Tuesday, November 19, 2019

La Clape

La Clape was my lesson for this week.  Last week my vendor tasted me on Chateau L'Hospitalet Rhone-style red from Gerard Bertrand.  Located in the La Clape AOC in the Aude department of Languedoc, the wine tasted like the formidable Rhone blend its back label said it would be: 60% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 30% Mourvedre.  I bought five cases.

Hopefully this wine will find a home on many holiday dinner tables this month.  It's a somewhat pricey red from a region that only got its AOC pedigree a couple years ago.  When I tasted it with the vendor last week I remarked that the asking price was high for Languedoc wine.  I didn't know La Clape was anything other than ordinary in the scheme of things.

Here's what I learned:

La Clape is unique indeed.  Up until the 13th century it was an island in the Mediterranean Sea. Over time, alluvial deposits from the Pyranees Mountains filled in much of three sides of it leaving lagoons to the south.  Deep ravines remain elsewhere.  The Mediterranean Sea fronts the east side.  On the three landed sides of La Clape can be found five of the better wine districts of Languedoc.

When I got into this business in the 1970's Languedoc was where most of the wine of France came from.  It still is.  That wine is overwhelmingly ordinary.  While I knew there were exceptions and efforts were being made to upgrade the production as a whole, I didn't know it was a concerted effort.  That effort centered on the vineyards that were known to deserve a better fate than just ordinary Languedoc wine.  La Clape is one of these.

A massif is an isolated compact group of mountains set apart from a range.  In the local Occitane dialect La Clape means "pile of stones."  The Massif de La Clape is the highest elevation of the district and stands seven hundred feet above sea level encompassing the entire east side.  Cliffs provide the visual from the east.  Chateau L'Hospitalet is located just above the cliffs.  The vineyards are four miles away.

Just as you would expect, La Clape has the Mediterranean climate of hot summers and mild winters moderated by the marine influence.  Due to its geographical positioning it also has more sunlight than anywhere else in France.  Thirteen different wind currents blow any cloud formations away.  The soil is a free-draining sandy mix of limestone, marl and clay.  Seven hundred sixty-eight hectares of vineyards can be found over this seventeen kilometer area.

La Clape is a protected area as designated by the European Union and several other private and public entities.  It has unique vegetation and the lagoons to the south host a variety of fauna including a year round population of flamingos!

Please join us this Thursday after 5 for the weekly wine tasting.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Classic Wines, Part 2

Last time we wrote about a winefolly.com report of a sommelier-approved list of twenty "classic" wines.  The list included nine whites and eleven reds.  The purpose for the list was for the educational benefit of wine lovers everywhere.  By setting forth a model of what each varietal grape type tastes like when grown in ideal conditions, other examples may be evaluated when compared to that ideal.

Here are the eleven "classic" reds on the list:

     1. Cabernet Franc
     2. Cabernet Sauvignon
     3. Gamay
     4. Grenache
     5. Malbec
     6. Merlot
     7. Nebbiolo
     8. Pinot Noir
     9. Sangiovese
     10. Syrah
     11. Tempranillo
     12. Zinfandel.

I like Wine Folly. They do a good job of explaining wine to most of us whether we have a background in the business or not.  This time however, not so much.  In their article they said the list was "slowly evolving."  That may shed light on the existence of a twelfth wine in what was supposed to be eleven reds to make a total of twenty wines.

In the last post we placed the ideal locale for the different types next to the grape name.  This time it didn't seem to make sense.  For Merlot, they say it's ideal location is wherever Cabernet Sauvignon is planted.  I don't think so.  Others list several locations, which is fine except the reader may assume the one listed first is the best or that each locale is equal to the others.  One type, Cabernet Franc, didn't list a locale at all.

Last time we also drew on a list from forty years ago that broke down grape types into "noble" varieties and common types.  The noble ones from the list above would include Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo.  Those are the types that the taster could assume would show superiority over the others.  This schema is not without its problems.  Argentine Malbec, Northern Rhones and Australian Shiraz would have a legitimate case to contest their exclusion from nobility and all of the insipid Pinot Noir out there certainly doesn't deserve recognition as anything special.

Please join us this Thursday after 5pm when David Hobbs presents a tasting of Vrede Lust Riesling, Chateau Moulinat Red Bordeaux, Esser Monterey Pinot Noir and Venge Scout's Honor Napa Red Blend.  Then on Wednesday the 27th Adam Bess leads us in a Thanksgiving Eve tasting of four from his fine wine portfolio.  Please join us! 

Monday, November 11, 2019

A New Paradigm

Now comes this from winefolly.com: a list of "classic wines" composed by two sommelier organizations for the purpose of educating wine lovers everywhere.  The "classics" include eleven reds and nine whites denoted by their varietal name.  The idea here is to show a classic example of type from one or more venues so wine lovers will learn what the stuff is supposed to taste like when sourced from prime locales.

Sounds like a plan.  It seems to be a little less dogmatic than the schema I remember from forty years ago which separated the noble wines from the common (ignoble?) ones.  That model is still useful today but only if you acknowledge that most wine grapes can show nobility if grown in the right venue.  By the way, if you hang around long enough, doesn't everything get recycled and designated as the "the best new thing."

This week we'll start with the whites:

     1. Albarino from Rias Baixas in Spain
     2. Chardonnay from Burgundy, California and Australia
     3. Chenin Blanc from Vouvray and South Africa
     4. Gewurztraminer from Alsace, Sonoma and Trentino-Alto Adige
     5. Pinot Gris from Alsace, Northern Italy and Oregon
     6. Riesling from Germany, Alsace, Austria and Australia
     7. Sauvignon Blanc from Loire, New Zealand and California
     8. Torrontes from Mendoza, Salta and Catamarca in Argentina
     9. Viognier from Northern Rhone and Central Coast, California

Now, going back to the old noble/common paradigm, the noble grapes from the list would be Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Viognier.  They would be the ones expected to show more character than the others.  There is still a lot of truth to that.

Now here's the challenge: If you're standard wine go-to is limited and you're curious about some of what's on the list, well, spread your wings.  None of us is studying for the sommelier exam here.  We're just in it for the fun of it!

Vine & Cheese has good examples of each type listed including several inexpensive introductory models.  We also have twenty percent off one of the very best Alto Adige Gewurztraminers.  Wouldn't that be a nice one for the Thanksgiving table.

If you want a wine education while having a bunch of fun at the same time join us this Thursday the 14th from 5-7pm.  That evening Dominique Chambon will lead us in a tasting of three from Italy along with a lovely French red from Provence.  Then on the 21st David Hobbs rejoins us for a tasting from his fine wine portfolio.  Please join us for both events!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Ribero del Duero

Everyone says Rioja is the fine wine region of Spain.  It's their Bordeaux.  Their Napa Valley.  Everyone means me too.  So when the wine salesman offers me this incredible red ($85 retail!) from Ribero del Duero, of course, I jump on it.  I have a reputation to protect.  If the wine sounds incredible but the real story is that it will be extremely hard to sell, well then I'm all in!  Let's do it!

So Oracula is now in the store.  It is constructed with the Tinta del Pais grape which is one of the three dozen names for Tempranillo.  Ordinarily the Ribero del Duero blend would be 75% Tempranillo with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Malbec making up the remaining 25%.  Up to five percent total between Garnacha and the white grape Albillo are also allowed.  Those are the historic standards for the region going back more than a hundred years.  Oracula, however, is like an Italian Super Tuscan with no regard to the rules.  It is overwhelmingly Tempranillo with some Garnacha.

Oracula is dark red in color.  It has aromas of cherry, spice, toasted oak and cigar box.  On the palate it is dense and layered with succulent, velvety tannins.  It also has the requisite long finish.  In other words, it's steak wine.

You ought to buy one, what with the holidays and all coming up.  The packaging is smasho!  Ask to see it when you're in the store.

If Oracula really is all it's cracked up to be, what makes it so?  Ribero del Duero is located on the northern plateau of the Iberian peninsula 280 feet above sea level.  The name means "on the bank of the Duero" which is the east-west river crossing Spain and Portugal.  In Portugal it is called the Douro and that is the finest wine region of the country.  On the Spanish side the river hosts seven DO's (denominacion de origen) or wine districts before it reaches Portugal.

Ribero del Duero is huge.  It has two hundred wineries and a milllion acres in vines.  It is the third largest wine producer in the country and almost all of the production is red wine.  Two mountain ranges, the Sierra de la Demanda and Sierra de Guadararia, shelter the region making its Continental-to-Mediterranean climate possible.  That climate means long hot dry summers with harsh winters.  The soil is a silky clay over limestone with marl and chalk.

Is Ribero the real thing?  Are they the best wine appellation in Spain?  According to my current research, there is a groundswell of support for the proposition.  Vega Sicilia (est. 1864) is the great winery of Ribero del Duero and its flagship wine, Unico, is considered by many to be the finest of Spain.

Ribero del Duero red wines are intense.  They are deeply colored with firm tannins and structure with complex aromas of dark fruit.

You ought to try one.  Perhaps the Oracula.

Speaking of great red wines, please join us this Thursday after 5pm when we open some Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons.  Cheri Rubio hosts our event.  The specific wines are yet to be determined but they will be legitimate estate bottled Cabs.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Margaret River

"Margaret River is the closest thing to paradise of any wine region I have visited in my extensive search for knowledge." - Jancis Robinson

Remind me to thank the salesman for selling me a case of 2015 Vasse Felix Margaret River Filius Cabernet Sauvignon.  The salesman, by the way, wasn't the regular guy on the streets.  This was a wine company supervisor who stopped in to check on me.  Whenever that happens it's usually a golden opportunity to pick up some of the good stuff!

It wasn't so much the particular Vasse Felix Cab that he recommended that got me giddy.  It was the reminder of just how great the Margaret River wine region is on the world scale.  That's what has me writing now.  I didn't even realize Vasse Felix was Margaret River wine at the time!  Now I can add Vasse Felix to Cullen and Leeuwin and all of the other wonderful Margaret River wines that are remarkable in their own right yet don't sell worth a flip! They've been making world class Cabernet Sauvignon for fifty years and you still have to hand sell them!

The Margaret River wine region encompasses 5,000 hectares of vineyard land in southwestern Australia.  It measures 100 kilometers from north to south.  They produce 3% of the wine of Australia but account for 20% of the market sales which means they're definitely doing something right.

Margaret River is a cape surrounded by ocean waters on three sides.  It has a Mediterranean climate with some of the oldest gravelly loam soils on the planet.  The ocean breezes moderate the temperatures and the old soils provide drainage for the vines.  Mysteriously, being on a west coast anywhere also seems to be a factor in fine wine production.

Vasse Felix was the first vineyard and winery of the Margaret River region.  It was started in 1967 and saw three ownership changes and eight vintages before hitting their stride.  Initially Riesling was their primary endeavor before learning how great their Cabernets and Chardonnays could be.  Margaret River wines are consistently elegant, showing finesse and ripe fruit flavors appropriate to the varietal.

The 2015 Filius is an estate-bottled red that has a little Malbec in the blend and sees fifteen months in oak.  It has a purplish-maroon color and savory but perfumed nose.  On the palate are notes of black currant, venison, mushrooms, truffles, sage, earth, oak and cedar.  In other words, this is complex wine.  It finishes long and lean.

Please join us this Thursday after 5pm for our weekly wine tasting.


Tuesday, October 22, 2019


Most of what follows is taken from a Wall Street Journal article by Tia Keenan entitled "Cheddar Has Never Been Better."

Cheddar is probably too big of a category for us to treat justly in our limited format here.  For one thing, strictly speaking, Cheddar cheese is made in the area around the village of Cheddar in England.  What we're going to discuss here is the American version.  To be sure though, the American version is a direct descendant of the English since our colonists were English.

For the first 150 years of our American history Cheddar was the premier cheese of the country.  Then with industrialization came supermarkets and pre-packaged commodity cheddar and prepared frozen foods utilizing the commodity.  A further result of industrialization was the creation of "American" processed cheese.  Colored to look Cheddar-ish, American had its reign through most of the twentieth century.  Then when pizza became so popular, Mozzarella took over as our best selling cheese. 

What is Cheddar cheese and what accounts for its popularity?  Cheddar is made by stacking curds at the dairy extracting the liqid whey and drying the curds in the process.  These sturdier curds could then be milled and pressed into molds for aging.

Cheddar's popularity has to do with its many applications.  A chunk on a platter with a nearby knife serves most of our needs at dinners and social events.  If it's not too aged and crumbly, cheddar has a place in sandwiches.  As an accompaniment with apples, other fruit and nuts, cheddar becomes a frity snack.  Melted on casseroles and other hot dishes, you can't beat what cheddar adds to flavor combinations.

Beginning in the 1970's Farmstead Cheddars have been revived.  Like an estate wine, these cheeses are made entirely on the farm and then sold in specialty food stores.  Because we are mass-market nation many of these better Cheddars are now distributed more widely as the producers adapt to consumer demand.

Please join us this Thursday the 24th at 5pm when Bob Reynolds offers us a tasting of Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris, Julia James California Pinot Noir and two from Donati of California, the Cabernet Suavignon and Ezio Reserve Red Blend. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


Mimolette is one of our most popular cheeses here at the store.  For the uninitiated it's appearance is what intrigues us.  It's round, for one thing.  Why that is is something I will never understand.  Imagine trying to cut into a bowling ball!

 If it's aged, Mimolette resembles a cantaloupe, complete with pockmarks from the mites that are used to aerate the interior of the cheese.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Bugs are used to burrow through the rind of the cheese to provide fresh air into the interior and that action is what gives the cheese its mellow nuttiness.

That is also why the FDA banned the cheese for a number of years because bugs burrowing into cheese to be fed to Americans just didn't seem right.  Specifically, the concern had to do with an allergic reaction to the mites.  No such reactions in Europe were ever in evidence.

"Mi-mou" is French for "semi-soft" and young Mimolette is semi-soft in texture, creamy and light in color.  Its flavor is Parmesan-like.  With age the cheese turns more orange and hardens.  With a lot of age Mimolette becomes very dry, hard and brown.  It's flavor seems to sweeten with age but surprisingly it's hazelnut flavor never becomes strong.

Most Mimolette is some shade of orange in color and that is due to the natural dye, Annato, that is used to color the cheese, which brings us to our history lesson for the day: Louis IV was King of West Francia (936-954) at a time of discord with Holland over land proprietorship.  West Francia included much of northernmost France along with some of the modern day Netherlands and Belgium.  Much of the area at the time was called Flanders and the cultural ties for many were to Holland.  Many people actually spoke Dutch.  Louis the IV thought he would drive nationalism by banning the ultra-popular Dutch Edam and replace it with a new creation, Mimolette.  He had it colored orange to further distinguish it from Edam, which is also, interestingly, round.

And the rest is history!

Please join us this Thursday after 5pm when Adam Bess leads us in a tasting of four wines from Testamento of Argentina.  The wines come from the high altitude Mendoza region and include a red blend, a sparkler and two estate reds: Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.  Please join us!