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!

Monday, April 1, 2019

What Goes Wrong

Last week was filled with failed attempts to get the wines customers had ordered so I thought we might catalog some of the many ways things can go wrong.  At least four of the following happened here last week.

1.  Sometimes, frankly, it's the salesman.  He/she either doesn't care, or worse yet, doesn't know how to do their job.  For the larger suppliers whose bread and butter is the chain stores and large package stores, the smaller accounts really don't matter that much to the guy on the street.

2.  Sometimes the sales person is alright but the company isn't.  Maybe the product number that is supposed to match up with the wine you want doesn't do it.  Maybe in an effort to keep their inventory tight, the company runs out of what they sell.

3.  Sometimes it's the warehouse.  Businesses everywhere want to keep payroll low and inevitably you get what you pay for.  In the warehouse that sometimes means they can't find the product or worse yet, they can't read the label, or even worse than that, if the warehouse is like a Sam's Club, they don't want to climb to the third tier to get the stuff.

4.  Sometimes it's the truck driver.  Flat tires happen.  Nothing you can do there.  But sometimes the driver prioritizes the larger accounts at the expense of the small ones.  Sometimes they're on a short company leash and are told to skip the mom and pop store so the large store is ensured of getting its large order.

5.  Sometimes it's government.  If the wine is imported it's sometimes held up at the port of entry for reasons beyond my pay grade.  Local governments rightfully want their share of the tax money this industry generates.  If a supplier doesn't want to pay up then the wine isn't delivered.

6.  Sometimes it's the Beverage Journal, the trade paper that lists what wines are carried by which wholesaler.  The Beverage Journal, which is now online, has always been the butt of jokes for insiders in this business because of its deficiencies.  Some things never change.

7.  Sometimes it's inter-distribution manipulation, i.e., product trades. An item can be swapped between distributors without notification leaving the retailer/restaurateur without supply.  The one who jettisons the brand doesn't want to help the new vendor by telling the customer where it is and the Beverage Journal isn't up to date so the product is just lost for a while.  Worse yet, if one player gets mad at another, a product can be pulled from the market for up to five years by law!

Now comes the hard part:

8.  Sometimes it's the customer who asks the retailer for the product.  They get the name wrong and the retailer can't figure out what it is.

9.  Sometimes it's on me.  I screw up.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Pinot Grigio, Part 2

I don't know why but we're blogging about Pinot Grigio...again!  Actually I found an old Lettie Teague WSJ wine article on the subject and just like always, I became inspired.  In the article Teague is on a quest for "Pinot Grigio with personality."

Teague acknowledges that there will always be watery ten dollar pinot because there always has been.  It has its place.  Just like cheap beer.  In our previous post we said its way too easy to move up the price scale with Pinot Grigio since there isn't an extreme change in character between the cheap stuff and the twenty dollar bottles.  Let's call it a continuum of sorts in what pinot lovers have come to expect flavor-wise.  Teague cites current great pinot wine maker, Elena Walch - all you have to do is raise your expectations.

There are differing flavor profiles from the better pinots though.  The best pinot comes from northeastern corner of Italy and Alto Adige on the northern side of the corner may be the best.  Those are characterized by an aromatic minerality.  On the eastern side of the corner lies Friuli which offers rich complexity. Between them and to the south is Veneto which always over-performs with a fruity standard style, which unfortunately seems destined to always be overshadowed by the other two.

Then there's Alsace.  An entirely different animal.  And why is it that nationalities seem to dictate wine styles?  Italian wines always seem to taste Italian.  French wines always taste French.  And Alsatian wines always taste French/German.  Anyway, Alsatian pinot is fruity and minerally yet not as winy as the Italian.  Obviously, each is better suited to the cuisine of their respective places.


Please join us after 5pm on Thursday the 28th when Morgan Miller offers us a tasting from his fine California portfolio.  David Hobbs presents California wines on the 4th of April and then on the 11th Dominique Chambon offers us a tasting of French and Italian wines.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Italian Pinot Grigio

I haven't kept track but Pinot Grigio may be our most blogged about subject here, which is ironic considering for half of my long career in the business, I've had no use for the stuff.  That would be the first half of the career, of course.  Then the gradual adjustments and accommodations happen in life and one accepts that big red (and white) wines aren't really the be-all and end-all of all things vino.   Sometimes less is more.  Ergo, Pinot Grigio.

The marketplace will also change your wine values.  About ten years ago Pinot Grigio surpassed Chardonnay in sales here for the first time.  Chardonnay had always been our best selling white wine before that.  I remember telling an industry salesman about the transition only to hear in response, "Well, that's sad."

We're prompted to write about Pinot Grigio today for a couple reasons.  Last Thursday at the weekly tasting we featured the 2017 Tenuta Maccan from Friuli and it was wonderful.  One of the most common wine adjectives bandied about around here is "smooth" and I hate it.  What the heck does "smooth" mean anyway?  Well, in the case of Maccan, it is most applicable.  Whereas some wines have distinct stages from start to finish, this one just glides through the process with nothing impeding its flow.  It is smoothness.

Beyond the indelible impression Maccan made, the second reason for writing is the incontrovertible shift in consumer tastes within the Pinot Grigio category.  Back in the bad old days the pinot we got from Italy could have doubled as nail polish remover.  But it was cold and wet and cheapNow we have so many wonderful examples at every price point and the savvy pinot consumer has gotten the word.  So just like the smoothness shown in the Maccan tasting the gradual transition from ten dollar pinots to twenty dollar bottles has been similarly smooth.

The Maccan is a $16.99 retail, by the way, which represents the lower end of this higher end pinot category we're talking about.  Not too long ago there were branded elite wines that positioned themselves upwards from thirty dollars but have now comedown ten dollars or so.  They now represent the higher range of superior pinot pricing.  So if this schema is accurate you don't have to get reamed to enjoy your fine light dry white wine.


Please join us on Thursday the 21st of March at 5pm when Cherie Rubio presents a tasting of new Spanish wines to include a red, white and rose along with a truly great Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon.  Then on the 28th Morgan Miller returns with a tasting from his fine wine portfolio followed by Dominique Chambon with samples from his fine French and Italian book.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Cava, Part 2 & Clos Pissarra

First things first: The super premium Cava category created a year ago is called Cava Paraje Calificado (CPC).  CPC sparklers must be sourced from single vineyards that are at least ten year old with limited yields from those vineyards.  They must also be estate bottled and vintage dated with thirty-six months aging on the lees.  They also must be fermented dry, resulting in at least a brut classification, if not extra-brut or brut nature.

Last time we said only two percent of Cava produced was Gran Reserva quality.  CPCs should be a likewise miniscule percentage of that two percent.  Retails of a hundred dollars a bottle should be common.

CPC wine is blind tasted by a panel before its second fermentation and then blind tasted again after the bubbles are added.  The panel judges whether the wine conforms to the standard they set yet still shows the individuality of its terroir.  Last year, the first for this Cava category, only twelve wines qualified.  This year that number should double or triple.

Whether or not hundred dollar Cava is viable in the marketplace will be determined by discriminating Champagne connoisseurs with the pocketbooks to qualify.  Fine wine has its price; that is, unless the wine is the 2013 Clos Pissarra, the big fat Spanish red we've been selling here for the past month.  Unlike similar efforts out of California, the complexity of Pissarra is built into its structure and like all European wine, that structure is tied to its terroir.  For Pissarra the breeding emanates from the Priorat/Montsant region.  Like truly great Euro-wine, with decanting (or a lot of patience in the glass) this one delivers voluptuously.  Short of tasting it for yourself, go to miuravineyards.com for the Pissarra lowdown.


Next Thursday the 14th at 5pm Adam Bess joins us for a tasting of red wines from Opolo Vineyards of Paso Robles and a particularly nice Italian Soave.  Then on the 21st Cheri Rubio tastes us on new red, white and rose Spanish wines.  On the 28th Morgan Miller brings us a tasting of as-yet-to-be-determined wines from his fine portfolio.  Please join us for the tastings!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Cava Reserva

A couple years ago we came upon a perfectly lovely sparkling wine out of Spain which quickly disappeared after the holidays.  You see, it was priced at twenty-five dollars a bottle, roughly twice the going rate for Cava.  More recently I read a WSJ article by Lettie Teague on the subject and she opined that Cava Reservas really were something special compared to other similarly priced sparklers.  So maybe we ought to shift our focus from France to Spain for our bubbly.

Maybe we should also start at the beginning for this discussion.

Cava is Spanish sparkling wine.  Most of it comes from the Catalonia region in eastern Spain where the beverage was created in 1872 by the Raventos family of Codorniu fame.  The three main grapes of Cava are Xarel-lo, Macabeo and Parellada, hardly household names.  Of the three, Xarel-lo is the most important.  Over time Malvasia, Garnacha Tinto, Monastrell and Trepat have been added and more recently the international varieties, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were also allowed.  Some of the best Cavas, however, are still made solely with Xarel-lo grapes.

The name "Cava" has only been around since the 1950's and its legal appellation, its D.O. (Denominacione de Origen), was granted in 1986 with admission into the European Union.  The D.O. declares three quality levels of Cava: Basic Cava must be aged on the lees for nine months; Cava Reserva, fifteen months; and Gran Reserva, thirty months.  Eighty-eight percent of Cava produced is basic Cava; ten percent is Reserva, and two percent is Gran Reserva.  All Cavas must be made like Champagne using the secondary fermentation in the bottle.

Prior to the E. U., ninety percent of Cava was consumed in Spain.  Now two-thirds is exported, mostly to supermarkets around the world.  Eighty-five percent of all Cava sells for under twenty dollars.  A year ago in January of 2018, Spain introduced a new super premium category of Cava and that's what we'll talk about here next time.


Please join us here next Thursday after 5pm when Dustin Whiten presents a tasting of wines from Italy and Chile.  Then one week later on the 14th, Adam Bess joins us for a tasting of red wines from Opolo of Paso Robles along with an especially nice Italian white.  Please join us for the tastings.