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!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Mt. Veeder

About a year ago we wrote about the Monte Rosso Vineyard which I had read was producing the finest Cabernet Sauvignon out of Sonoma Valley.  We learned that the vineyard was located on Moon Mountain which is literally on the other side of the mountain from Napa's Mount Veeder.  Both vineyards reside in the Mayacamas mountain range which bisects Napa-Sonoma with the vineyards being equidistant from the famed wine making valleys and the towns that bear the Napa and Sonoma names.

Both vineyards are large with many individual wineries sourcing juice from them.  They are also much older than we would think.  The modern California fine wine industry really started in the 1960's but the Mount Veeder vineyards in particular date back to the middle of the 19th century with many participating wineries starting there in the early pre-prohibition twentieth century.

Mount Veeder lies in the southwest corner of Napa Valley with the vineyards facing south overlooking the San Pablo Bay.  The vineyards, which are in small pockets going up the mountainside,  start at 500 feet altitude and go up to 1,600 feet with most being above the fog bank emanating from the bay.  These rugged vineyards are terraced and cling to the very steep hillsides of the mountain which, of necessity, require all work there to be done by hand.

 So what makes this place so special?  The shallow soil in Mount Veeder vineyards is made up of ancient seabed materials driven upwards by plate tectonics over volcanic rock.  The climate at this altitude reverses what we usually anticipate to be evident.  Here the days are cooler than the nights resulting in the longest growing season in Napa.  Even with the additional hang time there the berries end up being small with concentrated rich and spicy flavors.  The presence of the bay is credited with heightening the acidic structure.

The textbook character of Cabernet grown here would include licorice, spice, blackfruit, cassis, black currant flavors along with minerality.  From their website the 2014 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon currently in the store has "intense dark fruit aromas of black current followed by wet earth, mushrooms, and carmelized sugar with hints of dried herbs before long rich cassis flavors on the palate".

Please join us this Thursday the 31st at 5pm when David Rimmer presents a tasting of new Italian wines in his fine European portfolio.  Then join us again on Saturday at 1pm when we kick off the holiday weekend with another tasting.

Friday, August 25, 2017


While everyone knows this product as "Woodbridge" it is now apparently being promoted as "The Woodbridge" on their website (www.woodbridgewines.com) which is everything you would expect from Constellation or whatever conglomerate now owns it.  And why not make it extra special by adding "With every glass of Woodbridge, life becomes a little richer."  Yeah, right.

Gallo wrote the book on this kind of wine advertising back in the 1960's with images of beautiful young professionals enjoying each other's company while swirling their wine stems.  Give credit to the ad men.  They sure can pick attractive models.  In the current Woodbridge case all are dressed casually (jeans/khakis, plaid shirts, sweaters, neck scarfs) with a lot of greenery in the background and everyone is oh so smilingly relaxed.  Updating the old Gallo model which then targeted caucasian yuppies, different ages and races are now imaged for their current audience to admire.

Woodbridge is a place, by the way, a town just northwest of Lodi.  Robert Mondavi, who grew up in Lodi, built his Woodbridge winery there in 1979.  Lodi at the time was considered to be jug wine (Cribari?) country at the northern most quadrant of the Central Valley.  Just like in Europe though, when economics dictates that a new "fine wine" region needs to be declared, we find a way to elevate places like Lodi to fit our needs.  In fairness, Bedrock, Turley, and other prominant wine companies source Zinfandel, Viognier, and Chenin Blanc juice from Lodi so there is quality wine being made there too.

So why am I knocking this product?  I'm not.  I'm just knocking the advertising.  Including the Lodi fine wine appellation.  Thirty-five years ago when I got into this business, the Mondavi name was marketed as a "premium" wine.  The basic level Gallo, Inglenook, and other mediocrities sold for under $5/btl at the time.  Now Woodbridge is here in the store and priced at $60/cs and while the price is down there the quality is probably more comparable to those Mondavi workhorse wines of thirty-five years ago.  It's just another example of how progress in wine making technology and international competition have raised the quality bar for the American wine lover.

Please join us this Thursday, the 31st of August between 5 and 7pm, when David Rimmer presents new Italian estate wines at our weekly tasting.  Three of these wines are from Piedmont, the finest wine production region of Italy, and one will be a reserve quality Super-Tuscan.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


Cantina Zaccagnini il vino "dal tralcetto" Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (2014) is the complete name for this exemplary bottle of fine red dinner wine.  "Tralcetto" is important as an identifier since it means grapevine and opportunely Zaccagnini ties a two inch piece of vine around the neck of each bottle.  If you wanted to make your product stand out when comingled with other shelf stock in your local store, why not visually connect it with its origins.

Cantina Zaccagnini is a family-owned and operated business (est. 1978) that has successfully grown its production through modernization of wine making methods.  Grape crushing, maceration, and filtration is all done in a vacuum and fermentation is thermally-controlled using advanced equipment.  Sterile stainless steel conditions are maintained everywhere before the wine finally sees four to six months in oak.

We have blogged before about Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.  Montepulciano is the grape; Abuzzo is the farming country halfway down the back side of the boot of Italy.  Neither grape nor place were considered remarkable historically since the mountains there tended to isolate them from surrounding Italy.  Only through the efforts of the natives were they able to cultivate the now heralded cuisine of Abbruzzo.  That cuisine includes pork, mutton, and goat meat along with Pecarino, Ricotta, and other cheeses that accompany the vegetables and spices of the region.  A disproportionate number of Italy's great chefs also seem to grow there!  We mention all of this to get to what should be obvious - if the foods are this rich and diverse and Montepulciano is the sole red wine of the region then it must be one incredible dinner wine!

Characteristics for this wine include "intense ruby color and a similarly intense characteristic bouquet, a robust full body, and firm acidity with fine tannins".  Flavors include "integrated mocha and tar accents, dark plum, black licorice, olive paste, and oak".  Our retail for this fine example of type is $15 making it a clear step up from entry level Montepulciano.

One more thing - that piece of grapevine tied around the neck of the bottle is far from incidental.  The Zaccagninis subsidize a nearby home for disabled individuals who earn that stipend by tying the twig onto the bottle necks.

Please join us here at the store on Thursday the 17th at 5pm as we entertain Scott and Michelle Carey, the proprietors of Emerald Hare Winery of California.  The Careys will be presenting their Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Red Blend and Rose for our consideration that evening.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Boutinot USA

I haven't ranted about how vacuous wine company websites are lately...but they are!  That's why the Boutinot website is so refreshing.  They actually want you to learn about them which logically leads you to conclude they must have a worthwhile product to sell.

Despite the "USA" part of their name, Boutinot is a UK-based company.  They were founded in 1980, about the time I got into this business.  We just learned about them this year when they were presented to us by the fine wine representative for their Atlanta distributorship.  That individual effectively tasted us on the wines slowly and with commentary like the wines were a much higher priced product. When the presentation was completed we were given the pricing - most Boutinots can be retailed in the $10 range!

The following information is all taken from their website, boutinot.com.

Boutinot is a company of 70+ employees who represent grape growers, wine makers, importers, and exclusive agents for more than 150 wine producers in fifteen countries making 1,400 wines.  They have relationships with wine makers in Spain, Chile, and Australia where they own vineyards, cellars, and wineries.  Boutinot also owns wine making facilities in South Africa and at three European facilities; two just outside of the Rhone and Beaujolais regions and one in Piedmont, Italy.  Boutinot also represents Cline Cellars of Sonoma, California

Forty-four million bottles of Boutinot wines are sold annually.

Boutinot also has a philosophy - They want to produce wines with "soul and character".  They want minimal intervention between vineyard and winery, meaning they want the wines to reflect the vineyard terroir.  They desire a "natural synergy" between the grape growers and the wine makers yielding wines that show provenance, purity, expression, and finesse.  They want authenticity.

Please join us here at the store this Thursday at 5pm when David Hobbs presents the wines of Bodega  Altocedro of Mendoza, Argentina.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


I feel like I shouldn't let a summer go by without a post about Riesling, probably the finest white wine there is.  How can I say that you ask when you vividly remember that last great Chardonnay you had?  Easy.  While both types are usually single varietal wines, Chardonnay typically benefits from the ample oak aging most of them have.  If the truth be known, that's where most of its character comes from.  What would Chardonnay be without the oak?  Probably a fine light white wine...but far short of the complex masterpiece that unoaked Riesling is.

Wait a minute...  Perhaps you thought Riesling was the sweet, nondescript, flaccid, step-above-jug-wine stuff sold in the chain stores.  Sad to say, that's what most people think of when the subject comes up.  The finest Riesling, however, comes from Germany and like all of the other noble grape wines, you have to pay a bit more to taste the good stuff.  Also like other fine wine, you have to look for brand names and code words like predikat and trocken and place names like Rhine and Mosel and then you should even learn vineyards that bespeak quality.  So it is a bit more difficult than just grabbing a Chardonnay off the shelf!

Chardonnay and Riesling share a common parent, by the way.  If it wasn't still around in Europe, Gouais Blanc could reside in the realm of the semi-mythical for all of the esteemed wine grapes it has sired.  In Riesling's case its origins are in the Rhineland and written references to the grape start in the Middle Ages.  The other parent grape, by the way, is a Traminer/wild vine hybrid.

The standard Riesling flavor profile includes just about all of the tree fruits (apples, pears, etc), honey (flavor), flowers, minerality, and something called petrol, which may include gasoline, lanolin, rubber, and diesel.  While you may think you can live without this dimension, I love it.  Petrol means quality!

The intrinsic high acidity this flavorful grape brings to the table means food affinities include just about everything.  (Think of German sausages and cabbage!)  Riesling also works with salty foods and it's ideal with most Asian foods. And because it is so flavorful you can iced it down in the summertime without fearing it will lose its character.

Riesling is also terroir-expressive which means its flavors reflect its environs.  It performs best in sandy, slatey soils and does better in cool climates which explains why Chateau Ste Michelle in Washington State has become the world leader in Riesling production (2 million cases!).  We currently stock their Cold Creek Vineyard Riesling along with a half dozen from Germany.

This Thursday at 5pm as Cheri Rubio presents the wines of Rabble of California.  The lineup includes Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Red Blend, and Rose.  Please join us.