Thursday, November 9, 2017

Chateau St. Jean/Treasury Wine Estates

This week we got in ten cases of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay from the historic Chateau St. Jean of Sonoma Valley, California.  Established in 1973, St. Jean has been a legendary producer of Chardonnay in particular; but also, courtesy of generous Wine Spectator magazine accolades, the Cinque Cepage Meritage Red has now become the winery's primary attraction.  None of this is really relevant though considering our ten cases are lower tier wines probably made from co-op juice at a facility unconnected to St. Jean.  It's all marketing, ya know.

Treasury Wine Estates is the current owner of Chateau St. Jean as of 2015.  Who are they?  Well, Treasury is an Australian company that basically owns all of the Australian wine labels marketed in this country excepting those owned by our own multi-national wine conglomerates.  Treasury also owns Beaulieu Vineyards, Sterling, Provenance, Sbragia, Rosenblum, Beringer, Stags Leap Winery, Etude, St. Clement and a whole lot more that are not household names.  A w-h-o-l-e lot more.

In 2015 Treasury basically bought the entire book of California wines belonging to Diageo, the English equivalent of Treasury.  Curiously, they bought the Acacia name but not the winery or vineyards which is what I thought was normal and customary for transactions on this scale.  Treasury did buy the vineyards belonging to most of the wineries listed above and that speaks well for them.  In fact Treasury has made a statement with this purchase.  They obviously believe in the future of our higher priced domestic wines in the world market.  Treasury intends to market heavily to Asia.

They also believe Diageo, a liquor company primarily, didn't exactly hoe the row properly in the wine business and having attended a Diageo tasting or two where all of the wines in the room tasted remarkably the same, I wholeheartedly agree.  This, of course, is the problem with mass marketers.  The wines all taste the same.

So Treasury plans to utilize two wineries to produce most of their wines.  Twenty dollar-plus wines will be made at Beringer in Napa while under twenty dollar wines will be made in Paso Robles.  Treasury Wine Estates, itself, is headquartered in Napa.  The great estate wines of Beaulieu and Sterling will continue to be made on the respective properties.

On Saturday November 11th from 1 to 3pm Brian Espanol holds court here with a tasting of California Red Blends.  On Thursday the 16th at 5pm Bob Reynolds does much the same and then on Saturday the 18th at 3pm David Rimmer returns with new French wines for us to sample.  Please join us for the tastings.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Rosey Goat

Rosey Goat has always been one of the most predictably popular cheeses we have offered here at the store.  All you have to do is keep it in stock and set it out for tasting occasionally and it's off to the races and we're sold out again in no time.  So why haven't I had it here for the better part of a year?

Usually when I don't have a staple like Rosey Goat it's because the supplier is out of it.  But then if I'm not on my game and it's nowhere in sight to remind me to order it, well then, Ol' Don forgets to order it.  That and I tend to buy off the monthly promotions circular instead of just keeping the popular cheeses in stock.

So what is this Rosey Goat stuff we're talking about?  In Spain it's called Caprillice and it hails from the Castilla La Mancha region of central Spain.  Yes that's right, Don Quixote country.  The cheese is  semi-soft in texture, mild in flavor yet because it is goat cheese, it has the requisite goaty tang.  It is aged six to eight weeks during which time it receives its resinous rosemary crust.

In La Mancha Rosey Goat is considered a sister cheese to "Winey Goat", a similarly styled cheese that receives a red wine bath during ageing instead of the herbs which brings up the fundamental naming issues many cheeses have.  While we have never sold "Winey Goat" we have sold that cheese by other names.  The same for Rosey Goat and many other cheeses from other countries.  Sometimes it has to do with the appellation system, sometimes it's branding, and I'm sure other times it has to do with proprietary rights.  Hey what's in a name anyway?

Rosey Goat is great with tapas, rustic bread, Marcona almonds, and European dry red wine.  I would even give it a try with white wine.  And it's here in the store now...but for how long?   

David Hobbs joins us this Thursday at 5pm with a tasting of four wines from Long Meadow Ranch of Napa Valley.  Please join us for the tasting.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Something For Everyone

Last Thursday's tasting featured four red wines: an inexpensive Spanish Garnacha and three twenty dollar reds from Chile, France, and California.  The Spanish red was really quite good so if your need is for respectable everyday fare that Spanish bottle would be an excellent choice but if you wanted something more distinctive the latter three were exemplary.

Our Chilean option was the 2012 Terra Noble Gran Reserva Carmenere and it was a spot-on example of type down to the off-putting earthiness of the wine when first uncorked.  Carmenere is the storied premier grape of Chile first planted in the 1850's and then labelled as Merlot throughout the twentieth century before genetic testing in 1994 revealed its true identity.  It is characterized by red fruit (cherry) flavors, spice, earthiness/smokiness, with ample leather, tobacco, and dark chocolate rounding out the profile.  Our Terra Noble opened up beautifully, losing its earthy mustiness and becoming a real head turner in the second hour of the event.

Our California red was the 2014 Smith & Hook Central Coast Proprietary Red Blend.  From the back label - "Crafted from superior quality Merlot, Malbec, Petite Sirah, and Cabernet Sauvignon, this blend features vibrant berry, cherry, and plum flavors."  This one was just as advertised and not surprisingly, it needed no time to open up.  There was no need to ponder over this one.  It was a fun crowd pleaser with no pretension. 

By contrast our French red was one with a pedigree.  Not only was the 2014 Crocus L'Atelier Malbec de Cahor representative of the grape variety grown in the place known for that type (in France!) but it also carried the Paul Hobbs Selections moniker on the back label.  Mr. Hobbs may be the best known winemaker in the world with wines featuring his name prominently commanding high dollar prices.  This one is actually made by Paul Bertrand.  Tellingly, all of our tasting wines came with tech sheets with the Crocus carrying about five times as much information as the others.

So which one was the best?  We're not saying!  The California wine would be a great apertif or pizza/hamburger wine.  The Chilean would marry well with red meat or game on the grill.  The Crocus would be what you need for fine dining.  This tasting really offered something for everyone...unless you required white wine!

We have Europeans next week with David Rimmer bringing new French and Italian wines to the tasting table.  Forget about Ruffino, Banfi, Louis Jadot, and Louis Latour; if you want to taste real quality from Europe be here on Thursday the 26th at 5pm for the good stuff.  Count on great European cheese on the table for this one too!   

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


This is a relatively new cheese here and elsewhere since it just received its IGP place of origin protection in 2010.  Currently the cheese is made by Casa Madaio in the Basillica region of southern Italy but it really goes back to antiquity.  Raising sheep in southern Italy seems to have always been an historical way of life for mountain towns like Moliterno, one of many villages known there for their cheese.

At 2,500 feet elevation Moliterno is one of several towns in the area that were important to Italians from the southern flatlands.  It was a seasonal refuge for recreation for the flatlanders who could also utilize the cheese cellars there to store their perishables.  When necessary the mountains also provided a natural defense against invaders, allowing ousted flatlanders to rest and regroup before any counterattack was in the offing. Shepherds also took advantage of the various elevations to graze their sheep during different seasons.

Moliterno cheese falls into the Pecarino family.  It may be called Pecarino di Moliterno or Canestrato Pecarino, canestrato meaning the cheese is formed in baskets for the first twenty-four hours.  For the ensuing months of aging the cheese is repeatedly rubbed with olive oil to maintain its moisture.  If the cheese is aged just two to six months it is called "Primitive"; if six months or more, "Mature"; and if a year or more, "Extra".

While Pecarino is solidly sheep cheese, Moliterno may have up to 30% goat's milk.  If aged long enough Moliterno may be hard and crumbly in texture, a darker golden color, aromatic with rustic grassiness and sweet caramel, and having strong rich flavors and saltiness.  Locally the cheese is served with hot pepper jelly, on raw vegetables and pears, and grated on soups and pasta.  It also pairs well with the local white wines of southern Italy.

Please join us tomorrow, the 19th of October, at 5pm when Nick Simonetti presents a tasting of Burgans, Albarino, Evodia Garnacha, Crocus Malbec (Paul Hobbs), and Terra Noble Gran Reserve Carmenere.   The Moliterno will be on the table.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017


Peter Yealands Sauvignon Blanc was one of a dozen open sample bottles dropped off here a few weeks ago and it turned out to be the best thing in the box.  Most of the wines (including Yealands) were priced in the sweet spot (about $12.99) but that box also included a $65 French Champagne and a $50 centerpiece white from Napa.  While both of those were great, without hesitation the Yealands was the one to buy.

The reviewers say the Yealands should display "passionfruit, guava, fresh herbs, and black currant".  New Zealand typically features gooseberry and citrus in spades in the textbook flavor profile but the Yealands seemed to be more passionfruit and guava-centered with complementary stone fruit and minerality completing the picture.  All considered, this one is a real charmer.

Peter Yealands is the man behind the eponymous label and as we all know, it's always nice to have a story to tell when selling the wine.  With a motto like "Think boldly, tread lightly, and never say it can't be done", Yealands' story is one of naked business ambition while still maintaining ecological concerns at its center.  The Yealands wine endeavor began in 2008 and immediately assured its place in wine industry history by becoming the first winery ever to receive its carbon-zero certification at its onset.

Yealands had purchased his land in 2002, built his winery in '08, and assembled his sales team in '10.  In '11 he merged his winery with Ager Sectus, marketer of The Crossings label, another high quality/low priced Sauvignon Blanc.  In 2012 Yealands won the "Best Sauvignon Blanc in the World"  trophy at the International Wine Challenge and in 2014 he won the New Zealand Wine Producer of the Year at the International Wine and Spirits Competition.  In the 2013 interim he doubled the size of his winery.  Then in 2015 the Marlborough Lines power company acquired an 80% share of the company fundamentally altering Yealands' personal business ambitions.

Also at about this time Yealands ran afoul of the local environmental laws.  "Marc" is the residual skins, stems and pulp left in the fermentation tanks and elsewhere after the wine is drawn off and filtered.  This byproduct could be used to make brandy as they do in Europe or it could be worked into the soil as fertilizer or it can be fed to farm animals.  What the local New Zealand authorities do not want to see is marc running off into streams creating a chemical balance from its high levels of nitrates, sodium, and chlorine and that's what was happening in Marlborough.  An industry-wide problem complicated by the topography of New Zealand, the situation bears a resemblance to the much worse poultry industry problem here in Gainesville with its runoff into Lake Lanier.  In Yealands' case the runoff problem was complicated by his usage of his son's corporate lands for a containment pit which ultimately failed leaving the appearance of a criminal conspiracy.

Please join us this Thursday the 5th of October between 5 and 7pm when Bob Reynolds presents two from Willamette Valley Vineyards of Oregon, Cesari Mara Ripasso Valpolicella, and Baron de Ley Spanish Tempranillo at the weekly tasting.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017


LAN is a winery estate in Rioja, the finest appellation in Spain.  The name is an acronym standing for the three provinces of Rioja: Logrono, Alava, and Navarra.  John Perry Calaff is the Export Manager for LAN and has graced our premises twice in recent years affording us a taste of their four wines offered here in the Atlanta marketplace.

Interestingly enough, the vintages for these labels has not changed so what we have is two snapshots of the evolution of four wines in the bottle and the results were telling.  A year ago the Reserva was the version I was touting as the one to buy.  I was actually telling customers it may be the best twenty dollar red in the store.  High praise indeed.  Now I'm not so sure.  It wasn't so much that that one didn't show well.  It was fine.  But the fifteen dollar Crianza just way overperformed at that price point eclipsing the Reserva in value.  What a wonderful soft red dinner wine it is!

The other head turner on the table was the 2011 LAN Edicion Limitada which just happened to be a top 100 Wine Spectator selection.  While the Crianza showed all it had right out of the chute, this one was a hard cover novel with alluring artwork that opened up into an entrancing read.  You just couldn't put it down!  Every once in a while the Spectator gets it right.

Tempranillo is the great red grape of Spain and just like the Spectator that country got it right with that selection.  Around the world wherever it's planted Tempranillo is ordinary at best but in Spain it's delightful.  Most Lan reds are minimally 85% Tempranillo and Mr. Calaff informed us that food affinities for these kinds of wines included seafood in tomato and garlic sauce, lamb chops, cured cheeses, and tapas.

Calaff also gave a little seminar on the usage of oak in wine barrels.  The reds, other than the Limited Edition used French and American oak for aging with the French imparting dark spices including clove, black pepper, and cedar while the American imparted sweet tannins, vanilla, cinnamon, coconut, and nutmeg.  He went on to say these woods were more porous than others allowing the wine to aerate during aging.

The Limited Edition on the other hand was put into Russian oak after initially seeing seven months in new French oak and that wood comes from a colder climate making the grain tighter and less porous cutting off any air that may create a softer wine.  This one is for putting away, folks!  Then for additional complexity a twenty percent blend of Graciano and Mazuelo is blended into the eighty percent Tempranillo.

Please join us next Thursday the 21st at 5pm when Cheri Rubio presents a tasting of Napa Valley reds and whites.  Our tasting selection includes examples from Beaulieu Vineyards, Sterling, Provenance, and Acacia.  Maybe we'll learn about oak barrels there too!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Sbragia Family Vineyards

Everyone knows Beringer Vineyards wines from their presence on chain store shelves everywhere.  Mass market industrial plonk, right?  Well, sort of, but Beringer is huge and does much more than just vin ordinaire.  It is the oldest continuously operating winery in Napa Valley and was in private hands until 1971 when the Nestle corporation purchased it.  Ed Sbragia made wines there for a total of thirty-two years starting in 1976 and served as head winemaker there since 1984.  The company has now been purchased by its fourth publicly traded owner so for as long as he worked there Ed Sbragia only knew the corporate culture.

"Sbragia" is an Italian name.  Ed's grandfather was a winemaker who emigrated from Tuscany to America at the turn of the last century settling in northern California.  Specifically the Dry Creek area became home for the Sbragia family and Ed developed lasting relationships with peers in the industry so when Dry Creek's Lake Sonoma Vineyards became available in 2004 he jumped on the opportunity to start his own Sbragia Family Vineyards.  Though still employed at Beringer in 2004 Sbragia purchased fruit from others to supplement what he grew at Lake Sonoma Vineyards before completing his winery purchase in '06. While he terminated his full time status at Beringer in '08 he remained a consultant for them for several years thereafter.  Ed now operates the estate with his son, Adam, the fourth generation Sbragia in the industry.

At Beringer Ed Sbragia was known for the great reserve wines they produced, in particular his Chardonnay was received by both the critics and the public with acclamation.  Today all ten Sbragia Family Vineyards wines are designated "single vineyard" with juice coming from nine vineyards which include fifty acres owned by the family.  Sbragia sources high elevation Cabernet Sauvignon from both sides of the Mayacamas mountain range at Monte Rosso vineyard on the Sonoma side and Mount Veeder on the Napa side.  He sources Chardonnay from Napa's Gamble Ranch and all other types from vineyards in Dry Creek and Alexander Valley.

"Bold, classic, intensely personal wines" says their website and while both the Home Ranch Chardonnay and Andolsen Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon sold equally well at our weekly store tasting, my vote goes to the Cab.  As we said above Sbragia may be best known for his Beringer Reserve Chardonnays but his current circumstances may open all kinds of creative avenues for this acclaimed wine maker.

On Thursday the 14th at 5pm at our weekly tasting Ted Fields will present three from Rioja, Spain and a 2008 (!) red from southern Italy.  Ted is a former college professor so expect to get a real wine education that night.  Please join us!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Mt. Veeder

About a year ago we wrote about the Monte Rosso Vineyard which I had read was producing the finest Cabernet Sauvignon out of Sonoma Valley.  We learned that the vineyard was located on Moon Mountain which is literally on the other side of the mountain from Napa's Mount Veeder.  Both vineyards reside in the Mayacamas mountain range which bisects Napa-Sonoma with the vineyards being equidistant from the famed wine making valleys and the towns that bear the Napa and Sonoma names.

Both vineyards are large with many individual wineries sourcing juice from them.  They are also much older than we would think.  The modern California fine wine industry really started in the 1960's but the Mount Veeder vineyards in particular date back to the middle of the 19th century with many participating wineries starting there in the early pre-prohibition twentieth century.

Mount Veeder lies in the southwest corner of Napa Valley with the vineyards facing south overlooking the San Pablo Bay.  The vineyards, which are in small pockets going up the mountainside,  start at 500 feet altitude and go up to 1,600 feet with most being above the fog bank emanating from the bay.  These rugged vineyards are terraced and cling to the very steep hillsides of the mountain which, of necessity, require all work there to be done by hand.

 So what makes this place so special?  The shallow soil in Mount Veeder vineyards is made up of ancient seabed materials driven upwards by plate tectonics over volcanic rock.  The climate at this altitude reverses what we usually anticipate to be evident.  Here the days are cooler than the nights resulting in the longest growing season in Napa.  Even with the additional hang time there the berries end up being small with concentrated rich and spicy flavors.  The presence of the bay is credited with heightening the acidic structure.

The textbook character of Cabernet grown here would include licorice, spice, blackfruit, cassis, black currant flavors along with minerality.  From their website the 2014 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon currently in the store has "intense dark fruit aromas of black current followed by wet earth, mushrooms, and carmelized sugar with hints of dried herbs before long rich cassis flavors on the palate".

Please join us this Thursday the 31st at 5pm when David Rimmer presents a tasting of new Italian wines in his fine European portfolio.  Then join us again on Saturday at 1pm when we kick off the holiday weekend with another tasting.

Friday, August 25, 2017


While everyone knows this product as "Woodbridge" it is now apparently being promoted as "The Woodbridge" on their website ( which is everything you would expect from Constellation or whatever conglomerate now owns it.  And why not make it extra special by adding "With every glass of Woodbridge, life becomes a little richer."  Yeah, right.

Gallo wrote the book on this kind of wine advertising back in the 1960's with images of beautiful young professionals enjoying each other's company while swirling their wine stems.  Give credit to the ad men.  They sure can pick attractive models.  In the current Woodbridge case all are dressed casually (jeans/khakis, plaid shirts, sweaters, neck scarfs) with a lot of greenery in the background and everyone is oh so smilingly relaxed.  Updating the old Gallo model which then targeted caucasian yuppies, different ages and races are now imaged for their current audience to admire.

Woodbridge is a place, by the way, a town just northwest of Lodi.  Robert Mondavi, who grew up in Lodi, built his Woodbridge winery there in 1979.  Lodi at the time was considered to be jug wine (Cribari?) country at the northern most quadrant of the Central Valley.  Just like in Europe though, when economics dictates that a new "fine wine" region needs to be declared, we find a way to elevate places like Lodi to fit our needs.  In fairness, Bedrock, Turley, and other prominant wine companies source Zinfandel, Viognier, and Chenin Blanc juice from Lodi so there is quality wine being made there too.

So why am I knocking this product?  I'm not.  I'm just knocking the advertising.  Including the Lodi fine wine appellation.  Thirty-five years ago when I got into this business, the Mondavi name was marketed as a "premium" wine.  The basic level Gallo, Inglenook, and other mediocrities sold for under $5/btl at the time.  Now Woodbridge is here in the store and priced at $60/cs and while the price is down there the quality is probably more comparable to those Mondavi workhorse wines of thirty-five years ago.  It's just another example of how progress in wine making technology and international competition have raised the quality bar for the American wine lover.

Please join us this Thursday, the 31st of August between 5 and 7pm, when David Rimmer presents new Italian estate wines at our weekly tasting.  Three of these wines are from Piedmont, the finest wine production region of Italy, and one will be a reserve quality Super-Tuscan.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


Cantina Zaccagnini il vino "dal tralcetto" Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (2014) is the complete name for this exemplary bottle of fine red dinner wine.  "Tralcetto" is important as an identifier since it means grapevine and opportunely Zaccagnini ties a two inch piece of vine around the neck of each bottle.  If you wanted to make your product stand out when comingled with other shelf stock in your local store, why not visually connect it with its origins.

Cantina Zaccagnini is a family-owned and operated business (est. 1978) that has successfully grown its production through modernization of wine making methods.  Grape crushing, maceration, and filtration is all done in a vacuum and fermentation is thermally-controlled using advanced equipment.  Sterile stainless steel conditions are maintained everywhere before the wine finally sees four to six months in oak.

We have blogged before about Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.  Montepulciano is the grape; Abuzzo is the farming country halfway down the back side of the boot of Italy.  Neither grape nor place were considered remarkable historically since the mountains there tended to isolate them from surrounding Italy.  Only through the efforts of the natives were they able to cultivate the now heralded cuisine of Abbruzzo.  That cuisine includes pork, mutton, and goat meat along with Pecarino, Ricotta, and other cheeses that accompany the vegetables and spices of the region.  A disproportionate number of Italy's great chefs also seem to grow there!  We mention all of this to get to what should be obvious - if the foods are this rich and diverse and Montepulciano is the sole red wine of the region then it must be one incredible dinner wine!

Characteristics for this wine include "intense ruby color and a similarly intense characteristic bouquet, a robust full body, and firm acidity with fine tannins".  Flavors include "integrated mocha and tar accents, dark plum, black licorice, olive paste, and oak".  Our retail for this fine example of type is $15 making it a clear step up from entry level Montepulciano.

One more thing - that piece of grapevine tied around the neck of the bottle is far from incidental.  The Zaccagninis subsidize a nearby home for disabled individuals who earn that stipend by tying the twig onto the bottle necks.

Please join us here at the store on Thursday the 17th at 5pm as we entertain Scott and Michelle Carey, the proprietors of Emerald Hare Winery of California.  The Careys will be presenting their Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Red Blend and Rose for our consideration that evening.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Boutinot USA

I haven't ranted about how vacuous wine company websites are lately...but they are!  That's why the Boutinot website is so refreshing.  They actually want you to learn about them which logically leads you to conclude they must have a worthwhile product to sell.

Despite the "USA" part of their name, Boutinot is a UK-based company.  They were founded in 1980, about the time I got into this business.  We just learned about them this year when they were presented to us by the fine wine representative for their Atlanta distributorship.  That individual effectively tasted us on the wines slowly and with commentary like the wines were a much higher priced product. When the presentation was completed we were given the pricing - most Boutinots can be retailed in the $10 range!

The following information is all taken from their website,

Boutinot is a company of 70+ employees who represent grape growers, wine makers, importers, and exclusive agents for more than 150 wine producers in fifteen countries making 1,400 wines.  They have relationships with wine makers in Spain, Chile, and Australia where they own vineyards, cellars, and wineries.  Boutinot also owns wine making facilities in South Africa and at three European facilities; two just outside of the Rhone and Beaujolais regions and one in Piedmont, Italy.  Boutinot also represents Cline Cellars of Sonoma, California

Forty-four million bottles of Boutinot wines are sold annually.

Boutinot also has a philosophy - They want to produce wines with "soul and character".  They want minimal intervention between vineyard and winery, meaning they want the wines to reflect the vineyard terroir.  They desire a "natural synergy" between the grape growers and the wine makers yielding wines that show provenance, purity, expression, and finesse.  They want authenticity.

Please join us here at the store this Thursday at 5pm when David Hobbs presents the wines of Bodega  Altocedro of Mendoza, Argentina.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


I feel like I shouldn't let a summer go by without a post about Riesling, probably the finest white wine there is.  How can I say that you ask when you vividly remember that last great Chardonnay you had?  Easy.  While both types are usually single varietal wines, Chardonnay typically benefits from the ample oak aging most of them have.  If the truth be known, that's where most of its character comes from.  What would Chardonnay be without the oak?  Probably a fine light white wine...but far short of the complex masterpiece that unoaked Riesling is.

Wait a minute...  Perhaps you thought Riesling was the sweet, nondescript, flaccid, step-above-jug-wine stuff sold in the chain stores.  Sad to say, that's what most people think of when the subject comes up.  The finest Riesling, however, comes from Germany and like all of the other noble grape wines, you have to pay a bit more to taste the good stuff.  Also like other fine wine, you have to look for brand names and code words like predikat and trocken and place names like Rhine and Mosel and then you should even learn vineyards that bespeak quality.  So it is a bit more difficult than just grabbing a Chardonnay off the shelf!

Chardonnay and Riesling share a common parent, by the way.  If it wasn't still around in Europe, Gouais Blanc could reside in the realm of the semi-mythical for all of the esteemed wine grapes it has sired.  In Riesling's case its origins are in the Rhineland and written references to the grape start in the Middle Ages.  The other parent grape, by the way, is a Traminer/wild vine hybrid.

The standard Riesling flavor profile includes just about all of the tree fruits (apples, pears, etc), honey (flavor), flowers, minerality, and something called petrol, which may include gasoline, lanolin, rubber, and diesel.  While you may think you can live without this dimension, I love it.  Petrol means quality!

The intrinsic high acidity this flavorful grape brings to the table means food affinities include just about everything.  (Think of German sausages and cabbage!)  Riesling also works with salty foods and it's ideal with most Asian foods. And because it is so flavorful you can iced it down in the summertime without fearing it will lose its character.

Riesling is also terroir-expressive which means its flavors reflect its environs.  It performs best in sandy, slatey soils and does better in cool climates which explains why Chateau Ste Michelle in Washington State has become the world leader in Riesling production (2 million cases!).  We currently stock their Cold Creek Vineyard Riesling along with a half dozen from Germany.

This Thursday at 5pm as Cheri Rubio presents the wines of Rabble of California.  The lineup includes Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Red Blend, and Rose.  Please join us.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Sancerre and Kimmeridgian Soil

Sancerres and summertime are a marriage made in heaven and the 2016 Aurore Dezat Sancerre has been the most recent showstopper here at the store.  Within the trade it's no secret that the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world comes from Sancerre and because France is so quick to expand popular wine appellations there is now a glut of the stuff at popular prices.  Aurore Dezat is about a third less in price than what you might expect to pay.

So what makes Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc so good?  Objectively, it displays the purest fruit flavors of Sauvignon Blanc along with the terroir of its birthright.  Most wine lovers would cite the food-friendliness of the wine as being what sets it apart. says it has "gooseberry aromas, bracing acidity, and flinty flavors" ideal for pairing with the goat cheeses of the same place.  Most wine lovers would simply say Sancerre is quintessential seafood wine.

When this incredible marriage of grape type and place began is open to speculation.  Ampelographers claim the Sauvignon Blanc grape originated somewhere in northeastern France.  The Romans first cultivated the area in the first century A.D. so that may be its imprimatur.  What is known is that it was not there immediately before the Phylloxera epidemic of the late 1800s but re-introduced because of its ease of grafting to American rootstocks.  Then in 1936 it received its official AOC (Controlled Appellation of Origin) designation, sanctioning it as the white grape of Sancerre.

The Sancerre appellation has been enlarged four times since 1936 which has created three unoffical "crus" of Sancerre.  The western side of the appellation around Menetreol-sous-Sancerre has a silex-based (clay/flint) soil making it a more minerally Sauvignon Blanc.  The central segment of the appellation around Chavignol with its gravelly limestone makes a lighter more perfumy wine.  The eastern side has a Kimmeridgian Marl soil that yields a bigger-bodied, more powerful white wine.

Kimmeridge is a village in England where a mid-eighteenth century French geologist identified a unique soil and named it after the village.  That same soil makes up a much larger region in northern France encompassing northern Burgundy (including Chablis), Champagne, and eastern Sancerre. declares the Kimmeridgian soil that is responsible for the wines produced there to be the finest vineyard soil in the world.

Kimmeridgian soil is a clay and limestone marl that also contains seashells and fossils from centuries of being under water.  While this soil originates in the post-Jurassic period, the "Paris Basin" was actually created by many centuries of geological tilting thereafter effectively channeling rivers and other bodies of water into the basin keeping northern France underwater.  As the conditions gradually changed, pockets of residue settled into these incredible vineyard lands.  In short Kimmeridgian soil is easy to cultivate, retains water, and supports root structure.      

Friday, July 21, 2017

Defiant by Seghesio

You might say Seghesio is the premier Zinfandel maker of California.  Around 1980 they were responsible for the production of most of the red wine made in Sonoma County and most of that was Zinfandel.  For the entire iconic Seghesio story, which is about as emblematic as any of California's giants, check out our V&C blogpost dated June 14, 2014.

Defiant is a new label from Seghesio released slowly through restaurants beginning in October of last year.  It is a Zinfandel-based blend with Cabernet Sauvignon, Barbera, Alicante and Syrah in supporting roles.  Seghesio owns 315 acres in Sonoma Valley in three parcels located in Dry Creek, Alexander Valley, and the Russian River Valley.  The Defiant label only says "Sonoma County" so it may be sourced from anywhere therein.

The name Defiant refers to the Seghesio family determination to succeed in this industry.  Edoardo Seghesio emigrated from Italy in 1886, first apprenticing himself to Italian Swiss Colony before purchasing his own winery in 1902.  Then he and his heirs gradually amassed vineyard land throughout the early twentieth century eventually becoming the largest operator in Sonoma in 1980.  Significantly, they didn't start their own Seghesio label until 1983.  They were solely grape farmers for the first eighty years.  Angela Seghesio, the family matriarch at mid-twentieth century, is believed to be the inspiration for the mindset Defiant symbolizes.

From their website Defiant is characterized as "dark, savory, and bold".  The nose shows "youthful blackberry, mocha, and spicy aromas".  The taste shows "blackfruits, and pepper with savory notes".  Now here is what our tasting panel thought:

Gin - "The peppery finish with a hint of mocha is evident in the tasting. It's rich without being overwhelming, with an interesting bite at the end. A smooth aftertaste, and something fascinatingly different in the realm of reds!"

Min- I like the rich full body taste. This would be a good wine with a good Italian meal or a good steak.

Mike - A nice Zinfandel blend that is not too "rasiny" tasting and soft tannins with a medium finish.

Doug- The construction industry is not dead. Clearly evident in this wine is the fine construction supporting the chocolate notes with the right balance of spice and robustness. This is a guys wine that will leave the women feeling warm and tingly. Nothing wrong with this experience - great start and smooth and strong finish.

Steve = Full body wine with a beefy finish! Good by itself or your favorite steak!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Rose (circa 2017)

Ever notice how trendiness is kind of a merry-go-round you can jump on at any point of the loop.  It doesn't even have to be a conscious jumping-on.  You can just saunter into the bar, er, wine shop, and order a rose just for the heck of it, just to say to yourself you tried it.  It doesn't matter that your friends are all into roses.  The time was just right for you.  The wine industry is ideal for just this sort of ad hoc endeavor.

Make no mistake though, the trend du jour is clearly rose wine.  To say they are hot is to risk understating things.  And roses aren't just the perfunctory pink wine category anymore either.  Within that category wine lovers are discerning wine styles that click with them just as they have found with reds and whites.  It's interesting to see the process unfold, to say the least.

So, ground zero in the trendy rose loop has to be Provence.  That fresh, aromatic, light-bodied, pale pink wine really sums it up for a lot of us rose lovers.  Why go any further down the road when this stop is so satisfying?  Well, because there are darker roses which use some oak, there are less dry roses that cuddle up in that way, and there are the spritzy-to-bubbly ones that seem to be more of a tonic than a sedative.  And I'm just skimming the surface!

Akakies is a Greek Rose (maybe the best in the store) that counterintuitively sources its fruit from hillside vineyards!  Testamento is Argentine Rose of Pinot Noir.  It's the find of the year at this store and exemplary of that grape type's potential in the category.  If you grab a Portuguese pink don't be surprised to get some fine bubbliness (seafood, ya know) and if you get a darker Spanish rose you may discern some oakiness.  And if you buy Bordeaux rose, expect the Cabernet/Merlot structure emblematic of that blend.

Is there a clear cut style winner?  Yes!  Everyone around the world is trying to duplicate that refreshing Provencal style.  But roses are so much fun across the board, who's going to doubt the outliers!

This Thursday June 29th at 5pm Brian Espanol leads us in a tasting of Austalia's Two Hands Angel Share Shiraz, Napa's Markham Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon and Rutherford Hill Merlot, and the Wairau River New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  Please join us

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Pitch for Lighter Reds

It's summer now and I feel obligated to throw a monkey wrench into the wine-loving habits of backyard grillers everywhere. With the next three months expected to be on the somewhat toasty side, let's see what culinary fun we could have if we lighten up the red wines a bit.

First of all if you're in a temperature-controlled indoor environment with a big fat juicy steak on your plate I see no reason not to enjoy that monumental monster Napa Cab that's been calling out your name.  But if you're there in your friendly confines but the sliding door is open half the time as your crew is going in and out from activities in the backyard and you, yourself, are part of that in and out traffic maybe, just maybe, a lighter red may work better for your purposes.  And if beads of sweat are at times appearing somewhere on your brow from all of that in and out, well then, maybe going lighter makes sense.  After all, who wants to feel bloated?

A nice new world light red alternative can be Argentine Malbec.  I say "can be" because Malbec can be all over the map stylistically which unfortunately works against the plans of thoughtful customers who reasonably want to know what the wine is before purchasing it.  In this store we sort them out by the heft of the wine.  You want a lighter red?  You got it!

Spanish wines have now arrived as a conscious alternative to the big new world reds of California. They have the same dark fruit flavors of the big California reds but are lighter in body.  Some have the new world forward fruit but most are balanced with the longer winey flavors Europe is known for.

Italy makes some of the nicest light winey reds on the planet and if sales here reflect generalities then a whole lot of people are enjoying them.  Aside from a lighter body, what's the attraction?  Like most Europeans, they're food friendly, meaning they have a higher acidity.  That higher acidity is a digestive aid any time but in the summer heat, it's downright refreshing.  And if served slightly chilled (fifty degrees or so) it's even more so!

So just to recap: Lighter reds are, well, lighter (no bloating); refreshingly acidic when served somewhat chilled; and food friendly with longer and winier flavors.

This Thursday, June 22nd between 5 and 7pm, Chuck Crouse offers us a tasting of Spanish and Italian reds and whites.  Most noteworthy should be the Coto de Hayas Campo de Borgia Centenaria, a red Garnacha made from the fruit of one hundred year old vines!  Please join us.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Familiarity Breeds Contentment

Familiarity breeds contentment.  So says Matt Kramer in a Wine Spectator article entitled "The Hardest Part" from the November 15, 2014 edition of the magazine.  Kramer maintains the hardest part of his job is trying to get people to try new wines.  I can relate.

In the November 26-27, 2015 issue of the Wall Street Journal Lettie Teague writes similarly that "Loyalty is not a virtue when applied to wine.  It leads to an unnecessary narrowing of options."

Interestingly both writers are dealing with the same problem - how to introduce new wines to people who are hooked on the tried and true.  And the problem, of course, wouldn't exist if the subject matter wasn't so intimidating.  In an effort to de-mystify the subject here in the store I like to tell people, "On the list of important things in life, wine shouldn't be too high."  (Hopefully that takes the edge off the transaction, you know.)

If the truth be known, the hardest part of being in the wine business is selling the stuff.  We on the selling side know what it is or what it's supposed to be but we usually don't know the customer so we ask questions about the purpose of the purchase (dinner or cocktail) or what the customer's history with wine is (California, Europe, or elsewhere).  We try to nail down any information that will help to provide the best wine for their tastes.  After all, we do want them to come back.

In fact whenever any of us sits down to enjoy a new bottle of wine, if we are experienced we may know what it's supposed to taste like but if it is a new wine then we may be surprised by something about the wine that is unexpected.  And that is good.  As the man once said to me, "That's why they make more than one kind of wine."

Kramer's article leads him to conclude that consumers could save a lot of money by trying some of the great wines from places other than California.  Teague acknowledges that California has nailed the comfort zone for the American palate.  It's up to the sommeliers and wine merchants of America to ease wine lovers into an expansion of that zone.

Please join us next Thursday the 8th of June at 5pm for a tasting of whites from sommelier-owned Mouton Noir of Oregon and reds from environmentally conscious Ventisquero of Chile.  David Hobbs presides over this one.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Wine Labels

There's a lot of down time in wine retailing this time of year so my mind wanders a bit, sometimes to frivolous things like wine labels.  Or is it frivolous?  Lettie Teague of the Wall Street Journal says, "A wine label with wide appeal is a wine's single greatest sales tool.  It can make a good wine more desirable and a bad wine more salable.  It is the sole emissary for the product on the store shelf and a source of great wealth."

If I may, my corollary would be - if the label sucks it doesn't matter how good the wine is because it's not going to sell anyway.  My proof lies in the tragic losses littering the annals of wine sales history.

So I looked around the store at the winners and losers in wine labels and made a couple of obvious conclusions.  The popular wines currently in the store must, by definition, have good labels just as the historic wines like Beaulieu Vineyards must be credited likewise since they have endured for generations.  No big surprises so far, right?

What about all of the rest; the plain labels, the busy labels, the serious labels, the funny labels, and so on?  Teague cites a New York retailer who believes twenty dollar and up retail wines should have a plainer, more serious label while lower priced wines can be silly.  I agree with that.  Moreover, if you look at French wine labels in general you can conclude that they take their product seriously.

But then there are the Orin Swift/Prisoner wines that have some of the most outrageous labels anywhere and they retail for $40-$50.  And they sell great (!) so I guess they must be aiming for an other-than-serious audience.

Here are some other winners:

Forty Ounce Rose is a French liter bottle rose in the store that sells purely because of the label.  I think it's supposed to resemble a malt liquor product and customers crack up as they purchase it.

Virginia Dare is a label from Coppola that I believe sells solely because of the packaging.  It features a pale yellow background with antique image of the historic personage from American colonial times. It also has an atypical bottle shape and embossed glass, all of which is very, very retro.

Carlin de Paolo is an Italian Piemontese label that features a slim older gentleman in baggy suit and turned-up hat striding across the label from right to left.  He looks comical, like he's on a mission of some kind.  This label also has that light yellow background that's easy on the eyes.

My Essential is a California label that features painters' swatches across the bottom of the label meant to approximate the colors of the wine's constituent grape types.  A larger swatch is front and center on the label to represent the primary type.  Customers regularly comment on how neat this label is.

So that's a snapshot of the popular wine labels in these parts.  Take it for what it's worth.  And for what it's worth, Teague says, "a great label can probably convince people to buy a bottle once but only a great wine will inspire them to do so over and over again."

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What's Wrong with Australia?

Thirty years ago Australian wine was money in the bank for retailers.  Bring in anything Australian and have no fear, the stuff will sell and when that inventory is gone, re-order something else from down under.

But no more.  Australia doesn't sell any more.  What happened?  Who or what pulled the plug?

Here are six possible explanations:

     1. The Yellow Tail Effect.  This is actually a no-brainer.  When the cheap stuff with the catchy label arrived on these shores, the more expensive stuff stopped selling.  Cause and effect.  We live in a mass market world marketplace where those pipers call the tunes.  If they can do enough things right with their pitch and the stuff in the bottle is palatable, well, the rest is history.

     2.  The Quality.  Back in the mid-eighties when the first wave from Australia arrived, the quality was ridiculous.  Inexpensive wines were way too good, as in twice as good as California at any price point...and that's my point.  It's the oldest trick in the wine book.  Make it too good at first to get your foot in the door and then cheapen it over time.  Yellow Tail has done the same thing.  They're just better marketers.

     3.  The Marketing.  Australia flooded the eighties market with the cheap stuff and never marketed the exceptional stuff the way other wine countries do so the great whites other than Chardonnay never got promoted and they were better than the Chards.  The great reds were promoted in the nineties but the appellation system, the distinct regions of origin, never got the promotion it deserved so by the nineties average wine lovers' perception of Australia was that they only made cheap wine.

     4.  The 2008 Recession.  Everyone took a mega-hit in 2008 but the currency exchange rate with Australia post-2008 seemed to impact trade more so than with other nations.

     5.  The Style.  This is a personal theory of mine.  Any wine style that is blatantly over the top, exceeding the norms of international wine standards, that wine style is not going to last.  Australian reds have always been extreme fruit bombs.  Perhaps too extreme for most wine lovers.  I wonder how many people filled their cellars with the stuff and then burned out on the style.

     6.  And now for the real crusher...Global Warming.  The Australian vineyard environment is warm to begin with.  And now it's getting warmer.  Grapes ripen earlier leading to increased sugars leading to wines with higher alcohol levels leading to the wine styles just mentioned.  So while climate change is probably not responsible for the failures to date, if this climate thing doesn't change, the Australian wine industry may end up on the industry chopping block.

On Thursday the 11th of May at 5pm Ted Fields joins us with a tasting of Spanish reds.  Please join us.  

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Chinese Puzzle

Before his retirement a few years ago, wine salesman, Henry Leung, had quite a following here whenever he scheduled a wine tasting.  Henry was a former New York City restaurateur who was once featured prominently in the Wine Spectator magazine for his abilities to pair wines with Chinese cuisine.  That Spectator feature made it painfully clear that pairing wines with Asian food was not a strong suit for most of us westerners.

California Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, the popular go-to's for most of us, really don't seem to work with Asian foods.  Henry and a lot of other wine guys opted for the unctuous Gewurztraminer in particular because of its spiciness.  Others of us liked the idea of light dry or off-dry whites in general for our Chinese fare.  Last fall Lettie Teague fleshed out the problem in the October 8-9, 2016 Wall Street Journal offering several new options for creative pairings.

First of all, Teague states what we already know - there are actually eight different Chinese cuisines so it helps to know what we're up against!  Moreover, "a single dish can flood the palate with sweet, spicy, salty, and sour flavors, and sometimes, all at once!"  And the sauces that usually offer the best indicator for wine selection in European cuisine work just the opposite with Chinese foods.  Then on top of everything else, if you add soy sauce or other condiments, well, you might as well just grab a beer!

In general Teague feels red wines don't really work with Chinese food although lighter reds like Italian Dolcetto and French Beaujolais and regional Burgundies may have a chance because of there finesse. Big reds (and oaky Chardonnays) would just clobber the stuff.

Teague also defers to dry Rose as an acceptable choice although not with spicier fare.  She likes Rieslings (both dry and sweet) and other light whites with the spicy stuff.  But here's the go-to that really resonates with her - Champagne!  "Bubbles help clear the palate (like beer), counteracting the salt and the heat of the spice."  She says a sparkling rose may be the best of both worlds!

So why this post now?  Because we're loaded with stacks of sparklers in the store that are delectable bargains AND we have shelves of the primo stuff too.  After all, it is the season!

This Thursday at 5pm Tommy Basham joins us for a tasting of Spanish wines.  Please join us for that one.  

Monday, April 17, 2017


Back when I got into this business Dolcettos were quite the hot item.  They were every bit the equal of Barberas and frequently rivaled Nebbiolos.  Not so nowadays.  Nebbiolos have rightfully assumed the throne in Piedmont, the finest wine region of Italy, and Barberas have become the hot commodity worldwide due to their ample production and international style.  Dolcettos, by default, seem to have been left in the dust.

So the good news for wine lovers everywhere in just such a situation is that pricing becomes favorable for the commercial loser and experimentation with new wine styles becomes alluring. Historically Dolcettos have always been light fruity pizza and pasta wines.  Now with mass marketers running the show, the hang time in the vineyards is being extended to achieve the rich, intense and overpowering fruit and alcohol that the new world loves.  And if that style sells then that will be the norm going forward and, of course, the price increases will follow.

Our entry into the field currently is the Due Corti Dolcetto d'Alba and it is most definitely a food wine.  It has not been reconstructed for the current tastes and would satisfy with most any red meat dish.  Say you saw it here and Due Corte is just $10/bottle.

So what does the future hold for this variety?  With Nebbiolo-based Barolos being such cellar selections, Dolcetto should be able to find store shelf space among the Barberas.  The Piedmontese need a successful worldwide Dolcetto presence.  Early maturing with a limited maceration period, Dolcetto is a cash flow must for winemakers who want money in their pockets while they wait on the Barolos.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


The following is a report on an article from the 11/5/16 The Economist magazine entitled, "The War on Terroir".  Terroir is the historic term meant to encompass all of the conditions in the vineyard that makes a wine from that vineyard unique; the sunlight, wine, soil, terrain, climate, and more.  The problem for the term in this modern era is that consumers now don't value such distinction.  Shoppers typically look for wines that fit the flavor profile of what they think it should taste like.  And then, of course, in this modern era the wine mass marketers aim to make the wine that best fits that profile.

In their research on the subject Cambridge Consultants, the English technology company that created the Vinfusion apparatus, found that wine drinkers in restaurants and bars are creatures of habit, always ordering the same type.  Even though seventy percent of them are dissatisfied by what they get, according to the research, they continue to order the same thing instead of venturing out and trying others.  So apparently even the mass marketers haven't nailed down the ideal restaurant wine style.

Cambridge Consultants took this situation as a jumping off point to throw their hat into the winemaking ring.  They surveyed wine drinkers for common tasting adjectives and then narrowed their findings down to three contrasting qualities; light/full bodied, dry/sweet, and soft/fiery.  They then proceeded to examine several wines for the best examples of these different traits before narrowing the field to four; an Australian Shiraz, a French Muscat, and a Chilean Merlot and Pinot Noir.

Those four paradigms are stored in tanks beneath the apparatus which sort of resembles a coffee filter/funnel over a pad where your wine glass rests instead of a coffee pot.  A touch screen allows the customer to slide a dial between sweetness and dryness, lightness and full-bodied, and softness and fieriness to create their ideal glass.  After the blend is selected, you push the button and...voila!  The perfect glass of wine!

So is this revolutionary?  Not really.  Wine making has always had blending as part of its science and being a commercial endeavor, customer satisfaction has always been the goal.  In the modern era no one does it like the mass marketers, but even so, wine preferences are still coming down to personal choice so Vinfusion has a place in the modern scheme of thing.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Vina Perez Cruz

Have you ever tasted a wine that was so good you couldn't shake it from your memory?  I know some of you have because you bring in your often old and tattered notes from some bygone time and place where the stuff was so great you simply must have it again.  This is where some sober figure is supposed to step in and remind you that that was then and this is just grow up!

Well, I'm with you on this one because when I tasted the 2012 Vina Perez Cruz Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva from Chile I didn't just write it down, I kept the bottle behind the counter here to make sure I eventually got the wine.  That was over a year ago when the vendor convinced me that, as good as it was, Perez Cruz wouldn't sell and I'd be better off with the well known brand.  And I let him!

Now a year and a half later I'm in the Perez Cruz business, albeit with the current 2013 vintage.  So because this is an unknown brand with an exceedingly plain white label, I did some much needed homework and here are the selling points:

     1.  Perez Cruz is a Paul Hobbs import which means a lot to many of us.
     2.  It is a family-owned, single vineyard, estate bottled effort, which means quality control.
     3.  The grapes are hand harvested from low yielding vines, again, quality control.
     4.  The property exhibits the diurnal effect of contrasting temperatures (Mediterranean Climate) meaning ripe fruit.
     5.  The vineyards are sustainably farmed in stony soils poor in nutrients, just what you want.
     6.  The vineyards are situated in the Andean foothills of Maipo Alta at 1,400-1,700 feet altitude.
     7.  The estate's thoroughly modern, gravity-fed winery is an architectural masterpiece which may not have a bearing on the wine quality but impressive none the less!
     8.  German Lyon is the French winemaker who probably knows what he's doing.

Now here are the adjectives culled from several reviews: fresh, soft (tannins), well-balanced, bright acidity, smoky oak, red fruits, black cherry, cassis, herbs, and mint.

Instead of doing the same with food affinities, let's just say burgers and any other red meat off the grill.

Now, buy it here for under twenty dollars!    

Monday, March 20, 2017

Franciscan Vineyards Magnificat

This coming Thursday, the 23rd of March, we will be tasting the 2012 vintage of Magnificat, one of the original Meritage wines from the creation of that category in 1985.  This vintage is 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, and 3% Malbec.  The grapes are sourced from Franciscan's best Napa Valley vineyards and aged for twenty months in 70% new oak barrels.  This vintage received 91 points from the Wine Enthusiast magazine.

Magnificat is named after the Bach masterpiece so you would expect complexity and more.  If the reviews on the internet are to mean anything then they reflect that complexity to a fault; that is, every review sites different flavors and aromas, which, to put a good slant on it, means the wine oozes complexity and defies easy description.  I guess maybe it could have been reviewed at different times too to account for the divergent observations.  The great New York retailer Sherry-Lehman may have stated it best with "multi-layered, remarkably complex, impressive array of aromas and flavors." The most common color description noted is "garnet".

In 1985 the great twentieth century wine giant, Agustin Huneeus (blogposts 1/31/13, 4/7/15), bought a floundering and thoroughly mediocre Franciscan Vineyards and instantly turned around their fortunes.  In the 1985 inaugural year for Meritage wines Magnificat was one of two dozen offered in the category.  A Meritage red by definition is the best wine a California estate can make using all or any of the Bordeaux blending grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petite Verdot.

In 1999 Huneeus sold Franciscan Vineyards to Constellation Brands, the second largest wine company in the world (after Gallo).  It is now operated as part of a separate division of the company dedicated to prestigious northern California Estates and has been re-christened Franciscan Estates.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Wine Series by Cosentino

I met a Cosentino winery representative a few years ago after making a sizable purchase of their proprietary Napa wines. Considering all of the consolidation going on in the industry, I had to ask this individual whether Cosentino was still privately held.  Sheepishly he said they had recently made the decision to partner with some other small wineries in order to compete with the mass marketers.

I have since learned that the historic Cosentino Winery failed in 2010, a casualty of the recession, and it was bought in bankruptcy by Vintage Wine Estates in 2011.  So it was already a mass marketer in its own right when I had my conversation with the rep.  Vintage Wine Estates markets twenty-five or so wineries including Swanson, Girard, Clos Pegas, B R Cohn, Buried Cane, Viansa, Delectus, and even Gougenheim from Argentina.

We're writing about Cosentino because we just received five reds from The Wine Series by Cosentino, a line of Lodi sourced wines with names like The Cab, The Chard, and so on.  The wines are really quite good and retail in the sweet spot economically.  Even though I'm not a fan of either Lodi or Zinfandel, The Zin is the best in the line and recommended to all who are reading this.

Wine Business Monthly is a publication that issues an annual "Top 30 Wine Companies" list that is interesting in the same way going to a horse race is if you're a sharecropper with a mule.  You don't envy the participants so much as you stand in awe of the spectacle.  Here are the top eight:

    1. E&J Gallo Winery
    2. The Wine Group
    3. Constellation Brands
    4. Trinchero Family Estates
    5. Bronco Wine Company
    6. Treasury Wine Estates
    7. DFV
    8. Jackson Family Estates

I'm stopping at eight because you have to subscribe to WBM to get the whole list.  Wine analyses the list and concludes that these top thirty wine companies make 90% of the wine consumed in America.  They represent .04% of the wine companies in the country.  The top three companies make more than half of all wine sold here which means the other 7,400 wine companies in America are competing for the remaining 40% or so.

I am sure Vintage Wine Estates is on the list somewhere.  As for the mass marketing of wine in general, I guess it is what it is.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Cantina La-Vis

Last Thursday at the weekly event we featured three new Italian reds along with a Russian River Chardonnay.  Dave Klepinger, our vendor, said his company really didn't need new Italians in a portfolio that was already rich in that category but succumbed to them after tasting them.  When he tasted me on them a week before the event, I too fell for them.  The selling point?  Easy...price!

Our best seller that evening was the La-Vis Pinot Nero (Noir), a wine that was more substantial than the standard "light, refreshing, fruity & perfumy" red that seems to be the standard.  This one had depth, earthiness, and texture", if not Burgundian in style, at least a step above similarly priced New World fare.  I think it would pair well with a variety of lighter grilled foods.

The La-Vis wines (Pinot Grigio is here too) are made at the winery in the village of the same name which was established by the Cembran family in 1850.  In 1948 it became a cooperative venture with eight hundred members (1300 growers) and eight hundred hectares in vineyards.  The winery lies in the Avisiane hills in the Trentino province of northeastern Italy where ninety percent of the production is classified DOC (denominazione di origine controllata).

Cantina La-Vis is part of the cooperative movement in Italy that advocates for "mutuality" in production benefits at a time when cooperation is imperative considering the competitive world market.  They also follow the 1980 Progetto Zonazione (Zoning Project) motto, "The right vine in the right place."  The cooperative evaluates its vineyard qualities in order to market multiple wine labels reflecting different quality levels to fit different price points.  The La-Vis pinots are a $12.99 retail here.

This Thursday at 5pm Ryan Woolfolk offers us a tasting of French Chinon, Spanish Red Rioja, Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, and Italian Pinot Grigio.  Please join us.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Meinklang and Demeter Certification

At yesterday's wine tasting here at the store the most interesting wine on the table was the 2015 Meinklang Burgenlandwhite, a Gruner Veltliner blend from Austria.  The wine is biodynamic and Demeter certified which is one way of saying it's about as wholesome and politically correct as it gets.

Meinklang is the name of the farm run by the Michlits family in Burgenland which is in eastern Austria south of Vienna.  The estate features unpruned or "graupert" vineyards along with fruit orchards, agricultural fields, and livestock in the form of Angus cattle.  The wine is matured in concrete egg-shaped containers on the property.

Demeter certification requires crop rotation, composting, and homeopathic sprays instead of all of the commercial fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides in use today.  All of the components of the estate listed above must work together to provide a self contained sustainability for the property.  An allowance for ten percent of the property to be set aside for biodiversity (flowers, trees, water features, and wildlife habitat) is another requirement.  When the Demeter Farm Standard is met, the property is certified and then inspected annually for compliance.

The healthier soil provided by the Demeter system create larger vine root systems resulting in wines displaying greater terroir.  Natural wines made in this manner exemplify the finest expression of what an environment can produced without additives.

Wine is a relative latecomer to the Demeter system which is philosophy that treats a certified estate as a living organism.  The system was in place for food production well before the advent of biodynamic wine into the system.  The term biodynamic is trademarked by Demeter and may only legally appear on a Demeter certified property label.

The 2015 Meinklang Burgenlandwhite  is a blend of 50% Gruner Veltliner, 40% Welschriesling, and 10% Muscat.  It is light and dry with a slight spritz probably due to its youth.  This wine would work fine with shellfish and green salads.