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.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Red Wine and Fish

Deceptive title.  What we're really talking about is the great Sicilian red Nero d'Avola as an accompaniment to Mediterranean cuisine.  Our material comes from the Kermit Lynch newsletter.  KL is an exceptional importer of European wines and their newsletter, like all business newsletters, is a sales instrument.  They were pitching their particular Sicilian red by pairing it with a particular meal which they go on to delineate.

The KL newsletter is very professionally done with creative writing that makes our little humble blog appear quite primitive.  What is in the obvious interest of both Kermit Lynch and Vine & Cheese is that we present wines flatteringly to would-be purchasers to advance our business interests.  We want to sell wine.  So when KL says Nero d'Avola retains acidity despite baking in the Mediterranean climate vineyards, that says this wine is food-friendly.  When they say the wine "coats the palate with sumptuous notes of black cherry and blackberry,"  that gets Pavlov's dog salivating.  When they say the "radiant brightness" of the wine contrasts with "the succulence of the dark fruit," I want to call my old English literature teacher and say, "Did you hear that?"

Here's the recipe for the meal they're talking about:

Cook down some onions, garlic and tomatoes in olive oil.  Add some capers and pitted olives.  Then some dried herbs like oregano and thyme.  Hot chili flakes, if desired.  Spoon this sauce over grilled swordfish or tuna with pasta.

So after reading the KL sales pitch, what do I think?  I want to taste the wine.  And the meal.  I really want to taste them both.  Together. 

It's enjoyable for me to criticize over-the-top wine writers.  Especially if I think they either don't know what they're talking about or they're transparently on the take.  This time the writer got it right.

I r-e-a-l-l-y want to taste that wine!

Please join us this Thursday at the weekly wine tasting.  We go from 5 to 7pm here at the store.

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.