Saturday, July 30, 2011

Val de Salis and Flooded Vineyards

Last night we tasted the entire line of six wines from Val de Salis vineyards in the Languedoc region of southern France. Val de Salis lies between Corbieres and Minervois, twelve miles from historic Carcasonne and twenty five miles from the Mediterranean Sea. This should place Val de Salis about a hundred miles southeast of Chateau Puech-Haut in St. Drezery.

Here is the interesting part: the vineyards are flooded annually for the health of the native vine rootstocks! You may recall the June 11th installment on Phylloxera and the early attempts to combat the disease in the 1880's by flooding vineyards to prevent the infection caused by the American aphid. The ultimate alternative solution chosen was to graft French vulnerable vines onto American disease resistant rootstocks. This unsettling choice left people wondering if the wines would perhaps be tainted by the new world imported rootstocks and be less than what they were.

Val de Salis provides an insight into this puzzle because it is one of the few European vineyards still using native rootstocks because their vineyards lie in a dry lake bed! At the end of the 17th century, Louis IVX began a process of draining a particularly brackish wetland that was formed geologically by the rising of the Pyrennes Mountains. Now that natural bowl is flooded at the end of winter annually and the vines are cut down almost to the ground so the entire vineyard is under water. No self-respecting aphid would be caught dead in such an environment!

If our tasting of Val de Salis wines shows anything about the quality of native rootstock French wine, it is that they are very good indeed. Sales of these wines last night were better than any (except Puech-Haut) in recent memory. All six varieties; Viognier, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, Pinot Noir, and Marselan; showed well and sold equally well. Sauvignon Blanc was the best white although the Viognier at a lower price point was probably its equal value. The Pinot Noir was the best red but again an argument could be made that the Malbec was a better value.

For more information on the Languedoc see the July 14th and July 26th blogs. To experience these native rootstock wines for yourself, stop in the store and cite the blog for get a 10% discount. Say "yabba dabba do" and get 20% off on a piece of cheese.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Chateau Puech-Haut and the Languedoc

As we have been saying here, the Languedoc is the region of France that produces most of the wine for export to the United States. Many of these wines have been marketed as "fighting varietals" in the eighties and "critter wines" in the nineties but I would prefer to call them "cafe wines" now. They are usually popular varietals that are made in the style Americans love, lots of forward fruit and moderate acidity. They are on a par with most of what comes from California and often at a much better price.

Friday evening at our weekly tasting here we experienced a certain 2009 Chateau Puech-Haut Prestige. All I knew about the wine was its 93 point Parker rating and $20 price tag. It quickly became apparent, this wine was special indeed, one of the best we have tasted in this series. First things first, though, let's look at the Languedoc.

Puech-Haut hails from St. Drezery near Pic-St-Loup in the Coteaux du Languedoc which is a largely meaningless overlay covering most of the Languedoc. The soils are alluvial over limestone bedrock. The climate is mediterranean with marine effects from the Mediterranean Sea twelve miles away. Carignan and Cinsaut, two bulk wine varieties used for blending in the past, have now been largely replaced by the Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre of the Cotes du Rhone. One can anticipate that the current successes of the region will lead to an elevated status in the near future.

Chateau Puech-Haut Prestige is 45% Syrah and 55% Grenache and features aromas and flavors of raspberry, black pepper, and black fruit. It is amazingly floral in the nose and the mouth but its most striking feature is the breadth of its body felt on the tongue with a correspondingly long rich finish. This wine was most definitely contemplative.

Puech-Haut is a European Cellars Eric Solomon Selection, a pedigree amongst importers. "Place Over Process" on the back label refers to the terroir of the vineyards and the primacy of that universe over what happens in the winery proper, which only seems right as a contrast to the everyday wine made and marketed to Americans.

Try Puech-Haut this week with a ten percent discount by citing this blog or get a twenty percent discount on a piece of cheese by jumping up and down and saying "Woof"!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pinot Grigio, Gestalt, and Reality

I recently told a wine industry insider that my best selling varietal was Pinot Grigio, to which he responded, "That's sad". I got a kick out of that. I was happy because it wasn't Chardonnay and he thought it probably should have been Cabernet or some other red. I actually meant just white wines but perceptions do differ and indeed they do. Here's where I'm coming from...

When it is 90+ degrees day in and day out, I am wanting a very light white to slake my thirst and Pinot hits that spot. With summer heat being the reality that it is, I'm betting others share the same thirst. This summer we have done well with Lageder, Il Palu, Villa Sorono, Santa Julia, Terre di Luna, Capasaldo, Elk Cove, Pierre Sparr, Sensi, Borgo Maddalena, and Maso Canali amongst others. If the knock on Pinot Grigio is that it is perhaps too light and simple, then we have a disconnect because each of the above examples stands on its own with attributes that set each apart from the others. If the pinot is watery, that's different and it just doesn't belong here.

Stephen Tanzer (International Wine Cellar) is probably the best widely read wine critic. Recently he was asked what his criteria was for awarding points for scoring wines. He said he doesn't separate color, nose, finish, etc., for the purpose of grading each but rather he looks at the "gestalt" of the wine before scoring it. Now who remembers Psychology 101? Gestalt means wholeness or a unified whole or from Webster's Best: "a structure, configuration, or pattern of physical, biological, or psychological phenomena so integrated as to constitute a functional unit with properties not derivable by the summation of its parts". So if Mr. Tanzer legitimizes Pinot Grigio, I feel validated. Being a retailer though I would have to downgrade a wine if it has an inferior label because it won't sell, dammit! So much for gestalt.

Now what about reality? "Human consciousness does not decide what reality is. Reality is the existence of all of the possible histories that can't be changed by thinking about them. All of these histories contribute to our present state allowing our observations to pin down that state and enabling us to compute the probability for each history reaching our present state." I read that somewhere. Works for me.

Despite all of the above, I still think that the determining factor in the appreciation of Pinot Grigio is the wininess (oiliness if possible) of the flavors and that's where Europe gets it right.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Summer White Wine Scorecard

It is July 18th and a good time to analyze our perceptions of the white wines we are selling to this point of the season. Let's look at them in five dollar increments beginning at $10 and up to $25 and prices may be rounded up or down to fit the category. We will use the standard Donald-Public-Donald formula; Donald (D1-my favorites), Public (P-popularity by sales), and the Donald Rumsfeld (D2) category citing his famous "we don't know what we don't know" speech, that is, we haven't tasted it but boy is it supposed to be good!

$10 Category: D1-2010 La Playa Colchagua Valley Chilean Sauvignon Blanc (conservatively speaking, a citrus explosion); P-2009 Seis Circles Spanish Viura (tastes like light dry muscat to me and see June 25th blog); D2-2009 Caposaldo Veneto Pinot Grigio (comparable to $15/btls, I hear).

$15 Category: D1-2009 Les Volcans Cotes D'Auvergne Chardonnay (tastes like white burgundy); P-2010 Marchetti Verdicchio (fruit and spice = nice); D2-2009 Planeta La Segreta Sicilian Bianco (complex $20 value, I hear).

$20 Category: D1-2010 Madrigal Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc (rich for type, balanced); P-2008 Bouchard Pere & Fils Pouilly Fuisse (superior chardonnay at price point); D2-2009 Casanova della Spinetta Toscana Vermentino (deemed the best of twenty five wines at local tasting).

$25 Category: D1-2009 Martina Rueda Spanish Verdejo (finest white in the store); P-2009 Schug Sonoma Chardonnay (benchmark); D2-2009 Maroslavac-Leger Bourgogne Blanc La Combe ($50 value?).

Not all of these are in the store at this time, but purchase any of these along with my expanded "honorable mention" list this month citing the blog and get a ten percent discount. Again cite the blog for 20% off cheese and crackers to go with your wine.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


So what is Merlot? Is it a piece of fluff cocktail/cafe apertif overly popular with the public and scorned by the critics or is it perhaps the finest red wine in the world as evidenced by the sticker price of Chateau Petrus? Perhaps it is actually both things alternately and by design.

Merlot grapes typically produce a medium body soft dry red wine with flavors of berry, plum, and currant. It is one of the most widely planted grapes in France and France may actually produce close to half of the world's Merlot. To say Merlot is a commercial success is to minimize the proposition.

The finest French Merlot comes from St. Emilion and Pomerol in Bordeaux. Merlot is 60-90% of that Bordeaux blend and fashions a softer, fleshier version of the Medoc Cabernet-based blend. Merlot plantings actually constitute 60% of all Bordeaux vines but they are concentrated in the eastern banks with the Medoc and other west bank communes possessing only 25% of Bordeaux's Merlot. The Merlot component of the blend softens the stronger Cabernet grapes and being an early ripening grape, provides insurance if the later ripening grapes aren't adequate. In Bordeaux where its early harvesting means superior acidity, Merlot finds it's finest expression.

Languedoc is actually where most of France's Merlot is grown and wine from that incredible region of production provides the world amply with good, sturdy reasonably priced cafe wine. The large producers there typically harvest later for riper fruit sometimes bordering on over-ripeness, making the style of Merlot the world craves. With French winemakers anywhere quality is, of course, a priority.

Merlot is by nature a blending grape softening others blended with it. It has become kindred to Malbec and Cabernet Franc along with Cabernet Sauvignon in blends around the world. In Italy it remains a stand alone grape, however, producing a light and dry, herbal varietal dinner wine.

So what about California Merlot? It should surprise no one that Napa and Sonoma provide the best with Napa Merlot being slightly more blackberry/raspberry-ish and Sonoma featuring more plum. As we have said before, Lodi is the Languedoc of California with 25% of the varietal production in the state and accounting for an even larger percentage of the 50,000 acres of Merlot in the state. Like in France, California Merlot styles range from tannic and structured to rich and fruity.

Washington State Merlot is exceptional in that the wine features new world fruit along with old world structure. Moreover Washington Merlot does not rely on blending for complexity; it possesses a deeper color and balanced acidity on its own. Washington State Merlot is not only that state's finest effort, it is world class red wine.

Mention this article in the store this month and try one of our best with a ten percent discount.

Monday, July 11, 2011

July 8th Wine Tasting Report

Every once in a while things turn out right. Last friday we tasted six wines with Robyn Swerdlin of Prime Wine & Spirits and enjoyed parity in quality and sales amongst the entries. 3 Brooms Marlborough New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was also tasted here this weekend but not in the friday night event. It will be reviewed here also.

1. Terra Verus Prosecco was a high quality, light/dry prosecco that advertises its "estate" fruit on the back label. At $15.99/btl it seemed to be a good buy. We tasted it alone and in a Bellini cocktail.

2. Demarie Langhe Italian Arneis 2010 was a light and dry, low acid summer sipper. It was an easy drinking apertif/seafood wine that seemed decent at $14.99.

3. Le Lapin Central Coast California Chardonnay is a second label from Rabbit Ridge, a good Sonoma producer. Le Lapin is "rabbit" in french. The wine was a good standard for the type at $9.99.

4. Le Lapin Paso Robles California Multiplicity was a solid Rhone style red blend from Rabbit Ridge at a bargain $9.99 price. It was medium bodied with moderate acidity and would pair well with red meat on the grill.

5. Anciano Gran Reserva Valdepenas Spanish Tempranillo boasts two years in oak and ten years of aging overall. It also wins the best packaging award with its classy gold accents over black background with gold wire wrapping. The wine was surprisingly light but well made and ready to drink at $12.99.

6. Eberle Paso Robles California Muscat Canelli 2008 is a sweet medium bodied white that has always been a standout from a company known for its reds. Not only did we taste the wine but Robyn had us taste fresh strawberries soaked in Muscat. That was real-l-ly good! Eberle retails for $16.99.

7. 3 Brooms is a 2008 industry closeout at $9.99/btl. The wine is a superior sauvignon blanc by type and about average quality for New Zealand. The citrus overload typical for New Zealand has been tamed with age here.

The Le Lapin wines and Anciano were the best of show friday night, especially considering the prices! Like I said above, there were no disappointments in this lineup.

Update: Monday morning these wines continue to show fine with the Arneis now tasting better than it did over the weekend. Taste them here now and purchase them this week with a 10% discount.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Italy and Prosecco

One of the exciting things about the wine business has to be the continual effort to remake and refine products for prestige and commercial acceptance. Not all wine industries around the world participate in such efforts and for some, commerciality rules completely. In old europe proactive efforts of renewal particularly stand out in countries where it would seem to be easier to let everything stand as is. In the case of the Italian wine industry and Prosecco, seeing an opportunity and acting in a timely manner, has produced great commercial success while improving an ordinary product and elevating it to a status worthy of worldwide recognition.

So what is Prosecco? It is a charming crisp aromatic sparkling wine made from the Glera grape exhibiting yellow apple, pear, white peach, apricot, lemon, melon, honey and almonds in a light format with requisite small bubbles. Despite all of the flavors above, Prosecco is light and simple, unlike some Champagne styles.

So what was Prosecco? Before 1969 when it received its DOC, Prosecco was a pale imitator of Asti Spumonte and while made from Glera, or Prosecco, grapes primarily from around the town of Prosecco in Trieste; it could have just as easily incorporated grapes from Romania, Brazil, Argentina, and Australia and not just Glera grapes but also Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Verdiso, Bianchetta, Perera, Chardonnay, or Glera Lunga. Prosecco could also vary in its sweetness and sparkliness with about 5% of the production being still wine. In other words, Prosecco was wide open to interpretation. Rumors of rose Prosecco still circulate.

In 2009 Prosecco received its DOCG, guaranteeing Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Veneto in the areas near Conegliano and Valdobbiadene north of Treviso as the delimited region of production. Prosecco now is solely a place name and Glera is recognized as the name of the Prosecco grape. While Prosecco does not have to be 100% Glera, the best Proseccos are recogized as such. All Proseccos are sparkling now and a slightly off-dry style is recognized as the norm.

Prosecco is made using the inexpensive Charmat method or bulk processing in stainless steel tanks. Such wines do not improve with aging and should be drunk within three years of bottling. Italians drink Prosecco anytime but especially to accompany salmon, calamari, crabmeat, salads, light pasta, and summer! Prosecco is also the base beverage for Bellini cocktails (with peach puree) and may be used in Mimosas or other champagne cocktails as a substitute for real french Champagne.

Cite this blog for 10% off on a bottle of Prosecco this month.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

July 1st Wine Tasting Review

This tasting was a pleasant surprise for yours truly. We wanted to do something different for the holiday weekend and I guess we hit the spot with our Friday afternoon "cocktail hour". This affair offered three dry whites, two dry reds, and two cocktails, "Tincho" and Sangria.

Here is your review:

1. Surazo Sauvignon Blanc 2008 was a pear/mineral medium body Sauvignon Blanc that satisfied fairly well at $9.99/btl. It hails from the Rapel Valley of Chile.

2. Barnard Griffin Fume Blanc 2010 from Colombia Valley, Washington has been a proven winner in this store in the past and showed well last night. While this wine has often been more floral and feminine in style, it now appears more forthright and demonstrably Sauvignon Blanc. This one is an $11.99 retail.

3. Cutler Creek California non-vintage Pinot Grigio was over matched by the others but it was supposed to be so. It is a $5.99 "recession" label and is actually a bargain at that price.

4. Rimbaldi Italian Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2009 was also out of character for this event. It was a pasta wine to be sure and we weren't serving pasta, but that said, everyone seemed to like it. It sells for $11.99/btl.

5. Schweiger Spring Mountain Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 was also not a clear fit in this event. It is a $40/btl srp that I was offering last night for $25/btl. It is most definitely superior wine but probably not $40's worth.

6. New Age is a sweet blended white (90% Torrontes/10% Sauvignon Blanc) from Argentina that makes a drink called "Tincho" when poured over ice with a wedge of lime. The lime seems to cut the sweetness. New Age retails for $11.99/btl.

7. Sangria Classico is a real find for those who like sangria in the summertime. It comes to us from Spain with a recommendation to add fruit, orange in particular, and, of course, serve chilled. This one is $9.99/1.5l bottle!

The three best selling wines of the tasting were: 1. New Age, 2. Sangria Classico, and 3. Surazo Sauvignon Blanc. Stop in this week and pick up any three of these and get your 10% case discount by citing this report. Schweiger came in fourth by the way and cannot be discounted further.

Stop in this week and ask about the best buy in the store. It's an Italian red under $10. How about champagne for the holiday? Happy 4th!