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

Gundlach-Bundschuh

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/Skurnik

 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!

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Peaches & Cream

 You talk about a misleading title!  This one takes the cake!  Peaches & cream cake, of course!  

What we're really talking about here is the 2017 Beronia Rueda (roo-ay-da) 100% Verdejo (vurr-day-ho) Spanish varietal white wine.  Characterizing this beauty, of course, is where the "peaches and cream" business comes in.  Make no mistake, this wine is dry, like most European whites are dry, so don't think the "peaches and cream" refers to dessert.  The more accurate term for this one would be "stone fruit" and "malolactic" (fermentation) so lets dissect these terms.

In wine lingo, stone fruit really applies to peaches and apricots, two fruits with pits.  For wine geeks the pits flavor the wine also.  Viognier is quintessential stone fruit wine.  From the first sip of our Rueda, the wine explodes with stone fruit except it's more apricotty than peachy.  Apricots and cream just doesn't have the same mouthwatering appeal as peaches and cream.

Malolactic fermentation is that winemaking process that converts the grapes' malic acid into the lactic acid that dairy products exhibit, hence the creaminess referred to in the post title.  While I get that creaminess in this wine it's just negligible compared to other examples of malolactic.  The creaminess that I get may be intrinsic to this grape type.  In any event the creaminess enriches the body of the wine.

This wine also has a distinct herbaceousness that adds yet another dimension to its flavor profile.

Here's some actual information about Rueda, just so you don't feel you've wasted your time here.

Rueda is a DO (denominacion de origen protegida), a legally defined and protected wine appellation.  It encompasses 13,005 hectares (32,000 acres) in the provinces of Valladolid, Segovia and Avila in north central Spain.  The entire appellation is a plateau at 6-700 meters above sea level.  In the center of the appellation lies the town of Rueda.  

The Rueda appellation has a continental climate of hot summers and cold winters with maritime affected rainfalls in the spring and fall.  The soils are alluvial with an iron content in either a sandy or clayey consistency.  The soil drainage is good here which belies the fact that the soils are poor, which means the grapevines have to struggle for nourishment leading to deeper taproots and ultimately, more flavorful wines.

Verdejo is the indigenous grape of the region and eighty percent of Rueda is planted in that one type.  Some of those vines are a hundred years old.  90+% of the wine produced in Rueda is white wine.  If it is labelled "Rueda" it must be at least 50% Verdejo.  If it is labelled "Verdejo" it must be at least 85% Verdejo. 

Interestingly enough the Rueda appellation is flanked by two great red wine appellations, Toro to the west and Ribero del Duero to the east.  All three lie on the same latitude with their respective wine regions inhabiting the same Duero River basin.  To the west of them all lies Portugal's finest wine region of the same name.

Just in case you can't tell, we like this wine.  So stop in and give it a try.  

Did we mention it's modestly priced?


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Scarlet Vine


 "Scarlet Vine was born in a lush, century-old mountain vineyard, where vines dance in the wind and produce perfect fruit - so intensely flavored and rich in color that they appear as a sea of scarlet red.  Anyone who tastes wine crafted from this fruit is destined to fall under her spell.  Do you dare?" 


I hate winery websites.  

The above quote is taken from scarletvine.com.  It is actually the first thing you see when you go there.  It's a real crock of s__t.

If gag reflexes are your thing, you should check out the back label of the Scarlet Vine bottle.  There you will find some more fine literary grease for your gullet. 

Alternatively, what I would really love to learn from a winery website is technical data - grape types, viticulture and viniculture, terroir.  In short, what I want to know is how the grapes grown in the vineyard become the wine in the bottle.  Am I asking too much?

Scarlet Vine Cabernet Sauvignon is new on the market and my supplier has successfully placed it on several restaurant wine lists.  She did this by tasting it out to us in the trade.  Obviously the wine is quite good.

By the way, the Scarlet Vine label art is frankly beautiful.  It depicts a svelte feminine figure growing from a grapevine.  Doing it justice in words is not possible.  It really is well done.  So well done you don't notice the lack of any information about the wine...and therein lies the rub.

Scarlet Vine is marketed by one of the largest wine companies in the world.  They deserve their success.  They do a good job.  But as a California mass marketer the aim is never to enlighten but rather to turn cases by aiming for where most of us Americans live.  And as we have said, they do a fine job at that.

So in summary - we have a fine moderately priced Cabernet Sauvignon in a bottle that features beautiful label art.  If you look hard enough at the small print on the back label you will find relevant information about the wine but obviously someone doesn't care if you see that so they bloviate about an anthropomorphic grapevine goddess.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Barbaresco

It seems like forever since we've had a Barbaresco in the store and we wouldn't have the Franco Serra model if we hadn't poked and prodded our distributor for "other types."  The Barbaresco, it turns out, is a new addition to the local portfolio.

Barbaresco is one of the truly great Italian reds...period.  It gets short shrift because, according to wine industry royalty, it doesn't compare to Barolo.  I get it.  Barolo is massive.  Barbaresco is lighter.  That's actually the selling point for some of us.

That's not to say Barbaresco is light red wine.  We have the Barbera and Dolcetto from Franco Serra in the store and they are most definitely light.  Body-wise, Barbaresco may be more like a hefty Sangiovese.  The Dolcetto, by the way, has become quite popular here so, by all means, give it a try.

So here's what we learned about Barbaresco from the Hugh Johnson/Jancis Robinson The Concise World Atlas of Wine:

Barbaresco is a single varietal Piemontese wine made from the same Nebbiolo grape as Barolo, the greatest red wine of Italy.  Prior to the 1850's it's style was light and sweet.  Then French-style winemaking overcorrected that effort and turned it very dry and heavily oaked.  Around 1970 modern winemaking began its intervention in this history resulting in the following changes:

    1. Grape picking was greatly improved by measuring phenolic ripeness.

    2. Stainless steel fermentation in temperature controlled tanks brought out the inherent fruit in wine grapes.

    3. Shorter oak aging in smaller barrels became a normative qualifier for estate wines.

    4. Grape maceration was accomplished in days and weeks rather then over months, again, to make a lighter, fresher tasting wine.

The result?

Barbaresco became more complex with layers of leafy lighter red berry flavors over smokey jammy concentrated leather and spice.  The tannins in the wine no longer overwhelm it but rather frame and refresh the wine's inherent complexity. 

Want to taste it?  Stop in this Saturday afternoon.  No promises, but...we just may have it open!