Sunday, December 30, 2012

Andeluna and Phenolic Ripeness

Whenever the public responds to a store selection the way it has to Andeluna, this old codger has to sit up and take notice.  We have been selling the Andeluna Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec here for the past couple months and with great regularity I hear the accolades flowing forth from regular customers and newbies who now think this place is tops because of their Andeluna experience.  So let's take a look at Andeluna.

Andeluna is located in the "Napa" of Argentina, that is, Mendoza, but not near-in but well south of the city in the Uco Valley which hugs the Tunuyan River in that high altitude plateau called Tupungato (blog 11/14/11).  This region, 45 miles long and 15 miles wide at 33 degrees latitude, actually contains the highest altitude vineyards in Argentina which supply the valued "diurnal effect" of great temperature shifts between day and night, balancing the sugars and acids in the grapes in the process. 

"Phenolic ripeness" is one of the hipper oenological terms in the vernacular currently.  It pertains to the ripeness of the fruit flavors and aromas along with tannins and the depth of the red and purple color (anthocyanins) of the wine.  The seeds and grapeskins are most important in the providence of phenolic ripeness.  For the best article possible on the subject go to Matthew Citriglia's handiwork at which is where I got my information for this paragraph.

Back to Andeluna...  H. Ward Lay, of Frito-Lay fame, is the owner of the property; Silvio Alberto is the winemaker; Michel Rolland is the celebrity consultant; and Ricardo Reina Rutini is the local wine aristocrat who somehow has a hand in the production.  Whew!  This is big business.  All four of the aforementioned individuals are giants in their own right.  Alberto is a university professor; Rolland is a "flying winemaker" ala Paul Hobbs; and Rutini represents the third generation of the premier Italian immigrant winemaking family and the prior owners of the Andeluna estate.  With all of the emphasis on personnel, of course, Mr. Lay is an American.  The name, Andeluna, by the way, refers to the way the moonglow reflects on the Andes at that altitude. 

Now back to phenolic ripeness...  Tupungato is the place where everybody and their brother in the wine industry are heading now to put in a stake for vineyard acquisition.  Why?  Because the conditions are so perfect.  With all of the new technology available to adjust this and that to improve the chemical composition of a wine, if the place, itself, is ideal, why not go there?  Our blogs about "Flash Detente" (9/15/12) and "Methoxypyrazine"(9/24/12) both refer to processes that amend traditional winemaking to make ordinary wine better.  If the vineyard conditions are intrinsically fine, as they are at Andeluna, then just make the wine!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I Blog, Therefore I Am

Vine & Cheese is one of those stores that does disproportionately well during the holiday season, so blogging doesn't really fit into my schedule at this time.  My strength in school was always research so blogging about wine and cheese here sometimes means doing the spade work first before writing and I don't have that luxury now, therefore what follows are my holiday thoughts at large.

We seem to be living in a world that is vastly different than the one I grew up in in the 1960s and it really is different, except that life itself hasn't changed.  For me life has always been about struggling with adversity.  In school I studied the existentialist philosophers whose ideas seemed to resonate with my reality in that sometimes I felt my reality (existence) superceded that which I was told was essential.  Needless to say, I wasn't the life of the party with that kind of a (bleak?) worldview but I still maintain to this day that life and existence is essentially about struggle. 

The existentialist philosophers I studied were atheists, for the most part, with the exception of Soren Kierkegaard, the Lutheran pastor who obsessed about responding to God's calling (to us) in life.  To be clear, in our estrangement in this world we can still hear the voice of God calling us and now in this current era when we are so consumed by the worldly values of our secular society, the "Other" may still break through our private obsessions to reach us and liberate us.  But it is hard and adjustments need to be made, which means nothing less than acknowledging our human limits, saying "no" to the world and making the acceptance decision for faith in defiance of the world, and then bringing the salvific message back into the world with us.

It is my Christmas wish to all of you that the light of the Lord shines anew upon you and yours this holiday season.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


Carmenere is one of the truly ancient grapes of Europe.  It may have originated in Bordeaux where it was well documented in the nineteenth century or it could have originated in Spain or Portugal where so many took root from the earliest migrations north.  It could also very well be that Carmenere is the ancestor grape of all five of the current Red Bordeaux varieties; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec.  There is also a distinct possibility that the Bordeaux blend of a thousand years ago was just Carmenere, previously called Grand Vidure, and Cabernet Franc, one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon. 

In any event it is well documented that the Phylloxera epidemic of the late 1800s (blog 6/11/11) meant the demise of Carmenere in Europe due to the difficulties of grafting that vine onto disease resistant American rootstocks.  Records show sales of vinifera grapevines to emigres to Chile in the 1850s and later, when Phylloxera was at its worst, French winemakers took uninfected vines with them as they exited Europe for greener pastures in South America and elsewhere. 

Because the wine industry is such a commercial effort, grape types are at the mercy of the wine buying public and in the late 1800s Carmenere was fading in popularity in Europe.  Merlot, by contrast, has always been popular and some specific sales records of vines destined for Chile mention Merlot by name.  Since the Carmenere vine resembles Merlot, many of those vines labelled Merlot were actually Carmenere.  Only in autumn when its foliage turns crimson or carmine, the color from whence it gets its name, does the difference become known.  So the hundred year odyssey of the incognito Carmenere in Chile ran its course through the twentieth century with the acclaimed Chilean Merlot garnering the accolades while Carmenere was largely forgotten.  Merlot, as we said above, sells well everywhere and Carmenere struggles which could be an obvious commercial reason for the misidentification.

In 1994 French ampelographers in Montpellier using new DNA technology determined that Carmenere was indeed the "Merlot" of Chile and four years later in 1998, the Chilean government recognized Carmenere for what it was.  Since some of the greatest of twentieth century Chilean reds have been shown to be Carmenere based all along,  the grape's bonafides were assured and sales of  newly labelled varietal Carmenere have been solid.

This store is offering two exceptional Carmeneres at this time.  The rich yet austere 2009 Toro de Piedra red blend is 60% Carmenere and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and retails for $15/btl.  The 2006 Surazo Reserva Especial Carmenere is a fully mature example that sell here for just $10/btl.  Both would show well with a steak.  One spice that is enigmatic for wine pairing is curry and Carmenere is thought by some to be the solution for that difficult problem.

Join us Friday November 30th from 5 to 7pm for our regular weekly tasting.  There will be no Carmeneres but the tasting will be a cut above average with a Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Malbec, and Merlot.  Please join us. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Beaujolais Nouveau

For a change this time I know what to write about with no frustrating deliberative process to work through first.  On Thursday the 15th of November this store will receive about fifteen cases of Nouveau Beaujolais with about fifteen more on tap for a week lets get started selling the stuff!

Being a history buff, Nouveau snags me right away but there is a problem lying in its pre-history in that there has always been a "nouveau" release in France and probably elsewhere.  Wine producers have historically released a quickly made teaser of a wine in hopes of whetting the appetite of locals who may then be enticed to patronize the regular vintage offerings to follow.  This pre-history of Nouveau existed until 1937 when the Beaujolais AOC was codified in France and the floodgates were then opened internationally for Nouveau Beaujolais.

By law Nouveau must be sourced from the AOC environs but outside of the ten grand cru vineyards, which is opportune to say the least, since those superior vineyards command a premium price compared to basic Beaujolais.  Through the marketing genius of Georges DuBoeuf, half of all Beaujolais production is now sold as Nouveau and that half is all from the "common" lots.  Moreover it is sold quickly before the regular vintage is ready when cash flow is really needed.  It is almost like the industry wrote the law!

Getting back to history prior to DuBoeuf, in the effort to create demand, races were held in France to get the teaser to as many markets as possible culminating with Paris being the then ultimate destination.  DuBoeuf entered the Beaujolais business in 1964 and quickly extended the racing of wine across Europe and then to America and elsewhere, thereby creating the proverbial marketing monster.  At this writing, Germany, Japan, and America are one, two, and three in world Nouveau markets with smaller markets existing everywhere wine lovers congregate.

Gamay is the grape of Beaujolais and Beaujolais is the southern half of Burgundy, France.  Centuries ago Gamay was held to be superior to its cousin, Pinot Noir, but that was a long time ago and today Pinot is held by many of us to be the finest wine grape of all.  The great Gamay wines from the grand cru vineyards when aged four to eight years can give Pinots a good run for their money though.  Nouveau, however, is a different animal and if you want to learn more about the subject, read the two blogs written here on September 15th of this year.  The first blog of that day concerns carbonic maceration, the Beaujolais winemaking process which is called whole berry fermentation in the new world.  "Flash Detente" is the title of the second article and it builds on the first explaining the revolutionary new winemaking technology that seems to take carbonic maceration to a whole new level.  Remember to scroll back since the order is reversed in the blog form.

Next Friday from 5 to 7pm we'll be tasting as usual here at the store.  Two whites that didn't make the cut this week are Chateau de Cray Bourgogne Aligote and Sensi Pinot Grigio, so count on those two and, as seems to be a trend, more Spanish and Italian reds and California Cabernets.  Please join us...and get those holiday gift basket orders in!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Familiarity and Expectation

What do they say about familiarity?  It breeds contempt, right?  Or perhaps more accurately in the wine business, complacency.  Last night at our weekly tasting we had four Cabernets priced from $12.99 to $24.99.  All were good wines and three of the four were brands I have sold for thirty years, so going into the event I assumed that the new highly recommended one would outshow the old standbys.  That was my expectation but you know what they say about assumptions.  That wine turned out to be the least of the four and of the other three, the little $12.99 Wente Southern Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, overperformed its station by far.  Maybe it's not a $30 value, but if you want to taste textbook Cabernet, try this one.

When I think of Cabernet, I think of structure first.  I want a wine with shoulders that tastes like it has intention and demeanor.  This one had fourteen months in oak, imparting both the boldness (shoulders) and earthiness (spice, tobacco) that goes a long way toward conveying the kind of attitude I'm talking about.  Also when talking about Cabernet, complex fruit flavors are prerequisite and this one was brimming with cherries, berries, and plums, and I mean more than one type of each.  This one's fruity nature makes it a nice cocktail for cab lovers but its structure and balance makes it more than just another fruit bomb.  Needless to say, as a red meat accompaniment, it'll do just fine.

Wente, by the way, is the oldest California winery by most acceptable measurements.  Charles Wetmore planted his Bordeaux cuttings in Livermore Valley a hundred thirty years ago.  Today UC Davis calls those cuttings Cabernet Clones #7 and #8 and those berries seem quite content residing in the four hundred acre Wente Cabernet vineyard in Livermore.  Five generations of Wentes have farmed their still family-owned estate elevating it to top thirty American wine company status.  Not bad for a family-owned enterprise.

Familiarity in cheese appreciation can be problematic too.  For the past month we have been selling Austrian Moosbacher Swiss, which when first cut into seemed to be just another Swiss, so lacking in distinction it could even be domestic.  Because the cost was reasonable and the flavors moderate, we served it repeatedly at tastings and I gradually took a liking to the cheese.  When I finally realized that the annoying familiarity I felt with Moosbacher had to do with mediocre Baby Swiss, I was able to get past the bias and give the cheese a real chance.  It doesn't hurt that our cheeses tend to sit out on the cutting table for elongated periods warming to just the right temperature. 

Moosbacher seems to be a combination of Emmentaler and Gouda and to a lesser extent, Appenzeller, and Gruyere.  As a Swiss it is smooth, semi-firm, nutty, sweet and fruity, and creamy in the mouth.  Moosbacher comes in an eighteen pound burlap wrapped wheel.  It is a cow's milk cheese and as I'm writing this, I'm wondering if it may have improved in the deli over the past month.  Stranger things have happened in this strange wine and cheese business and familiarity has a role to play in all of it.  In this case though, my expectations were limited and  it was the cheese that improved on me!

As always Friday is tasting night here at the store so join us on the 9th when we will taste a French Pinot Noir, Italian Montepulciano, more California Cabernets, and I don't know what else but it'll be fun.  Nouveau Beaujolais day is the 15th so get those orders in as well as the holiday gift basket orders and do you want to know who introduced the Chardonnay grape to California?  Wente, naturally.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Bernard Portet

I started my wine career back in 1976 when I was a student and living in Berkeley, California and, of course, in need of a job.  So I stocked shelves in a liquor store and took note of the boutiquey looking California wines that lined the shelves, thinking they must surely be the best wines available.  Something called "Fred's Friends" was the most expensive wine on the shelves (I wonder why that one didn't work.) and J. Lohr was the only label I recall from that time that is still around today.

When I moved to Atlanta in 1981 I took a job at Ansley Wine & Cheese in Ansley Park which, unknown to me, was where the fine wine business in Atlanta had begun.  Jim Sanders, "the father of the fine wine business in Atlanta", had opened that Ansley Park shop ten years earlier and had actually created the market for fine French wines in Atlanta back in the sixties.  He had long since sold the Ansley store and moved to Paces Ferry where I worked for him for a couple of years in the early eighties.  Jim, always more of a curmudgeon than a cuddly teddy bear, had somehow accrued the "who's who" customer list of Atlanta and according to 1960's lore, Jim  had once even brought together Lester Maddox and Martin Luther King for a wine tasting in his office!

I say all of this as preamble to my introduction of Bernard Portet into the discussion.  Portet, along with John Goelet, founded Clos du Val Winery in the Stag's Leap District of Napa Valley in 1970.  Portet was born in Cognac, France and raised in Bordeaux in a family of winemakers going back nine generations to 1668 Cognac.  Portet's father was the technical director of the first growth, Chateau Lafite Rothschild, where the young Portet no doubt learned plenty before his formal winemaking training at Toulouse and Montpellier.  With this kind of a background, Portet set off to America where he and Mr. Goelet partnered to create Clos du Val.

Clos du Val marketed several wines like most early California wineries but their claim to fame was always Cabernet.  In 1976 at the elite "Judgment of Paris" tasting (blogs 6/25/12-7/5/12), the 1972 Clos du Val Cabernet finished eighth out of ten California Cabernets and French Bordeaux tasted.  Ten years later when the tasting was reprised, the 1972 Clos du Val was first.  Twenty years later in 1996, it finished fifth, a testiment to the longevity (and superiority) of Napa Cabernet.  The 1972 Clos du Val Cabernet, by the way, was its very first vintage!

So why this blog now?  Clos du Val has always been my favorite California Cabernet, so French in style I may have been able to slip it past Jim Sanders in a blind tasting.  For the French it is always about terroir, the environs of the vineyard that impart "place" as a dimensional attribute of the wine.  Now terroir takes on new meaning for Portet who retired from Clos du Val in 2009.  Portet is now introducing his new "winery without walls", (ed. note below) which is what we have been talking about all year long here at the blog.  When Portet joyfully proclaims, "I don't own anything!", he is authoritatively "owning" his contracts with the right growers in the right Cabernet terroir along with his contract with the right winemaking facilities to turn out his new label, Heritance Cabernet (and Sauvignon Blanc).  I can hardly wait to taste this one.

Editor's note:  A clos is a walled-in vineyard.  Clos du Val = walled-in vineyard in the valley?

Now we are into my busy season and the blogs are going to be coming fewer and farther between but we will try to continue writing between wine and cheese sales and gift basket orders.  We are tasting as usual on every Friday but nothing is set in stone for November second yet.  We also continue to feature St. Supery Napa wines through the end of the year.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


I guess when each of your past two tasting winners are from the same place, you probably should acknowlege that place in writing.  Montsant is a Spanish viticultural D.O. (denominacion de origen)which lies toward the southwestern tip of the country.  Spain is sort of triangular shaped with the most acute angle hanging to the southwest, if that helps. 

The D.O. was established in 2001 when the higher altitude Montsant mountainside vineyards surrounding the esteemed Priorat D.O. were recognized for their own superiority.  The great red grapes of the region are Garnacha and Carenina with eight other types in the supporting cast.  Whites are also made there but our tasting winners were reds so we'll stay with that.  Montsant is actually a horseshoe-shaped ring around Priorat with the opening at the bottom.  It is a sub-region of Falset, which used to be the primary name on the wines, and the place lies within the Tarragona province in Catalonia.

Montsant has a dry Mediterranean climate with soils of lime over granite with slate below that.  The D.O. is 360m above sealevel on average.  Winemaking in the region is done mainly by young people trained in modern winemaking and their employers are largely family farms and co-ops.  Formerly these venues produced somewhat musty, oxidised sweet reds in the bad old days.

A week ago we sold out of 2006 Tossals Junior, a $14.99 bottle composed of 60% Garnacha, 30% Carenina, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Interestingly enough when introduced initially this wine commanded a $35/btl price.  A characteristic of Montsant reds is that they age gracefully, becoming more velvety with time in the bottle.  That was the case with Tossals and happily it is back in stock.

Last night our clear winner was the 2008 Besllum Montsant composed of 45% Garnacha, 45% Carenina, and 10% Syrah.  From the 93 point Robert Parker review: "16 months in new French oak; deeply colored; alluring bouquet of wood, smoke, exotic spices, incense, lavender, blueberry, and blackcherry; opulent; drink 2013-2023."  Similar to Tossals, Besllum was introduced at $34/btl and we have three bottles in stock now.

Both wines would work well with red meats on the grill or well-seasoned burgers.

Next Thursday, October 25th (5-7pm), Gail Avera of Lafayette Selections returns with an array of "coastal" wine selections.  These wines hail from Spain, France, and Italy and promise to return us to our youthful beachboy (and beachgirl) romps at the sea.

On Friday, October 26th (5-7pm), Tommy Basham of Continental Beverage returns with, oh I still don't know what, but it'll be fun as always!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tangent Albarino

A week ago we wrote about "wine with pizza" and I'm not so sure we covered that subject adequately.  Sure, Italian red wine is a no-brainer but my not-so-serious suggestion of any white from the refrigerator actually has much more truth to it than you might think. Spicy foods, at least those that aren't too red meat-centered, do seem to work better with whites than most reds and keep in mind that as a wineblog, beer is off the table here.

So these are the whites I would turn to for spicy foods: Gewurztraminer (naturally), Riesling, Viognier, Vouvray (Chenin Blanc), Tokay and Torrontes.  These would also be my choices for Thanksgiving Day dinner too...but I digress.  Because Riesling and Gewurztraminer have been so maligned in the marketplace because of inferior representation on the retail shelves and less than tangible issues with varietal characteristics, I lean toward the other types above, all of which are capable of holding their own with, shall we say, some of the more assertive flavors on the table.  Lighter examples of these types simply need not apply here.

This leads me to Albarino, another varietal type that I would not consider except that I recently tasted Tangent from California and, as God is my witness, it was better than the Spanish, at least in the context we are discussing here.  It is a forthright, masculine (for type), structured white with clean and lively acid and concentrated aromatics and flavors.  I have nothing against Spanish Albarino, honest, it's just that it always struck me as being floral and restricted to the lightest of food pairings.  Tangent displays phenolic ripeness in the nose and varietal intensity in the mouth.  Since I have always deferred to the European oenological example in the past, this is indeed a new development for me.

So what makes the stuff so good?  It's always terroir, right?  In Edna Valley, California, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the temperature is as cool as Napa/Sonoma with alluvial soils containing the trappings of a cryptozoic pre-history under the seas.  First planted two hundred years ago by Spanish monks (Isn't it always the monks?), these vineyards, four and a half miles from the coast, contain soils of dark humus, loam, and clay with embedded ancient marine sedimentary materials.  Albarino is called "Vino del Mar" or wine of the sea and Edna Valley's Tangent gives that moniker new meaning.

Here is the newest Vine & Cheese wine tasting schedule:

Friday Oct 19th: Henry Leung, "the man who solved the Chinese puzzle" according to the Wine Spectator magazine, with his own assortment of superior European and California reds and whites.

Thursday Oct 25th: Gail Avera, "the woman who solved the Gwinnett County puzzle" according to the Vine & Cheese blog, with French and Chilean reds and whites.

Friday Oct 26th:  Tommy Basham: "the man who started the Chattanooga crime wave" according to the Chattanooga Police Department Most Wanted List, with, oh, I don't even know.

BTW:  Our first drop shipment of specially priced St. Supery wines arrives on Friday.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Reggianito/Amauta I

I have been selling Argentine Reggianito for most of the last thirty years.  When I first started in the cheese business I was frankly stunned by the quality of the cheese compared to similarly priced domestic Parmesans, so I consistently sold Reggianito as opposed to the domestics.  My current vendor for domestic Parmesan maintains what I already know, that there are better and lesser domestics, but to my tastes, Reggianito rules.

Reggianito of course is the Spanish diminutive of Reggiano, the great Italian Parmesan and arguably the finest cheese of all.  Italian immigrants to Argentina recognized the potential for cheesemaking with the vast pasture lands of Argentina and of course they recognized the need for transplanting their industry in the new world for both personal and cultural reasons.  The "ito" in Reggianito, by the way,  refers to the 15lb size of the wheel in Argentina as opposed to the 80lb Italian Reggiano drum.  Early ox carts in Argentina just couldn't handle the eighty pounders.

In the early twentieth century, ethnic Italian Argentines recognized the marketing potential for Reggianito on the world stage.  It was marketed to America as Parmesan and while it lacks the depth and complexity of its namesake, it has much in common with it.  Reggianito is a natural rind cow's milk cheese aged 5-6 months with an intended purpose for grating and cooking in the kitchen.  Reggianito has a saltier flavor than Reggiano and a grainier texture which, ironically, is caused by amino acid crystals and not salt.

In my research on the subject only one other article writer maintained Reggianito's place on the dinner table as a red wine accompaniment, something I have always felt, which leads me to our other Argentine subject, Amauta I.  Amauta I is a red blend from the far northwest corner of Argentina made up of 60% Malbec, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Syrah.  The producers are Bodegas El Porvenir de los Andes who also market an excellent line of reds called Laborum which sells in the $35 range.  When we tasted the $25 Amauta with the Laborum line I thought they were comparable.

Amauta I comes from the Cafayate region of the Calchaqui Valley in the province of Salta.  Salta holds the possible distinction of being the wine growing region at the highest altitude (3,000m) and the lowest latitude (24 degrees) anywhere.  Of course it has a dry, temperate climate with requisite diurnal temperature shifts and alluvial soils comparable to Mendoza.  The capitol city of Salta also boasts some of the oldest architecture in Argentina along with grand natural vistas to go along with their incredible climate.

The Amauta I is now in stock as is the Reggianito ($14.99/lb).  Buy them both (naturally), mention this article, and we'll find a way to work in a 10% discount.

On Friday October 19th from 5 to 7pm Henry Leung of Hemispheres Global Wines returns here to share tastes from his portfolio of superior reds and whites.  At this writing the lineup is not set at all, but with Henry, it doesn't have to be.  Henry is just that good!  Please join us.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wine with Pizza

I make pizza.  It's good pizza, not great.  My family says I'm a work in progress.  I guess that means I'm getting better at it as I go along.  My crust is either a simple homemade recipe or Publix Bakery pizza dough.  I grease the pan with olive oil, spread the dough, and then spread fresh spinach on top of the dough.  In season I will slice fresh garden tomatos next, to weigh down the springy spinach.  The following ingredients then follow: mushrooms, onions, bell pepper, artichokes, olives, garbanzo beans, and jalapeno peppers.  Please realize I don't always have or use all of these same ingredients so it varies each time. 

Since this is the store blog, you should know that Vine & Cheese has absolutely wonderful pepperoni and Greek mixed olives that work great for your own homemade pizza.  We also offer fresh Mozzarella balls, and Pecarino and Parmesan for your own pleasurable grating at home.  That last part was an attempt at humor since that process is a real knuckle-buster. 

I'm from Chicago so the sauce goes on top and I am not particularly brand loyal in this area.  Anything that says "traditional" is okay with me and please go easy on the application of the sauce because it can get soupy if you go too heavy.  Bake for 20-25 minutes and "Voila!", it's Pizzarific!  Eh, sometimes.

Now if there is one wine pairing that I have historically been downright adamant about, it is that Italian red wine must be on the table for Italian cuisine.  Always in the past, forevermore in the future...unless I have an open bottle of anything that needs to be drunk up in the fridge.  It only makes sense, right?  And if it's summer and you have an unopened bottle of Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc in there then that's your pizza wine, right?  Convention be damned!

I think though, that my dogmatic Italian red-only rule may be entering the "endangered list" zone.  Last Friday we tasted Blackburn California Zinfandel here at the store and I remember thinking that it may work with my pizza.  This week I tasted Michel Torino Coleccion Pinot Noir from Argentina and I thought that may work with my pizza.  Freakin' Pinot Noir!  What's going on here!  I'm sixty years old and if I am to believe what I read in the media, I should be getting more set in my ways.

In fairness, Zinfandel was originally an Italian grape and it has an inherently fruity flavor so that one sort of makes sense and the Argentine Pinot is a round, earthy style that I naturally gravitate toward and not the prototypical light and lean French style.  Moreover, my pizza is so busy with spicy flavors that these two non-Italian examples actually do make sense contextually...but something here just ain't right.

Society must have rules or we will inevitably lapse into chaos, right?  The first rule that could lead down that slippery slope may be the "Italian red wine with pizza" rule.  What if this is the first chink in the armor of civilization?  What if by lapsing on the Italian Red Wine Rule, we metaphorically fall asleep and something like the pods in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" take over.  What if we turn into zombies!  (I guess we don't have to worry about craving pizza then.)  I've gotta take a stand here and now.  No more deviating from the norm.  We're back to Italian-only and all you who seek to destroy the gastronomic order...begone!  This ain't no free-for-all!  We have rules.  Now excuse me while I take a chill pill.

This Friday from 5 to 7pm Christy Dart of Gusto Brands joins us here to taste out the French Rhone-style Rocca Maura white and rose, Cuevas del Sur Chilean Carmenere and Sauvignon Blanc, Tossals Spanish Red Blend and El Xamfra Cava, and a certain Lambrusco Rose.  This sounds like a fun tasting so please tell your friends and join us for this one.  By the way, I understand all of these fine wines will go with pizza just fine.  There, I said it.  I'll be alright now.  Whew!


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Maggio & Blackburn

Thursday we tasted five from Maggio of Lodi.  On Friday we tasted the Zinfandel from Blackburn of Paso Robles.  All were priced under $15/btl and all impressed me because of what I took to be terroir and "place" in their makeup.  Thirty years ago when I really dove into this stuff, I remember tasting the differences that wines from Paso Robles and other venues had from Napa and Sonoma.  They were less polished, perhaps a little rough, and because of such, they had a certain charm in their humble distinction.  At least that's the way I remember them.

On Thursday the Maggio Petite Sirah was like that.  Thirty years ago I don't remember Lodi wines as being anything special.  Lodi was actually jug wine country back then as I remember it.  On Thursday the Petite was the bottle most tasters affirmed vocally.  I liked the whites; Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Grigio: not because they were "knock your socks off" good, they were just different.  Maggio is obviously an Italian name and I thought these wines may have been an ethnic American attempt at Italian production.  At least they weren't cookie-cutter copies of every other California white type out there.

The Blackburn Zinfandel was nothing if not solid as a straight ahead masculine red wine.  It was muscular with no nonsense sensibilities and most definitely not that flabby, off-dry, muddy style so many have adopted.  I just knew this wine had to be from the dry, eastern inland half of Paso where Zin production seems to be a more serious venture.  Blackburn Zin, by the way, was the overall best seller over the weekend out of about fifteen tasted.

If you have been following this blog, you have probably noticed the continuing thread about mega-wine company domination (consolidation) in the industry, bulk wine sales, contract wine making, and industry advocacy through the lobbying group, The Wine Institute.  It should be no surprise then that both the Oak Ridge Winery (Maggio) and Blackburn both offer "custom crush" services, ie., they are contractors.  Moreover, the whites I liked from Maggio weren't Lodi sourced at all and the Blackburn Zin was not Paso Robles designated as I had thought.  "Estate" labeling seems to be no longer relevant in modern America.

On their website Oak Ridge offers these benefits for custom crush clients:
     1. Fruit sourcing from a range of appellations.
     2. Custom winemaking designed to meet individual styles, volume, and cost requirements.
     3. Custom bottling.
     4. Bonded tax-paid warehousing.
     5. Barrel storage and management.

Blackburn actually doesn't advertise their custom crush services at their website but I suspect their services would be similar.

The remarkable thing for me is that these companies make really good wines from sourced fruit and as we said about the O'Neill Beverage Company, perhaps a historical understanding of where to go for what fruit really makes a difference. Maggio is a longstanding winery with roots going back to 1934.  Like their lack of information about their custom crush, Blackburn divulges nothing about their history but having tasted several of their wines, they sure seem to have it right.

So I find myself back at square one and confounded by my plight.  The wines I liked over the weekend remain a mystery to me, but a mystery with a happy ending.  Maybe the proof really is in the pudding.

Join us this coming Friday the 12th (5-7pm) as we continue our exploration into the contemporary California wine culture with a new lineup of exemplary samples of the genre.  Christy Dart of Gusto Brands hosts that event.  On Friday October 19th Henry Leung returns with another grab bag of his incredible wines from Hemispheres Global wines.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Consolidation in Contemporary America

This is where we left off last time, right?  The large dairy companies buy up the small cheese factories for the purpose of closing them to eliminate their competition in the marketplace.  Wisconsin Brick cheese then exists as whatever the large dairy company wants it to be.  The same paradigm exists for wine companies with the purchaser controlling the new future of the purchased, which often means just the brand name since the wine will henceforth be sourced elsewhere.

I used to work for a volume package store in Atlanta that had a bulletin board in the office that had a local map pinned to it.  There were thumb tacks placed on the map wherever small mom and pop package stores were in the area.  The stated goal of the ownership was to put those small players out of business so we would be the only show in town.  Oh, okay.

I also have a background in grocery store management and got some insights into how all of that works.  One day I was talking with the vendor who had the premier brand of bottled water in that aisle.  I asked him what his company had to pay the chain for that shelf space.  It was a thousand dollars per month for a one bottle facing and that was month to month with no guarantees for the next month.  Moreover that vendor had to pay for space in the store that he couldn't even use for his product.  That payment was to keep his competition from getting into the store.  At those stakes the smaller companies just could not play at that level.

Here's another grocery store story.  A small local coffee roaster wanted to get into a regional chain with a store here in town.  They were asked to pay tens of thousands of dollars for that privilege and they did, but had to wait until the brand to be replaced had sold out.  After a couple of months, they asked when they could stock their shelves.  They were then told that they would have to buy the existing inventory of the other brand in the chain in order to sell theirs in that store.  They had to walk away from the deal at that point, sans their down payment.

Here's another one.  Do you remember the line of diet foods that had actually made it into all of the grocery stores in the Atlanta market as a regional brand?  I don't either.  It was twenty-five years ago...but they had actually made it to that level and they were a legitimate brand growing in sales until a very large player bought their shelf space and put them out of business.

I swear all of the above is true to the best of my knowledge and as hard as it it to swallow, it is fair by the rules of commerce in our society.  Competition is tough, by definition.  To win requires nerves of steel, will, acumen at your sport, and especially, deep pockets.  If you can't meet the requirements, get out.

Since most of my experience in retail is wine experience, those stories exist there too but I have to be careful because I am still in the business and have ongoing dealings with major players.  The winners in wine company consolidation though seem to include both the buyers and the sellers.  The buyers enrich their portfolio with additional brands and the sellers get a nice payday for selling and then no longer have to struggle in this very tough business.  The losers appear to be the small wineries that are left to struggle with fewer options for distribution because the large companies so dominate the market.  The small players are marginalized by effectively being locked out of large retail chains.  Then they come to guys like me.  Selah!

Please join us Thursday evening (5-7pm) when Gail Avera of Lafayette Selections offers us the wines of Maggio of Lodi, California.  Friday evening from 5 to 7pm we will be tasting California Cabernets and other reds at our regularly scheduled tasting here.  Join us for that one too.  Henry Leung rejoins us in two weeks on Friday the 19th.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Wisconsin Brick Cheese

I've been threatening to write this one for a while.  Having grown up in the midwest at a time when cheese factories (local jargon) were commonplace, Wisconsin Brick cheese seemed about as ordinary as Velveeta.  Now after being in the cheese business in Georgia for most of the last thirty years and selling some of the great cheeses of the world, I find myself fondly looking back at that simpler time.  Widmer's is the brand that we have sold so successfully over the years here and if one reads their website story, you are struck by the melancholy mood inherent in being a survivor of consolidation in modern America.

By way of history, John Jossi, a twelve year old Swiss immigrant of 1857, is credited with developing Brick cheese.  Jossi spent his early American experience between New York and Wisconsin working in Limburger cheese plants in both states.  1877 is the year he is credited with developing a milder bacterial "smear" that washed rind cheeses receive to develop their flavor.  To keep it in perspective, if we are contrasting Brick with Limburger, that Brick smear can still be plenty strong but yet pale by comparison to Limburger and, make no mistake, Brick cheese is made distinctive by that bacterial wash.

Following the turning and pressing of the fresh curds into the brick molds, which historically have been molds for making actual bricks, the cheese is dipped in the brine "wash" which is a culture of salt and bacterium linens which commences the action of imparting the pungent heady aromas to the young cheese.  The cheese is next placed in a 70 degree room for aging and may receive further washings if desired.  Joe Widmer, head of Widmer's Cheese Cellars and a son of Swiss immigrants himself, prefers his cheese aged 10-12 weeks with a proprietary blend wash before releasing to the public.

Wisconsin Brick cheese varies from a little-aged mild style to a well-aged stronger cheese.  Widmer also makes a Jalapeno Brick and markets his Brick Curds.  Other well known washed rind cheeses include St. Nectaire, Livarot, Reblochon, Port Salut, Limburger of course, and what many consider to be Brick's European antecedent, Tilsit.

I began by lamenting the consolidation of the cheese industry in modern America.  As you read this, know that Widmer may very well be the last small independent Brick cheesemaker left standing.  This is a loss for more than sentimental reasons.  The Krafts and Bordens of America don't make the cheese described above...not by a long shot.  What they market as Brick is made in mere days and coated with orange food coloring to approximate the color of the wash.  By comparison the mega-wine companies make a much better approximation of the historical product even if they do lack the regional distinction.

This Thursday from 5 to 7pm, Gail Avera returns with more new wines from Lafayette Selections.  Many of these will be California wines from the Lodi region.  Please join us.

Monday, September 24, 2012


Methoxyprazines (MP) are a subset of the larger chemical group, Pyrazine, and have been identified by scientists as the chemicals that cause the vegetative qualities in wines.  We have been talking about this subject in recent blogs including the Flash Detente blog that is about new technology which eliminates much of it via a steam treatment prior to vinification.  Untreated MP results in bellpepper and green bean aromas along with astringency and bitterness in red wines and grassiness in whites.  The red types most often affected are the Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Carmenere, and Malbec; white wines affected are largely Sauvignon Blanc.

In the last blog we discussed a vegetal Malbec from Argentina that was the most popular wine at our last tasting.  This conflicts with the prevailing wisdom that vegetal characteristics are a flaw, until we accept that some grape varieties either have MP as part of their varietal flavor or we have developed an acceptance of it as part of, say, the complex Cabernet experience.  Also MP has only recently been explored in grapes because at its densest grape concentration, it constitutes just 10-15 parts per trillion.

What seems to happen with grapes in the vineyard is that MP is triggered between fruit set and about two or three weeks before veraison (Blog March 17,2012).  Veraison is the onset of grape ripening or the transition from grape growth (cell division) to grape ripening and the change in color from green (chlorophyll) to red or something else (phenollic compounds).  Prior to this stage, MP is concentrated in the stem and leaves of the vine but at the point it appears in the berries, it seems to act as a biological deterrent to predators for the survival of the vine before gradually diminishing until harvest time.

One factor that seems to definitely adversely affect grape quality is rain.  If it happens during that window before veraison when MP becomes activated in the berries, those grapes will be harvested with a higher MP level.  MP, by the way, does not diminish by way of dilution in the growing grapes as you might think but rather it breaks down chemically and sunlight may be a factor here.  Thinning the leafy vine canopy and managing vegetative growth in general seems to help.

Two easy methods of reducing MP in grapes are to pick only well-ripened grapes and to let them sit idly for twenty-four hours prior to crushing.  No winemaking technique of any kind affects MP because it is entirely due to conditions in the vineyard.

Two recent developments in viticulture deserve mentioning here.  Extreme pruning of Cabernet Sauvignon vines to produce highly extracted intense wines may actually have more MP than others unless the vegetation is thinned as stated above to ensure good sunlight.  Zinfandel viticulture, by contrast, is now going in the opposite direction with a revival of bush vines which were the norm a hundred years ago.  These unpruned vines offer fruit with fresh red and black (jammy) berry aromas  and little in vegetal characteristics.

This Friday Tommy Basham of Continental Beverage rejoins us with three from Spain including: Fagus of Coto de Hayas featuring fruit from hundred year old vines, California Zinfandel and Cabernet, and an Italian sweet red.  Join us here Friday between 5 and 7pm.  For this tasting we are requesting a donation for the Susan G. Komen 3 day-60 miles hike next month in Atlanta.  My participant daughters need to raise close to $5,000 for this thing.  Any free will donation is appreciated.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Wine Tasting Report - September 21, 2012

V-e-r-r-r-y In-ter-est-ing, as Henry Gibson used to say on Laugh-In.  Last night at the regular Friday tasting we did three whites and four reds and as may have been predicted, the whites weren't popular at all.  The seasons have changed and the temperature has dropped, so Voila!

The reds included our bargain Spanish Tempranillo, Protocolo, and three Argentine Malbecs.  Here's the interesting part: The Malbecs ranged in price from $8 to $16 with the high and low end examples being very good efforts in their own right while the $12 sleeper bottle in the middle was more than a little earthy and vegetal.  Would you like to guess which was the tasting winner last night? 

That middle bottle, of course, would be little Dante Robino Malbec, a semi-regular inhabitant of these parts, but this 2009 version was definitely stinkier than I had remembered from the past and I never thought it would outshine the other two.  So, what gives?  Well, the wine had a breadth and complexity (including its vegetality) that was superior to the others and the tasters, who all come from good homes to my knowledge, may have represented an atypical segment of our population.  Three of us were raised in immigrant or first generation American homes.  We were weaned on European foods that may have included sauces and stews that a wine like Dante may compliment.  Just a theory.  The other theory would be that we all have superior palates...nah!

Protocolo was a hit as always and it sold well at the case price bottle cost of $7.19.  One week ago we tasted it here with one participant claiming then that it was comparable to the $16 Spanish red on the table.  So if you need a red house wine for the fall, stop in and pick up a case of Protocolo, which may go away at the end of the month as new holiday offerings emerge.

Alamos Malbec was the $8 bottle in our tasting and it was light and a little disappointing, especially compared to Protocolo.  The Alamos Chardonnay was also on the table last night but we didn't open it when little interest was shown in it.   It is actually one of the most popular wines in the store and shares that same $7.19 case bottle cost which, again, I am not sure we can keep going forward.

Next Friday (September 28th 5-7pm) Tommy Basham of Continental Beverage returns to our parts for a tasting that will include Sextant California Zinfandel and a real hit from the past, Coto de Hayas Fagus, a Spanish red blend utilizing hundred year old vine fruit.  Next week's tasting will be a fund raiser for the Susan G. Komen, Atlanta 3-day, 60 mile hike for a cure for breast cancer.  I have two daughters involved and they have to raise close to $5000 for the cause.  Please come and taste and support this effort.    

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Flash Detente

Flash Detente or "instant relaxation" is new technology that provides a thermal "flash" of 185 degrees for grapes kept in a compartment adjacent to its thermocooler vacuum tank where the grapes are then gradually reduced in heat to about 80 degrees.  Bet you thought this was about some super hero having to do with the SALT Treaties.  Actually this is a brilliant step forward in winemaking.

I learned about the thing last week when a wine company executive visiting this store told me about his recent trip to Lodi.  There are now two of these things in the country; one in Monterey County, the other in Lodi.  Neither has been around longer than two years.  Those two units are different versions of the same thing, one from Italy; the other, France, but both are functionally the same, using a process created in France in the early nineties.  The things have actually been around for at least fifteen years and sixty of them have been working in every wine producing market around the world...except here!  It is expensive, by the way, costing $1 million and potentially $2 million with add-ons and changes needed for existing facilities.

The real beauty of this apparatus lies in its simplicity and versatility.  It comes in sizes ranging from five ton crushing capacity per hour to sixty tons.  Smaller batches may be more appropriate for marketing to home wine makers as the crush could be sold as must or juice and, by the way, the process isn't limited to just grapes either.  As for versatility, once the process is complete, the winemaker may make whatever style of wine he would like, he just now has better fruit with which to work.  Here are the advantages:

1.  Thermal flashing sterilizes the fruit eliminating methoxepyrines which cause the annoying vegetal quality in wine.  It similarly removes botrytis and other molds, bitter seed tannin, and polyphenol oxidase.

2.  The process is a steaming which utilizes water from the fruit itself, which is then expelled with all contaminants, reducing the water content of the grapes by 6-7%, increasing the sugars by default and making the wine slightly sweeter as a by-product of the process.

3.  The immediate extraction of color in processing results in a wine that is darker and less likely to brown with age.

4.  The waste water actually has medicinal qualities perhaps useful in an afterlife separate from the grapes.

5.  Flashing shortens the winemaking process, removing a "time bottleneck" when the winemaker would normally be waiting for nature to take its course before moving on to the next step.

6.  Flashing increases anthocyanins, tannins, polyphenols, varietal flavor, and aromas.

7.  The entire process needs no additives and the unit washes itself after work!

Most industry analysts think flashing's greatest application will be reserved for lower quality fruit which will immediately become palatable.  Carignon from the previous blog and all of those cool climate bell peppery Cabernets immediately come to mind.  But interestingly enough, parts of  Bordeaux are using flashing and Banfi of Italy is also in the game.

Join us this Friday when we taste a great selection from Georgia Crown Distributing under the guidance of their representative, Jon Allen.  And get in those Nouveau Beaujolais orders!


Carbonic Maceration and Beaujolais

Carbonic maceration is a fermentation process using a carbon dioxide rich environment to ferment whole grapes on an intracellular level before crushing.  Standard alcoholic fermentation crushes the grapes first to free the juice and pulp from the skins, then introducing yeast to convert the sugars to alcohol.  Louis Pasteur amongst others discovered the difference between the two processes in 1872 when it was observed that grapes that were in sealed containers started fermenting on their own before crushing.  Wine from those grapes was then contrasted with regularly fermented grape wine in an experiment for which I would have gladly volunteered.

Carbonic maceration has actually been around for as long as standard fermentation.  Any time grapes are left in a barrel or other container for any length of time, gravity will crush those on the bottom facilitating the release of juice, freeing those sugars to combine with ambient yeasts on grapeskins and elsewhere.  Carbon dioxide is released as a by-product of this process and being denser than oxygen, CO2 will displace oxygen in the container forcing it out between barrel staves or some other way creating the anaerobic environment for this kind of fermentation.

Why is this relevant here and now?  Being a wine merchant (mercenary?), I sell a lot of Nouveau Beaujolais every November and I placed that order just this week.  Nouveau is the quintessential carbonic maceration wine, period.  It is a fruity, low tannin wine, lacking in structure for ageing, but important as a harbinger for the greater wines of the vintage to follow.  As the Nouveau goes, so goes the quality of the great wines to come.  Using carbonic maceration, the producers can turn out a finished product in six weeks just in time for Thanksgiving and, as I just said, perhaps providing a signal to stock up on the great Burgundies to follow. 

In California the term "whole berry fermentation" is a synonym for carbonic maceration.  Carignan is the most widely planted grape in the world because of its yield.  To say it is ordinary, is to flatter the grape.  Carbonic maceration is the fermentation technique that makes it palatable and the process is  used everywhere.

Back in the late 1960s, Bill Cosby did a routine about his childhood friend, Fat Albert.  It was actually two stories with the second one building on the first one.  At the midpoint Cosby said, "I just told you that story, so I could tell you this one."  I just told you about carbonic maceration in order to tell you about a new and exciting wine making technique called "flash detente".

This Friday Jon Allen with Georgia Crown Distributing will be here (5-7pm) tasting out Adastra N'Oak Chardonnay, Tour Des Gendres Cuvees Des Conti and Bergerac Rouge, Terrasus Du Larzac La Reserve D'Oc,  and Primus Red Blend.  Please join us.

And get those Beaujolais orders in!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Puerto Viejo, Requingua, and the Maule Valley

Puerto Viejo is the workhorse line of wines from the Chilean concern, Vina Requingua.  Requingua (corner of the winds) also markets three other labels produced from their 1,000 hectare estate in Curico and ancillary properties in Colchagua and Maule.  On Thursday the 13th of September, Gail Avera of Lafayette Selections will be here to present three wines from the Puerto Viejo line and three from the higher tier Toro de Piedra line.  Since three of the six wines for Thursday are from the Maule (Mow-lay) Valley, that will be our primary subject of discussion here today.

The Chilean wine country is an eight hundred mile strip (32-38 latitude) just north of the middle of the 2,653 mile long strip of a country that Chile is.  The Maule Valley, one of the oldest wine regions of Chile, lies three fourths of the way down the eight hundred mile extent.  Maule is the most rural and least populated wine region of Chile and for that reason along with its relatively large size, it produces 50% of the better wines that Chile exports.  If this is the Languedoc of Chile, its claims to fame are its white wines and Cabernet Sauvignon and ironically, the sparsely populated Maule lies a mere 155 miles from the Chilean capitol, Santiago.

Wine history has been kind to Chile and the Maule Valley.  Spanish colonists are believed to have brought European grapevines to Chile as early as the 1550s.  Written documentation show French grapevines were delivered to Chile in the 1850s and thereafter.  Since the Phylloxera epidemic was about to break in Europe at that time, those exports were fortunate indeed for Chile and the Maule Valley because out of all of the wine regions of the world, Chile (and Argentina) are the only locations never infected by that plague.  Because Europe's wine industry was soon to be ruined by the infamous plant louse, European winemakers galore were soon to follow the vines to the new world jumpstarting the industry in Chile and elsewhere.

The Maule Valley discovered by early wine making pioneers featured the same Mediterranean climate with diurnal temperature shifts that European winemakers love.  Alluvial soils of clay and sand and rivers like the Maule, Colchagua, and Curico, all running westward from the Andes, would be ideal to plan around with that Chilean countryside actually being a 6000 meter elevated plateau as compared to the 800 meters at the coastal plain.

This kind of geology is not without its drawbacks however.  All of Chile is seismically active with Maule being especially so.  Every twenty to thirty years it experiences a major earthquake with the most recent occurring on February 27th of 2010.  That magnitude 8.8 event, the sixth largest ever recorded, centered just off the coast of Maule and killed an estimated 525 people in resort towns on the coast.  Two of the wines we are tasting Thursday night would have been is huge ageing barrels at that time.  Two of those barrels at Requingua did not survive that earthquake.  Please join us for the tasting.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


Once again we find ourselves writing about the popular wine from the tasting of the previous night.  The 2009 Sicoris is an elegant Spanish red composed of 37% Grenache, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Tempranillo, 7% Merlot, and 5% Syrah.  Sicoris is also the name of the River that its Denominacion d'Origen, Costers del Segre (banks of the Segre), gets its name.  Sicoris was the river's name under Greek and Roman rule and if you want to spend the rest of your life studying history you can do just that by reading up on Catalonia.

Catalonia is the triangular "nationality" at the easternmost tip of Spain.  It fronts the Mediterranean Sea with Barcelona being both the primary wine market and an indispensible port for the wine industry.  Catalonia also borders France and the Roussillon wine region of their southwest.  Catalonia is actually a cultural overlay of that French Roussillon region plus the Spanish region.  Because the terrain is very much the same with higher elevations featuring precipitous vineyards, the wine making methods of both are very much the same.

Our Sicoris red actually comes from the western border of Catalonia in the middle of that side of the triangle.  That high elevation region in the province of Lleida features a continental climate (hot summers, cold winters) with the diurnal effect (hot days, cold nights) so valued by winemakers.  Rainfall is sparse and all of this is probably due to the proximity of the Pyrenees Mountains.  The soil is of a dark lime-bearing type with low clay content and poor in organic matter.

Costers del Segre is composed of six vineyard regions that don't appear to make sense on a map but they do if you consider the terrain.  Only two regions are contiguous so it looks like someone just pressed down with the fingertips of one hand on a map.  Castell del Remei, the makers of Sicoris, explains their "recipe for success" like this: By growing select grape types at different elevations (1,000-2,500 feet) using the different soils at those elevations, a "spice rack" effect is accomplished in the wine.  That makes sense.

Last year Sicoris was enshrined in our wine shop (tongue in cheek) Tasting Hall of Fame.  It wasn't until this current research that I understood that the red wavy design on the black background wine label was actually the namesake river of the wine, itself.   That makes sense too.

Next Thursday September 13th between 5 and 7pm Gail Avera rejoins us with new wines from her new company Lafayette Selections.  Please join us for that one.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Ciao Angelo

Ciao Angelo is one of the most popular cheeses in our little market here in Gainesville, Georgia.  It is essentially an Aged Gouda generically speaking since the Netherlands has not restricted the name to the locality of the town of Gouda.  Ciao Angelo is also marketed as "an Italian-style cheese from Holland" which refers to its somewhat winey character.  Some would say it is like a combination of Gouda and Parmesan.  I wouldn't go that far.  It's just good Aged Gouda...with a twist.

Aged Gouda typically features a carmelly and nutty flavor with a hard texture that breaks apart as often as it cuts cleanly with a knife.  The texture, of course, is the result of the aging time.  Regular Gouda is aged up to six months and can easily be worked on a slicer.  Aged Gouda may be aged between nine and eighteen months with the latter version being a truly humbling experience for the novice cheese cutter or the old guy like me.

Ciao Angelo, like most Aged Goudas and some other aged cheeses, has a couple of qualities that endear it to its adherents: its sweetness and its crystals.  The sweetness is easy to explain.  After separating the curd from the whey and sinking the curd into molds, the curd is "washed" with water and that facilitates the sweetening of the cheese.  That step is followed by immersion in brine which really gives the cheese its flavor.  The crystals are a little harder to explain. 

If what we are talking about is "tyrosine" crystals, they result from the coagulation process begun by the addition of rennet to the "casein", the family of related phosphoproteins that make up 80% of the protein in cow's milk. Tyrosine, an amino acid, would be the resultant milk protein crystals in the cheese body.  If the crystal is calcium lactate it would be "a crystalline salt made by the action of lactic acid on calcium carbonate produced later during the ripening process." 

All of the above information, which I hope is true by the way, is from Wikipedia since I was a real loser in Chemistry class.  I do know something about wine and cheese though and I would suggest new world red wine for a change with this one.  Ciao Angelo packs a punch so I suggest Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, or Shiraz/Syrah as a nice accompaniment or even a moderately hefty ale.  Ciao Angelo is also a centerpiece experience.  While it can be a part of a cheese tray, I like the idea of it standing alone with one's beverage of choice.

This Friday, September 7th from 5 to 7pm, Henry Leung, the man who solved the Chinese puzzle according to Wine Spectator magazine, will be here tasting and educating us on why we blend red grapes for superior results.  Henry is always a hit at these things so please join us.

Monday, August 27, 2012

O'Neill Beverage Company Part 2

I got interested in writing about O'Neill because of a conversation I had recently with a food vendor.  He had asked if I knew that Boars Head doesn't own any manufacturing facilities of their own.  They are just a marketing company.  The wine industry is now similar.  There are "virtual" wineries galore with ownership far from California and no physical plant of their own.  And then there is that category of enabler to facilitate this kind of  industry development with O'Neill being in that number.

Many of O'Neill's competitors are similarly not household names but basically every wine label on the grocery store shelves comes from a player of that scale because supply must be contractually guaranteed.  Depending on how one defines industry terms, Continental Brands or Gallo would be the number one wine company in the world.  O'Neill, by the way, is number eight.  But Gallo is listed as a client of O'Neill so its sales numbers are dependent on supply from O'Neill.  Many other grocery store wines also depend on O'Neill or Bronco or Delicato to maintain supply.  Many other popular grocery store wines are wholly creations of the mega-bulk wine houses.

Along with its aggressive vineyard acquisition expansion into northern California in the eighties and nineties, Golden State Vintners (later O'Neill) replanted many of those vineyards with varietal rootstocks known to work in their respective locales.  Trellising was also done by working with the right viticulturalists.  In other words, they did it right, as you might expect from a company dating to the 1930s with three generations of one family running the business, each with ongoing relationships with other producers through time.

What makes O'Neill's story of "vertical integration" in the wine business noteworthy though concerns how they chose to react in the nineties to the new competition from South America and Australia.  They realized that so much of the cost of competing was in the marketing of the product so they marketed their production of wines to include storage, shipping, and a complete service department dedicated to providing support for their clients and it has been a model of success.

In 1998 Golden State went public.  In 2004  they became the O'Neill Beverage Company and created their giant physical plant in the central valley in Parlier, California.  By renovating and enlarging the brandy distillery they had purchased in the eighties and rode to number two in sales in the nation, that circa 1900 building now lies as part of one of the most modern energy efficient complexes in the wine industry.

Today 80% of California wine sales are considered to be premium wine sales as opposed to jug wine sales.  Seven wine companies account for 75% of that number.  Thirty years ago those numbers could have been reversed with 80%  being jug sales and that number being controlled by seven companies.  But the great cultural change did happen and the rest is history, a history accomplished by companies like O'Neill who were able to pull it off.

On Friday September 7th from 5 to 7pm, Henry Leung of Hemispheres Fine Wines will join us here with an exposition of  blended reds and whites from California, France, and Italy.  Henry, for the uninitiated, is a popular wine educator with a noteworthy following in Gainesville.  Please join us.

This Friday we are tasting California reds with one of those being an O'Neill product.  Again, please join us.  

Thursday, August 23, 2012

O'Neill Beverage Company

No one has ever heard of the O'Neill Beverage Company, right?  I hadn't until I stumbled upon it while researching the inexpensive California line, Back Story.  Back on June 6th of this year we blogged about Back Story and their star winemaker, Jeff Gaffner, attributing Back Story to Jeff's company, Saxon Brown Wines (est. 1997).  Now it turns out Back Story is actually made at O'Neill, a company that dates to 1934 but was re-born in 2004 through the efforts of Jeff O'Neill and a ton of financial backing.  The Back Story wine label actually started its existence in 2010 at O'Neill and, yes, Jeff Gaffner is still supposed to be the winemaker.  Let's unpack this crate and get the real backstory on O'Neill.

In 1934 one of the giants of the jug wine era, Golden State Vintners, was born.  They began with one hundred twenty acres in vineyards in the south-central valley in the town of Cutler in Tulare County, California.  Their competition included Gallo and Delicato but early on proprietor, Arpaxat Setrakian, turned his vision in a different direction.  While Golden State always marketed their own wines, they actually became one of the first bulk wine suppliers to others.  In fact most of their production was sold to prominant competitors thereby generating most of their revenues.

In 1981 Jeff O'Neill, grandson of Arpaxat Setrakian, joined the company and quickly envigorated what had become a stagnating industry.  In the late seventies wine was emerging as a cultural necessity for baby boomers with tastes changing to the drier styles. Bulk wine producers of the past either had to change to survive or give it up.  With foresight Golden State and a few others went upscale with the quality of their product utilizing their longstanding relationships with growers and winemakers who were knowledgeable both historically and contemporarily.  Anticipating the wine boom, Golden State embarked on an aggressive acquisition plan including 10,000 acres in vineyards in north and central California and the purchase of a brandy distillery that would lead to new acclaim.

Golden State's customer base has included Sebastiani, Heublein, Robert Mondavi, Beringer, Sutter  Home, and very prominently, Gallo.  Store brands galore have also been stock in trade for Golden State with Trader Joes being one standout and even little Vine & Cheese in Gainesville, Georgia as another albeit tiny account.  All of this precedes the actual creation of the O'Neill Beverage Company in 2004, by the way, which we will talk about next time.

Join us here on Friday August 24th from 5 to 7pm as Tommy Basham of Continental Beverage shares his fine selection of Spanish wines with us. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012


The 2007 Auka Argentine Malbec and 2010 Penfolds Australian Bin 2 Shiraz/Mourvedre were the tasting winners from last night as far as I could tell.  The Penfolds may have been the better wine but for the price differential, I would have opted for the Malbec, especially if there was a steak in the picture anywhere.

We just bought a quantity of Auka wines and while the Malbec seems pretty hard to beat, as I recall, the Syrah from them is even better.  After looking at several reviews on-line, it may be a toss-up.  Reviewers use the same " full-bodied, oak, and smoke" for both wines, but the Syrah features both red and black fruits (raspberry, cherry, plum) along with black pepper and notable structure.  The Malbec was all about rich black fruits in my opinion.

Auka is from the San Polo Winery in La Consulta in the Valle de Uco in the department of San Carlos within the province of Mendoza, the best wine growing region of Argentina.  On the map it appears to be near the middle of the western side of the country.  It is a 180 hectare vineyard at 33 degrees latitude and 1000 meters above sealevel.  It is at the foothills of the Andes and receives its irrigation from melting mountain snow.

The winery was founded by three european immigrants in the 1880s who settled in Mendoza and gave San Polo its corporate name in the 1930s.  Today two great grandchildren of the founders operate the winery.

At the San Polo website the winery gives credit to the Auka indigenous people for the wine label art.  The Auka people, according to the website, would carve into the earth the design on the label which features a sun, moon, and star over a hill, which meant the people were beseeching the deities in the sky for rain. 

I thought that was interesting so I started researching the subject and found nothing to indicate there ever was a tribe of Aukas in Argentina.  There was a notorious Auca people to the north in present day Equador but even that people was not known by that name.  They were the Huaranis and if you google them, hold on to your stomach.  Supposedly the neighboring Jivaros tribe, which used to shrink heads, would cower when confronted by the Huaranis.  According to my research, "Auca" is a pejorative term for the Huaranis which means "enemy".

My dad was a lifelong avid hunter in the upper penninsula of Michigan, by the way.  At his funeral his buddies told me my dad would go deeper into the woods than anyone else.  My dad  told me his greatest fear was coming upon a wolverine, which he called the meanest animal on earth.  Something like the Auca maybe?

Here is the thing, though.  Indigenous new world people everywhere invariably get overwhelmed by "civilized" european immigrants everywhere in the western world.  If they survive at all, they are displaced, marginalized, and reduced to poverty...and we call them savages.  So where does the truth lie?

Last night we tasted the 2009 Auka Torrontes also.  Last year that wine was ultra-popular and made it into my semi-serious Tasting Hall of Fame.  The regular retail for the Aukas is $9.99.  Say you read this article and they are $7.99/btl. 

Tommy Basham of Continental Beverage joins us with his fine portfolio of Spanish wines 5 to 7pm on Friday August 24th.  Be here.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Great Antifreeze Wine Scandal

The following text relates to the preceding article about Gruner Veltliner.

 In 1985 a scandal was exposed by German chemists who, when testing the purity of German wines, uncovered illegal adulteration on two levels:  1) German wines were being supplemented with Austrian wine, a violation of German wine law.  2)  That Austrian wine was contaminated with diethylene glycol, an ingredient in antifreeze!   At about the same time an Austrian tax examiner was wondering why a certain wine broker was claiming diethylene glycol as a business expense.

As scandals go, this one was major.  Diethylene glycol poisoning damages kidneys and tests revealed that the levels in some bottles could have been lethal.  Of course, it started innocently enough.  After two weak vintages in the early eighties, someone thought of a plan.  Why not amend the product with an ingredient that would sweeten and fatten the body of the weak wine.  What an idea?  Who could have thought of it?  While twenty-four individuals were charged and many went to jail, a chemist named Otto Nadrasky appears to be a central figure.  Perhaps the wine broker who claimed his business expense would be another major player.

While no one ever claimed to be damaged physically, the Austrian wine industry most definitely was.  Common wisdom suggests the industry lost the value of about ten years worth of business. Since only two dozen people were ever charged, the vast majority of innocent workers paid an excruciating price for the criminality of a few.

 Germany had been Austria's primary wine trading partner receiving ninety percent of its exports.  Because Germany's bulk producers were using the tainted Austrian juice, they suffered internationally also.  Having been in the business at the time, I remember the removal of German labels from the shelves and while I don't remember the Austrians of the time, records show twelve of those brands were also removed.  The contaminated Austrian wines were the opposite of the German bulk wines.  They were the elite pradikat wines, some of which being competition winners.  The wine with the highest level of contamination discovered was one of those award winning desserts and it was actually determined to be very dangerous to consume.

So here's the irony.  Austria decided to change from sweeter wines to Gruner and other lighter and drier whites as a result of the scandal, coinciding with the change in tastes of the global market.  At the same time, the screw caps that seem to aid in retaining the freshness of such wines, were coming into vogue.  So despite the hit the Austrian wine industry took, they have landed on their feet by proactively adjusting their industry to contemporary tastes.

This Friday (5-7pm) we are tasting everyday Argentine reds and whites along with our continuing exploration of superior California Cabernet.  Please join us.  And if you enjoy these blogs, please let me know.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Gruner Veltliner

As I type in Gruner Veltliner I understand why this wine has been flying under the radar for about twenty years in America.  It is the same reason Gewurztraminer will never find a decent audience. It's the name.  Gruner was marketed twenty years ago very unfortunately as "Groovy" and that didn't work either (duh!), so it appears to be destined to a lesser status than it perhaps deserves.

Gruner Veltliner is a white wine grape indigenous to Austria as far as the ampelographers can discern.  DNA testing has shown Traminer to be one of its parent grapes while the other is an obscure 19th century variety called St. Georgian-vine, which is now being rescued from near extinction by progagators interested in its potential as a wine producer.

The flavor profile for Gruner is typically citrus with peach fruit particularly, along with white pepper and tobacco for the more earthy component.  The wine is typically light and intended as much as any wine for early consumption and that is what most of us in this country understand about the subject.

Gruner vines occupy about 50,000 acres in Austria or 37% of vineyard land in a country the size of Maine.  It is the most widely planted variety there and that always means it is the type that is the most marketable.  Gruner is a staple of wine bars and restaurants in Austria and neighboring countries and for most of the past one hundred fifty years or so, Austria's focus has been on mass marketing their wines.  Only in the past twenty years or so has the emphasis shifted to  quality.

The other great white variety of Austria is Riesling and there is an ongoing debate as to which type produces the better wine.  Most Austrian oenophiles would go with Riesling but the gap has closed with the quality emphasis dictating vineyard selection for optimal terroir.  Mastery in Gruner winemaking technique has also evolved in recent decades.  Gruner does best in the lower part of the country on hillsides with just the right slope to retain water with the soil composition consisting primarily of clay with minerality.  Cropping for lower yields and ripeness then provide the winemaker with the raw materials to make an intensely concentrated and rich white wine.

So how good are these Gruners?  They actually counterbalance the easy-growing commercial wine style.  They compare to great white Burgundies and age similarly, perhaps up to twenty years!  Because the variety has not caught on in America, it is doubtful we will ever see them here though and since only about twenty producers make these "Super Gruners" anyway, they get consumed entirely in Austria.

One last point about Gruner Veltliner is its  food-friendliness.  This is a wine suitable for all vegetables.  Along with the fruit flavors mentioned above, vegetable aromas are there without the vegetal grassy herbaciousness.  Some sommeliers think there is no better match for artichokes or asparagus.  Could this be the ideal wine for cabbage?

Taste Gruner Veltliner with us here at the store (5-7pm) on Friday and judge for yourself.  Say you read this article and get a free Dancake!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Boisset Part 2

The Buena Vista wines currently in distribution here are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and The Count (red field blend).  Soon to be added: Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay.  These are designated as the Sonoma Series and all are priced in the mid teens.   Projected for the near future are several higher priced Carneros region specialty wines and "Eclipse" which was an  historic methode champenoise sparkler from Count Agoston Haraszthy that won a gold medal at the 1867 Paris Exhibition in France.  It is now being reproduced by Boisset.  Just for clarification, that winning accomplishment was more than a hundred years before the "Judgment at Paris" tasting (blog July 5, 2012) popularized in the film, Bottle Shock!

Boisset Family Estates markets wines from twenty four properties in Europe and California.  In 1999 Jean-Charles Boisset united all of his family's Burgundy negotiant holdings into one company, Domaine be la Vougeraie, which had been the historic name of his family's Vougeot estate before his ascendancy.  This move instantly made Boisset the largest Burgundy wine company and the largest Pinot Noir producer in Burgundy.  The company markets four Grand Cru Red Burgundies but the flagship wine of the company ironically may be a Chardonnay, Vougeot 1er Cru "Les Clos Blanc de Vougeot" Monopole.

Boisset also markets a line of California wines eponimously named JCB.  Each type in that line is named by number, as in, No.7, which is said to be "debonnaire, charismatic, and seductive" on their website.  Puh-leeze!  JCB also features a couple of French wines in the line whch makes me think there is more here than seems apparent now.  Gina Gallo is the wife of Jean-Charles and E&J Gallo is the largest land owner in Sonoma County.  The Sonoma Coast region is projected by some to one day be the finest Pinot Noir source outside of Europe.  Jean-Charles Boisset has described Sonoma Pinot as being "open, flamboyant, and exuberant" while Burgundy is "earthy, austere, and serious".  And yes there is a Boisset plan to blend the two!

It is truly a frighteningly new and modern wine world we're living in and Jean-Charles Boisset may have more in common with the great Count than we could have anticipated.  Both were/are certainly experimenters, dealmakers, and self-promoters.  If you take a look at the Boisset web presence you see both its ubiquity and engenuity. may be the best winery website I have seen.   While this writer has actually tasted few of the Boisset offerings available in this market,  enough has been shown to warrant an optimistic approval.

Curtis Gauthier of Empire Distributors will provide the wines for this week's Friday tasting.  Expect more fine California fare.  Be here 5 to 7 pm!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Boisset Part 1: Buena Vista

A week ago our best seller at that Friday tasting was the 2010 Buena Vista Cabernet Sauvignon.  Last night the winner was the 2010 Cabernet-based Raymond R Collection Field Blend.  Besides both being moderately priced California Cabernets, they are both owned by French Vougeot-based multi-national, Boisset Family Estates.  We blogged about Raymond back on February 16th of 2011.  This time we'll look at Buena Vista.

Jean-Charles Boisset, head of Boisset Family Estates, purchased Buena Vista in May of 2011.  While the Cabernet we tasted a week ago was made prior to his ascendancy to ownership, Jean-Charles, being very historically reverent toward this industry, would no doubt view his position as a temporal custodianship.  Buena Vista was founded in 1857, making it 155 years old.  One of the new owner's first moves was a label change to approximate an 1860 Buena Vista label.

Jean-Charles was born in Vougeot in Burgundy and his California winery purchases all reflect that inherent historical context.  Deloach Vineyards, purchased in 2003, was the first Russian River Pinot Noir.  Lyeth Estate was the first red Bordeaux blend from California even before the term, Meritage, was coined.  Raymond boasts five generations of Napa winemakers and Buena Vista is all about history.

Buena Vista was founded by Count Agoston Haraszthy of Hungary, a notorious bon vivant and dealmaker.  The Count was actually Hungarian royalty by birth (1812) but moved to America in 1840, returning to the homeland periodically to visit and bring others back with him to America.

 Haraszthy became known in California as "the father of California winemaking" and is credited with introducing 300 European grape varieties to California, Zinfandel arguably being one of those credits. Before Buena Vista, Haraszthy experimented with viticulture for a decade in various locations and partnered with like-minded agriculturalists resulting in the 1858 "Haraszthy Report", the first published treatise on winemaking in California.  The following decade yielded further written delineation on the subject along with much speechmaking advocacy for the industry.

Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma was a natural outgrowth of Haraszthy's grape experimentation which continued for years on the Sonoma property prior to the opening of the winery.  The winery itself was a "gravity flow" creation built of stone with nearby hillside caves for cellaring.  Charles Krug was one of the notable winemakers hired by Harszthy.

Winemaking history has largely been eclipsed by mammoth production in California in the current era.  For twenty years prior to Boisset, no wine was actually made at Buena Vista and, sad to say, that isn't unusual.  Now winemaking has returned to the old stone winery and so has the Count in the personage of actor/historian George Webber who aptly recreates that larger than life figure on the premises.  "The Count" may be experienced more viscerally in the Buena Vista wine of the same name, another red field blend from Boisset.

Because this is the slow season, stop in the store and get a ten percent discount on our wines from the past week's tasting.  Curtis Gauthier of Empire Distributors will be feting us with some of his stellar California wines this Friday between 5 and 7pm.  Please join us.

By the way...Count Haraszthy joins a relatively short list of notables who all died in mystery, that is, they disappeared!  Amelia Earhardt, anyone?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Grafton Village Cheese

Last week we received a forty pound block of cheddar from our wholesaler in New York.  It was a promotional item from a sales circular that only said it was from Vermont.  Since we could retail it for ten dollars a pound, we jumped on it.  When it arrived here, the heavy plastic wrap was clearly stamped Grafton, which is a brand we purchase in volume for the holiday gift baskets.  We never taste those eight ounce waxed cheddar bars because they are usually in and out of the store within a few weeks via the gift trade.

So we cut into the forty pound cheddar last week and immediately I was struck by the texture.  Our Widmer's four year old cheddar  and other forty pounders we have had here have all been hard and difficult to cut.  This one was relatively soft and crumbly and that was an eye-opener.  Coming from the midwest this cheese clearly felt different.  This almost reminded me of the real stuff, English Cheddar.

With a crumbly cheese, you can't help but taste it, right?  Actually anyone standing near the cutting table opportunely gets to taste a crumbly cheese and the feedback (and sales) have been very good on this one.  The cheese is creamy and mild but also pleasantly winey enough to work with a light red or medium bodied white wine in my opinion and I don't usually think of cheddar that way.   

The following is information gleaned from the Grafton website,

The company was formed in 1892 as a cooperative to support small neighboring dairy farms.  After its original physical plant was destroyed by fire, the nonprofit Windham Foundation of Grafton, Vermont, with a similar cooperative philosophy, rebuilt that cheese plant and later built another one in Brattleboro, Vermont as the business grew.

Grafton markets many dairy products along with other goodies but essentially just four cheddars, aged one through four years.  Our unmarked forty pound block is probably the one year old.  They also offer a maplewood chip smoked cheddar.

Grafton uses no artificial hormones in their cheeses and their rennet is not animal based, therefore it is suitable for vegetarians.  In 2010 they hired cheesemaker Dane Huebner who has added a line of eight cave aged artisanal cheeses which may be seen at their website.  We will inquiry as to the availability of these soon.

At next Friday's wine tasting (5-7pm) we will set out the Grafton just as we did last Friday.  Please come and taste.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Chenin Blanc

Writing about light dry summer wines prompts me to take a look at one of the most ordinary of white vinifera grapes, Chenin Blanc, which only finds nobility in French Loire Valley Vouvray and, perhaps, in South African production. I am also prompted to write because Vouvrays seem to have been rediscovered here at the store this summer and our Friday evening tasting this week includes a South African. So it doesn't hurt to advertise what's current, right? But what about the quality question? Is Chenin Blanc good wine or isn't it?

First of all, this summer if it's cold and refreshing, as we have been saying here recently, it's good wine. But critically speaking? For most of my thirty years in the business, I would say not, largely because I have held to a hierarchical schema regarding grape types. Those that were historically proven to produce harmoniously complex wines occupied the top tier. Those that produced such quality only occasionally were at the next rung. The ordinary grapes were below that and at the bottom was, well, you don't want to know.

Michael McNeil, the highest ranking sommelier-credentialed connoisseur in the Atlanta wine business, took me to task about this approach recently. For him it's about wine improving in the bottle, i.e., if it improves in the bottle, it's noble. So for him, Chenin Blanc is a noble grape in those instances where the terroir allows for superior production to the extent that the wine improves in the cellar. I humbly stand corrected.

Now, I have always known of the great Vouvrays, having tasted them thirty years ago. I knew then that they were truly special cellar-worthy wines. I just always thought of those examples as an anomaly, an accident of nature. Chenin Blanc was just ordinary as a rule.

The most noble of red grapes is Pinot Noir and I learned that thirty years ago from my mentor, Jim Sanders, the father of the fine wine business in Atlanta and the French Burgundy expert of the southeastern United States at the time. Here's the rub though. Pinot Noir only produces nobly in Burgundy, France to my knowledge. What's the difference then between that and the Chenin Blanc in the Loire Valley? I believe Mr. McNeil may have a point: nobility is an overlay that covers all wines with only a few examples of certain types standing out.

This Friday (5-7pm), along with the South African Chenin Blanc, we will taste some combination of new inventory in California Cabernets, Spanish dry rose, Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, and Argentine Pinot Noir. The wines we are offering at our tastings this summer really are special, after all, we do have to drive away the summer heat somehow. Please join us and say you read this article for a free Danish Dancake.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Hot Weather Wines Part 3: Reds

This is what I omitted from the summer white wine report: When in doubt, buy Italian.  While there are some heavier Italian whites, most are charming light refreshers perfect for the season. 

We have had a couple of tastings here recently that featured some wonderful summer reds.  Two weeks ago we tasted the "Young" Cabernet and Malbec from Testimento of Argentina.  Last night we tasted Senda 66 Spanish Tempranillo, Masciarelli Italian Montepulciano, and Santa Julia's Organic Malbec and Cabernet from Argentina.    The Europeans were lighter versions of what each could have been, while the Argentines seemed fruitier along with being lighter.  All could have been labelled "cafe" or "bistro" wine or for that matter "picnic" wine.  The Europeans, which really needed food to show their best, did alright in sales but the Argentines were very popular.

So what made the Argentines so popular?  It had to be the fresh forward fruit style that made them such a nice cocktail.  (Wine tastings are cocktail parties, aren't they?)  While California pioneered this style, many examples we have tasted here recently have been heavier Zinfandel-based blends, which may or may not be the current California style but don't seem to be hot weather wines in any event unless they could be used as a base for Sangria.

Here are some varietals to try now: Gamay, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, and Sangiovese.  As with white wines, the European red style is lighter and more food friendly.  Gamay and Pinot Noir find their best examples in Burgundy, France; Tempranillo, in Spain; and Sangiovese, in Italy.  For lighter Tempranillo look for the word, "Crianza" on the label; for lighter Sangiovese, look for "Rosso". 

All of these types, while light, would still work well with meats on the grill.  Because we have become so enamored with our reds in this country, we sometimes forget that most all reds are intended to be paired with foods. If your grilled meat is actually charred with smoky flavor, crunchy texture, and a carmelized crust, go with either a light structured Cabernet-like red or balance the char with a fruit-driven light red like Sangiovese.  Pinots work best with meals with a sauce,  and spicy meals require spicy wines, and as always, Italian red wine with Italian cuisine.

Here is my last summer red wine consideration: Chill your bottle of red wine for an hour before dinner to ensure it is below 60 degrees in temperature  and if you are dining outside bring the ice bucket. Who wants warm wine? Tuesday July 20th between 5 and 7pm, importer Bob Durand and distributor Gail Avera will be pouring the new Chilean line called Dogma. Bob actually had a hand in the design of these wines so those who want to learn about such things are encouraged to be here.