Jancis Robinson’s Seminal Wine Writing Competition

I woke up this morning, checked my inbox, and was shocked into silence. Jancis Robinson, the Jancis Robinson, goddess of wine writing, had published on her Purple Pages my entry of my seminal wine experience.  The winner gets a set of her One Wine Glasses: a single glass fashioned to work best with every wine style. Deal with it Reidel-tower-of-babble and your billions of glass styles.

If I win her glasses or not, the greatest honor was getting featured as a Guest Contributor by one of my wine idols. Thank you.

Read my entry by clicking here: Jancis Robinson Competition


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1948 Birthday Wine: 70 Year Old Blandy’s Madeira Bual Review

70 years ago:

Harry Truman

(Photo by W. Eugene Smith//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Dewey did not defeat Truman. Babe Ruth died. Gandhi fasted one last time. A young Laurence Olivier premiered Hamlet. Mary Leaky found the missing link in Kenya.

Also, in 1948, my mother in law was born.

Now choosing any birthday gift presents challenges. What do they like, want, or really need? How much is too much or too little? But a 70th birthday…for my mother in law? We had to impress her. She did not need more stuff.  She likes wine. But then again, she lives in wine country, and has access to tons. What could my wife and I possibly get her that she could not?

Luckily, I work for a wine distributor. After days of dead-end gift discussions, tired, knowing nothing would work (and after a few glasses), I typed “48” into my warehouse wine search. Up popped a Bual Madeira by Blandy’s from 1948. Only one bottle remained in stock. “No way” I thought. It must be an error. If real, it must be dead (our old warehouse killed older wines). But maybe, just maybe, this fortified wine had survived seven decades.

I did some research. The island of Madeira had developed mad ways of aging wine to cross the British Empire’s seas intact. Like Port, they halted fermentation with spirit, this trapped the wine in time, slowing its oxidation. On top of that, Madeira aged wine in casks, where it baked in the lodge’s sunny top floors, then went down floors gradually, cooling following the Canteiro system.  This pasteurized and pre-aged the wine, like a mummy, altered but built to last.

Blandy’s ’48 was a single harvest. As a Bual, spirit stopped yeast fermentation with 45-63 grams/liter of sugar left: making for a rich, raisin-like desert wine. They aged it for 56 years in seasoned American oak casks (a nice touch for our American mother in law) with regular rackings. Once happy with its maturity in 2012, Blandy’s filled 1,667 bottles for release. Oregon got a six pack but still had one bottle. I risked it and bought it.

1948 Blandy's Back Label

The bottle looked fine: the fill level, the cork, the seal were all pristine. When her big day came, we had no back up gift.  Once unwrapped, she was in a quiet shock.  She was flying out that day. We wanted her to take it home to share with her wine country friends.  But  our only beg was that we try it with her (gods forbid the flight damage it).

Front Blandys Bual Madiera 1948

The APPEARANCE had a medium intense amber brown color, some haziness, sprinkled with black and brown particulates, and muscular legs.

1948 Apperance Blandys Madeira
But the AROMAS: Whomph! My eyelashes curl. Extremely heady, bourbon, dried lemon peel and orange peel, coconut, cooked figs, white pepper, and Tahitian vanilla pour out of the bowl and all over the house. Over time, it mellows into smoky, creme brulee, smoky.
The PALATE feels off dry, with medium acidity, fine, completely resolved medium tannins, a toasty medium plus alcohol (20% abv) that coats around a lithe medium body.
Intense FLAVORS: range from the zippy and citrusy, to black oolong tea, candied orange peel, dried lavender, figgy pudding, and creme brûlée. Length? Well, I still could taste it the next day.
Blandy’s 1948 remained somehow delicate, intricate, silken, yet edgy and intense, with toasty alcohol like a figgy creme brûlée. My wife said it tasted of a time long past. I can not imagine any other 70 year old thing tasting this good. An outstanding (5 of 5) ranking almost cheapens how beyond normal this wine is.
As for the birthday girl, well, she was pretty impressed.
Grandma Bual 1948 Madiera
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A Rosé to Slay Summer: Clos Cibonne Tibouren Rose France 2016 Wine Review

Long time no see, internet. Who knew parenting would eat up my wine writing hobby? Well, mommy and daddy could use a drink.

The summer sun demands chilled wines. So let us dip a toe into sunny Provence with a rare grape: Tibouren. The vine likely originates from Greece, possibly the Middle East, and it is tricky, subject to coulure, so consistent heat is key. Intense aromas and earthiness push it into a blending grape and rosés. Thus, today, mainly small plots in Provence and Liguria grow Tibouren.

Clos Cibonne Map Provence

Lucky for us, winery Clos Cibonne lives and breaths Tibouren.  The estate is a bowl shaped 37 acres (15 hectares) of vineyards that face the Med only 800 meters away.  The Roux Family bought the it in 1797, and in 1930, André Roux modernized the winery and made Tibouren rosé its core. Out went Mourvèdre, in went Tibouren. Fame came. But the winery slipped in the 1980s, and by the late 1990s Bridget, André’s granddaughter, and her husband, Claude Deforge, took it over, renovated but kept the old foudres. They returned Clos Cibonne to one of the 18 Cru Classés in Côtes de Provence.

We could try their classic rosé, or red, but I splurge on their $32 2016 Cuvée Spéciale des Vignettes: the estate’s oldest vines.

Cibonne Tibouron Provence 2016

What makes Cibonne even more special, post harvest, they ferment the wines in stainless steel and then age it under fleurette (a thin veil of yeast) in 100-year-old, 500L foudres. Let us see what old vine Tibouren tamed by these methods tastes like:

The APPEARANCE looks a crystal clear peach.

Big AROMAS smell of golden raisins, Turkish delight, dried chamomile, strawberry pith, vanilla wafers

The PALATE feels dry, with medium plus acidity, light tannins, a sneaky warm medium alcohol, medium bodied, silky with a light powder.

FLAVORS glow with Silk Road spices and exotica: white fig, orange peel, underripe strawberry, cardamon seed, brine, ending in a medium plus long finish of pebbles, a light paper machee, and dried oak.

So, um, well, wow! Cibonne’s old vine Tibouron rosé is outstanding wine (5 of 5). It is filigreed with complexity, asks for your attention, casually, with a great but not overwhelming intensity.

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Volcano Wine Tornatore, Etna Rosso, Sicily Italy 2016

The sun baked, windswept volcano of Eta looms above Sicily like a black hat. On bare  topsoil vines roll down the slope. Since 1865, the Tornatore family have grown grapes and olives on the North East slopes than any family. But for some reason they never made wine. Until, Francesco Tornatore made the first vintage in 2012.

The modern winery fills resplendent with cement eggs to circulate fermentation, massive barrels, and stainless transfer tubes. Yet the methods remain minimal and gentle.

Tornatore, Etna Rosso, Sicily Italy 2016

Tornatore Rosso 2016

Its APPEARANCE looks clear with a medium minus ruby and a pale rim.

Medium plus AROMAS glow with craisins, orange pulp, a whiff of mulled wine, ash and basalt.

The PALATE clinks and clanks with crisp medium plus acidity, lean medium tannins, a sneaky medium alcohol, and a medium body and fine silk-textured mid palate.

Medium plus intense FLAVORS ring a seamless tone of dried cranberries, pommegranate, and a light fine ash of medium plus intensity.

Tornatore’s Etna Rosso is very good (4 of 5) and can take on most Pinot Noir pairings from grilled meats, a wide range of cheeses, mild sausages, to fish simply prepared like salmon or tuna.

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A Chill Carmenere Wine from Paso Robles Dubost 2014

Carménère: a wine grape that Bordeaux bailed on generations ago has reared its head in Chile, Italy, and eclectic hot pockets of California.

Today’s Carménère comes from Cali and the hands of Dubost winery.

The Dubost family hailed from France in the 1870s, blacksmiths, settled in Adelaida in Central Coast, California, farmed, ranched, grew walnuts, then olives on 320 acres. Finally for us in 2002, son Jacob put grape vines into the ground. Then brother Zachary took on winemaking in 2010. Nearly all Dubost siblings, children, and spouses work the fields, winery, or promotion.

But today’s Dubost wine comes from bought fruit courtesy of Colbert Vineyard, which sits in Paso Robels Estrella District, Paso’s largest, running East of the 101 and north of Paso town through rolling plains of well draining alluvial soil. Temperatures are moderate so Rhône and Bordeaux varieties ripen well. An ideal spot for Bordeauxs long lost grape: Carménère. At least three other wineries make a Colbert Vineyard Carménère, so they must have something that works.

Dubost, Carménère, Colbert Vineyard Estrella District Paso Robles California 2014

Dubost Carmenere Paso Robles 2014

The APPEARANCE frames a narrow clear rim of ruby around a deep purple core that hangs on wide tinted legs. Seductive AROMAS of dried fig, a dash of black cherry liquor, a twang of orange zest, cocoa powder, and charcoal carry a medium plus heft.

The PALATE however is serious stuff: dry, bright medium acidity, fine medium tannins, decent alcohol (13 %abv), make for a medium bodied, lithe, unexpectedly refreshing red. Medium plus

FLAVORS match the fig and black cherry aromas but veer off to sharper, brighter, yet rockier territory: citrus peel bounces off flint and tobacco and then mellow into a calm medium length.

Well, that was a pleasant surprise. Often Paso reds strut high alcohols and oodles of jammy fruit. Dubost’s Carmenere, however, works earthy and dark flavors against a tame palate. It is very good (4 of 5) wine: drinkable, inoffensive, interesting, yet not overt or demanding. Enjoy it with red enthusiasts, and try some grilled meats, peppery charcuterie, truffled cheese, and darker chocolates.

Not shabby for a family of farmers.

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