Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wine with Ham

As I have broached the subject of Easter dinner with customers, just about everyone has said that honey baked ham will be the centerpiece, so here are my recommendations:

1. Alsatian Gewurztraminer. Hugel and Pierre Sparr should be available by Wednesday of next week and priced between $15 and $25 per bottle. This medium body spicy white compliments both the spiciness and the sweetness of the meat. Perfecto!

2. Rose. Currently we have Tiger Mountain 2010 Georgia Rose which, like Gewurztraminer, is a historically proven pairing with ham. The red grape makeup of this $15 offering offers more flavor than a white and this one has noticable sweetness. Ooh-la-la!

3. Chardonnay. The California Chardonnay from Rotta of Paso Robles at $17/bottle and the new Handcraft Monterey Chardonnay at $13/bottle are both slightly off-dry and therefore acceptable with honey baked ham. Okey Dokey, Smokey.

4. Riesling. The Mosel Hauth-Kerpen 2008 (Blog March 17th) at $17/bottle has the sweetness for the meal and the class from its birthright to go with that ham. Ach du Lieber!

5. Off-Dry Red. How about Georgia's own Three Sisters Fat Boy Red at $16/bottle or Italian Lambrusco at $12 or Apothic Red from California at $10/bottle? They have noticable sweetness without going overboard. Coo-coo-ca-choo!

6. Champagne. If ever there was a holiday where champagne was appropriate this is it. Easter is the high point of the Christian calendar. Our stock includes examples priced from $10-$50/bottle. Let er rip!

7. Moscato. This would, of course, compliment the sweetness of the ham and may actually be the best choice of all for that reason. We have a half dozen from $10 to $20. Yum-m-m!

8. Pinot Grigio. This recommendation goes to the spring season. At $20 we have Waterstone; at $10, Loredona. Both are California wines from Napa and Monterey, respectively and both are about as good as they get. Clickety-click.

Just as Champagne is imminently appropriate for the holiday, so too is a spirit of splendor in your wine selection. This is not the time to be ruled by frugality. If you have that special bottle already in your rack, break it out for the occasion. If not and the rules are to be chucked out the window, stop in and pick up a great bottle fitting for Easter Sunday USA!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lodi, California and Peirano Estate

This week Michael Smith, sales manager of Peirano Estate of Lodi, California stopped in to offer tastes of his product. I followed up by going to the company website and elsewhere to learn more about Peirano and Lodi. As many of you know I am critical of most winery websites for their lack of useful information. Peirano's passes my test, however, by offering an abundance of historical information and me, being a history buff, I gobbled it all up. In a nutshell the following is what I found interesting.

Giacomo Peirano immigrated to Lodi in 1879 from Italy bringing with him Italian Primitivo vines for propagation in the new world. Like Renwood Winery in Amador County (January 25th blog), Peirano was motivated by the California gold rush with the grape vines as an afterthought. Giacomo was, in fact, twenty years late for the gold so he opened a mercantile shop that turned out to be timely in its own way in an area that needed just that kind of business. He returned to Italy, brought more vines (and his bride), bought 300 acres, and planted 75 of them in Primitivo (Zinfandel).

Peirano Estate, to this day, is still family owned, currently by Lance Randolph, and still farms that original 300 acres, now entirely planted in grapes. Lodi, which used to be known as the home of Delicato jug wines fifty years ago, now bills itself as the "Zinfandel Capital of the World". 40% of California's premium Zinfandel comes from there but the more interesting fact to me is that 25% of all California varietals come from Lodi, making it the French Languedoc (Blog 7/26/11) of California, to my thinking.

Here are a few more interesting facts:

Prohibition turned out to be profitable for the Peiranos when they marketed their Zinfandel grapes to Italian-American families on the east coast (including Canada) for home winemaking. The government at the time did not recognize Zinfandel as a wine grape!

Lodi has a sandy loam soil that is a protector of the grape vines from the phylloxera louse since the little bugger doesn't like sand (Blog 6/11/11).

While Peirano's old vine Zins may not go back to Giacomo they are well over 100 years old.

Robert Mondavi was born and grew up in Lodi. So did A&W Root Beer!

This Friday at the regular weekly event (5-7pm) here at the store, we will taste the Peirano Chardonnay. We ask for a ten dollar charge to taste and that charge may be applied to a thirty dollar minimum purchase. Say you read this article and pick up some triple cream French Brie or Jarlsberg Swiss for $10/lb.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Seeker and the Place

Last night at our weekly tasting the Ugarte Rioja Reserva '03 greatly outshone the Ugarte Crianza '08 and that is as it should be. Thursday night the Crianza showed better at that night's tasting. What a difference an extra day of a bottle being open makes. The same thing happened about six weeks ago when we had two Penfolds Shirazes open over two days. The first day they showed equally well but the next day the higher priced bottle showed it's superiority. Again, as it should be. Another "as it should be" would be the way both the Penfolds and Ugarte reflected their place of birth as both admirably proclaimed respectively their Spanish and Australian roots.

I like to tell the story of attending a large trade show in Atlanta several years ago put on by one of the world's largest wine companies. The hotel banquet room was lined with tables with bottles across the tops and pourers behind each talking up their wares. They reminded me of carney barkers chanting, "Step right up..." with each one overstating the quality of the wine so as to drum in the point that that table's wine was indeed the best around. As I exited the event the overwhelming impression I had was how much each wine tasted like every other one. The wines were different varieties from different continents but their similarities far outweighed their differences.

So how is this possible? Isn't wine supposed to reflect a place where it originates? Well, that's the way it used to be anyway. Now with mass marketing and the demands of chain stores for continuity of in-stock labels, production must be expanded to meet demand diluting the wine's identity and that identity must match up as much as possible to the popular palate patronizing the chain store. Sheesh!

Complicating matters at the higher end of the price spectrum are the "flying winemakers", the consultants who trot the globe as high priced hired guns who sign off on production in far off places making the top quality wines that the affluent want. Paul Hobbs is the name that comes to mind first in this category, a category which is another "as it should be" in this the modern world. Other flying winemakers from Europe consult in America and elsewhere so all is fair but the obvious risk in this kind of production is the loss of uniqueness of place of origin. Let's hope the quality displayed by the end result outweighs the loss of individuality. In the case of Mr. Hobbs, I believe it does.

On Thursday April 19th 5-7pm, Brendon Jones of National Distributing will be here tasting out the new wines of "The Seeker". This new label markets varietals from five continents with the mission statement that each is true to its native terroir and is not mass marketed to any common denominator. Having tasted the wines, I would have to attest to their quality. Join us and mention this article for a ten percent discount on The Seeker wines. We ask for a thirty dollar minimum purchase for this tasting or a ten dollar charge.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


"Kabinett" is top quality (Predikat) German wine that is drier in style and, by definition, unsugared. Recently I tasted the 2008 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett from the Mosel concern, Hauth-Kerpen. The wine, to my surprise, was much sweeter and lower in acidity than I expected, so I asked my host, "What gives?". My host then reminded me that the German wine law, based on the sugar content (must weight) of the grapes, restricts the overproduction of Auslese and other Predikat wines, so excess Auslesen is de-classified down to Kabinett. Upon further consultation with Master Sommeliere Michael McNeil, I was informed that global warming is actually severely curtailing Kabinett production in general with grapes ripening much too early and forcing harvests that are already overly ripe.

"Veraison" is a French wine term for the onset of grape ripening or the transition from grape growth (cell division) to grape ripening and the changing of the color of the grapes from green (chlorophyll) to red or something else(phenollic compounds). Post-veraison, acidity gradually yields as sugars build with the viticulturalist increasingly monitoring the sugar content of the grapes as harvest time nears. The most crucial decision to be made in winemaking is the time of the harvest and the type of wine being made determines when that should be. Typically sugars displace water in grapes to assume about 25% of the grape interior but in overly ripe grapes dehydration occurs increasing the glucose/fructose levels.

Heat and sunlight, of course, speed up ripening and heat waves close to harvest time cause sugars to jump and acidity to flag and I suspect something like that must have happened with my 2008 Hauth-Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett. Ripeness (or overripeness)is the popular style of the day though, and it can mean more extracted flavors and a more expressive wine. The retail of Wehlener Sonnenuhr is $16.99 and by mentioning this article it can be purchased here at the store before Friday with a 20% discount.

Namaste Riesling from Oregon is one of the truly charming white wines I have tasted in recent years and Thursday evening, March 22nd, from 5-7pm, Gail Avera with Allgood Wines will be here offering Namaste and others to taste in preparation for Easter. We ask for a ten dollar charge for the tasting which can be applied to a thirty dollar minimum purchase. Please join us.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Constellation Brands Part 3

In the year 2000 Canandaigua Wines became Constellation and a feeding frenzy of acquisitions ensued:

2001 Turner Road and Corus Brands were purchased along with Blackstone and Ravenswood wineries. Turner Road included Heritage, La Terre, Nathanson Creek, Talus, and Vendange wineries. Corus included Columbia and Covey Run in Washington and Alice White in Australia.
2003 BRL Hardy, the largest wine company in Australia was acquired. That purchase gave Constellation gross revenues of $3.2 billion and $1.7b in wine alone, making them the largest wine company in the world.
2004 Robert Mondavi Vineyards was acquired for $1.03b and that purchase included Robert Mondavi Selections, Papio, and Woodbridge wines.
2005 Rex Goliath wines was added.
2006 Vincor brands of Canada was bought including: R H Phillips, Hogue Cellars, Toasted Head, Kumala of South Africa, Kim Crawford of New Zealand, and the Canadian ice wines, Jackson-Trigg and Inniskillin.
2007 Fortune Brands, including: Clos de Bois, Wild Horse, Geyser Peak, Buena Vista, and Gary Farrell.
2008 Svedka Vodka and Black Velvet Whiskey were both purchased.

All of the above information was taken from the Constellation Brands website: They are proud, as they should be with this history of growth. What is not stated above is the growth of sales internally when a major corporation with its assets promotes a brand to exploit its sales potential.

Among the Constellation Brands this store has benefitted from are Hayman & Hill and the Learning Tree, both California brands. Attend our Friday evening tasting (5-7pm) and mention either of these and get a free German Dancake.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Constellation Brands Part 2

Canandaigua Industries became Canandaigua Wine in 1972 just before they went public. In 2000 they became Constellation. In the interim as Canandaigua Wine they made the following purchases:

1974 Biseglia Bros. Winery in Madera, California
1979 J. Roget sparkling brand
1987 Monarch Wines of Atlanta which included Manischewitz and Widmer's Wine Cellars of New York
1988 Marcus James of Brazil
1990 Jacques Bonet sparkling wines and Italian Swiss Colony dessert wines
1991 Guild Winery and Distillery of California including the brands Cribari, Dunnewood, and Cook's sparkling wine
1993 Vintners International including Taylor California Cellars, Paul Masson, Barton Distilled Spirits and assorted popular imported beer brands
1994 Mission Bell (Heublein) brands Almaden and Inglenook and a grape juice concentrate maker
1998 Arbor Mist (wine with fruit)
1999 Simi, Franciscan, Estancia, and Mt. Veeder of California and Veramonte of Chile

In 1999 Marvin Sands, the originator of the company in 1945, died at the age of 75. Clearly he succeeded in creating the national brand dominance he sought in the industry. Canandaigua began as a fruit wine company and continued as such along with dominance in the jug wine category at a time when most American wine drinkers were drinking those wines. The expansion into spirits and beer could be seen as investment diversification. Perhaps a little behind the curve with fine wine acquisitions, Constellation was now on the verge of exploding onto that scene.

Join us Friday when we taste one of Constellation Brand's wine offerings.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Constellation Brands Part 1

Constellation Brands is the largest wine company in the world. Here is their story...

Marvin Sands, twenty-one year old son of Mordecai Sands, entered the wine business in 1949 forming Canandaigua Industries in Canandaigua, New York, twenty-five miles southeast of Rochester. He wasn't exactly a novice in this business; Mordecai had been a partner in a Long Island winery. Moreover Mordecai financed his son as he purchased an erstwhile saurkraut factory, turning it into a winery. The game plan was to purchase bulk wine in California, bottle it in New York, and market it on the east coast. The first year's return on 200,000 gallons turned, was $150,000 in gross income.

The 1950's became an era of steady internal growth for Canandaigua, which was primarily a fruit wine company at the time. Several purchases of other wine companies, including two southern scuppernong makers, rounded out a portfolio of complimentary industries. In 1951 Canandaigua started a company called Richards Wine Cellars in Virginia which three years later marketed a product called "Wild Irish Rose" and the rest was history as they say. Throughout the 1960's that product rivalled Boone's Farm and other, shall we say, "inexpensive" recreational beverages in a category that sadly was ultra-popular and profitable. Boone's Farm was a Gallo product and from the beginning Marvin was eager to compete with both Gallo and Italian Swiss Colony which were both recognized as national brands and now the race was definitely on. In 1970 Canandaigua went public.

Stop in this week before Friday and get a 10% discount on your purchase of the surprisingly inconspicuous Constellation California wine stacked in the middle of the store. At this week's Friday tasting (5-7pm) we will taste that wine and several others here at the store. We ask for a $10 charge to taste the wines and that is applicable to a $30 minimum purchase. Say you read the blog and get a 15% case discount Friday night.

Friday, March 9, 2012


This is the one that got away. I bought a case of Steele Vineyards Washington State Blaufrankisch 2009 two weeks ago with the intention of tasting it out here each of the last two weeks only to have something else nudge it off the agenda. Now most of it has been sold and it doesn't make sense to open a bottle to sell the remainder. Of course the reason for it being here at all is the quality of the wine itself. It is a sturdy medium bodied multi-purpose red dinner wine.

Blaufrankisch is another of those old european wine grapes that DNA testing can only go so far in determining its origins. One of it's parent grapes is definitely Gouais Blanc which is noteworthy only as a parent of Chardonnay, Auxerois, Aligote, Muscadet, and several other even more arcane varieties. The other parent grape of Blaufrankisch is indeterminate. Blaufrankisch has historically been planted throughout eastern europe and as far west as Austria and Germany where it is called Lemberger. That name comes from a community in Slovenia from whence the grape came to Germany in the 19th century. Among the countries that currently grow Blaufrankisch are Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Hungary where it replaced Kadarka in the Bull's Blood blend.

So what does it taste like? Imagine this...a blend of Pinot Noir from Burgundy, Nebbiolo from Piedmont, and Syrah from the north Rhone. I can't either. How about big, silky, and cranberry-ish. That's better. Here are some more descriptors: dark red cherries, dark berries, spice, medium tannins and good acidity. Now we're getting there. Stop in and try one yourself and please do report back with your own observations. Steele Blaufrankisch retails for $15.99 here.

Tonight we have Tommy Basham tasting out everyday Spanish reds from 5-7pm here at the store. If you attend tonight, hop on one foot circling counterclockwise three times saying "blaufrankish" repeatedly to get a free German Dancake. Gail Avera hosts a tasting on Thursday March 22nd and returns on April 12th with Mariano Cebrian of Panoram Imports with high end Argentines. On April 13th Henry Leung returns with his portfolio of superior California wines. Join us!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Wine Tasting, Friday March 9, 2012

Last week Tony Marchetti, head of Scoperta (discovery) Imports, stopped in to offer tastes of some of his Spanish and Italian reds. Scoperta is located in Ohio; the wines are shipped domestically out of New Jersey; and distributed locally by Continental Beverage in Atlanta. A few years ago I contacted Scoperta to discuss one of their offerings and found them to be exceptionally helpful and agreeable business partners and Tony bore that experience out himself here last week. Sometimes in business dealings you just get a downright good feeling about who you are dealing with.

This Friday from 5-7pm Tommy Basham of Continental will be here tasting out Anziano Pinot Grigio and Franco Serra Dolcetto and Nebbiolo from Italy; and Coto de Hayas Chardonnay, Garnacha/Syrah, and Tempranillo/Cabernet from Spain. This blog is a first in that we are promoting the wines in advance of the tasting. Here is a little info about each for you potential attendees.

Anziano (100%) Pinot Grigio is drawn from a 75 acre vineyard entirely in the Veneto district. Very little information is available about the estate so, like most Pinot Grigio, it could be produced in a co-op of sorts. This dry white wine is described as straw colored with citrus aromas and fruity flavors of melon and pear.

The Franco Serra reds are remarkable for their selling price, well below similar Piemontese wines. The story here is really the Sperone family and their perseverence in this industry. They started their family business in 1920 in Puglia only to have their winery destroyed by World War II shelling. When they rebuilt in 1963, they did so in Monferrato, Piedmont, amidst some of the best vineyards in all of Italy.

Some of you may remember the Coto de Hayas wines from our inventory of a couple of years ago. Again they are value priced and overperform compared to others. Bodegas Aragonesas, the maker of Coto de Hayas, is the largest winery in the Campo de Borja DO, so you should expect new world influences including the forward fruit aromatics and taste we all love. The winery is located in Fuendejalon in the Zaragoza Province of Campo de Borja where the climate is hot and dry with contrasting cool night temperatures. Garnacha and Tempranillo, the primary grapes of the region, are believed to be indigenous to the region and many of Coto de Hayas' vineyards boast 100 year old vines!

We ask for a ten dollar charge to taste on Friday. That charge is applicable to a thirty dollar minimum purchase. Say you read the blog and the Manchego Spanish sheep cheese is 20% off the regular retail. The Argentine Reggianito is the closest I can come to Italian cheese right now so that will also be discounted 20% for the tasting.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Nero d'Avola

Last night's tasting winner here at the store was the 2010 Villa Pozzi Nero d'Avola. Six weeks ago the Cabernet Sauvignon from Villa Pozzi similarly took "best of show" here. Both retail for $10.99/btl which helps to explain their popularity but more to the point would be their easy drinking Italian style which is consistently popular at this venue.

Nero d'Avola, also called Calabrese, has been the most popular red wine grape of Sicily for a l-o-n-g time. As one of the oldest vinifera grapes of europe, Nero d'Avola either arrived in Sicily perhaps three thousand years ago from the middle east or it is indigenous to the island. Because of its strong flavors it has been a blending grape for most of its history including being a part of the Marsala blend. In recent times modern winemaking skills have largely tamed its dominant flavors and made it commercially viable as a stand alone varietal.

Avola is a city in southern Sicily so Nero d'Avola is literally the "black (grape) from Avola". There the grape struggles at cool higher elevation rocky hillsides in an otherwise hot climate with limited rainfall yielding a limited crop, which somewhat explains its stronger flavors. Comparable to Shiraz/Syrah, Nero d'Avola exhibits a complex black plum and spice nose, with fruit flavors of plum, fig, prune, and cherry with vanilla and pepper/clove spice notes. The wine is rich with sweet tannins and good acidity and if it is ever possible to assert that a wine reflects a place of origin, this one does.

Nero d'Avola would benefit from half an hour in the refrigerator to bring out its fruit before serving with strong cheeses, olives, tomato sauce, lamb, stews, or similar cool weather fare.

Mention this article for a 20% discount on Argentine Reggianito, a great cheese with red wine in general and a suitable accomplaniment for Nero d'Avola particularly.