Sunday, February 10, 2019

Crljenak Kastelanski

Let's just call it "CK."  Or maybe we should call it the heirloom Zinfandel of Croatia.  We'll go with CK cause it's easier to type.

Zinfandel has always been thought to have origins in Europe even when California was claiming it as their own.  It just had too many similarities to European vinifera grapes, in particular, the Primitivo grape of southern Italy.

Then with the advent of genetic testing in the late 1990's, Italians and American lovers-of-all-things-Italian could rejoice.  The grape was in fact determined to be one and the same.  Zinfandel was Primitivo.  Unfortunately the joy for Italianophiles was short-lived because Primitivo was then determined to be the Tripidrag grape of Croatia.

Tripidrag is a truly historic Croatian grape mentioned in fifteenth century literature.  It is also historically documented to have found favor in other Mediterranean nations including Italy.  In fact Tripidrag means "the first to ripen" while Primitivo means "early ripening" so, yeah, they're one and the same.

So where does CK come into this? And what the heck is Plavac Mali?

Plavac Mali (PM?) is the most popular grape of Croatia and as soon as the Zinfandel discussion moved to Croatia it was assumed it was Zinfandel.  It isn't.  Crljenak Kastelanski, which translates as the "black grape of Kastela," a community in the Dalmatia region, is genetically identical to Tripidrag and may even be closer to the clone of Zinfandel of California.  So CK is Zinfandel.

Over time names of things change so Tripidrag is now called Pribidrag in Croatia, just in case you thought you were beginning to understand this convoluted post.

All of the above is here to announce Ridge Vineyards of Sonoma Valley will soon be making a red blend consisting of 1/3 each of CK, PM, and our own California Zinfandel (CZ?).

Whew, I need to sit down and take a break.

Please join us this Thursday the 21st after 5pm when Morgan Miller joins us with a tasting of Sonoma Valley wines from Gehricke Vineyards.  We will taste their Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel.  Please join us!

Monday, February 4, 2019

When Wine is Too Cheap

"If it doesn't sell, mark it up!"  That's an old saying in the wine business.  If something sells too well at a given price, market forces dictate you really should go up on it.  But why would you mark it up if it's not selling?

I like to make the claim that I can sell a better bottle of wine at any price than anyone else in Gainesville.  I have no problem with making that claim.  Since this little boutique shop conjures up an image of being pricey, I like to emphasize the bargains at the lower end of the price spectrum.  You want better everyday wines?  Well, come right in!

The only problem is, it doesn't work that way.  People shop here because they expect to spend more for their better wines.  While I get it, I still like to sell the cheap stuff.  So my ten dollar bargains aren't going away any time soon.

Back on November 10th of last year, Lettie Teague wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal about Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon.  She said it was "too affordable" and suggested if they wanted to capture more of the Napa market, they should raise prices so the public will recognize their quality, which is kind of sad if you think about it.

We had a wine rack full of Chileans at the front to the store for a couple years.  Now we have a smaller selection at the back.  They just didn't sell.  Last month a customer who was familiar with the wines bought my last bottle of Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon, a $25 bottle.  He had spent some time in Chile and had been to Lapostolle so he definitely knew what he was getting.

In the article referenced above, Teague likes Lapostolle and several others we need here in the store.  She also says Chilean Cabernet is more like Bordeaux with its character and structure than it is like California Cabernet but it has a slightly "green" component in its flavor profile that some people can't get past.  She also compares its salinity to the great Margaret River Cabernets of coastal of Australia.  Maybe we need to give both Chile and Margaret River a fresh start here.

This Thursday the 7th at 5pm Dominique Chambon gives us a tasting of three French Burgundies and an Italian Sangiovese Rose.  Then the following week there will be no Thursday tasting since it's Valentine's Day.  Instead we will have a Tuesday the 12th tasting with Rob Dye.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

House Wine

Most of us have a house wine.  Unless you are a restaurant with printed menus, yours is probably just your regular go-to when you're craving that certain taste.  There's a payoff in familiarity and it's probably your go-to because, bang for your buck, the stuff is pretty good!  At least you think it is.

Restaurant house wines get a bad rap.  They too rely on familiarity but too much so since the wines end up being, frankly, lousy.  They want the stuff to appeal to everyone so there's nothing there that's interesting or distinctive.  Just the same old crap.

Wait a minute.  That sounds a little too harsh.  Today's bulk wine is way better than similar wines were forty years ago when I was just getting my feet wet in the business.  What the mass marketers have done is actually impressive.  By rounding off a lot of sharp edges they've made it imminently consumable.  But that's the problem, right?  It's just not interesting.

A lot of times for just a few dollars more you can bypass the house wine to get something better which makes my old suspicious self wonder whether that's why the house wine is dull.  So you have the option of going for the better (and pricier) wine.  The only problem here is that the next wine, while better quality, is also predictable and boring in the same way the house wine was.  That's mass production for you.

Retailers are kind of like restaurants with respect to the wines they stock.  The chain stores stock all of the mass market wines because it goes to the heart of the deal between supplier and retailer - the shelves must be kept stocked.  No"out-of-stocks" allowed.  Keep the product coming.  So by default, they end up with mass produced wines.

It takes small independent restaurants and retailers to provide distinction and with a little bit of know-how, they can find it at any price.

This Thursday the 31st of January, Cheri Rubio leads us in a tasting of three from Pedroncelli of Sonoma Valley.  That evening between 5 and 7pm we will taste the Merlot, Pinot Noir and Mother Clone Zinfandel.  Our event will begin with a fine Alsatian white blend, Hugel's Gentil.

Then on February 7th Dominique Chambon offers us a tasting of French Burgundies and a particularly nice Italian Sangiovese Rose.  Please join us for the tastings.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Double Cream Gouda

Every time you think you've seen it all, something new pops up.  Double Cream Brie has been a staple around here for decades and Double Cream Gouda seems to have been created as a corollary to it.  Regular Gouda has 40-50% butter fat.  Double Cream or Room Kaas as it's called in Holland, has 60-70% butter fat.  So while it's not really double the fat it is noticeably creamier.  If the cheese is over 75% it can be labeled Triple Cream.

Cheeses are 50-70% water, by the way.  The rest is protein, fat and other dry solids.  The butter fat content percentage on the label doesn't take into account the water content, so a 60% butter fat cheese is actually probably 30% or so.  The extra cream in the creamier Gouda is of course added to the existing whole cow's milk at the beginning of the process.

Not only is Double Cream Gouda creamier, it is also sweeter, silkier, richer and nuttier than regular Gouda.  It slices well for sandwiches and melts well for cooking and on tortillas, casseroles, potatos, omelets, mac and cheese and apple pie.  It also accompanies both fresh and dried fruit.  Pinot Noir is the red wine that might pair best with this cheese.

Gouda is the best selling cheese worldwide.  There are dozens of types out there.  Just today I was offered Coffee Gouda!  Now we can add Double Cream to the stable.  We have a fresh wheel in the deli case so stop in for a taste!

We're closed on Mondays but will be here Tuesday through Saturday from 10:30 to 6:30 and we're tasting here on Thursday after 5pm as usual.  This Thursday Dustin Whiten pours tastes of California Chardonnay, Italian Sangiovese and Argentine Malbec and Pinot Noir.  Maddie will be on the cheese table tasting out Double Cream Gouda.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Calling It What It Is - Bad Wine

My friend Donald (no relation) came through for me again with a treasure trove of Lettie Teague WSJ wine articles.  He knows I'm too cheap to subscribe and bails me out periodically with stacks of his discards.

This time it's the September 29-30, 2018 edition that caught my eye.  Teague is writing about the dilemma of describing bad wine.  Now that's thought-provoking Pulitzer material if I ever heard of it!  Only a true literary artist could go down this road!

Teague says it's easy to heap praise on examples of fine wine.  It might be: "bright, lively, balanced, structured, tightly-knit, vigorous..."  You get the idea.

She also says it's easy to identify cheap wine made from inferior fruit which may be described as such.  Easily identified wine making mistakes can also be pegged like too much oak or flabbiness.  Corkiness and age can also be easy to name.  Too much alcohol can be "hot on the finish."

But what if a wine is so bad you don't know where to start.  Back in the bad old days there were California wines that were all wrong.  Not only were they unbalanced but the fruit flavors that dominated just couldn't have been the ones intended.

Wine industry veterans around here talk knowingly about those "bad old days" of yore when wine was shipped into the Atlanta market unprotected from the heat and then loaded onto trucks Friday evenings for Monday delivery.  A whole lot of those wines had the same profile: stewed prunes!

Then there's the infamous "secondary fermentation" that resulted in a weird tasting fizziness that was impossible to get past.  How about the vague chemically taste that seemed to indicate adulteration of some kind?  Which brings us back to the present with the current generation of additives which have re-written the wine making textbook.

While criticizing wine that essentially tastes good may seem like nitpicking, there is still plenty of room to criticize a philosophy of wine making that allows for additives.  But that's another subject.  In reality, a whole lot of everyday wine is improved by what they're doing in California.  It's just that some transparency would be nice.  Like putting the ingredients on the back label.

But there is a wine tasting criticism to be laid out here: If your highly extracted, overblown big red wine tastes like an aberration of what it's supposed to be then what the heck is that all about anyway?

This question goes back to something fundamental that I have known for forty years: Wines can be good in themselves while at the same time being a bad example of that varietal.  Prime example: current examples of Pinot Noir that sure taste good, but they sure as heck don't taste like Pinot Noir.

David Klepinger represents several wines from Kermit Lynch of Berkeley, California.  Kermit Lynch is an impeccable importer of European wines.  Please join us this Thursday after 5pm as Dave sets out a tasting of these and some fine California examples.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Casas Del Bosque Gran Reserva Syrah

Casas Del Bosque Gran Reserva Syrah was the best wine-related experience we had here last year.  What I mean by that is we had no expectations for this wine before tasting it.  We had been told it was good but salesmen always talk them up before tasting them.  If you're not secure in your palate, you can be influenced that way.  This one just blew us away.  It may have been underpriced by half!

Bosque is a Chilean estate established in 1993 by the Italian Cuneo family.  The Cuneo's primary business is grocery stores so this venture was a sidelight.  Now with 235 hectares in vines located seventy kilometers from Santiago in the western Chilean Casablanca Valley they grow Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Syrah, and Riesling.  Eighty percent of their production is exported.  Casablanca is the appellation known for producing the finest Sauvignon Blanc in the country and that assertion holds true with Bosque whose Sauvignon Blanc is acclaimed by the Wall Street Journal.

They now have a star winemaker in Grant Phelps of New Zealand who consulted internationally before settling in Chile, first with Viu Manent before coming to Bosque.  He prides himself on his abilities with Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.  The former is still a work in progress.  The Sauvignon Blanc is firmly in the "Win" column.

Phelps' Syrah is 100% varietal and sourced from 10-15 year old hillside vineyards.  The soils are red clay over 110 million year old decomposed granite which retains a salinity from being under the ocean for most of its history.  Picking is done by hand using a double selection process.  The wine is fermented in small stainless steel tanks before seeing time in new and used French oak barrels.

The Syrah has a deep garnet color with purple hue.  The nose shows lavender and blueberries; the mouth, black cherry and cedar with the requisite peppery spice and dark berries of type.  The wine also has fresh acidity with firm crisp and savory tannins.  While this wine is more reflective of old world France than Australia, it is most definitely a new world product with its forward fruit, vanilliny oak, and soft creamy texture.  There is not any one thing from above that makes this wine special.  Rather, it's the sum of its parts that make this wine perfect.

Please join us this Thursday at 5pm when Morgan Miller presents a tasting of four from Bosque.  Then one week later David Klepinger offers us a tasting of Orin Swift California wines.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Akakies Kir-Yianni Rose of Xinomavro

Sounds Greek to me.  (Rimshot, please.)

Akakies is the best rose we have sold here for most of our recent history.  The French Tavel Roses are the best, period, but they seem to come and go while Akakies is available most of the time.  If we are ever out of stock it's probably due to human error.

What makes this stuff so good?  All of the factors wine geeks always look for.  While most roses are made from lesser grapes, Akakies is made from high altitude (700 meters) hillside produce.  There is sorting though.  The grapes destined for rose are taken from large bunches while the smaller bunches go into red wines.

Amyndeon is the name of the wine appellation where the grapes are sourced.  It is in northwestern Greece (Macedonia) where the terroir shows the kind of poor sandy soil grapevines love.  The locale featuring four lakes which help to moderate its cool continental climate of cold winters and warm summers.  This is the only Greek wine appellation that permits rose production.

The grape itself is Xinomavro, a rare variety indigenous to the area.  The Greek industry considers Xinomavro to be a noble variety, one that is known to produce superior wine.  It has been compared to what Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo would be if they were a hybrid.

Akakies is one of those roses that your palate would tell you was a red wine if you didn't see it.  It is a bright cherry color with an intense nose of focused fresh cherry and raspberry.  The lengthy flavors of the wine feature a doubling down on the berries along with tomato (!) in a rich full-bodied format.  The wine has a robust finish.

Akakies comes from Greek wine royalty.  The full name of the company is Ktima Kir-Yianni and was established in 1997 by Yiannis Boutaris of the Boutari Wine Group (est. 1879).  It is fully independent of Boutari.  Along with their Amyndeon holdings the company also owns vineyards in Naoussa on the other side of Mount Vermion.  Now twenty years old the company practises integrated farming which means all of their vineyards are sustainably farmed.

Please join us here at the store this Thursday at 5pm when Adam Bess leads us in a tasting of four reds: Albert Bichot Beaujolais, Chateau La Croix du Doc Bordeaux, Badgerhound Zinfandel, and a nice little red from Lisboa, Portugal.