Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Piave Vecchio (pee-ah-vay)

Piave has been one of the best selling cheeses in this little store for as long as we can remember.  This year because of all of the myriad food distribution problems, we have been without any all year.  Our Piave problems actually started last year when we weren't turning it fast enough and it was drying out on us.  But that was then and this is now.  We have a brand new fresh wheel in the store and it is screaming to all you readers to stop in and taste it.

Piave comes from the Dolomite Mountains region of northernmost Veneto Italy, which is just an extension southward from the Tyrols of Austria.   The cheese is named after the local Piave River.  It is a pasteurized, fully cooked curd, cow's milk cheese and it is most definitely a government certified DOP (Protected Designation of Origin).

They make four types of Piave in that corner of Italy.  Piave Fresco is aged a mere 20-60 days so you might think - yogurt.  Piave Messano is aged 60-180 days.  Vecchio means aged and in this case Piave Vecchio is aged at least a year.  Piave Vecchio Riserva is aged 18 months.  While we have sold some young Piaves here on occasion, it's the aged version that everyone knows as Piave here.

Piave is grouped in the Parmesan category of cheeses.  In the kitchen it can be shaved over salads or grated for the same recipes as parm.  In its area of origin it is a table cheese and eaten with both red and white wines or malt beverages.  In our opinion the aged Piave in this store is strictly a red wine accompaniment.

Being an aged cheese the texture is dense and firm.  The paste is golden yellow in color, smooth with no holes and encased within a natural rind.  The flavor is full with intense nuttiness and opulent tropical fruit flavors.  There is a distinct almond bitterness that somehow works with the other dominant flavors.  Despite the aged character of the cheese, it is never sharp.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Mount Brave

The front label is one of those small clean off-white jobs.  It is a square box with a minimalist border that informs you that the scant information disclosed here is short, to the point and classy.  It reads:


Napa Valley

Except it's all centered on the label.  I don't know how to do that here.

The Mount Brave website is similarly brief and to the point.  They don't clutter it up with extraneous (read: useless) information to mislead the reader about the authenticity of their product.  Mount Brave goes to reasonable lengths to show where their grapes come from without saying the wine is actually an estate-grown product.  All in all, mtbravewines.com is really quite well done.

So what's in the bottle?  The 2018 Mount Brave Cabernet Sauvignon is 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 3.5% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot.  The label says it is a product of the Mount Veeder AVA which means at least 85% of the juice is sourced from that fine grape growing region.  That is where Mount Brave has its vineyards.  The label also says "Napa Valley" which still doesn't preclude sourcing from elsewhere but in this case we can assume the entire product is from Napa.  It is a hundred dollar bottle, after all.

We read five reviews of this wine from five reputable critics.  Without resorting to numerical scores (which I hate), the wine is characterized as a deep purple/black color with a floral nose featuring black and blue fruit aromas.  In the mouth the berry flavors are supplemented with violets, chocolate, cigar box and menthol.  The body is full with silky tannins.  The finish is long and balanced.

Twenty percent of the monetary value of all California wines comes from Napa Valley which makes just four percent of the total wine volume from California.  Mount Brave being located in the Mount Veeder AVA puts it in rarified company within the larger Napa AVA.  Why are we writing about it now?  In short, because it sells.  Usually we stock wines like these when they are opportunely offered to us; that is, when the price is right and we have the money in the checking account.  We are consumers too.

Mount Brave is different.  It's a steady mover from the laydown rack ensconced as it is with similarly priced elites all around it.   With the holidays on the horizon, could this be your timely (and brave) special purchase?

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Cotes de Provence

Since Roses are such a big item again we thought some further definition of the greatest Rose appellation in the world was in order.  For instance - How does Cotes de Provence differ from just plain Provence

It turns out Provence is one of those overly large appellations, like Paso Robles in California, that has smaller wine appellations within it.  The Cotes de Provence appellation is the largest of these with fifty thousand acres (!) in eastern Provence.  Actually it is the eastern half of Provence though not entirely contiguous.  It is also home to most of the Rose made in Provence.  Eighty percent of its production is Rose.  Of the remainder, 15% is red and just 5% is white.

The red grapes allowed in Cotes de Provence Rose are Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Carignon and an indigenous variety called Tibouren.  The first four listed are those blended into Southern Rhone reds with Grenache being the greatest of them.  Some Roses are 100% Grenache.  Carignon is the least of these.  No Cotes de Provence Rose may have more than forty percent Carignon.  

Tibouren is an interesting item in itself.  It accounts for fifteen percent of vineyard plantings in Cotes de Provence and offers an earthy bouquet to typical blends.  It also has a lengthy history there arriving from further east around 500bc.

Within the Cotes de Provence there are three departments: Var, Bouches-du-Rhone and Alpes-Maritimes and between them lie eighty-four communes.  Two distinct geologies exist in the region: calcareous soils to the northwest and crystalline soils to the southeast.  

We would be remiss not to mention the very important garrigue of Provence, the low lying fragrant vegetation of lavender, thyme, rosemary and juniper.  We have written about this before.  In short, the vegetation actually affects the resulting wine flavors!

It should be mentioned that wine quality in the Cotes de Provence is uneven and that has to do with the extremes in topography.  We're talking about the Alps afterall, so we're pretty sure blending would have to be an art form there.

Then lastly we should mention the rose winemaking method responsible for the great success of the region.  They use the saignee (sohn-yay) method which is extracting (bleeding) extra phenolics, color and flavor from red grape must to goose the rose.

Please call 770-287-WINE(9463) or email wineguy@bellsouth.net if you would like to attend the Dominique Chambon Halloween wine tasting this Saturday afternoon (1-4pm).  Dominique is one of the most entertaining presenters in the business and he has an unbelievable fine wine portfolio.  At least one of our tasters should be a Provence Rose.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Cave Aged Gruyere (groo-yair)

For the longest time whenever someone asked me what my favorite cheese was, I would deflect back to them just to make sure I got them what they really wanted.  Now I take just the opposite approach.  I'll scream it from the rooftops - "Gruyere is absolutely to die for!"

FYI - It's also the best cheese in the world!  That's not coming from me.  So says the World Cheese Awards, an annual event held in London, England where the Cave Aged Gruyere has won four times in the thirty-four years the event has been held.  That's more wins than any other cheese has garnered so by that one metric, it is the best!

Our Gruyere is aged for one year in sandstone caves in Kaltbach, Switzerland which is near Lucerne where the Hadron Collider is speeding stuff up in hopes of revealing secrets of the universe.  Good for them!  At the end of the year I'm betting slow and steady wins the race.  When that Gruyere emerges from its cave with its assertive earthy complexity, which would you rather have, secrets of the universe or orgasmic swiss cheese!

In all seriousness...when it's young, Guyere is sweet and salty and creamy and nutty.  After a year in the caves the inherent saltiness becomes crystallized just as the creaminess becomes grainier.  If you unpack the assertive complexity mentioned above, you may get carmelized apples, hazelnuts and brown butter.  Nah, that's too textbooky.  This stuff just plain funky.  AND it goes with most any red wine worth its weight in Gruyere.

Along with being a perfect accompaniment with serious red (and white) wine, Gruyere is also an intrinsic part of the dinner table.  It does well grated on salads, pastas, French Onion Soup, quiche and Chicken/Veal Cordon Bleu.  Of course it is also part and parcel of traditional fondue.

Gruyere has been around since the thirteenth century and in 2001 it received its Appellation d'Origine Protegee.  This is the European Union legal protection ensuring all steps in the production of Gruyere are consistent with its historic definition.  This also defines the cheese geographically so France can no longer call its own version of Gruyere by that name.  Gruyere is wholly Swiss! 

Please join us here at the store on Saturday the 31st (Halloween) between 1 and 4pm when Dominique Chambon leads us in a tasting of some of his new French wines on the market.  Please call 770-287-WINE(9463) to reserve your participation.  I'm sure the Gruyere will be on the tasting table also! 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Tricky Rabbit

Why on earth would you brand a wine "Tricky Rabbit?"  It seems to be just a little too silly.  We'll get around to answering that question in a bit.

Tricky Rabbit is a line of six wines from the Invina wine company which is a project of the Huber family of the Central Valley of Chile.  The Hubers are Americans who did well enough in banking to now own eight hundred acres in vines in Maule, Chile.  Maule (mow-lay) is the wine appellation in Chile where close to half of all of Chilean wines come from.  

Chile, as everyone knows, is a vertical ribbon on the South American map so latitude-wise their winemaking potential is limited.  It's basically the middle third of the country.  Chile has also designated three winemaking districts between the Andes to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west which makes sense considering the differences in terrain, topography and climate.  The Hubers own vineyards in each of the districts.

Here's where we get to the meaning of the Tricky Rabbit name.  The label depicts a rabbit riding a unicycle on a tightrope.  Each element conjures up qualities of its own but together they make no sense.  The Hubers believe in blending grapes.  Each of their wines blends from the three districts to produce what they feel is the best product from their efforts.  So while the wine label posits the absurd, the wine in the bottle conversely shows a complementary relationship between the components.

Put another way on one of their web pages, they talk about "the Color of Maule" which is what they feel they create through their blending and that brings us to Por Fin.  Por Fin means "at last" and it is a premium red blend separate from Tricky Rabbit label.  The blend is 48% Syrah, 23% Malbec, 18% Carmenere and 11% Petit Verdot.

We have five of the Invina wines in the store and all of them overperform in their everyday-priced category.  Stop in and check 'em out!  And if you want to taste Tricky Rabbit or Por Fin, stop in Saturday afternoon!

Wednesday, October 7, 2020


Let me take you back thirty-five years or so to a time when yours truly was a wine department manager for Big Star Foods.  The most profitable store of the chain of fifty-two stores was mine and it was located two doors to the left of where I am standing presently.  It was where the Publix store currently stands.

It seems quaint now, but Big Star was progressive and ahead of its time with concepts like defined departments within the store that lent themselves to more specialization in their offerings.  Like the idea of a wine department within a grocery store.  What a concept!

So I was hired out of Atlanta to run that department which was largely scripted from corporate headquarters.  The "laydown" racks, a couple of which still exist in our current store, were mostly intended to feature selected fine California estate wines, ie., the best of the best.  No other big player was doing such a thing so this was a coup for Big Star.  As the resident "wineguy" for the store my job was to sell those wines.

Here's the problem: I had just trained with Jim Sanders of Sanders Beverages of West Paces Ferry in Buckhead.  Jim was the French Burgundy expert of the southeastern United States.  So while I knew that the wines I was supposed to sell were good, many weren't world class.

Gundlach-Bundschuh was one of those acclaimed California laydown wines and my history with them goes back five years earlier to a time when I really was new to the business.  It was at that time that Atlanta was awash in California wines, so great was the promotion of what the culture savants were sure would be the next big thing.  As I recall Gun-Bun excelled at Gewurztraminer and Merlot back then.

Founded in 1858 Gundlach-Bundschuh is the oldest continually operating family-owned winery in the country.  With 320 acres they were the premier California winery until the 1906 San Francisco earthquake nearly put them out of business.  Their production facilities were in the city and everything there was a total loss.  They emerged from the quake a fraction of what they were before.  

Then the Prohibition Era (1920-33) pretty much finished the job.  Like so many others they made sacramental wine during those times but also segued into being a cattle farm until the commercial winery was resurrected en force in 1973.

The Gundlach-Bundschuh vineyards and winery are located in eastern Sonoma County in the Sonoma Valley AVA where it abuts the Napa and Carneros AVA's along the Mayacamas Mountain range. 

So how do Gun-Bun wines compare with others?  As we said above their Merlot and Gewurz are great.  The Cabernet is also.  We have the Gewurz and a red blend coming in on Friday and if the demand is there, the Cabernet and Merlot will follow.  All of their wines are estate products so I'm sure all types should be competitive with the best from California.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020


 Remejeanne is the best red wine we have tasted this year...and it's retail price is a fraction of others we tasted!

The wines of the Cotes du Rhone have always represented objective value compared to others on the market.  Remejeanne demonstrates that value ON STEROIDS!  We tasted it with three other Rhones including a Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  It easily blew them all away!

So how does that happen?  Go to Skurnik.com and then "Our Wines" and see for yourself.  For a mission statement check out the "Explore Skurnik Wines" paragraph.  Basically they deal in wines that exemplify all of the best conditions and components that go into making the best wines available.

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, you know how dissatisfied we are with winery websites.  So many of them (and I'm really talking about the California wine industry) are purposely vague about their product as if they are trying not to inform the reader.  Smoke and mirrors.  Misdirection.  Since there is now very little private ownership in that industry anymore, then I guess that is the way they want to play it.

Skurnik is just the opposite.  The website shows what can be done with concise informative exposition. Rather than spreading out a few paragraphs here to show the important Remejeanne information, just go to the website and search Remjeanne and you'll get all of the relevant data.  In bullet points yet!

This Saturday afternoon we will be tasting two reds from Luke Wines of Columbia Valley, Washington and two Cabernet Francs from opposite sides of the globe.  Please join us!