Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Prosecco

We recently got in a few cases of Santa Marina Italian wines which included a varietal Pinot Grigio and a couple different Proseccos.  Two things caught our attention immediately.  The bargain-priced Pinot Grigio turned out to be really quite good and secondly, one of the Proseccos turned out to be a rose.  Why is that significant?  Because to the best of our knowledge, there could be no such thing as Rose Prosecco.

It's been quite a while since we've written about Prosecco, but as I recall the 1990's were a pivotal time in its modern history.  That's when the Italian wine industry with a little help from the government started promoting it as a cheaper alternative to Champagne.  Prior to that Prosecco was either a low-rent Asti Spumante or a wine geek's prototypical example of bad sparkling wine.  But their fortunes changed as money was put behind the product upgrading the vineyards and winemaking facilities and governmentally re-defining what it is they were actually doing there.  Ten years later the EU stepped in to further advance the cause of Prosecco.

Prosecco had a two hundred year history up to that point; that is, two hundred years of making ordinary wine.  Now it was to be codified as a DOC (denominazione di origine) with the intent of eating into the Champagne business.  Glera was always the historic Prosecco grape.  Now the new and improved Glera was mandated to be eighty-five percent of any Prosecco blend with the remainder being any of three pinot grapes and/or any of three local varieties.  That was the mandate of the new Italian wine law.

At the same time Congeliano Valdobbiadene and Asolo, the two best districts in the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giuli Prosecco appellation, were elevated to DOCG status by the EU.

So what about Prosecco Rose?  First of all, let's just say, there has always been Rose Prosecco.  (Insert wink and a nod.)  The industry has sold it to retailers and restaurateurs forever...if you promise not to look too closely at the label.  Moreover, if the truth be known, the Italian government has been known to let legal technicalities in its wine industry go unnoticed.  So, there it is.  

Now however, we have learned, as of last year (2020), roses are a legal production in the Prosecco arena.  By the new law they must be 85% Glera and 15% Pinot Nero (Noir).  We must have missed the memo.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

The Boatman

If you've been following this blog for any length of time you can't help but recognize the recurring rants we go off on.  One that seems relevant today concerns the question of ownership of some of today's California wineries and relatedly - Who's making the wine?

The Boatman is this really luscious red blend marketed by the Brack Mountain Wine Company.  We've been curious about them for some time.  Their website is tededward.com so you figure Ted Edward (or Ted and Ed) must be the owner(s).  Maybe that's the case.  But tededward.com is the website for a sizable New York alcoholic beverage importer/distributor.  So what's going on here?

Once you get to the Brack Mountain page you see that they too are quite sizable.  Scholar & Mason, Bench and Fable are just a few of their labels you may have seen here in the store.  But no Boatman.

If you go to theboatmanwines.com, which is on the back label of The Boatman bottle, you get an advertisement for godaddy.com.   While vacuous winery websites are another regular peeve here at the old blogspot, this one takes vacuosity to a whole other level.

It took us going to a third party liquor store website to learn The Boatman is made by Papagni Vineyards of the San Joaquin Valley.  Papagni is a credible wine company we've known for as long as we've been in the business.  The Boatman blend is 40% Alicante Bouschet, 26% Merlot, 23% Malbec, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petite Sirah.  The berries are picked at dawn, crushed and de-stemmed while still cool, then immersed in a long cold soak, then heated in fermentation tanks to maximize fruit and color extractions.  Plenty of oxygen is introduced by pumping over the wine twice a day resulting in a wine that is an inky purple color.  The nose features blueberry, blackberry and spice; the palate, sumptuous layers of dark forest fruits and pepper.  

So here's where it gets interesting - If you go to the Papagni website where they market their Papagni labeled wines, they also offer bulk wine to the public.  Papagni has been growing grapes in California since 1912.  Moreover, as Italian immigrants in the hot and dry San Joaquin Valley, they planted the right grapes; Alicante Bouschet, Grenache and Barbera.  They obviously knew what they were doing.  Now we have to wonder - Did Brack buy Papagni's bulk wine and put The Boatman label on it?

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Baby Wines

Baby wines?  Really?  What the heck are baby wines?  Good question.  We've heard the term "baby" applied to certain wines for years.  Can't remember the first time but baby wines have been around quite a while.  So what are they?  Perhaps the place to start for this discussion is what they aren't.  

Baby wines are not young not-ready-to-drink wines, although you could call such wines babies.  When their youthful burn scorches your mouth though they seem more like rebellious adolescents.  Baby wines are also not a second label for a premier producer although they could be a baby version of that top shelf wine.  Even though Mondavi of Napa spawned Woodbridge of Lodi, it could never be mistaken for that parent.

In short baby wines are wines that approximate the quality of an acknowledged great wine at a much lower price.  So a Baby Brunello is one that has much of the same character of the great one but beware - Its bargain pricing may reflect its shortcomings.  Since the advent of Italian IGT laws which allow wines made from grapes grown outside of a delimited appellation to carry the name of the esteemed region, so-labeled wines are acknowledged to be in the style of Brunello, Barolo or whatever; ergo, a baby version of that thing.

Our favorite wine writer, Lettie Teague, is our inspiration for this post and she wrote about the subject in the December 31, 2020 edition of the wsj.com.  After several consultations with wine industry pros, she concluded the term, baby wine, is a selling tool.  The vendor is calling attention to whatever the adjacent great property has to offer and declaring this one is similar to that one but at a much better price.

"The term baby is meant to leverage brand recognition when attached to certain wines to raise the profile of a lesser label at a more attractive price point."  This "associative marketing" intends to convince a consumer that the less prestigious wine merits a try.  We should point out that this ploy works only if the customer knows what the great wine is.

Depending on how you define the term, here are some of our baby wines currently in stock:

    Alain Patriarche Bourgogne La Montagne is a Chardonnay sourced from just the other side of the Meursault border. Patriarche markets their own legitimate Meursault so La Montagne is probably the closest thing to it.

    The Super Tuscan Sassicaia is truly one of the great wines of the world. It can also run upwards of $250/btl.  We have a $16.99 Rosso Toscana made by the same winemaker.  Could it be a baby       Sassicaia?

    Post & Beam is new from Far Niente of Napa Valley.  It's priced a third lower than their flagship Cabernet Sauvignon.  Are they trying to make a baby Far Niente?

Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Mendocino Wine Company

We just got in a case of Parducci Chardonnay, a wonderful example of its type.  Complex, clean.  Not manipulated in any way.  Oak?  Yeah, it's there.  But not unduly so.  It's really a lovely bottle of white wine at a reasonable price.  So we thought we would promote it here.  

We also thought we would report on Parducci, itself, since it's such a historic property.  Managed by the Parducci family since 1932, it's the longest continuously running winery in Mendocino County.  But now things are a little bit different.  While still run by the family, Parducci is now one of seven wineries included in The Mendocino Wine Company.  It's the only one in that group that we are familiar with.

There is much about business we don't pretend to understand.  At our station in the wine business we don't know what the arrangement is that those constituent wineries have with each other.  Are they a collective?  A cooperative?  Is The Mendocino Wine Company a business entity in itself or maybe a creation of a Wall Street insurance company?  There are players of all stripes from far and wide in the California wine industry today and while we here at V&C don't need to know their business, we are curious.

Being a small player in the wine business we understand how guys like us have to get every break we can in order to compete.  And we learn from others who share what they know.  A few years ago the rep from a well known Napa property shared with us how his company had to join other similarly sized wineries in order not to be overwhelmed by the competition.  Part of their collaboration was building one large shared winery to offset the cost of winemaking.  We also read a magazine article by Peter Seghesio who said the big players can lock the small guys out of distribution channels by their overwhelming volume of business.  As I recall, Seghesio ended up selling to one of those Wall Street Insurance companies.

At their website The Mendocino Wine Company devotes a lot of space to sustainability.  To their credit, that seems to be a cornerstone principle of the company.  They list several certifications to prove it.  All of the wines produced there are sourced from certified sustainable vineyards, some of which are certified organic.  

Water is an important issue to companies with this kind of value set.  Any by-products of wineries, even organic by-products, are not allowed to interfere with river ecosystems.  Water usage in general on the properties are limited both in the vineyards and for the use of the winemaking team.  100% of the water used on properties like these is reclaimed and then re-used.  

Cover crops and composting provide nutrients and prevent erosion in the vineyards.  Natural predators are introduced and maintained so toxic chemicals aren't needed.  Wildlife corridors and habitats are fostered.  Solar and wind power are the clean energy sources most favored.

All in all, The Mendocino Wine Company, however they are constituted, seems to be an asset to the industry. 

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Explore - Experience - Evolve

Our post title comes from the side of a wine box that just came in the door.  Kudos to whoever thought to sequence those words that way and then to apply them to wine appreciation.  

You wouldn't think boxes would be in short supply in the beverage industry since everything comes packed in them, but they are.  After a single use they apparently get discarded.  The large distributors in Atlanta have had to purchase boxes for re-packing loose bottles for smaller orders.  Our "Explore - Experience - Evolve" box is one of those in-house creations for one of the huge players in Atlanta so maybe the admonition was meant to apply to beer, liquor or something else.  Anyway, we like it.

We first dipped or toes into the wine business back in 1976 while doing the student thing in northern California.  Back then in that neck of the woods the wine business was really the California wine business.  The store I worked in had imports, to be sure, but the California wines were clearly front and center both on the floor and in the California consciousness.  I'm sure Georgia and Georgians support the the peanut and Vidalia onion industry the same way.

I'm a peanut lover and I'm fond of onions but I wouldn't consider myself a connoisseur.  But if, say, I was really locked into Spanish peanuts, I hope I would venture out occasionally to try other types.  Onions, in general, are great.  The only ones to avoid, in my opinion, are the ones that have been around too long.  Whew!  

I do like stinky wines though.  I mean I like the dry earthy reds of Tuscany or Spain that haven't been cleaned up for the American market.  The Spanish stuff always came naturally for me for some reason; Tuscany was a taste I had to acquire.  One time I told a supplier of this affinity I had and he brought in a half dozen of the stinkiest wines I ever tasted.  They were so ripe they were probably tainted.  He wanted me to stock them in my store.  Yeah, right.  If they were too much for me who claims to like such things, how could I in good conscience sell them to others. 

So if I like stinky wines then, following the dictum on the box, I should try the really-cleaned-up wines made by the mass marketers from California.  And I have.  And they are good.  Much better than that kind of thing was back in the 1970's.  But they lack distinction in the same way the overproduced music of Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles did back then when compared to something like The Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore East.

It's a business though and you have to go with what sells.  But if you ever try that thing that is different from your usual, then at least you then have an understanding of what that thing is.  Maybe that thing isn't what you like.  Or maybe by trying it that one time you will remember it at a future time when your meal seems to call for just that wine.  Maybe you evolve.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Decibel

Decibel Wines is a project of Daniel Brennan of Martinborough, New Zealand.  Brennan is an American from a Philadelphia restaurateur family of Sicilian descent.  Decibel is the primary label of a trio that includes Testify and Giunta, wines which are aimed at lower tier pricing.

Pinot Noir is the primary grape of Martinborough, which is at the southernmost portion of the northern island of New Zealand.  It has been grown there successfully since 1975, which is about when the wine industry started in New Zealand.  The Martinborough wine country conveniently lies one hour east of the New Zealand capital, Wellington.  

To the west are the Rimutaka Mountains which shelter the wine valley from undue rains from that side; in effect, creating a favorable wind tunnel of sorts that controls vine vigor, affecting flowering and leading to lower yields.  Perfect for Pinot Noir.  The grapes are organically dry farmed in this semi-maritime climate.  The soil is clay over ancient river bed providing perfect drainage for the vines. 

decibelwines.com is once again a website short on specific wine information but otherwise it's a very pleasant look/see.  The homepage prose is lovely as is the artwork.  Kudos to the designer.  It makes you want to know more and to do that you have to go elsewhere.

As pinot lovers everywhere will attest; when it's right, Pinot Noir has an elusive charm.  It's hard to put into words.  Fortunately we think we found some that pretty much nail it.  The wine is "spicy, juicy, plummy, gamey, light, dry and earthy and perfumy."  It also exhibits "dark cherry, forest floor and savory aromatics."  Or as one observer noted, "The nose is a smear of fancy strawberry preserves on a cedar cutting board.  The palate is cherries smeared on a dusty chalk board."  -Bingo!

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Hunky Dory Tangle

Hunky Dory is a project of Huia Vineyards of Marlborough, New Zealand.  Four wines are marketed under this label, a Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, rose and a blended white.  Tangle, the blended white, is the only one available in this market.  

Hunky Dory is also the name of the Allan family boat.  We're not sure how Tangle got its proprietary name.  Just a cute choice, I guess.  

hunkydory.com is like so many other winery websites.  It's weak.  But it's not as bad as those that try to create interest by romanticizing its product with stupid made up stories.  hunkydory.com just doesn't say much of anything.

The back label of the wine bottle says as much as the website: The wine is sourced from Marlborough and made by the Allan family.  It's construction is 61% Gruner Veltliner, 20% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Pinot Gris, 5% Chardonnay and 4% Riesling.  It is also certified organic.

We consulted three reviews of the wine and the following is an amalgam of the three: This dry white wine has an aromatic nose of honeysuckle, quince, lemon and lime.  This bright lush citrus/tropical nose leads into a palate that adds ripe apple, pear, lychee, mandarin and spice.  Then this full flavored medium bodied white uses both minerality and acidity to balance out its component flavors and finishes with that same balance.    

4/18/21 Addendum:  We wrote this post about a month ago when we brought in our first case of Tangle.  Now we're told the Pinot Noir is available too.