Thursday, November 9, 2017

Chateau St. Jean/Treasury Wine Estates

This week we got in ten cases of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay from the historic Chateau St. Jean of Sonoma Valley, California.  Established in 1973, St. Jean has been a legendary producer of Chardonnay in particular; but also, courtesy of generous Wine Spectator magazine accolades, the Cinque Cepage Meritage Red has now become the winery's primary attraction.  None of this is really relevant though considering our ten cases are lower tier wines probably made from co-op juice at a facility unconnected to St. Jean.  It's all marketing, ya know.

Treasury Wine Estates is the current owner of Chateau St. Jean as of 2015.  Who are they?  Well, Treasury is an Australian company that basically owns all of the Australian wine labels marketed in this country excepting those owned by our own multi-national wine conglomerates.  Treasury also owns Beaulieu Vineyards, Sterling, Provenance, Sbragia, Rosenblum, Beringer, Stags Leap Winery, Etude, St. Clement and a whole lot more that are not household names.  A w-h-o-l-e lot more.

In 2015 Treasury basically bought the entire book of California wines belonging to Diageo, the English equivalent of Treasury.  Curiously, they bought the Acacia name but not the winery or vineyards which is what I thought was normal and customary for transactions on this scale.  Treasury did buy the vineyards belonging to most of the wineries listed above and that speaks well for them.  In fact Treasury has made a statement with this purchase.  They obviously believe in the future of our higher priced domestic wines in the world market.  Treasury intends to market heavily to Asia.

They also believe Diageo, a liquor company primarily, didn't exactly hoe the row properly in the wine business and having attended a Diageo tasting or two where all of the wines in the room tasted remarkably the same, I wholeheartedly agree.  This, of course, is the problem with mass marketers.  The wines all taste the same.

So Treasury plans to utilize two wineries to produce most of their wines.  Twenty dollar-plus wines will be made at Beringer in Napa while under twenty dollar wines will be made in Paso Robles.  Treasury Wine Estates, itself, is headquartered in Napa.  The great estate wines of Beaulieu and Sterling will continue to be made on the respective properties.

On Saturday November 11th from 1 to 3pm Brian Espanol holds court here with a tasting of California Red Blends.  On Thursday the 16th at 5pm Bob Reynolds does much the same and then on Saturday the 18th at 3pm David Rimmer returns with new French wines for us to sample.  Please join us for the tastings.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Rosey Goat

Rosey Goat has always been one of the most predictably popular cheeses we have offered here at the store.  All you have to do is keep it in stock and set it out for tasting occasionally and it's off to the races and we're sold out again in no time.  So why haven't I had it here for the better part of a year?

Usually when I don't have a staple like Rosey Goat it's because the supplier is out of it.  But then if I'm not on my game and it's nowhere in sight to remind me to order it, well then, Ol' Don forgets to order it.  That and I tend to buy off the monthly promotions circular instead of just keeping the popular cheeses in stock.

So what is this Rosey Goat stuff we're talking about?  In Spain it's called Caprillice and it hails from the Castilla La Mancha region of central Spain.  Yes that's right, Don Quixote country.  The cheese is  semi-soft in texture, mild in flavor yet because it is goat cheese, it has the requisite goaty tang.  It is aged six to eight weeks during which time it receives its resinous rosemary crust.

In La Mancha Rosey Goat is considered a sister cheese to "Winey Goat", a similarly styled cheese that receives a red wine bath during ageing instead of the herbs which brings up the fundamental naming issues many cheeses have.  While we have never sold "Winey Goat" we have sold that cheese by other names.  The same for Rosey Goat and many other cheeses from other countries.  Sometimes it has to do with the appellation system, sometimes it's branding, and I'm sure other times it has to do with proprietary rights.  Hey what's in a name anyway?

Rosey Goat is great with tapas, rustic bread, Marcona almonds, and European dry red wine.  I would even give it a try with white wine.  And it's here in the store now...but for how long?   

David Hobbs joins us this Thursday at 5pm with a tasting of four wines from Long Meadow Ranch of Napa Valley.  Please join us for the tasting.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Something For Everyone

Last Thursday's tasting featured four red wines: an inexpensive Spanish Garnacha and three twenty dollar reds from Chile, France, and California.  The Spanish red was really quite good so if your need is for respectable everyday fare that Spanish bottle would be an excellent choice but if you wanted something more distinctive the latter three were exemplary.

Our Chilean option was the 2012 Terra Noble Gran Reserva Carmenere and it was a spot-on example of type down to the off-putting earthiness of the wine when first uncorked.  Carmenere is the storied premier grape of Chile first planted in the 1850's and then labelled as Merlot throughout the twentieth century before genetic testing in 1994 revealed its true identity.  It is characterized by red fruit (cherry) flavors, spice, earthiness/smokiness, with ample leather, tobacco, and dark chocolate rounding out the profile.  Our Terra Noble opened up beautifully, losing its earthy mustiness and becoming a real head turner in the second hour of the event.

Our California red was the 2014 Smith & Hook Central Coast Proprietary Red Blend.  From the back label - "Crafted from superior quality Merlot, Malbec, Petite Sirah, and Cabernet Sauvignon, this blend features vibrant berry, cherry, and plum flavors."  This one was just as advertised and not surprisingly, it needed no time to open up.  There was no need to ponder over this one.  It was a fun crowd pleaser with no pretension. 

By contrast our French red was one with a pedigree.  Not only was the 2014 Crocus L'Atelier Malbec de Cahor representative of the grape variety grown in the place known for that type (in France!) but it also carried the Paul Hobbs Selections moniker on the back label.  Mr. Hobbs may be the best known winemaker in the world with wines featuring his name prominently commanding high dollar prices.  This one is actually made by Paul Bertrand.  Tellingly, all of our tasting wines came with tech sheets with the Crocus carrying about five times as much information as the others.

So which one was the best?  We're not saying!  The California wine would be a great apertif or pizza/hamburger wine.  The Chilean would marry well with red meat or game on the grill.  The Crocus would be what you need for fine dining.  This tasting really offered something for everyone...unless you required white wine!

We have Europeans next week with David Rimmer bringing new French and Italian wines to the tasting table.  Forget about Ruffino, Banfi, Louis Jadot, and Louis Latour; if you want to taste real quality from Europe be here on Thursday the 26th at 5pm for the good stuff.  Count on great European cheese on the table for this one too!   

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


This is a relatively new cheese here and elsewhere since it just received its IGP place of origin protection in 2010.  Currently the cheese is made by Casa Madaio in the Basillica region of southern Italy but it really goes back to antiquity.  Raising sheep in southern Italy seems to have always been an historical way of life for mountain towns like Moliterno, one of many villages known there for their cheese.

At 2,500 feet elevation Moliterno is one of several towns in the area that were important to Italians from the southern flatlands.  It was a seasonal refuge for recreation for the flatlanders who could also utilize the cheese cellars there to store their perishables.  When necessary the mountains also provided a natural defense against invaders, allowing ousted flatlanders to rest and regroup before any counterattack was in the offing. Shepherds also took advantage of the various elevations to graze their sheep during different seasons.

Moliterno cheese falls into the Pecarino family.  It may be called Pecarino di Moliterno or Canestrato Pecarino, canestrato meaning the cheese is formed in baskets for the first twenty-four hours.  For the ensuing months of aging the cheese is repeatedly rubbed with olive oil to maintain its moisture.  If the cheese is aged just two to six months it is called "Primitive"; if six months or more, "Mature"; and if a year or more, "Extra".

While Pecarino is solidly sheep cheese, Moliterno may have up to 30% goat's milk.  If aged long enough Moliterno may be hard and crumbly in texture, a darker golden color, aromatic with rustic grassiness and sweet caramel, and having strong rich flavors and saltiness.  Locally the cheese is served with hot pepper jelly, on raw vegetables and pears, and grated on soups and pasta.  It also pairs well with the local white wines of southern Italy.

Please join us tomorrow, the 19th of October, at 5pm when Nick Simonetti presents a tasting of Burgans, Albarino, Evodia Garnacha, Crocus Malbec (Paul Hobbs), and Terra Noble Gran Reserve Carmenere.   The Moliterno will be on the table.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017


Peter Yealands Sauvignon Blanc was one of a dozen open sample bottles dropped off here a few weeks ago and it turned out to be the best thing in the box.  Most of the wines (including Yealands) were priced in the sweet spot (about $12.99) but that box also included a $65 French Champagne and a $50 centerpiece white from Napa.  While both of those were great, without hesitation the Yealands was the one to buy.

The reviewers say the Yealands should display "passionfruit, guava, fresh herbs, and black currant".  New Zealand typically features gooseberry and citrus in spades in the textbook flavor profile but the Yealands seemed to be more passionfruit and guava-centered with complementary stone fruit and minerality completing the picture.  All considered, this one is a real charmer.

Peter Yealands is the man behind the eponymous label and as we all know, it's always nice to have a story to tell when selling the wine.  With a motto like "Think boldly, tread lightly, and never say it can't be done", Yealands' story is one of naked business ambition while still maintaining ecological concerns at its center.  The Yealands wine endeavor began in 2008 and immediately assured its place in wine industry history by becoming the first winery ever to receive its carbon-zero certification at its onset.

Yealands had purchased his land in 2002, built his winery in '08, and assembled his sales team in '10.  In '11 he merged his winery with Ager Sectus, marketer of The Crossings label, another high quality/low priced Sauvignon Blanc.  In 2012 Yealands won the "Best Sauvignon Blanc in the World"  trophy at the International Wine Challenge and in 2014 he won the New Zealand Wine Producer of the Year at the International Wine and Spirits Competition.  In the 2013 interim he doubled the size of his winery.  Then in 2015 the Marlborough Lines power company acquired an 80% share of the company fundamentally altering Yealands' personal business ambitions.

Also at about this time Yealands ran afoul of the local environmental laws.  "Marc" is the residual skins, stems and pulp left in the fermentation tanks and elsewhere after the wine is drawn off and filtered.  This byproduct could be used to make brandy as they do in Europe or it could be worked into the soil as fertilizer or it can be fed to farm animals.  What the local New Zealand authorities do not want to see is marc running off into streams creating a chemical balance from its high levels of nitrates, sodium, and chlorine and that's what was happening in Marlborough.  An industry-wide problem complicated by the topography of New Zealand, the situation bears a resemblance to the much worse poultry industry problem here in Gainesville with its runoff into Lake Lanier.  In Yealands' case the runoff problem was complicated by his usage of his son's corporate lands for a containment pit which ultimately failed leaving the appearance of a criminal conspiracy.

Please join us this Thursday the 5th of October between 5 and 7pm when Bob Reynolds presents two from Willamette Valley Vineyards of Oregon, Cesari Mara Ripasso Valpolicella, and Baron de Ley Spanish Tempranillo at the weekly tasting.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017


LAN is a winery estate in Rioja, the finest appellation in Spain.  The name is an acronym standing for the three provinces of Rioja: Logrono, Alava, and Navarra.  John Perry Calaff is the Export Manager for LAN and has graced our premises twice in recent years affording us a taste of their four wines offered here in the Atlanta marketplace.

Interestingly enough, the vintages for these labels has not changed so what we have is two snapshots of the evolution of four wines in the bottle and the results were telling.  A year ago the Reserva was the version I was touting as the one to buy.  I was actually telling customers it may be the best twenty dollar red in the store.  High praise indeed.  Now I'm not so sure.  It wasn't so much that that one didn't show well.  It was fine.  But the fifteen dollar Crianza just way overperformed at that price point eclipsing the Reserva in value.  What a wonderful soft red dinner wine it is!

The other head turner on the table was the 2011 LAN Edicion Limitada which just happened to be a top 100 Wine Spectator selection.  While the Crianza showed all it had right out of the chute, this one was a hard cover novel with alluring artwork that opened up into an entrancing read.  You just couldn't put it down!  Every once in a while the Spectator gets it right.

Tempranillo is the great red grape of Spain and just like the Spectator that country got it right with that selection.  Around the world wherever it's planted Tempranillo is ordinary at best but in Spain it's delightful.  Most Lan reds are minimally 85% Tempranillo and Mr. Calaff informed us that food affinities for these kinds of wines included seafood in tomato and garlic sauce, lamb chops, cured cheeses, and tapas.

Calaff also gave a little seminar on the usage of oak in wine barrels.  The reds, other than the Limited Edition used French and American oak for aging with the French imparting dark spices including clove, black pepper, and cedar while the American imparted sweet tannins, vanilla, cinnamon, coconut, and nutmeg.  He went on to say these woods were more porous than others allowing the wine to aerate during aging.

The Limited Edition on the other hand was put into Russian oak after initially seeing seven months in new French oak and that wood comes from a colder climate making the grain tighter and less porous cutting off any air that may create a softer wine.  This one is for putting away, folks!  Then for additional complexity a twenty percent blend of Graciano and Mazuelo is blended into the eighty percent Tempranillo.

Please join us next Thursday the 21st at 5pm when Cheri Rubio presents a tasting of Napa Valley reds and whites.  Our tasting selection includes examples from Beaulieu Vineyards, Sterling, Provenance, and Acacia.  Maybe we'll learn about oak barrels there too!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Sbragia Family Vineyards

Everyone knows Beringer Vineyards wines from their presence on chain store shelves everywhere.  Mass market industrial plonk, right?  Well, sort of, but Beringer is huge and does much more than just vin ordinaire.  It is the oldest continuously operating winery in Napa Valley and was in private hands until 1971 when the Nestle corporation purchased it.  Ed Sbragia made wines there for a total of thirty-two years starting in 1976 and served as head winemaker there since 1984.  The company has now been purchased by its fourth publicly traded owner so for as long as he worked there Ed Sbragia only knew the corporate culture.

"Sbragia" is an Italian name.  Ed's grandfather was a winemaker who emigrated from Tuscany to America at the turn of the last century settling in northern California.  Specifically the Dry Creek area became home for the Sbragia family and Ed developed lasting relationships with peers in the industry so when Dry Creek's Lake Sonoma Vineyards became available in 2004 he jumped on the opportunity to start his own Sbragia Family Vineyards.  Though still employed at Beringer in 2004 Sbragia purchased fruit from others to supplement what he grew at Lake Sonoma Vineyards before completing his winery purchase in '06. While he terminated his full time status at Beringer in '08 he remained a consultant for them for several years thereafter.  Ed now operates the estate with his son, Adam, the fourth generation Sbragia in the industry.

At Beringer Ed Sbragia was known for the great reserve wines they produced, in particular his Chardonnay was received by both the critics and the public with acclamation.  Today all ten Sbragia Family Vineyards wines are designated "single vineyard" with juice coming from nine vineyards which include fifty acres owned by the family.  Sbragia sources high elevation Cabernet Sauvignon from both sides of the Mayacamas mountain range at Monte Rosso vineyard on the Sonoma side and Mount Veeder on the Napa side.  He sources Chardonnay from Napa's Gamble Ranch and all other types from vineyards in Dry Creek and Alexander Valley.

"Bold, classic, intensely personal wines" says their website and while both the Home Ranch Chardonnay and Andolsen Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon sold equally well at our weekly store tasting, my vote goes to the Cab.  As we said above Sbragia may be best known for his Beringer Reserve Chardonnays but his current circumstances may open all kinds of creative avenues for this acclaimed wine maker.

On Thursday the 14th at 5pm at our weekly tasting Ted Fields will present three from Rioja, Spain and a 2008 (!) red from southern Italy.  Ted is a former college professor so expect to get a real wine education that night.  Please join us!