Monday, May 20, 2019


According to Lettie Teague in her September 15-16, 2018 WSJ wine article, fashionable and popular mean quite different things when applied to wine appreciation.  A popular wine is one that appeals to newer wine lovers, one that may be talked up at parties and probably has a hefty advertising budget to promote it.  A fashionable wine is more likely to appeal to seasoned wine lovers who recognize its historic value.

White Zinfandel was a 1980's sales monster that practically killed the rose category.  Yellow Tail is a line of inexpensive Australian wines that have been killing it since the 2000's.  What Yellow Tail has been killing is basically the entire Australian wine business since it seems to be the only Aussie that sells now.  While Yellow Tail could be called a marketing creation, White Zinfandel's success was organic.  It just happened and the rest is history, as they say.

Both of these are examples of popular wines and both could be considered to be predators of historic wine styles. 

On Thursday May 8th we tasted four from Treasury Wine Estates including Minuty Cotes de Provence Rose.  Provence Roses have become the leader of this large fashionable rose category.  The Provence Rose style is the model the rest of the world emulates and may have been around since the Greeks established Marseille in 600bc.  That's 2,600 years.  Archaeological evidence there shows earlier winemaking using indigenous grapes before the Greeks re-planted and this is where it gets interesting: Roses have actually existed since the very beginning of winemaking, that is, whenever pottery was first created.  Maybe 6,000 years ago.  So is fashionable even the right term?

The Minuty is a blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah.  It has the standard light and bright Provence color and crisp and round mouth feel.  The nose features orange peel and red currants; the mouth, peach and candied orange.  The entire tasting experience displayed a smooth acidic freshness.

Like all roses, this one would accompany any meal but especially soups, salads and grilled meats.  It would also go well with tee-shirts, cut-off, old sneakers and a porch swing.

Please join us after 5pm this Thursday the 23rd when Dave Klepinger presents a tasting of new French Burgundies here at the store.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Georges de Latour & Andre Tchelischeff

Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon is the premier wine of Beaulieu Vineyards of Napa Valley and one of the great wines of the world.  The wine is named for the Frenchman who in 1900 purchased four acres in the heart of Napa Valley and began planting wine grapes.  His wife is said to have remarked at the time that their new home was a "beautiful place" or beau lieu.

While the Prohibition Era (1920-33) was devastating for the wine industry as a whole, for a select few in the "sacramental wine" business, it was good.  Beaulieu Vineyards was one of those and as the era progressed their business continually improved.  When it ended Latour was in a position to hire the kind of winemaking expertise that would make Beaulieu the best in California.  He went to France and secured the services of the premier viticulturalist/enologist, Andre Tchelischeff, who would become BV's vice president and head of winemaking.

Among Tchelischeff's many accomplishments at Beaulieu were the introduction of recent French winemaking improvements including small barrel fermentation and aging.  Over time at Beaulieu Tchelischeff contributed to other revolutionary winemaking methods like cold fermentation and malolactic fermentation.  By working with various grape types in different places, he delineated microclimates leading to appellation designations, the type of spade work that would pay dividends for future winemakers.  Tchelischeff was a visionary who reached out to other wineries to share his insights understanding that the big picture of wine as a central part of our culture meant all would prosper.

In 1938 Tchelischeff crafted the first Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  The wine would become standard fare at many White House functions through the years.  In 2016 Beaulieu was purchased by Treasury Wine Estates who say the great wine will remain estate-sourced from the same historic Rutherford district Napa vineyards.

This Thursday at 5pm Rob Dye leads us in a tasting of three from the fine Italian wine company, Zenato.  The Lugana white, Alanara red and rose will all be on the table that evening as will the Paso a Paso Spanish Tempranillo.  Please join us!

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

A Portela 2014

A month ago we tasted the wines of Ole Imports of Spain and proceeded to order two dozen new Spanish and Portuguese wines.  Last time we posted about the 2016 Zestos Blanco, our best buy among the whites.  This time our subject is the best red in the bunch.

Like Zestos, A Portela is old vine wine.  This time the the vines are 20-25 years old and the D.O. (place of origin) is Valdeorras in northwestern Spain.  In the latter half of the first century Rome mined gold there, hence the name, "Valley of Gold."  Viticulture followed the mining there and just like always, the church took over the management of the vineyards and wine making.

The grape type here is Mencia (men-thee-ah) which is only grown on the Iberian Peninsula.  Genetic testing has shown Mencia to be a cross between two Portuguese parent grapes so it has its origin across the border.  Again like Zestos, this wine is sourced from 2,000 ft elevation vineyards and the soil is a mix of slate, granite and clay.  Typically Mencia is 85% of a blend utilizing other indigenous varieties to flesh it out.

If you are a Pinot Noir lover, Mencia may be up your alley.  Earthiness and red fruit flavors and aromas dominate here.  Additionally Mencia wines may show black pepper, minerality and either a floral or vegetal character.  This is complex wine and it's our olfactory system that best comprehends what's going on here.

Think of your flower garden or better yet, the spice rack in your kitchen.  What so overwhelms us with spices are terpenoids, the organic chemicals that abound in sixty percent of all plants, only more so with spices.  Mencia grapes display the exceedingly rich aromas of those organic chemicals.  No oak aging is required for such a wine.

A Portela is a twelve acre estate.  Before fermentation the grape juice (with skins) receives a five day pre-soak at forty-five degrees to enhance the aromas.  Then after fermentation the soak-with-skins continues for ten more days for more color and tannins.  The wine is then aged for seven months in stainless steel.

Mencia is recommended as an accompaniment to chicken, pork, salmon or whatever you typically have with your Pinot Noir.  

Monday, April 29, 2019

2016 Zestos Blanco

Ten dollars.

That's it, just ten dollars.  

Wait a minute, let me get this just right - FOR CRYING OUT LOUD THIS IS A STUNNING VALUE AT TEN DOLLARS A BOTTLE!

When the Ole Imports representative was here a couple weeks ago I employed all of the cognitive skills I could muster up and I got it.  I heard his voice quaver when he mentioned this wine.  He became a little animated, just briefly, and then moved on.  It's a cheap wine so he wasn't pushing it.  He just couldn't help himself.

At the end of his presentation I redirected back to the blanco and ordered a few cases.  Mr. Ole Imports just looked at me and smiled.

So what is this stuff?  It is a pale yellow-colored dry white wine made from 100% Malvar grapes with 90% of the juice being sourced from the Vinos de Madrid DO southeast of Madrid.  The vineyards, first planted in 1950, are clay and limestone over sandy subsoil at 2,000 feet elevation.  These are not highly esteemed vineyards and Malvar, or Lairen, is an indigenous grape type not even well known in Spain so we're not looking at Napa Chardonnay pricing.

So what makes it so good?  Well, being old vine and dry farmed in poor soil, the tap roots have to go deep for moisture bringing up trace elements of minerals and nutrients in the process.  In the winery after a twelve hour maceration, the juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks and then moved to both concrete and stainless steel tanks for aging.  Then it is combined.  The stainless steel preserves freshness; the concrete allows for micro-oxygenation for complexity.  Voila!

On the nose are scents of peach, nectarine, orange and litchi fruit.  In the mouth are flavors of orange, apricot, green apple and ginger.  Nuanced tropical fruit flavors are present from start to finish.  In their literature Ole says this wine combines the acidity of Sauvignon Blanc with the body of Chardonnay.  Viognier seems a better comparison.

The Zestos label depicts women carrying huge baskets of grapes on their shoulders, an allusion to their name - Zestos means basket.  It also may allude to picnicking since this wine would work well with those kinds of foods.   Or by itself! 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Wine Labels

(Reflections on the Lettie Teague WSJ wine article February 16, 2019)

Stand before any grocery store wine set and let the imagery work its magic.  There really ought to be awards given out for some of these labels.  The Most Beautiful.  The Most Evocative.  The Most Outrageous.  Your eyes can glaze over as you succumb to the stunning array on these shelves.

Me?  I always preferred plain white labels with minimal information.  I always thought plain white labels were classy... as long as classy print was part of the production, of course.  Put your money into what's inside the bottle, I always thought.  Secretly though, I kind of liked some of the gaudy labels, which couldn't help but demystify this stuff.  Besides, who wants to look at shelves full of white labels!

So what about the actual information on a wine label?  The Bureau of Alcohol and Tax declares "Labels may contain information other than the mandatory information (place of origin, grape type, etc.) but it must be truthful, accurate and specific.  Any additional information should not be misleading."  And therein lies the rub.  Just as the visuals on the wine labels draw you in, some of that additional wording does the same.

"Reserve."  Clearly means quality, right?  Actually there is no legal definition for "Reserve" when placed on a wine label.  It can mean anything.  But you can bet the customer will impute his own meaning of the word to the product.

"Hand Selected Lots."  Obviously, this means the winemaker went through the vineyards and chose the best berries for this effort.  Sorry.  Once again this phrase is meaningless, legally-speaking.

Here are a few others: "Barrel Select", "Old Vine", "Old Clone", "Proprietor's Blend".  It's not just the domestic wine industry that embellishes either.  Argentina has the highest altitude vineyards in the world, a great selling point for a wine's quality, but in Argentine wine law, "High Altitude" on a label has no legal meaning.

Back in my grocery store days the best selling wine we had was Glen Ellen Reserve Chardonnay.  I never tasted it but eagerly sold it because I was graded on sales.  One day a good customer was buying several cases for a party and suggested we buy one and taste it in the parking lot.  I declined but he insisted, saying I really needed to know what I was selling.  I relented and he was right.  The stuff was awful.  It didn't even taste like Chardonnay, much less reserve Chardonnay.

Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay?  Never tasted it.  Sounds good though, like that winemaker really did his due diligence both in the vineyard and the winery to make it just right.  Uh, okay.

Maybe we should back off criticizing meaningless labeling.  It's just a few words, after all.  They could be writing paragraphs!

Please join us this Thursday at 5pm when Dominique Chambon leads us in a tasting from his fine French/Italian portfolio.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Wine Tasting Report 4/11/19

Interesting tasting here last Thursday evening.  We tasted Gabbiano Chianti Classico, Sonoma-Cutrer Rose of Pinot Noir, Seghesio Angela's Table Zinfandel, and Black Stallion Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Gabbiano was a no-brainer.  It was the best buy on the table at $10/bottle.  The other three pricier wines were competing for the best wine on the table...period.

Before we get into that though, what the three California wines share in their common history needs to be said.  They all started out in private hands only to end up in the hands of mass marketers.  This is reality in the California wine industry, circa 2019.  That said, each has its own story.  Let's take them one at a time.

Seghesio has the longest history of the three.  They go back to the 1800's and around the middle of the last century they were a legitimate powerhouse in this industry.  In fact for a while they owned most of the vineyard land in Sonoma County and most of the Zinfandel produced there.  In 2011 they were bought by Leucadia National, a Wall Street financial giant.  Leucadia owns the Napa-based Crimson Wine Group (Pine Ridge, Chamisol, Archery Summit) so they weren't just looking for return on investment.  The Zinfandel at our tasting was very tasty indeed.

Black Stallion has the shortest history of the three.  A couple Minnesotans bought the thirty-eight acre Napa estate at the turn of this century and sold it to DFV (Delicato Family Vineyards) ten years later.  The only tangible asset aside from the land, itself, was the hospitality center since the business had no vineyards or winery of its own.  DFV is also a family run business but they are a powerhouse.  They are a perennial Top 10 wine company worldwide.  This vintage of the Cabernet at our tasting was a little thin, which reflects the mass marketers' intention to not offend anyone.

Sonoma-Cutrer was established in 1973 with the intention of specializing in Chardonnay.  Their timing couldn't have been better.  Chardonnay was about to begin its reign as the king of white wines and Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnays were some of the best.  In 1999 the beverage giant Brown-Forman (Jack Daniels, Southern Comfort, Canadian Mist) bought the operation with the stated purpose of maintaining the estate as a separate entity from its existing wine portfolio (Fetzer, Bonterra, Jekel, Mariah.)  Two years later that pledge was abandoned and their labels now share facilities and winemakers with the other brands.

The Rose of Pinot Noir from Sonoma-Cutrer is a recent addition to their line and it is wonderful, It is very light and dry and charming and refreshing, all of the qualities everyone wants in rose.  So, since we have already written off the Black Stallion Cabernet, which was the winner between the Seghesio Zinfandel and the Rose?

That's up to you.

Please join us this Thursday at 5pm for a store tasting with Bob Reynolds who has a portfolio specializing in Spanish and Oregonian wines. 

Monday, April 8, 2019

Tomme Brebis St. George

This cheese was so good we just had to write about it.  One of our historic favorites here at the store is Ossau-Iraty, sheep cheese from the Basque region of France.  This tomme is comparable if a little softer and juicier than Ossau-Iraty.  It hails from the Midi-Pyranees region a little to the north of Basque.

What is a tomme, you ask.  Literally, a tomme is a wheel of cheese.  The word is generic and means nothing more.  Yet it does.  For knowing cheese lovers the word tomme on a label signifies a product of quality.  It's a specialty item made by a dedicated cheese maker as opposed to being one of a number of products made at a generic dairy.

Historically tommes were made using the left over milk after butter was made.  And this cheese is nothing if not historical.  Tomme-making in the Midi-Pyranees region goes back to ancient times.  That left over milk with its fats depleted after the butter making, was leaner and earthier tasting than the original.

Tomme cheeses are also a generic style.  That style is intrinsic to the French and Swiss Alps and each tomme label states the location of manufacturing immediately after the word, tomme.  In this case the the town of St. George is the locale near the larger city of Aude in the Midi-Pyranees.  This region is like a thumbprint on the map in the interior between the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts and south of Bordeaux.

The Tomme Brebis St. Charles is moist and creamy and nutty and rich.  It's like toasted bread at the beginning and sweet cream with leeks and chives at the finish.  This complex sumptuous cheese would pair with Pinot Noir or another similar light sophisticated red.

Please join us this Thursday after 5pm at the regular weekly tasting and on Saturday the 13th between 1 and 3pm when David Hobbs presents a tasting of Spanish wines here at the store.  We'll be sure to have Tomme Brebis St. George on the cheese table!