Wednesday, December 30, 2015

McDowell Valley Vineyards

After reading Lettie Teague's take on the importance of commercial wine labels (WSJ May 23-24, 2015, "Labels of Love: What goes into Wine-Logo Design"), images of labels past began swimming through my mind.  Every wine retailer knows just how important labeling is in this business.  You can produce the best product ever but if your label doesn't sell your stuff, you may as well have bottled Modesto plonk! Fuggetaboutit!  As Teague notes, "a wine label is a wine's greatest sales tool, its sole emissary and a source of great wealth because it can make a good wine more desirable and a bad wine more salable".

Along with a history of good wine being damned with bad labeling there is also conversely a history of successful branding of inferior product with catchy labels but that's probably due as much to advertising as anything.  After being unimpressed after tasting a wine once, you wouldn't buy it a second time not matter how good the label, right?  Wait a minute.  Actually, come to think of it, chain stores are cashing in big time with shelves full of just that thing!

But who am I to criticize?  I've succumbed over and over again to admen's pitches without putting on my critical thinking cap and doing my due diligence in research.  It's just that being immersed in this business gives me leverage with my suppliers so that any purchasing mistakes on my part really are my fault.  There should never be any inferior wine in this store because I shouldn't allow it.

So why is this post entitled "McDowell Valley Vineyards" anyway?  Well, I was going to use McDowell as an example of a winery that never seemed to get their labeling right.  That is, I recall a series of three McDowell label changes twenty-thirty years ago that never resulted in a label that drew customers to it.  I was going to poke fun at that perceived ineptitude but then I decided to research McDowell first to see if my memory was accurate.  I consequently learned that McDowell had failed due to the economy.  I felt badly for them and then for myself for conceivably kicking someone when they were down.

This store should have failed due to the economic downturn.  Austerity be damned!  If people aren't spending money, businesses fail.  We all know deserving people who paid the ultimate life-and-livelihood price because of economic conditions beyond their control.  In McDowell's case grape harvest prices fell to half of what they were before the recession.  To hang on as they did for the couple more years of their existence just meant death by that many more stab wounds.  Austerity be damned!

McDowell was good though.  During their forty year run they produced solid Rhone-style reds and roses.  Theirs was the first dry-ish White Zinfandel I ever tasted.  It was so good it became the only White Zin I ever recommended.

I have concluded lighter colored labels sell better than dark ones, by the way.  I learned that from the McDowell changes twenty-thirty years ago.  I learned that from their label struggles.  I didn't have it figured out on my own.  I learned it from McDowell.  

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Scotto Cellars

We recently purchased a case of Stonewood California Merlot, inexpensive but palatable everyday wine which was offered to us as "Scotto" wine.  When the salesman presented it as such, I pretentiously nodded knowingly all the while not having a clue what Scotto wine was.  So after he left I googled it and learned that I have actually bought and sold many Scotto wines in the past.

Scotto Cellars is their official name and their origins are less than certain.  Company information says "since 1883" which, according to their own biographical information, places them firmly in Italy.  Patriarch Dominic Scotto immigrated to America and settled in Brooklyn in 1903.  Dominic's grandson, Anthony, moved the family to California in 1963 and the current company incarnation has just been in existence since 2009.

Villa Armando Rustico Red is the company's flagship wine and it has been around since the late forties when the Scottos sold it out of the back of a truck in Brooklyn.  In California Anthony Scotto re-marketed Rustico as a four liter jug and that is its format today under Anthony III.

If all of this sounds kind of is.  I tried to reach out to the company for more information through their website email but didn't get a response.  While I love wine industry history I particularly wanted to know if their Nightfall Lodi Barbera used fruit sourced from their vineyards in Amador.  Having known many fine Amador Barberas in the past, it seemed like Nightfall was just too good to be a hundred percent from Lodi.

If I had done my due diligence, however, and considered that the California wine law says that 85% of the wine in a bottle labeled with an AVA (American Viticultural Area) like Lodi must be sourced from that place, well that remaining 15% of assumed Amador-sourced juice would have to be incredible to so impact the Lodi 85%.  So as I sit here I guess I answered my own question and Scotto must have just wonderful Lodi Barbera.

Stonewood Merlot, by the way, is labeled 100% California Merlot which really simplifies things by comparison (unless you consider the entirety of California wine country).  

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Bodegas Paniza

Bodegas Paniza is a cooperative venture of three hundred grape growers in northeast/central Spain made possible by new world capital investment in proven European terroir.  Here's the story...

 In 1932 the Spanish government granted the wine production area, Carinena, one of its first DO's (Denominacion de Origen) or guarantee of production quality in line with historical standards. Ancient history tells us that the Roman Empire founded the city of Carae halfway between Barcelona and Madrid in the province of Zaragoza in 50 BC.  The region had concentrated on mead production since at least the third century BC but by the Middle Ages Roman Catholic monks had done what they always do and wine grape viticulture became the norm.  By the 16th century half of all arable land in Carinena was in vines.

Carinena has a number of advantages that lend itself to grape production.  The central Aragon region is actually home to Campo de Borja and Calatayud along with Carinena with all three grape venues lying in the high elevation Ebro River valley.  This venue provides rocky clay and slate soils and strong winds to keep pests off the vines.  Its continental climate of hot summers and cold winters along with the always desirable diurnal effect of hot days and cold nights completes the picture for optimal vineyard production. Terroir like this creates intense flavors in wine grapes.

Carinena is the home of the Carignan grape, known locally as Mazuelo.  Traditionally Spaniards enjoy Carignan as a strong and robust, high alcohol red and that is still the kind of wine enjoyed by the locals.  Today however, Carignan is one of the most widely planted, prolific red grapes worldwide and it fills a much needed slot in red blends everywhere.  Knowing that, along with the quality of Grenache and Tempranillo grown there, the new world capital investment mentioned above  makes a lot of sense.

By 1990 a more mature wine appreciation had taken hold in America and the popular palate appreciated fresher and lighter, more balanced and elegant red wines.  Spain couldn't have been a better fit for the needs of American consumers if modern wine making and mass production could be adapted to old world ways.  Bodegas Paniza demonstrates just how successful such a merger can be.

Using grapes from vines up to a hundred years old, the co-op night harvests its grapes, cold stabilizes its juice, and then uses malolactic fermentation and either stainless steel or French/American oak barrel aging to create the modern international wine styles of today.  Fifteen million kilos of grapes are grown annually with at least fifteen million liters of wine being cellared on-site at any given time.  The modern Paniza winery produces thirteen million bottles of wine a year in a bottling line that generates 8,000 per hour.  Ninety-five percent of the production of Bodegas Paniza is exported to forty different countries.

The 2013 Garnacha Vinas Viejas de Sinello is our $10 Paniza example stacked currently in the store.  Stop in today to learn just how good everyday wine can be.

Tommy Basham joins us here this afternoon, Thursday the 29th 5:30-6:30, with a tasting of Lincourt Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir and Chardonnay along with Uppercut Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and Baron Fini Trentino Merlot.  We ask for ten dollars to taste which is applicable to a six bottle purchase of Tommy's wines.

Monday, October 5, 2015

SPME GC-MS and Steam Distillation

Lettie Teague gives us our jumping off point again in a Wall Street Journal article dated September 12-13, 2015.  Her article was about cork, both natural and synthetic, along with the other modern alternative bottle closures.  The well-known problem with cork (since 1980) is TCA or 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, the musty/moldy off-odor affecting 6% of all wines with natural corks.  In her article Teagues reports that the cork industry has spent more than two hundred million dollars in the last twelve years improving the cork-making process in order to remedy the TCA problem.

In the Teague article what caught my eye was the concept of "steam distillation" as a treatment for TCA in cork.  On September 15th of '12 we wrote here about Flash Detente which is modern winery technology which flash steams grapes in order to reduce methoxypyrazine, the vegetal odor and taste in certain wines.  Using the water in the juice of the grapes themselves in a vacuum chamber, the machine flash steams the berries to 160 degrees expelling the methoxypyrazine and other contaminants in the process.

In the steam distillation process, temperature sensitive aromatic compounds are removed from organic material.  Cork, of course, is dry material so its "juice" couldn't be used like grapes in Detente but the question remains, could steam distillation be a corollary to Flash Detente applied to cork treatment?

SPME GC-MS stands for solid-phase microextraction for gas chromatography-mass spectometry. Whereas cork used to be cleansed with a chlorine bath, a treatment which is now believed to increase TCA, SPME GC-MS is a high tech wash that causes impurities to exit the cork and adhere to attractant material in the treatment.  It draws TCA and other impurities away from the cork and to the treated material in the bath.

Advocates for SPME GC-MS and Steam Distillation believe TCA and other contaminants are reduced by 80%.  Other treatments in use include supercritical carbon dioxide, microwave radiation, ozone treatment, and hydrogen peroxide washes, all of which will  probably never be taken up here in the V&C blog.

Cork is still the closure of choice for the vast majority of winemakers around the world as it has been since the sixth century BC.  It is also "green", releasing a quarter of the carbon dioxide in its production that screw cap production does.  Cork also supports working families in a half dozen countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa.  It is also frankly an everyday cultural touchstone for us in this industry so bully for the cork industry for tackling TCA!

This Thursday, October 8th between 5 and 7pm, Dmitry Paladino joins us with a tasting of fine wines from Argentina, California, Spain, and Italy.  Dmitry brings an extensive wine knowledge packed into his ten year career to our tasting table so please join us for the event.  We ask for a ten dollar donation which is applicable to a fifty dollar purchase.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Berkeley 1978

As a student I lived in northern California for most of 1976-1979.  Berkeley was where I spent most of that time although I also lived briefly in Sacramento and San Francisco.  Overall it was a turbulent time for that area which began innocently enough with the 1976 bicentennial, a giddy event that turned out to be an innocent departure from what was to follow.  In 1978 the Peoples Temple cult massacre took place in Guyana as did the assassinations of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk in San Francisco.  The Bay Area was reeling by 1979 when I left to return to Chicago.

The Peoples Temple was a cultural institution in San Francisco, at least one could conclude that from their newspaper press.  In reality it was unlike any church I had ever seen.  Whenever I would walk by the place it was shrouded in darkness with windows and doors covered so no one could look inside.  It was downright spooky. Cult leader Jim Jones was apparently both charismatic and politically savvy.  His charisma attracted a multitude of needy forlorn followers whose strict allegiance could be used for Jones' often political purposes.  Self-promotion was actually always Jones' primary motivation even to the end.  The San Francisco Democratic party machine with Mayor Moscone at its head inadvertently facilitated Jones' aims by using his minions regularly for cause du jour photo ops.

While I don't remember much about Moscone I do remember how much he modeled the blow dried politician of the times.  Because of who he was, Harvey Milk seemed to be more prominent than the mayor in San Francisco, both in the local press and on the streets.  Such a nice man.  Dan White, the assassin, also seemed like a nice man.  Looks.  Family.  Church.  Now almost forty years after the killings, in our own time of political polarity, maybe some sympathy for him is in order.  Dan White couldn't rein in his rage over issues that divide us.  For those of us who are so conflicted today, there is at least hope we can moderate our anger lest we kill the one who is different than us.

So why this downer of a post?  As I said earlier I lived in Berkeley for a couple of years.  Down in the flats with the salt of the earth types as opposed to the hills with the elites.  Down the street from my little cabin was a wine making shop called Wine and the People.  It was there at that time that a group of young guys my age were taking their first big step into the wine business.  They had been buying grapes and making wine in their Taft Street garage for a few years before the authorities informed them they weren't exactly home wine makers any more so now they were stepping out commercially with their own appropriately named wine, Taft Street.  It was in the conflicted socio-political environment described above that this garage wine company began.

Now we proudly announce the arrival of Taft Street wines at V&C.  While we  have sold the Taft Street wines in the past we were recently pleasantly surprised to learn they were still around and still privately held by the original owners!  We tasted four from Taft Street recently and all were exceptional!   After our little store completes the move to the new location we expect to carry the rest of the line but in the meantime come and taste Taft Street Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc here on Friday at the weekly event.  Bellula French Chardonnay and Broadside Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon will also be in the lineup as will  Harlow Ridge California Zinfandel and Aveleda Follies Red from Portugal.  Please join us!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Paradigm Shift

Watching Ken Burns' 2001 PBS Jazz series back in the day turned out to be a major game changer for me. Without the paradigm shift in musical taste I got from tuning into that singular series, I wouldn't be the jazz fanatic I am today.  But Burns, as good as he is at what he does, sometimes relies unduly upon certain points of view for constructing his narratives.  In the jazz series, recurring feature performer Wynton Marsalis colorfully makes Burns' case for Louis Armstrong being the central figure of twentieth century jazz.  That's a stretch-too-far for me.  It does, however, serve as an  example for my own assertion that Bordeaux Clairet is the central wine in the overall history of wine.  The paradigm shift brought about by that wine forever changed the way we appreciate the product today.

Courtesy of modern archeology we now know a lot about wine in ancient times.  Written references in scripture and elsewhere date the beginnings of wine consumption conservatively to around 10,000 BC and that wine whether red, white, or rose, was always sweet.  Comparing all early middle eastern cultures, sweetness was consistently the common denominator for ancient wine lovers and that focus lasted for millennia.  If the truth be known, for most of the chronological history of wine, the stuff has been sweet.

Now to keep things in perspective, the dry wines we love today are purely the product of industrialization as applied to this industry.  Ancient wine presses (foot stomping?) could not begin to extract all of the grape skin qualities we so cherish in the modern era much less control for everything else modern science now regulates.  If the truth be known, excluding the modern era, wine history is really a history of white and rose wines, which brings us to Bordeaux Clairet.

Historically Bordeaux Clairet was a middle ages red wine rock star.  Not only did the French love the stuff but more importantly the economic powerhouse to the North, Britain, adored it.  International trade, of course, was nothing new to Europe since the existence of the vineyards themselves was the result of trade, but this new kind of enthusiasm was of the degree that would kindle large-scale investment in the industry in Europe and then later in the new world and the wines would be decidedly drier than what came before.

Bordeaux Clairet is a Merlot-based Cabernet blend that has its origins in Quinsac in southeast Bordeaux.  Today Clairet is one of seven Bordeaux AOCs and it is sourced from all over the region.  Clairet is its own category also, being neither red, as it was considered to be pre-industrialization, nor rose.  In this modern era its dark hue is the result of an extended maceration (up to 72  hours) followed by a cool fermentation (15 degrees centigrade).  The wine is then bled off (Saignee) leaving the must to be used to further deepen another modern red wine.

The 50% Merlot/50% Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Chateau Maison Noble is the Clairet example we have in the store at this time.  With a deeply tinged red currant/raspberry color, this wine is rich, soft, and round in the mouth with aromas and flavors of strawberry and spice.  There is no astringency or tannin in Bordeaux Clairet.  Expect it to go with everything from salads and picnics to barbecue and grilled meats.

Please join us this Friday after 5pm when David Hobbs of Prime Wines joins us with a tasting of reds, whites, and roses from France, Spain, Chile, and Napa Valley.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

White Wine Grapes, Part 10: Godello

Once again the dilemma, whether to title the post according to the summer "white wine grapes" theme or to call it what it is, a report on a particular white wine from Spain, Castelo do Papa Godello.  This time we'll go with the theme.

Godello (go-DAY-oh) is another European grape that is mostly obscure historically but has now become quite fashionable.  Indeed this one was almost extinct in the 1970's when bulk wine producers saw the more prolific but low quality Palomino grape as the order of the day.  The 1980's saw the beginning of a Godello resurgence followed by decades of refinement as viticulturalists strove to compete with the then "best white grape of Spain", Albarino.

Godello is planted primarily in the Galicia district of northwestern Spain which is also where Albarino finds its fame.  The primary Albarino DO is Rias Baixas on the Atlantic coast.  Godello finds its finest expression in the Valdeorras DO, a hundred miles to the east.  Twenty-five miles east of Valdeorras in the beginnings of Duero River Valley lies the Bierzo DO where Godello is also highly acclaimed.  In northwestern Spain the locals pair their Godello with seafood, pork sausage, veal, tapas, herb pesto, pasta with cream sauces and aged cheeses.

Chardonnay is considered by many to be the finest white wine of all.  In specific venues like Burgundy and Sonoma the claim seems to be justified.  Chardonnay, however, is essentially a neutral but versatile wine making grape that can be manipulated by the skillful wine maker to achieve its utmost potential.  Godello has been compared to Chardonnay in its essential pliable character but has yet to demonstrate the huge profile Chardonnay has.

Valdeorras means "valley of gold" and two thousand years ago Romans mined the stuff there.  Today those same soils retain a high mineral content while being composed mostly of granite, slate, and clay.  The Godello that comes from these soils surpasses Chardonnay in minerality and that component eclipses the fruit and spice in the wine's flavor profile.

The 2013 Castelo do Papa Godello in the store at this time is probably our best white wine under twenty dollars.  The wine is made from the finest 20% of Godello grapes in the Ladera Sagrada estate vineyards in Valdeorras.  The vineyards are organically farmed; the grapes are handpicked; and after an eight to twelve hour maceration, the wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks using indigenous yeasts.  The resulting wine has aromas of rosemary, thyme, and oregano and flavors of lime zest, quinine, ginger, nuts, and apple and citrus, along with the overriding minerality.      

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sauvignon Blanc & Viognier

I didn't know whether to entitle this one varietally to conform with this summer's theme or to call it "Little James' Basket Press White" which is actually what we're writing about here.  Little James is a negotiant wine from Chateau de Saint Cosme, one of the great Cotes du Rhone houses of Gigondas.  At their website they delineate the ownership of their vineyards beginning with its planting in 109 AD through its 1590 purchase by Barruol ancestors unto the 1992 advent of the Louis Barruol era, the fourteenth generation of family ownership.  Saint Cosme markets fourteen different Rhone reds and whites with Gigondas being their only actual estate wine.  In addition to their Rhone wines they make red and white versions of Little James from grapes grown in the western Languedoc in Minervois.

Sometimes it's hard to tell how seriously negotiant wines are taken by their owners.  Obviously the focus of Saint Cosme is Rhone fruit and, of course, Gigondas fruit in particular.  But if a second label is good, finds an audience, and sells well, then there is money to be made exploiting that product too.  Louis Barruol is all about terroir both in the Rhone and apparently in cool climate mountainous Minervois where he feels his Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier were meant to be.

Barruol thinks Sauvignon Blanc in particular is terroir-driven and Minervois facilitates the light fresh raciness along with acidity that Sauvignon Blanc needs.  The wine also features tropical fruit and citrus fruit aromas and flavors, grassiness, and minerality.  He thinks Viognier is rather predictable by comparison and will always deliver apricot and other stone fruit aromas and flavors along with body and an oily texture.  That said, Barruol's Viognier is a "selection massale", an ancient version from Condrieu rootstocks and cuttings planted in Minervois in 1982.

The 2013 St. James in the store is 55% Sauvignon Blanc and 45% Viognier.  It sees no time in oak which enhances it's aromatically intense raciness and is intended to be drunk young.  One review cites its "orange peel, grapefruit, ripe citrus, and fennel" character.  The wine works well as an apertif and pairs well with all white meats, Asian foods, veggies, and also for your summer picnics.

As we said above, negotiant wines can be tricky, either they are just a commodity for exploitation or they may represent something more.  Given all that we have set forth here, taking a chance on Barruol's Little James makes all the sense in the world.

Please join us this Friday the 31st of July after 5pm as David Rimmer once again de-mystifies European wines for us here at the store.  The lineup will include French and Italian reds and whites that 40 year wine veteran David will carefully guide us through leaving no pertinent questions unanswered.  There might be a few cheeses and crackers too!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

White Wine Grapes, Part 9: Coda di Volpe

This post is another slight detour from the white blending grapes theme here this summer.  While Coda di Volpe is most certainly an Italian white blending grape, it is notable, if it's notable at all, for just one historically mediocre white wine, Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio.  We're writing about it here because we will soon be stocking a new and exceptional Lacryma Christi, another example of what can result when a private capital infusion meets traditional European wine making.

Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio is best known as a light dry white wine from the Campania region of southern Italy.  There are also red and rose Lacryma Christis as well as sparkling and fortified dessert wines made from these vineyards.  Naples is the largest city within the appellation and that would ordinarily be the go-to for recognizable place names there were it not for Mount Vesuvius and its horrific volcanic legacy.  It is on those lava-enriched Vesuvian slopes that Lacryma Christi grapes take root.

Written references for Campania wines date back to the twelfth century BC and Coda di Volpe may have been around at that early date. Coda di Volpe, by the way, means "tail of the fox" and refers to the shape of the grape bunch as it hangs on the vine.  The Vesuvian soils benefit Coda di Volpi vines in two prominent ways: they impart acidity to this low-acid grape type and they thwart the phylloxera aphid which apparently doesn't care for acidic soils.  The breezes from the Bay of Naples also facilitate the acidity and freshness of the wines.

The Vesuvio appellation received its DOC in 1983 when interest in Lacryma Christi promised a revival of these ancient wines.  By Italian wine law, Lacryma Christi must be 30-80% Coda di Volpe with the remainder being some combination of Verdeca along with an allowance for smaller portions of Falanghina, Caprettone, and Greco di Tufo.  With its current popularity, some Lacryma Christi is actually 100% Coda as are other varietally named local wines.

Lacryma Christi and those other varietal Coda di Volpe wines marry well with seafood in any form, pasta, and appetizers.  Coda wines feature a pale yellow color, pear aromas, and flavors of pineapple, white peach, and licorice.  These wines offer moderate body, minerality, and the aforementioned pronounced acidity.  They should be drunk young, within two years of bottling.

Lacryma Christi means "the tears of Christ" and any article on the subject would be remiss not to explore the meaning of the name.  The two most common explanations feature Christ shedding tears either in joy during the ascension when he looks down and sees the beauty of the Neopolitan countryside and bay or in sadness when during the fall Satan snatches a piece of heaven which then becomes that same beautiful bay and countryside of Campania.  Either way, where Christ's tears fall, vines begin to grow.        

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

White Wine Grapes, Part 8: Auxerrois

We first became acquainted with this obscure white grape years ago when we were told it was an archaic name for Chardonnay, which was close but not quite.  Auxerrois (oh-sehr-WAH) is actually a full sibling of Chardonnay, sharing the same parentage of Gounais Blanc and Pinot Noir but apparently not the exact same DNA.  When Chardonnay was the global rage thirty years ago, Auxerrois vines were conveniently mistaken for Chardonnay in northern Italy and South Africa with resulting wines being marketed as Chardonnay.  In parts of France Auxerrois is a synonym for Chardonnay so those places may legally market their product as such and within its home in Alsace, Auxerrois may be sold as Pinot Blanc.  It's no wonder the grape has an identity problem!

Pinot Blanc is the most widely planted grape in Alsace and the most common blending partner for Auxerrois.  Pinot Blanc, or Pinot Bianco in Italy, is one of the family of pinot grapes that have resulted from mutations in the vineyards over centuries.  Pinot Noir, with its unstable genome, has parented all of these mutations.  In Alsace, when a label says Pinot Blanc, the region recognizes the wine to be some mixture of white pinot grapes, so it may include Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris (Grigio), Auxerrois, and even free-run Pinot Noir.  Or it may be 100% of any of them, including Auxerrois.

Auxerrois is the third most widely planted grape in Alsace and because it is the quintessential Alsatian blending grape it is by default the least well known in the region.  At its most common, Auxerrois is the base wine for Edelzwicker, the white jug wine of the northern Alsace.  It is also prominently blended with Pinot Blanc in the sparkling Cremants d'Alsace.

As a blender, when blended with other pinot-family types, Auxerrois adds rich musky spicy aromas in a low-acid full-bodied oily format with moderate honey flavor.  In the Pinot Blanc blend, the Pinot Blanc adds the light fresh crispness.  In the hands of lesser winemaking talents, Auxerrois alone tends toward cabbagy aromas, lacking mid-palate flavors, and flabbiness in body.  Only when yields are limited in the vineyard and modern super-clean winemaking facilities are utilized do the racy concentrated citrussy aromas and flavors dominate.

There are sixty+ names in existence for Auxerrois with Pinot Auxerrois and Auxerrois Blanc leading the pack.  Auxerrois is a cold weather grape and has performed well in Canada.  It is also planted in Oregon and Michigan and would seem to have a fine future in select vineyards across northern America.  The fresh citrussy/spicy Auxerrois blends complement all kinds of seafood, soups and salads, veggies, and Asian cuisine making Auxerrois a fine new selection for American wine lovers.

The Friday, July 10th, at our weekly After 5 wine tasting we'll be featuring examples of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.  Please join us!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

White Wine Grapes, Part 7: Colombard

In the beginning...there was Colombard, or French Colombard as it's known in America.  Before varietals and proprietary blends elevated the stock of the American wine industry, there were just jug wines in this country and in this industry those were indeed the bad old days.  Throughout most of the twentieth century Colombard ruled the Central Valley roost in California providing the bulk and acidic backbone for practically every white jug wine blend.  Before being ousted by Chardonnay around 1990, Colombard had been the most widely planted grape in California.

Ampelographers have determined that Colombard (cole-um-bar) has its roots in southwest France where it excels today.  Because it has been considered vin ordinaire, Colombard has not received the scrutiny the more glamorous wine grapes have received.  It is known to have mutated from an accidental crossing of Gouais Blanc and Chenin Blanc and the grape performs best in warm climates in clay and/or limestone soils.  In the right conditions Colombard vines can be expected to grow vigorously with coorespondingly high yields.

One of the most widely planted grapes of France, the focus for Colombard has historically been on bulk production.  It provides filler for all kinds of white blends from across the southern France vin de pays wine breadbasket.  The grape's only real claim to fame was being part of the blend of distilled wines in Cognac and Armagnac.  Now in the Cotes de Gascogne it provides the bulk of an increasing number of charming IGP (Indication Geographique Protegee) white blends.  The example currently in our store is the fine 2014 Domaine de Joy which blends 50% Colombard with 20% Ugni Blanc, 20% Gros Manseng, and 10% Sauvignon Blanc.

When made right Colombard displays aromas of lime, peach, and nectarine.  Flavor-wise Colombard is capable of peach, melon, tangerine, tropical fruit, apple, citrus, and mineral and spice.  A fine "crispness" is perhaps what the taster notices most in premium Colombard along with the acidity that is its calling card.

This kind of white wine complements goat cheese, veggies (including asparagus and cauliflower), seafoods, soups, and salads.  It also complements the summer season and should be drunk young.

This Friday at the After 5 wine tasting we'll be tasting some combination of 2013 Melini Chianti, 2012 Harlow Ridge Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 Villa San-Juliette Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 Arte Vera Greek Red Blend, 2011 Chapel Hill McLaren Vale Bush Vine Grenache, and the 2013 Chardonnay and Bianco from Ca'Momi of Napa Valley.  Please join us.    

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

White Wine Grapes, Part 6: Riesling

One of the great things about blogging is you can make assertions without having to back them up.    So here goes: Riesling is the finest white wine grape in the world!  There, I've said it.  And I'm not defending a dissertation here so let me just say, that is what I firmly believe.

For any of you who is shocked by that pronouncement, may I clarify by reminding you that my time in this business is getting real close to forty years.  I began in an era when German Rieslings were the most popular whites in America and proceeded through much of my career in an extended era where Germans have become among the least popular of wines in America.

So what happened?  Basically it's the same thing that happened more recently to Australian wines after Yellow Tail.  If Blue Nun and Black Tower became the face of Germany just as Yellow Tail did Australia, then the fine wines from both countries were eclipsed by the mediocrity of the mass marketers.  So what's the average wine customer to do?  Take a chance on the more expensive wines after being less than enthused by the cheap stuff?

What I'm saying is, once the mass marketers inundate a market with plonk masquerading as fine wine, the real stuff can't get any traction.  No one wants to try it because they can't get past the bad impression from the last time.

So what makes the real stuff worthwhile?  First and foremost, Riesling brings a breadth of pretty flavors and especially profound aromatics to the tasting experience.  The wine is almost perfumed displaying nuanced aromas of honey, beeswax, petrol, ginger, flowers, and more.  Flavor components often include lemon/lime, pineapple, nectarine, apricot, apple, pear, and honey; all of which is dependent on the vineyard terroir, especially the soils and climate.  Riesling is actually the most terroir-expressive grape of all.

What Riesling brings to the table actually broadens its food pairing possibilities. The obvious match for us locally would be roast chicken.  Seafood of any kind is Riesling-friendly.  Then taking it a step further, Asian cuisine with sesame, ginger, and/or curry likewise invites Riesling to the meal.  Can Cajun blackened fish with cayenne pepper not be in the mix too?  And what about Thanksgiving dinner and all of the diverse accompaniments with roast Turkey?  It's really the only wine you'll ever need!  Heck, why not crack a bottle with roasted veggies, dried fruits, and mild cheeses?  Are you with me on this so far?

But what if you don't like sweet wine, you say.  That's the beauty of Riesling.  Fine examples can be found anywhere between very dry and the strictly-for-dessert Rieslings and the tasting profile for each will differ for reasons other than sugar!

The finest Rieslings, of course, come from Germany and Alsace.  Historically the Alsatians have been drier but in recent years it seems less dry versions have been on the rise.  Traditionally German Mosels have shown well as cocktail wines with their rounder fleshier style while Riesling from the grape's birthplace in the Rhine have had a leaner, higher acidity that works better with food.  The finest Rieslings, by the way, come from the great estates of the German Rhine.    

The prevailing wisdom is that Riesling does better in cool climates and that is born out in Washington state where the quality of the light, floral, and fruity Riesling grown there seems to surpass California Riesling in general.  But conversely hot climate Australia produces world class Riesling that is layered with heavy, viscous, honeyed, and toasty fruit.  Because of its versatility, Riesling disproves the generalization that Europe makes food wines while the new world makes cocktail wine.  Riesling works in basically any setting.

Please join us this Friday after 5 when David Rimmer of Lynda Allison Cellar Selections de-mystifies European wines here once again with a stellar lineup of French and Italian reds and whites.  David will be featuring his newer offerings with an emphasis on summer season pairings.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

White Wine Grapes, Part 5: Grechetto

We started this series five weeks ago after tasting a couple of lovely white blends from Montauto of Tuscany.  Now we're returning to Montauto by taking a look at Grechetto which occupied 70% of Montauto's "Arcione" white blend.  According to the encyclopedia, Grechetto adds structure and richness along with herbal and nutty flavors to any white blend and in the case of Arcione, it most definitely did that.

That same encyclopedia says the Grechetto grape comes to Italy, like so many others, from Greece, just as its name intimates.  Other sources, however, maintain that the grape is an autochthonous grape of Umbria where it has a lengthy and successful history in white wine blends.  Whenever uncertainty regarding grape origins occurs it usually means the ampelographers have taken their science back as far as they can and now must guess as to origins.  When the grape is acknowledged to be the best of its region like Grechetto is to Umbria, this in turn, leads to the opportunity for the state to step in and claim the grape as its own as California did for years with Zinfandel.  In 1997 Italy responded to Grechetto's burgeoning popularity by creating the Assisi DOC to market varietal Grechettos out of the eastern Umbrian countryside.

Landlocked Umbria is known as the "the green heart of Italy".  It features a uniquely mineral-rich soil comprised of aquatic fossils betraying its ancient seabed origins.  Grechetto plantings in central Italy extend to the east into Marches, west into Tuscany, and south into Latium.  There are currently twenty-five names for Grechetto reflecting both the territorial breadth and history of plantings.  While the Italian claim on Grechetto is both historically and culturally based, the grape also shares genetic material with other central Italian grapes.

Blending partners with Grechetto include Trebbiano, Malvasia, Verdello, Vermentino, and of course, the international giant, Chardonnay.  By its nature Grechetto is medium to full bodied with good acidity and a strong, dry taste.  Grechetto is best known  as the principal grape of the DOC, Orvieto, in Umbria.  In this incarnation and others Grechetto is rarely oak aged.  More often, malolactic fermentation is the preferred manipulation to soften Grechetto's stronger flavors.  When blended, Grechetto is more likely to see moderate oak exposure.

Viticulturists and winemakers love Grechetto.  In the vineyard it is a thick skinned, disease resistant, low yielding vine and that usually results in concentrated flavors.  As new plantings in select regions in and around Umbria have increased, the potential is seen for a new generation of fine Italian white wines featuring complex aromas and flavors of exotic fruits and mixed nuts.    

Please join us this Friday, the 19th, after 5pm when Ted Fields of Domaine Fine Wines presents an array of Italian reds and whites for us to enjoy.  Ted is a former art history professor who now spends much of his time in Europe in pursuit of liquid art for us to consider here on the home front.  Expect some artful cheeses to be on the table also.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

White Wine Grapes, Part 4: Arneis

This series started out as an examination of some of the more interesting white blending grapes of Europe.  We will have to depart from that theme for this post though because the quality of the 2013 Ceretto Arneis tasted here last week so interrupted our concentration we thought Arneis was worth pursuing here.  Arneis (ahr-NAYZ) is historically a blending grape of sorts though, since it softens Nebbiolo tannins when constituting two or three percent of the great red Barolos of Piedmont.  Otherwise Arneis is the premier stand-alone white grape of Piedmont, the premier wine region of Italy.

Ampelographers believe Arneis is native to Piedmont although its age is unknown.  The problem there is that, like so many others, Arneis has had many names in different places and at different historical times.  The oldest written references to wines thought to be Arneis go back to the 1400's.  Currently there are ten names in use in Italy including the obvious misnomers, "White Nebbiolo" and "White Barolo".

So what makes Arneis special?  If you appreciate a wine description like "crisp, floral, dry, and full-bodied with pears and apricots", then you might like Arneis.  Another source says "rich and viscous", "similar to Viognier and Pinot Blanc" with aromas and flavors of "almonds, peach, vanillin, and flowers".  If you're keeping score, someone else says "highly perfumed with hazelnut, almonds, apricots, peaches, and pears".  So what this should tell you is that even allowing for differences in wine making and terroir, this wine is complex.  The Ceretto I tasted here last week, by the way, was most similar to the middle description and would have been served well with seafood of any kind.

Within the Piedmont appellation, two locations make the best Arneis wines.  Langhe is close to the southwest corner of Piedmont while Roero is about twelve miles to the northwest.  Both locations are hilly but Langhe has clay soils while Roero is chalky and sandy.  In Langhe the wine offers more in the way of perfume while Roero Arneis has heightened acidity.  Both regions were granted DOC status by the Italian government in the 1980's but Roero received its DOCG in 2006.

Arneis means "little rascal" and refers to a difficult, demanding person which is what Arneis is to the viticulturist.  It is an early ripening grape susceptible to powdery mildew which produces a low acid wine which oxidizes easily.  Even if an Arneis harvest is good, the yield will still be low.  The grape is so difficult to produce well, it was almost allowed to become extinct.

Arneis has a love-hate relationship with Nebbiolo, the crown jewel of Piedmont wines.  Because Nebbiolo is so revered, Arneis and every other grape grown in Piedmont grape suffers.  At its worst, since Arneis was the sweeter grape, it was planted in Nebbiolo vineyards to attract birds away from the Nebbiolo.  Looking at the situation differently, one may conclude that because Nebbiolo is the bread and butter of Piedmont, Arneis never has been afforded optimal vineyard placements further disadvantaging its success and contributing to its "difficult" reputation.

Join us this Friday, June 12th after 5pm, when Rose Adams representing Aveleda of Portugal offers us a tasting of quintessential summer wines.  Along with Aveleda's strong suit in white wine, we will be showing a couple reds and their fine light rose.  Our usual spread of cheeses will also be offered.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

White Wine Grapes, Part 3: Semillon

Parts 1 and 2 dealt with Malvasia and Vermentino respectively and those two grapes were connected through our exploration of the white wines of Montauto from Maremma, Tuscany.  On the same tasting table which featured the Montauto whites, we also had the 2014 White Bordeaux from Chateau Cantelaudet of Graves de Vayres which we learned was a 90% Semillon/10% Sauvignon Blanc blend.  After tasting the wine and before learning the blend, I would have guessed, because the wine was so lean and fine, that the percentages were reversed.

Semillon is one of the giants of white wine blending grapes and it's partner is almost exclusively Sauvignon Blanc.  In cool climates like Bordeaux, Semillon adds body and texture along with citrus fruit and honey flavors to its leaner and more acidic partner, Sauvignon Blanc.  A sometimes third partner in white Bordeaux would be Muscadelle which adds a complementary floral fruit component.

With 28,000 acres in vines, Semillon ranks third in total white wine grape acreage in France behind Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Almost all of those plantings lie in Bordeaux which actually makes Bordeaux the world leader in Semillon plantings.  Australia is second with 15,500 acres.  First planted there in the early nineteenth century, Semillon has had a long and storied historical run.  At times in the 1800's Semillon comprised ninety percent of Australia's entire vineyard acreage.  As recently as the 1950's it occupied seventy-five percent.  Now due to the international juggernaut of Chardonnay and Shiraz popularity, Semillon has settled into a niche status, which to my way of thinking, doesn't do it justice.

While Bordeaux shows Semillon to be a zesty palate cleanser in a cool climate blend, Australia shows what the grape is capable of bringing in a hot climate and it is very different indeed.  The wine is much richer with complex, intensified aromas and flavors of burnt toast and honey, replete with tropical fruit flavors of mango, peach, and papaya.  If this sounds like a centerpiece single varietal and not a blender, it often is and that model also often includes oak aging similar to many Chardonnays.  Such Semillon-based wines as these have been known to improve for thirty years in the cellar!

So why haven't we heard more about Semillon before now?  In short, because it is not universally loved.  Semillon is a heavy, low-acid grape that doesn't automatically produce intensely complex white wines.  A great deal of its acclaim through viticultural history can be attributed to its easy cultivation and prolific output, which brings us back to the subject of white wine blending because that is just the kind of "filler" component a lot of blends need.  Semillon brings more though.  That Semillon texture mentioned above actually is described alternately as "waxy", "oily", or "lanolin" and that's kind of an interesting blending additive.

I suppose a word or two should be said about the most famous Semillon wine of all...Sauternes, the finest dessert wine in the world.  In a Botrytis Cinerea or "noble rot" infection, fungal spores will attach to grape bunches in the vineyard and drain the water from the grape pulp leaving concentrated solids, fruit acids, and minerals in the shriveled berries.  If fair weather prevails, those berries will have heightened sugars and glycerol making an exceedingly rich wine with peach, apricot, nectarine, mango, and citrus fruit flavors complemented by nuts and honey.  Like I said, it's the finest dessert wine in the world.      

Hot climate Semillon is a meaty white wine.  It pairs well with all white meats including pork chops, ham, and duck.  Its fat body allows it to stand up to the stronger spices including Asian ginger and curry.  Cool climate Semillons also pair with spicy foods but might do better with veggies and fish.  Cheese affinities include Swisses and Cheddars

Please join us this Friday after 5pm when Dean Johnston of Eagle Rock leads us in a tasting of the Chilean wines: Indomita Pinot Noir and Valdivieso Chardonnay along with Valdivieso's Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir.  Also in the mix for Friday will be Sikelia Sicilian Nero d'Avola and Lava Cap El Dorado Cabernet Sauvignon.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

White Wine Grapes, Part 2: Vermentino

Two weeks ago we tasted two whites from Montauto of Tuscany.  While both were good examples of the white blends we're writing about here, the lower priced wine was the more popular of the two. Vermentino was part of the blend in each, but in the tasting winner it was a full eighty percent of the blend and my experience validates our tasting group's verdict: Vermentino-based blends rock!  I just have to wonder how popular the wine would be if it had a less unfortunate name.

Tuscany, especially along the Ligurian coastline, is one of the classic venues for Vermentino vineyards.  Sardinia would be another and the Cotes de Provence of France, a third.  The Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France, however, is the place to watch for new Vermentino blends since that's where plantings are increasing the most now.  In Tuscany the grape is called Pigato; in France, Rolle; and wherever it's planted in Spain, it's called Favorita.  In my opinion, any of these monikers would do better in the American marketplace than Vermentino.

Ampelographers are divided as to the origins of Vermentino.  Some say Spain; others, Italy.  There is also some uncertainty as to whether it's related to its frequent blending partner, Malvasia.  It definitely shares some DNA with Hungarian Furmint.

Vermentino is typically light-to-medium in body with bright, crisp acidity extending to the finish.  It is low in alcohol and has just a tinge of greenish-yellow color.  What it really brings to any white wine blend is an aroma of basil, pine nuts and minerality and flavors of green apples, limes, and herbs.  In other words, the wine has an intense and persistent personality all the way to the finish.

In California, Vermentino is successfully grown by Tablas Creek amongst others in Paso Robles AVA.  Bailiwick of Sonoma also makes a Vermentino featuring juice sourced from Paso Robles and the Red Hills of Lake County.  That one is in the store at this time and compares with European wines if just a bit fruitier and bigger in the mouth.  Like all Vermentinos, Bailiwick is seafood wine but also like most superior California wines, it stands on its own as a cocktail.

This Friday at the After 5 weekly event David Hobbs of Prime Wines presents a lineup of European reds and whites.  On the 5th of June Dean Johnston of Eagle Rock returns with new selections from that great company and then on the 12th, Rose Adams representing Aveleda of Portugal, shows us all what summer wines should taste like!  Please join us.  

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

White Wine Grapes, Part 1: Malvasia

European dry white wines never cease to amaze me with their quality-to-price ratio.  Just how they do it is something I don't think I will ever fully understand.  Nonetheless, this series beginning right here will attempt to examine wine types by their constituent grape varietals.  We are starting with Malvasia (mahl-vah-Zee-ah) only because we had the Montauto Maremma Toscana Bianca on the tasting table last week and I thought it was exceedingly good.

Malvasia is actually a family of five or more grapes that share a common ancestor more than two thousand years ago, probably in Greece.  Laconia is a region in southern Greece that featured a fortress Italians called Malvasia and that fortress is believed to be the namesake of the grapes grown thereabouts.  Malvasia was extremely popular with the ancient Mediterraneans, so much so that Venetian wine shops became known as "Malvasias", one of the earliest examples of international commercial branding.

Of the many affiliated Malvasia grapes, the Malvasia Bianca is the most widely grown type. It is at home across southern Europe in Spain, France, and Italy, along with Greece.  In all likelihood what the ancients preferred in their white wines would have been a sweeter styled Malvasia.  Today that style is still popular especially in the dried grape dessert wine, Vin Santo of southern Italy, which is a style known as "aromatic passito" in Sardinia and Sicily.

Disease prone in damp conditions, Malvasia vines like hillside vineyards for drainage in hot, dry climates.  Naturally low in acidity, Malvasia wines oxidize easily which explains its place in  Malmsey, the dark, richly textured Madeira dessert wine of Portugal.

The essential character of Malvasia lies its bouquet of honey, bosc pear, and allspice.  In a sweet wine that character is supplemented with lush fruit on the palate in an amply round textured body.  If the wine is made in a drier style it retains the distinctive bouquet and fruit but in a medium body format, which seems to be what Malvasia brings in general to a white wine blend.  In central Italy Malvasia is commonly blended with Trebbiano, a flavorful light white grape.  In Spain, where more experimentation is allowed, the body Malvasia brings fleshes out any other constituent grapes.

Besides the locations already mentioned, Malvasia is now grown successfully in eastern European countries and around the world including California.  The finest examples of dry Malvasia wine, however, still come from Italy, in particular, the DOCs of Collio and Isonzo in Friuli-Venezia-Giuli in northeastern Italy.

This Friday at the After 5 tasting we will have more French and Italian whites on the table, a rose, and a few Italian reds as Robert Jones of Mediterranean Wine Merchants makes his inaugural appearance at the store.  We ask for a ten dollar donation to taste which is refundable on a fifty dollar purchase.  Please join us.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Cahill's Original Irish Porter Cheddar

For a lot of us, all you have to do is look at Cahill's Irish Cheddar with Porter and the oral juices are already working up a storm.  Even before cutting into it, the packaging seduces you with it's plain chocolate brown wax overlaid with bygone homespun images of women making cheese.  If Norman Rockwell had been a nineteenth century Irishman, he might have painted the picture that now adorns Cahill's cheese wrapper.

Inside the wrapping, however, lies something else indeed.  If Norman Rockwell did the outside, Marc Chagall did the tile work on the inside.  Upon cutting into a Cahill's, the dark earth tones on the exterior morph into spider webs inside, segmenting the yellow matte paste into cells of irregularly small dimensions.  Of course, maybe all of this isn't as unusual as I'm painting it here.  Maybe with a little self-examination, it's actually my inwardly conflicted self that I'm describing and it isn't the cheese at all...but I digress.

Cahill's is actually very popular because of its uniquely artistic presentation but even more so, of course, because of its taste.  While the cheese is categorized as a Cheddar, the 2% Guinness Porter taste overshadows everything else; and yes, it really is the historic Guinness that is flavoring this cheese.  Cahill's firm creaminess may, in fact, be a mirror reflection of a healthy swig of draft Guinness Stout.

At their website, Cahill's cites Marion Cahill back in 1759 as a County Limerick cheese-making ancestor of David Cahill who emigrated to America a hundred years later in 1860.  David made his fortune here before returning to Ireland and dairy farming in 1902.  In the mid 1920's his nephew William took the dairy reins and ran with it until 1972 when his son David assumed ownership.
Cahill's is a full, rich, tangy, chocolatey/caramelly mouthful with a similarly rich, pungent finish.  It is clearly a beer cheese down to that pungent finish.  While the cheese has its long history, three things appear to reflect modernity: the cheese uses vegetarian rennet; it's described as a "truckle" (cylinder) but is, in fact, smaller; and since the 1950's, it's pasteurized.

Of course, we're writing about the cheese here because it's in stock and for sale ($19.99/lb) at the store!

Please join us this Friday for the weekly After 5 wine tasting.  David Rimmer of Lynda Allison Cellar Selections represents some of the finest European wines in the marketplace.  This time he will be introducing us to six new Italians.  Of course, the cheeses will be flowing along with David's wines!  We ask for a $10 charge to taste which is applicable to a $50 purchase.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Wine Tasting

Wine tasting is something we in the trade do very regularly and with no illusions of grandeur.  There is an implicit understanding that we in the trade have, a rudimentary understanding that it's not so much an exercise in accomplishment like sommelier training so much as just information gathering for the purpose of exploiting a product.  We are not aspiring to a loftier reality than the realistic station we know.

When we taste we look for value compared to similarly priced wines.  We use accepted standards for types which may include norms for those regions known to be exemplary.  While we may compare our immediate tastes to the ideal wine example, we may also look to eccentric wine making styles that could result in the next Cabernet/Syrah, a blend popularized by Australia a generation ago and now accepted everywhere.  It is a commercial industry after all.

Wine tasting includes four basic steps: appearance, aroma, taste, and finish.  These steps should be done slowly with pauses for reflection.  For us in the trade, it's about deductive deliberation; we're comparing our immediate tasting experience with what is already on file in the old memory banks.  Fortunately (and unfortunately) for us small market retailers, those memory banks also store our memories of impulsively-made bad wine choices which continue to haunt us.

Here is my understanding of how wine tasting works:

1.  Appearance - Using a white background and tilting the tasting stem at an angle reveals not only the basic color of the wine but also its clarity or opacity, all of which lend clues as to grape types, age, filtering, and barrel-aging.  It also reveals the wine's viscosity, an essential quality in most serious wines.

2.  Aroma - This is the most important step in wine tasting.  By immersing one's nose into a just swirled wine stem and slowly inhaling, one can discern the most basic of wine information; that it's good and nothing is tainted, oxidized, or otherwise contaminated.  Because we in the trade know the dark side of the industry, that wines are potentially abused at any point between the winery and the retailer, our nose will tell us whether a recent vintage is actually as pristine as advertised or if it is prematurely aged or damaged through abuse.  Finally, our nose informs us of both the basic fruit flavors of the wine along with secondary flavors like flowers, earth, spices, wood, and more.  As much as 85% of wine tasting is done with the nose which then informs the palate of what to expect.

3.  Taste -  When the wine enters the mouth it is warmed, releasing aromatics retro-nasally to olfactory receptor sites in the brain, an actual continuation of what came previously solely through the nose.  By allowing the wine to sit in the mouth we feel its weight, texture, and structure before tapping those memory banks for reflections on complexity and character.  Complexity may be summed up as the breadth of harmonious flavors while character, or expressiveness, projects well-defined flavors.  To take it all one step further, "connectedness" would show that a bond exists through taste between the wine in the glass and its origins in the terroir where the grapes were grown.

 4.  Finish - This is what we are left with after swallowing and exhaling.  It is both overblown and underestimated.  What it should be is a memorable lengthy pleasant reflection of everything that came before.  "Wininess" is my own descriptor for the continuation of lengthy flavors throughout the entire tasting experience and one only recognizes this quality at the finish.

So who remembers Psychology 101 and the term, gestalt?  Basically gestalt means an integrated whole thing.  Stephen Tanzer is the best widely read American wine critic and has said that when he tastes he doesn't break the tasting into parts to score each and then compile those for a final numerical judgment.  He judges a wine in its gestalt, the entire tasting experience as a whole.  And that's good enough for me too.      

Please join us this Friday after 5 when we taste examples of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, Italian Pinot Bianco, French Gamay, California Merlot, and Argentine Malbec.  New cheeses from the New York importer will be on the tasting table also.  We ask for a ten dollar charge to taste which is applicable to a fifty dollar purchase.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Cauliflower Crust Pizza

Last Friday at the After 5 wine tasting, two whites were on the table which, in my opinion, stood up to whatever discriminatory scrutiny red wine lovers could give them.  The Giocato Pinot Grigio and Chilcas Sauvignon Blanc both offered moderate complexity within the bounds of their types with the Chilcas being noticeably more adventurous while the Giocato was light, clean, and correct.  These are two to keep in mind for later this summer.

I mention them now because we're talking about vegetarian pizza here and I like white wine with my veggies.  Saturday night I had those same two wines with a pizza I made using a facebook friend's recipe.  The post was taken from and entitled, Cauliflower Pizza Crust.  So just to explain, the recipe is really about the crust and you could make it a meat-lovers pizza if you would like.  I like veggies though and I just happened to have a drawer full Saturday night!

While you now have access to the website recipe, this is what I did Saturday night:

1.  Grate 1/2 head of cauliflower
2.  Microwave it for 8 minutes
3.  Brush olive oil onto a foil lined pan
4.  Grate 1 cup of hard Italian cheese (parmesan, probably)
5.  Beat 1 egg
6.  After the microwaved cauliflower cools, mix with egg and cheese
7.  Add basil, black pepper, and garlic
8.  Spread out the crust mix on your pan
9.  Brush more olive oil on the top
10.Bake 15 minutes

So that concludes the crust-making part.  Like I said, I loaded the thing with veggies, especially the offensive ones like onions and peppers.  I added sauce and more cheese too, of course.  Actually now that I think about it, I believe my recipe was not the one from facebook but the one I googled from Paula Deen at  Yeah, that's what it was!

After you get the top all gooped-up with whatever trips your gustatory trigger, bake your masterpiece for another ten minutes or, using the other recipe, broil 3-4 minutes.  While my pizza tasted great, the crust did not hold together well enough to eat by hand, so I may have done something wrong.  If yours too falls apart, scoop that scrumptious sucker up with a fork!

My heavily peppered vegetarian pizza probably showed better with the Sauvignon Blanc than the lighter Pinot Grigio but in another couple months, in the heat of summer, that Pinot may do the trick!  For red "pizza wines", I always defer to the Italians.  

This Friday, May 1st, we'll taste the current vintage of Maso Canali Pinot Grigio which I feel is their best in years.  We'll also taste the Hall Napa Valley Merlot, which frankly bowled me over when I tasted it last week.  I'm sure we'll also have a dry rose in the mix along with some more reds.  We ask for a ten dollar fee to taste which is refundable on a fifty dollar purchase.  Please join us.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Cotes du Rhone (an overview)

If you look at a map of France, the Cotes du Rhone wine appellation is a 125 mile long vertical strip of land on the eastern side.  It starts about fifty miles south of Burgundy, a little south of the N-S midpoint of France, and follows the Rhone River south ending near Lyon.  A hundred miles to the east of the appellation lies Switzerland along with the northeast corner of Italy.

About two thirds of the way down the appellation, the town of Montelimar marks the accepted dividing line between the northern Rhone and the southern portion.  Again on the map, the south is a bell-shaped expansion as opposed to the slender strip to the north.  North of Montelimar the climate is continental with cool breezes influenced by the Alps.  The southern Rhone is Mediterranean in climate with hot summers and mild winters.  The topography of the north is hilly to mountainous featuring terraced hillside vineyards while the south is flatter; consequently, ninety percent of the wine production comes from the south.

Syrah is the primary red grape in the northern Rhone where place names like Cote Rotie, Hermitage, St-Joseph, Cornas, and Crozes-Hermitage have established the supremacy of the north as the finest Rhone wine production region.  Grenache is the primary grape of the South with top production regions including Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Vacqueyras, Rasteau, Gigondas, Beaumes de Venise, and Cairanne.

Close to ninety percent of the wine production of the entire Rhone valley is red wine.  The great white wines of the region feature Viognier as the primary grape with Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, and Rousanne in supporting roles.  Sweet Muscats are produced in Beaumes de Venise and the commune of St-Peray produces sparkling wine.  The noteworthy place names for Rhone whites include Hermitage, Condrieu, and Chateau-Grillet (its own appellation) in the north and Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the south.  The Rhone Valley is one of only a few wine production regions in the world where the whites are often valued higher than the reds.

Having just covered Tavel in the previous post on roses, we will just add here that Tavel roses are the finest wines of their kind in the world.  Lirac lies just to the north of Tavel and theirs are comparable.

So why this post now?  In preparation for last Friday's French/Italian tasting we noticed an abundance of Rhones in the French wine rack along with three stacks on the floor.  The wines range in price between $15 and $40 and as has always been the case, they are some of the finest red wine values available.  Red Rhones, in general, are medium-bodied, spicy, dark berry wines that marry well with most any red meat dish.  Consider picking some up for your weekend cookout!

Please join us this Friday after 5 when Dean Johnston of Eagle Rocks makes his debut at the weekly event with an eclectic lineup of wines from three continents, and by all means, become a follower of this here blog!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


We've covered this territory before (June 4, 2013), but it's rose season again, so let's have another splash of the pink stuff.  As satisfying as the stuff is, we'll make this a "refresher" course (ahem).  Let's start with a little history, then move on to the contemporary rose scene, eventually landing in the present here and now with our currently rich store rose inventory.

As we have said in the past, roses have a particularly prominent place in wine history.  Since red wines have only been made really dark and extracted using twentieth century technology, you could say that virtually all of wine making history has been a history of making varying shades of roses.

Prior to the middle ages, written records showed that sweet roses were genuinely preferred to stronger darker and drier wines.  In the middle ages, Bordeaux became the center of the wine world but it wasn't the reds that were in vogue.  Once again the records show roses to be the more popular style.  Similarly, at about the same time, the Champagne region emerged on the scene with both sparkling and still wines and the style there too was a darker shade of rose.  Bordeaux, of course, went on to fame as a dry red wine region while seventeenth century Champagne learned how to make truly white wine from red grapes.  If there is a general historical trend with roses though, it is that they have become progressively drier through time.

Today fine roses are made in every wine production region of the world.  Europe, as usual, makes the best rose with Spain and France currently being the leaders by acclamation.  Greece lies outside of the popular purview but the Kir-Yianni Akakies Rose we have successfully sold here recently takes a back seat to none.  Disappointingly, Italy, despite its amazing wine culture, doesn't seem to have created a rose style commensurate with its other production.

Not surprisingly, the best grapes for making roses are among the oldest.  Grenache, Syrah, Tempranillo,and Mourvedre are probably the best followed by Cinsault, Carignan, and in a different vein, Pinot Noir.  France has the historical rose-making edge on Spain despite Spain being the older wine producing country.  But for the popular American palate, Spain probably satisfies the best.

Because of their history, the French wine laws are definitive of just what kind of wine may be produced where.  Those laws acknowledge southern France including Provence, the Rhone Valley, and Languedoc-Roussillon to be the primary rose region of the country and the rose epicenter of the continent.  Spain, which no doubt had a history of rose production through the centuries, has only exploited its production in the modern era and now it is producing roses everywhere.  While France is locked into its legally delimited production values, Spain, with its many modern wineries, is blending new grapes with the traditionals to create new roses.

We probably have a dozen roses here at the present time but I will only mention four.  John Luc Colombo Cape Bleue Rose is from that southern French rose locale just mentioned.  Cortijo Rose is from the acclaimed Rioja region of Spain.  Both are sale priced at $9.99 because they are the 2013 vintage and the new '14s have arrived.  Castel des Maures and Chateau Paradis are both 2014 Provence Roses and are priced in the high teens.  All are exceptional wines and priced appropriately.

At the weekly After 5 wine tasting on Friday, David Rimmer of Lynda Allison Cellar Selections presents French and Italian wines from his fine portfolio.  Then on the 24th, Dean Johnston of Eagle Rock Distributing pours tastes of wines from six different countries on three continents.  Please join us for these events.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Ole Imports

Founded in 1999 by Patrick Mata and Alberto Orte, students at the time; Ole Imports is one of a handful of small companies retailers can confidently draw from without undue quality/value concerns.  It's actually written into their four-principle mission statement: "terroir, quality fruit, exceptional wine making, and exceptional value".  Since we're talking about Spain, so much of that mission statement seems unnecessary and redundant since we really don't get anything, to my way of thinking, that isn't exceptional from there.  Maybe the statement expresses an effort to elevate the Spanish standards to an even higher plane.

Starting with just three wines in 1999, the partners went to work scouring the peninsula for unique terroir-driven gems that would meet or exceed the existing standards of the worldwide wine marketplace.  Since economy was part of the equation from the beginning and coming from that old world country, the partners focused on less highly extracted wines aged in concrete tanks, which allow wines to breathe without the expense of oak barrels.  Wines made this way, I would add, would allow the intrinsic fruit flavors to take center stage without the oak crowding them out.

We mentioned above that the Ole partners were students when they formed their company.  Alberto studied law and Patrick, business.  Their first venture together was Ole Marketing, an advertising company.  Then independently of each other, Patrick studied the wine industry in Miami while Alberto studied Oenology and Viticulture in Madrid.  Both partners' families had a background in wine so one thing led to another and Ole Marketing became Ole (Wine) Imports.

Of the 150 wines in their book, Alberto makes thirty of them, many of which are part of the "Peninsula" portfolio subcategory of wines made from little known grape varieties in Spain.  Some of those grape varieties are actually "endangered" and by propagating them, their possible extinction is avoided.

Our wines for Friday's tasting include two whites: Papa, which is made from the Godello grape in Valdeorros in northwestern Spain and Ipsum, a Verdejo from Rueda, south and east of Valdeorros.  We have a rose of Garnacha from Cortijo of Rioja along with the tinto, which is Tempranillo from the same producer.  Rioja is the best known wine appellation of Spain and its locale is north and just a little east of central.  Our remaining two reds on the docket are Ludovicus and La Cartuja.  Ludovicus is made from Garnacha grapes in Terra Alta; La Cartuja is in Priorat and constructed of Garnacha and Carinena.  Both locales are in northeast Spain with Priorat being arguably the finest wine production region in the country.

So how good are the wines of Ole Imports?  Kermit Lynch is arguably the finest importer of French wines in America.  Robert Parker says Ole Imports is to Spanish wines what Kermit Lynch is to the French.  Please join us for the tasting.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Veramonte, Chile, and Agustin Huneeus

Friday evening we tasted the 2013 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc from Veramonte of Casablanca Valley, Chile.  We also tasted the Ritual Pinot Noir but consumer interest centered on the Sauvignon Blanc which, in fairness, was higher priced and should have been better than the Pinot.  While this role reversal of inauspicious Sauvignon Blanc actually being superior to the vaunted Pinot Noir looks funny on paper, it actually proved on the palate that Veramonte got it right when they valued the white wine higher than the red.

When the Veramonte distributor initially presented the Ritual wines to us, they were presented as "Paul Hobbs" wines; Mr. Hobbs being one of that elite class of winemakers that traverses the globe seemingly on retainer with wineries everywhere.  What was omitted in the presentation was the name, Agustin Huneeus, surely an equal to Hobbs historically and now the patron owner of Veramonte.  We blogged about Mr. Huneeus back on the 31st of January 2013, recounting in that post his top shelf resume of winery accomplishments.

Just one touchstone of that resume showed how Mr. Huneeus took a very mediocre, under-performing Franciscan Vineyards in the mid-eighties and seemingly overnight transformed it into a prestigious producer of fine wines.  Then in 1996 from that Franciscan Estates platform, he launched Veramonte back in his native Chile.  Since selling Franciscan in 2004, Huneeus has concentrated on the expansive Veramonte line and his two Napa elites, Quintessa and Faust.  Lest we forget, Huneeus got his start with Concha y Toro back in 1960!

When we think of the Chilean wine industry, we often give it short shrift, especially when comparing it with Argentina and its best-in-the-world Malbec.  But there's good reason to acknowledge Chilean wine quality too, when you consider they've been doing it since the 16th century, courtesy (as always) of the missionaries.   Within a century the popularity of those "sacramental" wines would have to be reigned in by Spain when shipments from Chile began to eat into the local wine industry profits.  Then a hundred years after that, French varietals (like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir) made their debut in Chile and it's those wines that have currently reinstated Chile as a wine exporting powerhouse.

I would say the rest is history except for a couple of serious 20th century snags, one being the macro-economic doldrums caused by World War II but the other being the political upheaval and resultant dictatorship that was very much self-inflicted.  It wasn't until 1990 when democracy was restored that the wine industry again was able to spread its wings.

Please join us this Friday when David Hobbs of Prime Wines joins us with a tasting of Spanish and California wines.  There are no better wine values currently than what Spain produces and California, of course, has its thumb on the pulse of the American palate, so this one should be quite good.  Please join us.

...and please become a follower of the blog too!  

Sunday, March 29, 2015

We Who Live in Glass Houses

Courtesy of our legal friend in town, we learned of a story in the New York Times last week about the financial problems of a Napa Valley winery owner and what he did to try to save his business.  We won't mention the winery or owner by name because we, of course, live in glass houses ourselves, but suffice it to say, when we have faced adversity in business, we chose less desperate measures to sustain ourselves than did our compadre in Napa.

Our unfortunate case study began his career in the wine industry servicing both large and small wineries in northern California as an agricultural pest controller.  That soon evolved into managing vineyards which then allowed him to expand his business into buying and selling grapes and bulk wine.  As you can see in this most organic of industries, one thing can lead to another and eventually result in this personable big, burly, and gregarious man now having the product knowledge and industry contacts to parlay into a seat at the winery owner table.

It takes money to make money though and the hard truth in the wine business is that you have to sell the stuff.  That is what I've always heard and that is what I've learned through my own experience.  And if the competition is too tough then you have to get creative, think outside of the box, or get out before the looming inevitable becomes downright inevitable.  In retail one can always outflank one's competition with alternative offerings.  In Napa, the home of some of the world's finest Cabernet Sauvignon, it's a war for those market segment dollars and, as always, the strongest usually survive.  Our subject, meanwhile, proceeded to borrow two million dollars from his in-laws who also enabled a bank loan for an additional million and in 2012, our Mr. X leased his dream winery on the Silverado Trail.

So much of a small business is figuring out how to make things happen.  Our friend managed to get his wines placed on United Airlines Sochi Olympics flights, which may have been moderately profitable but after experiencing the marketing skullduggery of the Atlanta Olympics, that move could have netted nothing.  Our friend also presciently continued his outside vineyard management work to supplement what he expected to make at the winery and that did bolster his project, just not in the way one might expect.

By California wine law, if a wine label says the contents are Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, that bottle must contain at least 75% Napa Cabernet plus another 10% Napa wine, Cabernet or something else, with the remaining 15% being anything from anywhere in the state.  With glaring financial problems staring him in the face, our hero boldly substituted purchased juice from neighboring counties for Napa juice, cutting his costs by as much as two-thirds.  In his vineyard management business, he started altering sources, types, and weights of grapes he sold to others including selling organically farmed product that, in fact, wasn't.  Finally, he surreptitiously diverted partial lots of Oakville and Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from some of his elite Napa winery clientele into his own already compromised wine.

Now bankrupt, eight million dollars in debt, and facing lawsuits from everyone he victimized; our subject would appear to be a completely unsympathetic figure.  Except is he really?  Should he have known better?  Most definitely.  But he let his vision (and ethics) get clouded. Then denying the slings and arrows that were coming, he continued on a course that bordered on delusional.  Pliny the Elder who documented the devastation of Pompeii 2,000 years ago once said, "Wine is frequently adulterated."  So let's get philosophical as we conclude our look at this modern psychodrama.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

And while we're discussing modern psychodrama, please join us Friday April 3rd after 5pm for a tasting of Tommy Basham wine from Georgia Crown Distributing.  Tommy (as usual) is on the run from lawmen and mobsters, each of which hold him responsible for mayhem committed here and in neighboring states.  If you join us for the tasting we strongly urge you to wear a protective vest of some kind since we cannot be held responsible should anything happen.  We ask for a ten dollar per person donation to taste which is then applicable to a fifty dollar purchase.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Arsenic in Wine?

Our last two posts both concerned healthful benefits from drinking wine in moderation.  Now we're doing a one-eighty after learning last Thursday that some wines contain arsenic of all things.  What gives?  Just how does that happen?

Before we get too creeped out let's consider the extent of the problem.  First of all, while the United States does not regulate arsenic levels in wine, other countries do.  Our neighbor to the north, Canada, sets a standard of 100 parts per billion as its acceptable level.  America regulates arsenic in drinking water at ten parts per billion.  In the lawsuit filed in California that prompted the media to explode on the issue, the water standard was used as a proxy for our lack of wine purity regulations.  The worst arsenic-laced wine offender cited, Franzia boxed White Grenache, had fifty parts per billion, outrageous by the water standard but just half of the threshold set by Canada.

So how does the poison get into wine in the first place?  Organic arsenic is in soils and that is what most countries would find acceptable in minute amounts in wine.  Inorganic arsenic is a by-product of industrial farming and large scale wine making and a hundred times more toxic than the organic type.  Inorganic arsenic can cause many health problems with cancers of the liver and kidneys being among the worst.  In the problematic wines cited, the inorganic arsenic in pesticides may not have been filtered out in the wine making process.  Conversely, since the problematic wines were all inexpensive whites and blush/roses, it could be that the chemicals used to filter and clarify those wines may have been the contaminants themselves.

So on the one hand, the problem of inorganic arsenic in wine is serious and should be exposed. As I said in a Facebook post, "Shame on the producers (for allowing the current situation)."  I read somewhere that four or five glasses daily of the Franzia wine mentioned above would most likely result in serious health problems from the arsenic content.  On the other hand, I also read that apple juice, rice, brussel sprouts, and dark meat fish like tuna and salmon have similar problems with arsenic so it may all be way overblown.

1306 bottles of wine were tested in the study exposing the arsenic.  Eighty-three exceeded the water contamination standard.  Most were two, three, or four times the standard.  The tested wines represented 75% of the wines consumed in America and all were produced by the $23 billion dollar California wine industry.  None of the contaminated wines have ever been sold at Vine & Cheese, by the way.  But being a blue collar guy in the industry, it does bother me that the largest wine companies in the world can't self-regulate well enough to at least avoid the appearance of impropriety.    

Join us on Friday the 27th after 5pm when Teri Skaggs of United Distributors presents Spanish wines from Raimat and Codorniu at our weekly event.  I have known Teri for more than twenty-five years and look forward to hearing her share her accrued product knowledge.  Rest assured, Friday night's wines will be pure!

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Resveratrol and Red Wine, Part 2

Our last post (Part 1) came about because I fell for the "drinking wine is as good as exercise" study that was recently widely publicized.  The study actually maintained what most of these kinds of studies conclude, that moderate alcohol consumption seems to improve one's health.  Contrary to the headlines, if anything, the study confirmed that exercise was much better for you health-wise than drinking wine.  The popular media gurus just twisted the findings a tad to catch the consumer interest.

So after reading several more articles citing similar studies, I now believe in the health benefits of moderate wine consumption (1-2 glasses per day).  I also believe the intentions of some writers is not so much to inform as to sell magazines.  Some of what I read, in fact, could have passed for promotional literature from the alcoholic beverage industry.

I did learn some new and interesting facts though.  In 1904 the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article citing increased longevity in a study of moderate drinkers.  Oddly enough, today the American Heart Association still does not recommend wine or any alcoholic beverage intake but maybe that's not so odd considering the downside of alcohol abuse.

Cardiovascular disease, the number one killer in America, usually has its onset around age forty-five, which is about the time when it is believed moderate alcohol intake begins to measurably improve health.  Lifestyle changes like weight loss through exercise and diet and the introduction of blood pressure and cholesterol medication complicate the bottom line on alcohol benefits since studies can't realistically control for every lifestyle component.  With exercise being recognized as the most important healthful activity, red wine with meals may be second since it not only aids digestion but moderates food intake.

As we said in the last post, resveratrol in red wine acts as an anti-oxidant, mimicking exercise by increasing HDL (good cholesterol) and removing fatty deposits in blood vessels caused by LDL (bad cholesterol).  Polyphenols, like the tannins in red wine, then add more protection to the linings of vessels to prevent or retard future fat cell growth.  

This Friday, March 20th after 5pm, we'll be tasting a lineup of mostly domestic reds including the new Out Kaste Zinfandel blend from Steele and highlighted by Orin Swift's D66 French centerpiece.  Maso Canali Pinot Grigio will be our white wine headliner.  We ask for a $10 fee to taste or a $50 per person minimum purchase.  Please join us.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Resveratrol and Red Wine

We have covered this ground in the past but the studies keep rolling out new claims for moderate alcohol consumption so let's do our due diligence here to keep our faithful readers updated. Specifically, let's look at the "alcohol consumption is as good as exercise" study from the University of Alberta, Canada.  I mention this one out of utter humility, having recently posted a distorted and oversimplified pop magazine report on the subject on the store's facebook page.

Here are the facts.  This study used laboratory rats separated into four groups: sedentary rats, sedentary rats with resveratrol injections, active rats, and active rats with resveratrol.  In short, the sedentary rats who got resveratrol shots were judged to be 25% healthier than the sedentary rats who did not receive the shots. That is where my magazine report stopped.  What the report didn't say was that the active rats with resveratrol were four times healthier than the sedentary group!

It should be noted, I suppose, that the active/resveratrol group was demonstrably healthier than the active/non-resveratrol group but the larger qualifier here is the resveratrol itself.  As we reported here a year ago (Blogpost 3/12/13), resveratrol is a natural phenolic compound found in red grape skins amongst other places.  Phenolic compounds are synthesized by plants in response to the introduction of pathogens or wounding of some kind.  Resveratrol also simulates enzymes called Sirtuins which are produced by exercise in combination with a healthy diet.  The net result of this wonder drug on the workings of the body are an increase of good cholesterol (HDL) which removes fatty deposits created by bad cholesterol (LDL).  But going back to the study, the exercise was what actually created the primary healthy numbers in the rats while the effect of the resveratrol was statistically significant but marginal by comparison.

To my knowledge there have still been no resveratrol studies on people and the concentrations of the compound for actual healthful effects would have to be huge.  Red wine drinkers may have to consume a hundred glasses a day to get the percentage of resveratrol the rats got!  Still the reports keep rolling in from around the world. Whether it's resveratrol or something else, alcohol consumption in moderation (one or two glasses a day after age 45) appears to be good for you.

Henry Leung was one of the giants of the current wine era in these parts.  Let's call him the "empresario" of educational wine tastings. Henry retired a couple years ago and at about the same time his employer, Hemispheres Global Wines, decided to stop servicing the Gainesville market.  Two weeks ago we implored the company to give us another shot. Hemispheres' strong suit is California wines and that is what Tim Servold, the current empresario, will be pouring here on Friday the 13th of March after 5pm.  Please join us.

Sunday, March 1, 2015


At next Friday's After 5 wine tasting, David Hobbs of Prime Wine & Spirits offers up a tasting of current vintages from Eberle Winery of Paso Robles, California.  That evening we should be tasting examples of Chardonnay along with their award-winning reds: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Syrah.  Eberle is a hallmark winery of Paso Robles and ranks among the top twenty wineries of California (out of 1,500!) in awards received.

Gary Eberle, the winery's namesake, hales from Pennsylvania where he excelled at both football and academics.  At Penn State via an athletic scholarship, he earned an undergraduate degree in Biology before doing graduate work at LSU.  There he studied Cellular Genetics and that is where one of his professors changed his career trajectory by taking him down to his wine cellar, which happened to be filled with classified growth Bordeaux.  Cabernet Sauvignon became Gary's focus from that point on. With his academic credentials in hand, Gary was accepted into the Oenology program at UC Davis and completed the doctoral program there in 1971.

Early on, Gary Eberle focused on Paso Robles as the terroir he wanted for his wine making.  In 1973 he established Estrella River Winery (now Meridian) where he honed his craft while planning his own Eberle vineyards which would be a sixty-four acre tract just down the road from Estrella.  In 1979 the first Eberle Winery Cabernet Sauvignon was released and the rest is history.  The winery was built in 1984 and in 1994 the only wine caves in Paso Robles were added, eventually a 16,000 square foot accomplishment.

The Eberle wine label is distinguished from others by the prominent placement of a pig front and center.  Actually, a boar, since Eberle is a German name meaning "small boar".

A little over a year ago in January of 2014, Gary Eberle was ousted from his leadership position at his namesake winery.  Between his brother and himself, they had owned 80% of the company stock. That brother, however, now resides in an Alzheimer's facility and Gary's sister-in-law partnered with two minority investors to own 52% of the company combined.  Gary was informed that his now 35% ownership meant he would be a "figurehead" going forward.

Eberle wines have been marketed by the Terlato Group, one of the world's largest wine companies, and the minority owners now in charge believed the winery as it existed was not profitable.  The winery is mid-sized compared to others with a 26,000 case production annually.  Gary Eberle: "They say they want it to be more profitable.  The winery is profitable.  The winery was never designed to be much different than it is.  I don't see how you can maintain the same quality off site."

The wines we will be tasting here on Friday obviously pre-date the purge.  Going forward I'm betting with Terlato know-how we'll be seeing more Eberle wines on chain store shelves and stacked in big box stores and they'll probably be as boring as all of the others.

If you like this blog please become a follower here so I'll feel validated.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Mimolette, Annatto, and Cheese Mites

Last Friday we cut into a Mimolette, that intriguing canteloupe-like bowling ball of a cheese from France.  Once cleaved revealing its electric-orange interior, all in attendance chimed in with "Cheddar!" even though I repeatedly said "Mimolette".  Little did I know at the time that Mimolette's distinctive color is shared with English Cheddars that use the same natural additive, Annatto.

Annatto is derived from the tropical/subtropical tree, Achiote, native to Brazil, but because of its utility, is now grown in Central America, Africa, and Asia.  Achiote produces pods filled with inedible oily red seeds, which when the shells have been grated, yield the food coloring, Annatto.   Cheeses using Annatto remain confined to English Cheddars and Mimolette although Velveeta and American cheese, oddly enough, also use it.

Apart from food coloring, Annatto also imparts a sweet, nutty, nutmeg-like flavor to foods and that comes through in Mimolette, which can be marketed when aged between two months and two years.   Like wine, with aging comes complexity.  Salt and pepper are always there in the Mimolette flavor profile along with some semblance of chocolate and/or fudge, and with age comes sweet caramel and hazelnut.  Also with age, the orange color tends to brown a bit.

So this cheese is clearly a complex centerpiece for the dinner table...but it didn't start that way.  Mimolette was created in the 17th century during a time of discord between France and Holland.  Flanders was a location in northern France that had just been been claimed by Holland at the time.  Flanders is also where the great Edam cheeses originated.  The French king at the time forbade Edam-loving Frenchmen from purchasing Edam thereby causing the creation of a new Edam knockoff, Mimolette, in nearby Lille, France.  While Mimolette follows the same recipe as Edam, as we have seen here in the past, the cheese turned out differently in the new locale, and over time changes like the addition of Annatto and cheese mites would alter it further.

(Did he just say the addition of "cheese mites"?)

It's true!  At some point in time cheese makers in northern France decided to allow cheese mites, which ordinarily gnaw at the outside rind of aged cheeses while they ripen, to intentionally do their business on Mimolette rinds.  Ordinarily aging cheeses are washed with brine to keep the varmints off the cheese.  In Mimolette's case, it was learned that the mites' actions were effectively aerating the cheese as it ages resulting in earthier flavors.  Unfortunately the cheese becomes dustier and more pock-marked by this action until the finished product resembles a moonscaped old cannonball, not the most appetizing cheese to behold.

Between 2013 and 2014, our FDA denied the importation of Mimolette into the country over the cheese mite issue.  Even though there was no historical evidence of ill effects in French people from eating Mimolette, it was thought that people with food allergies in this country could be affected.  Mimolette had been imported into America for twenty years prior to the one year ban so one would think something empirical must have caused the ban.  In any event, the French cheese makers now vigorously wash, hand brush, and blast the cheeses with air hoses to remove the critters which apparently is enough to satisfy the FDA.

Please join us this Friday between 5 and 8pm when Taylor Moore of Eagle Rock Distributing presents Chilcas and Valdivieso Chilean wines for our tasting consideration.  Valdivieso is making a return to the Atlanta market with Eagle Rock after a brief absence while Chilcas has become established at least at this store as one of the true gems out of Chile.

On Saturday the 28th starting at 1pm, David Rimmer of Lynda Allison Cellar Selections will present new wines to his portfolio.  David has some of the finest European wines in the Atlanta market so don't miss this roll out!

Then on Friday the 6th of March, David Hobbs of Prime Wine & Spirits joins us with the Central Coast wines of Eberle Winery of Paso Robles.  Eberle is known for their Rhone-style reds but we'll taste the whole line which I thought were great!