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.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Cheese Temperature

Have you ever not been told something was the case, but you always thought it was so?  I guess that's a "hunch" that I'm talking about.  I always thought cheeses tasted better at room temperature but I had never heard definitively that cheeses were supposed to be served at room temperature.  Well, now I have.

Many years ago I had a customer who told me he left his cheeses out of refrigeration for three days prior to eating them.  He said he had lived in Italy for a number of years and, I guess, that's what they did over there.  That fella ended up moving back to Italy.

Yesterday a couple was here and they too talked about leaving their cheeses out for an extended time before getting into them.  So I decided to look into the subject just to learn from experts in the field what is right and proper and what may be considered questionable.  Here's what I learned:

Fresh cheeses like Ricotta and Mascarpone and, of course, Fresh Mozzarella should be kept refrigerated and consumed within a half hour of leaving the fridge and then whatever is left should promptly be returned there.

Bries and other "bloomy rind" cheeses need at least a half hour at room temperature to show their best.  Straight out of the fridge brie can be rubbery and flavorless but once it's warmed up, it's soft, creamy and luscious.  One half hour is actually a good minimal estimate for most cheeses to warm up from refrigerated conditions.  Because of the extra moisture in soft cheeses, they are susceptible to bacteria and should be returned to refrigeration in two or three hours.

Harder cheeses are just fine at room temperature (70 degrees or lower) for an extended time.  Parmesan may comfortably be left out for eight hours or more.  One expert I consulted validates my Italian friend's claims - just go ahead and keep your hard cheeses at room temperature.  Or optimally wine cellarize your cheese if you can - keep it between 45 and 60 degrees.  Another says if you forget it on the counter overnight from last night's soiree, have it for breakfast!  Several food writers say the worst thing about cheese that's been left out is it's appearance.  It can get grotey to look at.

So what are we talking about here?  A good part of this discussion is about "fat".  Cheese is fatty and fat is flavor.  Refrigerators are actually too cold for cheese and the fat molecules contract.  Once the cheese warms up the fat molecules relax and the flavors become amplified.

So, you know that household chore you've been putting off for so long?  Set your favorite cheese out on the counter.  Salivate.  Then tell yourself you can't get into it till your chore is done.  Now that's incentive!

Join us at 5pm this Thursday for our weekly wine tasting.  We will be sure to have room temperature cheeses ready for you and because all cheeses are different, their fat molecules should show a spectrum of contrasting flavors. 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Wine Recommendations

I hate to criticize someone else's work but I just read the worst wine column I can recall in quite some time. This was at one of those ultra-bland news magazine sites that has a dedicated Food & Beverage section that is so transparently driven by advertisers, you feel used and insulted as you read it.

The title of the column admonished readers to stop buying everyday priced wines and spend more for better wine.  That's not a bad idea.  The problem comes when they start directing the reader to what they think is better wine.  What is left unspoken is the obvious mass marketers' desire to corral diverse tastes into one camp in order to provide their own palate panacea.  Reading the article I couldn't help but think of the current insurance industry commercials featuring Dennis Quaid as the wink-and-a-nod cynical spokesperson.

So here are three points I think are just plain wrong:

1. Trust your friends for wine recommendations. 

What's wrong with that?  We are all subject to the mass-media advertising onslaught in our lives.  We have both the blatant in-your-face advertising and the more subliminal product placement or celebrity endorsements.  We fall prey to the stuff.  Personally, I fall prey to advertising.  So don't assume your friends don't.  Venture out to other wine types for adventure.

2.  Try shopping the New World wines first.

Why?  The Old World has been making wine a lot longer.  Old World winemakers may have forgotten more than New World wine makers have learned.  While the New World makes great cocktail wines, if it's dinner wine you want, at every price point a better wine can be had from old Europe.

3.  Stick with a vintner you trust.

You've got to be kidding me.  It's a worldwide wine industry.  Why wouldn't you venture out to experience more and more from everywhere?  How can one vintner be the best at everything he does?  That doesn't make sense.

Now, to be fair, here are three points from the article that do make sense to me:

1.  Forget points.  Forget the rating system.  It's a racket.  Money changes hands.  Moreover, as an industry insider, there are too many ways wine can be altered in transportation and warehousing so it's not the same wine as reviewed by the expert. 

2.  Trust your palate.  When you try a new type of wine, give it a fair shot.  The first sip in never accurate.  Try it again.  Pair it with the food it's intended to accompany.  Now see if it works.

3.  Above all, drink what you like.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that! 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Co-ops, Part 2

Co-ops are organizations of farmers created for the purpose of defraying the costs of production for their members and fairly compensating those members for the fruit of their labors.  If that is our starting point then there ought to be a realization staring us in the face.  Co-ops have to compete with sizable other entities, either the largest of private estates or more likely, with the mass marketers we have written about over and over again here.  Business being business, arrangements have to be made to ensure the flow of product to consumers and co-ops seem to have figured it out. 

Having been employed by a grocery chain store, I know what kind of supply is expected by that retail model.  The shelves are expected to be kept full.  Grand deals are struck by the chain buyer and whoever the entity is that buys that shelf space.  It's all contingent upon a steady flow of product and if you can't guarantee that, you lose your slot.

So if a co-op, either domestic or imported, is playing at that level, it has to be sizable.  For our purposes today let's look at the imports.  In Europe 25% of all wine is co-op produced.  The governments of France, Spain, and Italy all support wine co-ops resulting in 30%-60% of those countries' wine industries being co-op driven.  In specific places within those countries the co-ops clearly rule: Languedoc @ 70%, Trentino @ 80%.  In Argentina and South Africa the largest wine companies are co-ops: KWV in South Africa and Fecovita in Argentina.

How did co-ops become so strong?  Begun in the mid-eighteenth century with the support of the Roman Catholic church who shared a kindred philosophy, co-ops gradually grew in  popularity.  Lobbying may have been mutual between government and the industry.  For government: the taxing agency's job is simplified; government can shape policies (green energy, etc.); and economies can be stabilized through co-op production.  For the co-op industry?  Public financing is everywhere across Europe.

In the last post we said how the maturation of wine tastes here in America and elsewhere had driven up quality standards and that the co-ops have had to adjust to keep pace with private industry.  As a result La Marca Prosecco is now the industry leader in that category and Nicolas Feuillate is certainly in the top tier from Champagne.  Both are co-op products.

Please join us this Thursday the 20th of September after 5pm when Morgan Miller presents the acclaimed wines of Casas del Bosque of Chile.  Most recently the Wall Street Journal has declared Bosque to be the top producer in its Budget Hall of Fame.   

Monday, September 10, 2018


Historically the creation of co-ops was an effort by farmers to re-invent themselves in response to bad economic times and the exploitation of agribusiness.  The Great Depression in particular spawned both numbers and varieties of co-ops here and around the world.  For farmers, organizing was a desperate attempt to survive collectively, a "strength in numbers" appeal to vulnerable property owners whose farms in themselves were often not highly valued.

There are many different kinds of co-ops and every agricultural society on earth has some form of farming organization that manages the collective interests of the group.  What all forms of wine growing co-ops share is the pooling of the group's resources and the sharing of the cost of making and marketing their product.  Essentially what is most often collectively bought is machinery and expertise.  Unfortunately because of difficult economies and meager resources, co-ops got a reputation for making substandard products that weren't competitive with private ownership.

The most prevalent co-op model for most of the twentieth century was one that paid the farmers based on the weight of their produce and that makes sense.  Historically that is the way the business was done.  The quality of the product wasn't always primary for co-ops so the "substandard" bad rap may have been deserved.  Unfortunately not only is a bad reputation difficult to change but in the co-op case it had repercussions for the business that bought from them.  Retailers and restaurateurs became branded as substandard by their stocking of co-op wines.

For most of the twentieth century the co-op situation was what it was.  But as the wine world evolved and the co-ops took notice of the profitability that better quality production merited they too realized they had to change.  Quality had to be factored in.  That meant lower yields (less weight) but higher prices for the better grapes.  And it worked.

We were inspired to write about the subject after buying a case of fine white Italian wine.  That case came with literature that was acknowledging their co-op fruit.  It read like an apology so it was obviously bad marketing.  The case of wine was here because it was good not because of where it was sourced.  Since that purchase more high quality co-op wine has come into the store making us more confident than ever that co-op wine really is not only as good as any, it may be a better value than the estates!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018


We just read an article about the pinot family of grapes and how an unstable genome was responsible for all of the pinot varieties around today.  Supposedly because Pinot Noir is a thousand years old, over that amount of time it has spawned Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Meunier, which are all commonly used today, and other types including an early ripening variety called Pinot Noir Precoce and a red fleshed Pinot Teinturier.

This isn't exactly breaking news for us.  A single pinot grapevine may show several different colored bunches hanging from the same branch which is evidence of mutations in real time.  Such is reality for this most intriguing of grape types.

We may have started this post with the wrong example though when you consider the Muscat (Moscato) variety.  Moscato is even older than Pinot Noir and may be responsible for the creation of 200 muscat varieties although DNA testing is showing some are probably unrelated.  Nonetheless Muscat Alexandria, Muscat Canelli, Muscat Ottonel, Black Muscat, and others can all co-exist on the shelves of your neighborhood wine shop at the same time many other muscat table grapes reside in the produce section of the local grocery store.

So how does this mutation business happen?  A quick google search reveals that mutations occur when "a gene is damaged in such a way as to alter the genetic message carried by that gene" and that change is permanent.

Since we don't have a scientific bone in our body, let's segue this discussion into changes in the wine industry itself to see where the mutations are there.  Wine may have had its beginnings in something like a hollow log before pottery was invented back in 6,000 BC, give or take a thousand years.  That wine was most likely either white or rose since those grapes were squeezed by hands (or feet) and let's be honest, the stuff probably didn't taste very good.  Manual presses enabled wine makers to extract flavors and color from grape skins and they appeared around 2000 BC.  With industrialization came machinery to really extract the good stuff and recently with information technology have come all kinds of inventions to perfect the best possible outcomes for winemakers so the everyday wines of today are qualitatively better than they were just fifty years ago.  Given the long history of wine on earth you might say the red wines we enjoy today are a very recent mutation in the long history of wine making. 

Please join us after 5pm on Thursday the 6th of September when Dustin Whiten leads us in a tasting of everyday European reds and white.  Then one week later join us as former sommelier Erik Schmitt presents a tasting of Willakenzie Oregon wines.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Chilean Way

No one's asking but, what's going on in Chile?  They're legislating new appellations and something called "Climatic Designations", something unheard of elsewhere in the worldwide wine industry.  No one questions the uniqueness of the place.  Geographically it measures 4,300 kilometers (2,672 miles) long and averages 180 kilometers (112 miles) across.  80% of its area is mountainous in the form of the Andes on the eastern side.  Maybe they need more rules because of what it is.

Chile measures from the 17th to 56th latitude but it's the 30th to 38th that interests us.  It's that middle third of the country and the Central Valley in particular that has the Mediterranean climate with locales that make truly superior wine.  Of course, there is also a lot of plonk made in Chile and for wine lovers like us it is at least helpful to know which areas make the best of what we're looking for...hence, the appropriateness of wine appellations.  These legally defined production areas direct us to both the types of wine produced there and the relative quality we should expect from the place.

At the store we have a pretty decent map of the Chilean wine country clearly showing thirteen appellations north to south, some lying outside of the "sweet spot" of the Central Valley midsection.  Each appellation depicts a transverse river valley ideal for certain grape varieties.  The Andes to the east are very different than the Argentine Andes.  In Argentina they have the massive Mendoza plateau where some of the finest wine in the world is made.  Chile has the Nazca plate subducting under South America proper forming the Atacana Trench 160 miles off shore.  They also have the Humbolt current from Antartica keeping the coastal waters very cold.  But it's that subducting plate that pushes the Andes steeply upwards on the Chilean side.   The river valleys where the wine country flourishes are created by the runoff from the heights.

The last item in need of mentioning is the coastal mountain range which is nothing contrasted with the Andes but it too has meaning for the legislation the Chileans have deemed necessary.  The three Climatic Designations therefore are the Andes, Entre Cordillas, and Costa.  A climate designation of Andes recognizes the mountain influence on the terroir; the Costa, the coast; and the Entre Cordillas, the area between the mountain ranges.  Makes sense, I guess.

The four new appellations are: Lo Abarca, Licanten, Apalta, and Los Lingues.  Lo Abarca and Licanten are small and coastal regions.  Chilean wine law is most similar to California so a slew of different grapes are allowed to be grown there.  Los Lingues is four times larger than each of the first two and similarly allows for a lot of different grape types.  It is an Entre Cordillas appellation.  Apalta however, is the crown jewel of the lot.  It is more than twice as large as Los Lingues and it appears to be Chile's Napa Valley.  It is a horseshoe shaped valley at the foothills of the Mountains so it is consequently an Andes climate designate.  Apalta is where Cabernet Sauvignon and the other Bordeaux varietals strut their stuff.

Please join us this Thursday after 5pm as we taste Cabernets here at the store.