Monday, September 30, 2013


Tilsit (or Tilsitter) is a mild semi-hard cheese that originated in Switzerland but now, like Gouda and others, is produced commercially in many places.  We have two versions in the store at this writing.  Both come from Austria and in this case we have an example of the lower priced version actually being more flavorful than the higher priced one.  The higher priced one, Black Knight (in black wax), looks the part though.

Unlike Gouda (blogpost 5/8/13), Tilsit's historic roots are firm.  The Westphal family of Switzerland migrated to the town of Tilsit in German East Prussia in the mid-nineteenth century where they reproduced the cheese they had previously made in the homeland but with different results.  Apparently the molds active in the Tilsit area were much different than what lived in Switzerland.

Tilsit is a smear-ripened cheese produced by rubbing a bacteria solution on the outside of the cheese during aging to develop stronger flavors in the cheese.  Sometimes an older cheese is rubbed on a young one to transfer the microorganisms for the same effect.  The smear also protects the cheese by inhibiting the growth of undesirable bacterias while adding a pinkish-orangish color to the outside of the pale yellow cheese.

The Tilsits that we have in the store are good, safe crowd pleasers.  They are mass produced from pasteurized cow's milk with a 30-60% milk fat content and aged for two months before going to market.  They would do any tray arrangement proud.  The flavor is subtle but undeniable.  It's a good cheese but yet a far cry from the original product described above.  This cheese may be cubed on salads or melted in sauces or on potatoes or burgers.  In its artisanal form, the Tilsit would have been a natural on a coarse dark bread with a dark ale to wash it down.  The commercial versions would seem to pair well with light reds, roses, and white wines.  The former, a working man's cheese; the latter, for the rest of us.

Join us here on Friday October 4th between 5 and 7pm as we taste another lineup of red wines as we move into the cool weather season.  The Tilsit will be on the table.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Anciano 5 Year, Part 2

The Valdepenas DO represents more than just a history separate from La Mancha which surrounds it.  It also represents a wine style of its own which differs from La Mancha although in this modern era there now seems to be more similarities than differences.  Both regions have dramatically modernized.

Originally in 1932 when the Denominacion de Origen system of wine/vineyard classification was set up and Valdepenas was admitted into that inaugural classification, Valdepenas was known for young fruity wines.  Valdepenas means "valley of rocks".  The soil is stony and clayey with some sandy loam but also with a substrate layer of chalky limestone which serves to retain moisture during the hot and semi-arid summers.  The wine was, in fact, historically made in large earthenware bowls sunken into the ground and into the limestone depths to maintain a cooler temperature than surface levels.  This winemaking method may be an early prototype for what modern winemakers do to affect fruity style wines today.

The historic wines of Valdepenas were white, red, and rose and purposefully blended.  The reds (Clarete) were lightened with white wine and the rose was a blend of red and white juices.  When the Phylloxera epidemic struck in the nineteenth century and native vines had to be grafted onto disease-resistant American rootstocks, Airen became the new white grape of the region and Cencibel (Tempranillo), the red.  This was done because the vines were durable weatherwise and grafted better than others.  The wine styles that resulted were kept in line with pre-phylloxera styles.

Robert Parker has described Anciano wines as "silky textured with savory flavors and no hard edges".  All of Anciano's vineyards feature 30+ year old vines at 2300ft elevation with modern facilities, the sum total of which would produce wines of superior quality and being Spanish, affordably priced.  Anciano 5 Year is $10.99/btl!

Please join us for Friday's tasting.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

2006 Anciano Tempranillo Reserva Aged 5 Years

Sometimes neat things happen here.  Friday evening David Hobbs of Prime Wines showed up with a couple open bottles of Anciano wines from Spain.  He said to add them to the tasting lineup for the evening.  I had placed a large order with him earlier in the week and I think his tasting donation was a "thank you" of sorts.  One of the open Ancianos was the "5 Year" which means it was aged in oak barrels for five years.  The other was the 2002 "10 Year", which was very good also but the 5 Year was a true delight.

We sold several cases of the Anciano that evening which got me to thinking about the last time we had such success in tasting sales and it was actually five years ago and before the recession.  One evening back then we sold a similar amount of a Montepulciano that has since left the market as has the distributor who poured it, both recession casualties.  Then one evening a couple years ago at a tasting a customer burst into the store gushing about a Chilean Carmenere he had purchased here and now he wanted several more cases of that wine.  Several tasters that night said, "I want what he's having" and ordered cases at his prompting.  But that was different because we weren't tasting the wine that night.  But it was neat too.

Anciano is a label produced by Bodegas Navalon in the Valdepenas DO (Denominacion de Origen) which is surrounded by the La Mancha DO on the desolate Meseta plateau in the middle of the country.  If you want to read about La Mancha, scroll back to the June 8th blogpost of this year.  Why would Spain create a DO within the boundaries of another DO?  Well, of course it has to do with history, or better yet, pre-history.

Spain is arguably the oldest European wine-producing country.  When the grapes were brought up to the continent from the Middle East, the merchant seafarers stopped at southern Italy and Sicily and Spain and from those beginnings the vines began their travels across the continent.  Archeologists have now dated civilization in Valdepenas to the Bronze Age, approximately 1000-1300bc.  The inhabitants were members of a tribe called "Bronze of Levante" and the artifacts now being unearthed are remnants of military fortifications at higher elevation settlements called "motillas".

Now back to the wine...  Tasting notes for the Anciano 5 Year include: ruby-brick color; balsamic, licorice, and fruit compote aromas; rich fruit with balanced tannins on the palate; and a long and intense finish.  Food affinities include stews, red meat, and mature cheeses.  I got all of that from what sounds like a great outfit, The Well-Oiled Wine Company.  My contribution here is simply that the fruit component of this wine is what makes it special.  That fruit really jumps!

Did we mention that the wine retails for $10.99/btl?

Please join us on Friday September 27th between 5 and 7pm when again delve into a smorgasbord of California and European reds and one great Italian Pinot Grigio and please become a "follower" here so I will feel validated.  (Momma always wanted me to amount to something.)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Three-Tier System, Part 1

Some of you may have heard of the three-tier system of alcoholic beverage distribution.  Briefly, it was instituted following the Prohibition Era when it became apparent that regulation was necessary as a response to the lawlessness of the times.  The power to regulate the alcoholic beverage industry was given to the states and most states chose to adopt some variation of this system which separates the producer of the beverage from the distributor in the state and again separates those two from the retailer/restauranteur.  Coincidentally, taxation was a motivator also with all three levels being subject to taxation before the consumer pays his sales tax on top of the others!

In Georgia our system cedes undue power to the distributor level which can negotiate the cost of a wine from the producer and then set its marked-up price to the retailer.  There is no competition on the wholesale level in Georgia.  Each distributor has sole ownership of a particular wine brand until he chooses to give it up.  This is a primary reason for Georgia's high beverage prices.  In the original setting up of the system, by the way, those contending for distributor licenses were chosen by the most widely approved system of our time, the All-American political patronage system, sometimes called the "old boy network", thus providing yet another example of systemic corruption in America.

A producer may choose to terminate a relationship with a distributor if he is dissatisfied with sales or payment arrangements but he then must stay out of the market for five years as a penalty which again reflects state favoritism for the distributor while the sacrifice paid by the producer can be very dear.  The trading or selling of labels between distributors is a common practice for commercial reasons or sometimes due to interpersonal difficulties between parties and it's all very entertaining for the impartial observer in an "inside baseball" sort of way.  The interruptions in the availabilitiy of brands in the marketplace, while not exactly a hardship, can be an inconvenience to the consumer though.

On Friday September 27th from 5 to 7pm we will be tasting here at the store as usual.  With the cooler weather, expect more reds.  Please join us us.

The Three-Tier System, Part 2

So I bring up this subject because I am a small player in this game and I have recently been reminded of how little I matter to the big players.  Large distributors cater to large retailers and to chain stores and restaurants.  That's their bread and butter and it's easy money once you're in.  If you are small you are sort of irrelevant and perhaps a party to be humored by the real players.  I think I understand the game. 

The smaller distributors share their stature with small producers and small retailers and restaurants.  They have been locked out of the chain stores and chain restaurants.  So it makes sense that smaller players do business with each other. In my case, being a retailer who hand-sells, I can sell wines that many venues cannot because the product is put on the shelf in the large stores with no one to recommend it.  I must admit, some large distributors know my talents and long history and deal with me fairly.  Others don't.  C'est la vie.

There is an errant assumption at work for many wine consumers though, and that is that the large brand names that are prominantly placed in chain stores and big box stores are better than small unknown brands.  I understand the psychology.  It is better to hedge your bets and play it safe and get the mass marketed product because they wouldn't have gotten to where they are if they don't make good wine. 


But...if the whole truth be known, it's the smaller producers who remain true to the idea of what wine should be and that is that it should reflect its origins.  Mass marketed wine reflects a poll-tested idea of what a given wine should taste like.  It is safe.  It won't offend anyone.  You don't have to think about it. 

Small players want you to think about it, to experience it, to get that the stuff has origins and what you are tasting is the historic product from that place.

Please join us at the store Friday September 27th between 5 and 7pm for our regular weekly tasting. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Istara Ossau-Iraty

Ossau-Iraty (oh-sow ee-RAH-tee) is a traditional shepherd's semi-pressed raw sheep milk cheese.  It is the most famous cheese from the Basque region of France and one of only two AOC (appellation d'origine controlee) sheep cheeses in France with the other being Roquefort.  With the formation of the European Union, Ossau-Iraty received its PDO (protected designation of origin) further ensuring that the quality of the cheese will be maintained through its traditional methods of production including the sourcing of milk.  "Istara" is further proprietary branding of the cheese but its meaning is lost on me.

The aroma of Ossau-Iraty is distinct and indelibly reflects its ewe's milk origins.  The cheese taste is nutty, sweet, and herbaceous with complex delicate flavors of hazelnut, figs, and olives.  The natural orange-brown rind is edible and actually adds to the cheese's complexity while contrasting in color with the ivory white interior.  The texture of the cheese is somewhat oily.  Ossau-Iraty fits well into a cheese tray format but also complements fruits, jams, and honey.  Wine affinities include light reds and whites in general and, of course, the wines of the Basque region in particular.

Ossau-Iraty is the product of Manech and Basco-Bearnaise ewes grazing in steep mountain pastures in the 20% of the Basque country that lies in France.  Ossau is a valley in Bearn which is in Gascony outside of the Basque region.  Iraty refers to the Iraty Beech Forest within the northern or French Basque country.  Both places lie in the Pyranees-Atlantique department which was created after the French revolution.  Prior to that, the region, whether French or Spanish at the time, was at least somewhat autonomous for centuries.

Last Friday at our weekly tasting we opened a bottle of Domaine Saint-Lannes Gascogne white which may have been a nice pairing with Ossau-Iraty.  This week on Thursday from 5 to 7pm, Gail Avera of Atlanta Beverage joins us with three Spanish whites, a Rioja reserve red, and two domestic red blends.  Want to bet the Ossau-Iraty gets sampled out with some of those?  Please join us.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Bridesmaid & Robin K

I'm a history buff and last night's tasting here has served as another opportunity to discuss the California fine wine industry in historical terms.  In 1976 when this young and undeveloped, insular, naive and uncertain business was getting its legs in northern California, I was doing likewise in my first position in a retail wine shop in Berkeley, California.  Now from my current 2013 Gaineville, Georgia perch, I can now see how the maturation process in fine wine production has worked, at least in these examples at hand.  Whereas thirty-five years ago winemaking prospectors in California were gambling that they could make this winemaking project happen, now individuals like William Knuttel (Robin K) and Pam Starr and Drew Neiman (Bridesmaid) know how to do just that.  It just took a few decades and amassing a few friends along the way.

William Knuttel began his winemaking career making wonderful Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays with Saintsbury of Carneros/Napa from 1983 through 1996.  From 1996 though 2003 he led Chalk Hill of Sonoma with an expanded line of fine varietals before turning around an underperforming Dry Creek Vineyards (2003-2011).  Knuttel had a diversion in the 90's with Tria wines and in 2005 with Zap but, by way of overview, what he accrued in knowledge was fundamental to what he does now. Knuttel uses his practical experience, scientific background, and instincts to produce what he calls "Wines of Intensity and Finesse" at his eponymously named winery.  Robin K is the second label for William Knuttel Wines.  Mrs. Knuttel is Robin, by the way.

The Robin K 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon we poured here last night is reviewed as "black cherry, blackberry, cigar box, caramel and creamy vanilla bean, supple tannins, and a lengthy finish".  I forgot where I read that and I didn't get a chance to taste it since it sold out so quickly.  Robin K retails under $20.

Now for a confession: High-end Napa Cabernet is not my thing and while I have tasted many and I acknowlege their greatness, I just have other preferences and I haven't tracked this end of the business in a long time.  Call me a heretic.  So with that said, the 2010 Bridesmaid was the high-end red on the table here last night and it was luscious.  It is a blend of 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, 19% Merlot, 4% Malbec, and 4% Petit Verdot, a Bordeaux blend, if you will. 

Pam Starr and Drew Nieman each have resumes that include stops at some of the finest wineries of Napa and they have both made their share of ultra-premium luxury wines along the way so with that said, let's stay with the here and now for this one.  What we have here is an assemblage of excess juice gleaned from colleagues at similarly high-end operations in Napa.  This is juice that was originally intended to complete someone else's high-end centerpiece wine but was not used and then became available to someone like Ms. Starr and/or Mr. Nieman.  Needless to say, the proprietary blend for Bridesmaid will necessarily change every year with this modus operandi.

Robert Parker said about this wine: "The first credit for this wine should go to the buyer of the juice.  The second credit should go to the blender."  Since we don't know the individual roles of the Starr/Nieman team, accolades to all for this well-knit ultra-premium assemblage.

This Thursday September 19th from 5 to 7pm, Gail Avera of Atlanta Beverage rejoins us with a presentation of European whites and domestic reds.  The whites include: Lo Brujo Macabeo from Calatayud, Spain, and Lanzos 50% each Viura/Sauvignon Blanc and Ermita Veracruz Verdejo both from Rueda, Spain.  The reds include: Solar de Randez Reserva Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain and a couple noteworthy domestic red blends.  These wines are a must-taste so be here Thursday for that one.  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Namaste means "the spirit in me honors the spirit in you" according to David Masciorini, owner of Namaste Vineyards of Dallas, Oregon.  From its origins in the Indian subcontinent, this salutation and valediction has been popularized through cultural contributions like yoga and other quasi-religious associations.  For Mr. Masciorini, whom I spoke with for this blog article, the meaning for his purposes would be "the spirit of the wine honors the spirit of the vine".  Mr. Masciorini intimated to me that Namaste may not have been an intentionally meaningful selection of a name for his vineyard and winery but to my understanding, I'm not sure just how much more meaningful he could have gotten.

Namaste Vineyards is located just about in the middle of the Willamette Valley, the finest wine region of Oregon.  Dallas is fifteen miles west of Salem, the state capitol, in Polk County which is home to a veritable who's who of great Oregon Wineries including Eyrie Vineyards whose founder, David Lett, first planted Pinot Noir in the state in 1966.  Today the Oregon wine industry contributes $800 million to the state directly through wine sales and $1.4 billion is believed to be indirectly contributed to the Oregon economy through ancillary trade and...40% of Oregon's wineries are ecologically sustainable!

Namaste Vineyards consists of thirty-three estate acres with eight of those acres planted between Pinot Noir Dijon 115 (Abundance Vineyard) and Pinot Noir Pommard Clone (Prosperity Vineyard).  Each of those vineyard Pinot Noirs is now in the store at special pricing while the Reserve Cuvee Pinot Noir, made from a 50-50 blending of select vines from each vineyard, has yet to appear in the Atlanta market.  Namaste also markets white wines made from Chardonnay, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer including the proprietary white blend, "Peace", which has been a very popular item here in the past.

Namaste Vineyards was planted in the years from 1980 to '83 so all of their estate production is now sourced minimally from thirty year old vines.  They produce 2000 cases annually with 200 cases each of the two estate Pinot Noirs.  Some additional fruit is sourced locally to supplement the Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling grown on the property.  The topography of the vineyard is rolling hills and the climate features ideally mild temperatures for Pinot Noir with little rainfall during the growing season but plenty in the off-season.

This Friday, September 13th from 5 to 7pm, Henry Leung of Hemispheres Global Wines joins us for a tasting of two French whites (Gascogne & Rhone), Osso Anna Napa Chardonny, an Italian Primitivo (Zinfandel), a French Red Rhone, and Bridesmaid Napa Red Blend.  Henry has been written up in several food and wine magazines for his ability to pair wines with foods and according to the Wine Spectator, Henry is "the man who solved the Chinese puzzle".  You can ask him about that one Friday evening.  Please join us for the tasting and please become a "follower" of this blog. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Woodsmoke Provisions

Woodsmoke Provisions is an Atlanta seafood smokehouse started in 1995 by a couple of entrepreneurs in intown Atlanta.  The business has since changed ownership twice and been moved and enlarged and now resides at 1240 Menlo Drive in northwest Atlanta in the original Inland Seafood building.  Inland Seafood is the premier seafood wholesaler in Georgia and has a business interest in Woodsmoke.  Rich Luff is the individual I was directed to at Woodsmoke when I made my initial inquiries about the business and most of what follows is information from him.

Woodsmoke prides itself on being an entirely All-American company in every aspect of its operation.  The fish it uses are caught by American fishermen and harvested sustainably in the Alaskan Arctic for salmon and here in Georgia for trout.  Moreover, in-house processes are all done by hand using American workers from the meticulous cutting and cleaning of the fish through the curing and smoking (hickory for salmon, pecan shells for trout) to the final packaging and storage before shipping.

There are two methods for smoking fish.  Woodsmoke "hot smokes" its many types of salmon but  "cold smokes" their trout at temperatures well below the 75 degrees fahrenheit it considers the standard and this is where it gets interesting.  According to my research cold smoking in humid parts of the country is difficult at best.  It is a long process with several hours of curing in citrus juices, brine, and brown sugar followed by four times as much time in the smoker.  During the entire process when not in the smoker the fish must stay at temperatures of 38 degrees or lower or frozen at zero degrees fahrenheit during down times.  The only time the fish may reach room temperature is for a short time prior to wrapping.

We have been selling Woodsmoke Provisions smoked salmon and trout quite successfully for the past year or so and never until now thinking about the difficulty involved in the smoking process.  We have, however, thought about Inland Seafood's incredible endeavor of delivering all of its fresh seafood offerings around Georgia every time we see one of their trucks on the roads.  Think about that the next time you're noshing on your fresh tuna sushi!

Not yet available but coming soon to this store: Woodsmoke Provisions Wild Arctic (hot smoked) Salmon.  Stay tuned.

This Friday from 5 to 7pm Tommy Basham of Continental Beverage joins us with a presentation of reds and whites including Villa Rubini Pinot Grigio from Friuli, Italy and Opolo Vineyards Summit Creek Zinfandel from Paso Robles, California.  Next week on Friday the 13th, Henry Leung of Hemispheres Global Wines presents his usual dazzling array of "fine-winery" which is undetermined at this time, but as reliable as Henry is, you ought to be here for that one too. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Field Blend: 2009 Whiplash Redemption

Whiplash Redemption is the unfortunate name of a very decent field blend red from Reata of Napa Valley.  At their website they offer a corny story about training a particularly spirited wild horse.  I won't recount the story here because, if the truth be known, I didn't read it.  If you want to read the story of how this wine acquired its Whiplash Redemption name go to

The blend here is standard California fare for this kind of offering: 65% Syrah, 25% Barbera, and 10% Zinfandel.  These are all fruity grapes and the wine displays aromas of red fruits like strawberries and cherries and palate flavors of black fruits like plums and blackberries.  This unpretentious red's charm lies in its inherent amiability and wide variety of applications.  Have it with your red sauce pasta, barbecue, grilled meats, hamburgers, get the idea.

Historically a field blend was a red wine made from an assortment of grapes grown together in the same vineyard, harvested at the same time and vinted together on-site, an economic way to make wine for sure.  While this blue collar version of winemaking seems unsophisticated, I'm not so sure it is, at least in current application.

Today the grape varieties used in California field blend red wines like Redemption are sourced from vineyards that have historically demonstrated their prowess.  One hundred fifty years ago European immigrants carried cuttings of such grapevines from their homes in Chianti, Cotes du Rhone, or lesser regions to their destinations in California with the intention of making the same kinds of wines they had back home, ie., field blends. Using their historical advantage, savvy contemporary winemakers can now pick and choose what fruit from what place offers what component that would be a desirable dimension to flesh out a blend.  Not unsophisticated, but rather, historically enlightened.

Whiplash was the best selling wine at last Friday's tasting here at the store.  This wine was about as soft and easy-drinking as they get and that was what our tasters wanted that evening.  This Friday, September 6th from 5 to 7pm, Tommy Basham of Continental Beverage presents an array of wines that will include Villa Rubini Friuli Italian Pinot Grigio.  A century ago, before Bolla and Santa Margherita amongst others fundamentally simplified the product, Italian Pinot Grigio was more in the style of a lush French Meursault.  Rubini is a throwback to that style and a white wine counterpoint to Whiplash.  Please join us on Friday and experience Rubini.