Friday, April 27, 2012

Montepulciano Part 3; Constellation Part 4

Who's OCD?  Just because I conclude a couple of blog series and then remember something I should have talked about in those series and then can't stop thinking about the stuff, that doesn't mean I'm OCD.  Well. maybe just a little.  The Montepulciano series of two installments was from April 14-16; the Constellation Wines series, from March 13-15, if you want to read them first. 

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is the great Italian red wine from the town of Montepulciano in the province of Sienna in southern Tuscany.  The wine is made from 100% Sangiovese grapes.  Our Montepuciano series concerned Montepulciano d'Abruzzo the easy drinking soft red from the eastern coast of Italy made from Montepulciano grapes.  Since I had mentioned my own confusion about the two wines earlier I thought I should clarify in print that the two are indeed completely different wines.

Our Constellation Wines series was largely taken from their own website which chronicles their incredible growth over 64 years to their achievement of becoming the largest wine company in the world.  I think some analysis here might be helpful.  Constellation both purchases wineries and creates wine brands using huge facilities in their possession.  All mega-wine companies do this in "mondo vino", circa 2012.  The marketing of wine brands into uibiquity is what separates the very successful companies from the commercially less successful. 

So here's what I am getting at:  If Constellation buys a brand and can increase sales of it ten-fold without greatly diminishing quality, then they are to be congratulated.  If they create a brand and that brand shows good character and reaps critical and commercial acclaim, then that is all to the good also.  But when a label is purchased and it has a solid pre-history only to become a shadow of its previous incarnation because the juice sourced to maintain the marketing plan (saturation) is not that good or the essential character of the wine is diminished, then there is a problem in my opinion.  Of course the price could be dropped and the consumer should by then figure out that Chateau XYZ is no longer, in fact, the old Chateau XYZ.  This is essentially my problem with the modern era and mass marketing. 

Today at the store we host Stan Fenner of Artisan Vines as he offers us a tasting of Spanish and Portuguese reds and whites.  If you are at all curious, please join us from 5 to 7pm.  The wines are quite good.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The April Freeze of 2012

Life is truly strange.  Two weeks ago at the beginning of an extended cold spell, many of us were relieved (if we thought about it at all) that at least it wasn't the 2005 Easter snowstorm and freeze all over again.  In fact what happened two weeks ago wasn't at all like the prior event which created a three day ice age for North Georgia and the ruination of a growing season for many wineries.  This time the duration was a matter of hours but the consequences for some wineries around here may end up being worse than '05.

I recall a conversation I had with one North Georgia winery owner after the 2005 storm who went to great pains to explain his extensive vineyard planning which, in part, meant placing thermometers around the projected vineyards and obsessively checking temperatures at all hours throughout the year.  This individual said this regimen was maintained for eight years prior to planting his vines!  When the 2005 storm hit, with helpful labor assistance every hour he would move heaters with blowers through his vineyards to prevent his vine buds from freezing and his crop was consequently saved.  Could it be that a lack of planning for a weather anomaly of this kind is to blame for the destruction this time?

Enter Steve Gibson long time General Manager of Habersham Vineyards and past Chairman of the Board of industry advocacy group, Wine America.  According to Steve, what actually happened here this time had more to do with the mild winter and the advanced budding of the vines at the time of the freeze than a lack of preparation by the proprietors.  The vines were frankly more vulnerable.  Now with regard to pre-planning your vineyard, in hindsight, slope selection, elevation, and wind patterns all contribute positively (or negatively) when faced with freezing weather.  Stages of vine development would have to be influenced by factoring in these variables.  And in fact the wineries that were further north or at a higher elevation featured vines at earlier developmental stages with minimal budding.  Wolf Mountain Vineyards in Dahlonega survived the weather by having the right slopes with opportune wind patterns thereby dodging the destructive freeze.

I live in Clermont and I was oblivious to any freeze at all.  Mossy Creek Vineyard is no more than five miles from my house and they of course had well developed vines but the temperatures were fine.  Stonepile Vineyard in Habersham County at a similar latitude lost half of their crop.  C'est la vie.

Lastly here is the one factor none of us likes to discuss.  Many small businesses are more vulnerable today than we were in 2005.  Taking an economic punch now is a lot harder than before.  May God be with those in that industry and also with us all.

Now for something completely different...  Taste Portuguese wines here on Friday (5-7pm) when Stan Fenner of Artisan Vines presents his fine fare for our consideration.  These wines are truly amazing.  Please join us.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Dao is a very old wine production region in north central Portugal due south of the Douro port wine region. It is named after the Dao River which along with the Mondego River lies within its boundaries. Dao is a somewhat isolated plateau (200-900m) surrounded on three sides by granite mountains which serve to shelter the region from prevailing climate changes which usually come from the North Atlantic.  The climate therefore features a stable, consistently mild temperature with hot, dry summers and rainy winters. The diurnal temperature shift in Dao is dramatic with the cool nights serving to retain the grapes' acidity, a marker of distinction for the wines of Dao.

The grapes of Dao were introduced to the region centuries ago by Phoenicians, Carthagenians, Greeks, and Romans. Today's Portuguese red grape varieties include Touriga Nacional, Tinto Roriz (Tempranillo), Jaen, Alfrocheira Preto, Bastardo, Baga, and Rufete. Touriga Nacional and Tinto Roriz are the primary grapes of red Dao (and Port) with Touriga recognized as indigenous to the Dao region. Touriga, by the way, is widely planted in North Georgia and marketed here as a stand alone varietal. In Dao all red wines are made from blended grapes. Another indication of the age of this wine production region is that it has the oldest legal wine appellation system in the world instituted two hundred years before France. The first written reference to Dao wine appeared in 1390.

The modern era in Dao has not been problem free. In 1940 in an effort to elevate wine quality, the government empowered wine cooperatives as the governing authority over growers to actually make the wines of Dao and then sell them to merchants who would release them to the public. Hindsight is 20/20 and this monopoly only served to lower the quality of the wine by curtailing the initiative of the growers and eliminating competition amongst the cooperatives. Dao received its modern DOC in 1990 and since then the wine industry there has paralleled the pattern elsewhere with modernization in equipment and winemaking. The rustic Daos that this writer remembers from thirty years ago are now largely history but not entirely forgotten because every lighter style, fruit forward Dao red retains the same peppery spice, forest fruit flavors as as it always has.

This Friday, April 27th from 5 to 7pm, Stan Fenner with Artisan Vines will taste out several Portuguese reds and whites here at the store. I tasted these wines in advance and they are as good as any europeans I can remember. Do yourself a favor and be here for this one.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Part 2

Let's be candid...Montepulciano d'Abruzzo's popularity relies on the very easy drinking satisfaction it offers. Softer and more accessible than Chianti and even more so when contrasted with the great Nebbiolos, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo actually compares nicely with the Barberas of Asti as opposed to the Barberas of Alba which are more ambitious but less appreciated. Less is, in fact, more here also.

Most Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is light to medium bodied, soft, dry and intended to be drunk young. This version receives a mere five months of barrel age before release. If classified as a reserve wine it would receive six months to two years in oak and the word "vecchio" (aged) may appear on the label. Typically Montepulciano wine is low in acid, purple in color, with fruit flavors of black currant, blackberry, and raspberry and notes of licorice, pepper, and spice. The tannins in most Montepulciano are sweet and mild although they may be more pronouced when the Montepulciano is made in a rustic style with typical Italian earthiness and more aggressive flavors. With any style the minimum alcohol content is 12%.

As mentioned earlier, Abruzzo is populated by farmers of modest means and the large, plump, and prolific Montepulciano grape has proven to be a perfect match for the environment. The soil is a low acid, calcareous clay and limestone in a sunny clime perforated with dry ocean breezes from the Adriatic Sea. Recent investment in the less fertile Chieti and Pescara provinces seem to have directed Montepuliano lovers' attention away from Colline Teramo, Abruzzo's legislated DOCG region, to what may prove to be a better terroir. While there are elite producers in Abruzzo that command excessive prices for their product, most wine lovers believe Montepulciano is not one for cellaring. It is believed to "hold" but not improve with age.

This Friday from 5 to 7pm we will taste the Zaccagnini Montepulciano d'Abruzzo here at the store. This label is one of the better producers available in this market and will be presented to us by the Savannah Distributing Company representative, Alan Faulkner. Please join us.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Part 1

Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is one of America's most popular Italian imports. Abruzzo is somewhat south of the halfway point of Italy's east coast, bordered by Marches to the north and Molise to the south and the Appenine Mountains to the west. 65% of Abruzzo is mountainous, actually consisting of foothills of the Appenines where some of the best vineyards lie. Those vineyards continue eastward to within a few miles of the Adriatic Sea. Rome, by the way, lies due west of Abruzzo.

Abruzzo is composed of four provinces; L'Aquila, the largest province where much of the subtle Cerasuolo Rose originates; Chieti, the southeastern province where much vibrant Trebbiano is grown; and Pescara and Teramo, the two northernmost provinces where the finest Montepulciano is produced. Abruzzo received its DOC in 1968 and the Colline Teramo was carved out of the appellation in 1995 and awarded DOCG status in 2003.

Montepulciano is the primary red grape of Abruzzo with the legal blend mandating at least 85% Montepulciano with up to 15% Sangiovese or other red grapes. In Colline Teramo the blend must be 90% Montepulciano to 10% Sangiovese. The white wine of Abruzzo must be 85% Trebbiano and that may include either of two types of that grape with the remainder being local varieties, Passerina and/or Cococciola.

Whenever one looks at european viticulture, one must examine the historical perspective and the Montepulciano and Trebbiano grapes are known to have been cultivated in Abruzzo for centuries. Also helpful would be an examination of the people who live in Abruzzo and they are by and large working class farmers who have labored for centuries producing wines, cheeses, vegetables (tomatos, peppers), and livestock (pigs and sheep). The ethos of these people would have to focus on hard work leading to self-sufficiency. If this definition of the people means the wine is peasant wine, count me as one of them.

Stop in to pick up a bottle of Montepulciano or Trebbiano and mention this blog for a 20% discount on Manchego which might be the best cheese accompaniment for your wine. This article will continue in installments.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sweet Red Wine

This is a category that is most definitely in vogue at this time and I don't really know why. Perhaps it is a reaction against the assumption that all reds must be dry. Perhaps it is a counterpart to the Moscato craze. Anyway, capitalism being what it is, there are certainly a lot of sweet reds in the marketplace from which to choose. Let's sort them out.

The category that has always been here is the fortified/apertif collection. In the main, Port has held center stage in this category for centuries with Vermouth and other specific european brand name apertifs, all of which feature a modicum of brandy in their recipe and are favored as after dinner wines. Most wines in this category are heavier in the mouth and would welcome an accompanying cigar.

Another category that has been around for a long while are the sweet reds that have traditionally been used in liturgical contexts. These flavorful offerings tend to be a bit heavier than most red table wines and sweeter than most wines on this list.

Sweet sparkling red wines also are a category unto themselves and Australia would be the biggest current proponent of these. In general, sparkling Shirazes are full bodied and heavier than their european counterparts like Lambrusco, which is lighter and often less sweet.

The red fruit wines of Boutier Winery of Danielsville, Georgia are a popular item here at the store. They are a moderate sweetness. Manischewitz fruit wines, on the other hand, exemplify a heavier sweeter style. Sweet red fruit wines are always intended for/as dessert.

Italian sweet reds actually are the red counterpart to Moscato discussed above. They are light, frizzante, and low in alcohol and often just a step beyond rose. These have been around a long time but seem to be hitting their stride in sales only now. These are also probably the best option for the summer heat of Georgia.

Sangria would seem to combine the previous two categories. It is light and fruity and in the warm weather, oh-so-refreshing. Our proud offering this summer is the Sangria Classico from Spain priced at an unbelievable $10.99/1.5l. Jump on it!

And then you have California... The most common grape for California sweet reds is Zinfandel and it is commonly blended with any of a number of legitimate vinifera red grapes that compliment the forthright Zinfandel fruit. These wines are typically moderately sweet, full bodied, and have a spicy component. The brand that put this style on the map was Folie a Deux's Menage a Trois and now that style has been knocked off by everyone on the block. Success breeds imitation, right? And modification. Everyone seems to have a twist on the basic sweet red California recipe. Like I said earlier, that's capilalism!

Wine Tasting Alert: We have dry top quality reds from Argentina at this evening's tasting with Camby Akers of Panoram Imports leading the event. Friday evening Henry Leung of Hemispheres Fine Wines offers reds and whites from Spain and Italy here at the store. Please join us for these events.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Piave Vecchio

Piave is my "go to" cheese in the deli whenever someone wants one to go with red wine. With only a few exceptions, it is the best cheese in the deli whenever it is in stock. This article, by the way, is our fifth cheese article, all in the last six months in what used to be a wine-only blog, so you may conclude that if I blog about it, it must be good cheese.

Piave gets its name from the Piave River Valley in the Dolomite Alpine region near Belluno, Italy in the Veneto appellation. It has been produced by the Cooperativa Lattebusche dairy there since 1960, which makes this writer older than the product he is writing about. Vecchio, by the way, means "aged" and Piave is typically aged one year. Like Der Scharfe Maxx (Blog 2/4/12) the cow's milk used in the making of Piave is sourced from both morning and evening milkings in equal portions to achieve a balance in texture.

So what makes Piave special? I think it is the cheese's wininess and by that I mean the long lingering flavors that stay with you hopefully in harmony with the wine you are drinking with it. The flavors are tropical fruit with caramel and nuts. The cheese is dry but not extremely dry and it has the crystalline paste common to some aged cheeses. It features a nose of butterscotch, the walnut character of Gruyere, and a slight almond bitterness. It is straw-yellow in color, slightly sweet, and suitable for grating when aged enough. It has been compared to a young Reggiano and I like the idea of grating/shaving Piave over cooked greens.

I believe in drinking Italian wine with Italian food but I think this cheese would compliment most reds, serious whites, and sturdy ales. Piave Vecchio is on order from New York with an ETA of Friday April 6th, just in time for Easter entertaining. On the same truck will be Blue d'Auvergne (Blog 11/1/11) and several other cheeses and Italian (think olive oil) crackers. Attend the regular Friday wine tasting (5-7pm), mention this article, and pick up some Reber Mozart chocolates with a 20% discount, just in time for Easter!