Moving to SenelSlant.com

senelslantHello all Senel Wine followers,

I wanted to let you all know that my site is going to be moving and taking on far more content. This past week I created SenelSlant (senelslant.com), a site:

committed to providing my readers with easy to understand, topical and informative information with the hope of allowing many to make more informed decisions while partaking in civics and life.

I will be covering everything from “Food & Wine” to the “Economy” to “Politics”. Many of the pieces will be written with a scholarly slant.

I hope you join me there!

Erol

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Celebrating the ‘Big 33′ with a bottle of 1979

Celebrating birthdays as you get older becomes more and more underwhelming, especially if you’re a guy and have a kid. Most of your energy throughout the course of your year is dedicated to celebrating other things, be it a child’s birthday, an anniversary, your wife’s birthday, Kwanza, etc. By the time your insignificant day comes around, all you’re likely hoping for is a day-off. Wine can offer you the opportunity to cast off the mundane and partake in history, while still kicking back on your couch.

This past weekend I celebrated 33 years with my twin, 1979 Comtesse Lalande which was still delivering a masterful experience.

Over the past few years, I’ve tried to spruce up these overlooked days by injecting a bottle of wine from my birth year. What I’ve gained out of this was a truly unique connection with the past that is in many ways indescribable.

There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a wine to for an upcoming “33” or “42” or whatever age you’re turning:

1) Choose wisely – Not all wines are able to stand the test of time, in fact very few are. I know my Napa-phile friends won’t be happy with this, but for anyone over 35, don’t even bother with California. So where to look? In my opinion, stick with Bordeaux, Burgundy and Piedmont (Barolo) and even then, favor the better wineries.

2) Cost – Although this can be a pricey endeavor, it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Sure, if you want a bottle of 1964 DRC La Tache you’re going to plop down a fortune; however if you want to venture outside of the pinnacle of wine, you can find some decent deals. I’ve personally had tremendous luck using the site WineBid.com and $75-$150 will allow you to acquire a Super 2nd from Bordeaux pretty easily. There’s also your local higher-end wine shop that may be able to act as an intermediary and assist you in acquiring something rare without having to pay a 15% buys premium (as you must on WineBid).

Although not ideal, a crumbled cork does make for a nice picture!

3) Preparation – You’ll likely need two things to open your properly aged (which means not in the wine rack in your kitchen) wine: a Butler’s Friend and a decanter.

  1. Butler’s Friend: the essential tool for opening a bottle with a cork that’s likely brittle from years of storage. The lighly curved metal prongs slide in between the inside of the neck of the bottle and the cork, allowing you to gradually disgorge the cork (see picture for what happens when you don’t have a Butler’s Friend)
  2. Decanter: Do me a favor. Hold your breath for 2 minutes. What did you do immediately after the two minutes is done? You probably took a few long deep breaths to try to re-oxygenate your body. Wine does the same thing. Opening a bottle of wine is actually a pretty violent process for the juice inside. Give it an hour to catch its breath and see how it’s progressing along the way.

There’s an intimate link with history when you partake in a wine from your birth year. It’s an ethereal experience that can’t really be described. Hopefully you have the opportunity to partake at some point!

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2012 Harvest Update

By Tyler Thomas, Winemaker at Donelan Wine

Although he’s knee deep in fermenting grape juice…literally, winemaker Tyler Thomas of Donelan Wine has been gracious enough to take a few moments to update us on the progress of the 2012 Harvest and explain why this vintage is shaping up to be something special. Thank you Tyler!

The first step of a grape from vine to wine…harvest!

What a difference a year makes!  The beauty of 2012 started with a more “normal” and warm Spring.  Rain was kept at bay during flowering which improved fruit set.  The timing of these events heavily influences the timing of harvest and we knew then that we would likely be able to bring in fruit 1-2 weeks earlier than 2010 and 2011.  This was a refreshing revelation because the later the harvest the higher the risk for rain, and the earlier rain the higher the risk for rot, and rot is not good for yields or quality!

Obsidian Syrah. Small clusters vs. normal syrah clusters, which allows for more intensity in each grape!

What was there to worry about then?  For we always must worry about something!  In California one risk during a “normal” year are heat events that can lead to rapid dehydration around harvest, increasing potential alcohols and impacting the ability to achieve perfect balance.  In 2012 we have had near perfect finishing weather, moderate to cool temperatures with no heat spells.  This has allowed for optimal flavor development and balance in the grapevines with very little risk.  While yields have been up and the last week almost too cool, there is a little more heat in the forecast and I think we’ll get to the finish line perfectly.

“Cremant” press cycle, on Donelan’s new press, which allows for the transfer of clearer juice with far less solids.

As of this writing – September 23rd – we have brought in nearly all our Pinot Noir, a touch of Chardonnay, and our warmest climate Syrah.  All near perfect!  The slightly drier spring, perfect harvest timing, and moderate weather seemed to encourage flavor development at very favorable sugar and acidity levels.  The Pinot is nearing its fermentation end and they all seem to have wonderful flavor purity, terrific delicacy, and general prettiness.  The vintage is turning out to be much like 2007 and if the rain holds off I expect to hear many of my colleagues singing its praises.  Consumers should expect great wine and plenty of it!

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Instagram: A wine geek’s dream

Ever since I got my iPhone 4S, I’ve been Instagraming like a fiend. One of my favorite subjects, besides myself of course (jk!), is wine. To a wine lover, there are very few things as photogenic as a seductive wine bottle. I figure I’d share a few of my favorites and hopefully you find as much joy out of them as I do! Find me on Instagram (@SENELWORLDWIDE).

I have a habit of saving the bottles of some of the “greats” that I’ve tasted through the years. Oddly, they make for an appealing picture!

Barossa Bold: Amazingly Aeromatic

Collateral Damage: Remnants of a Southern NH restaurant tour with Donelan Wine’s owner Joe Donelan.

Champagne with a View: 5th Anniversary Dinner at the charming Wellington Room (Portsmouth, NH)

In the Shadow of Greatness: ’01 Opus One

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25% off Elyse Winery’s wines? Yes please!

To commemorate a significant milestone in their history, Elyse Winery owner Ray Coursen has put all of his wines on sale for 25% off until September 25th. “It’s just our little way of saying thank you to all our loyal fans” Ray said in his press release email.

I’ve gotten these alerts from wineries in the past; however this is the first time I thought I’d bring it to everyone’s attention. Why?

Reason #1

I think very highly of Ray Coursen and his team’s ability to make tremendous wines. These wines consistently delivery unique and character-filled experiences, or simply put, they make terrific Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah, etc and they are all wines I’d want to share with my family and friends.

Reason #2

Even without the sale, these wines represent tremendous “value.” When you look at the cost of a bottle of high-end, low-production wines, you can expect to spend $50 and up. Ray’s wines represent a far lower entry price point, while still delivering great quality. Thus, with a 25% price break, they are just that more palatable (pardon the pun)!

Please visit Elyse’s Founders Day Sale page to check out the deal and learn a bit more about this great winery.

For my picks, please refer to Elyse Winery: It’s about passion; a piece I wrote that includes my reviews on 4 of their wonderful wines.

Cheers! And please share your experiences!

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Making Albany Fun: The Rhône Treasure Hunt

It’s always entertaining to find out how those who love doing something motivate themselves to get to know their passion better. Some football players take ballet to improve their balance, physicist look to classical music to unlock the secrets of their minds, while endurance athletes will sleep in near hermetic hyperbaric tents to improve their body’s oxygen absorption.

The wine world is similar. Some wacky winos study obscure regions from across the globe on maps hanging in their bathrooms, others will go to the market and smell obscure fruits to create a lasting memory to refer back to, while others will devote hours a week to tasting numerous wines with the hope of training their palates to detect the slightest nuance like wet straw or bacon fat. Admittedly, I’ve been guilty of all of these things in the past. Well, except hanging wine region maps in my bathroom, I just read from the book, but I can tell you it’s all done with one thing in mind, to heighten one’s ability to appreciate wine.

With this in mind, I was having a chat with a buddy from work and he was talking about the fact that there were some very good wines under $20. Being the “one-upper” that I am, I mentioned that there are great wines to be had for around a 10er. Thus, I had a challenge! 

I set about to find 3 wines that would impress, yet would set me back no more than $35 (not including tax). After thinking about this challenge for 3 hours while driving to Albany (gotta make Albany fun somehow), I decided to come up with a name for my challenge: “The $35 Rhône Treasure Hunt!” I can’t help it; I love Syrah and the Rhône…so sue me!

So how did my trip to Empire Wine & Spirits (Albany, NY) fare? Was my acumen as good as I hoped, or have I allowed any semblance of skill slip away? Let’s find out…

#1 – 2010 Andezon, Côtes du Rhône ($10.65)

This is a very well put together wine with rich, dark purple coloring. I don’t normally comment on a wine’s color, but this one striking. Aromas were popping from the first sniff, primarily with ripe red and black fruit with hints of wildflowers. The acid was a little livelier than expected at first; however once you get around that, the flavor profile won me over. Fruit forward lingonberry and strawberry feature prominently with anise and a nice zip of menthol. Give this one a just a little more time and the acid should subdue, potentially a 90+ point wine; however terrific for the price! Senel Wine – 89 pts

#2 – 2010 Domaine les Grand Bois, Cairanne Cuvee Maximilien, Côtes du Rhône-Villages ($13.95)

Of the three this was the biggest which has much to do with it’s composition. The 50% Grenache and 35% Mourvedre (remainder Syrah) give this wine enough structure, acid and depth to be mistaken for a bottle 5x more expensive. Instead of immediate fruit, you’re hit with earthy notes of pine and underbrush. Beyond that, blue and blackfruit along with the typical spicy notes of the Rhône kick in. The palate is naughty/racy with Asian spice, white pepper and herbal notes woven into a juicy black fruit core. Very good, verging on great. I want more! Senel Wine – 93 pts

#3 – 2011 Saint Cosme, Côtes du Rhône ($10.95)

A beautiful sipper. My wife actually asked me if she could just finish the bottle tonight. Blackcurrent, All-Spice and flowers on the nose. These aroma notes transitioned to palate, especially the velvety floral notes, which were rounded out with cocoa and coffee. There’s a certain acidic zing at first; however integrated quickly with air. Playful and complex, especially for a CdR.  Senel Wine – 91 pts

3-for-3…daaaamn! Admittedly, I did overshoot my mark by a few cents; however considering what came from this challenge, I believe I’ve illustrated that terrific wine doesn’t have to set you back.

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1976 & 1979: A confluence of events that changed wine history

Many wine buffs debate the seminal moment when American wine announced its arrival. I’d argue that it wasn’t any one moment, but rather two that drove American wine to the forefront of the consumer’s psyche and Europe’s envy.

When you ask someone who’s familiar with wine history, “When did American wine become relevant?” the most common response would typically be the Judgment of Paris. Typically, blind tasting of wines are nothing of note and this event started out in the same nondescript fashion.

George Taber worked for Time Magazine at the time and was the only journalist to cover the now famed “Judgment of Paris”.

Back in 1976, Steven Spurrier, a British ex-pat living in Paris decided to put on a wine tasting to assist in promoting his struggling wine shop. With the American Bi-Centennial coming up, he thought it the perfect opportunity to showcase the wines of California versus their obviously superior French counterparts. Who can blame him? Sounds like something interesting and fun.

What no one, including Spurrier, could have imagined was that two American wineries (Stag’s Leap and Chateau Montelena) bested the Frenchies in both the white and red categories. Wait…WTF?! On top of that, they bested some of the best houses in Bordeaux and Burgundy, France’s bastions of wine excellence.

Now those who make the argument for the Judgment of Paris being the seminal moment have a strong case. This I’m not disputing; however the one reality that is oft overlooked is that this event, although an awesome story that lent itself to a cute movie (Bottle Shock), is not quite as resonating as many think. Think of it this way, it’s like having a PB&J with just the jelly…it’s good, but it’s missing something.

Now it’s time for the peanut butter. In my opinion, an equally significant event took place 63 years earlier with the birth of Robert Mondavi. I’m not here to retell the provocative journey of son of Italian immigrants who went on to become Napa’s most iconic figure (however, if you want to know more about Robert Mondavi, I recommend the book The House of Mondavi…it’s damn awesome). Rather, I’d like to speak to two of the aspects that made this man iconic. First, he was California’s ambassador of wine and did more than anyone to promote the high quality of the wines coming from the fledgling NapaValley. From wine shop owners and to restaurantuers from NYC to Chicago to presidents and dignitaries, everyone heard about the exciting things happening not just at Charles Krug, and later Robert Mondavi Winery, but across Californian wineries in general.

A playful moment with two icons of the wine world: Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild

The second aspect of Mondavi that made him unique was his early vision and embrace of Globalization and business. We could speak of his marketing exploits or his numerous joint ventures with Old and New World wine houses; however it’s a joint venture with a famed Bordeaux chateau that’s worthy of our attention. In 1979 Robert Mondavi teamed up with infamous Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Chateau Mouton-Rothchild (who was soon survived by his daughter Baroness Philippine), to create Opus One.

Opus One is the most significant wine in America. You know it, I know it and the guy down the street that pounds Old Milwaukee knows it. It’s not because it’s the best, although in some vintages it’s been damn near perfect. Rather, Opus One represents the first time that the Old World and Americans alike recognized us as equals in the wine. It’s the single wine worthy of having Bordelaise royalty on the same wine label with Napa royalty. Up until that point, California (and Napa more specifically) had been viewed as a backward, hick village that made some nice table wines. That all changed in the early autumn of ’79 when legendary winemakers Lucien Sionneau and Tim Mondavi teamed up to create the first vintage of Opus One.

This union represents something very significant, as not only did Europe’s perception of American change, but America’s view of American wine changed. Dating back to Thomas Jefferson, Americans have always looked across the Atlantic for their wines. Outside of Californians and to a slightly larger extent the West Coast, most Americans had largely shunned the wines from the “sticks”.

Both of these events took place within a couple years of each other and the momentum they created led to the US Wine Industry as we largely know it today. It wasn’t that one was more significant than the other (although that’s certainly a fun debate), but rather the confluence of these two events running simultaneously that made this period so significant. In many ways, the Judgment of Paris was only possible due to the unabashed promotion and increased quality ushered in by Mondavi (and his colleagues). On the flip-side, the potential of a venture such as Opus One was made possible by the success of Napa’s wines at the Judgment of Paris tasting. Thus, these events and figures are equally important, not only to American wine, but to each other. Imagine if neither had happened…

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