Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dirty, Foul, and Proper, Part 2

Dominio de Ugarte Rioja Reserva 2003 is a critically acclaimed (91pts-Parker) red from a 130 hectare vineyard in Rioja Alavesa in Spain.  That property was purchased by the Ugarte wine making concern in 1957 to complement vineyard holdings begun in 1870.  We blogged about Rioja in four installments between May 3rd and June 29th of 2011 if you want to learn more about the finest wine region of Spain.  We also did a post called "Dirty, Foul, and Proper" at that time which is how one of my vendors described old world Spanish reds.  That description works well with this one.  The sixth generation of the Ugarte family currently operates the business.  The wine is 95% Tempranillo and 5% Graciano and sourced from old vines, some of which exceed a hundred years of age.

From the winery website we learn there was a maceration period in '03 of eighteen days for this wine followed by six days of fermentation.  The maximum temperature at any time was 29 degrees centigrade with a malolactic fermentation occurring naturally in the tank.  Barrel aging was done in French and American oak and lasted twenty months.  By definition, this is a modern era effort.

Tasting notes from the website: On the palate you have red fruits, primarily intense Garnet cherry, balanced with powerful ripe tannins.  The nose has "wide ranging aromas including an excellent integration of the barrel with the very expressive fruit".  I would also note that the wine's medium body is perhaps a compromise between the traditional lighter style and the fuller modern style.

It is now 2013 and the development of this wine is complete.  A couple years ago we sold this one for $25/btl and it did well.  Now the price is less than half of that and presents an opportunity for aficionados and the curious to enjoy this one with an appropriately spiced red meat meal.  This is not cocktail wine.  As fine wine, this one also benefits from decanting and will improve in the glass.

We are also offering a Syrah/Tempranillo blend and a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon from the same people under the "Mercedes Eguren" label at a $10 retail.  These are also strictly dinner wines.

Please join us Friday August 2nd between 5 and 7pm as we explore new world wines including a great one from Januik of Columbia Valley in Washington State amongst others.  Please become a "follower" here also so I can impress people with my notoriety.   

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Four Sauvignon Blancs

In the past couple weeks we have tasted four Sauvignon Blancs here at the store that have all been immensely popular with our participants.  Sauvignon Blanc, my personal white favorite, has been a tough nut to crack commercially here so the response was surprising and hopeful, not that Sauvignon Blanc deserves acclaim (it is a midlevel grape at best), but it's still nice to see people try these things and enjoy them.  A related factor in the scenario would have to be the time of year, July, when lighter and drier works better in general than the heavier and richer types.  Lets look at the four...

Mureda Sauvignon Blanc was the best selling wine on the table last Thursday night and being a summer quencher priced at $10 certainly helps.  Mureda dates back to the fifteenth century and the name refers to the Moors and their contributions to Spanish culture.  This family owned operation consists of 3,000 acres of certified organic vineyards making it the largest such operation in the world!  The wine is fresh and fruity (pineapple and peach), light in color and body, and would be a nice apertif before dinner or as an accompaniment with shellfish, broiled fish or olives and soups.  On June 8th we blogged about Castilla-La Mancha which is the location of this vineyard if you want to learn more.

On Friday July 19th we tasted two Sauvignon Blancs, Babich, one of the largest from Marlborough, New Zealand and Chateau Carbon D'Artigues, a small property in the AOC, Graves in Bordeaux.  The citrusy (grapefruit and lemon) New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs continue to be very popular so that one's showing wasn't very surprising but the Bordeaux's popularity was surprising although one person actually bought half of our inventory effectively skewing the numbers. 

Josip Babich was a 14 year old immigrant to New Zealand from Croatia in 1910.  He labored in the kauri gum industry with his brothers until he was able to purchase land and establish his vineyard and winery in 1916.  In every decade thereafter he purchased more land and then modernized his winery in 1977, five years before his death.  The operation is now run by two of his grandsons.  We blogged about New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in three parts back in February of 2012 (2/21-2/25), again if you want more information.

Geneticists are now saying Bordeaux in western France may be the birthplace of Sauvignon Blanc.  Chateau Carbon D'Artigues is situated on a southern facing Artigues hillside in Graves, the best region of Bordeaux for Sauvignon Blanc.  Typical of the region, D'Artigues Sauvignon Blanc is blended with Semillion, this time in a 50-50 ratio with the Semillon providing a rounding counterpoint on the palate to the acute aromatics of the Sauvignon Blanc.  Shockingly, Sauvignon Blanc plantings in Graves are down to about 25% of vineyard space due to the popularity of the reds.

Peirano Estate Sauvignon Blanc has been tasted on two occasions here in the past month.  It is a low acid, less-dry soft round cocktail wine with evidence of time in oak.  Peirano is a continuously family owned property which, like all of the others above, has a great history to tell, albeit the California version complete with Italian immigrants.  We blogged about Peirano Estate and Lodi, California back on March 29th of 2011.

Please join us for our next tasting adventure here on Friday August second from 5 to 7pm.  Nothing is written in stone for that one yet but expect more Sauvignon Blanc-like whites, maybe a dry rose, and a few masculine reds.  Please become a follower of this blog if you would like.  Actually even if you don't like the thing, become a follower anyway as a random act of kindness.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Phenolics and Red Wine Tasting

Phenolics is a term that is bandied about in the wine business, like we at this level actually understand chemistry.  Speaking for myself, I don't.  But I want to try to further the understanding of the subject and as long as I do no harm, I may be doing some good.  So here goes...

Wine is 95% water and alcohol so it is in that remaining 5% of its chemistry that all of the flavors in wine reside.  With red wines those flavors mainly come from the tannins and those tannins come primarily from the grape skins, secondarily from the seeds, and remotely from any stems in the mix.  Moreover in the winery the optimal varietal flavors for the wine come from the skins and are extracted early in the winemaking process followed by the less desirable bitter tannins from the seeds and stems.  These flavors go on to form phenolic compounds and polymers as the wine develops with any oak barrel aging further building the flavor complexity.

Red wine phenolics actually fall into two categories: flavanoids and non-flavanoids.  Flavanoids are those phenolic qualities in wine that are experienced by our senses of taste, smell, sight, and touch.  Non-flavanoids include stilbenoids, phenolic acids, and resveratrol which while offering nothing flavor-wise, contribute to the antioxidant health benefits in red wine.  Flavanoid phenolics also have antioxidant qualities by the way.

Last Friday night at our weekly tasting, among the six wines tasted were three inexpensive Portuguese reds and a great red blend from California.  Two of the Portuguese reds were noticably lighter in body than the third but all three were great in the nose and on the palate.  In short, the Dao was a soft round light summer quaff of a red wine.  The Lisboa red was finer and more feminine than the Dao and more pronounced in the nose.  The Douro was far bigger in the mouth than the other two but its most startling feature to me was its texture on the tongue which evoked comments like "velvety" and "silky".  All of these observations depict our experience of phenolics in red wine.

The big California red blend was Villa San-Juliette Chorum, a blend of seven grape types with the base of the blend being the 36% Syrah.  It was huge in the mouth with a spicy-peppery flavor.  Most tasters thought red meat on the grill would be an ideal complement.

So of the four senses mentioned above in the phenolics/tasting context, the flavor of the wine, of course, trumps all others in the experience.  But since so much of tasting is done with the nose, smell would have to be right up there with taste.  Thirdly would be the experience of touch in the mouth and on the tongue with lightness and heaviness being only part of it.  The one sense I have not mentioned is sight and no one at the tasting here last night commented on the wine coloration and I am thoroughly deficient in that area.  No one commented on "hearing" the wine either by the way.

Join us here this Friday July 19th as we taste California Pinot Noirs, Italian whites, and Spanish roses along with new cheeses in the store and become a follower of this blog if you enjoy what you see here.

Phenolics and White Wine Tasting

Phenolics are those chemical qualities in wine that we experience with our senses of taste, smell, touch, and sight.  Except for a cork popping or tiny bubbles bursting, we don't hear wine so it's only those four senses that are impacted by our enjoyment of the fruit of the vine.  By the way, the fruit of the vine actually has no smell.  It is only after the winemaking process that the grapes become aromatic.

In white wine the two main chemical phenolic categories are the phenolic compounds of hydroxycinnamic acids and flavan-3-ol monomers.  Hydroxycinnamic acids are important visually to us as we ponder a glass of wine and specifically, caftaric acid facilitates oxidation and in some way, the oily texture that a white wine sometimes has.  Flavan-3-ol monomers (flavanols) contribute astringency and bitterness to the flavor profile and perhaps viscosity to the body.  Flavanols also have an important subcategory in catechins which are extracted from grapeseeds.  Catechins  are believed to be anti-carcinogenic and thwart heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

So this discussion seems to be two pronged: phenolics involves both the flavors in wine and the health benefits we receive courtesy of the beverage.  For what its worth, in the vineyard phenolics are used by the grapevine to defend against growth inhibitors and threats to its very existence.  If a plant is stressed by less than optimal conditions, the phenolics become more pronounced for the survival of the plant.  That survival instinct in the plant is either a coincidence when we consider what wine does for us...or maybe more.

When we taste wine there is really nothing better than a wine review to bring out both the best and worst in our oenophilic vocabulary.  In the July 8th post to follow, I compared a wine review to the movie line from A Few Good Men about "textbook law vis a vis courtroom law" and I think I have a better comparison now.  As a jazz music lover I am always dismayed at how limiting written music reviews are.  I think likewise of wine reviews.  Are those creatively written reviews really coming close to what I experience with my own senses?  I experience a wine's phenolics like I experience a jazz musician's improvization.  It is way more personal than prose.

Join us this Friday, July 19th when we taste California Pinot Noirs, Italian whites, and Spanish roses.  Also please become a follower of this blog or I'll hunt you down and make you eat phenolics.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Jean Francois Merieau Touraine Sauvignon Blanc

"Fruit in a wine is easy; purity is elusive." - from their website, www.jondavidwine.com.

We Americans love gobs of fruit in our wines, no matter what type.  So when the New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs appeared in the American marketplace in the 1980s, we jumped all over them.  They were refreshingly unoaked but yet still substantial and mouthfilling nonetheless.  Right up our alley.  Hedonistic.

France makes "fine" wines and for Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, that means the complimentary flavors in the Sauvignon Blanc profile are subtle, nuanced, and lighter by design.  Parker described this wine as "honeydew melon, fennel, caraway, and white pepper in the nose with a lush and subtly creamy palate with long, sizzling, bitter phenolic notes of melon rind, lemon peel, caraway, and white pepper."  While I don't have a good enough palate to appreciate all of that, I substantially get it in the same way the viewer does in the movie, A Few Good Men, when one lawyer admonishes another that "it's the difference between textbook law and courtroom trial law."  The distinction is not lost on me.  The courtroom law is reality and your palate is the arbiter of all things wine.  While it's good to read the reviews, in practice when we taste a wine like this, we "get it" more profoundly than reading the flowery words.

So what makes this wine so good?  First, this wine is sourced from Touraine (which may as well be Sancerre) from sixty year old vines which are organically farmed with hand harvesting of the fruit.  The wine is then aged in steel with seven months on the lees with periodic stirring for richness.  Let's break this down:

1.     The roots of these older vines struggle through the rocky siliceous and calcareous soils of the region yielding a decidedly minerally product.  These soils moreover are reflective of the sunlight shone upon them further ripening the grapes and increasing the phenolics affecting the taste, color, and mouthfeel of the wine.

2.     The organic farming/hand harvesting contrasts with the industrial farming that is now the norm in the increasingly large production wineries.  In those operations machine harvesting break grapeskins as a matter of course, increasing the likelihood of the juice coming into contact with other broken stems, seeds, and other contaminants.  Because so much fruit is sourced from greater  distances from the industrialized production facilities, the chances of contamination increase.  This kind of contamination could result in the addition of a more bitter, astringent, or coarse phenolics to the wine. The smaller operation with hand harvesting quality control would restrict the phenolics to those intrinsic to the juice resulting in a fresher tasting wine.

3.     The steel barrel aging with lees stirring in Touraine just emphasizes the purpose of the wine: this one's for the seafood dinner table.  In Georgia in July, as much as I'm thinking low country boil, I think this is broiled rainbow trout wine.

Please join us on Friday the 12th of July as we continue our exploration of Portuguese wines.  If you aren't familiar with them, do yourself a favor and be here for this one.  Whether it's red, white, or rose, you'll be surprised by the quality/price ratio and like Touraine, when you look at Portugal, you think seafood although this time it is the low country boil!

Please become a "follower" of this blog so I'll feel like Robert Parker!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Private Preserve

It seems like I have been selling Private Preserve for as long as I have been in the wine business...except that the product has only been around for twenty-five years.  I'm getting old.  Anyway, a couple weeks ago a customer was lamenting about the condition of the open bottles I was pouring here and he looked over at the Private Preserve and said, "Why don't you use that stuff?".  In truth, I never thought of using the stuff.  It's for sale, right?  I can't dip into my own pocket (as cheap as I am) to save half a bottle of wine.  I had been using the Vacuvin pumps.  Religiously.  Pump, pour, pump, pour, and pump and then refrigerate overnight.  I thought it was a good system.  And then I tried Private Preserve...and what a difference!  The "psshht" works much better.

I have seen many a wine salesman gas his open bottles as he moved on to the next stop on his route so I knew the product was credible.  That and those salesmen often sold the stuff, themselves, so it was a demonstration of the guy's own wares.  I may be dumb but I'm not stupid.  Actually, maybe I am stupid, waiting twenty-five years before trying it myself.  It's also been a month since our first high-end California Cabernet tasting when Private Preserve could have saved me some embarrassment and made me some moolah when I offered those same great bottles a couple days later.  Oh well, live and learn.

So what is the "stuff"?  Private Preserve is a black and gold, one foot tall, two and a half inch diameter recyclable aluminum spray can of gas that weighs four ounces.  I know that because I put it on the deli scale.  The can feels empty because the ingredients: Nitrogen, Carbon Dioxide, and Argon weigh next to nothing.  They are just inert gases from the earth's atmosphere afterall, minus the oxygen and any transient contaminants.  It just takes one healthy one-second "psshht" into your open bottle to displace the air in the bottle with those heavier gases, thereby providing a layer of protection against oxidation.  Voila!  This is almost too easy.

Private Preserve is also "green" in that those parts of the atmosphere secured through fractional distillation (Nitrogen, etc.), return to the atmosphere after use.  No greenhouse gases.  No ozone hole causing chemicals.  No cloroflorcarbons or whatever that stuff is.  And because it is flavorless it can be used to protect any food and basically any beverage, alcoholic or not. 

What Private Preserve does is to slow down the aging process in wine, the same thing the Vacuvin pump does...but better.  The pump removes 75-85% of the air in an open bottle.  At wineries the same gas is used in carboys, barrels, and tanks to displace all of the air in containers.  Scott Farmer, a winery owner himself, is credited with being the inventor of Private Preserve and, with all due respect to the inventor, the idea seems like it was just waiting to be exploited.  Kudos to Scott for bringing it to us though.

I wonder if cars could run on this stuff?

Join us this afternoon, Friday the 5th of July from 5 to 7pm, as we taste the wines of Aveleda of Portugal with Coleen Rotunno of Quality Wine & Spirits.  A long time ago I learned that the best guests on the Johnny Carson Show were the less well known ones.  That seems to be true with unknown wines at tastings too.  I think it has to do with anticipating the "new" as opposed to expecting what we have already experienced.  Attend this one and you will not be disappointed.  Then next Friday, July 12th, attend again we continue with more exceptional Portuguese wines.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Going Green - Vinho Verde

On Friday July 5th from 5 to 7pm, Coleen Rotunno of Quality Wine & Spirits joins us with a  presentation of the wines of Aveleda of Portugal.  Aveleda is known for its Vinho Verde or "green wine" but that category actually includes reds, whites, and roses because "green" refers to the youth of the wine and not the color.  Please join us for that one as we examine these most quintessential of summer wines.

Vinho Verde is also the historic region of production of the wine of the same name.  It encompasses the Minho province and more in the far northwest corner of the country, so it lies on the Atlantic Ocean coast, explaining the wine's seafood affinity no doubt.  Documented history for this region's wines extends back to the first century AD with 1908 standing out as the first year of official state recognition of the Vinho Verde wine region.  In 1984 Vinho Verde was granted its DOC from the Portuguese government and with the creation of the European Union, it received its PDO, further legally protecting the product's identity.  Of course as always, it's the monks from way back when who planted the vineyards in the first place as an ongoing gift for us all.  Thank God for the monks!

The grape varieties in the various types of Vinho Verde are many and unknown to Americans but the white blend yields a straw colored, low alcohol, fresh and petillant, naturally acidic, fruity and floral quaffer.  Shrimp on the barbie, anyone?  The reds are surprisingly substantial by contrast and the roses are simply charming.  Shrimp on the barbie again, anyone?  Salads and green vegetables like asparagus would likewise sidle up quite comfortably with these wines.

Vinho Verde is the largest DOC in Portugal and it features beautiful landscapes and a thriving population engaged primarily in maritime industries.  The Vinho Verde wine production region is flanked by two major rivers, the Minho river to the north and Douro to the south.  Of the two the Douro is the better known because Portugal's greatest wine product, Port, finds its home vineyards on the Douro and the irony of it all is not lost on me.  How the heaviest of wines, fortified Port, can find its origins adjacent to the Gatorade of wines, Vinho Verde, is beyond me.  I just take it all in and it is good.

One of the most recognizable characteristics of Vinho Verde white wine is its effervescence.  Historically that his been a natural occurrence due to a second fermentation after bottling.  Now in our modern era that second fermentation is allowed to happen before bottling with the petillance winelovers find so attractive introduced at bottling with artificial carbonation.  This is one reason why Vinho Verde should be consumed within a year or two of bottling.

One last tidbit about Vinho Verde...the trellising.  Nowhere in the world will you see vines climbing telephone poles with workers picking berries from ladders.  This kind of viticulture began in the 16th century when maize was introduced to the region and things got somewhat congested at ground level.  Now the practice of training grapevines to climb vertically is usual and customary there because the heavy rainfall in the Vinho Verde regional climate means a variety of fungal diseases would flourish if vines were grown in the usual fashion.

Hey, forget what your parents told you about not being a follower in school and become a follower of this blog because you must know be now we'll never lead you astray.