Saturday, November 26, 2011


Writing about Tupungato recently got me to thinking about Malbec and its importance to this industry and, frankly, to this store. Malbec is one of the six most popular wine grapes in the world and here in America where we love our big red new world wines, it is probably second only to Cabernet in sales. At this time we have about a dozen in the store to recommend priced from $10 to $30.

The Malbec grape is an inky dark thin skinned purple grape that needs considerable sunlight and heat to ripen adequately. It is disease prone to the point that plantings in France have diminished from a high of thirty departments to really, just Cahors in the southwest. A frost in 1956 resulted in a greatly diminished role in Bordeaux when growers there did not replant a crop that was 75% destroyed. Malbec acreage in France now stands at 6,000; California has 7,000 acres; and Argentina, where continual improvements in cloning have produced a hardier vine, now has 50,000 acres in Malbec. Australia, where Malbec was once the primary grape, now has little to none, which is interesting in that comparisons in style to Shiraz are inescapable.

Malbec, originally called "Cot", is believed to have originated in northern Burgundy but dating is non-specific. The clone that is so disease prone in France is not the same as the type transported to Argentina in 1868. That type, originally mislabelled as Merlot, has smaller berries in loose clusters and produces high yields. The wine has a velvety medium body, a jammy/juicy plum/blackberry flavor, and tight earthy tannins. The variety in Cahors, France produces an intense inky violet, harder and darker, more tannic wine. The soil in France also features more limestone than Argentina. In California, Malbec is grown with good success in Napa, Sonoma, and Alexander Valleys along with Paso Robles.

Malbec is a blending grape everywhere it is grown. As a stand alone varietal it does best in Argentina where it owes its popularity to the prestigeous Catena Winery, which recognized its potential when planted at altitudes of 800-1500 feet. Catena first planted Malbec in Tupungato in 1994 and the rest is history (see November 14th blog).

Among the star "flying winemaker" consultants now invested in Tupungato is Paul Hobbs who earned his "chops" making Opus One amongst others. We now have Marchiori & Barraud 2006 Malbec in the store. This wine has a Paul Hobbs connection which makes it worth $150/btl and 96 points-Parker. The wine sells here now for $30/btl. Mention this blog and get your cheese purchase for 1/2 price with the purchase of Marchiori.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wine Tasting Review November 15, 2011

Tuesday evening we tasted six wines here at the store; three whites, two reds, and a rose; with an announced Thanksgiving pairing theme. Our whites included 2009 Namaste Dry Riesling, 2010 Val de Salis Viognier, and 2009 Namaste Peace (Chardonnay blend). The reds were 2010 Lovatti Brolo Val Sorda (Merlot/Sangiovese) and 2008 Waterstone Carneros Pinot Noir. Our rose was 2010 Rotta Zinfandel Rose. Namaste is from Oregon; Waterstone and Rotta are California wines; with Val de Salis being French and Lovatti, Italian.

Four of these wines had been tasted here in recent months with the Namastes being the only first timers here. I have made it no secret that I am in the bag for Val de Salis Viognier and Waterstone Pinot Noir and the public has spoken for Lovatti in past tastings, making it the all time best seller here. The Rotta Zin Rose is just a charming crowd pleaser. I expected the Namastes to be popular here but I thought pricing would limit their sales.

The envelope, please... Our winners by sales were Namaste Dry Riesling ($19.99) and Rotta Zinfandel Rose ($10.99). Explanation? Namaste is a refreshingly new approach to Riesling, a sophisticated light dry white. Rotta is just plain fun.

But what about our Thanksgiving dinner theme? In a traditional T-day meal, the sweeter aspects dominate so the Rotta would be an obvious winner being off-dry and the Namste Peace ($26.99) would be also. If the meal featured the roast bird with fewer sweet sides I think the Waterstone Pinot Noir and either the Riesling or Viognier ($10.99) would work.

We had a great disparity in prices in this show. Holidays are the time when spending for your wine should increase, sort of by definition. Recessions write the rules though, for many of us. This recession does offer bargains in pricing and quality so stop in and pick some up for the holiday. A case purchase at this time also makes sense with Christmas in mind.

On Friday November 18th from 5-7pm, Christy Dart of Gusto Brands will be hear with another T-day tasting lineup. Join us and stock up!

Monday, November 14, 2011


This sometimes happens. I say I am going to write about something and then something else captures my attention and I write about it. Gouguenheim of Argentina was my advertised subject but there was really nothing there, just another vacuous website with no ancillary wells from which to draw. So I called the supplier who kept returning to Gouguenheim's location at Tupungato as the reason the wines were so special. What a redirect! This borders on discovering Cotes d'Auvergne, France.

Tupungato is 70 kilometers from the city of Mendoza, Argentina, within the Mendoza wine appellation, the finest region of production in the country. The vineyards lie 1000 feet above sea level in the Val Escondido, a desert climate with sandy soils and 320 days of sun a year! With winter coming so late there, the extended ripening season results in wines that are subtle, elegant, and balanced without having the overblown, overbearing flavors and overly floral, perfumy aromas common in other Argentines.

Twenty years ago this area was viewed as a beautifully barren lunar-like environment with no connection to the already thriving Argentine wine industry. Today it is just the opposite. International investment money is continually pouring into Tupungato with star "flying winemakers" like Michel Rolland, actively supervising his projects in the area, along with Masi, one of Italy's finest wine concerns being heavily invested there. Projections for future investment are as endless as the accolades the wines of Tupungato are receiving. Tupungato may be one of the finest wine production regions in the world!

Along with climate, soil is a subject of ultimate importance for winemaking and does Tupungato have a story to tell there. The Pleistocene Era in geological history took place from 2,588,000 to 11,000 years before the present time. That period was know for being the time of the last glacial period. Wisconsin, for instance, was covered with glaciers. Mount Tupungato in Argentina was formed during this period as the result of it's frequent volcanic eruptions. As a "stratovolcano", or composite volcano, Tupungato became a cone-shaped mountain composed of layers of lava, tephra, pumice, and volvanic ash. Its steep sides formed because the lava hardened quickly due to high levels of silica (viscosity) and lesser amounts of mafic magma. Well known volcanos of this type include Krakatoa and Vesuvius.

Mount Tupungato is one of the highest mountains on the continent. Its name means "star viewpoint" in the Huarpe tongue and that may just as well apply to this industry's aspirations for the region. It is truly reaching for the stars.

Tuesday evening November 15th Gail Avera of Allgood wines will be tasting out wonderful wines appropriate for Thanksgiving as will Christy Dart of Gusto Brands on Friday the 18th. Gouguenheim Malbec, Reserve Malbec, and Malbec Rose are all in stock and may be purchased with a ten percent discount by citing this article.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Taleggio is a whole cow's milk cheese from the Val Taleggio in the Italian Alps in the Valtaleggio region near Lombardy. One of the oldest soft ripening cheeses, this 9 inch square gray cave-aged delight originated the 9th century. Stracchino is another name for Taleggio and that name refers to the fatigue endured by the cows as they trek up and down mountains to feed on the right vegetation to produce the cheese.

While the vegetation fed on by the cows is critical to the flavor of this cheese, aging is also important. Typically Taleggio is aged up to 48 days during which the cheese is washed either with a bacteria solution or as originally done, smeared with an older cheese to facilitate the transfer of bacteria to affect the gray mold exterior. Taleggio shares this "smear ripening" technique with Muenster and Port Salut. The smear ripening gives the cheese a stronger flavor while its cave aging gives it an earthiness.

Taleggio typically has a strong aroma, mild flavor, and unusual fruitiness at the finish. It has a moist, melt-in-your-mouth feel and spreads easily on crusty bread. It serves well with green salads or as a dessert, or may mix with spices, raisins, nuts, or lemon.

Wine pairings include most any Italian Nebbiolo, Soave, or other light dry or off-dry Italian white. At one tasting at the store an Italian Lagrein was being offered and coming from the same general region as Taleggio, it paired quite well with the Tallegio on hand.

Mention this blog and get a 20% discount off the $19.99# Taleggio retail this week.

On Saturday November 12th at 2pm (subject to change if football interferes), Jon Allen of Georgia Crown Distributing will be here tasting out seasonally appropriate reds and whites. Jon is a Cordon Bleu educated chef so be here and pick his brain for holiday culinary know how.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cotes d'Auvergne IV - Bleu d'Auvergne

For the past couple months we have repeatedly returned to Cotes d'Auvergne, France for new information about this historic wine production region. We have learned that most of its past two thousand year "recent" history has centered around food production and preparation. Now with Bleu d'Auvergne cheese in the store, it is time to examine its fromage and charcuterie history.

D'Auvergne, France is home to more AOC cheeses than any other appellation in France. The AOC cheese laws, like wine, legally define a cheese historically and geographically, making the poaching of a place name and applying it to a pretender, a crime. Charcuterie or "cooked flesh" is even more central to d'Auvergne's identity than fromage, with a long history of preserving meats before refrigeration. Bacon, ham, sausage, terrines and pates, and gallatines all have a historic home in d'Auvergne.

Bleu d'Auvergne was created in 1854 by one Antoine Roussel, a cheesemonger who accidentally contaminated his cheese product with a rye bread mold. Wouldn't you know it, it tasted good! Roussel began intentionally "needling" his cheese with the mold then aging it for four weeks in a cool, wet cellar and "voila" a star was born. Now needling is mechanical and the mold has been replaced by the mold, penicillium roqueforti, the same mold used in neighboring Roquefort, while the aging process remains about the same.

Bleu d'Auvergne has a strong and pungent aroma yet creamy and buttery flavor while maintaining a moist texture. It is used in salad dressings and pasta and marries well with big red wines like Cotes du Rhone or sweet whites like Sauternes or dessert Riesling and it also does well with sweeter malt beverages like Porter.
Food affinities include nuts, raw mushrooms, and apples.

Here is our vocabulary word for the day: oligo-elements. Not to worry, it just means trace elements and in our context it refers to the magnificent soil of d'Auvergne which goes back to its magnificent volcanic history and the good fortune of its inhabitants to inherit such fertile soils and exploit them for culinary purposes. Remember, some of the best chefs of France have come from d'Auvergne.

On Friday November 4th, Curtis Gauthier, a trained chef from New York, will be here at the store tasting out fine examples of Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Malbec. Mention this article at the tasting and your Bleu d'Auvergne is 20% off the regular price.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Websites, Segura Viudas, and Lovatti

A while back I commented that so many winery websites were little more than puff pieces to promote their product. I think I said the more successful ones were akin to a welcome mat for visitors. Among my critical issues about winery websites, I find a high production glossy veneer with shallowness and superficiality toward their product with accompanying annoyingly loud pop music, to be about the worst. As I see it, foreign language barriers are my problem if I can't understand them.

By contrast I feel like I am learning from an adult at the great Spanish Cava website, Check it out. It is so well done I would feel like a really lousy thief if I borrowed information from them because they set it forth so well. "Great wine is born in the vineyard. Each grape type is suited to the soil, altitude, and microclimate within the estate and it is all estate fruit using only the first pressings for this fine Cava. The wine is a golden straw color with a finely integrated mousse. Long aging on the lees lends notes of pastry and butter with a balance of fruit and acidity resolving into a refreshingly dry finish." So I'm a thief. You know even if all of that were just creative writing, it's still so well done I'm salivating.

Cava is Spanish Sparkling Wine and Segura Viudas is truly something special, which speaks to another website criticism of mine. So often the product in the bottle doesn't live up to the verbiage in print. Segura Viudas does. The Brut NV is a blend of 50% Macabeo (see June 25th blog), 40% Parellada, and 10% Xarel-lo. The Segura Viudas Heredad is a blend of Parellada, offering subtlety and elegance, and Xarel-lo, offering backbone, body and acidity. Brut NV is an $11.99 retail; Heredad, $19.99. This is holiday fare, people. Pick some up now for Thanksgiving and serve it before, during, or after the meal...or all three!

Our "Meteor" award winner from the previous blog was Lovatti Brolo Val Sorda 2010, a charming red from the Lake Garda region of north-central Italy. At their website I learned that Brolo is a blend of 50% Merlot and 50% Sangiovese from the Veneto region with characteristicly fragrant, intense berry aromas and velvety, harmonious berry flavors wrapped within its medium body format. The "Meteor" goes to the wine that sells out the quickest at our Friday tastings and with a description like that you can see why. Yummm. Then the website goes on to say Brolo goes with most any meal and I want to throttle someone. Pasta, yes. Appetisers, I think so. But steak? Come on.

Websites, sheesh!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Envelope Please

Our Friday tasting this week showed us that a charming crowd pleasing Sauvignon Blanc, Torreon de Paredes from Chile, and a shockingly well made Spanish Tempranillo, Fuentenarro from Ribero del Duero, could lead the way sales-wise in a crowded field of contenders. I thought this was one of the best tastings we have had both in quality and price and I think our winners earned their accolades. Torreon is a slightly off-dry cocktail wine and Fuentenarro is fine red meat dinner wine. Each retail for $10.99. Our runners up include Perry Creek El Dorado Merlot and Tupun Argentine Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva.

New to the store this week is our "Hall of Fame" lineup of tasting winners from the past month. By letting the wine tasting attendees speak to their choices in this way, I think I am offering the obvious, a "People's Choice" award. People vote with their wallets, right, and everyone in a cross sectional tasting group can't all be wrong. So...the envelope please.

Best Buy red wine award winner: Auka Argentine Syrah 2007 $9.99. Mouth filling red meat dinner wine.

Best Buy white award winner: La Playa Sauvignon Blanc 2011 $9.99. Citrusy seafood white.

"The Meteor" winner, awarded to the fastest wine to sell out in an evening: Lovatti Brolo Val Sorda 2010 $11.99. Light Italian red with unique fruit flavors. Food affinity, of course, pasta.

"Just for Fun" winners: Estampa Argentine Viognier/Chardonnay 2009 $12.99. Off-dry cocktail wine suitable for picnic fare. Auka Argentine Torrontes 2009 $9.99. Ditto Estampa.

Best Example of Type white winner: Cave Saint Verny Le Chardonnay, Cotes d'Auvergne France 2010 $13.99.

Best Example of Type red winner: Sicoris Spanish Red Blend Costers del Segre 2009 $15.99.

"The Jaw Dropper" white: Waterstone Napa Valley Pinot Grigio 2010 $19.99. Just an out-of-the-blue simple surprise.

Jaw Dropper red: Waterstone Carneros Pinot Noir 2008 $26.99. Two hours after opening, unbelievably rich red with exponentially improved complexity.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cotes d'Auvergne III/VDQS

Saint Verny (Le)Chardonnay from Cotes d'Auvergne was our tasting winner from two weeks ago while the (Le)Pinot Noir from Saint Verny came in second in popularity based on sales that same weekend. While the ancient history and culture of the area documented here in the past week remains accurate, recent history in d'Auvergne has changed considerably.

In 2006 in response to the crisis in the French wine industry, Bernard Pomel authored the "Pomel Report" to the government urging a simplification of French wine law to facilitate commercial sales. At that time sales were so poor producers were converting Bordeaux into industrial alcohol to maintain pricing and a revenue stream for the producers. International competition from the new world had caused the dropoff in sales so the theory was to de-cryptify the label language on French wines to encourage international sales.

The fundamental change in law was to eliminate the VDQS quality level in French Wine Law. For most of the twentieth century there have been four quality levels in France. "Appellation Controlee" (AOC), the top quality level, guarantees government recognition that the product in the bottle must be from a distinct delimited region with the established grape varieties of that region made in a manner consistent with traditional practices of that region. VDQS (Delimited Wine of Superior Quality) was the second quality level and also maintained much of the same "certitudes" of AOC, just not guaranteeing the same quality level. "Vin de Pay" is the third level and it allowed for higher yields and a larger regional character for those wines. The fourth level is Vin de Table which is a catchall term for no regional restrictions and wines with no place name other than France.

With the ending of the VDQS category, all VDQS wines could apply for AOC status and gradually they have. Cotes d'Auvergne is now an AOC and may establish their own style of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as their "brand" without the encumbrance of historic models, ie., Gamay no longer must be included in the blend. Chardonnay, never highly regarded in the region, has now been elevated as a commercial priority and the quality has coorespondingly improved.

Here is what I really like. Along with the thrust to improve and elevate d'Auvergne Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, there is a project concurrently to study 15 ancient grape varieties from the area to determine if they have commercial potential for the future. A discovery from the past is always welcome.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cotes d'Auvergne II

I spent so much time talking about the history, geography, and culture of Cotes d'Auvergne last time, I forgot to talk about the wine! When you come across the oldest inhabited region of France with a geological history like this one it is easy to digress. The wine in question, by the way, is Le Pinot Noir and Le Chardonnay from the large co-op, Cave Saint Verny, located just south of Clermont-Ferrand in the middle of d'Auvergne. Clermont-Ferrand is the home of industrial giant, Michelin and its associated industries that have taken over the middle of the valley basin. The vineyards are now all situated on the slopes of the surrounding mountains. The soil as stated before is a complex array of minerality allowing for good drainage from the sloped plantings making the current situation optimal for the limited modern wine industry there.

While d'Auvergne is on the same parallel as Cotes Rotie and St. Emilion, Rhone and Bordeaux grapes do not do well at this higher altitude which explains why d'Auvergne in its 19th century heyday was only known for ordinary quality production. The climate of d'Auvergne, being northern continental and affected by north Atlantic weather patterns, allows for the popular varietals, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, to be ideal choices for viniculture there.

The third grape allowed in d'Auvergne is Gamay and it comes in two varieties. There is of course the Gamay of Beaujolais in southern Burgundy but also in d'Auvergne is an ancient clone of Gamay native to the region. 90% of the wine production from d'Auvergne is red wine and by law all reds from d'Auvergne must be at least 50% Gamay so how "Le Pinot Noir" became so named is beyond me. The 10% of white wine production in d'Auvergne is entirely Chardonnay.

There are five premier vineyard regions that encircle Clermont-Ferrand and Saint Verny draws from three of them: Madargues to the north and Corent and Boudes to the south. The five premier regions produce half of the wine of d'Auvergne and Saint Verny is one of one hundred sixty-five wine concerns operating there. The Saint Verny wine cooperative was established in 1950 and d'Auvergne received its VDQS rating one year later. VDQS is the medium quality rating in French Wine Law. The top rating, AOC, is expected to be awarded to d'Auvergne this year.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cotes d'Auvergne

Last Friday our "best of show" overall was the "Le Chardonnay" from Cave Saint Verny in the Cotes d'Auvergne, which lies in the geographical center of France. Our best red of the evening was "Le Pinot Noir" from the same people. I had been informed that d'Auvergne was just outside of Burgundy, offering Burgundy varietals at a fraction of the prized AOC price. These two were a $14 retail and exhibited to a lesser extent the finesse of their Burgundy counterparts.

Cotes d'Auvergne has been called the "lost wine region of France" by wine writer Richard Kelley because of a convergence of twentieth century developments that effectively took it off the map for a century. In 1885 d'Auvergne ranked third in wine production behind Herault and Aude in the Languedoc and ahead of Bordeaux and Burgundy, the elite appellations of France. As you may recall the phylloxera epidemic hit France at that time followed at the turn of the century by blights of mildew, frost, rain, and drought, all before the devastation of the two World Wars. As we have already stated with regard to Spain, viniculture does not automatically spring back from disruptions, moreover as a commercial business, tastes do change and the wines from the 1880's don't necessarily translate into 20th century tastes.

The "lost region" also refers to d'Auvergne's geographical isolation and here is where things really get interesting. Richard Kelley is a chronicler of the Loire Valley wine industry and the Loire River actually begins in d'Auvergne in a natural basin created 12-20 million years ago by the most volatile volcanic activity in Europe. That volcanic activity resulted in natural barriers to invaders but also created a natural inhibition in the ethos of the people to outside cultural influences. The people of d'Auvergne historically were untrusting of outsiders, primitive in culture, and frugal due to endemic poverty.

The intense volcanic activity of 20 million years ago proved beneficial in ways we in the wine industry recognize in retrospect. Today d'Auvergne in the Limagne basin has soil composed of alluvial deposits of cinders, lava, and ash. The slopes of the mountainsides where most of the vines are now planted have a bedrock of alkaline basalt (weathered lava) which is rich in minerals and a topsoil of granite and argile-calcaire. Because of what volcanic eruption is, the basin is mottled with different soils throughout depending on what deposits were spewed in whichever direction. Along with the mountains themselves, hills and plateaus were formed by lava flows over the base surface composed of limestone and clay.

Viniculture is first chronicled after the Roman invasion around 50bc and was most likely started by monks. It really never took hold though until the eighteenth century due to the success of vegetable farming in that fertile valley and the ancillary success of the cuisine of d'Auvergne that found its way to large city restaurants around France. The locally trained chefs of d'Auvergne who left the area for career positions were known to return home for retirement.

The d'Auvergne wine industry was "lost" in the twentieth century for another reason. The Michelin tire company made Clermont-Ferrand in the middle of d'Auvergne its home and the entire region became a commercial/industrial center. Gone today is the expansive wine monoculture of the nineteenth century. Gone is the historic food culture of the region. Today there is industry and suburban sprawl and, if France is like this country, hardly a glance over the shoulder at what once was.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wine Tastings II

Last night we tasted the lineup from Waterstone of Napa Valley. I had talked up this line for a week in emails, phone calls, facebook, and here in the blog. The turnout was good and the wines sold acceptably well. The best seller understandably was the Cabernet; the weakest, surprisingly was the Chardonnay. All others sold equally well including the "Study in Blue" red blend ($45/btl) which clearly delivered on its promise of superiority.

Here's what surprised me. I had tasted these wines a week earlier and had determined that the Merlot and Syrah were the best outside of "Study". Last night I thought the Cabernet and Pinot Noir were clearly better than the other reds. What gives? One difference from a week ago was the length of time the bottles had been open. A week ago the wines had been open for 24 hours by the time they came to me. Last night we opened them all at five o'clock and I tasted the Pinot at seven o'clock. The reds are all stylistically "tight" and need time to open up. Apparently 24 hours was a good amount of time for some of them.

By the way, we decanted "Study" at five o'clock anticipating the time element and it was luscious.

This paragraph is now being written 24 hours after pulling the corks last night and as luck would have it a customer asked to taste the wines. "Study" and the Pinot were consumed last night (burp) but the Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet all are showing better now than last night. The Syrah and Merlot actually taste like I remembered them from one week prior. These wines are very good in a fleshy/gamey sort of way once they have been open long enough.

The two whites were also quite tasty with the Pinot Gris being a showstopper with its long winey oily flavors. The Chardonnay was just fine with no flaws and may have just been overshadowed by its spectacular predecessor or maybe it was just Chardonnnay fatigue among the tasters.

For another look at the subject of winetasting go to the August 6th blog.

Friday October 7th we will be tasting some combination of French and California Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs with a couple other types thrown into the mix. Please join us here at the store. Cite this blog and get 10% off your purchase that night.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Wine Tastings

Last night we had a more or less typical wine tasting here at the store. The most popular white wine of the evening was Alta Luna Pinot Grigio, a restaurant offering from the giant co-op, Cavit of Trentino, Italy. The most popular red was Auka Argentine Syrah, a decent example of type at the popular $9.99 price point. Both wines tripled the sales of their nearest competitor on the table.

Why was this typical? The short answer is, "I don't just is." Last week it was Don Ramon Spanish Red Blend. The previous week it was Lovatti Val Sorda Italian Red. The week before that it was Sicoris Spanish Red. Is there a common thread at work here?

Price is a reality at work here. All of the above wines are in the $10-15 range. Last night the Gascon Reserve Malbec did well at an over $20 tag and the week before both California Cabs over $20 sold well also. I think if I was a mathematician I could create a formula for predicting sales of wines at a tasting based on price. But I digress...and I'm most certainly not a mathematician. I cut cheese for a living.

What about the fact that our Pinot Grigio winner last night was from the giant wine conglomerate, Cavit. That certainly indicates sales predictability through market surveys and the fact it was a "restaurant only" item where mass exposure is guaranteed before it is offered to retailers means this wine is intended to be mass marketed ultimately. Its poll-tested, right?

Well, yes but. Certainly Sicoris and Lovatti from weeks past weren't mass marketed and Auka Syrah is a minor player. They were all just very good wines at popular prices. Maybe that's it. The mathematical equation is individual and it comes down to "bang for your buck" value. I can live with that.

You didn't ask but the worst tasting we ever had here was a Pinot Noir tasting where all of the wines were ordinary and actually all tasted the same and everyone who came was a cabernet lover. I wanted to dissolve into the wallpaper. The worst wine tasting I ever attended was held at a major hotel banquet room in Atlanta by Diageo, one of the world's largest players. Every table lining the room was manned by the equivalent of a carney barker hawking whatever wine was on the table before him. The wines were all fine, as in decent product suitable for most any purposes. What wasn't fine was that while the wines were different varietals from five different continents, they all tasted remarkably the same!

I guess having a clear winner, some also-rans, and a stinker or two here ain't so bad.

Put this on your calendar. Tuesday evening from 5-7pm, Rene Bosque of RMB Associates will be here at the store tasting out the wines of Waterstone of Napa Valley California. In recent weeks we have tasted a half dozen similarly priced California varietals here. These are better. All will be "best of show" quality. Be here most definitely for this one.

Monday, September 26, 2011

This and That

I guess this kind of post was inevitable. Its about observations and tying up loose ends.

The Spanish Circles Red (August 19th blog) was a major hit this past summer due to its appealing lighter style during our torrid season. The Circles White was largely Viura grape which is often blended modestly into Spanish reds to lighten them in the same way Australia and France blend Viognier into Shiraz (Syrah). While the label doesn't say so, I'm betting Circles has 2%-3% Viura.

California Chardonnay is really a "style" unto itself. Chardonnay from Europe and elsewhere is usually lighter, drier, and simpler. As we tasted Mersoleil and Charles Krug this past weekend I glanced across the table to the stack of unoaked chardonnay three feet away and thought "hm-m-m...".

As I shared my research on wine screw caps (August 26th blog) with David Harris of Blackstock Vineyards recently, he very quickly rebutted what I thought I knew. Wine breathing through the liner of a screw cap may or may not be true but the long and short of it is that the cap is a closure and for all practical purposes, a sealer. End of issue.

Gene Azurmundi of Catamarca Imports does not represent the Lugana white wine made by Lovatti of Italy. I know because I tried to order some from him recently. What a shame. I still remember the Lugana we sold here earlier this summer. Bummer...

I told my daughter, Katie, about my brilliant article on Verdicchio (September 20th blog). Katie studies Italian at Georgia State. She volunteered that I mispronounce "Cavaliere", "Marches", and many other Italian words. Punk.

I read an article this summer about how Italian wines are a good "go to" if you don't know what your guests like. I have noticed that here at our tastings. To expand on that idea I think any wine that everyone likes here at a tasting is one we should keep in mind for our holiday tables.

Some wine grapes are really versatile in their style applications: Zinfandel, Syrah, Torrontes, Malbec. Anyone want to offer others?

Winery websites are mostly vacuous by necessity. They can't be challenging or too informative because they are supposed to be a high tech door mat. Segura Viudas has a good one though (

Extreme styles of wine like Australian Shiraz or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc seem to have short commercial lives, relatively speaking. But certain California wines that seem extreme in style go on for decades. It must be credited to business research.

I was going to finish with a paragraph each on mass marketing of wine and the obvious popularity of reds over whites but I think those two subjects deserve an entire article on each. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Maurizio Marchetti Verdicchio

This is an exciting time for wine lovers. The more I study the modern era, the more I see how modernization in production worldwide and educational efforts in oenology at UC Davis and elsewhere have led to an evolution in the tastes of the American wine buying populace. Gone are the days of White Zinfandel and the acceptance of the "popular palate" as a commercial goal over and opposed to the production of better quality wines. In all honesty America has grown up in its wine appreciation and wants more now than earlier generations would have.

So we have stated previously that Europe was devastated by World War II and that this modern era in winemaking began around 1960. Italian efforts are said to have begun in earnest in the 1970's with experimentation and innovation blossoming in the 1980's. The 1990's saw an increase in consistency and the further development of lesser wine regions. We have also said that America likes ripeness in grapes to the point that hangtime in vineyards is extended so the water in the grapes evaporates somewhat leaving a concentrated sugar content. America is the world's largest wine market and producers around the world do try to satisfy its palate.

Now we enter into the discussion the Maurizio Marchetti family, Verdicchio makers for generations in the classico (central) region of Marches, and the producers of Castelli di Jesi, the most popular white table wine in this store in the $15 range. This effort is a pale straw in color with a delicate and persistent nose and fresh harmonic, slightly bitter flavor. It is intended for seafood but is so much more than just a seafood wine. Its most striking feature may be the opulent fruit component sheathed within its dry dinner wine format.

Marchetti has now released Verdicchio Castelli di Jesi Cavaliere... Reserve Verdicchio, if you will. It follows in the tradition of German Spatlese Trocken wines first introduced to America in the 1980's and unfortunately doomed to commercial failure. We were not ready at that time for such flavorful rich dry white wines, being all too consumed with our own California Chardonnays. Riesling of this quality also conflicted with the popular perceptions of the time; Blue Nun, Black Tower, etc.

Cavaliere, being a dry late harvest wine, is again straw in color but with more green and yellow hues. Its apricot/buttered toast flavors are intense and invigorating with fineness (finesse) being what separates it from others. Again this wine is intended for seafood and salads but, because it is so fine, hors d'oeuvres would showcase it well.

So why are Maurizio Marchetti's Verdichios so special? The fruit is all "free run". The grapes are not crushed. Maurizio believes crushing reduces the sweetness of the fruit in Verdicchio so the whole grapes in the fermentation tank crush themselves by their weight. Maurizio then crushes what is left, about 50% of his produce, and sells it to fortified wine makers so it will not be labeled as Verdicchio.

If you read this and would like to try Cavaliere call 770-287-WINE(9463) or email to order. The wine is not presently in the store. Mention this article and claim 10% off the suggested $21.99 retail. We really want you all to try this one!


Monday, August 29, 2011

Winetasting Report August 26, 2011

Well this will be easy. All of the wines were quite good, okay? I guess I ought to say more.

To the best of my knowledge Cambridge and Sunset and Tiki Sound are recession wines. During these funky times non-historic labels will appear containing surprisingly good juice at relatively bargain prices. Contracts for pricier wines get broken forcing producers to develop ways to channel the product to consumers. Actually historic labels seem to be better also because they are being "goosed" with higher ticket juice that isn't moving at the regular price. This store is full of such offerings. But I digress...

The best seller Friday night was the C&S Red Blend (Cabernet/Zinfandel) which was a tasty quaff indeed. It tasted like a big fat country-style California Cabernet, delicious by itself and great with burgers and more. The second best seller was the C&S Chardonnay, a seriously sturdy example of classic California Chard.

The Tiki Sound New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir were just fine at their $12price point. They were fine examples of type with the Sauvignon Blanc being refreshingly restrained in its citrus fruit index. The Pinot was just earthy enough to get complaints from some, my kind of wine.

The C&S Cabernet was chalky and lacking in fruit. That said, it tasted just fine to me, just not up to snuff with the rest.

I forgot one. The Berton Muscat Frizzante from Australia was great! It was just sweet enough for most cocktail occasions. One taster compared it to the New Age from Argentina that makes a "Tincho" when you squeeze a lime into it. Maybe we should have done that.

You know how you can tell the recession is over? These kinds of wines will either go away or they won't taste nearly so good. You get the picture.

Stop in this week and try any of these with ten pecent off the regular price or get six with 15% off by citing this blog.

Monday, August 22, 2011

August 19th Wine Tasting Review

You know you have superior wines when you taste them three days after the wine tasting and they show better than on the night of the event. Actually the two dry whites, Renaud Pouilly Fuisse and Chateau du Trignon Roussanne Rhone, showed quite well Friday evening, as did the 2008 Domaine Houchart Cotes de Provence Red. The Washington State reds from Dusted Valley of Walla Walla were the major disappointments, but like I said, they were good today. The M Trignon Muscat de Beaumes de Venise was also quite nice today and I regret I didn't taste it Friday.

Mike Miller of M Squared Brokerage, our winetasting presenter, admitted well into our tasting that he should have opened the Boomtown Merlot and Dusted Valley Cabernet Sauvignon earlier. C'est la vie. These are both reserve quality reds even though "Boomtown" Merlot is a second label. My feeling is most any above average Washington State Merlot is reserve quality compared to most Merlot sourced elsewhere. These two were both 2008 vintage and should show well for ten more years. If the truth be known, they were still a little tight today.

Speaking of vintages, the two dry whites were both 2009, the vintage of a lifetime according to Georges DuBoeuf. I cannot emphasize enough the quality of this vintage and I encourage all to try 2009 vintage european wines. The two from Friday night were probably equally good but the Pouilly Fuisse, being a relatively expensive Chardonnay, opened up more in the glass. The Rhone was flat-out in-your-face apricots and peaches to perfection. The Rhone with poultry; the Pouilly with seafood, I would say.

Chateau Houchart red was our best seller Friday night, I'm sure because of its moderate price. It was a tasty little all purpose red though.

M Trignon was luscious. The nose was orange; the taste was very sweet; the body was round but not heavy; the finish was moderate. This is fine dessert wine for lovers of that kind of thing.

So I've gone on and on about a tasting that was not particularly successful. I guess there are alternative definitions of success. Stop in before the end of the month for a 20% discount on these wines when using cash or personal check. What the heck, extend that discount over cheese and the wine glasses we are offering by citing this article through the end of the month.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Circles/Seis Circles

"Circles/Seis Circles" is one of the most successful labels in the store this year. It hails from Bodega Aguila in the Carinena region of Spain. Before delving into the wine specifically, let's look at the place.

Carinena is located northeast of center on the Spanish map. It is in the middle of Aragon in the province of Zaragoza on a plateau called "Campo de Carinena". Its locale is east of Calatayud, south of Campo de Borja, and between Rioja and Ribero del Duero. Nice neighborhood. Bodega Aguila is one of sixty bodegas (vineyards) in historic Carinena, which received its DO (denominacion de origen) in 1932, the second overall after Rioja.

Wine grape growing in this region was first documented in the third century BC and by the middle ages one half of the area was planted in vineyards. Carinena, itself is named after the Carignan grape which is believed to have originated there (see June 7th blog) but oddly enough is called Mazuelo in the locale.

Carinena has a continental climate, meaning hot days and cold nights which typically bring out intense flavors in wines. The soil is limestone over loose rock of slate and calcium carbonate with clay in places.

Historically the wines of Carinena have been strong, high alcohol reds but around 1990 coinciding with the construction of a new research center in the area, a decision was made to produce commercially popular wines that would be lighter, fruitier, and well-balanced. Sales of these wines have quadrupled since 1995.

Garnacha grapes now produce 55% of all wine from Carinena and it is made using the carbonic maceration method in which whole berry clusters are sealed in a container with carbon dioxide pumped into it. In this carbon dioxide rich environment the grape skins are permeated stimulating fermentation at an intracellular level. Fermentation in this way, prior to crushing, activates phenolics creating fruity flavor compounds while decreasing malic acid, resulting in a low tannin wine.

Viura (see June 25th blog) is the primary white grape accounting for 20% of the total regional production. Carbonic Maceration is not used in white wine production relying instead on steel barrel fermentation for lightness.

Circles and its sibling, Seis Circles, reflect the style of winemaking just described. They are marketed at two different price points that seem arbitrary to me. The public clearly prefers the higher tier red and the lower tier white. Pick them up for the remainder of the month at $9.99/btl by citing this blog. Pick up Spanish Manchego, Mitibleu, or Drunken Goat to accompany your wine with a 20% discount by mentioning the blog.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Blackstock, Amelioration, and Verdicchio

One thing that I enjoy about blogging is how one subject leads to another naturally so I can begin by talking about our tasting of Blackstock wines last night and then move on to a discussion of "amelioration" and end up with a teaser about Verdicchio. Oh yes I can, watch me. Let's get started.

The Blackstock wines we tasted here last night were a real eyeopener for this jaded observer. There were three reds, a rose, and the Blackstock flagship white, Viognier. All were from drought year (2006-2008) vintages, elevating quality expectations perhaps unfairly, except I had tasted them a week earlier and knew their quality. Here is what I learned though...over the course of two hours, the reds continued to either hold their own or improve. The least of them, Rocking Chair Red (Merlot) really tasted great at closing time!

The best wines on the table were the three reds, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rocking Chair, and the Ace proprietary blend, and the Viognier. The rose was good but overshadowed. I thought the Cabernet was great but it sold the poorest while the Ace was our clear sales winner, doubling sales of the second bestseller. Rocking Chair, Sangiovese Rose, and Viognier all sold well.

While conversing with David Harris, he alluded to a scandal in California involving grape growers and large corporate wineries. As we have said before (July 14th blog) the popular style for many wines involves leaving the grapes on the vine until the grapes are overly ripe, making the wine coorespondingly sweeter and higher in alcohol. As the grapes shrivel and water evaporates from within, the weight of the berries decreases. Since grape growers are paid by the tonnage of the produce, they lose in such a situation.

Federal law mandates that wine grapes must be harvested at 23 brix as normative for the production of most table wines. The dilemna would seem to be that the popular style of wine for the times conflicts with the way the law has been written to protect the growers except for the introduction of "amelioration" into the process. Amelioration is the adding of water (or liquid sugar) before, during, or after fermentation. So in effect, what the wineries were doing to take advantage of the growers, was to dry the grapes on the vines before harvesting, then weighing the shrunken product, followed by reconstituting them in the winery. Voila! Profit!

Speaking of long hangtime grapes our most popular $15 white wine, Marchetti Verdicchio Castelli di Jesi Classico, has just begun offering a late harvest version. I tasted it this week and it is amazing. While most late harvest wines are sweet, this one has been fermented dry, leaving it layers of intense flavors from the dried fruit. The wine will be here in a week or two and pricing will be minimally $20. More on this one to come obviously.

Look, I am really high on Blackstock. Stop in this week, cite the blog, and get 10% off on any Blackstock wine purchase. And by the way, I told you I could do it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

David Harris and Blackstock Vineyards

In recent weeks we have discussed the Languedoc region of southern France for the purpose of examining estate wines like Chateau Puech Haut and Val de Salis and in our July 14th installment we juxtaposed Languedoc and Bordeaux for the purpose of contrasting production of Merlot, Bordeaux being more estate-driven production and Languedoc offering more bulk production for mass market-labelled wine. This weekend we are tasting the wines of David Harris and Blackstock vineyards and much of what we have been discussing recently pertains here also.

David Harris is the finest winemaker in Georgia. His wines have been served on the governor's table as representative of what Georgia's capabilities are in fine wine production. When you talk to David about his craft, you get a philosophical discussion of what winemaking is. For him, "place" is of ultimate importance and grape type and wine style are secondary. One might say the wine is made in the vineyard and the winemakers would be well advised to accept a supporting role.

According to Georgia law, in order for a wine to be labelled "Georgia" Merlot or whatever, it has to be 75% Georgia juice. This is actually a good protection for the wineries in the event of a catastrophy like the Easter frost of a few years ago. If a Georgia wine is labelled "American" Chardonnay or whatever, it may by law be 100% California juice. You begin to see the problem. Moreover, being a small government state, enforcement of these laws is weak, so one producer's great red wine labelled "Georgia" production may actually contain a substantial amount of premium California Syrah.

David Harris is one of the few producers in the state that mandates 100% estate production and finds the controversy to be ironic. Being a classically trained winemaker out of the University of California system, David recognized correctly that the White/Lumpkin county area might be right for wine grape growing and now sees how it really has become its own appellation due to the regional character of the wines; the reds are earthy and the whites are minerally. The Appalachian Mountains offer a granite sedementary soil that imparts its mineral content to its grape vine production making our local wine production unique. The irony of course is, why would you adulterate what is here with imported juice?

The irony is compounded by the fact that local wine production is trending even more toward imported juice sourced elsewhere and lower quality juice at that. Two encouraging developments are on the horizon though. With the recognition of wine as part of the dinner table experience as opposed to a cocktail or centerpiece, Georgia production is well balanced, food friendly with good acidity, and it ages well. With regard to the law, Georgia is now legislating food labels that read "Georgia Grown" to protect the onion industry amongst others. Could the wine industry be far behind?

Attend our tasting this weekend and get a 10% discount on Blackstock wines and 20% off on cheese by citing this blog.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Wine Tasting and Gestalt

Our Friday evening wine tasting this week was punctuated by my occasional insertion of wine terms that were unfamiliar to some in attendance. Here are a few definitions.

"Closed" refers to a red wine that is not showing up to its capabilities usually due to its youth. A closed wine will often open up with decanting and a little time. A "dumb" wine, by contrast, may be a cellared one that is going through a funky period where it is showing poorly only to return to form six months later.

"Vegetal" refers to vegetable flavors in wine, with cabbagy flavors being the most off-putting. Some terroirs like Monterey County California and Chile are known for producing vegetal wines so the soil may contribute to the problem. More often the problem is due to harvesting the grapes too early. Vegetal is recognized within the trade as a flaw but quite frankly I wonder whether those of us who truly like vegetables are really offended by the trait. "Earthy" is different and is not commonly considered to be a flaw.

"Barnyard" refers to an appropriately named stink that is obvious to those in attendance when a red wine is opened. It relates to place in the same way vegetal does. Italian wines often have barnyard; that and the people who stomp the grapes don't wash their feet first. Just kidding, of course. If the smell does not blow off in thirty minutes the wine may have a bacterial infection called "Brettanomyces" which is a problem (unless everyone is congested and can't smell) but it isn't necessarily catastrophic. In fact, "barnyard" in general may be viewed as an asset in that most wines with it are actually very good wines. "Mustiness" is different and often refers to bad cork.

So here's what I'm thinking... As our event was unfolding last night and I offered my observations, I wasn't aware that my language might be cryptic to those in attendance. I am so used to winespeak in the trade, I fell prey to an arrogance (wine snobbery?) that presupposes self over others in a gustatory way, ie., I get overly involved in the tasting experience to the exclusion of others in the room. My bad, I guess.

I am also reminded of wine critic Steven Tanzer's comment about the gestalt of winetasting when he reflected on assigning point ratings to wines (see July 21st blog). Tanzer tries not to dissect a wine in order to tally points for nose, body, finish, etc.; but rather goes for the totality of the wine experience in itself and not the sum of its parts. The gestalt of winetasting may assume an immersion of self into gustatory sensation to the exclusion others in the room. Okay?

Stop in this week, cite the blog, and get a 20% discount on Riedel or Govino stemware which, in a way, relates to the subject of winetasting and gustatory sensation.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Val de Salis and Flooded Vineyards

Last night we tasted the entire line of six wines from Val de Salis vineyards in the Languedoc region of southern France. Val de Salis lies between Corbieres and Minervois, twelve miles from historic Carcasonne and twenty five miles from the Mediterranean Sea. This should place Val de Salis about a hundred miles southeast of Chateau Puech-Haut in St. Drezery.

Here is the interesting part: the vineyards are flooded annually for the health of the native vine rootstocks! You may recall the June 11th installment on Phylloxera and the early attempts to combat the disease in the 1880's by flooding vineyards to prevent the infection caused by the American aphid. The ultimate alternative solution chosen was to graft French vulnerable vines onto American disease resistant rootstocks. This unsettling choice left people wondering if the wines would perhaps be tainted by the new world imported rootstocks and be less than what they were.

Val de Salis provides an insight into this puzzle because it is one of the few European vineyards still using native rootstocks because their vineyards lie in a dry lake bed! At the end of the 17th century, Louis IVX began a process of draining a particularly brackish wetland that was formed geologically by the rising of the Pyrennes Mountains. Now that natural bowl is flooded at the end of winter annually and the vines are cut down almost to the ground so the entire vineyard is under water. No self-respecting aphid would be caught dead in such an environment!

If our tasting of Val de Salis wines shows anything about the quality of native rootstock French wine, it is that they are very good indeed. Sales of these wines last night were better than any (except Puech-Haut) in recent memory. All six varieties; Viognier, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, Pinot Noir, and Marselan; showed well and sold equally well. Sauvignon Blanc was the best white although the Viognier at a lower price point was probably its equal value. The Pinot Noir was the best red but again an argument could be made that the Malbec was a better value.

For more information on the Languedoc see the July 14th and July 26th blogs. To experience these native rootstock wines for yourself, stop in the store and cite the blog for get a 10% discount. Say "yabba dabba do" and get 20% off on a piece of cheese.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Chateau Puech-Haut and the Languedoc

As we have been saying here, the Languedoc is the region of France that produces most of the wine for export to the United States. Many of these wines have been marketed as "fighting varietals" in the eighties and "critter wines" in the nineties but I would prefer to call them "cafe wines" now. They are usually popular varietals that are made in the style Americans love, lots of forward fruit and moderate acidity. They are on a par with most of what comes from California and often at a much better price.

Friday evening at our weekly tasting here we experienced a certain 2009 Chateau Puech-Haut Prestige. All I knew about the wine was its 93 point Parker rating and $20 price tag. It quickly became apparent, this wine was special indeed, one of the best we have tasted in this series. First things first, though, let's look at the Languedoc.

Puech-Haut hails from St. Drezery near Pic-St-Loup in the Coteaux du Languedoc which is a largely meaningless overlay covering most of the Languedoc. The soils are alluvial over limestone bedrock. The climate is mediterranean with marine effects from the Mediterranean Sea twelve miles away. Carignan and Cinsaut, two bulk wine varieties used for blending in the past, have now been largely replaced by the Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre of the Cotes du Rhone. One can anticipate that the current successes of the region will lead to an elevated status in the near future.

Chateau Puech-Haut Prestige is 45% Syrah and 55% Grenache and features aromas and flavors of raspberry, black pepper, and black fruit. It is amazingly floral in the nose and the mouth but its most striking feature is the breadth of its body felt on the tongue with a correspondingly long rich finish. This wine was most definitely contemplative.

Puech-Haut is a European Cellars Eric Solomon Selection, a pedigree amongst importers. "Place Over Process" on the back label refers to the terroir of the vineyards and the primacy of that universe over what happens in the winery proper, which only seems right as a contrast to the everyday wine made and marketed to Americans.

Try Puech-Haut this week with a ten percent discount by citing this blog or get a twenty percent discount on a piece of cheese by jumping up and down and saying "Woof"!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pinot Grigio, Gestalt, and Reality

I recently told a wine industry insider that my best selling varietal was Pinot Grigio, to which he responded, "That's sad". I got a kick out of that. I was happy because it wasn't Chardonnay and he thought it probably should have been Cabernet or some other red. I actually meant just white wines but perceptions do differ and indeed they do. Here's where I'm coming from...

When it is 90+ degrees day in and day out, I am wanting a very light white to slake my thirst and Pinot hits that spot. With summer heat being the reality that it is, I'm betting others share the same thirst. This summer we have done well with Lageder, Il Palu, Villa Sorono, Santa Julia, Terre di Luna, Capasaldo, Elk Cove, Pierre Sparr, Sensi, Borgo Maddalena, and Maso Canali amongst others. If the knock on Pinot Grigio is that it is perhaps too light and simple, then we have a disconnect because each of the above examples stands on its own with attributes that set each apart from the others. If the pinot is watery, that's different and it just doesn't belong here.

Stephen Tanzer (International Wine Cellar) is probably the best widely read wine critic. Recently he was asked what his criteria was for awarding points for scoring wines. He said he doesn't separate color, nose, finish, etc., for the purpose of grading each but rather he looks at the "gestalt" of the wine before scoring it. Now who remembers Psychology 101? Gestalt means wholeness or a unified whole or from Webster's Best: "a structure, configuration, or pattern of physical, biological, or psychological phenomena so integrated as to constitute a functional unit with properties not derivable by the summation of its parts". So if Mr. Tanzer legitimizes Pinot Grigio, I feel validated. Being a retailer though I would have to downgrade a wine if it has an inferior label because it won't sell, dammit! So much for gestalt.

Now what about reality? "Human consciousness does not decide what reality is. Reality is the existence of all of the possible histories that can't be changed by thinking about them. All of these histories contribute to our present state allowing our observations to pin down that state and enabling us to compute the probability for each history reaching our present state." I read that somewhere. Works for me.

Despite all of the above, I still think that the determining factor in the appreciation of Pinot Grigio is the wininess (oiliness if possible) of the flavors and that's where Europe gets it right.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Summer White Wine Scorecard

It is July 18th and a good time to analyze our perceptions of the white wines we are selling to this point of the season. Let's look at them in five dollar increments beginning at $10 and up to $25 and prices may be rounded up or down to fit the category. We will use the standard Donald-Public-Donald formula; Donald (D1-my favorites), Public (P-popularity by sales), and the Donald Rumsfeld (D2) category citing his famous "we don't know what we don't know" speech, that is, we haven't tasted it but boy is it supposed to be good!

$10 Category: D1-2010 La Playa Colchagua Valley Chilean Sauvignon Blanc (conservatively speaking, a citrus explosion); P-2009 Seis Circles Spanish Viura (tastes like light dry muscat to me and see June 25th blog); D2-2009 Caposaldo Veneto Pinot Grigio (comparable to $15/btls, I hear).

$15 Category: D1-2009 Les Volcans Cotes D'Auvergne Chardonnay (tastes like white burgundy); P-2010 Marchetti Verdicchio (fruit and spice = nice); D2-2009 Planeta La Segreta Sicilian Bianco (complex $20 value, I hear).

$20 Category: D1-2010 Madrigal Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc (rich for type, balanced); P-2008 Bouchard Pere & Fils Pouilly Fuisse (superior chardonnay at price point); D2-2009 Casanova della Spinetta Toscana Vermentino (deemed the best of twenty five wines at local tasting).

$25 Category: D1-2009 Martina Rueda Spanish Verdejo (finest white in the store); P-2009 Schug Sonoma Chardonnay (benchmark); D2-2009 Maroslavac-Leger Bourgogne Blanc La Combe ($50 value?).

Not all of these are in the store at this time, but purchase any of these along with my expanded "honorable mention" list this month citing the blog and get a ten percent discount. Again cite the blog for 20% off cheese and crackers to go with your wine.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


So what is Merlot? Is it a piece of fluff cocktail/cafe apertif overly popular with the public and scorned by the critics or is it perhaps the finest red wine in the world as evidenced by the sticker price of Chateau Petrus? Perhaps it is actually both things alternately and by design.

Merlot grapes typically produce a medium body soft dry red wine with flavors of berry, plum, and currant. It is one of the most widely planted grapes in France and France may actually produce close to half of the world's Merlot. To say Merlot is a commercial success is to minimize the proposition.

The finest French Merlot comes from St. Emilion and Pomerol in Bordeaux. Merlot is 60-90% of that Bordeaux blend and fashions a softer, fleshier version of the Medoc Cabernet-based blend. Merlot plantings actually constitute 60% of all Bordeaux vines but they are concentrated in the eastern banks with the Medoc and other west bank communes possessing only 25% of Bordeaux's Merlot. The Merlot component of the blend softens the stronger Cabernet grapes and being an early ripening grape, provides insurance if the later ripening grapes aren't adequate. In Bordeaux where its early harvesting means superior acidity, Merlot finds it's finest expression.

Languedoc is actually where most of France's Merlot is grown and wine from that incredible region of production provides the world amply with good, sturdy reasonably priced cafe wine. The large producers there typically harvest later for riper fruit sometimes bordering on over-ripeness, making the style of Merlot the world craves. With French winemakers anywhere quality is, of course, a priority.

Merlot is by nature a blending grape softening others blended with it. It has become kindred to Malbec and Cabernet Franc along with Cabernet Sauvignon in blends around the world. In Italy it remains a stand alone grape, however, producing a light and dry, herbal varietal dinner wine.

So what about California Merlot? It should surprise no one that Napa and Sonoma provide the best with Napa Merlot being slightly more blackberry/raspberry-ish and Sonoma featuring more plum. As we have said before, Lodi is the Languedoc of California with 25% of the varietal production in the state and accounting for an even larger percentage of the 50,000 acres of Merlot in the state. Like in France, California Merlot styles range from tannic and structured to rich and fruity.

Washington State Merlot is exceptional in that the wine features new world fruit along with old world structure. Moreover Washington Merlot does not rely on blending for complexity; it possesses a deeper color and balanced acidity on its own. Washington State Merlot is not only that state's finest effort, it is world class red wine.

Mention this article in the store this month and try one of our best with a ten percent discount.

Monday, July 11, 2011

July 8th Wine Tasting Report

Every once in a while things turn out right. Last friday we tasted six wines with Robyn Swerdlin of Prime Wine & Spirits and enjoyed parity in quality and sales amongst the entries. 3 Brooms Marlborough New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was also tasted here this weekend but not in the friday night event. It will be reviewed here also.

1. Terra Verus Prosecco was a high quality, light/dry prosecco that advertises its "estate" fruit on the back label. At $15.99/btl it seemed to be a good buy. We tasted it alone and in a Bellini cocktail.

2. Demarie Langhe Italian Arneis 2010 was a light and dry, low acid summer sipper. It was an easy drinking apertif/seafood wine that seemed decent at $14.99.

3. Le Lapin Central Coast California Chardonnay is a second label from Rabbit Ridge, a good Sonoma producer. Le Lapin is "rabbit" in french. The wine was a good standard for the type at $9.99.

4. Le Lapin Paso Robles California Multiplicity was a solid Rhone style red blend from Rabbit Ridge at a bargain $9.99 price. It was medium bodied with moderate acidity and would pair well with red meat on the grill.

5. Anciano Gran Reserva Valdepenas Spanish Tempranillo boasts two years in oak and ten years of aging overall. It also wins the best packaging award with its classy gold accents over black background with gold wire wrapping. The wine was surprisingly light but well made and ready to drink at $12.99.

6. Eberle Paso Robles California Muscat Canelli 2008 is a sweet medium bodied white that has always been a standout from a company known for its reds. Not only did we taste the wine but Robyn had us taste fresh strawberries soaked in Muscat. That was real-l-ly good! Eberle retails for $16.99.

7. 3 Brooms is a 2008 industry closeout at $9.99/btl. The wine is a superior sauvignon blanc by type and about average quality for New Zealand. The citrus overload typical for New Zealand has been tamed with age here.

The Le Lapin wines and Anciano were the best of show friday night, especially considering the prices! Like I said above, there were no disappointments in this lineup.

Update: Monday morning these wines continue to show fine with the Arneis now tasting better than it did over the weekend. Taste them here now and purchase them this week with a 10% discount.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Italy and Prosecco

One of the exciting things about the wine business has to be the continual effort to remake and refine products for prestige and commercial acceptance. Not all wine industries around the world participate in such efforts and for some, commerciality rules completely. In old europe proactive efforts of renewal particularly stand out in countries where it would seem to be easier to let everything stand as is. In the case of the Italian wine industry and Prosecco, seeing an opportunity and acting in a timely manner, has produced great commercial success while improving an ordinary product and elevating it to a status worthy of worldwide recognition.

So what is Prosecco? It is a charming crisp aromatic sparkling wine made from the Glera grape exhibiting yellow apple, pear, white peach, apricot, lemon, melon, honey and almonds in a light format with requisite small bubbles. Despite all of the flavors above, Prosecco is light and simple, unlike some Champagne styles.

So what was Prosecco? Before 1969 when it received its DOC, Prosecco was a pale imitator of Asti Spumonte and while made from Glera, or Prosecco, grapes primarily from around the town of Prosecco in Trieste; it could have just as easily incorporated grapes from Romania, Brazil, Argentina, and Australia and not just Glera grapes but also Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Verdiso, Bianchetta, Perera, Chardonnay, or Glera Lunga. Prosecco could also vary in its sweetness and sparkliness with about 5% of the production being still wine. In other words, Prosecco was wide open to interpretation. Rumors of rose Prosecco still circulate.

In 2009 Prosecco received its DOCG, guaranteeing Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Veneto in the areas near Conegliano and Valdobbiadene north of Treviso as the delimited region of production. Prosecco now is solely a place name and Glera is recognized as the name of the Prosecco grape. While Prosecco does not have to be 100% Glera, the best Proseccos are recogized as such. All Proseccos are sparkling now and a slightly off-dry style is recognized as the norm.

Prosecco is made using the inexpensive Charmat method or bulk processing in stainless steel tanks. Such wines do not improve with aging and should be drunk within three years of bottling. Italians drink Prosecco anytime but especially to accompany salmon, calamari, crabmeat, salads, light pasta, and summer! Prosecco is also the base beverage for Bellini cocktails (with peach puree) and may be used in Mimosas or other champagne cocktails as a substitute for real french Champagne.

Cite this blog for 10% off on a bottle of Prosecco this month.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

July 1st Wine Tasting Review

This tasting was a pleasant surprise for yours truly. We wanted to do something different for the holiday weekend and I guess we hit the spot with our Friday afternoon "cocktail hour". This affair offered three dry whites, two dry reds, and two cocktails, "Tincho" and Sangria.

Here is your review:

1. Surazo Sauvignon Blanc 2008 was a pear/mineral medium body Sauvignon Blanc that satisfied fairly well at $9.99/btl. It hails from the Rapel Valley of Chile.

2. Barnard Griffin Fume Blanc 2010 from Colombia Valley, Washington has been a proven winner in this store in the past and showed well last night. While this wine has often been more floral and feminine in style, it now appears more forthright and demonstrably Sauvignon Blanc. This one is an $11.99 retail.

3. Cutler Creek California non-vintage Pinot Grigio was over matched by the others but it was supposed to be so. It is a $5.99 "recession" label and is actually a bargain at that price.

4. Rimbaldi Italian Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2009 was also out of character for this event. It was a pasta wine to be sure and we weren't serving pasta, but that said, everyone seemed to like it. It sells for $11.99/btl.

5. Schweiger Spring Mountain Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 was also not a clear fit in this event. It is a $40/btl srp that I was offering last night for $25/btl. It is most definitely superior wine but probably not $40's worth.

6. New Age is a sweet blended white (90% Torrontes/10% Sauvignon Blanc) from Argentina that makes a drink called "Tincho" when poured over ice with a wedge of lime. The lime seems to cut the sweetness. New Age retails for $11.99/btl.

7. Sangria Classico is a real find for those who like sangria in the summertime. It comes to us from Spain with a recommendation to add fruit, orange in particular, and, of course, serve chilled. This one is $9.99/1.5l bottle!

The three best selling wines of the tasting were: 1. New Age, 2. Sangria Classico, and 3. Surazo Sauvignon Blanc. Stop in this week and pick up any three of these and get your 10% case discount by citing this report. Schweiger came in fourth by the way and cannot be discounted further.

Stop in this week and ask about the best buy in the store. It's an Italian red under $10. How about champagne for the holiday? Happy 4th!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Rioja Pt.4, Tempranillo and the Future

1960 marks the beginning of the modern wine industry in Spain. Multinationals began to invest in Spain at that time with designs on providing for what they foresaw as a burgeoning American market. Mechanized cultivation with pesticides snd herbicides, being the norm of the times, meant a general trend away from hillside vineyards toward the fertile Ebro River banks which would be easier to farm. Tempranillo became established as the premier grape of Rioja at that time replacing Mazuelo and Graciano, with clonal selection for quantity and disease resistance being the operative guideline.

It wasn't until the 1980's that reds came to dominate whites in production reflecting the coming of age of the American market. The reds of the time were blends of the three major regions of Rioja; the Alta, Alavesa, and Baja; and were traditional blends of Tempranillo (color and elegance), Garnacha (fruit and alcohol), Graciano (spice and acidity), and Mazuelo (astringency and bitterness). As stated in an earlier installment there had been a gradual trending away from lengthy oak barrel aging and more emphasis upon retaining a fresh and fruity structure.

Robert Parker, the premier wine critic, came to wield an undue influence in the wine world in the 1980's and in Spain he was both the bane of the industry's existence and its catalyst for change. Traditional Riojas did not meet Parker's standard for textured, dark fruity, jammy intensity. They were always intended to be food wines as opposed to centerpiece wines but Parker's influence hastened the changes necessary for commercial success and eventual Parker accolades.

Spain has historically looked to France for direction in its wine industry and in the modern era of international winemaking with truly remarkable winemaking artists on retainer, estate-grown Tempranillo has assumed a greater stature. The traditional blends of Alto, Alavesa, and Baja are now yielding to the terroir-driven estates of the French model. Tempranillo in the northern Rioja is now being compared to Pinot Noir(!)with its red fruit flavors, moderate weight, and low astringency as opposed to the oak aged more Cabernet-like style.

Rioja's higher elevation with its foothill vineyards near the Cantabrian Mountains actually compares more favorably with the terroir of Burgundy (Pinot Noir) than to Bordeaux (Cabernet), its historic counterpart. With Tempranillo's short growing season and harvesting at cool Rioja temperatures, blended or unblended, the comparison only deepens. Now mechanized farming and the movement away from the Cantabrians has to be reconsidered and reversed for the future of Tempranillo in Rioja looks very interesting to say the least.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Wine Tasting Review - June 24, 2011

There were actually eight wines tasted here this weekend, the six scheduled and presented by Curtis Gauthier of Empire Distributing, and two additional chardonnays that proved noteworthy. Six wines deserve commentary here.

The 2009 Rodney Strong Charlotte's Home Sauvignon Blanc ($12.99/btl) was complex and rich with body for that grape type. It was quintessential California wine and did not rely on the transient popularity of the citrus overdose so many have.

The 2009 Marquis de Caceres Rioja Rose ($9.99/btl) was just about right for what it was in our time and place, ie., its summer wine and this is summer.

2009 Ernie Els "Big Easy" Red Blend ($19.99/btl) is a South African Syrah/Cabernet blend with a few other grapes filling it out. It was clearly superior wine with its mouth-filling new world grapy Rhone-ish opulence. "Centerpiece" would seem to be the operative word here.

Henri Savard NV French Blanc de Blancs ($9.99/btl) was timely in the same way the rose was. It helped that Curtis, a trained chef, served it with a dollop of raspberry sorbet in it.

The 2008 NO Chardonnay ($13.99/btl) was not served Friday night since it was from a different distributor but I did show it with the others on Saturday and it was obviously superior to many others on the table. NO is unoaked California wine that still seems more substantial and complex than others in that category.

The 2003 Carpe Diem Mount Eden Chardonnay ($24.99/btl) was one I had taken off the shelf fearing it was no longer good. It was actually great on Friday but less so on Saturday and when I finished it on Sunday, it was spotty. Eight years is the maximum you should expect for new world chardonnay from a superior vintage and this one was just right, but they do decline quickly after uncorking.

The best sellers this weekend were the sauvignon blanc, rose, and sparkler. Hey, it's summer! Stop in this week and try them with a 10% discount.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rioja Pt. 3, Macabeo/Viura

Spain actually suffered through a sixty year period of devastation between phylloxera, mildew, civil war, depression, and two world wars. Rebuilding post-World War II also was a lag time for the wine (and cheese) industry so 1960 could be seen as the beginning of the modern wine industry in Spain, so make it a seventy five year low for the industry. This issue deals with the white table wine grape of Rioja which actually has twenty five names across Spain but is best known to us as Macabeo or Viura.

Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca were the primary white grapes of Rioja at the turn of the last century. The grafting of vinifera vines onto American rootstocks was not automatic with all vines. Some just didn't work and changes were necessary. This is where the industry shows its mettle. Garnacha Blanca was deemed to be unworkable on American rootstocks and oxidized too easily anyway so it was replaced by Macabeo, a grape with a proven history elsewhere across Spain. Malvasia was then reduced to a supporting role in the white Rioja blend.

Here is where the acumen of the industry leaders of one hundred years ago is in clear evidence. Oxidation was recognized as a problem then and as if they were prescient enough to know the evolution of modern wine making, they chose a grape that would make a lovely light, crisp and floral seafood compliment and when blended, the Malvasia, often barrel fermented for richness, would make the wine suitable for poultry and other Spanish dishes. For inveterate white wine lovers, white Rija fits the summer season like a glove.

Here are two incidental notes on Macabeo outside of Rioja. Macabeo is one of the white grapes sometimes blended in small amounts into certain reds, a practice sometimes employed in wine production regions around the world to make a lighter wine. Macabeo is also part of the Spanish Cava (sparkling wine) blend along with Xarel-lo and Paralleda.

Cite the blog and get your discount on Spanish white wine in the store this month.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Wine Tasting Results June 17th, 2011

Six wines were tasted on this day; three light dry whites, a sweet white, a brut rose sparkler, and a great Russian River Pinot Noir. As the sole red, MacMurray Ranch Russian River Pinot was hands down the finest wine on the table by far. Out of six pinots marketed in the Atlanta market by MacMurray, I had been told it was their best and I am sure it is. Mac Murray even markets an Oregon Pinot, by the way, but I don't think it could be better than this one.

Second place in my opinion was a sleeper, the 2009 Borgo Maddalena Italian (Venezia) Pinot Grigio. This wine was an elegant dinner wine with long soft flavors sheathed within its medium light body. Its acidity was ideal and it was fine.

Third place was a tie between Mistinguett Brut Rose Spanish Cava and Chateau du Casses French White Bordeaux, which is an odd couple indeed. Mistinguette was a large mouthfilling rich "red" rose, probably not for most rose lovers, while du Casses was a very light and dry seafood wine. Mistinguette might serve as a cocktail for red wine lovers and in ninety degree temps I guess du Casses would work the same for white lovers.

Tinterro Moscato d'Asti and The Wishing Tree Unoaked Chardonnay were both decent examples of their types and may have been deserving of third place recognition but they definitly trailed the pinots.

Stop in this week before Friday the 24th and try any of these wines or the new cheeses in the store and get a 20% discount on your purchase.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dirty, Foul, and Proper

Recently I read a fine article that addressed the age-old question, "What wine do I serve my guests if I have no idea what they like?". My answer would be to serve the wine you feel is most appropriate for the meal. This writer, however, was aiming for congeniality. She recommended Pinot Grigio for a white and Italian reds in general for most meals. I agree with these recommendations based upon my experience here tasting out wines. The Italians are always well received.

But what if congeniality is not your thing and what if you are having strongly flavored meats (sausage/game?) with onions and garlic and cabbage and you think you might even want to light up a cigar at the table? What if the wedge of cheese on the table is an extremely aged Gruyere with what looks like a new and evolving life form on its exterior...and it's looking right at you? What if you don't give a hoot about political correctness and beer actually sounds okay in lieu of wine but your other half says wine. Do I have a wine for you.

Actually at any given time this store will have a half dozen earthy, strongly flavored reds from around the world but mostly from Spain, Italy, or France. They are exclusively "food wines" as opposed to sippers which is why they don't show well at tastings even if I offer a slice of sausage or strong cheese to accompany them. People really want to taste "stand alone" wines, something that could be served as a cocktail. Occasionally though someone will have a break-through moment when the food sample really works with the wine and more than a little magic occurs.

The wines I am talking about in particular are Spanish blends of Garnacha, Tempranillo, or Monastrell or their counterparts in the French Cotes du Rhone or elsewhere. These kinds of red blends are made everywhere but Spain unapologetically revels in these "dirty" wines. "Dirty, foul, and proper" my friend says, meaning this is the way it should be. You really can't get dressed up to work in the yard, can you? That is, unless your understanding of appropriate attire is that which works for you and your purposes.

It is all subjective in the final analysis and wine choices are not of ultimate importance anyway. Far from it. But if you want to try a stinky Spanish red, see me and cite the blog for a 10% discount. Also see the "Bomfim" blog from May 16th for further exposition on the subject.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Review of June 10th Wine Tasting

Of six wines tasted five deserve mention.

1. The first wine in the lineup was the 2010 Sensi Collezione Italian Pinot Grigio. It is an off-dry, light summer quaffer, perfect for this time of year. At $10.99/btl it was understandably the most popular wine of the tasting.

2. Kloster Pinot Noir 2005 is an industry close-out ($7.99/btl)from Phalz, Germany. It is a light and fruity red, again completely appropriate for the event and it too sold very well.

3. The 2008 Van Ruiten Old Vine Lodi Zinfandel is one we have tasted and approved in the past. It too sold well at $18.99/btl.

4. 2010 Sweet B Shiraz is a very good sweet red wine ($9.99/btl) but apparently we didn't have sweet red lovers here on Friday.

5. Novecento Sparkling Argentine Rosado was a real eye opener. It is labelled "dulce" but was not exceptionally sweet or the acidity and bubbles cut its sweetness. The makeup of the wine also includes a lot of white juice, making it a lighter than expected rose. It was very good at $12.99/btl.

All in all it was a good showing. Cite the blog and try any of these with a 10% discount this week.


Saturday, June 11, 2011


Macabeo became the principle white grape of Rioja, Spain; Grenache became prominent in the Cotes du Rhone; and Carmenere was exiled from Bordeaux. All of these changes and many more resulted when Europe was invaded by a critter only one millimeter long, the dreaded North American phylloxera aphid, which originated here in the eastern United States. As a result radical change was forced upon european grape growers as that wine industry was brought to its knees by the beastie and viticultural history would be written anew with consequential decisions being made in the interest of future generations of wine lovers.

1858 is often cited as the beginning of the phylloxera invasion when growers began noticing diseased vines in Spain and France. In 1863 Languedoc-Roussillon, the extent of the problem was fully acknowleged for what it was, even if the cause was still unknown. In 1868 the bug was discovered and solutions began to be offered including flooding the vineyards, creating French-American hyrid grapevines, spraying chemical insecticides, and grafting european vinifera vines onto disease-resistent American rootstocks. By 1880 grafting prevailed but not without years of resistance from well meaning nativists who feared the end of european quality wine as it was then known.

Why the mystery about the bug? A bug is a bug, right? Squash him. Well yes but that's easy to say from our vantage point. In that simpler time dealing with an unknown foe like phylloxera meant catching him first and he is elusive to say the least. The aphid's probosis contains two tubes, one for taking in nourishment and the other for injecting venom into its host. When the food source collapsed it was time to move on to a new host just as the signs of trouble in the health of the plant were appearing. Moreover, the bug reproduced sexually and asexually with four self-contained life stages (18 stages overall) migrating from the roots outward and upward to stem and leaves, and even more moreover, in different environments the species' reproductive patterns differed from other places. This is the bug from hell. For real expertise on this subject go to and

So why bring up phylloxera now? I had planned to write about Macabeo and got distracted. Stop in this month and say "phylloxera" three times, cite the blog, and get 10% off on wine or 20% off on cheese.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sine Qua Non

Sine qua non means "without which not" which means the subject is essential; that is, without this thing, this would not be. For the Spanish box wines called Sine Qua Non the meaning is these are essential for everyday usage. The boxes are three liter containers meaning the volume equals four 750ml bottles. The cost is $21.99 per box. Each fifth is 25 ounces so your cost is .22 per ounce. Nice.

Sine is a dry white and is 100% White Grenache grape sourced from the Terra Alta region is southeastern Spain. White Grenache is a popular blending grape in Spain and France where it is included in red blends. The grape offers lengthy citrus flavors and herbaceousness when its yields are controlled. It needs a low temperature fermentation and can be flexible for different winemaking needs. The Terra Alta D.O. is a plateau above the Elba River and the first written documentation of White Grenache in Terra Alta dates to 1647. It is known to have mutated from Red Grenache in Spain before moving on to France.

Qua is the full bodied dry red composed of 30% Grenache, 60% Carignon, and 10% Syrah. It is fruity, dense, spicy, and concentrated and persistent. Its D.O. is Montsant in northeastern Spain in the provine of Tarragonia in Catalonia. The cimate there is partly continental but mostly Mediterranean. The soil is lime over a granite and slate subsoil. The D.O. is 360 meters above sealevel and the weather features dry summers. Reds from here are comparable to the powerful Priorats.

Carignon (Carinena in Spain) is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world. It is a vigorous plant that buds and ripens late thwarting frost damage. The large Carignon berries have blueish-black astringent skins and form large compact clusters. Its wine is colorful with high acidity and tannins but no distinctive flavor. Whole cluster carbonic maceration using old vine fruit with no oak aging has produced the best examples of Carignon wine. Its raison d'etre appears to be its high yields.

Non is the rose in the line. It is 100% Tempranillo from Tarragonia and is a light and floral refresher. Spanish roses are the best of the category and Non may be the best example in the line.

Try any of these here this month, cite the blog and get 10% off.

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Reposo, Falcata, and Squared Three

Here is a report of our most recent tasting event with Rene Busque of RMB Associates.

Reposo (rest) is a young vine red and white from the Pago Casa Gran winemaking company of Valencia, Spain. The red is fruity and forward and fun. It is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet, Monastrell, and Syrah. The white is a medium body dry white with a fruity character. The grapes here are Gewurztraminer (50%) and Moscatel (50%). Both wines are 2008 vintage and retail for $12.99/btl.

Here is what's interesting. I tasted these wines a year ago and found the white to be the better of the two. It was forward, floral, fruity, and a show stopper for those who like that kind of wine. The red was good a year ago too. Now, fifteen months later the white has become much tamer and less brash without the frontal fruit assault and the red is as good or better than before.

Falcata is the higher tier product from Pago Casa Gran. The 2006 Falcata Casa Gran is composed of equal parts Monastrell, Garnacha Tintorera, and Syrah. It is a luscious mouth-filling Rhone-style red with ample fruit and and spice. The 2006 Falcata Arenal is a Garnacha/Monastrell blend using fruit from 40 year old selected vineyards with a resulting darker, richer, and less fruity red than Casa Gran.

Both Falcatas are organically farmed and fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks with yeasts native to their respective grape types. Casa Gran retails for $19.99/btl; Arenal, $29.99/btl.

Squared Three is from Rodinia Wines, the parent company of V&C favorite, Casas del Bosque of Chile. The 2006 vintage S3 differs greatly from the other four wines tasted yesterday. It sees fourteen months in oak with malolactic fermentation resulting in an elegant, bright cherry and spice, muscular yet fine red. It is a complete bordeaux-style effort from nose through long lasting finish. The grape composition is 50% Garnacha, 30% Merlot, and 20% Tempranillo. Ribera del Queiles is its DOC and it retails for $19.99/btl.

The envelope, please... All wines sold well Friday with Casa Gran lagging the others by a little. S3, Arenal, and Reposo Red were sellouts and all will be back in stock next week. In my opinion all of the reds were exceptional and the white was decent.

In conversation Rene and I agreed that these are the kind of wines that excite us and ecourage us in this industry. The more exposure alternative selections receive, the better we grow as an industry because the consumer becomes more aware of what is available here at retail. Try these wines at the store this month mentioning this blog and get 10% off the regular price.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Honey and Oil

In keeping with the current Spanish wine theme, mark your calendar for June 3rd 5-7pm when Rene Busque of RMB Imports will be here offering his selections of high end Spanish reds. This is a true opportunity for all of us to expand our wine horizons.

Now to the present and the summer heat wave and what we can do to brace ourselves in it. Two exciting new offerings in the store are the 2009 Dr. Pauly Bergwiler Noble House Riesling and the 2010 Woody Nook Kelly's Farewell Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc. Noble House is a German QBA from the Mosel region; Kelly's Farewell is from the Margaret River region of southwestern Australia.

So what makes the German special? Riesling, obviously. This pairing of grape and place is about as perfect as they come. Riesling in fact originated in the Rhine region of Germany with written documentation dating to the 15th century. While the Rhine may be home to the finest Rieslings, the Mosel can claim the most commercial success now. Mosels tend to be softer and rounder than Rhines, while retaining the high acidity that makes the wine so special. The Riesling flavor profile may include apple, peach, gooseberry, grapefruit, honey, and an aromatic floweriness that may include rose blossom. The noble Riesling is usually unblended and always unoaked and may be dry, semi-dry, sweet or sparkling.

Again place and grape type make the Australian special. The Margaret River region, one of the world's ideal wine production locales, is a ridge of gravelly loam near the Indian Ocean that actually requires no irrigation. As such the wines have intense varietal flavors with this one featuring tropical fruit, melon, honey (flavor not sweetness)and grass with the prerequisite long lingering crisp finish. Semillon, like Riesling, has a long history in its Australian environs. In 1800 it made up 90% of the vineyard plantings on the continent and was oddly enough called Riesling. While its popularity is far lower today, the grape continues to lead with its problem-free, disease resistant high yield.

So why the "Honey and Oil" title? With a little aging both Semillon and sweeter Rieslings become oilier and more honeyed than in their youth. The Semillons accentuate the oiliness along with a low acid, honeyed complexity. The dessert Rieslings improve because of their high acidity with oily, balanced fruit composition. Both wines age remarkably well. A fine Australian Semillon table wine may hold thirty years; a great German Dessert Riesling may last a hundred years. Honey and oil, anyone?


Monday, May 16, 2011

Dow Douro Vale do Bomfim 2008

We don't often pick up a book that is too far removed from our areas of interest, go to a movie that doesn't offer a storyline we connect with, or order a plate of food that seems like it would be eccentric even within its ethnic tradition. We are basically conservative by nature. Here's a thought...what if we were just the opposite and tried everything we initially felt opposed to? Nah...that's too extreme.

So enters Vale Do Bomfim into the discussion. This is a Portuguse red blend from Dow, one of the great Port producers using grapes from Port vineyards to make this dry red dinner wine. Specifically the wine is 55% Tinta Barroca, 22% Tinta Roriz, 17% Old Mixed Vines (!?), 3% Touriga Nacional, and 3% Touriga Franca. I figure the OMV above is the reason for this wine being here. They had to do something with the juice from those darn old mixed vine grapes. But its really not anything we would like to try though...or is it?

Last weekend we tasted out this $12.99 offering to mixed revues. The main criticism was its dryness which actually makes sense since it is european table wine intended to go with red meat. The flavor profile was complex to say the least. Wine reviews I have seen list every berry in the book for Bomfim. I personally like "bramble fruit". The wine is rich and structured, velvety textured, with structured ripe tannins. The nose is gamey and earthy; the finish, respectably long. This is a big rustic chewy red bursting with character enabled by a bright fresh acidity. Most definitely have it with red meat on the grill.

So way back when, I used to have a friend in my circle who would declare, 'Well I liked it!', after everyone else present expressed their disapproval of whatever was the subject of discussion. In the case of Bomfim, "I like it!"


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Rioja Pt. 2, Vina Zaca

The better Spanish Riojas are categorized according to the length of time they are aged before release into the market. A crianza spends one year aging in oak barrels. A reserva is aged one year in oak followed by a year in the bottle. A gran reserva spends two years in oak and three years in the bottle prior to release.
All of these time frames have been shortened from earlier historical standards in the main because the marketplace has changed. The modern palate does not lean toward extended time in oak and most definitely not to the open concrete fermentation tanks that predominated in the early twentieth century. The cruder old world practices often resulted in a product that could be oxidized to an unacceptable extent.

Today about half of the producers in Spain and Rioja particularly are using state of the art modern wineries and have embraced at least some modern winemaking practces. The rub lies in knowing which historical practices to discard and which to keep, being mindful and respectful of the history and culture of europe and knowing the difference between trendiness and truth.

So with that in mind Bodegas Bilbainas (est. 1859) offers us Vina Zaco, a young vine 100% Tempranillo red that deliberately discards the traditional aging process designations in favor of winemaker Diego Pinilla's independent declaration of readiness for market. Have they deserted Spanish tradition with this wine? Hardly. The wine's profile has the dusty earth and black cherry typical of the model but moreover adds nuances of coffee, smoke, chocolate, violets, minerals, and an herbaceousness within its medium body format with zippy acidity and pleasant tannins. Kudos to a textbook effort plus. Let's learn more.

Bodegas Bilbainos is a 250 hectare estate in the Haro Station district, the finest region in the Rioja Alta. The soil is a calcareous clay; the climate is continental. The mountains to the north and the Ebro River basin contribute to this most ideal of terroirs. The wine features 100% estate grown fruit.

Diego Pinilla is the extra factor perhaps as essential to any of the others for the quality in the bottle. He has trained in France and worked on three continents including a stint at Clos du Val in Napa California. His contributions to Vina Zaco include maximizing the freshness and fruitiness of the wine through a cold pre-maceration fermentation. This "cold soak" is a non-alcoholic acqueous extraction process which increases color intensity while softening the astringency of the grapes while extending the capabilities of the phenolics inherent in the grapes.

Vino Zaco has earned a 90pt Wine Spectator rating and the 2006 vintage was a WS Top 100 designee. This Friday we will be tasting the 2007 vintage currently offered here at $13.99/btl. Mention this article and get a 10% discount on the wine and a 20% discount on Entlebucher Schwingerkase Raw Milk Swiss Mountain cheese, an ideal mate for Zaco.