid driven and bright are the words that come to mind, with cranberry and sorrel in the mid, it is a refreshing take on a Rose.

I really enjoyed the 2017 Standing Stone Gewurztraminer, and not only because it takes bravery to grow this finicky, thin-skinned grape. The wines showed all the typical aromas of the grape, with lychee and rose-water leading the way, but what impressed me more was the bright mineral mid, full of peaches and mirabelle plums. While totally dry, it showed a slight hint of sweetness toward the finish, to round it off.

I was glad to see Lisa Hallgren of Ravines Wine Cellars as well – we had a wonderful tasting with her and her husband last summer and I was excited to try the wines again since the ones I bought are resting in storage. The 2015 White Springs Riesling is easily my favorite, showing drier today than it did six months ago, but with that same sexy ripe peach and mineral. But the 2014 Maximilien impressed as well, with a nose of ripe red and black fruit, hint of beets, and a serious mid of savory herb and power.

I was surprised while tasting the 2014 Ravines Pinot Noir, to see how earthy and dark the fruit was. Delicious now, it is a cooler, tart cherry and forest floor kind of wine. Quite delicious.

One of the people on my “must meet list” was Miguel Martin of Palmer Vineyards. I obviously wanted to try the Albarino (see below) but I have heard good things about the wines overall. The freshness of the Rose and the tropical power of the Sauvignon Blanc made me think that a visit to the winery is absolutely in order.

The 2017 Albariño was delicious, no questions about it, sweet tropical fruit on the nose, bright green apple and mineral in the mid, wait … how is the glass empty already?

If I was to ask about an age-worthy Long Island Merlot, what answer would I expect? Lenz. And the Merlot is good, in this case it was the 2014 Estate Selection, which is a 92% Merlot blend with hints of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Serious, savory and age-worthy. But the 2013 Gewurztraminer surprised me more, made in an almost Alsace style, weightier, drier and, while less aromatic, more powerful and richer in the mid. This is a serious white wine!

Forgive my ignorance, but I have not had any serious wine from the Hudson River Region; or rather not until this tasting. A few sips and swirls with Matthew Spaccarelli of Fjord Vineyards and I was interested in hearing more (and seeing more – once the new tasting room opens this summer). The 2017 Rose, while a bit subdued on the nose, was bright and happy in the mid and the Cabernet Franc showed pretty red fruit, ripe with a streak of minerality, though on the cooler side. I cannot wait to taste more.

One of the biggest surprises from the tasting was this beauty – 2017 Fjord Vineyards Albariño. Recently bottled, it was still shy on the nose but with a bit of agitation started to show the sweet tropical fruit. The mid was wonderful already – light and bright citrus fruit, great depth with mineral and spicy notes coming in toward the back and a nice dry finish. Delicious!

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