The first time I visited Liechtenstein, I was blown away by how much I fell in love with this tiny country that is often just a passthrough for visitors traveling around Austria and Switzerland. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the country was its culinary scene — all locally sourced products, fresh seafood, and wines produced just down the road. In two days, I managed to try both of the top restaurants in Liechtenstein and, both times, the degustation menus were paired with Liechtenstein wines. And it’s not any surprise the wines are quite good — the Prince of Liechtenstein is the powerhouse behind the winery!
One of the coolest tastings you can do when wine tasting is either a horizontal or vertical tasting. Unfamiliar with what these terms mean? Here’s an introduction to get you started on your way to learning how to elevate your wine tasting experience.
Horizontal Wine Tasting
As the name suggestions, you are tasting wines of a similar nature — whether it be a particular year’s vintage, a region’s production, etc. Common horizontal tastings are the same year’s vintage of a particular wine from various producers, i.e., 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons, or 2009 Rieslings from Washington State. Typically, horizontal tastings are done with wines from varying wineries to establish differences in winemaking styles, however it is interesting to sample the same producer’s offerings from a particular vintage as you might be surprised at how different they can be, even with the same winemaker!
Two of the most interesting horizontal tastings I’ve done were both in Napa. The first was from single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon powerhouse Nickel & Nickel. We sampled all their Cabs from a particular year from across the Napa Valley region. This tasting highlighted the terroir and actual vineyard differences that make their wines so special. These wines are pricey, but Nickel & Nickel produces some of the best Cabernets in the Napa Valley. I love their wines because they do a stellar job of showcasing the importance of the proper grape growing process and how vineyard location, climate, soil type, and such (all part of terroir) heavily influence the final product.
The other intriguing horizontal tasting was the comparison of a particular vintage of Rieslings from Hagafen Cellars in Napa Valley. With different vineyard locations and varying sugar levels, these wines were strikingly different. If you don’t understand sugar levels in Rieslings, tasting them side by side is a great way to figure out what sweetness level is your ideal match.
Vertical Wine Tasting
If horizontal tasting is similar wines from the same vintage, it stands to reason that a vertical tasting is the same wine from multiple years. It’s not uncommon to have the opportunity to taste the same Cabernet Sauvignon from three different vintages when you are visiting a winery in Napa Valley. If you are extremely lucky, you might visit on a day when they are treating visitors to library editions or older reserves you may not otherwise get to sample (or afford in some cases). I’ve lucked out with tasting some older Cabs and Zinfandels that are well above the $200 bottle range on a regular basis. Vertical tastings are ideal if you love a particular wine as you can see the vineyard’s characteristics over time.
Just recently, the team of Our Tasty Travels did a vertical tasting of library Cabernet Sauvignons in Napa. We both fell in love with a particular label from Silverado Vineyards, and we were able to sample a number of vintages. Based on our preference for the older, more aged characteristics of this particular wine, we purchased a bottle that was several hundred dollars without even trying it! We were able to tell enough about the consistency of the winery’s production and we opted for one of the prime years for Cabs in Napa. Now to find a special dinner to pair it with!
Have you done a horizontal or vertical tasting? What has been your experience and did it enhance your wine knowledge and understanding?
Officially called botrytis cinerea, most people just refer to this fungus as “botrytis.” Botrytis affects a number of plant species, but when it comes to wine making, it can actually be a benefit.
Botrytis can cause two different infections on wine grapes. The first is grey rot, which causes a loss in overall yield, making it an undesirable quality. However, the second type is “noble rot,” which produces some of the best dessert wines in the world.
What typically happens with noble rot is the grapes become exposed to botrytis when they are ripe and the fungus extracts water from the grapes, leaving more solids and resulting in a richer, more intense wine. Ever had a dessert wine with a pronounced honeysuckle flavor?
If you’ve heard of the renowned Chateau d’Yquem, it is one of the best examples of the positive effect botrytis can have on wine grapes. Other notable ‘botrytised’ wines include Tokaji from Hungary, Sauternes from France, and even a few American wines like Dolce. Dolce, often called “liquid gold,” is produced in Napa by the winery powerhouse of Far Niente and Nickel & Nickel. The combination of soil, microclimate and vines create the perfect environment for noble rot.
Have you had a botrytised wine? What is your favorite?
The most well-known Old World wine regions typically are France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. While these may be the powerhouses behind Old World wine, there are a number of other emerging wine producing regions that are worth checking out.
Lebanon — One of World’s Oldest Wine Producing Regions
Lebanon is actually one of the oldest wine producing regions in the entire world, with evidence of winemaking dating back to biblical times. More and more people are starting to learn about Lebanese wines, and with a recent surge in travel bloggers visiting, the exposure has definitely propelled Lebanese wines into mainstream channels.
Today, there are over 30 winemakers producing wine in Lebanon, more than double just from 2005. One of the larger wineries teaching the world about Lebanese wines is Massaya, located in the Bekaa Valley.
The Bekaa Valley is home to at a number of wineries where you can visit and taste wines. With a number of neighboring historical sights, Bekaa Valley is definitely one spot you can spend one or more days when traveling through Lebanon.
Hungary — Tokaji Dessert Wine
Hungary is another region with a long wine-making history, but one of the most renowned wines to come out of the country is Tokaji.
Pronounced TOE-KAI, Tokaji is “must try” if you like dessert wines. These wines come from the Takaj-Hegyalja in Hungary and Slovakia. Only wines that apply the Hungarian quality control regulations can be labeled Tokaji — much like Champagnes and other noted wine regions.
Georgia — Georgian Wines Among Oldest in World
Much like Lebanon, the country of Georgia is also one of the oldest wine producing regions in the world. Relatively unknown a few years ago, some wines have attracted the attention of restaurants, wine shops, and sommeliers in Asia, many of whom are working to introduce these gems to the Asian wine market.
Georgia’s regions grow both white and red grape varietals throughout the country. They produce a number of different styles, including fortified wines. The five main viticulture regions in Georgia are:
- Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti
Greece – Greek Retsina and Wine
Nearly the entire country of Greece has some type of wine production, but if you are looking for something really unique to try, check out retsina. It is a white, or rose, wine that has been produced for thousands of years. It is resinated, which means part of its flavor comes from exposure to tree resin.
In ancient times, wine vessels were sealed with resin to keep them from spoiling, but it infused the wine with flavor. Once the introduction of wine barrels came about, the resin was no longer needed. However, its unique flavor was so popular, it is still produced today.
Croatia — Producing Wine Since Part of Yugoslavia
As Croatia prepares to become part of the EU in 2013, all eyes are on this former part of Yugoslavia. While Croatia is famed for its pristine Dalmatian coastline, talked about for its war-torn history, and renowned for products like olives and fresh seafood, many people don’t realize Croatia also produces wine. When the country was part of Yugoslavia, over a hundred thousand hectares of vines were ripped out, and the conflicts in the 1990′s destroyed even more.
Much of the vineyards have been replanted, but only about five percent of local wines are exported. Currently Croatia has more than double the vineyards (hectare wise) of New Zealand.
Croatian wine has some interesting ties to New World wines — especially in California. The popular Zinfandel varietal we all know and love? That is believed to be a descendant from the plavac mali grape found in Croatia. Also, one of the top winemakers in California, Mike Grgich, from Grgich Hills – his real name is Miljenko Grgic and he left Yugoslavia in 1958. He has since returned and opened his own Grgic Vina in 1996, helping get Croatian wines on the map.
Last Fall, the team of Our Tasty Travels was invited on a Croatian culinary education cruise with Katarina Line, where we explored the food and wines from the Kvarner region. One of the most unique — and popular — wines is Vrbnička žlahtina that is primarily found on the island of Krk.
What are your favorite Old World Wine regions?
New Zealand has ten wine growing regions, each producing numerous varietals of both red and white wines. Yet when thinking of wine from New Zealand, usually the first one that comes to mind is Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region. Virtually unknown until the 1990′s, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc rapidly increased in popularity during this time, known to many for a time as the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world, and one of the most popular white wines around.
This popularity and respect translated into a requirement for us to find a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for a recent wine tasting Erin and I prepared for a wine education course we are finishing up. This tasting consisted of five iconic wines, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, California Chardonnay, German Riesling, Napa Valley Cabernet and a Pinot Noir from Oregon. Needing to find five bottles of wine at short notice and not wanting to break the bank in the process, we made a run to our nearby Costco to see what they had to offer in these. We managed, in fact, to put together a fine tasting with wines purchased there, including perhaps the best of the bunch, a Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2008 from Marlborough, New Zealand.
The 2008 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc was a delightfully crisp wine with a beautiful nose of tropical fruits, most notably passionfruit and pineapple. The taste was mostly tropical citrus, with crisp acidity. A wonderfully produced Sauvignon Blanc.
Cloudy Bay Vineyards was established in 1985 by Cape Mentelle Vineyards of Western Australia, and is now part of the luxury goods giant Louis Vuitton Möet Hennessey (Estates & Wines). They focus on producing wines best suited for the climate and terroir of the Wairau Valley in Marlborough. The climate of Marlborough, located on the northern end of the South Island, is cool with long hours of sunshine, the most of any spot in New Zealand. In addition to Sauvignon Blanc, Cloudy Bay also grows Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with small lot productions of Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. The winery takes its name from nearby Cloudy Bay, at the eastern edge of the Wairau Valley, discovered by Captain Cook on his voyage in 1770.
Erin and I are planning to visit New Zealand later this year, and part of our journey will include a visit to the wine regions of the country. Our tour of New Zealand wine country would not be complete without a visit to Marlborough, and Cloudy Bay Vineyards. In fact, there is an entire Marlborough wine trail with over 40 wineries we are hoping to tackle. The Marlborough region is located on the South Island, approximately 300km North of Christchurch, New Zealand on State Highway 1, and can be reached by car or the local regional airport.
Cloudy Bay is open daily from 10AM to 5PM (except Good Friday and Christmas Day). For more information, please visit the Cloudy Bay Vineyards site. To find out more about activities, food and lodging in the area, check out the Marlborough Wine Region website.
Brett and I are both big wine drinkers (although you might question that from how far behind we are on posting wine related content on our blog, LOL), but we are not snobbish. We are always willing to give a wine a try and love exploring new and foreign wine regions. We were excited when we first learned that Taiwan had “wineries” which we quickly learned were more like soju and other hard liquors found throughout Asia. After 1 1/2 years, we have found a few local true wineries and obviously we want to give everything a try.
Last week, Brett was picking up something at the grocery that I managed to forget and came upstairs so excited that he found a Taiwan produced ice wine….for 200 NT (less than $10 US). For those unfamiliar with ice wine, the prices can be quite steep (we’ve paid over $100 US a bottle before). For ice wine to be produced, the grapes are grown in, well, frozen conditions! Taiwan is not recognized as an area that gets snow, but it does have a few high altitude areas that get snow capped mountains so there was a chance this might be a real diamond in the rough…or not.
Tonight, we decided to open this “Taiwan Ice Wine” that was produced in Taoyuan County. We were instantly skeptical when Brett uncorked it to find the cork resembled a hunk of creamy blue cheese. On the nose, my first thoughts were rotten food and kimchi. One thing I’ve learned about living in Asia, things often taste much better than they smell so I tried to get past the vile smell emanating from the glass. The taste? I’d describe it as a sparkling fish sauce! The wine had a strong salty taste that I found completely disgusting. I don’t often find a wine I really dislike and this was the first that I just physically could not drink without my gag reflex kicking in!
Brett was not as repulsed as I was. The first few sips, he found the wine to be “rancid, with a touch of putrid.” However, he continued to drink it — my guess is he wanted to find a reason to like it. And why not, it was only $10. LOL! After several more sips, he came to the conclusion there were some endearing qualities of concord grape flavor. These reminded him of his childhood and the grapes he would pick off the vines near his home in Connecticut. Even though he found that tiny bit of redemption, the wine still ended up going down our drain!
Fortunately, with prices like $10 we can afford to experiment and not feel as guilty dumping it down the drain. Perhaps I should have held on to it though – I could have tried it as a substitute for fish sauce in a few recipes!
Have you experimented with any unknown wines or lesser known wine regions? We’d love to hear the good (and the bad) so we know what to check out or be sure to avoid!
Sadly, our wine collection at home has been rather neglected as of late - between traveling the past few months and moving into a new place, we calculated that we’ve eaten more meals at various airports than our own home so far this year! Last night was an unusually cold and windy night in Taipei so we opted to skip going out and finally enjoy a nice romantic meal in our new apartment, which provided the perfect excuse to open one of our good Napa Cabs. Our pick – the 2004 Reserve from Waterstone.
Any good Cab deserves a nicely paired meal to bring out the complex array of aromas and flavors found in this hearty varietal. My pick for this wine was a juicy, thick grilled steak. Marinated with a dry rub, much like Emeril’s Essence, I was very curious to see how the Cab would stand up against the strong black pepper flavor often best reserved for a varietal like Zinfandel.
To my pleasant surprise, the Waterstone Cabnernet stood up perfectly against the peppery dry rub, maintaining its fruit forwardness and a nice finish. The 2004 Reserve Cab is 9% Cabernet Franc, perhaps providing that tobacco touch that married so well with the black pepper in the spice rub.
In general, I’ve found 2004 to be a fantastic year for Cabs in the Napa Valley. Almost every 2004 Cab I’ve tried from Napa Valley has easily beaten out other year vintages, hands down. After what turned out to be an early harvest season due to early bud break followed by a hot summer, many vineyards were faced with a decrease in fruit production; however, they ended up with grapes that had much more concentrated flavors. This certainly worked in Waterstone’s favor as this wine was recognized by Wine Enthusiast and awarded 91 points in the November 2008 Buyer’s Guide.
Tasting Notes and Wine Data
- Tasting Notes: Aromas of cedar oak, currant, black cherry and ripe plum. Flavors of cherries, plums, chocolate and tobacco marry with the subtle oak nuances. Firm tannins provide a balance, leading to a long, lingering finish.
- Composition: 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, 8% Merlot, 4% Petite Verdot
- Oak Aging: 21 months in brand new small French Oak barrels
- Production: 664 cases
- Bottling Date: January 15, 2007
- Suggested retail: $75
- Cellar Potential: Wine Enthusiast suggests cellaring until 2012, or drink now after decanting for a few hours
- Website: www.waterstonewines.com
To pair with our leftover bifteki burgers, we opted to try another rosé we bought at random while grocery shopping. Since we are basically limited in our wine options here on the island, we chose several rosés to pair with our pork dishes. Rosés are the main wine that come from the Côtes de Provence region. It is believed that 50% of the rosé wine made in France comes from the Côtes de Provence area, which is located on the French Riviera. The rosés from this region tend to be more dry and fruit forward. I could not really find much information about the winery but this was definitely a decent choice for just an every day drinking wine.
Lava Cap in Placerville, CA produces some great wines (winery review to follow!) and one of the bottles that made it to Taiwan with us is their Mourvedre Reserve. Mourvedre is a Rhone varietal that tends to be a pretty tannic wine on its own. Besides the southern Rhone Valley, it is common along the Mediterranean, sometimes known as Monastrell or Mataro. It is most often a blending wine and Lava Cap’s Mourvedre Reserve is 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Zinfandel, and 2% Barbera. Lava Cap notes their Mourvedre has a spicy nose of black pepper, anise, cherry, and clove framed by a sweet oak. The taste is smooth and rich, but not too tannic.
Lava Cap produced only 9 barrels of this wine and it’s probably one of my favorite wines from them. For those who are not familiar with the vineyard, it’s a small, boutique type winery, located in the foothills near Sacramento.
For pairing Mourvedre, it is best with roasts, stews, and more hearty dishes. We paired it with a roast pork in red wine (used the Mourvedre) sauce with a potato stew.
Monmousseau is from the western part of the Loire Valley in France, near the city of Angers. Monmousseau Vineyards produce a number of European varietals and honestly, I did not know anything about them really prior to purchasing this wine. Although we are big red fans, a nice rose with the right meal is the perfect touch sometimes. Since I could not get the wines I was hoping for in Taiwan, I opted to just pick a couple from our local wine store.
Since we were serving the Bifteki (Greek Hamburger) and I was making ours with pork, a rose seemed to be a good choice. The Monmousseau Rose is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Groulleau. It is known for being semi-sweet, lighter alcoholic content, and very fruit forward (the winemaker notes aromas of strawberry and cherry Twizzler). Recommended pairings include poultry, white meat, and typically picnic type foods – this is more a traditional summer wine.
Overall, I would say it stood up to our meal, even with the strong feta cheese component. It had a nice fruity touch, seemed to balance the acidity in the tomatoes from the Greek salad.