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Celebrate Chardonnay Day! South African winemaker Bruwer Raats talks Indaba Chardonnay.

I Want To Be a Master Wine Blender…When I Grow Up

What does it take to be a master wine blender? A lot of patience and anxiety, it seems. USQ hosted winemaker Andy Erickson, known for his work at for Ovid, Arietta, Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle, Dancing Hares, and his own label, Favia, for an Art of Blending seminar. The interactive session, complete with five barrels samples of 2011 Napa Valley grapes, pitted three “teams” against one another to come up with unique red wine blends based on Erickson’s own Leviathan. Oh! And USQ made a blend too.

If you want to be a master blender, start off by perfecting your palate. Then gather a bunch of beakers and brush up on chemistry. Might want to learn the metric system. And math, you know, since the percentages of each grape in the blend should add up to 100 percent. After tasting through barrel samples (so fresh they haven’t even been RACKED yet) of Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and two clones of Cabernet Sauvignon (191 and 337, for the record), Erickson discussed the attributes of each with the group. He mixed a blend on the spot, but assured us that the final percentages always change, as the wines each evolve in their French oak barrels.

On group wanted more Cab Franc and another pushed for Merlot, while the third group wanted a blend much like Erickson’s. USQ? We said toss in 45 percent Syrah (!) just to mix it up. We ended up with a selection of shockingly different wines, each with their own pros and cons. The key to balance is working with blending ideas throughout the aging time, so by the final round, you have some idea how each grape’s elements change over time. Our blend featured a bit too much Syrah for elegant balance, but hey, never know how the Syrah will taste in a few months!

Flowers in the Form of Drinks: Mother’s Day Cocktails

Who needs to give flowers on Mother’s Day when you can give floral cocktails?! Our friends over at Serious Eats agree that botanic-inspired drinks are definitely the way to go this Sunday and hence, have compiled a list of eight blossoming concoctions and recipes. Instead of creating our own cocktails this week, we figured we’d share theirs, such as the lavender- and honey-laced H.K. Rose and the agave-tinged, bubbly punch, Jalisco Flower. We’ve also got all the spirits and wine ingredients handy, ready for you to hit “add to cart.”

Tis’ the Season…For a Rosé Like No Other

After a few weeks of teasing and flirting, it’s almost that time of year. The sun is starting to shine a little brighter, the air is warm enough to send your coats and sweaters packing for the back of the closet, and before you know it, city-dwellers will be heading to their summer homes in the Hamptons and Jersey Shore. That’s right, Rosé season is upon us, and while you can’t beat a light crisp Provence rose on a hot summer day, sometimes you want a little more out of your blushing summer companion. Enter, 2000 López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva Rosado.

Quite a mouthful, but once you get a taste, all you’ll want is another mouthful of this incredibly unique rosé. Drop all your expectations about what a rosé is and should be and enjoy the ride. Founded in 1877, López de Heredia is steeped in tradition and unlike many new producers, considers aging the wine both in barrel and bottle to be an essential step to creating a fine wine. (See a video of our recent tasting with the Heredia family here.) This particular wine is a blend of Tempranillo (20%), Garnacho (60%), and Viura (20%), all from the Heredia family vineyards. The wine saw four-and-a-half years in used American oak barrels, and six years in bottle before it was released. Bursting with flavors of dried red fruit, almonds, peach, and orange zest, while sporting a nice mineral backbone, this is definitely not your typical rose next door. It’s great paired with spicy dishes as well as more substantial summer meals like sausage and charcuterie.

At the time of harvest, the demand for the rosado was so low that López de Heredia stopped making it from 2000 until 2008. With such extensive ageing, we may not see another rosado from them until 2018! USQ snagged quite a few cases for this reason, but don’t wait too long—get your hands on this while it’s hot (and hot outside too). -Seth White

Going Vertical: Kanonkop Pinotage From 1998 to 2009

What does a 1998 South African Pinotage taste like? Oddly enough, like a musty, saddle leather-driven Rioja—at least the bottling by Kanonkop.

This week, we tasted ten Kanonkop Pinotage bottlings spanning 11 years with winemaker Abrie Beeslaar. Kanonkop is a historic wine estate in the Stellenbosch region, run by the same family for four generations. They grow Pinotage (a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault developed in the 1920s), as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. But Pinotage and its attempt to overcome a negative stereotype in the eyes of the American consumer took precedent during the recent tasting led by Beeslaar. (That’s USQ’s Tom Smith tasting with Beeslaar above.) He noted that wine drinkers tend to judge the variety over the producer, when in fact, we should be judging the producer not the variety. And after tasting stellar examples, such as the 1998, the earthy and complex 2008 Cape Winemakers Guild Pinotage and the juicy, red berry-focused 2009 Pinotage, his words hit a homerun.

We could bog you down with copious notes on each wine, but overall, the wines showed a variety of red wine descriptors, from tints of deep cherry to aromas of smoked meats to flavors reminiscent of classic Burgundies. The 2008 Cape Winemakers Guild Pinotage, designed specifically for auction by winemakers invited to the guild, stood out with its 100 percent new oak aging, dark, earthy nose, and complex brown shoe leather and dark fruit notes on the palate. It seemed quite similar to the 1998, with its musty funk and still juicy fruit cocooned with strong earth and leather notes. One person even joked that it was like Chateau Musar, the infamously wine geek red wine blend from Lebanon. Yet even the young, but “will mature beautifully” 2009 had many fans, thanks to its powerful structure, red berry flavors, and balanced tannins. If we’re going to judge Pinotage, we’re going to rule in its favor, at least when we’re talking about Kanonkop. -Stephanie Cain

Get the 2009 Kanonkop Pinotage here.

Jay McInerney Talks The Juice with Wine Critic Ray Isle: Book Reading & Wine Tasting

USQ and Strand Bookstore host Jay McInerney as he reads from his latest non-fiction book, The Juice: Vinous Veritas, followed by a chat with Ray Isle, executive editor of Food & Wine, and wine tasting. The Juice features more than 50 articles of McInerney’s adventures in oenology, hilarious anecdotes, and invaluable wine advice. Sip, listen, and talk vino during our Q&A session and wine tasting, featuring bottlings highlighted in the book.  If you’re familiar with McInerney, you’ll know he’s currently a wine columnist for the Wall Street Journal and author of eight novels, including his heralded debut Bright Lights, Big City and previous wine publications, A Hedonist in the Cellar and Bacchus and Me. He describes Thomas Jefferson as “the founding wine geek,” writes that a Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay tastes like a “deconstructed margarita…wowsah,” and calls the Sonoma Pinot-craze “the bizzaro-world antithesis of planet Napa Cabernet.” Want more? We’ll see you on May 10!

Reservations are required to attend this event. Tickets are sold ONLY through Strand Bookstore. Cost: Buy The Juice book or a $25 ticket, which includes a $10 voucher toward purchases at USQ the night of the event. Buy tickets here.

Dare I Say Sexy? 2009 Occhipinti Siccagno Nero d’Avola

I’m always a sucker for natural wines, so I find myself always looking to this certified organic producer from Sicily. Young female winemaker Arianna Occhipinti comes from quite the winemaking family. Her uncle is Guisto Occhipinti who owns Cos winery (also killer stuff). The thing that separates her wine from some of the other island producers is how fresh it is; it just reeks of elegance. The 2009 Nero d’Avola, 100 percent Nero d’Avola, is bright, tart and acidic, with dark cherry flavors. I love that I feel like I am tasting Sicily when I take each sip. A big handful of volcanic rich soil hits the mouth, but in a great way. Trust me, I wouldn’t make you drink dirt. Yet, the wine appears surprisingly soft and, dare I say…sexy? Maybe is because Arianna is not even 30 years old. The best is yet to come. Drink it, love it! We do! -Joseph Sangiovanni

Wooga, wooga, it’s the Great GoogaMooga, a self-described amusement park of food and drink. And it’s happening May 19 and 20, in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. So imagine this: sitting in the springtime sun, with bites from big name restaurants (Red Rooster Harlem, Blue Ribbon, Luke’s Lobster, Momofuku Milk Bar…), refreshing glass of wine (selections organized by our friends at Terroir + Summer of Riesling), ice-cold beer (Oktoberfest-inspired theme curated by Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery), and hedonism-focused friends. We think it’s a no-brainer. Who’s going with us?

Txomin Etxaniz 2010 Txakoli de Getaria

I’ve been on a whites kick lately, and there is no better white to welcome warm weather than this lightly effervescent Basque bottling. Txakoli is, traditionally, a slightly sparkling, dry Spanish white wine boasting a pale green color and served as an aperitif. A blend of two native grapes, Hondarrabi Zuri and Hondarrabi Beltza, this bottling is one of three produced by the Txueka Etxaniz family in Getaria, along the coast. (Getaria is actually hometown of fashion designer Cristobal Balenciaga. No wonder I love this wine so much!) Even though it’s light and crisp, with melon notes and a slight acidity, it’s far more complex in character than most enter-summer wines thanks to its mineral backbone and zesty finish. Perfect with seafood. Try salted anchovies. -Stephanie Cain

The 2010 Txomin Etxaniz Txakoli de Getaria is Stephanie’s staff pick this month. Check it out here.

USQite Charles Sasson wandered through Portugal recently, tasting at some of the top estates including Herdade do Esporao and Quinta dos Murcas. See the full album here.

USQite Charles Sasson wandered through Portugal recently, tasting at some of the top estates including Herdade do Esporao and Quinta dos Murcas. See the full album here.