Tuesday, May 15, 2018


Altocedro (old cedars) is a wonderful Argentine property located in La Consulta in the Uco Valley in southern Mendoza.  We're writing about it here because we happen to have a stack of three of their fine reds in the store right now (hint, hint).  This boutique winery uses hand harvested, terroir-driven, sustainably farmed fruit in an ultra-modern gravity flow facility that then turns to concrete fermentation tanks before oak aging.  Classy.

At 33 degrees latitude La Consulta is the wine growing district where Altocedro is located.  The Uco Valley begins about an hour's drive south of the city of Mendoza and extends for about forty-five miles southward.  It is about fifteen miles wide.  What sets La Consulta apart from the larger valley and the even larger Mendoza appellation is its altitude of 3,772 feet above sea level.  At that elevation the air and water are pristine and the long growing season there offers fully two hundred fifty days of sunshine.  The climate is hot and dry and the wines are all organic by default since at that elevation there are no pests!

The Tunuyan River is the essential element that makes this region a destination for wine industry professionals and connoisseurs alike.  Mendoza, for all practical purposes, is a desert with a stony, sandy surface over alluvial soils of clay and rock.  Drainage is optimal in such soils that are obviously the result of erosion from the Andes.  Similarly the river is melt from the mountains.

Wine making here began as early as the 1500s when Spanish settlers brought vine cuttings from Chile.  Three hundred years later Malbec and other vinifera vines were brought from France. Then in the 1980's Nicholas Catena from that great wine making family furthered the science by blending wines from plantings at different altitudes (to 5,000 ft!) to delineate the existing microclimates.

Now here are today's vocabulary words: diurnal effect or thermal amplitude, which mean pretty much the same thing as far as I can tell.  Both terms refer to the desired dramatic temperature swing from afternoon highs to pre-dawn lows that wine makers love. Why is that so important?  Because in order for grapes to achieve the desired balance of high sugars and acids (phenolic ripeness) a pronounced swing is necessary.  For Mendocino grapes that means deep color, intense floral aromas, and rich flavors.

And that's why the great reds of Altocedro should be your next purchase!

Please join us in a tasting of Altocedro reds and others this Thursday the 17th starting at 5pm.  The following Thursday, by the way, features Quinton Lucia of WX Brands with a presentation of the wines of Jamieson Ranch of Napa Valley.                         

Tuesday, May 8, 2018


One of my favorite wine experiences is that of getting whacked by the acidic punch of a light dry white wine and if that experience happens on a hot summer afternoon, well, all the better!  You know what I'm talking about.  You've bitten into a lemon, lime or grapefruit and have felt your face recoil in that delectable horror of losing, at the very least, your composure and at the most, what you know to be your self hood!  Suddenly you are no longer the actor on the stage but rather the one being acted upon...by a piece of fruit yet!

While the wines I'm talking about could be from the interior of any wine producing continent, if you really want to get whacked, go to the coasts where wines tend to whack seafood quite well.  "Green, crisp, lively, tangy, and clean" are all the right adjectives for the experience we're talking about here.  Sometimes, I swear, you can even taste the salinity in the air in the wines of those places.  Heck, go to Italy where the whole country is coastline and they're always coming up with new (to us) old wine grapes like Pecarino.  Go to the French Mediterranean and have a glass of Picpoul.  Or to South Africa for some Steen.

Or you could go to Rias Baixas, Spain for Albarino like we did here last week with our tour guide, Brian Espanol.  That excursion went quite well, especially after a stop at the cheese table for some Idiazabol and Manchego!  Aye Charamba!

Join us here this Thursday after 5 as David Rimmer takes us to the coast of Brittany for a taste of Muscadet which punches as well as any of them.  Not Muscadine or Muscatel or Muscato despite the name similarities, this one is a lean, mean punching machine!  Wanna go a round or two?  Be here Thursday between 5 and 7pm.  And bring your boxing gloves!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Wine Preservers

Last week we got in an order of Vacuvin pumps and stoppers and Private Preserve gas, wine preservation tools which will probably end up just being used here by yours truly.  The Vacuvins will trickle out over time but just about the entire case of gas will remain on the shelf here where I will use it to preserve the many bottles we open for tastings.

So why don't such things sell better?  The most common response to my sales pitch for them is that the customer doesn't need such a tool, as in, "There's never any wine left in the bottle at the end of the evening."  Can't argue with that.  You don't need it then.  I bet though, that on occasion everyone could at least save some for the next day.

"Vacuvin" is the most common tool for preserving wine.  It is the small, usually white, plastic vacuum pump that sucks air out of a partially filled bottle using the Vacuvin proprietary rubber stopper.  That stopper has an escape slit on top where the air exits leaving a vacuum in the bottle above the wine surface thereby preventing oxidation.  This is the tool I have used for most of my time in the wine business.

About ten years ago I became sold on "Private Preserve" which is a spray can blend of nitrogen, argon, and carbon dioxide.  Their propaganda asserts that Vacuvin only removes 75% of the air in a bottle and the heavier-than-air Private Preserve, when sprayed into a partial bottle, completely covers the existing wine surface.

"Coravin" is the most recent addition to wine preservation and it is remarkable indeed.  It is most applicable for tasting expensive bottles over time and not losing anything to the atmosphere.  Rather than try to describe the apparatus here, stop in and we'll demonstrate it for you.  If you have three hundred dollars burning a hole in your pocket we'll even get you one!

So air is the enemy of wine in an opened bottle.  If you choose not to use one of the options above, your wine may be fine the next day.  While wine starts to deteriorate as soon as you open the bottle, some go down faster than others.  Usually by the third day, the quality is pretty much gone.  Refrigeration helps to preserve wine although in some PC circles that is just plain unacceptable.

So what do I do?  I gas 'em and refrigerate them overnight before bringing them out the next morning to warm up.  Works for me!

Please join us here at the store this Thursday the 3rd of May at 5pm when Brian Espanol joins us for a tasting from his fine wine portfolio.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Fifteen Dollars

Last September Lettie Teague wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal lauding what fifteen dollars can get you in the way of a nice bottle of wine.  It was the kind of article that makes you scratch your head, not because you're confused by the assertion but rather because it's so obvious, you wonder why you hadn't thought of it yourself.

In the article she mentions the cost of movie tickets (or for that matter any kind of entertainment ticket) and food, especially food that is associated with the entertainment venue.  She might as well have just said food in general since a nice fifteen dollar bottle of wine really is a bargain compared to current grocery store food prices.

I remember reading an article quite a while ago that maintained that getting the ten percent discount on a case purchase was really much more substantial than we realized.  It's like getting a bottle and a half free on a case, or something like that, and compared to other volume discounts, that's a lot!  Today that assertion pales by comparison to the basic pricing of wine circa 2018.  Ever since the recession of 2008, wine pricing in general has been a bonafide bargain compared to practically anything else.  It has to do with global overproduction and competition and that is probably the real backstory to the fifteen dollar wine assertion.

I also remember from ten or so years ago when oil prices skyrocketed and overnight food prices seemed to double.  It was supposed to be cause and effect.  Once the oil prices stabilized the food prices would drop down again.  Yeah, right.

So if we stay with a discussion of food and wine, let's see what fifteen dollars will get us in a nice wine that might go well with pizza, which I'm quite sure would cost upwards of fifteen dollars.  In the store right now we have Riojas, Cotes du Rhones, Malbecs, a Pinotage, and a particularly nice Washington State red blend, all for fifteen dollars or less.  From Italy, which seems appropriate considering our pizza  purposes, we have Montepulcianos, Chiantis, and a particularly special little red from Manduria which is exceedingly close geographically to Campania where pizza originates.  The Primitivo (Zinfandel) we're talking about is a Wine Spectator Top 100 selection and retails here for a mere fifteen smackeroos!

Now that's a deal!  The perfect wine for the purpose!  And it's just fifteen dollars!

Last Saturday Importer Taylor Carmichael presented his Fantini Italians which were really quite good at a mere ten dollars each.  Then last Thursday Nick Simonetti did ten dollar Bulgarians.  Please join us this Thursday at 5pm when Bob Reynolds offers up a fine Pinot Gris from Oregon and three reds, one each from Spain, Chile, and California and if you think the Chilean will be a cheapie...guess again!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

2008 Nicolis Amarone della Valpolicella

Amarone is one tough nut to crack.  It's one of the great wines of Italy (and the world) but seems a bit too foreign for some of our tastes.  Corvina is the primary grape of Amarone and it contributes sour cherry flavor and acidity to the blend.  The Corvinone and Rondinella grapes both contribute herbal flavors and color while a number of minor grapes may yet be added to round out the blend.  All of the constituent grapes are native to the region which explains in part why Amarone has a marketing problem in this country.  No one has ever heard of these things.

A big, full-bodied, high alcohol, tannic red wine, Amarone is a far cry from the more common lighter, simpler Valpolicella version.  By drying the grapes in the appassimento method, the flavors, colors, and tannins all become concentrated in this rich world class red wine.  A sweeter Recioto version is also made as is the Ripasso Valpolicella which may be considered a half-way measure between regular Valpolicella and Amarone.

So how do we get the word out about this stuff?

Sometimes the trees get in the way of seeing the forest.  In a WSJ article from January 27-28 of last year Lettie Teague laments the difficulty of pairing Amarone with our typical American cuisine.  Me?  I thinks she doth anguish unnecessarily.   That and we may be missing something fundamental here.

In her position with the WSJ in New York, Teague is probably accustomed to top flight estate Amarones that are in fact more suited to the cuisine of northeastern Italy.  Now however half of all Amarone is made in co-ops and those versions are lighter with forward red fruit accents and softer tannins and that makes all of the difference.  They're also lower in price and that too makes a heckuva lot of difference for vox populi.

So, in short, traditional Amarone needs traditional Italian foods but also compliments most aged cheeses magnificently and according to Sandro Boscaini, president of Masi Agricola, if you couple that cheese with a teaspoon of acacia honey and chase it with your Amarone, well...Voila!  Instant self-actualization!  As for the co-op Amarones, try them with any pork dish and other everyday red meat and poultry dishes.  Amarone is now accessible!

As for our Nicolis of the post title, that one is great but it is somewhat old world earthy so break out the cheese and honey!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Value Wines

This is so obvious it hurts.

I was scrolling around one of those news websites that's sort of like the USA Today of the internet in that it was not so much about news as it was about entertainment.  Maybe I was looking for the Think and Do page.  Anyway, I found a wine column that asks the question, "What's the best way to make sure you're not overpaying for wine?"

Simple enough, I thought.  Then reading on, the writer said to look for wines from the parts of the world that don't have esteemed (high priced) models, and I thought of Chile and Spain.  And yes, I know there are expensive Spanish and Chilean wines...just not as a rule.  If ninety-eight percent of what we get here is under twenty dollars, then the chances of overpaying is greatly reduced, especially if you recognize the value in the twelve dollar wines from those places.

So just to make sure the point is made: If you buy a fifty dollar Bordeaux you should get a righteously fine red wine.  But it might not be fifty dollars worth of fineness.  But if you bought the twenty dollar Spanish red you are probably going to be more than pleased with the quality those guys put in their moderately priced bottle.

I am reminded here of my old friend who went to the fine wine shop in Buckhead and bought three older vintage red Burgundies at $250 each.  They all turned out to be tainted.  When he went back to the store with the bottles (with tainted wine still inside) he was informed that that store's policy was not to replace them or refund the payment.  All sales final, I guess.

Regarding older vintages of wines from great appellations, that store's policy is commonplace and understandable.  Retailers want to stay in business and some customers either don't get it or purposely take advantage in these situations.  All the more reason to purchase with care.

In the store right now we have two twenty-five dollar Chilean Cabernets and several Spanish and Chileans reds in the ten to twelve dollar range.  If you're interested, cite this article for a discount on them the next time you're in the store.

On Thursday March 29th, Frogtown winery will be here for a tasting of their fine product.  Then two days later on Saturday the 31st, Taylor Carmichael of Empson Imports will be here for a tasting from his Italian portfolio.  The Thursday tastings are from 5-7pm; the Saturday event starts at 1pm.  Please join us!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Scarbolo Sauvignon Blanc

"Tropical fruit and peaches along with spicy nuances wrapped in a supple, structured-yet-creamy body."  Or something like that.  The point is Scarbolo Sauvignon Blanc is just plain awesome.  That was my immediate reaction two weeks ago after tasting it.  I don't think I even completely exhaled after tasting it before making my breathless pronouncement.  It was honestly that good.

Hailing from Friuli in the most northeast corner of Italy where Sauvignon Blanc has been made for centuries, Scarbolo continues in the longstanding viticultural traditions there.  The grapes are hand harvested from the cool high elevation Guyot-trained Sauvignon Blanc vineyards which actually reside above the clouds.  At that height grapes receive full sun without overheating yielding full phenolic complexity and aromatic depth before the grapes' sugars peak.  Guyot (cane) pruning, where only the trunk of the vine is left brown, protects the vine from frost and limits the budding on the shoots that emerge further qualifying the fruit to follow.

Fifty percent of the Scarbolo Sauvignon Blanc harvest is immediately fermented in whole clusters while the remainder is de-stemmed but left on the skins for a twenty-four hour cold soak before pressing.  The fermentation is done in stainless steel at controlled temperatures followed by aging on the lees for six months with frequent batonnages (stirring).

...and that's how you make exemplary Sauvignon Blanc! 

The only problem is...we don't have any at this time!  However it is on order and may be here when you come by next.  In the meantime we have new Sauvignon Blancs from Patricia Green of Oregon, Bernardus of Monterey, and Henri Bourgeois of the Loire Valley of France.  Folks, these brands take a back seat to no one which means you're simply going to have to stop in for them now!

This Thursday at 5pm former sommelier, Erik Schmitt, offers us a tasting here of Roussanne white wine from Yangarra Estate, McLaren Vale, Australia and three reds: Andre Brunel Cotes du Rhone, Coppo "L'Avvocata" Barbera d'Asti, and Scattered Peaks Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  Please join us for the tasting.