Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Wine Shop Report

On Wednesday March 2nd in the Food section of the New York Times, Eric Asimov tells us how important it is for us to cultivate a close relationship with a good wine shop in an article entitled How to Pick a Wine Store.  Using his criteria we will grade ourselves.

1.  Sunlight and Temperature - We've now been in our current location for just six months so we haven't experienced the summer heat yet.  We understand the situation though and set the store thermostat at 67 degrees and set the layout to keep the wines away from the front glass.  We installed curtains and shades to further reduce the harm of heat and light and while it's still not where we want it to be, we look forward to the challenge of summer in Georgia.     Grade A

2.  Inventory - Asimov makes a few contradictory statements about wine shop inventory - "Good wine shops offer a great assortment of distinctive bottles" and, comparing it to restaurant wine lists, "...a smaller more focused selection will be less intimidating."  He also says good values in the $15-$25 range are desirable and that mass-market wine selections represent the "junk-food aisles of wine".  I like that and I think we're okay here.     Grade A

3.  Service - Asimov says, "Hospitality is more than a warm greeting.  Sales people should be able to anticipate questions from customers, gauge their desires, ask in-depth questions, and recommend conscientiously."  With thirty'five years in the business and having been trained by the legendary Jim Sanders, "the father of the fine wine business in Atlanta", we know what we're talking about and yet daily we are confronted by the misinformation propagated by the California wine industry.  Not having the most out-going personality and not wanting to offend, we still try our best to serve our customer community.      Grade B

4.  Direction - By this we mean directional signage in the store: shelf talkers, categories, maps, other literature.  Asimov says wine sales people need to be aware of "the insecurity that comes with shopping for wine".  This is an area that needs work here.     Grade C

5.  Point of view - In researching his subject Asimov went to several stores finding something unique or quirky in each.  Having the best cheeses for fifty miles around with a fifty year old jazz soundtrack in the background, makes me think we fit right in!     Grade A

If we tally up all five criteria, we average a solid B and that's not good enough!  We're going to improve the signage and service or our name isn't Vine & Cheese!

Thanks for reading and stop in and give us some feedback!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Vine Cliff Winery

With the Atlanta marketplace offering so many good examples of so many types, it takes a lot for me to get excited about any given wine.  Especially at the higher end of the retail price spectrum where  I expect them to be good.  Vine Cliff Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, however, managed to exceed any preconceived expectations I might have a lot! When I learned of its Oakville Bench eastern Napa location, amongst neighbors like Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle, Harlan Estate, and Schrader, I realized this wine is probably as good as those at half the price!  

History doesn't hurt when you're blogging about wineries either.  Founded in 1871, Vine Cliff is one of the oldest Napa wineries and the first to plant Bordeaux varietals!  With five hundred acres in vines, Vine Cliff was the largest in the county.  So why haven't we heard of this property before now?  Because for almost all of the twentieth century it has been a ghost winery; unoccupied, dilapidated, and because of its dry and rocky location, seriously questionable as an ongoing profitable business.

But it was very successful at one time, before the phylloxera epidemic at the beginning of the twentieth century took it down.   When Nell Sweeney bought the (now) one hundred acre estate in 1985, she replanted many of those old vineyards with the same varietals as were originally there only to have to replant in 1990 with phylloxera-resistent rootstocks when the modern era bete noire arose again.

Vine Cliff now has twenty-five acres in vines. Besides their home estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vineyards, they have Chardonnay in Carneros, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in Calistoga, and Cabernet Sauvignon on Howell Mountain.  All are planted in select clones for low yielding, low vegetal growth, low tannin, powerful fruit.

When nineteenth century Vine Cliff was at its peak it produced 17,000 cases of wine a year.  Twenty-first century Vine Cliff makes 6,000.  So who buys a hundred year old winery in ruins and removes hundreds of tons of rocks to create hillside vineyards only to reduce the yield by two-thirds?  Someone committed to making serious world class wines.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

2014 Vidigal "Shocking Green" Vinho Verde DOC

We've written about Vinho Verde here before so this time we'll try to focus on this one particular example. Vidigal was one of several Portuguese labels that were introduced here several years ago by a small upstart distributor that knew good wine but over-estimated the size and sophistication of this market.  Ironically Vidigal now resides with a large ongoing Atlanta liquor distributor which unfortunately never developed the internal corporate wine culture to exploit the quality of this fine niche item.  Vidigal just can't seem to catch a break here.

When we tasted Vidigal many years ago we were impressed by its breadth and flavor profile.  Let's make no mistake - we're talking Vinho Verde here, the Gatorade of wines.  Bad Vinho Verde features fizziness as its flavor profile.  When I asked the vendor last week how this vintage is showing, he said it's sort of like Pinot Grigio and I can live with that.

"Petillance", "frizzante", "spritzig", and "effervescence" all mean fizziness in one language or another and all describe that dominant Vinho Verde characteristic.  Technically, Vinho Verde does not exceed one bar CO2 so it isn't sparkling.  Vinho Verde means "green wine" which translates as "young wine" in Vinho Verde parlance since it comes in versions as disparate as red and rose, along with late harvest and sparkling versions, and even brandy.  While the fizziness used to be the natural emanation of its youth, it is now carbonated for the worldwide market.

So why is Vinho Verde relevant today and, actually, why was it ever?  That answer is obvious when looking at a map.  The Vinho Verde DOC lies right in the northwest corner of Portugal on the Atlantic Ocean and bordering its counterpart, Rias Baixas of Spain.  In short, these are seafood wine production regions.  Portugal actually has the highest seafood consumption of all of Europe and the fourth highest in the world.  Moreover, this western part of Portugal features a Mediterranean-style olive oil and vinegar over fresh seafood cuisine along with its version of the seafood stews of Spain across the border. Vinho Verde, it turns out, works just fine for the local dining purposes!

So why is it relevant here?  Because of the season!  This is the perfect outdoor summer quaff!  Vidigal has the high acidity of its youth along with the benefits of three important Portuguese grape types: the floral aromatics of Loureiro (50%), the light crisp steeliness of the Trajeduro grape (40%), and the minerality of Arinto (10%).  It's also relevant because no less of a resource than the New York Times has said that Vidigal was the best Vinho Verde tasted out of a field of twenty.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Black Forest Ham

Well, this is a first.  We've been blogging for five years and we've never covered a meat as our subject matter.  We did smoked fish once.  We tried to do sausage a few times but you know what they say about sausage making -- The less you know, the better!

Anyway, Black Forest Ham turns out to be just the opposite. is the trade group website and it's an informative "breath of fresh air", which is ironic considering we're talking about smoked meats here.  The site really tells you all you need to know and more.  And with pictures!  What we'll do here is jot down some high points.

     1.  Black Forest Ham has a 200 year history.
     2.  It must be made in the Black Forest region of Germany.
     3.  It is a raw smoked boneless ham.
     4.  Pine needles and sawdust provide the smoke flavor.
     5.  Spices include salt, pepper, coriander, garlic, juniper berries, and perhaps others.
     6.  The process includes a prolonged immersion in brine followed by dry curing at 5 degrees centigrade.  The smoking and aging steps round out the total three month process.
All butchers who work on Black Forest Hams must be licensed and the pigs' breed and age are mandated.  The finished product must show the manufacturers trade association seal on the label for legitimacy.  The entire process and guarantee of quality have been protected by the European Union since 1997.  There is even a Black Forest Ham museum open to the public to lend historical credence to the product.

So why is this relevant for us?  Because Subway markets a Black Forest Ham sandwich and the grocery stores stock Boars Head and Hillshire Farm Black Forest Hams in their deli cases and none of it is the real thing.  Real Black Forest Hams have a low salt content and little fat while at the same time being rich in minerals and the B vitamin group.  American hams used for this purpose are unregulated and use artificial smoke and color which is why Europe wants its place names off of American product labels.

The Black Forest Ham we have in the store would pair well with German or Alsatian Riesling or Gewurztraminer, Dry Rose, or a nice red Cotes du Rhone.  And good beer too, of course!

Saturday, April 2, 2016


Saint-Remacle de Wavreumont is a monastery in eastern Belgium close to Germany.  It was built in 1950 as a replacement, of sorts, for the Saint-Remacle Abbey which now lays in ruins nearby. The structure, itself, is a very modern appearing building and the twenty Benedictine monks who live there devote themselves to physical work and worship.   In 1996 when local cheese maker, Mark Rosen, requested the monastery's ancient Trappist cheese recipe it was freely given by the monks.  The cheese was no longer being made there and the Benedictines considered it a gift to the local community economy.  The cheese is now marketed as an "homage" to the monastic traditions.

Today Le Wavreumont (vahv-ru-manh) is made by Mr. Rosen at Fromagerie des Ardennes in the French-speaking community of Werbomont.  The milk is sourced from Pie Noire cows at three local dairies in Montbeliard, Normande using renowned lush east Belgian pasturelands.  The cheese is certified organic and not pasteurized.

Wavreumont is a three inch tall, eight inch diameter wheel that is "cornered" at the bottom but rounded at the top.  The wheel has a natural sandy tan-colored, brine-rubbed rind.  The paste is semi-soft pale yellow when made from winter milk (hay) and orange-yellow otherwise when the cows are pasture fed.  It has irregular small eyes throughout.

The cheese has aromas of peanuts, cream, and egg.  The flavors display a fresh, rich, sweet creaminess with a touch of yeastiness.  The finish shows nuts, grass, and butter.

While wheat beers are recommended for this Belgian cheese, Alsatian white wines and most Pinot Noirs should work here.