Thursday, November 21, 2013

2012 Padrillos Malbec

Black cherry, red currant, plums, chocolate, licorice, and sweet spices all wrapped up in a velvety, round and juicy, mouth-coating body balanced by the bright acidity that even $12 Mendoza Malbecs can deliver.  All of the preceding adjectives were gleaned from reviews of this wine already posted on the internet.  My contribution?  Without hesitation, "hedonistic".

When we tasted Padrillos (stallions) last weekend I felt a distinct guilty conscience creeping up on me because I have been trained to relegate such new world efforts to a second rate status because, well, they aren't European.  By that, I mean they just don't follow the format, like jazz defied classical music a hundred years ago by thumbing its nose at Beethoven and the rest.  Nuance be damned!  We're just gonna "get it" right here.  Similarly, Padrillos makes no apology to Bordeaux for its forthrightness.  This is "in your face" new world red wine and after tasting it in Friday night's lineup, I impulsively said, "This tastes like $25 wine"...and I rarely say anything impulsively.

I have four reasons for why this wine is so good:

     1.  The wine is the project of Ernesto Catena, eldest son of Nicholas Catena, the "Don" of the Argentine wine industry.  Ernesto is a neophyte on his own in the business after a long and diverse academic career and doesn't even have his own winery, so the wine is made at his "old man's" place, Catena Zapata, only the best place in Argentina to make wine.

     2.  While he doesn't have a winery, Ernesto does have vineyards, 178 acres (116 under vine) in the Valle de Uco, Mendoza at 3576 feet above sealevel and certified organic.  Vistaflores is the name of the property and it is planted in Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah but the 100% 2012 Malbec is sourced from three Valle de Uco vineyards including Vistaflores (40%) with an average vine age of fifteen years.

     3.  So... Mendoza was originally planted in vines by Jesuit priests in the 16th century.  The project got goosed in the late 1800s when the phylloxera devastation in Europe drove winemakers to the new world to pursue their dreams.  Italians and Spaniards in particular ended up in Argentina but in more recent times French wine companies have invested heavily there.  Actually, Mendoza is being inundated with winemaking investments from companies around the world (blogpost 11/14/11).  A factor?  Yeah, sure.  Competition always drives quality up.

     4.  Here's the familiar refrain: for grapevine roots to survive in rocky, sandy, alluvial soils at high altitudes with little organic matter and low in fertility, they have to go deep resulting in small concentrated berries with accentuated minerality and firm tannins.  Then with the predictable Mendozan weather patterns (hot dry days, cool nights), effectively extending the growing season to produce rich ripe fruit, the winemaker has the latitude to perfect the kind of wine he chooses.  With Malbec, name your stylistic poison, the winemaker can make it happen here.

Join us here on Friday June 22nd when David Rimmer of Lynda Allison Selections presents a panoply of impressive French and Italian reds and whites for our joint edification.  Sounds like you ought to be here, right?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

2010 Crociani Rosso di Montepulciano

This Friday between 5 and 7pm, David Rimmer of Lynda Allison Selections joins us here with a presentation of fine European reds and whites including the subject of this blogpost, 2010 Crociani Rosso di Montepulciano.  Rosso is the secondary complement to the premier regional wine, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and a relatively recent Italian creation (DOC-1989) from a winemaking region dating back 2500 years.  In 1999 the wine's style was further codified with DOC amendments, all of which seemed to spring from the Italian wine industry rennaissance of the 1980s.

The 2010 Crociani Rosso is 75% Prugnolo Gentile (Sangiovese), 15% Canaiolo Nero, and 10% Mammolo, which is a standard recipe of the region.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are allowable (up to 20%) in Rosso but Crociani chooses not to use them.  De-classified Vino Nobile is also allowable in lesser vintages. 

Rosso was a necessary and smart Italian creation.  The finest Montepulciano vineyards feature soils of sand, gravel, and clay on hillside vineyards at 250+ meters above sealevel.  Thomas Jefferson and Martin Van Buren are just a couple of American notables from centuries past who recognized the greatness of Montepulciano.  So for Italy to create a lighter, fresh and fruity version of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, one can only bow to their prescience.  Of course they did the same thing five years earlier with Rosso di Montalcino as a little brother to Brunello.

The structural foundation of Rosso is its 75% Sangiovese, a grape that offers savory cherry, black stone fruit, raspberry, and dried herbs in a balanced format which includes firm tannins and a high acidity.  With the 25% Canaiolo and Mammolo blend, the 2010 Crociani is a bright ruby red color with brambly red fruit flavors, hints of pepper, fine acidity, and a soft full finish.  To make an elegant wine such as this, the 10 hectares estate fruit is handpicked and the wine is made on the property in the 14th century wine cellar. 

On the dinner table the wine complements pasta with meat sauce, roasted red meats, and chicken with herbs.  Would this wine work for Thanksgiving dinner?  An interesting question.  I would love to try the combination.  Join us on Friday for a preview and, for gosh sakes, become a follower of this blog.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Best Buy

I have been telling people that the best buy in last Friday's tasting was the last bottle on the table, the 2010 Ezio Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Donati Family Vineyards.  What strikes me as peculiar is that it was the most expensive bottle on the table at $29.99, yet bang for your buck, it was the one to buy.  That still seems strange.  I guess I assume "best buy" means cheap. 

The night before, we tasted Monthuys Brut Reserve Champagne and that one too was the one to buy from that tasting lineup but it was $36.99 and not even the most expensive on the table and, honestly, I think it was just the best because I liked it...a whole lot. 

We have, of course, been celebrating our twentieth anniversary here at ol' V&C and we've been doing it with wine tastings to the tune of five tastings in the last ten days.  Whew!  Frankly, I haven't even been tasting all of the wines.  Sensory overload, ya know.

In no particular order, here are some of our best buys extending back to the beginning of October, aside from those already mentioned above:

October 11th:  Carlin de Paolo Italian Barbera d'Asti 2011 @ $16.99
October 18th:  Torres Ibericos Rioja Tempranillo Crianza 2009 @ $14.99
October 30th:  Chateaur Grissac Red Bordeaux 2010 @ $12.99
November 5th:  Pueblo del Sol Uruguayan Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, and Tannat @ $10.99

The Coto de Hayas Fagus and Centennaria ($21.99) from November 1st both sold out before I could taste them so they probably deserve mentioning and we had Croft Pink Port ($19.99) open over the course of a week and sold a couple cases during that time so that one too performed exceedingly well.

So were all of these wines "best buys"?  Probably not.  Best buys connote value for your dollar.  In that light Donati Ezio, Grissac, and the Pueblos were probably the best buys for the last couple months.  Now with Thanksgiving dinner looming on the horizon our selections have to be seen in a different light.  The value of "best buys" have to transcend dollar prices and brand identification and instead relate directly to our appreciation of the holiday.  In fact just toss out the idea of a "best buy" holiday wine entirely and pick up the one that is special to you.

Stop in ol' V&C for just that wine and then know you have what is appropriate for your Thanksgiving table.

Join us Friday for a tasting of some combination of: Queulat Chilean Sauvignon Blanc 2011,  William Hill Central Coast Chardonnay 2012, and then some combination of La Cacciatora Italians, Red Bordeaux , and Argentine Malbecs.  Then on the 22nd of November join us for David Rimmer's presentation of more top flight Italians and French wines. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Friday night we had the extreme pleasure of tasting four from Donati Family Vineyards of the Paicines region of San Benito County in Central Coast, California.  Donati is a legitimate family-owned venture with Ron Donati purchasing 1,000 acres of once-Almaden vineyards in 1998 for the purpose of putting his son, Matt, in charge of growing grapes.  As a second thought, they decided to just go ahead and make the wine themselves.  Ron's background was in cattle ranching but as an Italian-American, winemaking only makes sense, right?

Paicines was apparently a treasure trove of fine wine-capable vineyards hiding in plain sight and just waiting for a Ron Donati to step in and take advantage of what was there for him to exploit.  He hired the right winemaker in 30 year-experienced Dan Kleck to make his flagship Cabernet blends and for commercial reasons, located his winery in Templeton, an hour and a half south in Paso Robles.  Donati offers a dozen reds and whites of superior quality at great prices out of that location.

So why are the wines so good?  A familiar recipe:

     1.  The soils in Paicines are limestone, decomposed granite, and clay loam.
     2.  Ocean breezes from Monterey Bay give the vineyards a "Region II" cool climate.
     3.  The diurnal effect of warm days and cool nights result in wines with superior acidity.
But there is more:

     1.  The ecologically sustainable vineyards use natural predators, limited pesticides, and extreme diligence.
     2.  Vine canopys are trained, including the thinning of green shoots in the growing season and light management in the fruiting zone.
     3.  Green fruit is removed both before and after grape veraison.

"Rich in character and nuance" -from their website and my sentiments exactly.  I am not prone to hyperbole in any discussion of California wines but these guys just plain get it right.  The Chardonnay is unoaked with tropical and citrus aromas, creamy mid-palate, and crisp finish.  The Claret had strawberry and cherry up front and vanilla and clove laying back.  The tightly-wound Cabernet was right-on but for just a little bit more investment, the Ezio Reserve Cabernet proved to be the value of the evening.

David Rimmer of Lynda Allison Selections rejoins us on Friday, November 22nd from 5 to 7pm, with another assortment of fine French and Italian reds and whites.  This Friday, November 15th, we're tasting some combination of red Bordeaux, Argentine Malbec, La Cacciatora Italians, and some decent whites.  Attend the tasting and be the first to tell us what or who Ezio is and win a T-shirt.  Please join us and become a follower of this blog or, I swear, I'm gonna jump out of this skyscraper office window right now!  Help me, please!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Over, Under, Sideways, Down

"Cheap versions of wines that should be expensive are almost always disappointing.  Expensive versions of underrated ones are usually a revelation."  Lettie Teague attributes this quote to Patrick Matthews from his 1997 wine book, "The Wild Bunch".  Also from the Wall Street Journal but not attributable, "Eight dollar Pinot Noir oughta be illegal." 

In our three year blogging history, we have witnessed the phenomenon over and over again.  An ordinary grape planted in the right place will yield an extraordinary wine while conversely Cabernet, Chardonnay, or other solid international grape variety will be repeatedly over-planted in ill-suited venues solely for the purpose of turning some gi-normous sales numbers.  Sometimes I want to scream, "Stop doing that!"

My mentor in the fine wine business was Jim Sanders, "the father of the fine wine business in Atlanta" and the French Burgundy expert of the southeastern United States.  The man knew his stuff.  While Burgundy was his professed area of expertise, he could expound on why Cabernet was king in Bordeaux, Syrah suited the Northern Rhone, Gamay worked in southern Burgundy, and so on. The man taught wine classes about grape vineyard terroir and if he had a fault (and everyone who met him knew his immediately) it was that he dismissed many of the lesser grape varieties...but then again I guess there is a reason for considering them to be lesser grapes in the first place.

Recently I tried to impress Master Sommeliere Michael McNeill by distinguishing the noble grape varieties from the lesser varieties.  He had just poured me a taste of an incredible Vouvray (Chenin Blanc) which I loved but damned with faint praise by asserting the grape's mediocre stature in the overall scheme of things.  The Vouvray was a marvelously complex wine, by the way, and McNeill took me to task immediately for framing the issue in that way by maintaining that any grape grown in the right environs can produce nobility.


Thesis:  There is a hierarchy of wine grape types with the elite ones being capable of producing truly superior wine.  The lesser grapes, by definition, produce lower quality wine.

Antithesis:  Any grape type is capable of achieving nobility if planted in the appropriate terroir.

Synthesis:  There are better and lesser grape varieties with the better ones having a track record of producing superior wine in multiple locations globally while the lesser varieties may show superiority only when planted in just the right venue.

Tomorrow evening we are tasting French wines with Gail Avera of Atlanta Beverage and Michelle Schreck of Atlanta Improvement Company.  On Friday we're tasting Donati California wines with Colleen Rotunno, formerly of Corkscrew cafe in Dahlonega, now with Quality Wine & Spirits of Atlanta.  Please join us, 5-7pm both days.

Win a T-shirt by identifying the pop music historical event this blogpost refers to.  Supplies limited.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Smoked Cheese, Part 2

Here's a little pre-history on the smoking subject:

In prehistoric times cavemen would cook meats and fish over open fires in their caves and then hang the stuff in those caves to dry and feed the clan for awhile.  The motivation for hanging that meat/fish was for preservation first and foremost and in time, salt became a beneficial first step in that process either by rubbing it on or by dipping the meat/fish in brine.  Since we're talking about cave dwellers with no chimneys, the smoke in the room was, shall we say, heavy.

Salt also plays a possible role in the creation of cheese, itself.  Primitives may have accidentally created cheese by salting curdled milk, hoping to preserve it, but yielding a cheese of sorts.  Another hypothesis recontructs a scenario where milk is kept in a container made from animal stomachs which contain the enzyme, rennin, which separates whey from the forming curds which would become cheese.  Egyptian tombs document cheesemaking going back 8 to 10,000 years.

Now here's what smoking does:

Wood is made of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin.  Cellulose and himicellulose are the basic structural materials of wood cells.  Lignin is the glue that holds the cells in place.  Cellulose and hemicellulose are sugars that carmelize when burnt yielding sweet, flowery, and fruity aromas.  Burning Lignin yields spicy and pungent aromas resembling vanillin and clove.

On July 15th of this year we wrote about phenolics, the chemical properties that give wine its flavors and health benefits.  Smoke from burning wood contains 400 chemical compounds with 75 or so being phenolic compounds.  Those compounds are triggered by the chemical reaction of the heat with latent wood polymers and just like in the wine phenolics blogpost, the smoking phenolic compound properties act as a preservative to the food being smoked.  So smoking meat/fish/cheese, like drinking red wine or eating dark chocolate, has healthful benefits in anti-oxidants which slow the rancidification of fats and anti-microbial benefits which inhibit bacteria growth.

...and all you ever heard was that smoking was bad for you.

Here's the wine tasting schedule for next week:

     Tuesday November 5th:  David Hobbs of Prime Wine & Spirits with Italians
     Thursday November 7th:  Gail Avera of Atlanta Beverage Company with French fare
     Friday November 8th:  Coleen Rotunno of Quality Wine & Spirits with California wines

Tommy Basham is here tonight with Spanish and Italian wines.

Please supports us in these tastings and, by all means, become a follower of this blog.