Balkan Merlot Wine Review: VukojE, Galerija, Bosnia-Herzegovina 2016

Wow. Hi internet, I missed you. Toddler distractions notwithstanding, let us turn our sails back toward the wine dark sea. Many leagues ago, I started to review Balkan wines my mother-in-law smuggled back with her. The tannic, native grape, Vranak made for some puckered and challenged palates (read here). But, how does Bosnia-Herzegovina handle the stereotyped grape of plush pleasure and ease: Merlot?

Winery VukojE has a vineyard dedicated to Merlot, called Zasad polje. With me? Feel like your mouth is full of cotton yet? Me too. Zasad polje or as I like to call it, Zsa Zsa, is tucked in Bosnia-Herzegovina’s southern corner, a 40 minute drive inland, into Bosnia from coastal Croatia’s Dubrovnic. So a nice mix of coastal Adriatic mediterranean warmth and moisture but inland with diurnal range.

Welp, VukoJE’s Galerija is 100% Merlot. It uses whole cluster fermentation, then cools the grape for 8 months in barrels. Let us try it.

The APPEARANCE looks a clear, medium plus ruby, with medium clear rim: safe Merlot territory.

Its AROMAS roll with medium plus intense prune, orange peel, violet, and dried wood. Interesting…

The PALATE feels dry, with medium plus acidity, touching on volatile acidity (ruh roh), while tannins feel soft but reedy like balsa wood, alcohol and body are there in moderate presence.

The FLAVORS medium intense twangy orange juice, pruned plum, flint, with medium vanilla finish.

VERDICT:

VukoJE’s 2016 Merlot is bright yet dark-fruited and rough-edged, a bit of a jangly mix that yet manages to resolve itself into a pleasant friend for fatty, salty foods: tomato-based pastas, rare cooked meats, mushroom, young but hard cheeses, even rich fish dishes.

It is good (3 of 5), likely tastes better beside a lake in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but stateside comes off a bit pruned yet wild and twangy.

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Rock’In Bottle

Want more minerality in your wine? Somehow this bottle of bright, chalky, organic white Burgundy also trapped a piece of gravel in its glass base:

It looks like the wine should be fine…we’ll see.

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Graham Beck Brut Rosé 2011

APPEARANCE: Clear, light peach color with silver highlights, fine small bubble.

AROMAS: Delicate medium intense fig, red pear, vanilla powder, cardamon, whipping creme, crême fraiche, light cinnamon, slight bandaid.

PALATE: Dry, crisp medium plus acidity, seamless warm alcohol, medium minus alcohol, gentle, fine crisp pearl.

FLAVORS: intense, coating, yet sprightly red grapefruit, fig, fresh red pear, vanilla powder, cardamon, whipping creme, crême fraiche, a long light cinnamon and bitter almond finish.

VERDICT: Over eight years past harvest, Graham Beck’s 2011 rosé remains delightful, light on its feet, steely, yet delicate, complex, and dry. I could nit pick the bandaid, the oxidation, the fact it is best now.

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Hard Apple Cidery Review: Sea Cider, Vancouver BC Canada

Hi Internet. Too much time has passed us by. It turns out that toddlers and bloggers mix like oil and water. My apologies.

Time to scratch the itch and wrap up our Vancouver Island drinks tour with one last review. To recap: Canada is not the Mediterranean.  Wine grapes struggle to reach ripeness in this cool, marginal climate. Yet Vancouver Island, oddly, shelters enough microclimates to encourage some to try their hand at wine-making. Results range from enamel-etching bubbly (read here), tart Chardonnay (read here), decent but pale Pinot Noir (read here), a fine Gamay (read here), a solid hybrid white (read here), to a mixed-bag winery that distills great gin and vermouth (read here),

Maybe we’re going about this all wrong. Let’s drop the grapes and give cold-hardy apples a chance. We roll from Victoria North into the rolling verdant farm hills of Saanich Peninsula. A gravel road bends up a cliff overlooking gleaming Cordova Channel.  Short apple trees for hand picking lead up to the white, decked, cidery and tasting room. The view stops us.

Apples Sea Cider View

Its name is Sea Cider: an Organic Certified ten acre farm with more than 1,300 trees of 50 heritage apple varieties. Kristen Jordan, a sixth generation farmer, bought and revolutionized the property in 2007 to make traditionally fermented artisan ciders. Today Sea Cider makes over 7,000 cases with distribution throughout B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Washington State, Illinois, and Oregon.

The tasting room feels airy and light.

Sea Cider Tasting Room Small

We order both flights of everything and get to work.

Sea CIder Sampler
Sea Cider, Wild English, Heirloom Series, Vancouver BC 
A wild fermented cider of Dabinetts and Chisel Jerseys.
The APPEARANCE looks clear with a medium intense golden straw color. AROMAS smell strongly and of bandaid, charred bacon, earth, and lemon (actually typical of style). The PALATE feels ultra dry, with max acidity, extra tannins, a medium minus body, sneaky 7.5% abv, fizz is petilant. FLAVORS defy the aromas with lemon, Granny Smith skin, peach, dry and cracking game brett with Rubber tire finish.
It is Very Good (4 of 5), to type, if a bit leaner than some English ciders.
Sea Cider, Kings and Spies, Heirloom Series, Vancouver BC
APPEARANCE: a clear, pale, green. AROMAS smell clean and floral, with cinnamon, lime, salt, and green apple. The PALATE is off dry, again boasting oodles of acidity, lean, and lightly fizzy. FLAVORS range from lemon, lime, white pear, with a light soapy note, medium length.
A lean, dryish, pleasant enough cider for chips and company, Good (3 of 5) but simple.
Sea Cider Glasses Flight Close
Sea Cider, Pippins, Heirloom Series, Vancouver BC
A “sharp” style cider from Yellow Newton Pippin apples fermented cool with champagne yeast. Off-dry and chapitalized to 9.5%, it is an example of a New England
Pippins’ APPEARANCE looks a clear, light lemon. AROMAS glow with golden apple, light honey, and cardamom. The PALATE feels off dry with ample but tamed medium plus acidity, tannin, a fuller medium body, warmer alcohol 9.5% by volume, and a slight petilance. FLAVORS taste lovely and of light pineapple, cinnamon, cardamon finishing with vanilla.
Pippins is Very Good (4 of 5), not solely for its weight and alcohol, but its flavor complexity that could hold up to richer, saucier dishes like curries and even steak.
Sea Cider, Bramble Bubbly, Canadian Invasion Series, Vancouver BC
Yup, hard cider with tenacious blackberries added.
The APPEARANCE looks clear and medium ruby-colored with copper highlights. The PALATE balances well medium sweetness with medium plus acidity, and good tannic grip, mild bodied. Medium intense FLAVORS remind me of tart cranberries, even Cabernet Franc with a whiff of capsaicin.
Bramble Bubbly tastes dry enough, delish, is Very Good (4 of 5), pair withmeat and cheese platers, Thanksgiving fair, turkey sandwich?
That was nice. Time to get serious.
Sea Cider, Rumrunner, Heirloom Series, Vancouver BC
Sea Cider Barrel
You guessed it, Rumrunner, is rack cloth pressed, slow fermented with Champagne yeast, Bourbon barrel aged cider for a minimum of 6 months.
APPEARANCE: look at that sexy clear medium intense amber gold, leggy yet little fizzy.
AROMAS: bound about with dried vanilla bean, dried apricot, and toffee.
The PALATE is medium sweet and heady, a smirk of acidity, with a plump body, viscous texture, alcoholic heat that is not overbearing at 12.5% abv.
FLAVORS tastes intense and echo a Oloroso Sherry Madeira-like candied fig, vanilla, and oodles of toffeeeeee that lasts long.
Rumrunner is Outstanding (4 of 5), sexy cider, that has left its apple-origins behind to taste apotheosized, like a rum but sessionable.

Sea Cider Barrels Tubs

Tanks and barrels awaiting harvest.

Sea Cider, Pommeau, Sticky Series, Victoria BC
Made with Snow apples first brought from Normandy to Quebec, then distilled by Victoria Spirits, and then sweetened with juice from estate French apples.
The APPEARANCE looks a clear medium gold, brilliant, flashy and leggy.

The PALATE feels dry, with medium acidity, but too hot (19.5% abv), too much spirit kills the acid too heady.AROMAS & FLAVORS range from light Castile soap, powdered anise and vanilla, to creme brûlée 19.5% abv.

Pommeau is Good (3 of 5) but too much, maybe a palate clense.
Sea Cider, Pomona, Sticky Series, Victoria BC
Named after the Roman goddess of apples, this late harvest, iced cider of just crab apples ferments the concentrated juice with Sauternes yeast.
The APPEARANCE looks clear, a brilliant rose color, gold-fringed, and very leggy.
AROMAS smell of medium plus, soapy rose water, with a touch of game, cab franc capsasin and red cherry skin.
The PALATE is very sweet, but with taut medium plus acidity and tannins, grippy but syrupy, if a bit hot (17.5% abv).
You had me at “Sauternes yeast”. Pomona is Very Good (4 of 5), a bit wild but a great desert wine.
Sea Cider, Black Applejack, Sticky Series, Vancouver BC
Nodding to colonial moonshine, Black Applejack mixes hard cider, distilled cider, and blackberry juice. The result:
APPEARANCE: clear rich garnet color, thick-legged
PALATE: extra sweet but balanced by equal acidity and grippy tannins, sneaky 17% alcohol
AROMAS and FLAVORS: pretty darn intense black cherry, cinnamon, brightened by green apple skin.
Black Applejack is Very Good (4 of 5) and could swap in for Port as needed.

Apples Sea Cider View

Not a shabby view

With a decade under Kristen’s belt, Sea Cider deserves the awards and recognition she has garnered for it. The location is ideal, the patio view escapist, the staff is lovely and well-informed. Our toddler enjoyed roaming the orchard, sampling organic heritage apples (if a bit unripe). Sea Cider’s lineup is quite good, creative, and winkingly clever without annoying us.

Alexandria Apples Sea CIder

We also found blackberries

Here’s my video recap (clearly, the toddler has made me a touch tired…)

 

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Don’t Balk at Balkan Wine: Montenegro Wine Review Plantaze’s Vranac Pro Corde 2013

Be good to your mother-in-law. You never know when she might share wines smuggled from the Balkans. After our New Year’s Eve Serbian bubbly (read here), today we try a serious red wine from Montenegro: a country sandwiched between the Adriatic Coast, inland Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia to its North, Albania and Kosovo to its South.

This wine’s producer, Plantaze, today makes 40 different wines, from 26 grape varieties, and four brandies totaling 17 million bottles. They are Montenegro’s biggest deal, wine-wise, but started humbly with a 1963 agricultural merger that planted an “infertile wasteland” (their words) of rocks and shallow soil around Skadar Lake:

Montenegro Wine Regions

Onto this infertile wasteland they planted today’s grape Vranac: a native related to Zinfandel, with thick black skin, that makes it rich in proanthocyanidols. Now, I am not a doctor (nor do I play one on tv), but these grape skin things might help fight cancer and heart disease. However, Plantaze winery runs wild with this. They branded today’s wine, “Pro Corde” (‘for heart’), its the only one their website mentions by name, and even put a heart beat on the dang label (and box, and tag #classy #legal?).

Plantaze Vranac Pro Corde 2013

Until now, I had never tried Vranac (for shame!), nor knew Vranac was the grape until after tasting today (the shame of it all), so by dumb luck my ignorance makes this review a partially blind tasting.

APPEARANCE: A rich purple core, with a narrow, clear, bluish rim. Medium viscous wash and medium legs cascade the glass (Zin? Petite Sirah? Cabernet? Lambrusco?).

AROMAS: smell flinty, with caramel cubes, dark plum (maybe Merlot?), raspberry syrup and dried violets (maybe Zinfandel?), and mulling spices like dried orange peel and clove with medium intensity.

PALATE: again quite flinty and crunchy in texture, with medium plus tannins and acidity, a medium body, and a warm but blunt alcohol of 14% that burns to the finish. Get food!

FLAVORS: lead with a friendly fruity range of dried dark plum and raspberry syrup that turn to dried tobacco-laced oak, coals, and flint. The toasty barrel finish lasts a medium plus length

CONCLUSIONS: Plantaze’s Pro Corde Vranac 2013 (2013!) tastes taut, lean, and serious: like walking through a forest, which burned down last year, where now ripe wild berries have taken over. Each footfall snaps ashy twigs and smooshes black fruits. It is very good (4 of 5) but overly tannic and oaky. Thankfully, this wine has had five years to chill out. And after three days open, it mellows into a softer, friendlier wine, but still has oodles of tannic edge and acidity.  I would love to see it ten years old.

To grape Vranac’s credit, the grape can show complexity. I thought it was a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zin, and something native.  If you like Italian Primitivo, this will work. A few hours decanting, a few more years in bottle, and/or foods your Bordeaux or Brunello would like: peppercorn steak, most grilled animals, hard cheese, funky bries, mushroom rich pastas would all save your stained, dried palate.

The plus side about wines from the Balkans is that Plantaze’s Vranac red costs you $10 out there or around $16 stateside (if your can find it).

To your health then!

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