Sunday, August 11, 2019

White Wines & Seafood

Last summer was all about roses here at ol' V&C.  This summer whites are back on top and in particular it's the light dry Euro whites that everyone wants.  Seafood wine.  If you're an Italian Pinot Grigio lover, you know what I'm talking about.  Just take a look at a map of Italy and see if their pinot might not be meant for seafood!

This week alone we have brought in Italian Pecarino, Vermentino, Arneis, and Pinot Grigio  (of course); Spanish Albarino; and French white Loires, Bordeaux, Burgundies and sparklers.  None of these purchases was gratuitous, by the way.  All were brought in just to keep up with demand!

Just in case you thought we were short changing the new world, we also brought in a case of Lodi's award-winning Sand Point Sauvignon Blanc and a stack of last week's tasting winner, Manu New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  Here's another map quiz: Do you think the New Zealand wine industry perhaps has seafood in mind?

Speaking of seafood (which is what this post is about after all), did you ever consider all of the types and applications?  Crustaceans.  Mollusks.  Fish.  Sushi, any one?  Blackened fish on the backyard grill?  Broiled on the stove?  How about deep-fried, cured, smoked, tinned or fermented?  Or seafood in sauces, soups, stews or pasta?  Maybe limiting our white wine considerations to light and dry alone doesn't begin to cover the expansive seafood repertoire.

Herbs and spices of course matter when choosing your seafood wine partner.  Sauces and the other adventurous styles even more so.  In short if your meal is simple your white wine should be likewise.  Pinot Grigio would be fine or the new Nora Albarino would work perfectly.  Got spices in the works?  How about a white Rhone or the new Sardinian Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino.  Then with the sauces et al?  Alsatian Gewurztraminer or the Wakefield Clare Valley Australian Dry Riesling.

And it it's California wine you like I'm sure the Sand Point would be fine!

Please join us this Thursday after 5pm when Dominique Chambon presents a tasting of Domaine Jacky Marteau Cremant de Loire, Domaine du Prieure Chenas and Bourgogne Pinot Noir, and Domaine Saint Andeol red Cotes du Rhone.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Polyester Wines

Great title, eh?  Polyester Wines.  I stole it.  Back in late 2013 the WSJ ran a book review by Robert Draper of Edward Humes' A Man and his Mountain.  Polyester Wines was his title for that review.  Humes' work was a biography of Jess Stonestreet Jackson, founder of Kendall-Jackson Winery.  This post is about the review.

Do you like bad movies?  Probably not.  So you read a review of the flick before wasting your time if it's available on TV or worse yet, if you have to lay down money at the theatre.  Sometimes those reviews can be worthwhile entertainment in themselves.  If the critic is a Siskel or Ebert they can easily be better than the movie.  That's what we have here.  In this review Draper is even better than Siskel-Ebert.

Draper is a wine guy, by the way, which gives him creedence and leeway to savage Humes and his paean to Jackson.  He does such a great job you have to believe he must be a natural polemicist at heart.  Draper goes so far as to challenge whether Humes (or Jackson) even drink wine!

Did I mention that Draper is a wine guy?  He writes wine columns for the WSJ in tandem with Lettie Teague so this book review comes from someone who knows what he's talking about.  Draper's cynicism for the mass-marketers of California wine on display here is most appropriate and even refreshing.

Kendall-Jackson is to Chardonnay what Sutter Home is to White Zinfandel.  Both companies claim a "stuck fermentation" led them to create their sweeter style of varietal wine.  Both companies effectively killed their competition organically; they gave Americans what they wanted - sweeter wines.  The difference between the two is that Sutter Home created something new that took off as a light sweet rose style.  The dry rose category destruction that followed was just collateral damage.  Jackson took the historic Chardonnay category, distorted it and then lectured Americans that it was the terroir that made his wines taste the way they did.

So it wasn't the Muscat or Gewurztraminer he blended into his Chardonnay after all that made that magical taste.  I guess it wasn't the oak or residual sugar he left in either.  It was the terroir all the time.  I'll be darned.

Draper not only has nothing for Mr. Jackson, he has less than nothing for Humes whom he ridicules for his glorification of Jackson.  For Draper, Jackson is a blood thirsty capitalist who purchased wine country real estate with abandon when he discovered his business was a potential goldmine and became a billionaire as a result.  Humes describes wine making as "something ancient, unique, mystical and profound" and Jackson as "a man who set out to teach America to love good American wine."  Geez!

There is nothing wrong with prospering from your labors in the wine industry - or anything else for that matter.  Investing in vineyards and wineries is a huge gamble.  It is hard work that at the end of the day, may be for nothing.  If you can do well at it, that's to your credit.  So if you're recounting history why not keep it real.

Please join us this Thursday at 5pm when Rob Dye offers us a tasting from his portfolio.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Taxes and Tariffs

All of the following is taken from two articles published by Reuters July 26, 2019.

We woke up Saturday morning to learn President Trump was threatening tariffs on French wine and spirits imported into this country.  Apparently, the day before, President Macron had announced a 3% tax on the revenue our largest technology companies generate in France.  So just like in The Godfather, "They hit one of ours so we hit one of theirs."

France's proposed tax would be retroactive to the beginning of this year and would apply to those tech companies with revenue of twenty-five million euro annually in France ($278 million) and seven hundred fifty million dollars worldwide.  So the tax is only on the very largest of tech companies.  Austria, Italy, Spain and Britain have also announced plans for their own similar taxes in their countries.  Macron has said the tax would be lifted if the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) or similar international entity could arrive at a universal technology tax.

Next month two important meetings on the issue will take place.  On the 19th the United States Trade Representative office will hold a hearing on revenue taxes and their deviance from normal taxing policy.  Revenue taxes are "extraterritorial," revenue-targeted and not income taxes, and they punish commercial success.  Then on August 24-26 the G7 meets to discuss the idea of a universal tax on digital activities.

But there is more...EU director general for trade, Sabine Weyand, says she fully expects Trump to implement the tariffs as an extension of the fifteen year long Airbus subsidy complaint we have in defense of The Boeing Company.

The French alcoholic beverage industry is the second largest in the country after aerospace.  The United States is the largest importer of French wines and spirits in the world with a quarter of all French exports amounting to 3.2 billion euro or 3.6 billion dollars.

Please join us this after 5pm Thursday, the first of August, when Adam Bess leads us in a tasting of Manu New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Testamento Argentine Rose, Chateau du Duc Red Bordeaux and Scherrer Russian River Syrah.

Monday, July 22, 2019


"Contains Sulfites."  It's on the back label of practically every wine bottle.  Most of us pay no attention to it.  Like when your mom is hollering at you to clean up your room. deserves the credit for most of what follows.

Sulfites are a preservative in wine.  They both preserve the unopened bottle on the store shelf and your open bottle from yesterday.  Sulfites added to wine as a preservative supplement those that occur naturally in the vineyard and in the winemaking process.

Added sulfites are about five times more prevalent in commercial (grocery store) wines than in real estate-bottled wines for the reasons stated above.  They are also more common in whites than reds and more common in lower acid and sweeter wines than in dry red wines.  Once again, the purpose for all of this is to preserve the product.

The problem with the "contains sulfites" admonition is that the percentage of sulfites is not spelled out.  If a wine has less than 10mg/l it may be labeled sulfite-free.  If it has between 11-300mg/l the label only has to say contains sulfites.  So if you have asthma, that may be a problem and if you value your thiamine level (Vitamin B1), that could also take a hit.

Just to keep things in perspective, most wine is 99.99% sulfite-free.  Candy has twice as many sulfites.  Jams and jellies, three times.  Sodas, four times.  Packaged meats and prepared soups, 5 times.  Frozen juices, six times.  French fries, twenty times.  And dried fruit, forty times!

So wine ain't so bad!  Swirling wine in the glass, by the way, releases up to fifty percent of its sulfites into the air.

Additives in today's mass market wines are the real problem.  Sulfite-free may be on the label but whatever else is used to make that twelve dollar bottle taste so good doesn't have to be disclosed.  And that's scary.

Please join us Thursday July 25th after 5pm when Cheri Rubio leads us in a tasting of three from Santa Rita of Chile and a very special Shiraz from Wakefield of Australia.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Paso Robles Appellation(s)

We've been selling a lot of Paso wines here in recent months prompting me to do some homework on the subject.  Opolo, Austin Hope and Broadside are just a few of what's been hot here lately.  All carry the Paso Robles appellation on the label, meaning at least 85% of the juice was sourced from Paso Robles.  Two other labels from Austin Hope, Quest and Troublemaker, are also here and they too carry the Paso appellation.

Paso Robles was legally defined as a wine appellation in 1983.  In 2014 it was subdivided.  There are now eleven appellations within the Paso Robles district.  How does this happen?  Back in '83 there were five wineries with five hundred acres in vines in Paso Robles.  Now there are two hundred with 32,000 vineyard acres.  I'd say the newbies want to distinguish themselves from the crowd.

Paso is huge, by the way, so they can't all have the same terroir.  Elevations range from 700 feet to 2,400 feet.  Rainfall ranges from ten inches annually to thirty inches.  Soils range from sandy and silty to rich and calcareous, so yes, there was a reason for further legal definition.

The new Paso appellations are San Miguel, Estrella, San Juan Creek, Highlands, Creston, Santa Margarita Ranch, Templeton Gap, Willow Creek, Adelaide, Genesis, and El Pomar.  Are they all fine wine regions?  Probably not, at least not at this time.  Experimental plantings of different grape types may yield a game changing discovery that could alter the equation.  As it stands right now the western (higher elevation) appellations look to be the best.

So what is our point with this discussion?  Going back to the Paso wines in the store, none of them carry a specific appellation other than Paso Robles meaning they are blending grapes across the region.  You might also conclude that Austin Hope and the others must be sizable players in Paso in order to get distribution out here.  Wineries of scale deserve credit for their success.  By sourcing component grapes across the region, they turn out a good product.

Wine appellations, it should be noted, are not created for the purpose of making value judgments.  They are intended to be educational.  They should define a region by showing what types of wine are made there and the character of each.  And if a particular grape characteristic in the Willow Creek appellation works well with something different from Templeton Gap then you blend them and go with the larger Paso Robles appellation labeling.

Please join us this Thursday after 5pm for a tasting of domestic red wines.  The Opolo Montagna Mare red blend should be on the table for that one.

Sunday, July 7, 2019


A couple weeks ago we tasted the 2015 Primus Red Blend from Veramonte of Chile.  Just below that information on the front label is the appellation of origin - Apalta.  Below Apalta the label says "Colchagua - Chile."  All of the above information is set out on a clean, off-white, matte label with a large ornate "P" centered in the top half of the label.  Give 'em an "A" for classiness.  Well done, Veramonte!

So Apalta is the title of this post and it was just last year on August 21st that we blogged about the place and its newly designated Apalta appellation.  Scroll down to that post if you want to learn more about the legal definitions and Chile's novel concept of "climate designations."  It's a good read.

The new Apalta appellation was carved out of the larger Colchagua appellation.  The Chilean appellation system is most similar to California's system and California has several smaller wine appellations within larger appellations.  The Central Coast is the greatest example of that.  In Apalta's case not only are they within Colchagua but that region is within the Rapel region which is within the Central Valley of Chile where virtually all of the better wines of Chile come from.

Apalta has the finest vineyard land in Chile, which is the backstory for all of the legal definitions.  It is a horseshoe-shaped river valley with around 1,000 hectares planted in red grapes.  The appellation is sheltered to the north, east, and west by mountains with the Pacific Ocean's Humbolt Current from Antarctica moderating the region's Mediterranean climate.  That climate has sunny, warm and dry summers and mild winters.  Apalta also has the diurnal temperature shift of warm days and cool nights, essential for creating ripe fruit with good acidity.  The daytime sun ripens the berries while the cool nights develop the acidity.

The alluvial soils of Apalta are a sandy/clay loam in the valley with granitic soils on the hillsides.  In the local dialect, Apalta means "poor soil."  Wine grapes love poor dry nutrient-lacking soils where they have to struggle to survive.

The three great grapes of the region are Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere and Syrah.  The Cabernet, Carmenere and other Bordeaux varietal grapes do best in the bottom land while the Syrah and other Rhone varietals do best on the hillsides.

Our Primus is a Cabernet-based blend with large portions of Merlot and Carmenere and bits of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.  It would serve well with most any roasted red meat or something on the grill.

Please join us this Thursday at 5pm when Dominique rejoins us for a tasting from his fine Italian/French portfolio.

Sunday, June 16, 2019


"Like humans, young wine thinks it's immortal.  Wine holds an eternity's worth of souvenirs.  When we drink wine we are not eating a fruit salad of grapes.  We are tasting a memory of fruit, water, soil and savoir-faire."  -  Pierre de Benoist, Domaine de Villane, Bouzeron AOC

I like that.  The writer is talking about aging Aligote white wine which he says expresses Burgundy terroir better than its more prominent sibling, Chardonnay.  According to de Benoist, his new 2017 vintage displays "bitter almond and energy."  He says his 2010 now shows toasty hazelnut and tarragon.  The 2005 is all about cloves and ginger.  And the now twenty-year-old 1989 shows both a savory character and sticky citrus fruit.

That any aging white wine could show such character, sounds too good to be true much less that it's Aligote that we're talking about.  Thirty years ago Aligote held no significance in the larger wine world.  It was a distant third place in the hierarchy of Burgundy whites.  First place by acclamation went to Chardonnay.  Second place fell to Pinot Blanc.  Aligote was almost an afterthought, an also-ran, in third place. 

Now Aligote is the second most popular white from Burgundy after Chardonnay.  Out-planted by more than ten to one, to be sure, Aligote must still bow to King Chardonnay.  The big loser currently seems to be Pinot Blanc, which has fallen mightily since the "Pinot-Chardonnay" days of fifty years ago.  Now such field blends are a thing of the past.  Everything in Burgundy is quite varietal.  Most    blends now tend to be no more than 85-15%.

The Aligote grape is a small, thick skinned variety that is both high-yielding and cold tolerant, making it quite popular across eastern Europe where it adds acidity and structure to blends along with apple and lemon aromas and herbal flavors.  The classic Kir cocktail, by the way, is traditionally made with Cassis and Aligote wine.

Please join us this Thursday after 5pm for the regular weekly wine tasting and then on Saturday the 22nd (1-4pm) for our Humane Society charity tasting.