Monday, December 6, 2021

Ewephoria

When a cheese is as memorable as this Gouda-style Dutch cheese, you can't pretend it doesn't matter when it's not available.  The stuff is t-o-o-o good.  Covid was certainly part of the problem but I'm not sure there wasn't more going on here.  Since it's made on a smallish farm maybe they just can't keep up with demand.  Anyway, it's back now and everyone needs to try it.  Like I said, it's really quite memorable.

The sheep farm responsible for Ewephoria is located in the Friesland region of north central Netherlands.  This region fronts the Wadden Sea and abuts a nature preserve and has pastures so rich the owners say the sheep eat better than their kids.  It all sounds so idyllic.

CheeseLand is the Seattle-based importer responsible for us having the cheese at all and that may be more true than just what seems apparent.  The name "Ewephoria" is an English language-only pun.  That and its indelibly American-style sweetness has lead some to think the creation of this one began in Seattle.    

Aged for twelve months before its release, Euphoria is a firm sheep cheese.  It has lengthy flavors of butterscotch, caramel and nuts and may be melted on suitable desserts.  It would also serve well with nuts, honey, jams or fresh fruit.

Beverage pairings might start with sherries or perhaps a rich porter...or for counterpoint, perhaps something like a Rhone-style white might be interesting.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

New Domestic Wines

One of our better suppliers specializes in some particularly tasty organically-farmed European wines.  That supplier recently sent us three domestics that fit their European paradigm.  Here's what we got:

2019 Bow & Arrow Johan Vineyard Melon.  Melon (me-LON) is shorthand for Melon de Bourgogne and that grape finds its fame in the coastal Muscadet district in the Loire Valley.  There it produces a light, sort of summery, shellfish-targeted dinner wine.  This Bow & Arrow Melon from Willamette Valley Oregon diverges from that type by being left on the fermentation lees for an extended time.  It is also left unfiltered.  The makers compare the wine to Burgundian Chardonnay and think it may hold for fifteen years!

2020 Broc Cellars "Love Red."  This is a North Coast blend of 52% Carignan, 42% Zinfandel and 6% Grenache.  The grapes are sourced from seventy year old dry farmed vineyards in Solano and Mendocino Counties and harvested early for acidity.  Following a carbonic fermentation the wine sees eight months in neutral French oak and concrete.  Its primary fruit character is blueberry.

2019 Ultraviolet California Cabernet Sauvignon.  This one is made by Poe Vineyards of Napa but 95% of it is Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the Red Hills (Lake County) AVA.  The remaining 5% is Napa Cabernet Franc.  It is made at the winery and aged in neutral oak.  Winemaker notes include flavors/aromas of blueberries, plums, currants, blackberry brambles, black pepper and violets.  The wine has a bright acidity, earthiness and persistent velvety tannins.

All three of these stress their organic bonafides including natural yeasts.  Poe concedes the use of some sulfur.  Broc says their yeasts and bacteria are in the grapes themselves and nothing else is added.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Time for Imports?

We've been hearing a lot of scuttlebutt around the trade about the problems in California; you know, the drought and the fires, and how winemakers don't have serviceable juice to make their products.  This industry has always had an uncanny knack for escaping historic calamities in the past.  It's actually inspirational the way they will work with each other to sustain a competitor who is in trouble.  I guess the idea is that the industry as a whole does better if there is a larger pie to sustain it.

So when we heard that certain large players were importing juice from South America to supplement their own, we thought, "Well, this is interesting."  Wine laws in America are purposely loose to protect wineries during rough patches like what's going on now.  If a winery produces a "Napa Valley Cabernet" fully seventy-five percent of that wine must originate in the Napa Valley appellation.  The other twenty-five percent can be from anywhere.

Smoke is the insidious culprit currently messing things up in northern California and it's pervasive.  If importing Chilean and Argentine juice makes sense to offset unusable smoke-tainted produce then you do what you have to do.  And we wish you well.  But for those wine companies who make their living by marketing "Napa" or "Sonoma" and always supplementing with lesser juice, then this isn't exactly a crisis.  It's a way of life.  Just more of the same.  Smoke and mirrors.  "Nothing to see here, please move along."

So here's the pitch:  We have invested in quantities of Alsatian white wines and Italian and Argentine reds.  The whites are traditional choices for Thanksgiving dinner.  The Italians were offered to us for holiday sippers with European tastes.  The Argentines are from Catena, the greatest producer of that country and would work fine for New World aficionados.  All of these are guaranteed to be non-smoked and may be served confidently with that holiday meal.    

Thought for the day: The assumption here is that the juice that is being brought in from South America is inferior to that from northern California.  What if it isn't?   

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Patagonia

One of the newbies in the store this week is A Lisa Malbec from Bodega Noemia of Patagonia.  The finest wine region in the world is Burgundy, France and according to the narrative, Patagonia, at the opposite end of the globe, is supposed to be the new Burgundy.  Or something like that.  Anyway, we have yet to taste anything from there that lives up to the hype.

In our research we have learned that Patagonia is huge; as in, twice the size of California.  And it extends 200 miles over both southern Chile and Argentina, reaching almost to the Atlantic Ocean.  It's a huge desert relying on meltaway from the Andes for sustenance.  

Two rivers define the Patagonian wine country, the Neuquen and Rio Negro.  Our A Lisa vineyards lie near the borough of Mainque on the Rio Negro which, looking at the map of Argentina, puts it pretty much dead center.  Going back to our assertion in the last paragraph - This place is so huge, maybe you have to find a place like Mainque in the vast desert to make world class wine.  Like I said earlier, much of what we have tasted from there doesn't particularly impress.  But then again, they're comparing it to Burgundy.

Patagonia lies below Mendoza on the map and altitude-wise.  Mendoza is a plateau featuring the highest vineyards in the world.  Patagonia comes in at barely 1,000 feet above sea level.  Like Mendoza and every other great wine region, the diurnal effect of warm days/cool nights works in Patagonia to extend the growing season, slowly ripening grapes and accentuating varietal character and acidity.

Patagonian wines are said to be more European in style than what Mendoza does.  This one has a plum violet color; a nose of minerally dark berries and cherries; a structured medium body; a balanced vibrant palate of cherry and cassis with fine acidity and a long fruity finish.  The grapes for this wine are sourced from organically farmed old-vine vineyards.  They are fermented for ten days in stainless steel before the wine is aged by rotating it between oak barriques and stainless steel barrels.

We have sold A Lisa in the past but had never tasted it.  Now we have and it's quite tasty.  It doesn't hurt either that the pricing on this one has moved in the right direction.  Think of A Lisa as a Thanksgiving dinner option.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

2018 Alex Foillard Cote de Brouilly

What's better, more information on the wine label or less?  It depends on the wine.  If a level of quality has been established for the wine as is the case with French Burgundy, then less is better.  It's from the finest wine appellation in the world, after all, therefore we know it's going to be good and that's the case with our subject today.  The Alex Foillard Cote de Brouilly has an attractive label depicting red grapes but spares us unnecessary verbiage.   The back label indicates its reputable importer and that's really all we need to know.

Cote de Brouilly is one of the ten grand crus of Beaujolais, the southern end of Burgundy.  It lies just below Morgon, one of the best Crus.  Cote de Brouilly is the southernmost part of that southern section and it produces the softest red wines of the appellation.

Jean Foillard is the father of Alex, the winemaker we're talking about today, and Jean put Cote de Brouilly on the map by producing low intervention, "natural" wines.  This novel category is actually not novel at all; it is the traditional way wines have been made through the centuries.  It's taking what the vineyard gives you and working solely with that with nothing extraneous added to the process.  While Alex is very much in the mold of his father, this wine includes "a small dose of sulphur."  

The Gamay grapes for this wine are organically farmed on a single hectare of Chateau Lieu-dit land in the La Folie a Odenas region of Cote de Brouilly.  The vines are thirty to sixty years old, planted in north facing vineyards of granite and sandy schist soils.  The fermentation is done using the traditional carbonic maceration (whole bunches) method over a twenty-one day period in cement tanks using natural yeasts.  The wine is pumped over every three days during the process.

The wine is unfiltered and sees a year of aging in French oak.  Its texture has been characterized as silky and satiny with structured well-knit tannins.  It also has a tangy acidity, minerality, juicy freshness with sweet and savory spices and potpourri.  Fruit flavors may include raspberries, blood orange, strawberries, kirsch and perhaps candied cherries.

Here's your Thanksgiving dinner wine, folks.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Don Melchor and Massal Selection

We have successfully sold Don Melchor, the premier wine of Chile, since its inception in 1988.  When our vendor told us the current 2018 vintage was critically acclaimed, we thought, yeah, sure, it always is.  It turns out she understated things a bit.  James Suckling, one of the most reputable critics, gave the wine 100 points.

So that means it's perfect, right?  After reading a half dozen other reviews we think it may be.  All of the scores we found were close to 100.  Numerical review points are b-llsh-t, by the way, in the same way awards shows are and competitions that judge by purely subjective standards.  You either like something or you don't.  After reading up on the vintage and knowing this wine the way we do, we think the wine is probably as good as advertised.

Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon hails from the pre-Phylloxera Puenta Alto vineyards of the northern Maipo Valley appellation.  The estate vineyards lie on the north side of the Maipo River, a region that should be considered Chile's Grand Cru.  

Concha y Toro is one of the five largest wine companies in the world.  Don Melchor is its flagship offering.  We think the label originally represented the best wine they could make in a given vintage, kind of like what a lot of California companies piece together as their Meritage wine.  Over time the estate has become more closely defined to the point where they have now erected a state of the art winery on the property.

Enrique Tirado has been the Don Melchor winemaker since 1997.  As the estate has been more tightly defined so has the viticulture.  Against the prevailing wisdom of the modern era, clonal selection of grapes is no longer the practice there.  Massal Selection is the  propagation of grape vines using the cuttings from older vines in the vineyard.  It is the way things were done prior to the improvements out of UC Davis in California.  Massal selection assumes the unique individual distinction shown in exemplary old vines will carry over into the budding newly planted offshoots.  Since the French wine industry was so successful for so long using this practice,  it only makes sense to go with it.  Especially if you have pre-Phylloxera vines.

The 2018 Don Melchor is a blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot.  The grapes are hand harvested from the estate vineyards including the lower yielding massal selection vines.  

In his 100 point review, Suckling uses terms like "stunning, vibrant, energetic, complex aromas and flavors (flowers, black currant, raspberries, peaches), full-bodied, refined, polished, impeccable texture and beauty, lengthy flavors, balance, harmony and transparency."  He also advises holding the wine for a few years.  All in all, this one's probably pretty good.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Dry Creek Zinfandel

This is more or less a stream-of-consciousness report on California Zinfandel and the Dry Creek Valley.  We intended to write about the new Quivira Vineyards Zinfandel that came in last week.  Our vendor got noticeably animated when he presented it to us so we know it's got to be good.  We just got sidetracked in our research.

Zinfandel made its arrival in California in 1852.  Italian immigrants pursuing their gold rush dreams carried their vines on their backs across the country little knowing that the real treasure going forward would be their gift to the domestic wine industry.  Zinfandel, or Primitivo in Italy, or Tripidrag in Croatia before that, is about as far from wine nobility as it gets.  But as we're learning everyday, if you get the right ordinary grape planted in the optimal environs, good things can happen.

One of those venues for the Italian peasant vines was Dry Creek Valley, a sixteen mile long, two mile wide valley in northern Sonoma County.  Dry Creek was granted its legal definition as an AVA (American Viticultural Area) in 1983.  Its viticultural history actually goes back to 1880 which was a historical pivot point for the domestic wine industry.  Zinfandel had already become the most widely planted grape at that time in California but the Phylloxera aphid had also just arrived in the state at the same time.  Because the bugger was so destructive, all of the vineyards of California would have to be replanted setting back the industry for a decade or so. 

We took our first wine industry job in Berkeley, California back in 1976.  At that time we were charmed by some very flavorful field blends that we now know owed their opulent fruit profile to the Zinfandel grape.  Those blends were, in fact, Zinfandel-based.  And they were charming in their crudeness.  They were rough and brambly and unpretentious and the perfect counterpoint to wine snobbery.  And they were great with burgers!

Our point here is to contrast our perception of things with the industry marketing effort of that time.  They were trying to present Zinfandel as a type somewhat on a par with Cabernet Sauvignon or at least close to that kind of quality.  Concurrently Gallo and others were using the grape in some very successful, economical commercial blends.  The cognitive dissonance is hard to ignore.  How can something be both an economic filler in a blend and a centerpiece varietal at the same time?  But that's Zinfandel.  And that's marketing.

If you flash forward to today we see a mature Zinfandel market that has settled on reasonable pricing for this very utile grape.  The blends are everywhere and they're as good as ever.  Sonoma Dry Creek varietal Zinfandels have assumed the appropriate mantle as some of the best in California.  

What's wrong with this scenario?  Nothing, as far as it goes.  But the mass marketers are too clever by half.  Technology has cleaned up Central Valley grapes to the point where they can be blended into northern California Zin-based blends that are then marketed to an unknowing public as "fine wine."  Extraneous additives are then plugged into these kinds of wines further de-legitimatizing things.  And pricing is high.  And it just ain't right.