Tuesday, January 14, 2020

2018 Sand Creek Red Blend

Not only is this a rich and luscious red quaffer, it is also an especially nice looking wine.  Both the bottle and the case have beautiful multicolored waves going across them.  So unlike so many mass marketed chain store wines, this one actually has the quality going on inside of the bottle also.

The Sand Creek red comes from the Peninsula de Setubal which is just south of Lisbon, Portugal.  The wine is made by Casa Ermelinda Freitas in a region historically anchored by Jose Maria da Fonseca, Portugal's oldest table wine company.  Established in 1834, Fonseca is still thriving today albeit in the fortified Muscat category where they have a near monopoly in that kind of wine.

Historically the Setubal peninsula has been dedicated to Muscat grapes. Fonseca started it all.  Muscat of Alexandria is the most prominent type planted there (and elsewhere) but Muscat is one of those types prone to mutation so there is a veritable family of Muscat grapes to sort out.  Most vineyards in the region are planted in white grapes with most of those being related to Alexandria in some way.

Our Sand Creek however, is a red blend and while its appellation on the label says "Setubal" it may more accurately have called "Palmela" which is a red wine carve-out from the Setubal DOC.  Portugal's legal wine appellation system has been in flux since the early 2000's.  Palmela's DOC status elevation from IPR probably happened around 2009.

Palmela features sunny plains with poor fertility but well draining sandy limestone soil.  Red grape vines love such environs.  They yield wines of fully ripe and balanced tannic cherry flavors.

Palmela, like Setubal, is mostly planted in white grapes but there are a handful of red players.  The most prominent type is called Castelao or Periquita.   DOC law for Palmela reds mandates at least 67% Castelao in the blend.  Alfrochiero and Tinta Amarela are two other local varieties which, like Castelao feature dark coloration and rich body and flavors.  Aragonez (Tempranillo) is also part of the blend as are the international varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

The most telling feature displayed by our Sand Creek red is its floral nose that just won't quit.  That's a dead giveaway that Muscat is in the blend also.

Please join us next Thursday the 16th for a red wine tasting to include the Sand Creek Red.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Le Roule

Every holiday season we sell a ton of Le Roule to breathlessly panting customers dying to know more about the stuff.  It's just that good.  So here's the lowdown:

Le Roule (le roo-lay) is one of those meteors that hits the marketplace and immediately finds its mark.  It's only been around since the nineteen eighties when it was created in central France by the Tablanette Fromagerie.  It is currently produced in Northeastern France in the Les Vosge mountain village of Neufchateau by Laiteries Hubert Triballat SA.

The Le Roule name means "roll" and it's not just a proper noun.  The Le Roule log looks just like so many pasteries that roll up sweet stuff into some kind of cake layer.  And that is what is going on here.  First you spread your added ingredient; be it garlic and herbs, sweet and savory peppers, or cranberries; onto your work table.  Then you spread your fresh curd on top of it.  Trim off your excess and start rolling!  The process is still an artisan effort, done by hand leaving the unmistakable spiral design on the ends to validate the process.

The dumbfounded expressions on the faces of tasters is probably as much due to the freshness of the product as anything.  It has a creamy smooth, melt-in-your-mouth texture.  The sweet or spicy add-ons don't so much dominate the freshness as perfectly balance the flavor of the cheese itself.

Le Roule is great on crackers or as a dip with crostini.  It is spreadable so it may work on toast for breakfast or as dessert on grahams.  Some might butter their steak and potatoes with it!

This Thursday the 9th after 5pm please join us for a wine tasting with industry veteran Dave Klepinger.  That evening Dave will pour tastes of three from Italy and a great Malbec from Argentina.  Specifically we'll have Villa Sparina Gavi, Allegrini Valpolicella, Palazzo de la Torre IGT Super Tuscan and A. R. Guentota Malbec.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Demeter Certification

We've been selling a lot of Hawk and Horse Vineyards wines here lately.  If you go to their website they're all about their biodynamic certification.  Biodynamic is beyond "organic."  When I looked into how many other wineries could claim the certification I was struck by how many do carry this distinction.  They all readily advertise it too which makes sense when you consider they have to pay someone annually to inspect their digs.  You bet they're proud of their certification.

Demeter, by the way, was the Greek goddess of grain and fertility.  She must have resided somewhere prominently in Dr. Rudolf Steiner's consciousness back in 1928 when he started the certification program.  Steiner was a noted scientist in Germany who observed that industrial farming was doing long term harm to the soil and to all of us who rely on farming.  Actually he was confronted with the situation when farmers implored him to investigate why their crops were failing and their animals were sickly.

What Steiner came up with was a solution 180 degrees from the the factory farming model.  Steiner considered a farm to be a living thing, self-contained and self-sustaining.  It should be responsible for creating and maintaining its own health and vitality without adding anything from outside of its boundaries.  That means a farm must have livestock for manure, compost, nutrient catch crops and crop rotation.  It also must have biodiversity, predator habitat, adequate sunlight and air flow.  Any strategies for combating disease, insects, or weeds have to originate at the farm utilizing what is there.  This was the beginning of sustainable farming.

In 1985 Demeter Certification came to America, seventeen years before the USDA started its organic regulatory program.  Demeter remains the sole biodynamic certification program in this country and fifty countries around the world now offer their own Demeter programs.

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

This Wine Pairs Well With Holidays and Relatives

That's what one of our wine gift bags says.  It's cute and it sells but who's kidding whom: Wine is personal and what one person likes the next person doesn't.  That is, unless it's one of the mass marketed types that is constructed to not offend anyone.  You can confidently pour one of those for friends and family over the holidays and no one will complain...unless they notice the wine has no character.

The way I see it the mass marketers have done two things to further their dominance in the industry.  Through technology they have been able to clean up ordinary grapes to remove bacteria that used to result in unsavory off-flavors and they have added extraneous flavors and texture to their product.  In their efforts to please everyone the mass marketers smooth out all of the wine rough edges and adjust the flavor profile to fit the contemporary palate template.  Unfortunately what can sadly result is a flabby unstructured amorphous wine that no longer has any claim to distinction.

Here are some alternatives that are neither too old world nor completely manipulated.

1.  Trifula "Truffle Dog" Rosso - This Barbera blend from Piedmont (!) Italy is made for the American market with its forward fruit and rich red fruit flavors.  And it's popularly priced!

2.  Chateau de Jarnioux Beaujolais - From Albert Bichot this one has the explosive brilliant Beaujolais fruit and polished profile that no one cannot enjoy.  This is fun wine!

3.  Villa Antinori Toscana Rosso - 100% Sangiovese that seduces with its softness and just enough acidity to keep it interesting.  This one not only complements pasta but any other lighter entree also.

4. & 5.  Need Chardonnay?  Here are a couple that don't go overboard with sweetness or oak.  Rutherford Ranch Napa Chardonnay is 1/2 Steel and 1/2 oak aged.  It is definitely California wine but a step back from being the fully-blown California Chardonnay style.  DMZ from South Africa is my corollary to Rutherford Ranch.  While still a new world venue, South Africa leans European.

6. & 7.  Need Cabernet?  BV Rutherford Napa Cabernet Sauvignon has always been a benchmark in Napa Cabernet.  It's a structured masculine example of what the product is supposed to be - steak wine.  The counterpart currently would be Ferrari Carano Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon which is not really feminine, just more complex with lighter complementary flavors.  Both Cabs offer the muscular grip that good Cabernet needs.

Please join us this Thursday after 5pm when Bob Reynolds presents a tasting of three from Italy and the Niner red blend from Paso Robles.  Then on Monday the 23rd Adam Bess returns for a tasting from his fine portfolio.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

GSM - The Rhone-Style Red Blend

First of all there are two Rhones, the northern Rhone Valley and the southern Rhone Valley.  In the north there is just one red grape, Syrah, and it is the veritable star of the entire valley.  In the southern valley the main grape is Grenache but it has company in the form of Syrah, Mourvedre and a slew of other minor players.  For our purposes here, we'll concentrate on the three majors which are shorthanded to GSM.  All three are indigenous to the region and exhibit an allelopathy or unity of purpose with the other historic plants of the region.  Sage, rosemary, thyme, juniper and lavender are often planted in the vineyards with that influence often finding its way into the makeup of the wine. 

Syrah is one of the great wine grapes of the world.  It offers big spicy dark (forward) fruit flavors of blueberry and plum complemented by black olive and bacon fat aromas.  Firm tannins and structure ensure Syrah will hold fast and improve in the cellar for the long haul.

Grenache is the lightest of the three yet still offers boisterous warm sometimes candied red fruit flavors along with herbs and cinnamon spice, leather and earthiness.  It also has a higher alcohol potential than the others.

Mourvedre adds a deep rich dark red color and flavors similar to Syrah.  It has floral aromas and a persistent length of flavors adding tannins in the process.

When you read their descriptions it's easy to understand why Grenache is the center of the blend.  Syrah adds to the front; Mourvedre, to the finish; and both to the structure and heft of the blend. 

Terroir being what it is and allowing for differences in clonal grape varieties, GSM blends in California and other venues around the world may offer entirely different results.

This Thursday at 5pm we'll be tasting some very special red wines at the store.  One of them may just be a GSM.  Please join us for the event.


Tuesday, November 19, 2019

La Clape

La Clape was my lesson for this week.  Last week my vendor tasted me on Chateau L'Hospitalet Rhone-style red from Gerard Bertrand.  Located in the La Clape AOC in the Aude department of Languedoc, the wine tasted like the formidable Rhone blend its back label said it would be: 60% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 30% Mourvedre.  I bought five cases.

Hopefully this wine will find a home on many holiday dinner tables this month.  It's a somewhat pricey red from a region that only got its AOC pedigree a couple years ago.  When I tasted it with the vendor last week I remarked that the asking price was high for Languedoc wine.  I didn't know La Clape was anything other than ordinary in the scheme of things.

Here's what I learned:

La Clape is unique indeed.  Up until the 13th century it was an island in the Mediterranean Sea. Over time, alluvial deposits from the Pyranees Mountains filled in much of three sides of it leaving lagoons to the south.  Deep ravines remain elsewhere.  The Mediterranean Sea fronts the east side.  On the three landed sides of La Clape can be found five of the better wine districts of Languedoc.

When I got into this business in the 1970's Languedoc was where most of the wine of France came from.  It still is.  That wine is overwhelmingly ordinary.  While I knew there were exceptions and efforts were being made to upgrade the production as a whole, I didn't know it was a concerted effort.  That effort centered on the vineyards that were known to deserve a better fate than just ordinary Languedoc wine.  La Clape is one of these.

A massif is an isolated compact group of mountains set apart from a range.  In the local Occitane dialect La Clape means "pile of stones."  The Massif de La Clape is the highest elevation of the district and stands seven hundred feet above sea level encompassing the entire east side.  Cliffs provide the visual from the east.  Chateau L'Hospitalet is located just above the cliffs.  The vineyards are four miles away.

Just as you would expect, La Clape has the Mediterranean climate of hot summers and mild winters moderated by the marine influence.  Due to its geographical positioning it also has more sunlight than anywhere else in France.  Thirteen different wind currents blow any cloud formations away.  The soil is a free-draining sandy mix of limestone, marl and clay.  Seven hundred sixty-eight hectares of vineyards can be found over this seventeen kilometer area.

La Clape is a protected area as designated by the European Union and several other private and public entities.  It has unique vegetation and the lagoons to the south host a variety of fauna including a year round population of flamingos!

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

Monday, November 18, 2019

Classic Wines, Part 2

Last time we wrote about a winefolly.com report of a sommelier-approved list of twenty "classic" wines.  The list included nine whites and eleven reds.  The purpose for the list was for the educational benefit of wine lovers everywhere.  By setting forth a model of what each varietal grape type tastes like when grown in ideal conditions, other examples may be evaluated when compared to that ideal.

Here are the eleven "classic" reds on the list:

     1. Cabernet Franc
     2. Cabernet Sauvignon
     3. Gamay
     4. Grenache
     5. Malbec
     6. Merlot
     7. Nebbiolo
     8. Pinot Noir
     9. Sangiovese
     10. Syrah
     11. Tempranillo
     12. Zinfandel.

I like Wine Folly. They do a good job of explaining wine to most of us whether we have a background in the business or not.  This time however, not so much.  In their article they said the list was "slowly evolving."  That may shed light on the existence of a twelfth wine in what was supposed to be eleven reds to make a total of twenty wines.

In the last post we placed the ideal locale for the different types next to the grape name.  This time it didn't seem to make sense.  For Merlot, they say it's ideal location is wherever Cabernet Sauvignon is planted.  I don't think so.  Others list several locations, which is fine except the reader may assume the one listed first is the best or that each locale is equal to the others.  One type, Cabernet Franc, didn't list a locale at all.

Last time we also drew on a list from forty years ago that broke down grape types into "noble" varieties and common types.  The noble ones from the list above would include Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo.  Those are the types that the taster could assume would show superiority over the others.  This schema is not without its problems.  Argentine Malbec, Northern Rhones and Australian Shiraz would have a legitimate case to contest their exclusion from nobility and all of the insipid Pinot Noir out there certainly doesn't deserve recognition as anything special.

Please join us this Thursday after 5pm when David Hobbs presents a tasting of Vrede Lust Riesling, Chateau Moulinat Red Bordeaux, Esser Monterey Pinot Noir and Venge Scout's Honor Napa Red Blend.  Then on Wednesday the 27th Adam Bess leads us in a Thanksgiving Eve tasting of four from his fine wine portfolio.  Please join us!