Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Handcraft Wines

Handcraft Wines is a label that gets its official release tomorrow, February 1st. We have it in the store today because we get deliveries once a week from most of our suppliers and we felt this one deserved early release. Handcraft is a label from Cheryl Indelicato of DFV (Delicato Family Vineyards) of Lodi, California. We have discussed DFV in the past and concluded that for a mega-wine company (tenth overall) DFV actually overperforms quality-wise. What we haven't talked about here is the personal side of this business.

Cheryl Indelicato, like all of her siblings, left home to go to school and start a career doing something outside of the wine business. That is actually a mandate from the family: No one goes straight into the family business without trying something else first. In her case it was nursing. She was successful but chose to return to DFV and her love of food and wine at a time of generational transition when leadership was needed in the company.

Cheryl specializes in food and wine pairings and utilized this talent along with her Italian heritage to blend the wines for Handcraft to be food friendly and Italian in style. Specific wine information is available at www.handcraftwines.com. Moreover, Handcraft afforded her the opportunity to give back to the medical community and particularly the fight against breast cancer. One dollar per bottle of Handcraft sold ($12.99/btl) is donated to breast cancer research and that, folks, is substantial.

Our Handcraft wine tasting is scheduled for Saturday February 17th when Jon Allen of Georgia Crown Distributing will be here to tell us all about them. In the meantime stop in and purchase a bottle of Handcraft Chardonnay or any of the three reds and become a soldier in the war on breast cancer.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Brie de Meaux Rouzaire

"When you have the goods, you darn well have the right to flaunt them."-Mae West (not really but it sounds right).

Brie de Meaux Rouzaire is the best brie available here to our knowledge. It defies category in that its pungent earthiness indicates an unpasteurised, raw milk product but if you go to www.fromagerierouzaire.com, the Rouzaires go to great length to show how much care is taken to meet every international food preparation standard and yes, the cheese is pasteurised. They maintain traceable records of every process from the release of the product to the marketplace back to the origin of the raw materials. For instance the Rouzaires buy milk from twenty neighboring farmers. All milk must be from cows that feed only upon on-site grown hay and other nutrients, then the milk is purchased and used immediately in cheesemaking.

Meaux is located outside Paris and has its cheesemaking origins in the 8th century. It received its AOC (see January 21st blog) in 1980. The Rouzaires belong to the trade group, the Agricultural Pollution Control Organization. Other arcane trade information is available at the website listed above. Here are a couple of tidbits though: Twenty-five liters of milk go into each wheel of brie and "pointing the brie" is the taking of the first cut from a wedge out of the interior tip, theoretically the best piece in a wedge, and a serious social faux pas!

Get your Superbowl provisions here, of course, and mention this blog for a 20% discount on cheese!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Renwood Amador County Barbera 2005

Barbera is the third most widely planted red wine grape in Italy after Sangiovese and Montelulciano. It finds its finest expression in the finest wine region of Italy, the Piedmont in the northwest, where it is claimed as native to the region and has been referenced in literature since the thirteenth century.

Within Piedmont Barbera finds most of its plantings around Asti and Alba. The Astis tend to be lighter and brighter with red and blackberry flavors. In Alba the wines are deeper, darker and more intense with layers of berry and cherry flavors. Alba, being the more complex model, is oddly less popular than Asti.

Barbera is essentially a deep color, low tannin, high acid red wine. Three qualities make this grape ideal for the California wine industry. Its acidity makes it ideal for blending and Barbera is most widely planted in the central valley where it finds a home in jug red blends. Barbera also improves greatly with the oak barrel aging it receives in northern California resulting in a complex alternative to Cabernet/Merlot blending efforts. Moreover, Old Vine California Barbera shows a robust fruity intensity that has the tannins necessary for lengthy cellaring.

So where does Renwood come in? Barbera was planted in the Shenandoah Valley in Amador County in the Sierra Foothills by Italian immigrants around 1856 coinciding with the California Gold Rush. These plantings were fortuitous indeed because this AVA (American Viticultural Area)turns out to be ideal for Barbera producing the kind of jammy forward fruit "cut-it-with-a-knife" rich reds for which California is known.

This Friday we will be tasting two Barberas from Renwood: 2007 Sierra Foothills($12.99) and 2005 Amador County($24.99). Mention this blog at the tasting and purchase them both for $30.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Alsace and Onions

Catchy title, huh?

As stated earlier (January 13th blog), Alsatian wines are all classified AOC (Appellation d'Origene Controllee) which is the premier level of designated origin in the French wine classification. It implicitly guarantees that the product in the bottle is historically consistent with the style and standards of the past. Any wine produced in Alsace that is not labelled AOC is unclassified vin d'table and could in theory be from anywhere in France.

We also stated earlier that the Alsatian wine styles are evolving and becoming less dry and lighter to satisfy the marketplace which forces the question: How can this be if AOC rules guarantee a historical style for the product? Here is where the industry gives a wink and a nod to itself. The beaurocrats who govern such things in France are actually local residents who know the producers well and, well, they rubber stamp the wine that is set before them. Ahem.

Forty French cheeses are classified AOC and such things as poultry, butter, honey, lentils, and lavender all have their AOCs in France.

The Vidalia Onion Act of 1986, which trademarked the Vidalia Onion, guaranteed that onions grown within the geographical limitations recommended by the Vidalia Onion Committee would allow only Granex onions or similar varieties to be grown. Granex onions had been grown around Vidalia since the 1930's where the low sulfur soil is credited for their unique flavor. Because of sweet onion competition within the state, the 1986 legislation broadly drew the Vidalia Onion geographical bounaries to include thirteen counties and portions of seven others or 12% of all of Georgia's counties.

The Vidalia Onion was named the official state vegetable in 1990 and yes, commerce and government do work together for the benefit of the people (and industry). Ahem.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Alsace Part 5: Klevener and Gewurztraminer

Gewurztraminer is one of the noble white wine grapes of the world. "Gewurz" means spicy in German and Traminer is a town in Austria where the grape originated. When grown and produced in Alsace, Gewurz exhibits both floral and spicy overtones within its light to medium (somewhat oily) body. It is the quintessential "crossover" wine in that it can carry enough character to accompany red meat meals. It is after all Alsatian and intended for saurkraut, sausage, fowl, or pate.

Klevener de Heiligenstein is a cousin of Gewurztraminer and exists in Alsace only in the town of Heiligenstein. Klevener was introduced to Alsace in the 1740's from its origin in the Italian Alps and was soon planted throughout the region. Gewurztraminer was introduced there in the 19th century and quickly supplanted Klevener. Today Klevener, also known as Savagnin, is colloquially referred to as the "lesser" Gewurztraminer.

Because the two grapes are related, they share many characteristics. Among these are a high acidity, relatively low alcohol, and an aging potential in excess of ten years.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Alsace Part 4: New Trends

The wine industry is most definitely a commercial venture. Many of the Alsatian wine styles that I remember from thirty years ago are probably gone at least for the forseeable future. Here are five changes that have taken place in the last thirty years:

1. Whereas Pinot Blanc used to be the most widely planted grape in Alsace, now Riesling, Pinot Blanc, and Gewurztraminer all command about 20% each of vineyard space. Pinot Grigio and Auxerrois Blanc are under 20% and Sylvaner and Muscat are under 10% each. Varying estimates somehow make these total 100%. Pinot Gris plantings have been increased by 10% in recent years.

2. In the last twenty five years vineyard space, itself, has increased by 25%.

3. Much of the Grand Cru vineyard production now goes into dessert wines.

4. Biodynamic viticulture is very much the trend in Alsace as elsewhere. The Kuentz-Bas white in the store is biodynamic.

5. Alsatian whites are now promoted as Asian cuisine-friendly. Alsatian charcuterie beware.

And what the heck is Klevener de Heiligenstein? We'll save that one for next time.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Alsace Part 3: Classification

Vin d'Alsace is classified entirely into three AOC's (Appellation d'Origine Controllee) or "controlled designations of origine". 78% of Alsatian production is classified as white, red, or rose still wine; 18% is classified as Cremant d'Alsace or half-sparkling wine; and 4% is Grand Cru vineyard still wine.

The level below AOC in the French hierarchy, VDQS, was eliminated in the past decade in an effort simplify the system. The other classification in France is Vin d'Pays but doesn't apply to Alsace so if a wine is sourced in the Alsace but is not claimed as Alsatian, therefore AOC, it would have to be considered vin d'table or simple table wine that could in fact be sourced anywhere in France. Local restaurant wines, experimental blends, or declassified wines would be so labelled.

90% of the wine produced in Alsace is light, dry white wine which may generally be characterized as aromatic, floral, and spicy with pure varietal flavors because oak is not used. Pinot Noir, the only red grape allowed in Alsace, is not prized at all and much of it goes into rose, both still wine and cremant.

America is the fifth largest export market for Alsatian wines with the other top markets all being within northern Europe. Only 25% of Alsatian wines are exported at all.

In the store presently we are offering Kuentz-Bas Sylvaner Blend and Calixte Cremant Rose. If you want to experience the quality of Alsace try them now with a 10% discount by citing this article.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Alsace Part 2: Edelzwicker and Gentil

The French Alsace labels its wines by varietal name like most new world wines. Because of its revolving door history of being French, then German, then French again, and so on through the centuries; the German influence is probably the reason why, since German wines are so labelled as a rule. Exceptions prove the rule though, right? Germany, to the dismay of many of us, offered up plonk by the name of Liebfraumilch under several well advertised brands for decades in America and elsewhere and the wine buying public often stopped right there in their exposure to German wines, short of trying the great estate Rieslings for which Germany is known.

The Alsace is known for great white varietal wines like the great whites of Germany only drier. The greatest of these may be Gewurztraminer. Most every Alsatian producer offers a proprietary white (house) blend utilizing both estate and purchased grapes since this wine will both represent the brand in the marketplace and will be a volume seller. These have gone by the names Edelzwicker and Gentil and they are most definitely not Liebfraumich. Both words imply nobility in origin and Edelzwicker traditionally topped Gentil in the claim. Today both terms are less prevalent and when used, are largely interchangeable.

In the store currently we offer Kuentz-Bas 2009 Alsatian White Blend, an example of this kind of wine but using neither name. The wine is primarily Sylvaner along with three other white grapes and is notably light and off-dry. This is another historical change. Such wines in the past were usually Pinot Blanc-based and drier. The trend in Alsatian winemaking now appears to be a less dry style coinciding with Germany's effort to produce drier wines.

Try Kuentz-Bas with a 10% discount ($14/btl) by mentioning this article and let me narrow my audience further: If you like great Italian Pinot Grigio, you just might like this Kuentz-Bas.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Alsace Part I: The Near Miss

Alright, its a new year and I haven't blogged in six weeks, but I'm turning over a new leaf along with the calendar page and I am resolving to blog more and less, less depth and length to my blogs and writing more often. Afterall, I am most definitely not a student writing term papers anymore and to write that way when you don't have to is, well, abnormal.

Recently I took home a bottle of Calixte Cremant d'Alsace with which I intended to bring in the new year only to have my dear wife offer it as a honeymoon gift to a most worthy couple. I hope they liked it (harrumpf!). I guess I will have to imagine how good it was. But this near miss brings to mind how much I love Alsatian wines. I have been known to declare Alsace to be "the finest wine region in the world" because everything they produce there is a best example of that type of wine, which is an overstatement, but an overstatement to make a point: The great whites of Alsace are, in fact, the finest examples of Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and (perhaps) Riesling.

Calixte is, however, 100% Pinot Noir and that grape grown in Alsace will never be mistaken for Burgundy. But it is sparkling rose from the finest red wine grape in the world produced in the finest wine production region (I just said that) using the champagne method, all of which informs me that this would have been a fantastic accompaniment with which to enjoy New Years Eve. Ahhh...the near miss.

Did you ever wonder if the one that got away, would have been as good "in fact" as it is in your imagination?

Calixte is a $20 retail but if you cite this blog it is 10% off. Try it and then tell me how much you enjoyed it. Harrumpf!