Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Govino, Outdoor Wino, and BPA

We just re-ordered the Govino acrylic wine glasses after selling several four packs last week just before Memorial Day.  Last year this product was quite popular and I suspect it will be again this summer.  From their website,, I learned that this product, which looks like crystal, was originally intended for the trade especially for outdoor events but more and more wine events seemed appropriate for acrylic stemless wineware and the product became popular.  The rest is history, as they say.  A Govino Champagne flute has now been released.  It looks like the wine glass but, of course, narrower and taller.

Govino, like the Outdoor Wino reusable plastic wine bottles from Naked Winery of Oregon, is labelled "BPA-free".  BPA is bisphenol-A, created in 1891 Russia and initially used in the 1930's as an artificial estrogen in cattle, poultry, and briefly, in women!  BPA in plastics exerts weak but detectable hormone-like properties that have caused retailers and governments to restrict its usage in recent years.  While there are no labelling requirements for BPA in America, recycling codes with numbers 1, 2, 4, 5, or 6 inside the three arrow triangle on the bottom of containers indicate that they are BPA-free.

Specifically, what are the health threats?  A 2010 FDA report implies a developmental danger for fetuses, infants, and small children.  BPA used to be in baby bottles and food and drink can liners.  It is thought that BPA can affect the prostate, breasts, testes, and mammary glands.  A connection to the obesity epidemic is also possible.

Back to Govino for a minute.  Govino claims its product is as good or better than some glass stemware.  I will confirm that it is definitely better than Riedel when it comes to breakability.  Govino must be handwashed and any scorekeeping at my sink proves overwhelmingly one-sided.

This Friday we will be tasting three reds and three whites and most if not all will be from Wente of Livermore, California.  Please join us here from 5 to 7pm on Friday. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Portugal, Part 1

We have had two Portuguese wine tastings in recent weeks and we blogged about Portuguese Dao here three weeks ago.  Now after just a little research I am beginning to understand why Portugal's wine industry has been so underappreciated here.  Portugal is a country of 35,000 square miles.  By contrast California is a state of 163,707 square miles.  Portugal has 26 DOC (top quality) wines while California has an appellation system but no legally established hierarchy.  Moreover California is known for a dozen grapes that it produces well while Portugal's grape varieties are ancient and innumerable.  So there are  major differences in the wine cultures between here and there.

One obvious explanation for how Portugal can go so unnoticed while California thrives on the grocery store shelves has to do with the mass marketing of wines in America, a subject we have devoted a lot of time to here.  Moreover, The California Wine Institute, a Washington-based lobbying group promoting their industry, successfully uses every opportunity at its avail to further the cause.  Yet Portugal maintains a 3.17%  share of the American wine business, making it seventh among importers to this country, and Portugal is the fifth highest wine exporting country worldwide, which is incredible considering it's a country roughly one fifth of the size of California. 

Over the course of the next few weeks we will return to Portugal often with the goal of unpacking their very tightly packed treasure chest of fine wines.  Stay with us on this one.  The rewards will be worth the effort.

Next Friday we will turn our tasting focus back to domestic wines with three reds and three whites, most if not all will be from Wente of Livermore, California.    Please join us!


Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Naked Winery and Orgasmic Wine Company

Okay, this is shameless on so many levels, but I am just reporting, mind you, so play along.  The winery proprietors, the Barringer and Michalec families, created this monster and even though I am personally a confirmed stick-in-the-mud, this is fun.

Stan Fenner with Artisan Vines introduced me to the "Outdoor Wino" line from Naked this week.  What makes these wines special?  The packaging.  These are really for taking outside on the boat, by the pool, on picnics, or hiking or camping.  They are bottled in 100% BHP-free plastic which is recyclable, reusable, and 1/6 the weight of glass.  Of course, it's a screwcap and the retro label reminds me of an outdoor drive-in movie sign.  Stan will be tasting these out next Friday here from 5-7pm.

Outdoor Wino consists of Wanderlust White, Picnic Table Pink and Rambling Red.  All three are light and fruity and intended to make one smile.  The white suggests fruit salad and honeysuckle; the pink is cherry and melon; the red is Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah but it's the furthest thing from dry dinner wine.  For this tasting I would suggest attire of old tee shirts and cut offs (no shoes) unless you have a bowling shirt and plaid shorts or a filling station uniform.

If you want the full frontal presentation of the Naked Winery fare go to and prepare to blush.  I am not kidding.  Someone over there has a brazen sense of humor.

On the serious side...Stan is the vendor who presented Portuguese wines here a couple of weeks ago.  That tasting was an incredible hit with Dao red and Sottal white carrying the day but Monte de Ravasqueira, the last wine in the lineup, turned out to be the best $20 red in the store, to this day even.  Next Friday Stan will feature three new Portuguese wines along with the Naked Winery stuff. 

Just to make sure he gets the  order right, I'll call Stan when he's in the warehouse to remind him to pick up the Portuguese when he gets Naked.

Two big hits in recent weeks: Franciacorta and Picpoul, both blogged about here (just scroll down).  Stop in before next Friday, cite the blog, and purchase either with a 10% discount or both with 15%.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Usually I write about something after the fact, like the Picpoul De Pinet post from last Saturday.  We had tasted it Friday and sold out in no time so I thought that deserved a post.  Tomorrow night we are tasting Quattro Mani Franciacorta (say that real fast three times) and while I am sure I have tasted Franciacorta in the past I am woefully ignorant about it.  Time to do some homework and get literate.

Franciacorta is a subregion of the province of Bresia in the region of Lombardy in northern Italy.  It is also the name of the process for making the sparkling wine of the same name.  This is an old region of habitation with the name literally meaning the 'court of the Franks' which either applies to the Germanic people who once ruled there or is attibutable to Charlemagne who thought the region so ideal he considered it 'little France'.  Written documentation of Franciacorta wine goes to 1277 but inhabitation goes back to paleolithic times.

The region is just south of the Alps, has two large lakes on opposite sides, and features rolling hills formed by glaciers.  A moraine is a glacial deposit of rock and soil (actually debris) that has been moved over time by the glacier from other hillsides or valleys to a new location. In the case of Franciacorta, the terraine is gravel and sand moraine over limestone with a resultant superior drainage.  All of these qualities make this region ideal for grape growing with the Alps and the lakes serving to moderate temperatures.

Franciacorta is one of three european metodo classico (method champagne) sparkling wines along with Spanish Cava and French Champagne.  This method asserts that the secondary fermentation of the wine occurs in the bottle instead of in a tank.  The blend of Franciacorta must be 85% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Nero (Noir), and 5% Pinot Bianco (Blanc).  If a rose is being made, the Pinot Nero may be 15%-25% or more of the blend.  For a non-vintage sparkler Franciacorta must be aged on the lees for eighteen months minimally.  For a vintage dated version that aging must be a minimum of thirty months but may be up to 5-7 years.  This aging is done for complexity and roundness in the mouth.

Franciacortas in general are lighter than French Champagne, very dry and austere, and should be drunk within three years although some last seven years.  Franciacorta is Italy's best sparkling wine and received its DOC ranking in 1967 and after delimiting its grape composition received its DOCG in 1995.

David Klepinger of Northeast Sales will pour the Franciacorta and Barbera from Quattro Mani on Thursday evening May 17th here at the store along with William Hill Cabernet Sauvignon and more.  Please join us.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Bulk Wine (Continued from 5/2/12)

My Spanish boxed wines prompted me to look into how much wine is sold in bulk in these times.  Bulk wine is wine that is sold and shipped in tanks to the recipient who then packages it for retail.  In Spain 57% of all wine sales are bulk sales; in France 20% is sold this way; in Italy, 33%.  Over the course of the past decade in California, bulk sales have ranged between 15% before the recession to 50% currently, with an overall average of about 25%. 

So why is this?  The recession itself would be the immediate reason.  Much bulk wine is wine that would have been bottled by its own producers if anticipated sales had not changed.  Smaller producers have also been squeezed by the collaborative efforts of the mega-wine companies and their contractual partners in big box/chain retailers.  Shelf space in chain stores available to small producers averages about 6% in most chains.  Moreover wine has actually become commoditized in that those contracts to supply the retail chains don't stipulate estate fruit, but only a steady stream of supply. 

If the truth be known, the current situation has been in the works for the past fifty years as the most ambitious wine companies grew exponentially in their competition to post the most sales.  Whether it was to increase a portfolio through acquisitions or to grow particular brands through saturating the market with placements, these great wine companies succeeded in fundamentally changing the nature of the business.  No more would wine be a specific reflection of a place but rather the reflection of a style and whatever that style of wine was, it would be copied ad infinitum with different labels offering very much the same product.  Poll tested, always good, and always the same.

Enough of the rant.  Here are some current truths that are non-partisan:

1.  Technology has enabled the increase in bulk wine shipments which have become more cost efficient.

2.  Consumption is down in much of Europe making exporting bulk wine to America advantageous for Europe.

3.  The growth in bulk wine sales means that smaller estate bottled wine sales in general suffer and D.O. quality wines in particular suffer.

4.   The surplus juice generated by the bad economy has reached an end worldwide.  Look for changes in quality with some labels going away and others adapting to new realities.

This Thursday evening (5-7pm) David Klepinger of Northeast Sales will be here tasting out a number of superior european and domestic reds and whites.  The highlights will include William Hill Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 and Quatromani Franciacorta Italian sparkling wine.  Please join us.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Picpoul De Pinet

Picpoul de Pinet is often considered to be the lesser counterpart of Muscadet, the great shellfish accompaniment of the Loire Valley in northwestern France. Pinet resides in the Languedoc just off the Mediterranean coast at the opposite end of the country. Both wines are meant for seafood but Muscadet is absolutely so, while Picpoul is a little less angular and adaptable to other things rather like the Mediterranean coast, itself. Maybe Muscadet should be considered to be the lesser counterpart to Picpoul because it is really limited to the shellfish dinnertable.

Picpoul is the name of the grape, by the way, and Pinet is the place. Picpoul is one of the oldest Languedoc grapes (written documentation to the 12th century) and Pinet is the largest area dedicated to white wine production in the Languedoc. Picpoul de Pinet is a 100% varietal white but there is a red Picpoul grape as well as a Picpoul Gris. All three are used in blending outside of Pinet in Languedoc and even find a place in the Rhone repetoire, in particular, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, where it plays a distinct minority role in those blends.

So what makes Picpoul de Pinet desirable? This truly charming medium-bodied dry white exhibits a color of light green-gold with an aroma that is soft, delicate, and floral.  Being a seafood wine, the acidity is high (Picpoul means "lip stinger"). But the flavors of lemon, apricot, and yellow plum with distinct minerality are what really sell it. The structure of the wine replete with its crisp acidity reflects what Mediterranean sea breezes can accomplish by moderating heat in a vineyard to ensure the bright, fresh flavors of the wine. "Racy" would be the best adjective for this wine and please do drink this one young!

While its history is long, Picpoul has had difficulties in more recent times. It has long suffered a sensitivity to oidium, a powdery mildew fungus that attacks grapevines, and following the phylloxera epidemic of the late nineteenth century (Blog 6/11/11), many frustrated growers gave up on the vine. Now the grape is more popular than ever in part because of the great strides in vineyard management as a part of modernity in winemaking in general.

Picpoul is quintessentially a shellfish wine because of its ability to neutralize salt and iodine in many types. Its acidity also makes it ideal with seafood in olive oil and garlic. My research also shows it works well with rich cheeses, charcuterie, and chocolate (!?!).

Last night we tasted Picpoul at our regular event and sold out in no time. Thursday we hope to have more.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Wine Institute

I discovered The Wine Institute while surfing on Saturday.  It is a public policy association which advocates (lobbies?) on behalf of one thousand mostly small wineries and affiliated businesses in California.  The organization's President/CEO is Robert P. Koch.  This entire post is taken from their website.

The Wine Institute, located in Washington DC, represents California wineries on state, federal, and international levels.  It has five purposes:

1.  Legislative and Regulatory Issue Advocacy - The organization opposes franchise monopoly bills and supports the direct shipment of wine to consumers.  It also expedites label approvals.  In this difficult economy the organization fights excise tax increases on alcoholic beverages.

2.  International Market Development - Working in twenty countries with offices in thirteen of them, it promotes international trade and lobbies to reduce tax issues.  Further it hosts tastings and enters international shows and reciprocates in Washington when foreign trade representatives come here.

3.  Media Relations - The Wine Institute promotes media coverage of wine events and engages media representatives including food/wine writers for the purpose of promoting the industry.

4.  Scientific Research - The institute hosts workshops on several issues and promotes the "Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices", an industry self-assessment tool for environmental stewardship and social responsibility.

5.  Educational Programs - The thrust here is to reframe the entire social debate about wine and its place in a healthy lifestyle.

This Friday from 5 to 7pm we will taste one red and one white wine from Cambridge & Sunset of California, Maryhill of Washington State, and Tiki Sound of New Zealand.  Come in before Friday, say you read the blog and get a free box of cookies with a purchase!  Come in Friday for the tasting and get a free cake!  We ask for a ten dollar charge to taste but that can be applied to a thirty dollar minimum purchase.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The 30 Largest Wine Companies

These 30 companies control two thirds of the American retail wine market. Since chain stores sell the most wine and require brand continuation, those stores are filled with wines from these companies. Privately held and small wineries have largely been forced to go to independent smaller retailers. To know which company owns which wine label, simply google the company and its inventory should appear at its website.

The dominance of these companies is an organic development, by the way. It makes sense when we look at America as a mass marketing machine. Moreover, the recession has worked for these companies with the providence of surplus juice to be worked out cheaply yet profitably. The correction that will happen after the economy recovers and the "wine lake" disappears could be dramatic so stay tuned and enjoy the bargains while they last.

The following information is from but like I said, you can easily retrieve label information by going to each website. Of course everything is fluid and different sources I checked vary with their rankings.

1. E & J Gallo Winery 77 million cases produced
2. The Wine Group 56 million
3. Constellation Brands 46 m
4. Bronco Wine Company 20 m
5. Foster's Wine Estates 18 m
6. Trinchero Family Estates 12 m
7. Ste. Michelle Wine Estates 6m
8. Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines 5.7 m
9. Jackson Family Wines 5 m
10. Brown-Forman Wines 6 m
11. Delicato Family Vineyards 2.5 m
12. F. Korbel and Bros. 2.5 m
13. Ascentia Wine Estates 2 m
14. Don Sebastiani & Sons 1.75 m
15. C. Mondavi & Sons 1.2 m
16. J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines 1 m
17. The Coppola Companies 900,000
18. Bogle Vineyards 850,000
19. Rodney Strong 800,000
20. The Hess Collection 650,000
21. Precept Brands 600,000
22. Purple Wine Company 515,000
23. Ironstone Vineyards 500,000
24. Foley Wine Group 500,000
25. San Antonio Winery 500,000
26. Castle Rock Winery 450,000
27. Adler Fels Winery 450,000
28. Domaine Chandon 440,000
29. Hahn Family Wines 400,000
30. Rutherford Wine Company 380,000

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Bulk Wine Sales

Because we have been selling some boxed wines here recently, I thought I might blog about bulk wine sales. I found that a normal figure for what percentage of wine is sold in bulk; that is, wine that is bottled by the receiving party and not the producer or affiliate; that figure would be about fifty percent. That means "grown, produced, and bottled" or estate production, both domestic and imported, is now no more than half of what is out there on retail shelves.

Actually, since the recession started, bulk is trending up. Spain sells 57% of its production in bulk which explains my "Wine in Tube" and "Elvia Punt" boxed Spanish lines. According to Alex Walters of Austral Wine Merchants, importers of Elvia Punt, most any wine priced at ten dollar or lower, is likely to be bulk sourced. As I said in the previous blog, when a large wine company purchases a label and then gradually decreases the price for increased store placements and volume sales, that is an indication of bulk wine production and the end of the label's historic content.

One resource I found claimed the typical wine consumer has cut his wine budget in half with the recession. The chain stores coorespondingly now shelve bulk production replacement content for what used to be estate branded wines. If the truth be known, when a large wine company buys a small winery, they often buy just the name for its marketability. The vineyard and winery are just not necessary. Because the chains buy almost exclusively from large distributors selling wines represented by those largest suppliers, those players can shift to bulk at will since they have the facilities to do so within their respective domaines.

So here is what I think is the wine retail reality, circa 2012: 70% of retail sales are done by the thirty largest wine producers (more on this in the next blog); 26% of retail sales are imported wines, some of which are owned/marketed by the largest players; that leaves, optimistically, 6% of retail sales to be fought over by all of the small independent domestic wineries. One of my favorite movie lines from "Platoon" is, "There's the way things are supposed to be and there's the way things are."   C'est la vie!

This Friday from 5-7pm, Tommy Basham of Continental Brands will pour Peirano Estate Lodi Petite Sirah and Zinfandel (still family owned), Seis Circles Spanish White, Killer Bee Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, and Franco Serra Italian Barbaresco. Please join us.