Monday, August 26, 2013


It happens all the time.  I get a call for Dom Perignon which I don't carry and I offer Billecart-Salmon instead.  The caller invariably says, "No thanks", adding that no one ever heard of the alternative and Dom has the reputation for being the best and yadda yadda yadda.  Not wanting to lose possible customers before I could possibly cultivate them into being solid future customers, I assure the caller that I understand but at some point during the brief conversation I mention that Billecart-Salmon often gets critics' ratings that are higher than Dom at a third of Dom's price.  That comment never goes anywhere.

I actually do understand the caller's point of view.  Champagne, itself, is symbolic.  It symbolizes celebration and achievement and the marketers of Champagne use that symbolism to amp up the dollars for those they are able to project as being at the top of the heap.  I don't have a problem with that.  If Champagne were like other wines and it was more of an everyday dinner accompaniment, then my point of view may have more credence. 

Champagne, like all other wines, is dominated by the big players.  Not only do they set prices in Champagne but they create styles that are marketed as the style of that particular historic Champagne house and more.  With a bankroll of advertising dollars and the right admen, a large Champagne house can create the illusion that they have perfected the product.  Look no further.  This is it!  I guess that is what Moet & Chandon have done with Dom Perignon.

Billecart-Salmon is a medium-size Champagne house.  It dates to 1818 (when Billecart married Salmon) and seven generations of the family have run it since then.  They own five hectares of vineyards in Mareuil-sur-Ay and source mostly Pinot Noir grapes from the Marne Valley and Montagne de Reims for their award winning Rose.  A map of the heart of the Champagne country is shaped like a mushroom, by the way, with Mareuil-sur-Ay being at the juncture of the cap and the stem on the right side.

Here is a glossary of adjectives for Billecart-Salmon Champagne: creamy, delicate, delightful, elegant, fine, balanced, beautiful, harmonious, racy, rich, and fresh.  Okay, that's a little over the top.  Stephen Tanzer, who is as good as any critic, says this pale gold sparkler has a nose of fresh peach, pear, nectarine, and white flowers.  On the palate it is plush, ripe, and fleshy with strong peach and pear flavors with minerality on the finish.

Please join us on Friday August 30th from 5 to 7pm as we taste another crop of new wines that need to be explored including the 2009 Charles Krug Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.  We'll see if the noble Krug Cabernet tradition is still intact with this latest example.  Please stop in this weekend for your holiday wine and cheese needs and become a follower of this site so I can claim some kind of accomplishment for doing this.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Grenache Part 1

Grenache (gren-aash) is the preferred name for this workhorse blending grape everywhere it is planted except in Spain where it is called Garnacha (gar-nah-cha).  Because Spain had it first, Garnacha, would seem to consitute a legitimate name claim.  Some modern day ampelographers, however, believe the island of  Sardinia may have actually had the grape before Spain so Cannonau, Sardinia's name for it, may be most appropriate.  Since no one outside of Sardinia calls it that and no one outside of Spain calls it Garnacha, Grenache it has become.

Grenache is perhaps the most widely planted red wine grape in the world.  Its popularity in part is due to its hardiness in hot, dry, and windy conditions.  Those conditions exist in southern Europe, Australia, the central valley of California, and elsewhere.  It is drought resistant and actually prefers gravely, stony soils that most vines find too difficult.  With the ecological changes anticipated with global warming, Grenache's future appears secure.

Grenache also ripens later than most grapes making it a softer, fruitier wine that is coorespondingly low in tannins, phenolics, acidity, and color.  Consequently this typically high alcohol wine is prone to oxidation and usually not cellar worthy.  It's essential character includes a floral orange blossom nose, a fleshy and full mouthfeel, and blackberry and black current on the palate with allspice and cinnamon.  Grenache is adaptable to alternative growing conditions which of course would accentuate some of the above characteristics over others.  Time in oak would also affect tendencies toward smoke and toastiness.

Food affinities for Grenache include grilled meats and fish, stews, and game.  Grenache also seems to like the spices, paprika and curry, and works well with dishes where olive oil is prominant.  Grenache roses are well paired with tuna, other seafood, and summertime picnic fare.

Grenache Part 2

The finest Grenache-based wines in the world come from France and Spain.  In France those examples would include Chateauneuf-du-Pape, where Grenache typically makes up 80% of the blend, and in Spain, Priorat, where the wine is a 100% varietal made from ancient vines.  In both countries when blended, Grenache is typically married with Syrah, Tempranillo, Carignane, Mourvedre, or Cinsault, with Spain's more expansive wine culture tending toward more exotic blends.  In any case Grenache is the element in the blend that adds body and fruitiness to the wine.

Grenache is the second or third most widely planted grape in Spain and France.  In both countries the 19th century Phylloxera epidemic was the catalyst for Grenache planting since European vines had to be grafted onto American rootstocks to avoid the blight and Grenache happened to work particularly well for that purpose.  Throughout the 20th century commercial trends drove Grenache plantings down in Spain and up in France as the Languedoc region became the bulk wine powerhouse of the country.  Nonetheless Spain currently still maintains a large plurality in Grenache plantings over France.

Rose wines are a category that usually gets short shrift reviews from both the critics and the public.  After all roses are what is made from grapes from a bad vintage, right?  Well, yes and no.  With Pinot Noir, yes, if the vintage is bad, one tends to see more rose wines.  However, the finest rose in the world is made annually in Tavel in the Cotes du Rhone from 100% Grenache grapes and year after year similarly high quality unheralded roses are emerging from Spain to a public that is gradually becoming more and more receptive.

On Friday August 30th from 5 to 7pm we will be pouring tastes of Mureda Unoaked Chardonnay and Espelt Corali Rose, both from Spain; Lavau Red Cotes du Rhone from France; Maggio Petite Sirah and Whiplash Redemption Red Blend from California; and Charles Krug Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.  Please join us and, for God sakes, become a follower of this blog!  There will be a pop quiz Monday morning on the content for everyone but the followers.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


In the store at this time we have a large stack of inexpensive Terras Do Literal Portuguese wines from Vidigal, one of that country's wine giants.  One of the reds is labeled "Vinho Regional Lisboa" which obviously means regional wine of Lisbon.  That was obvious, I guess, to every one but me since it actually took me hearing it from a customer before I got it.  It turns out Lisboa is Lisbon for the Portuguese people and the wine region extends 40km north and west of Portugal's capitol city.  Before its renaming as Lisboa in 2009, this region was called Estremadura.

Estremadura was never a popular name on Portuguese wine labels because there are nine subregions within the district which were more important place designations.  In 1993 the wine industry created the "regional wine" category for Estremadura to both take advantage of new investment money coming into the area and to promote experimentation with new varieties in new locations within Estremadura.  So whereas the nine districts continued to exist as an overlay for the region, the regional wines could be drawn from anywhere within the region's boundaries.  This was actually a qualitative upgrade yet a continuation of the region's history of producing decent ordinary wines, the equivalent of France's Vin de Pays wines.  As such, the region has been the largest wine producer by volume in Portugal.

The nine subregions of Lisboa, of course, reflect microclimates within this region of hillsides and reliefs in varying distances from the Atlantic coast.  The climate is subtropical and Mediterranean with average temperatures year round in the 50-70 degree range.  Its winters are amongst the warmest in Europe, courtesy of the Atlantic Ocean.

Our Lisboa offering is an elegant lighter style red composed of 70% Tinta Roriz, 20% Castelao, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Tinta Roriz is one of the thirty-five or so names for Tempranillo which may display aromas and flavors of berries, plums, tobacco, vanilla, leather, and herbs.  Being inexpensive wine this one is fruity with raspberry and other red berries predominating.  The wine is ruby in color and food affinities would include most meat dishes, pastas, and even salads.  Last night I had this wine with salmon on the grill with a honey mustard glaze and it was delightful.

Please join us here this Friday between 5 and 7pm as we continue our exploration of new wines in the store.  This time we welcome Ryan Thayer of Eagle Rock Distributing as he presents Italian and Chilean reds and the critically acclaimed Ferraton Cotes du Rhone Blanc.  Also, please become a follower here since that may eventually land me some advertising revenue.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Vina Ventisquero

Vina Ventisquero is big business wine.  It is one of the ten largest wine companies in Chile and has just been in existence since the year 2000.  That tells me there are big bucks behind this operation.  But because of the reliability of the product quality and my dependence on them as a "go to" brand, I feel like I have been selling the brand for twenty years.  To go one step further, the quality of Ventisquero wines often seems to supercede others at twice the price.  Twice in recent months I was able to taste the complete line of Ventisquero wines and the following is a brief introduction to and description of the wines we will taste here on Friday August 16th, 5 to 7pm.   

Because the company is so large, you would expect them to market several labels and that is the case here.  The everyday ten dollar level is called Yali which is named after a Chilean wetland.  Ventisquero Reserva is the line priced at twelve to fifteen dollars and Ventisquero means "glacier".  Queulat means "sound of the waters" and that quality level is roughly priced between fifteen and twenty dollars.  Grey is the name of the largest glacier in Chilean Patagonia and the two Grey reds are in the twenty to twenty-five dollar range.  Vertice (vertex) is a red blend from Apalta; Heru is Pinot Noir from Casablanca; and Pangea is Syrah from Apalta.  The last three are priced between thirty-five and seventy dollars per bottle.

In the Atlanta market Ventisquero offers sixteen wines.  Of the three Yali wines the Cabernet-Carmenere is the best and it is simply a solid well-balance, fresh and fruity, new world red.  There are four types in the Ventisquere Reserva line and all are winners but, being a Sauvignon Blanc lover, that one is my fave.  Friday we will taste the Carmenere, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc.  Queulat similarly has four great types with the Carmenere possibly being the best, but for our event on Friday I chose the Sauvignon Blanc because, well, that's the way I roll.  Grey has a Cabernet and a Carmenere and this time I thought the Cabernet showed better than the Carmenere so we'll do that one.  We will have the Pangea on the table Friday but because of the cost, we probably won't open it.

Those Spanish and Indian names for Ventisquero wines is a tip-off as to their environmental bent.  Ventisquero is the only Chilean wine company that has 100% sustainable viticulture, and remember, they are huge.  Moreover, the Yali wines are carbon neutral, meaning the energy from fossil fuels used in making and transporting the wines is offset by the use of  renewables and/or the purchasing of carbon credits to make up the difference.  So if you're a greenie or you just love the environment, be here for the tasting.

David Hobbs of Prime Wine & Spirits will present the wines on Friday.  We hope you can join us.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Most of what follows is taken from their website, where this family-owned company rightly sets forth their proud history, which is another example of the All-American success story.

In 1962 Mexican immigrant Salvador Renteria was hired at Sterling Vineyards as a grape picker.  Because he demonstrated leadership skills in the field he was promoted to a supervisory role.  Renteria also seemed to have an instinct about grape cultivation that surpassed what might be expected from someone without a formal education in the field.  As he was subsequently employed by Beaulieu, Clos Pegas, Cuvaison, and Silverado, Renteria experimented with canopy management and trellising, always demonstrating keen insights that usually proved successful. 

In 1987, Renteria Vineyard Management was formed and the company client base expanded to include Robert Mondavi, William Selyem, Caymus, Etude, Rombauer, and Duckhorn.  What Salvador brought to these wine companies through his experimentations in the field were the lower yields of higher quality fruit that resulted in the highly extracted fruit-driven wines that Robert Parker and other contemporary critics adored.  In 1993 Salvador's son, Oscar Renteria, took over management of the company.

Here's where it gets interesting.  The wine industry has always had a reputation for benevolence toward others, offering a helping hand to those in need of support for their own projects.  Usually it is the ones who have "made it" who are willing to help the upstarts.  In Washington, Chateau Ste. Michelle is known to be that kind of patron.  The esteemed reputation of Renteria Vineyard Management was so high in 1997, when Oscar approached his clients for juice to start his own wine label, of course, the juice started flowing from many of those giants listed above.  Eighty cases of Cabernet was the yield from that 1997 vintage.

Today Renteria Wines markets Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir under three labels from juice sourced from the Stag's Leap District, Carneros, Mount Veeder, Russian River, and Sonoma Coast.  Renteria now supplements his contracted juice with his own vineyards in Mount Veeder, Russian River, and most recently, Carneros.  They have now built a winery in Yountville and the production is up to 2,000 cases annually.

In the store at this time are the Renteria Carneros Pinot Noir, Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, and Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon.  They are priced between $35 and $65 per bottle.  When I tasted these wines five years ago at a large trade show in Atlanta they were amongst the best wines in the show.

Please join us Friday, August 16th from 5 to 7pm as David Hobbs of Prime Wine & Spirits leads us in a tasting of Vina Ventisquero Chilean wines.  The wines to be tasted are mostly reserve level reds and whites that over-achieve compared to most on the market.  David is also the Renteria distributor for the Atlanta market so consider him to be another resource on the subject.  Please join us for that one.