Wednesday, May 20, 2020


...reverence for the land - the idea that we are not "making" something from it, but rather mirroring all that is already there.   - from the DAOU Vineyards website.

Recently our supplier directed us away from a case purchase of Austin Hope Cabernet Sauvignon.  Pricing was the issue and he said we should consider DAOU as an alternative.  Now we have three reds from DAOU in the store including the Cabernet, which according to the salesman, is what several Atlanta wine accounts are doing.

So what do we know about DAOU?

Established in 2007 DAOU Vineyards began as a 600 acre purchase atop Hoffman Mountain in the Adelaida District on the northwestern side of the Paso Robles AVA (American Viticultural Area).  Adelaida is one of eleven AVA's in Paso Robles but produces 25% of the wines of the region.  At 2,200' elevation, what is now known as DAOU Mountain, is the highest elevation in Paso Robles.  

Brothers Georges and Daniel Daou sold their Daou Systems hospital software company after going public in 2007.  The two had spent their early youth in Lebanon before moving to France.  Ultimately they were educated at UC San Diego as Systems Engineers but shared a dream of making world class wine.  The sale of their company provided their seed money for the winery.

What they purchased atop Hoffman Mountain was a derelict and dilapidated winery with 212 acres of fallow vineyards, the remnants of a once great estate.  Hoffman Mountain Ranch was one of the great wineries of forty years ago when I was getting my feet wet in this industry.  For me their Zinfandel in particular was memorable.  Stanley Hoffman was a Beverly Hills cardiologist who hired the great "Father of California Winemaking," Andre Tchelistcheff to design his vineyards.  That was back in 1964. 

Hoffman Mountain is now officially DAOU Mountain.  That was not the only change.  Systems Engineers apparently analyse everything.  Because the brothers aspired to produce world class wine, all grape types were replanted with varietal clones more suitable for their purposes.  Their yeasts are proprietary and sourced from the region.  The old Hoffman winery, itself, was purposely retained in honor of the patriarch.

DAOU now has 400 acres in vines.  47% of their production is varietal Cabernet Sauvignon; 23% is destined for a proprietary Zin/Syrah-type blend; 12%, a Bordeaux blend and 9% is Chardonnay.  The remaining 10%, one would assume, are blending grapes.  The typical DAOU varietal Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of 75% Cabernet, 10% Cabernet Franc, 8% Merlot and 7% Petit Verdot,  The "Bodyguard" red blend is typically Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Tannat.

DAOU wines are marketed in three quality level: The Paso Robles Collection is all sourced from the region but not estate-grown.  The Reserve Collection is some combination of sourced and estate fruit.  The Estate Collection is just as it sounds.  

If you have read this article and have an interest in DAOU, stop in and lets talk.

Next Wednesday, May 27th, Albert Bichot, one of the great French Burgundy companies, will be conducting a virtual wine tasting for anyone interested.  This should be considered an educational event about the finest wine region in the world.  Call us at 770-287-WINE (9463) or email us at for details.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Marnie Old

Marnie Old is a sommelier, author and educator who has a weekly column in the Philadelphia Daily News.  She also hosts something called "Wine Simplified" on YouTube.  What she brings to the table is a crisp and engaging style that "uses the power of images to explain complex wine concepts."  That is a gift.

One consequence of getting older is we tend to get stuck in our routines and fail to remain open to new information and those who bring it.  With as much history in this industry as we have, Marnie Old was new to us until we recently saw her name in a Lettie Teague WSJ wine article.  To restate what we said above, what she does is she simplifies things to the point where even if you aren't paying 100% attention you can still get it.  Wine Folly is similarly good at this approach.  It's sort of a "wine for dummies" approach.

While we weren't familiar with Marnie Old by name, we have been using something she wrote years ago as a teaching tool here in the store.  It was published in an infinitely forgettable trade magazine and it was so good we tore it out and kept it on the counter.  It would become our text for conducting the wine and cheese "experiment."

The article was a mere three paragraphs long with the other half page being graphics, observations, and a four step technique for conducting the experiment.  The article was entitled "Salt is Wine's Best Friend" and we used it to show how dry red wine has a natural affinity with cheese (since cheese is salty). 

These are her exact words: "Salt blocks the taste buds that detect acidity and sensitizes those that detect sweetness.  So saltiness makes wine taste less acidic, fruitier and less sweet.  In summary, this effect is usually pleasant."  She then goes on to say why sugar doesn't work with dry red wine.  We always stopped our experiment at this point since we always thought sugar was a non-starter.

Marnie Old was a restaurant sommelier for her first five years in the industry before moving on to consultant work with restaurants, consumers and corporations.  She was formerly the director of Manhattan's French Culinary Institute.  She even educated the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (since that state runs the liquor industry).  Currently she is affiliated with the Boisset Collection of Napa-Sonoma wines.

Please join us this Thursday the 12th at 5pm when Bob Reynolds leads us in a tasting of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley Vineyards along with a couple reds from Argentina and Spain.  One week later on the 19th David Hobbs returns with a tasting from his fine wine portfolio.  Then on Saturday the 21st  from 1-3pm we will host a charity tasting to benefit the Gateway Domestic Violence Center.  Please join us for the tastings. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Champagne Palmer & Co.

We just got in a couple cases of Palmer & Co. Champagne.  Since I have never sold this one before, I thought some homework might help with my sales pitch, hence, this post.

Montagne de Reims is one of the five wine districts in the Champagne region.  It is located in Champagne's northwestern quadrant.  Seven grape growers in that region united to form Palmer in 1947.  While Montagne de Reims is known for its Pinot Noir, these growers owned Grand Cru and Premier Cru Chardonnay vineyards, which is wonderful in itself, if a little peculiar considering where they were.

Pinot Noir is recognized as the great grape of Champagne.  It is what gives Champagne its character.  Montagne de Reims Champagne is especially well known for its heady bouquet, structure and acidity.

The Champagne district is situated ninety miles northeast of Paris.  That latitude is the highest of vineyard holdings in the world except for Argentina.  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the third grape of Champagne, are among the few types capable of producing quality fruit at that latitude.

In a way what the founders of Palmer accomplished in 1947 parallels what is happening today in Champagne - growers are making their own instead of selling their harvest to the maisons, the huge international companies.  Estate-bottled wines are always better than what the big guys can do and the Grower Champagne movement is a microcosm of that larger truth.

The reputation of a Champagne house, however, is built by its non-vintage bottlings where the house cuvee establishes the public's perception of the company.  Most Champagne lovers are introduced to a a new sparkler by trying the non-vintage version first if for no other reason than the price.  Palmer, being a seventy year old company, long ago outgrew its estate wine bonafides.  Those Grand Cru and Premier Cru Chardonnay Vineyards now supply higher tier Palmer labels while the non-vintage product is made largely from purchased juice.  The great brands of Champagne consistently purchase ninety percent of their non-vintage Champagne juice.

While almost all big Champagne houses reside in the cities of Reims or Epernay, one large company calls the town of Ay in Montagne de Reims home.  That would be Bollinger whose big, yeasty, masculine style is indelibly etched into every Champagne lover's memory.  Palmer, by contrast, self-describes as "a moment of celebration associated with elegance."  They claim they get minerality from the chalky soil and salinity from the ocean breezes.  Moreover their wine style displays citrus and tropical fruit, floral notes, nuttiness and a silky mousse.

The best Champagnes show some combination of freshness, richness and delicacy, breed and raciness, and a stimulating strength.  Let's hope Palmer displays all of that.  And more!

Please join us this Thursday at the weekly tasting.  We start at 5 and go till 7pm.

Sunday, February 23, 2020


Pragal is one of those unassuming generic-looking bottles that only gets its due when you dare to get into it.  It doesn't scream, "I'm here! Let me show my stuff!"  Instead it almost willfully holds back its promise by blending into the shelf with more formidable labels overshadowing it.

I first purchased a case of Pragal a year ago along with several Spanish wines and proceeded to stock them all in the Spanish rack.  I guess I thought they all looked Spanish.  It took an especially considerate customer's direction to get the wine where it was supposed to be - with the Italians.

Pragal is a sturdy red wine made by Bertani, one of the giants of Veneto.  Among their landholdings is a large expanse in the heart of the Valpolicella Classico region.  They have another large parcel  16km east of Verona.  Pragal sources Corvina from the Valpolicella region and Merlot and Syrah from their Val d'Illasi vineyard to the east.  The wine is then classified as "Veneto IGT."

All three Pragal grape types are sourced from low yielding, hand pruned vines.  After harvest some grapes are dried appassimento-style which accounts for the wine's richness.  A lengthy maceration and fermentation at low temperatures in large oak barrels is done before a malolactic fermentation in stainless steel tanks. Then there is a six month fining in oak barrels before the final blending is done.  The wine is released only after being held for more aging in the bottle.

Along with having the heft of a big red wine, Pragal has the fruity spiciness and bright acidity one might expect of serious Italian wine.  The tannins are soft.  The finished product is a deep ruby color with garnet and violet tints.  Flavors include red fruit preserves, dried roses, black cherry, spices, tobacco and black pepper.  The rich intensity of this wine is persistent making it perfect as an accompaniment for all red meats including game.  A formidable pasta dish would also work with this wine. 

Sunday, February 16, 2020


Quinta de Chocapalha (choc-a-POLL-ya) is a Swiss-owned winemaking estate in the Lisboa Vinho Regional Area north and west of the Portuguese capitol, Lisbon.  A quinta is a country estate; "choca"  translates as a warm wind and "palha" sort of means "calm water flowing into a valley."  The estate has the desirable breezes from the ocean and three rivers running into the property.

Within the larger Lisboa legally defined wine production region there are nine DOC's.  Our estate is in the Alenquer DOC.  Estramadura was the name of this Lisboa region before 2008 when it was renamed to acknowledge the capitol.

The most well known wine region of Portugal has to be the Douro Valley where Port is made.  That region encompasses most of the northernmost 20% of the country.  Most of the lower 80% is considered to be ordinary by comparison.  Vinho da Mesa is the name given to inexpensive quaffing wine in Portugal.  Lisboa is the largest producer of wine in the country while not being the largest production area geographically.  That is the definition of ordinary.

Most of the wine made in Lisboa is made in wine cooperatives.  It has only been in recent times that private wine making estates have appeared.  You might say this region was known for its Vinho da Mesa.  Chocapalha was established in 1987.  Of course, in this era where so many mass marketers masquerade as estates, they too could be a cooperative.  While their website is superior to most vacuous winery websites they nonetheless leave many questions unanswered.

One thing they do well at their website is the delineation of the three wine lines they market.  Their estate wines are called Quinta de Chocapalha.  One step down are their Mar de Lisboa line which they say is more international in style.  Then below that they have Mar de Palha which they say is the "most international" in style.  (Damning with faint praise?)  They make a dozen wines at each level.  We have one red each from the Chocapalha and Palha lines and they display fine quality at fair pricing.

We also have the "CH by Chocapalha," the elite red from the company and that is the reason for this post.  Our 2016 vintage is 100% Touriga Nacional grown in their oldest vineyards.  For this wine their website does go into some detail: Pre-fermentation maceration and successive robotic pressings are done for twelve days at 25 degrees centigrade.  Malolactic fermentation and aging are done in French oak barriques for twenty-four months before the wine is bottled.

The wine is here in the store now and it is wonderful.  It has a violet color with a concentrated floral nose of perfumed black fruit.  The palate shows rich dark fruit flavors and integrated structured velvety tannins.  Once again, this wine is wonderful.  It is frankly one of the best wines we have tasted in recent memory.

Please join us for this week's Thursday wine tasting.  We go from 5 to 7pm.

If you have read through this long meandering post and like bargain white wine we have have a reward for you in the store.  We have two imports we'll sell for $7.99/btl!

Tuesday, February 4, 2020


It doesn't look like much.  It's a brownish-orangish natural rind wheel measuring 3-4" tall and sixteen or so inches across.  It weighs thirteen pounds and never has a label on it.  Like I said, it doesn't look like much.  Just another wheel of cheese.

It does look Swiss though.  Or maybe I've just been selling it so long I've decided that's what Swiss cheese should look like.

Gruyere is, of course, my favorite cheese.  It's not only the greatest cheese of Switzerland, in worldwide competitions it wins accolades from experts as "The Best Cheese in the World."  Gruyere wheels are HUGE so Raclette is a far cry from that so I still don't understand why I think Raclette looks Swiss.

Raclette (rock-LET) is a semi-hard, unpasteurized Alpine cow milk cheese.  It's aged 3-6 months so you could say it's like a softer milder Gruyere.  Like Gruyere it has historically been made on both sides of the French-Swiss border and like Gruyere, eighty percent of Raclette originates in Switzerland.

Written references to the cheese go back to convents in the 12th century.  It was considered to be a peasant cheese.  The name Raclette comes from the French word "racier" which means "to scrape."  Peasants would position the cheese next to a fire to soften it before scraping it onto bread.  From those humble beginnings Raclette evolved into a melting cheese over potatoes, which led to gherkins, onions, other vegetables and eventually, dried meats.  For people in the know, using the Raclette scraping apparatus makes all the difference in the finished meal.

Savoie, France is on one side of the border; Valais, Switzerland is on the other.  That area is ground zero for Raclette.  The closest fine wine region is the Rhone Valley and if that place conjures images of big red wines you may be barking up the wrong tree.  The locals pair this one with whites.   

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

KWV/ Western Cape/South Africa

I don't know how this happened but in recent months we have evolved into quite the vendor for South African wines.  Presently we have eight types in the store, four reds and four whites.  Last month we may have sold thirty cases of these which is pretty impressive considering South African wines usually don't do that well.

In the wine business Europe is considered to be the "old world" and everywhere else is considered "new world."  Most new world wine industries are a hundred years old or so.  South Africa has a wine industry that is three hundred fifty years old.  Many of their critically acclaimed wines are second in quality only to Europe.

Most of the South African wine industry is located in the Western Cape, the region surrounding Cape Town in the southwestern corner of the continent.  At thirty-three degrees latitude this wine country mirrors Mendoza, Argentina where the finest Malbec is made.  The prize wine of South Africa is Pinotage, a hybrid of Cinsault and Pinot Noir.  While Pinotage may be the signature wine of South Africa something in its flavor profile doesn't gibe with the international palate.  South African Cabernet Sauvignon and Rhone-style blends are safer bets for most of us.  Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are the winners in white wine.

Our thirty cases sold in December was heavily weighted toward the KWV whites we loaded up on when the price was right.  Considering the quality of the wines, that store purchase proved to be the ultimate no-brainer.  If anything, our $10 retail was too low, scaring off many who might have liked the wines but weren't inclined to buy such low-priced fare.

At the turn of the last century South Africa had a serious wine overproduction problem.  The phyloxera bug had decimated South African vineyards like everywhere else.  When they replanted they overdid it resulting in way too much wine for a nation that was not an exporter at that time.

KWV was a farming cooperative established in 1918.  In 1924 the government passed the KWV Act which made the co-op responsible for administering the wine industry.  By putting KWV in charge the government hoped for a unity of purpose among producers leading to innovation and quality improvement.  The development of export markets would then hopefully follow.

Upon establishment of its authority in 1924 KWV corrected the overproduction imbalance by purchasing excess wine from growers and fermenting it into brandy then marketing it around the world.  The KWV Act made the co-op the sole importer/exporter of all alcoholic beverages.  Initially 70% of vineyard production was distilled with just 30% remaining as table wine.  Today those percentages are reversed.

Twentieth century South Africa is noteworthy for most of us for one primary reason: Apartheid.  Most of the industrialize First World boycotted South Africa because of its legally discriminatory political system.  Once reforms took place in the late 1980's the wine industry itself was reformed.  To be more inclusive KWV was privatized and black ownership in the industry was mandated.

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