Saturday, November 26, 2011


Writing about Tupungato recently got me to thinking about Malbec and its importance to this industry and, frankly, to this store. Malbec is one of the six most popular wine grapes in the world and here in America where we love our big red new world wines, it is probably second only to Cabernet in sales. At this time we have about a dozen in the store to recommend priced from $10 to $30.

The Malbec grape is an inky dark thin skinned purple grape that needs considerable sunlight and heat to ripen adequately. It is disease prone to the point that plantings in France have diminished from a high of thirty departments to really, just Cahors in the southwest. A frost in 1956 resulted in a greatly diminished role in Bordeaux when growers there did not replant a crop that was 75% destroyed. Malbec acreage in France now stands at 6,000; California has 7,000 acres; and Argentina, where continual improvements in cloning have produced a hardier vine, now has 50,000 acres in Malbec. Australia, where Malbec was once the primary grape, now has little to none, which is interesting in that comparisons in style to Shiraz are inescapable.

Malbec, originally called "Cot", is believed to have originated in northern Burgundy but dating is non-specific. The clone that is so disease prone in France is not the same as the type transported to Argentina in 1868. That type, originally mislabelled as Merlot, has smaller berries in loose clusters and produces high yields. The wine has a velvety medium body, a jammy/juicy plum/blackberry flavor, and tight earthy tannins. The variety in Cahors, France produces an intense inky violet, harder and darker, more tannic wine. The soil in France also features more limestone than Argentina. In California, Malbec is grown with good success in Napa, Sonoma, and Alexander Valleys along with Paso Robles.

Malbec is a blending grape everywhere it is grown. As a stand alone varietal it does best in Argentina where it owes its popularity to the prestigeous Catena Winery, which recognized its potential when planted at altitudes of 800-1500 feet. Catena first planted Malbec in Tupungato in 1994 and the rest is history (see November 14th blog).

Among the star "flying winemaker" consultants now invested in Tupungato is Paul Hobbs who earned his "chops" making Opus One amongst others. We now have Marchiori & Barraud 2006 Malbec in the store. This wine has a Paul Hobbs connection which makes it worth $150/btl and 96 points-Parker. The wine sells here now for $30/btl. Mention this blog and get your cheese purchase for 1/2 price with the purchase of Marchiori.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wine Tasting Review November 15, 2011

Tuesday evening we tasted six wines here at the store; three whites, two reds, and a rose; with an announced Thanksgiving pairing theme. Our whites included 2009 Namaste Dry Riesling, 2010 Val de Salis Viognier, and 2009 Namaste Peace (Chardonnay blend). The reds were 2010 Lovatti Brolo Val Sorda (Merlot/Sangiovese) and 2008 Waterstone Carneros Pinot Noir. Our rose was 2010 Rotta Zinfandel Rose. Namaste is from Oregon; Waterstone and Rotta are California wines; with Val de Salis being French and Lovatti, Italian.

Four of these wines had been tasted here in recent months with the Namastes being the only first timers here. I have made it no secret that I am in the bag for Val de Salis Viognier and Waterstone Pinot Noir and the public has spoken for Lovatti in past tastings, making it the all time best seller here. The Rotta Zin Rose is just a charming crowd pleaser. I expected the Namastes to be popular here but I thought pricing would limit their sales.

The envelope, please... Our winners by sales were Namaste Dry Riesling ($19.99) and Rotta Zinfandel Rose ($10.99). Explanation? Namaste is a refreshingly new approach to Riesling, a sophisticated light dry white. Rotta is just plain fun.

But what about our Thanksgiving dinner theme? In a traditional T-day meal, the sweeter aspects dominate so the Rotta would be an obvious winner being off-dry and the Namste Peace ($26.99) would be also. If the meal featured the roast bird with fewer sweet sides I think the Waterstone Pinot Noir and either the Riesling or Viognier ($10.99) would work.

We had a great disparity in prices in this show. Holidays are the time when spending for your wine should increase, sort of by definition. Recessions write the rules though, for many of us. This recession does offer bargains in pricing and quality so stop in and pick some up for the holiday. A case purchase at this time also makes sense with Christmas in mind.

On Friday November 18th from 5-7pm, Christy Dart of Gusto Brands will be hear with another T-day tasting lineup. Join us and stock up!

Monday, November 14, 2011


This sometimes happens. I say I am going to write about something and then something else captures my attention and I write about it. Gouguenheim of Argentina was my advertised subject but there was really nothing there, just another vacuous website with no ancillary wells from which to draw. So I called the supplier who kept returning to Gouguenheim's location at Tupungato as the reason the wines were so special. What a redirect! This borders on discovering Cotes d'Auvergne, France.

Tupungato is 70 kilometers from the city of Mendoza, Argentina, within the Mendoza wine appellation, the finest region of production in the country. The vineyards lie 1000 feet above sea level in the Val Escondido, a desert climate with sandy soils and 320 days of sun a year! With winter coming so late there, the extended ripening season results in wines that are subtle, elegant, and balanced without having the overblown, overbearing flavors and overly floral, perfumy aromas common in other Argentines.

Twenty years ago this area was viewed as a beautifully barren lunar-like environment with no connection to the already thriving Argentine wine industry. Today it is just the opposite. International investment money is continually pouring into Tupungato with star "flying winemakers" like Michel Rolland, actively supervising his projects in the area, along with Masi, one of Italy's finest wine concerns being heavily invested there. Projections for future investment are as endless as the accolades the wines of Tupungato are receiving. Tupungato may be one of the finest wine production regions in the world!

Along with climate, soil is a subject of ultimate importance for winemaking and does Tupungato have a story to tell there. The Pleistocene Era in geological history took place from 2,588,000 to 11,000 years before the present time. That period was know for being the time of the last glacial period. Wisconsin, for instance, was covered with glaciers. Mount Tupungato in Argentina was formed during this period as the result of it's frequent volcanic eruptions. As a "stratovolcano", or composite volcano, Tupungato became a cone-shaped mountain composed of layers of lava, tephra, pumice, and volvanic ash. Its steep sides formed because the lava hardened quickly due to high levels of silica (viscosity) and lesser amounts of mafic magma. Well known volcanos of this type include Krakatoa and Vesuvius.

Mount Tupungato is one of the highest mountains on the continent. Its name means "star viewpoint" in the Huarpe tongue and that may just as well apply to this industry's aspirations for the region. It is truly reaching for the stars.

Tuesday evening November 15th Gail Avera of Allgood wines will be tasting out wonderful wines appropriate for Thanksgiving as will Christy Dart of Gusto Brands on Friday the 18th. Gouguenheim Malbec, Reserve Malbec, and Malbec Rose are all in stock and may be purchased with a ten percent discount by citing this article.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Taleggio is a whole cow's milk cheese from the Val Taleggio in the Italian Alps in the Valtaleggio region near Lombardy. One of the oldest soft ripening cheeses, this 9 inch square gray cave-aged delight originated the 9th century. Stracchino is another name for Taleggio and that name refers to the fatigue endured by the cows as they trek up and down mountains to feed on the right vegetation to produce the cheese.

While the vegetation fed on by the cows is critical to the flavor of this cheese, aging is also important. Typically Taleggio is aged up to 48 days during which the cheese is washed either with a bacteria solution or as originally done, smeared with an older cheese to facilitate the transfer of bacteria to affect the gray mold exterior. Taleggio shares this "smear ripening" technique with Muenster and Port Salut. The smear ripening gives the cheese a stronger flavor while its cave aging gives it an earthiness.

Taleggio typically has a strong aroma, mild flavor, and unusual fruitiness at the finish. It has a moist, melt-in-your-mouth feel and spreads easily on crusty bread. It serves well with green salads or as a dessert, or may mix with spices, raisins, nuts, or lemon.

Wine pairings include most any Italian Nebbiolo, Soave, or other light dry or off-dry Italian white. At one tasting at the store an Italian Lagrein was being offered and coming from the same general region as Taleggio, it paired quite well with the Tallegio on hand.

Mention this blog and get a 20% discount off the $19.99# Taleggio retail this week.

On Saturday November 12th at 2pm (subject to change if football interferes), Jon Allen of Georgia Crown Distributing will be here tasting out seasonally appropriate reds and whites. Jon is a Cordon Bleu educated chef so be here and pick his brain for holiday culinary know how.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cotes d'Auvergne IV - Bleu d'Auvergne

For the past couple months we have repeatedly returned to Cotes d'Auvergne, France for new information about this historic wine production region. We have learned that most of its past two thousand year "recent" history has centered around food production and preparation. Now with Bleu d'Auvergne cheese in the store, it is time to examine its fromage and charcuterie history.

D'Auvergne, France is home to more AOC cheeses than any other appellation in France. The AOC cheese laws, like wine, legally define a cheese historically and geographically, making the poaching of a place name and applying it to a pretender, a crime. Charcuterie or "cooked flesh" is even more central to d'Auvergne's identity than fromage, with a long history of preserving meats before refrigeration. Bacon, ham, sausage, terrines and pates, and gallatines all have a historic home in d'Auvergne.

Bleu d'Auvergne was created in 1854 by one Antoine Roussel, a cheesemonger who accidentally contaminated his cheese product with a rye bread mold. Wouldn't you know it, it tasted good! Roussel began intentionally "needling" his cheese with the mold then aging it for four weeks in a cool, wet cellar and "voila" a star was born. Now needling is mechanical and the mold has been replaced by the mold, penicillium roqueforti, the same mold used in neighboring Roquefort, while the aging process remains about the same.

Bleu d'Auvergne has a strong and pungent aroma yet creamy and buttery flavor while maintaining a moist texture. It is used in salad dressings and pasta and marries well with big red wines like Cotes du Rhone or sweet whites like Sauternes or dessert Riesling and it also does well with sweeter malt beverages like Porter.
Food affinities include nuts, raw mushrooms, and apples.

Here is our vocabulary word for the day: oligo-elements. Not to worry, it just means trace elements and in our context it refers to the magnificent soil of d'Auvergne which goes back to its magnificent volcanic history and the good fortune of its inhabitants to inherit such fertile soils and exploit them for culinary purposes. Remember, some of the best chefs of France have come from d'Auvergne.

On Friday November 4th, Curtis Gauthier, a trained chef from New York, will be here at the store tasting out fine examples of Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Malbec. Mention this article at the tasting and your Bleu d'Auvergne is 20% off the regular price.