Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pinot Gris and Oregon

Pinot Gris (Grigio) is a vinifera grape that originated in Burgundy in the middle ages where it mutated from Pinot Noir, the most mutatable of grapes. A family of pinot grapes has actually resulted from mutations, all characterized by the tight cluster resembling a pinecone from which the pinot name comes. Pinot Gris grapes on the vine may even vary from cluster to cluster due to mutations.

Pinot Gris plantings spread eastward and southward from France through the centuries mutating and picking up new names along the way. Genetic testing has revealed a panoply of types bearing the same name, some of which really are of no relation to the actual Pinot Gris grape. It has found its most commercial success in Italy with its greatest expression in the northeastern region where it produces a light and lean, crisp and acidic, slightly "frizzante" white wine. Pinot Gris also does well in the Alsace where the wine is richer, floral, viscous, and less fruity. In Germany the wine is simpler and sweeter. Of these styles Oregon's most resembles the Alsation with the addition of characteristic new world forward fruit.

Pinot Gris is also a chameleon of sorts. On the vine the grape is usually grayish in color (gris) but can vary dramatically depending mainly on climate. In the bottle the wine can be yellowish to copper in color sometimes with a pinkish tinge. Any aging introduces a golden hue.

Oregon Pinot Gris has aromas and flavors of flowers, almonds and minerals in addition to the pear, apple, and melon fruit composition. It is crisp and clean, lively and forward, and exhibits grace and texture within its medium body. It is food friendly and usually priced under $20.

In 1966 David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards introduced Pinot Gris to Oregon after traveling extensively in Europe. The industry very quickly discovered that Oregon's cool autumns were ideal for ripening the grape following the warm summers. Moreover hillside growing at an elevation between 250-700 feet with a southern exposure further assured the quality of the fruit.

Currently we are offering the 2009 Elk Cove Vineyard Oregon Pinot Gris at the store. This Willamette Valley offering made the Wine Spectator's Top 100 list and retails regularly at $20. It is now $15/btl and $162/cs, perfect for the summer.

Cite this email for a 20% discount off a log of goat cheese to go with your Pinot Gris and don't forget to attend the Rich Bowman DFV tasting here on Saturday April 30th from 2-4pm.


Thursday, April 21, 2011


My last posts on Alex Guarachi and La Playa have led me to take a look at the devastating 2010 Chilean earthquake and its impact on that wine industry. First things first. The quake was rated 8.8 on the Richter Scale, the ninth largest on record (including Japan) and killed 800 people. President Michelle Bachelet estimated economic losses at 30 billion dollars. The quake altered the earth's axis by 3 inches and shortened days by 1.26 microseconds and I guess we will have to trust the experts on some of this stuff.

Chile is the tenth largest wine producer in the world. The earthquake epicenter was in Maule, which is roughly in the middle of the long strip of Chilean wine country. 70% of Chilean wine originates in that region. The losses seem to fall into three categories: wine already made and in the bottle or barrel; the 2009 vintage at varying stages of production; and the industry's buildings and infrastructure. A timeline going forward may be helpful. The finished wine in bottles and barrels is an immediate and irreplaceable loss. The 2009 vintage that was in fermenting tanks that collapsed is likewise gone as is anything in the vineyard that needed irrigation if electricity failed. While the 2010 vintage should be unaffected, the wineries that lost their facilities may have to make their wines elsewhere.

So what are the losses to the industry? It is hard to say. Most all of the brands we are familiar with mention losses in all three of the areas above. Some individual wineries have made loss estimates between 12% and 80% of the 2009 vintage. Much remains vague though. Because wine is such a valuable export product for Chile and because of the nature of the modern worldwide distribution system, many losses have to be minimized. Contracts have to be filled; therefore, juice will have to be purchased elsewhere to maintain shipments to secure designated shelf space in stores around the world.

This weekend we are tasting out two of Chile's best: Casa Silva Reserve Carmenere ($12.99/btl) and Reserve Pinot Noir ($14.99). These wines are ridiculously good, so mention the blog and get a ten percent discount.

Happy Easter!


Monday, April 18, 2011


Here's a new one that has been doing well in recent weeks: Guarachi Family Wines 2007Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. This is the inaugural vintage for Guarachi and boasts 100% Cabernet from Napa. The juice comes from three distinct vineyards with the lion's share coming from a vineyard in Rutherford formerly owned by Beaulieu and planted by the legendary Georges de Latour in 1928. The wine is an opaque purple in color with focused cherry and blackberry fruits sheathed in long supple tannins. Malolactic fermentation occurs in french oak barrels before eighteen months of aging with the expectation this dense and powerful wine will improve for ten years. The wine is made by Paul Hobbs and comes in a six pack case and retails for $65/btl but you don't have to buy six to get the discount if you cite this article.

Alex Guarachi is a 1970's immigrant from Chile, the oldest "new world" wine producing country going back to the 16th century and Spanish colonization. He calls Los Angeles home and has imported Chilean wines since the 70's, not an easy thing to do in California. His business partner is George Tralle, a manufacturer of microchips in Silicon Valley.

Coming from a wine culture like Chile, Guarachi recognized just how unique Napa Valley was. It is one eighth the size of Bordeaux and contains one half of the known soils in the world. The soils he chose for this wine are well-drained with a composition of gravel, loam, and sand rich in volcanic deposits and marine sediments.

Guarachi is also a humanitarian. After the Chilean earthquake in 2010, he donated $50,000. to Habitat for Humanity International, the largest donation of its kind to date for this disaster. He further designates a percentage of his profits in wine sales to this effort. It is well known that this disaster devastated the wine industry in Chile, so Guarachi's charity is understandable, however, he avers that it is always the poor in such situations who are left homeless.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sauvignon Blanc

This just happens to be my favorite white grape variety. Is it noble? Not hardly. Is it forthright and assertive? Not usually, but yet it always seems to overperform by offering a pleasant little citric surprise from its bouquet to the engagement of its fresh fruit flavors with the palate. Expectations for Sauvignon Blanc should be reasonable; we're not talking Grand Cru Burgundy here. Because of its live acidity we are talking cafe/bistro wine, good with salads and light meals and a wonderful tonic by itself and before dinner.

If your wine background is California-centered, the rise of New Zealand-style Sauvignon Blanc should be no surprise. This type of wine is brash and sassy with forward citrus fruits including some combination of grapefruit, goooseberry, lemon, lime, and even an assortment of tropicals. Is it noble? I don't think so. It sure is stimulating though. This week we are offering the 2010 La Playa Chilean Sauvignon Blanc ($9.99)as the best value in this genre.

If you are old world-oriented or favor a nuanced flavor envelope, the Loire Valley Sauvignon Blancs of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume will always beckon your taste buds. This style is really food friendly stressing balance with a lasting finish while toning down the citrus with a floral bouquet with grass and flint in the mix on the palate. This week we offer the '09 Pascal Jolivet Attitude Sauvignon Blanc ($16.99) which is drawn from the historic Touraine region in the middle of the Loire Valley where the soils really make this style happen.

If you are curious about these wines (tempted?), mention this blog for 10% off these wines. We may even have them open for tasting this weekend. They are so-o-o-o goooood!

Thanks for reading,


Friday, April 8, 2011

The Sebastiani Family

Next week we will be offering Sebastiani Secolo; a red bordeaux blend comprised of 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 7% Malbec, and 6% Petit Verdot. Sebastiani is an historic Sonoma County estate with an elite Cabernet called Cherryblock ($80/btl). The juice for Secolo (century) comes from both the Sonoma Cherryblock estate and Alexander Valley estate property added ten years ago. The aromatics of the wine suggest blackberry and blackcherry which lead to mocha and truffle on the palate with rich black cherry layered with dried herbs, cigarbox, and sandalwood. The wine is complex and deserving of its cost; the description however, is creative writing from the website. The suggested retail is $35/btl. Citing this blog will make it $20/btl.

Truth is stranger than fiction, right? Throughout the 1980's Falcon Crest, an evening soap that was set at a fictitious California vineyard, featured destructive interpersonal relationships between family members. During that same 1980's time period the Sebastiani family was destroying itself in real life Sonoma. Here is a thumbnail sketch starting at the beginning...

Patriarch Samuele Sebastiani immigrated to California from Tuscany in 1895. A brickmason by trade, Samuele was able to save up enough to buy a vineyard nine years later. Samuele died in 1944 leaving the estate to son August who greatly grew the business until his death in 1980. For the first 76 years of its existence Sebastiani was a force in the "vin ordinaire" wine category. When son Sam took over in 1980 he had a vision of growing the company into a premium wine producer. With great success in the 80's Sebastiani expanded their product line with new upscale labels, reserve quality estate wines, and a line of 1.5l varietals created with juice from property purchased in the central valley. The new 1.5l varietal category greatly helped to bring "jug" consumers into varietal class wines.

All was not well at home though. Sam was fired by his mother in 1986 for unclear reasons and brother Don took the reins at that time. Don further expanded the line of products including both higher end fare like Cuneo and Cecchetti-Sebastiani labeled wines named after inlaws and roughly a dozen new grocery store wines. Sam went on to form Viansa , which included a Tuscan style winery, an Italian food emporium, along with a premium label of Italian varietals that was actually marketed through the mail to consumers. Atlanta briefly had a Viansa storefront retail operation in the early 90's.

In 2001 Sebastiani sold its central valley property to Constellation Wines and in 2008 the estate itself was sold to Bill Foley of Foley Family Wines. In 2005 Viansa was sold after accumulated losses over an extended time. So what happened? It appears that the Sebastianis are only a recent representative of a class of disfunctional winery-owning families in America and around the world that begin as a vision of a utopian lifestyle and legacy for future generations only to crash and burn for varying circumstances. Specifically beginning in 1980 the family involved too many members in its operations with disparate opinions about the direction to be taken and invariably business decisions resulted.

Sam Sebastiani now lives in retirement on a 200 acre farm in Nebraska while Don continues as "Don Sebastiani and Sons" a wine negotiant firm in California. Currently we have Don's Project Paso Cabernet and Chardonnay in the store at $12.99/btl.

C'est la vie, Don