Tuesday, January 12, 2021

California Red Blends

Generally speaking, there are two types of red blends in California: Some use the noble Cabernet Sauvignon to create a Meritage or Bordeaux blend; others use the more utilitarian varieties like Syrah, Petite Sirah or Zinfandel in what may be called a field blend.  But that's an oversimplification.  By definition a red blend can be anything the winemaker wants it to be.  He may even include a few white grapes.  The options are wide open and that's a good thing considering the straight jacket the mass marketers have foisted upon American wine lovers.  For them it seems everything has to fit a poll-tested profile and if it doesn't, it will be amended to make it conform to the model. 

Last month two red blends did particularly well here at the store.  The Rutherford Ranch Two Range Napa Valley Red Wine is a blend of Merlot, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  The Arborist from Vina Robles of Paso Robles has Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache and Tannat in its makeup.  Coming from Napa where Cabernet is king, the Rutherford Ranch resembles a Meritage wine with an exception.  The Arborist is a Rhone style blend by way of the Iberian Peninsula model.  Both significantly include Petite Sirah (the exception mentioned above) which is an unsung hero in California winemaking.

Differences between the two wines center primarily on the flavor profiles.  The Napa blend emphasizes red fruit flavors; the Paso Robles, black fruit.  Another difference between the two concerns the age of the wines.  Our Two Range Napa is a 2015 vintage meaning much of its vibrancy has mellowed out.  The Arborist is a 2018 and it shows its youth in its big forward mouthfeel.  Also the Two Range comes from the Napa Valley floor while the Arborist comes from a much hillier terrain in Paso Robles which may provide for cooler environs. 

Food affinities for these two wines would probably overlap.  The older vintage Two Range Napa Blend would probably work with a greater variety of meals while The Arborist may be more of a steak wine.  Both would be nice cocktails for any California red lover.

Our store hours currently are 10 to 6pm Tuesday through Saturday.  Please stop in. 

Monday, December 7, 2020


It's no secret that they make some great wines in Ribero del Duero, Spain.  They are bigger and more robust than the esteemed Rioja and we don't intend to disparage Rioja by saying so.  Rioja remains the Bordeaux of Spain.  It's just that now they have competition from a very healthy and hearty neighbor that is just now getting its due.

Ribero del Duero lies seventy-eight miles to the southwest of Rioja.  Its name reflects the great east-west river which has spawned an entire fine wine industry along its banks.  Ribero del Duero is just one of several wine appellations along that corridor.  If you follow the river westward far enough you end up in Douro Portugal, home to some of the finest apertifs in the world.

Ribero del Duero has been put on the fine wine map recently by Peter Sisseck, a Danish winemaker who relocated to that region in 1990.  He befriended a local winemaker named Pablo Rubio who in turn reached out to local land owners whom he knew owned prime vineyards.  Their pitch went something like this: "If you will stop using chemicals in your vineyards and go organic we will pay for your fruit according to the quality, not just by the weight."  The spiel probably continued with, "We know your fruit can be world class and we intend to market it as such and in return for your efforts to improve your quality we will share the greater profits we intend to get."

Here's what Sisseck and Rubio knew already: The quality of fruit in Ribero del Duero was always there.  The grapes grown there were overwhelmingly old clone, old vine (30 years) Tinto Vino (Tempranillo) vines that were grown as bushes and maintained as such by the labor intensive head pruning method.  All they wanted to do was reverse the chemical damage done to the vineyards.  They were intent on reaching those ends by rewarding the vineyard owners who worked with them.

"Pingus" is a childhood nickname Sisseck had in Denmark and Dominio de Pingus became the name of the winery Sisseck established n 1995.  It is also the name of the first wine produced there.  That wine is currently available for purchase in the $800/btl range.  Flor de Pingus is one of three other estate wines.  It is available in the Atlanta market and retails in the $125 range.  

"Psi" is the Sisseck wine we currently have in the store and it's a $40 retail.  While Pingus and Flor are estate grown wines, Psi most accurately reflects the communal efforts of the growers depicted above.  The 2017 vintage shows a nose of ripe dark berry, black plum, savory sandalwood and spice.  The palate shows strident concentrated black fruit, blueberries, plum and minerality with refined tannins.

Psi is always at least ninety percent Tempranillo with the remainder being mostly Garnacha.  The wine making team believes in a long gentle maceration with an elevage in both small and large barrels along with concrete.  No new oak is ever used.  

Tempranillo is a versatile, food-friendly grape that would marry well with a variety of dishes. The word we have from our supplier is that Psi is indeed amazing.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Fine Wine or Field Blend?

Back in the day, fifty years or so ago, "Dago Red" was a common term for blended wines that lacked a certain pedigree.  Vin Ordinaire, as they say.  Grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir were too classy for the monicker, I guess.  Now we learn the term Dago can be a slur for people of Mediterranean origins and that is certainly not what we intend here. So field blends is what we will use to describe wines made from utilitarian grapes that none the less offer us a certain charm in their blending.  That charm  may reflect a comfort level familiar to us personally even if the wine lacks the finesse of fine wine.  

We got the idea for this post because we want to offer up two new Italians that everyone should know about.  The first truly fits into the field blend category.  SASYR is a Tuscan IGT blend of 60% Sangiovese and 40% Syrah, hence the name, SASYR.  It comes to us from a forty year old company called Rocca delle Macie.  They are a collective of ten growers in Tuscany who all specialize in Sangiovese-blended reds.  SASYR is just what you might expect a blend of that kind to be.  Sangiovese is soft red berry wine and Syrah is a firm dark berry wine with an edge.  This tastes like that combination.

For this post we did something we have never done before.  We went to one of those peer-review wine tasting websites to see what the public thought of SASYR.   Considering the crazy quilt, cross section of wine lovers everywhere, the report was predictable given the great differences in tastes.  Some thought the wine was feminine while others (like me) thought the wine was more masculine.  The wine is mostly Sangiovese which is generally soft but the Syrah can overcompensate with what it brings to the table.  In my opinion this wine is not one to think about - pour it in the glass, bring out the burgers and chow down!  This too is characteristic of field blend wine.  No fanfare needed, just do it!

Our second Italian red is really too fine to be a field blend.  Ruvei means "old oak tree."  It is an 85% Barbera/15% Nebbiolo blend from Marchesi di Barolo, a prestigious 430 acre estate in Langhe, Piedmont.  Like the Sangiovese of SASYR, this Barbera is emboldened by its blending grape, Nebbiolo.  Nebbiolo is the great wine grape of Italy made into the greatest wine of Italy - Barolo.  Marchesi di Barolo has been one of the premier Barolo makers for the past century.  Ruvei is sourced from vineyards in Barolo, Barbaresco and Nebbiolo of d'Alba.   So how could this one not be something special?

Both SASYR and Ruvei were opened for our tasting a couple weeks ago.  We ordered the SASYR on the spot.  When our vendor accidentally poured the Ruvei a little too heavily, we set it aside after briefly tasting it.  When we remembered it a couple hours later we re-tasted it.  It was lovely.  It had opened up beautifully.  That's when we ordered it.  And that's the difference between fine wine and field blends.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Piave Vecchio (pee-ah-vay)

Piave has been one of the best selling cheeses in this little store for as long as we can remember.  This year because of all of the myriad food distribution problems, we have been without any all year.  Our Piave problems actually started last year when we weren't turning it fast enough and it was drying out on us.  But that was then and this is now.  We have a brand new fresh wheel in the store and it is screaming to all you readers to stop in and taste it.

Piave comes from the Dolomite Mountains region of northernmost Veneto Italy, which is just an extension southward from the Tyrols of Austria.   The cheese is named after the local Piave River.  It is a pasteurized, fully cooked curd, cow's milk cheese and it is most definitely a government certified DOP (Protected Designation of Origin).

They make four types of Piave in that corner of Italy.  Piave Fresco is aged a mere 20-60 days so you might think - yogurt.  Piave Messano is aged 60-180 days.  Vecchio means aged and in this case Piave Vecchio is aged at least a year.  Piave Vecchio Riserva is aged 18 months.  While we have sold some young Piaves here on occasion, it's the aged version that everyone knows as Piave here.

Piave is grouped in the Parmesan category of cheeses.  In the kitchen it can be shaved over salads or grated for the same recipes as parm.  In its area of origin it is a table cheese and eaten with both red and white wines or malt beverages.  In our opinion the aged Piave in this store is strictly a red wine accompaniment.

Being an aged cheese the texture is dense and firm.  The paste is golden yellow in color, smooth with no holes and encased within a natural rind.  The flavor is full with intense nuttiness and opulent tropical fruit flavors.  There is a distinct almond bitterness that somehow works with the other dominant flavors.  Despite the aged character of the cheese, it is never sharp.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Mount Brave

The front label is one of those small clean off-white jobs.  It is a square box with a minimalist border that informs you that the scant information disclosed here is short, to the point and classy.  It reads:


Napa Valley

Except it's all centered on the label.  I don't know how to do that here.

The Mount Brave website is similarly brief and to the point.  They don't clutter it up with extraneous (read: useless) information to mislead the reader about the authenticity of their product.  Mount Brave goes to reasonable lengths to show where their grapes come from without saying the wine is actually an estate-grown product.  All in all, mtbravewines.com is really quite well done.

So what's in the bottle?  The 2018 Mount Brave Cabernet Sauvignon is 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 3.5% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot.  The label says it is a product of the Mount Veeder AVA which means at least 85% of the juice is sourced from that fine grape growing region.  That is where Mount Brave has its vineyards.  The label also says "Napa Valley" which still doesn't preclude sourcing from elsewhere but in this case we can assume the entire product is from Napa.  It is a hundred dollar bottle, after all.

We read five reviews of this wine from five reputable critics.  Without resorting to numerical scores (which I hate), the wine is characterized as a deep purple/black color with a floral nose featuring black and blue fruit aromas.  In the mouth the berry flavors are supplemented with violets, chocolate, cigar box and menthol.  The body is full with silky tannins.  The finish is long and balanced.

Twenty percent of the monetary value of all California wines comes from Napa Valley which makes just four percent of the total wine volume from California.  Mount Brave being located in the Mount Veeder AVA puts it in rarified company within the larger Napa AVA.  Why are we writing about it now?  In short, because it sells.  Usually we stock wines like these when they are opportunely offered to us; that is, when the price is right and we have the money in the checking account.  We are consumers too.

Mount Brave is different.  It's a steady mover from the laydown rack ensconced as it is with similarly priced elites all around it.   With the holidays on the horizon, could this be your timely (and brave) special purchase?

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Cotes de Provence

Since Roses are such a big item again we thought some further definition of the greatest Rose appellation in the world was in order.  For instance - How does Cotes de Provence differ from just plain Provence

It turns out Provence is one of those overly large appellations, like Paso Robles in California, that has smaller wine appellations within it.  The Cotes de Provence appellation is the largest of these with fifty thousand acres (!) in eastern Provence.  Actually it is the eastern half of Provence though not entirely contiguous.  It is also home to most of the Rose made in Provence.  Eighty percent of its production is Rose.  Of the remainder, 15% is red and just 5% is white.

The red grapes allowed in Cotes de Provence Rose are Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Carignon and an indigenous variety called Tibouren.  The first four listed are those blended into Southern Rhone reds with Grenache being the greatest of them.  Some Roses are 100% Grenache.  Carignon is the least of these.  No Cotes de Provence Rose may have more than forty percent Carignon.  

Tibouren is an interesting item in itself.  It accounts for fifteen percent of vineyard plantings in Cotes de Provence and offers an earthy bouquet to typical blends.  It also has a lengthy history there arriving from further east around 500bc.

Within the Cotes de Provence there are three departments: Var, Bouches-du-Rhone and Alpes-Maritimes and between them lie eighty-four communes.  Two distinct geologies exist in the region: calcareous soils to the northwest and crystalline soils to the southeast.  

We would be remiss not to mention the very important garrigue of Provence, the low lying fragrant vegetation of lavender, thyme, rosemary and juniper.  We have written about this before.  In short, the vegetation actually affects the resulting wine flavors!

It should be mentioned that wine quality in the Cotes de Provence is uneven and that has to do with the extremes in topography.  We're talking about the Alps afterall, so we're pretty sure blending would have to be an art form there.

Then lastly we should mention the rose winemaking method responsible for the great success of the region.  They use the saignee (sohn-yay) method which is extracting (bleeding) extra phenolics, color and flavor from red grape must to goose the rose.

Please call 770-287-WINE(9463) or email wineguy@bellsouth.net if you would like to attend the Dominique Chambon Halloween wine tasting this Saturday afternoon (1-4pm).  Dominique is one of the most entertaining presenters in the business and he has an unbelievable fine wine portfolio.  At least one of our tasters should be a Provence Rose.

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!