Monday, October 28, 2013

Smoked Cheese

Last week we blew through a Spanish smoked San Simon da Costa and half a wheel of Dutch Smoked Gouda so I thought this blogpost would be appropriate.  Since most of what I sell is artisan cheese, my suppliers always tell me that the smoked cheeses are really naturally smoked and not chemically treated with liquid smoke.  Since I am at their mercy on such things, all things being proprietary nowadays, I have just accepted what I have been told.

What I have learned on the issue here is that by American law any cheese that is sold commercially as smoked cheese must, in fact, be smoked.  The smoking may include a liquid smoke component but if the labelling is "smoked cheese", the thing must actually be smoked, as in over a hardwood fire.  If the cheese has only seen the liquid smoke part, the label must use the words, "smoke flavor" in some combination with other colorful marketing verbiage.  The less expensive "smoke flavor" cheeses invariably also include a food coloring enhancement to the exterior of the cheese to make it look naturally smoked.

On September 9th of this year we blogged about Woodsmoke Provisions, the seafood smoker in Atlanta that provides our smoked trout and salmon.  In that post we distinguished between cold-smoking and hot-smoking with hot-smoking being a shorter process using a higher temperatures as opposed to the longer, lower temperature process.  While some cheeses may be hot-smoked, the vast majority are cold-smoked because, if you think about it, butter fat would melt at temperatures even as cool as 98.6 degrees (body temperature) as is the case when the product is still inside of the cow before it is extracted.  Cheeses to be smoked, by necessity, have to be of the harder varieties for the same reason and the cold-smoking process is usually done after the cheese is fully ripened and essentially finished.

With the preceding information in mind, should you want to smoke your own cheese, go to or  It looks pretty easy and, by the way, smoking cheese is actually mainly smoking the exterior of the cheese with smoke penetration not always saturating the center.

The 20th anniversary of our store's beginning in 1993 starts on Wednesday October 30th at 5pm when David Rimmer of Lynda Allison Selections joins us with a dazzling display of French and Italian reds and whites.  David is an old pro in this business and what he has to sell now is nothing less than the best available in their respective categories.  Please join us Wednesday between 5 and 7pm and then come back on Friday when Tommy Basham returns with a display of new Spanish and French wines.  Then come back the following week as the series of tastings continues as we do it up right for the occasion.  Attend all tastings and become a "follower" of the blog and maybe a T-shirt will be in the offing for you! 

Friday, October 25, 2013

MD 20/20 Blue Raspberry

On October 5th we blogged about MD 20/20 Electric Melon and roadside litter.  Being ecologically-minded I had retrieved a couple bottles that were despoiling the local Clermont environs.  That post was actually about the litter and I guess I was using it as a metaphor for products like MD 20/20 that I believe are the dross of the wine industry.  Last Saturday we wrote about the ordinary wines that California is known for producing really well and that, I believe, is a crowning achievement for a culture, to provide decent wine for the dinner tables of its people.

MD 20/20 and others are actually absurdities in themselves because categorically while they are wine after all, they are the furthest thing from a meal accompaniment and when heavily promoted to vulnerable souls, can lead to the life-destroying social nightmare that alcohol abuse can become.  Who's kidding whom?

Speaking of absurdities, how about all of the food and beverage containers that frame our beautiful North Georgia countryside and isn't it nice when an offender bags up his refuse first before tossing it out the window.  I'm not of the "there oughta be a law" camp so much as a "can't we all just get along" ethic and I guess that means a renewed educational emphasis on the subject in schools and churches.

Anyway this morning while walking the dogs I picked up an empty MD 20/20 Blue Raspberry bottle in the same general vicinity where I found the Melon, so I guess someone in the 'hood is a serious MD connossieur.  So just as I had followed up on the Melon discovery here at the blogsite, I decided to research Blue Raspberry and turning to the Google thingy, this is what I found:

     1.  MD is Mogen David.  Mogen is "king" in hebrew.  Familiarly, MD is, of course, Mad Dog.
     2.  Originally MD 20/20 was 20% alcohol in a 20 ounce bottle.
     3.  MD Blue Raspberry replaced an earlier product called Blue Hawaiian.
     4.  The front label prominantly displays the words, "Bling Bling", on a gold chain.  I wonder why?
     5.  Pricing for Blue Raspberry ranges from a low $2/btl to $7 with a nationwide average of $5/btl.

Semi-serious bloggers and others further out on the fringe have had a field day with MD 20/20.  Here are a few reports on Blue Raspberry from the "wino wine" blogosphere:

     1.  From a review, "As majestic as the cascading waste waters from a drain pipe..."
     2.  On color: "cloudy blue like an over-chlorinated pool"
     3.  In a comparison tasting with similar wines, Blue Raspberry wins in the "warmth" category.
     4.  How about this: "Really good with a sh__ sandwich.  Or a twinkie."

MD 20/20 now comes in 13% alcohol versions so maybe the producers have a social conscience after all.

Next Wednesday between 5 and 7pm David Rimmer of Lynda Allison Selections leads us in a tasting of some really special French and Italian reds and whites.  On Friday Tommy Basham rejoins us for a tasting of new French and Spanish reds and whites.  Then next week we celebrate our 20th anniversary here at the store and we will be having tasting events throughout the week.  Please join us.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Gouguenheim Malbec/Wasabi Gouda

Last Saturday I was telling people we had two winners from Friday's tasting here, Gouguenheim Malbec and Wasabi Gouda.  Over the weekend we sold about a case and a half of Malbec and half a wheel of Gouda.  I'll take that any time.

The Malbec, by the way, was the Reserva from Gouguenheim, a label which has only recently been reintroduced to this market.  A small distributor had the brand over a year ago and lost it to a larger player and now it's back at a better price.  Coincidentally I got to meet Patricio Gouguenheim at a trade show recently and came away from the experience greatly impressed by his presentation.  Gouguenheim is an Argentine by birth to French parents.  He was a banker in Argentina until 2002 when he made the leap into the wine business, buying a winery in the Valle de Uco in the Andes foothills (3600 ft. alt!) in the Tupungato plateau of Mendoza.  Tupungato is a magical place and one to watch in the future as it is sure to become a fine wine industry hub (blogpost 11/14/11).

The Wasabi Gouda comes from Cheese Partners Holland which is changing its name this month to Dutch Original Cheese or DOC.  DOC is a private labeller in Holland with four clients who distribute their own labelled Goudas in America.  I am quite certain another brand we have sold here called "Gooda" is from the same people. 

2/3 of the 650 kilos of cheese produced annually in the Netherlands is exported and 60% of that is Gouda.  Archeologists have found cheesemaking equipment in area digs that date to 200bc and by the middle ages Holland and specifically, the town of Gouda, had become known as a cheese trading center.  Blogpost 5/8/13 dealt with that aspect of Gouda.

Last weekend's Wasabi Gouda was a pistachio-colored, creamy, medium-hard cheese that was not strong at all.  In my research I learned that the distinctly pungent Japanese Wasabi root is not the same as the horseradish we in the western world all know.  While similar in taste, Japanese Wasabi stimulates the nasal passages more than the tongue and is water-based so the burning in your nostrils or mouth is temporary compared to oil-based condiments like peppers.  The Japanese Wasabi plant is also difficult to cultivate which means it's expensive and often substituted in the west with a combination of horseradish, mustard, starch, and green food coloring.  I don't know whether the Gouda is authentically Wasabi or not.

On Friday October 25th between 5 and 7pm, Ryan Thayer of Eagle Rock Distributing joins us with a presentation of California reds and whites.  Eagle Rock represents the Small Vineyards portfolio of fine European estate wines which has been hugely successful here.  Ryan says we're going to like the California stuff too.  Please join us for the tasting and say, "Wasabi Gouda, please."

And for gosh sakes, become a "follower" of this blog; I'm not doing this for my health, ya know.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

What I'm Getting At

I'm an introverted armchair wanna-be historian who cogitates about imaginary "what ifs" and then lets his unrealistic ideas coagulate until he thinks he's arrived at something profound.  For instance, I was wondering if the current developmental stage of the California wine industry might correspond to an earlier stage in European oenological history.  Then of course I realized how preposterous the whole idea was because of the ridiculously huge situational differences involved.

Among this blog's common threads is my assertion that our American capitalist economy is driven by the mass marketing of stuff to consumers and wine sales are an example of just that.  The Gallos, Indelicatos, Sebastianis, and others from the early twentieth century marketed jug wines for a reason: it was decent product in a volume container at a very affordable price.  Thirty years ago when the cold war was raging and I was new to the business, it was common knowledge that the Soviet Union couldn't stomp out a good wine no matter which five year plan was in play.  We, on the other hand, have always been able to provide decent quality for our people at a very modest price.

Now, with the cultural shift to a more serious wine-appreciating consumer and coorespondingly better quality wines through new world technology, we have wines that are way better than before.  But the mass market template is still in force.  The large companies don't aspire to create something new, exciting, and individualistic so much as to provide a type of wine that fits the generic product prototype.  Just as those Italian-American immigrant winemakers turned out jugs of dago red for an appreciative people a hundred years ago, now the current generation markets Cabernets and other types that fit the basic varietal profile.  A successful California Cabernet is one that just tastes like good Cabernet.  Pinot Noir, same idea...but lesser results.  Sad to say, the elite wines from the industry giants aren't so much sterling examples of type but just better than the regular model.

Oh oh, I'm cogitating again.  Okay, so it's a fool's errand to compare cultures across time, but now I'm wondering if those Italian immigrants to America left behind paesanos who were mass marketers at heart and maybe they just didn't have the mass markets in Italy to service. 

Maybe everything is situational.

Please join us on Friday October 25th between 5 and 7pm as we explore California reds and whites with Ryan Thayer of Eagle Rock and then Tommy Basham of Continental returns on the 1st of November.  Please join us for that one too.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Wine Tasting Lineup October 18, 2013

On Friday October 18th we'll be tasting our usual half dozen mixed array of reds, whites, and roses here at the store and for a change, this time we will give you a preview.  As you see only five are pictured so the sixth is undetermined at this time.

1.  2011 Juno Sauvignon Blanc.  Some of the best Sauvignon Blanc anywhere comes from South Africa.  These Stellenbosch vineyards are in the Western Cape of the country.  The grapes were slightly pressed before cold fermenting in stainless steel tanks and then left on the lees for added richness.  The wine is recommended with oysters, grilled fish, and goat cheese combinations.

2.  2010 Torres Ibericos.  This is a Rioja Crianza meaning it is aged in oak for one year and then aged longer in the bottle.  The grape variety is Tempranillo from the most esteemed region of Spain.  The name refers to both the Iberian Penninsula and a favorite food pairing, Iberian ham.  The color is red cherry; the nose is black ripened fruits and spice; the taste is forest fruits and spices; the body is elegant and silky; and the finish is long and spicy.

3.  2012 Domaine Houchart Cotes de Provence Rose.  This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, Grenache, and Syrah sourced from a 200 acre vineyard at the foot of Mount Saint Victoire near Aix en Provence.  The Quiot family is the fifth generation owner of the property.  The aromas are citrus and strawberry while the flavors are red berries and watermelon, herbs and white pepper, cardamom, and minerality.  (Stephen Tanzer-"firm, focused, and racy".)  Food affinities include: shellfish, fish, and cured smoked ham.

4.  2010 Torres Celeste.  This is a Tempranillo Crianza from Ribero del Duero which is known for bigger reds than Rioja.  The wine has a blackberry color and a spicy nose; the mouthfeel is full-bodied and persistent with well-ripened flavors of blackberry and cherry, soft tannins, and licorice and black pepper.  Roasts, small game, and red meats in general would accomodate this one.

5.  2010 Gouguenheim Argentine Malbec Reserva.  The property is at the foothills of Mount Tupungato (blogpost 11/14/11) in Valle de Uco; at 3,600 feet above sealevel, one of the highest wine regions in Mendoza.  Tupungato features alluvial soils, 320 sunny days a year, and the highly beneficial diurnal effect of great temperature swings between day and night.  Irrigation in this arid plateau is done with water melted from the Andes snowcaps.  The 2011 Gouguenheim Malbec has dark red and violet hues; rich, strong aromas; and flavors of strawberry, plum, black cherry, black currant, chocolate and violets.  Further, the wine features balanced acidity, good structure, soft tannins, and a long finish.  That was the regular Malbec.  We will be tasting the Reserva.  Fasten your seatbelts.

The tasting is from 5 to 7pm here at the store.  Please share this with anyone who you think might be interested.  The wines range in price between $10 and $25.  Cheese and crackers will also be on the table.  We ask for a minimum $30 purchase or a ten dollar donation per person.

Please become a "follower" of this blog so I can point to those numbers with a reasonable pride for my efforts.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

MD 20/20 Electric Melon

I pick up trash.  I carry my grocery store plastic T-shirt bags when I walk or bike around the neighborhood and pick up recyclables like plastics, aluminum cans, and glass bottles.  If the stuff is too yucky I let it go but in most cases I just bend over and do it.  I used to get angry about littering but a couple years ago I decided I wasn't too good to do something about it.  Also some recyclers give a percentage to breast cancer research and that's certainly a motivator too.

So, I've learned a bit about the food and beverage habits of North Georgia litterbugs.  Beer preferences are uninspired.  The largest industrial beer company with its coorespondingly largest advertising budget is the beverage of choice for the vast majority of beer drinking litterbugs.  Food containers likewise reflect the fast food chains and soft drink giants that are most heavily advertised although Starbucks is an outlier with potential for producing big litterbug numbers.  Wine has not made it into the big leagues with litterbugs percentage-wise compared to food and beer but it took a while to catch on with the rest of us too.  So maybe there are prospects for growth here too.

One surprise for me in my picking up province is the prevalence of  plastic water bottles by the sides of roads.  Back during the so-called cultural revolution, many people replaced soft drinks with the new stuff, bottled water, for the obvious health benefits.  Recycling was just getting started too and it just seemed natural that bottles of this pure beverage should be disposed of properly.  It was like, what's good for inside of us must be made good for the environment.  Now I think a lot of working guys in pickups around here throw their empties in the back of the truck and they blow out going down the road.  Plastic bags too.  It happens.

I mentioned above how advertising influences the litterbug community in its food and beverage choices.  Gallo is the industry leader in wine sales by far and while I don't know current advertising numbers, at one time I remember hearing they had done as much as 75% of all wine advertising.  The few wine containers I find by the side of the road reflect seriously advanced advertising numbers.  Among the brands Gallo has rode to success are Ripple, Thunderbird, Night Train, and Boones Farm. Constellation, the second largest wine company, has marketed Richard's Wild Irish Rose since the 1950s.  These are the kind of wine products that in an earlier era built portfolios that now include fine dinner wines.  These are also the kinds of wines that end up as highway road litter.

Recently I picked up a couple bottles of MD 20/20 Electric Melon in a secluded bend in the road where litterbugs like to dump stuff.  (Some litterbugs prefer to drop their stuff in less public places or cast them away from the roadside like they are ashamed or something.  Perhaps similarly, Gallo doesn't list the Ripple, et al., on their website.)  MD is made and marketed by The Wine Group, the third largest wine company in the world, and producers of Almaden, Big House, Concannon, Corbett Canyon, Cupcake, Fish Eye, Flipflop, Foxhorn, Franzia, and many more.  To their credit they do list MD with the others.  As I looked down at the MD bottles I remember thinking, "Electric Melon is a damn fine wine name", and then I wondered whether one person had drunk both bottles and then after that I remembered finding a needle and syringe in the same place some time earlier. 

Lord have mercy.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Less > More

Did you ever notice how often the lower priced item is better than the higher priced similar item?  I don't just mean that there is parity in quality between two products.  I mean the lower priced one is actually better.  (Yeah, I know it's all subjective.)  I think we all track this stuff to one extent or another and maybe not obsessively but maybe out of the corner of our eye, so to speak, we notice that it sometimes seems to be the case.

Recently a customer accidentally got a case of the reserve version of Maggio Petite Sirah here and returned it.  I apologized and ordered the correct one but also tasted the reserve and it was clearly inferior to the regular Petite.  Another customer bought a bottle of Badiolo Chianti in the fiasco (straw basket) bottle and a bottle of the Badiolo Reserve Chianti.  He reported that the basket Chianti was better.  That just defies reason...but I don't doubt this customer.

One Friday night here we had a half dozen California Cabernets on the tasting table and the lowest priced bottle seemed to be the best of the show.  I have not failed to keep that one in stock here since that tasting.  Stop in if you want to try it. 

There are certain products which are institutionally set up to offer a better deal if you buy the lower priced thing.  Non-vintage Champagne comes to mind where the Champagne house will blend vintages together to achieve a style and quality level that is representative of who the Champagne house thinks they are.  If a vintage year is declared it may be better than the non-vintage blend but it may not.  I am not a Port lover but I wonder if that situation may be similar.

This being a recessionary time, non-historical labels appear on store shelves containing wines that were ticketed for a higher price point but contracts get broken in times like these and new and unusual labels appear with superior surplus juice.  We blogged about Bridesmaid Napa Red Blend here on September 14th and I wonder whether that one wasn't a case in point.  Actually, recessions produce all kinds of bargains that reflect the need to dispense higher priced juice at lower prices because the pricier labels just aren't selling and that's certainly good news for the consumer.

Read the Tilsit cheese blogpost just before this one for a cheese counterpart to this discussion.

Please join us Friday October 4th between 5 and 7pm as we explore more red wines and what may be the finest white wine in the place.  For a review of the white go to blogpost 7/8/13.

Less > More, Part 2: Abundantly Rich Red

Let's define what constitutes a superior wine.  It's not necessarily the biggest, boldest wine on the table that's the best.  It may be, but not because of its breadth or the "hair" growing on it.  If the flavor profile of the wine demonstrates complexity with harmony in flavors, appropriate body and structure, and is balanced lengthwise from start to finish with demonstrative attributes at the beginning (nose), middle (palate), and a lasting pleasant finish when you exhale, then that's a superior wine.  I also give bonus points for texture, including wininess and when appropriate, oiliness.

Twice in recent weeks we have tasted out the 2009 Abundance Cellars Abundantly Rich Red from Mencarini Family Winery in Lodi, California.  I have sold this twelve dollar wine for years but, frankly, I never realized just how good it was.  Maybe the current vintage is just better than the past vintages I have had.

The Lodi AVA is due east of San Francisco between Sacramento and Stockton.  Thirty years ago Lodi was strictly jug wine country.  Now 20% of all varietal wines from California come from there.  It has become the "Languedoc" of California, meaning a whole lotta decent wine comes from there.  The Mencarini family got started there in the early 1950s and the vines used for this wine were planted in 1961, which may explain in part why it tastes so good.  A mission statement of sorts from the Mencarinis asserts that their goal has always been to provide high quality, yet affordable wines for the working people of America.  I like that.

Abundantly Rich Red is a Carignane/Zinfandel blend.  It features a dense, dark raspberry color with a nose of strawberry, plum, and evergreen and balanced long soft fruit flavors of plum and strawberry layered with oakiness, especially at the finish.  Food affinities include: cheeses, pasta, and red meats.

So I include the Abundantly Rich Red review under the "less is more" heading because this is a wine that overperforms for its price point.  I am not a natural fan of this kind of wine by the way.  My take is that these kinds of California wines are often muddy, flabby (unstructured and lacking acidity), and unbalanced.  ARR is not fine wine by any means but it's awfully nice for what it is and I would prefer it to many twenty dollar Zins.

In a different vein, on Friday October 4th we are tasting new Chileans on the market with Tommy Basham of Continental Beverage presenting.  This Leyendas line features three reds and two whites, and they are all reported to be "reserve" quality examples.  Please join us.  Please become a follower here also so I won't embarrass my family by not being more successful at this.