Saturday, May 31, 2014

Jason-Stephens Winery

Last Friday at the weekly event we tasted the 2010 Jason-Stephens Estate Merlot and to my tastes it was one of the most impressive wines I have tasted this year.  It was dark and rich yet smooth and soft on the palate with velvety tannins and flavors of blackberry, tea and coffee, tobacco, and vanilla; not jammy but rather structured with all of the above leading toward a long rich finish.  The 15.2% alcohol was not even noticeable!  The entire experience left me wanting to know more about the producers.

Jason is Jason Goelz and Stephens is Stephen Dorcich and the two of them seem to have painted their masterpiece as a team.  Dorcich grows the grapes and Goelz does the rest.  Depending on your wine industry philosphy, one of the two may be doing more of the heavy lifting in the partnership but without question, this team works!

Here's how it all came together: In 2006 Goelz approached Dorcich with the idea of doing a winery.  Goelz was a recent graduate of Cal Poly Tech in San Luis Obispo with a degree in marketing and a minor in winemaking.  In 1989 Dorcich had purchased a 79 acre pear farm in Santa Clara County (think Silicon Valley), planted grapes, and by 1993 was selling them to wineries and home winemakers.  Jason Goelz started buying from him in 2001.  In 2004, custom crush red blends made by Napa Valley wineries proved to account for a disproportionately large percentage of Dorsich's grape harvest.  Goelz, noting both his esteem for the Dorsich estate grapes and their popularity with others, made the partnership proposal.  A state-of-the-art winery was built in 2008.

From their website,, the Jason-Stephens mission is to produce wines that deliver consistent quality and value from their own select estate vineyards, wines that display unique attributes with the ultimate goal of exceeding the expectations of wine enthusiasts.  Descriptors listed for Jason-Stephens wines include: flavorful, complex, balanced, elegant, and velvety, all of which apply to the Merlot currently in the store.  Further, this winery website intrigues with statements like, "The ritualized consumption (of wine) and its ability to alter consciousness is what made wine such a powerful talisman, and the wine label a cultural artifact."  Eh, a little pretentious perhaps.  The bottle labels are paperless, by the way, using a very artful screen printed design instead.

As stated above, Jason Goelz graduated from a technical school with a marketing degree.  His marketing of Jason-Stephens wines is very astute (just do a Google search) but he must have taken some engineering classes because that state-of-the-art winery is way cutting edge.  Goelz uses a new automatic sorting system, improving grape quality by eliminating cross contamination while at the same time cutting labor costs.  Goelz also developed an ozonated water rinse to dust off gapes, killing the natural yeasts that adhere to them in the vineyard.  Kelley Hamilton is Goelz' one assistant and they alone do everything!

Jason-Stephens wine sales are soaring which doesn't seem possible when you consider the recessionary times of their existence.  In 2013 they purchased a 378 acre ranch with twenty acres planted in Chardonnay and Syrah.  All of their vineyards are sustainably kept with cover crops of grasses and wildflowers planted between the rows to nourish the soil.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


This post is not only a sequel to the April 12th "Flight 571" post but it's also our second film review after "Somm" on March 25th's our first post here that has nothing to do with wine or food!

Flight 571 was a plane full of rugby players and others numbering forty-five total that originated in Montevideo, Uruguay on October 13, 1972.  It ultimately crashed in the Chilean Andes after battling storms on its way to Santiago.  What makes the story so compelling is the way the sixteen survivors of the seventy-two day ordeal stayed alive, by resorting to eating the dead.  The April 12th post began as a study of Concha y Toro's Reserve Malbec which is sourced close to the base of the mountain, 12,000 feet below where the plane rests.  That post is really quite good if you want to scroll back to start there before continuing on here. 

Last Saturday evening PBS showed "Stranded: I've Come from a Plane That Crashed in the Mountains".  In this fine 2007 feature length documentary, all sixteen survivors are interviewed surreally on camera.  The following ten points are things I learned from the film.

1. The rugby team was made up of nineteen year old guys who were all from the same affluent neighborhood and attended the same Roman Catholic school. 

2.  They had never experienced snow before.

3.  The storm that brought down the plane was one of many in the winter of 1972 that made it Chile's worst year weather-wise.

4.  The pilots were "flying blind" into the storm and "air pockets" caused sudden drops in altitude which ultimately brought down the plane.

5.  There is no mention in the film of the stop in Argentina before continuing on toward Chile.

6.  There was a camera on board and pictures before and after the crash chronical the event.

7.  The young men were close to each other before the flight and the survivors are close today.  Their survival through the ordeal may be owed to this solidarity.

8.  The feeding on the dead was viewed sacramentally by the survivors, i.e., those who lived feel they would have given of their own bodies to save others if they had died.  It was not desecration.

9.  Quotes like these:  "When you don't know what to do, wait.  Time will bring the answers."  "You get stuck, then you go on...and on...and on."

10. The rescuers wanted to cover up the cannabalism.

I also had a realization of my own.  I would have been nineteen in 1972.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Collier's Powerful Welsh Cheddar

This cheese became an instant phenomenon here a couple weeks ago when I served it at a Friday evening tasting.  While I had been stocking the 7oz packages for a few years and putting them in gift baskets as a superior alternative to the shelf stable spreads, I never tasted them out because the baskets were always too efficient for moving the product.  Two weeks ago I had one package left in the deli and it had gone out of date so I cut it up, served it, and was stunned by the reaction!

I guess Collier's really is about as good as it gets in Cheddar.  Our go-to Cheddar as a rule has been the Widmer's Four Year Old from Wisconsin which is great but Collier's is creamier and doesn't have the yellow color added.  Collier's doesn't say its age anywhere on the package or elsewhere but boasts of its "balance of savoury and sweet" components "selected to ensure an extraordinary taste sensation" and...there's that delectable crunch at work there too.

Typically I don't think of Cheddar as a wine accompaniment.  I think beer.  Collier's, however, recommends theirs with citrussy wines and I think I get that.  The night of the hubbub about the cheese we were serving the most citrussy of all wines, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, amongst others, and the cheese seemed to fit in just fine with most everything being offered.

From their website: Collier's is a pasteurized cow's milk cheese from Denbighshire in North Wales.  It is a single recipe, single creamery cheddar that celebrates the coal mining industrial heritage of the working people there and this is where it gets interesting: The cheese celebrates the "comaraderie and strength of the coal miners" who were called..."colliers"!

I guess we've all heard about the hard life of coal miners.  Appropriately perhaps, eighty percent of the plastic wrapping around the cheese loaf is pitch black with the remainder being cream and white print along with two small wedges of cheese with a knife.  The only other image on the packaging is the bleak dirty face of a helmeted miner looking hopelessly beaten up by life with a gaze that sears right through you.  "Powerful" in this context is an understatement.

Again from their website: The miners worked in difficult conditions in semi-darkness with their midday cheese sandwich meal in the mine often being the highlight of their day. The cheese, by the way, is a rough 4" x 4" in a 14" long loaf.  The 7oz wrapped gift basket components were segments of the loaves.  Those 4" x 4" dimensions, if you think about it, would actually afford a perfect fit on a slice of bread with no waste for the family on a budget.

Both of my grandfathers were copper miners in Upper Michigan.  My mother, who learned from her mother, used to make cheese in the kitchen when I was a kid.  I wonder if those miners carried their cheese sandwiches into the mines like the guys in Wales?

Join us for next Friday's tasting.  Nothing is scheduled at this time but I am being offered special pricing on Californians so that is the tentative direction right now.  Also please become a "follower" here so I'll not feel like a coal miner in the dark here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Graves de Vayres

I think if I had it all to do over again, I would be a geologist.  At least I seem to find an undue fascination in that aspect of my research here at the blogspot and Graves de Vayres is the most recent place that fascinates me geologically.  Last Friday we tasted four wines from Chateau Cantelaudette which rightly features its place name prominantly on its front label so with my natural inclination toward historical research along with my new found interest in geology, it's just a hop, skip, and a jump into this diversion.

Graves de Vayres is a small appellation in the Entre-Deux-Mer region of southern Bordeaux.  Entre-Deux-Mer is the huge wine laden valley between the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers that is to Bordeaux what the Languedoc is to all of France...the place to go for good bulk wine.  But for about a century and a half the producers in Graves de Vayres have lobbied the industry about its difference from its surroundings and advocated for special recognition.  In 1931 that was accomplished when it was granted its AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controlee) but because of its ongoing lack of prominance perhaps, it still struggles for recognition.

Graves de Vayres seems to have an identity issue in part because it lies between two much better known wine regions and the case with the larger Graves region to the west is complicated by its name.  To the east lies tough competition in St. Emilion where some of the most expensive wines in the world are made.  While Graves de Vayres may be confused with Graves because of its name, its wines are more like St. Emilion, with similar finesse, yet delicately lighter in body than the right bank marquee names.

Since I began this post talking about geology, I probably ought to return to the subject before closing this article.  The last ice age resulted in the permanent sinking of the Dorgogne river valley around the stretch where the communes of Arveyres and Vayres would later develop.  The river became permanently widened there moderating summertime temperatures nearby for ideal vineyard soils now composed of clayey gravel, sand, and silt soils.  The wine producers from a hundred fifty or so years ago recognized the difference from the rest of the Entre-Deux-Mer, beginning the Graves de Vayres identity movement.

Like St. Emilion, Graves de Vayres reds are Merlot-based blends which also may include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec.  The dominant flavors sheathed in soft tannins include: raspberry, black currant, blackberry and cherry with undertones of cedar, licorice, and spice.  Like Graves, Graves de Vayres whites are Sauvignon Blanc-based with Semillon and Muscadelle featuring flavors of hazelnut, citrus, pear, peach, and signature minerality.  The reds go well with cold cuts and roasted meats in sauce; the whites, with fish, cold white meats, and oysters.

Join us here Friday May 23rd between 5 and 7pm as Coleen Rotunno of Quality Wine & Spirits presents the wines of Gouguenheim of Argentina.  Gougenheim is known for Malbec and there will be two of those along with three other offerings, plus the critically acclaimed 2011 Casa Castillo Monastrell from Spain.  Coleen Rotunno is the former proprietor of Corkscrew Cafe in Dahlonega.  Please join us for the tasting.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Sur Lie Wines and Brettanomyces

One of the more memorable wines I have tasted this year is the 2012 Veramonte La Gloria Chilean Sauvignon Blanc which was vinted and aged "sur lie" (sir-lee) in its preparation.  Wines made in this fashion often display a rich body, enhanced structure, and velvety texture in the mouth along with a dosage of extra complexity in its expanded flavor profile.  The Veramonte is currently in stock here at the store and would be a simple wine ordinarily but becomes fundamentally altered by the sur lie process and converted into a hedonistic centerpiece.  And this Veramonte effort, by the way, is not even the premier Sauvignon Blanc from the company!

Lees are the wine sediment accumulated during and after fermentation made up of dead yeast, grapeskins, seeds, stems and other solids.  "Sur lie" on a wine label connotes a prolonged aging period with the pomace before racking which separates these solids from the wine.  Tartaric acid in grapes then may bind with potassium at this point to form crystals which then may become more lees necessitating a second racking.  Otherwise, cold fermentation and filtration are usually the antidote to crystal formation.

Sur lie wines are not a reward without risks.  Lees can be divided into heavy and light categories.  Heavy lees, the dross mentioned above (stems, seeds, skins, etc), can leave bad smells and grassy, vegetal flavors in wine, along with the threat of Brettanomyces (breh-tah-no-MY-seez), a grapeskin mold in the wild, which imparts characteristics in wine described as diversely as horsey, mousy, metallic, cowpie, barnyard, or bandaid.  Conversely, if the contamination is mild, it may actually result in a net positive with the addition of another complimentary dimension to the flavor profile.

Light lees are what is left after the first racking, the tartrates and any suspended particles in the wine that then fall to the bottom of the tank.  The risk here is mainly sulphurous odors and metallic tastes but here too Brettanomyces can survive and develop if the light lees are substantial.  The prevention in both lees cases is to maintain an anticeptic winemaking facility, pick selectively and then de-stem all grapes, complete any fermentation and aging processes rapidly, and then to sulphite the wine.

On September 15th of '12 we blogged about Flash Detente, new technology that steams wine grapes instantly before vinification.  Obviously, this is a game changer for the subject at hand here today.    

This Friday, May 16th between 5 and 8pm, David Rimmer of Lynda Allison Selections joins us with a tasting of fine French Bordeaux and Burgundy.  David is one of the good old guys in the wine trade; knowledgeable, unassuming, and approachable for those wanting to learn about wine.  Please join us for the event and please become a follower of this blog.  Admit it, you've always wanted to know about Brettanomyces but were always afraid to ask!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

John Duos and Cajun John's Seasonings

Last summer John Duos sent me some samples of his Cajun John's seasonings which I promptly turned over to my firefighting/grillcooking son to evaluate, because everything you've heard about firefighters' culinary capabilities is true.  I didn't personally get to taste the seasonings until February when a low country boil came my way at a family get-together and it was about the hottest stuff I have ever tasted...and I'm a guy who routinely eats raw jalapenos!  After some ice water and an exorcism, I had a second helping which was much more moderate leading me to believe the grillcook/firefighter was having a little fun at Old Pops' expense by loading me up a bit, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, in the store at this time we have the entire line of Cajun John's including: All Purpose Cajun Seasoning, Sweet and Sour BBQ Seasoning, and the one that nailed me, the dreaded Seafood Boil!  Actually, all of these spice mixes, according to my son, are amazingly good across the board and ought to be in your cupboard ASAP and definitely before the real grilling season commences.

So now you have been introduced to the product and my connection to it.  Now may I introduce you to Mr. Duos, whom I interviewed recently for this blog.  John is 55 years old at this writing, created his spice mixes between '02 and '04, and mass marketed them in 2011.  Like betting on the stock market, they say you can't really time some things, you just jump in and hold on!  And besides, the real story began long before the Cajun seasonings business was even contemplated.

John Duos was born and raised in Louisiana.  His father died when he was eight years old, leaving him with a mother, three French Cajun grandmothers, and four uncles on his mother's side whose influence should not be minimized.  If I may interject - I was raised in a Finnish-American home and observed my mother making cheese amongst other ethnic foods in the kitchen...and I didn't learn anything!  John was a little smarter.  He not only learned from his mother in the kitchen, but also from those Cajun grandmothers, and the uncles (hunters, all) who could spice game on a campfire like you wouldn't believe.

Meanwhile at eleven years old John was driving dump trucks for his stepfather before moving on to backhoes and excavators and then on to welding and operating heavy equipment on oil rigs.  Another interjection - Recently I read about the great jazz baritone saxaphonist, Pepper Adams, who became a professional musician after hearing other so-called professionals while in the military, and confidently knowing he could do better.  Similarly, in his early twenties John Duos became the chef on an oil rig because he knew he could do better!

In 1988 John Duos moved to Georgia and began a career as a highrise waterproofer, rapelling his way down skyscrapers sealing leaks as he descended.  John was also a motorcyclist and one day in 1996 while tooling down a divided highway, a box spring blew off of a truck heading his way and jumped the divider, effectively landing him in St. Joseph's Hospital for an extended stay followed by a lengthy convalescence at home.  Thus we learn how one fellow's compound fractures could lead to the birth of a Cajun seasonings business.

Two final comments:  Jake, the grillcook/firefighter, says Cajun Johns is not salty like similar products, and secondly, John Duos says life is 90% attitude and 10% what is happening so..."We all have the ability to make it a good day!".

This Friday between 5 and 8pm we are tasting reds from Italy, Chile, and Washington State.  Please join us.