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.