Monday, December 8, 2014

Cheese Gifts

While there's no easy template to lay over all of your intended gift recipients, there are a few rules of thumb for giving cheese as a gift.  Like very special wines, specialty cheeses should be given sparingly and with the right appreciative person in mind.  Just as the Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon in the store would be a wonderful wine gift for the right person, likewise, the Speziato al Tartuffo from Italy, being a masterful cheese creation, needs a very special person to appreciate it.

As with our preceding post on wine gifting, knowing your recipient is paramount.  Is he/she adventurous?  Do they go to the same restaurant all of the time or do they branch out?  If you know they like Havarti, don't automatically assume they like Havarti with spices or any of a number of cheeses that may look like Havarti but are a bit stronger.

If your intended is a male appreciator of fine brewed beverages, a safe cheese gift may be sharp cheddar, pepper cheese, or Gouda.  While all of these can be had in the $10-$20/lb range and most of them would be every day quality, this store has connoisseur quality examples of each and that's what we recommend for this holiday.  Cheese to avoid for this person: Brie.

If you're buying for a wine-loving woman with accrued fine tastes, that wedge of French Brie might be a perfect fit.  Branching out may involve Camembert, Taleggio, Brie with herbs/spices (mushrooms!), Port Salut, or any of a number of the many other fine French soft ripeners.  This recipient is one to be both coddled and stretched within reasonable parameters.

If you're buying for the kids, the obvious recommendation is the Chocolate Cheese; otherwise it's garden variety Cheddar, Havarti, or Gouda.  Now if the kid is palate-gifted like some who come in here, all bets are off and it's your call.  Cheeses to avoid for most kids: blues and pepper cheese.

As we are writing this post, we are concurrently putting together our next cheese order from the New York importer and keeping the holiday season in mind, this may be the way to go on the subject.  Actually forget all of what's written above and here is what you need to know: On Thursday's delivery we are expecting Reggiano Parmesan, Lincet de Bourgogne Triple Cream Brie, Notre Dame French Brie (our go-to), Barber's English Cheddar, Harlech Welsh Cheddar with Horseradish, Havarti and Havarti with Caraway, Reggianito (Argentine Parmesan, another go-to), Gruyere or a similar alternative, Rosey Goat, and a creamy blue.  Buy anything from this order and forget the personality profiling above.  Just remember to tell your recipient that the cheeses need to be refrigerated and not put under the tree!

This Thursday (!) between 5 and 7pm, David Rimmer with Lynda Allison Cellar Selections joins us with choices from his incredible book of European dinner wines for an expansive tasting of the best wines on the market.  David has more time in this business than I do so don't miss this opportunity.  Along with being an authority on the subject of fine wine, David is a great guy.  Please join us!    

Monday, December 1, 2014

Wine Gifts

If you know that your intended recipient is a wine lover, then why not indulge him/her with what they like. Sounds too easy, right?  For a lot of us, it is.  Over and over again I see customers trying to buy wine for others and ending up buying what they, themselves, like.  It's human nature.  We are all self-centered in probably a very similarly human way so we just assume someone else would like what we like...and of course, it ain't necessarily so.

Was it Socrates who said, "know thyself"?  Sage wisdom.  Pretty smart guy.  I would add, "know your friends".  Then, after pegging down your friends' tastes, resist the impulse to still act in your own interests and do your best to satisfy the others' tastes.  Now part of knowing your friends is knowing how particular they are about these kinds of things and conversely, how open they are to new experiences.  If you perceive "wiggle room" in the openness side of things, then by all means stretch that person with a new wine experience...but be careful.

Here are a few guidelines when purchasing wine for others:

1.  Label counts.  I know it sounds petty but people form an opinion about their gift as soon as they lay eyes on it.  So get a good looking package.

2.  Place may be important.  If there is an ethnic connection or perhaps a past (or future) trip to a wine venue, or some vague something else relating to place; really anything might make your gift a bit more intimate by extension.  Who knows what kind of transference may be conjured up by seeing a meaningful place name on a wine bottle.

3.  Price.  During the holidays we have the impossible job of doing right with our friends and at the same time doing right financially with ourselves.  I guess the solution is to stretch our budgets as we are able and hope for the best!

4.  Champagne!  I'm going to belt out this number as long as I'm in this business.  Champagne is an ideal gift for the holiday season, but once again, only if you sense acceptance on the part of the recipients.

5.  Packaging.  Here we mean gift bags, boxes, or baskets.  This store does it all and you may find one option better than the others.  We also provide boxes for shipping but by law, we do not ship.

Finally, by shopping here you have access to my thirty-five years of experience in the fine wine business.  I am quite confident we can get you what you need in the way of a wine gift.

This Friday after 5pm David Klepinger of Northeast Sales joins us for an evening of everyday California wines and a few special imports.  David is an engaging presenter at wine tastings and with his extensive background just go ahead and line up your wine questions now and then come and join us for the tasting.

Just a suggestion but maybe you could become a follower of this blog and make me feel good about doing it!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Thanksgiving Dinner Wine

I just read someone's Thanksgiving wine recommendations at MSN News and would like to use that person's suggestions to redirect my readers to what we have in the store.  The truth about Thanksgiving dinner is that the traditional meal has so many different constituent flavors that it is pretty hard to go wrong no matter which wine you choose.  However our suggestions here should safeguard against the few outlier options that just might be the one that sinks the occasion.

Here are the six MSN suggestions:

1.  Demi-Sec Champagne.  The reasoning here centers on the sweet character of the meal itself, therefore why not choose that aspect of the meal to complement with your wine choice.  I agree with that reasoning completely.  However I also love bubbly for bubbly's sake on holidays and it's that aspect of this suggestion I would emphasize.  In the store at this time we have sparkling French Burgundies priced under thirty dollars and while they are dry, they are less dry than Champagne. Under twenty dollars we have Proseccos which are generally even less dry.  The best we have in bubbly is Billecart-Salmon Champagne at $55/btl.

2.  Chardonnay.  The recommendation from MSN is unabashed California Chardonnay replete with oak and high alcohol.  I disagree.  I don't think the typical over-the-top California style Chardonnay is the best choice for this meal.  Pronounced oak and alcohol make this style of wine a better cocktail for lovers of Chardonnay.  Moderation in oak along with a heightened acidity to cut the grease and fat in the meal are more in line with what we envision here and Shea Vineyards Chardonnay from Oregon in the mid-twenty dollar range fits that bill.  Of course we have all kinds of other options for Chardonnay priced in the teens and we have White Burgundies in the thirty dollar range.

3.  Gewurztraminer.  On this one we agree 100% with the MSN writer who suggests Alsatian and northern Italian Gewurz which we both have in stock.  These wines feature the sweetness and acidity mentioned above and spiciness to complement that aspect in the meat and dressing.  If you hear the term "turkey wine" in the media in the next couple weeks, that is a reference to Gewurztraminer.

4.  Rose.   The writer suggests specific New York State Roses which seems like "home cooking" to me, like maybe his brother-in-law has an investment there.  Roses, in general, are safe bets as dinner wines with most any meal notwithstanding Thanksgiving dinner.  We have three from Provence priced in the mid-teens, Spanish examples, and, believe it or not, Greek Rose!  All would work just fine on Thanksgiving Day.

5. Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc.  This is a "creme de la creme" suggestion for a larger category of wines currently dominated by the popular White Grenache grape.  Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc runs upwards from sixty dollars a bottle.  We have white Rhones in the thirty dollar range but the true find in the store is a lovely Rhone from Guyot at half of that price.  We also have Garnacha Blancs from Spain at bargain prices.

6.  Pinot Noir.  This is my choice in a red wine because of its lightness and acidity.  Pinot at any price is suitable for most of our American meals that don't require a stronger wine and turkey dinner is an ideal pairing.  Our best include California and Oregon Pinot Noirs along with Burgundies in the thirty dollar range.  Lately we have found bargains in Italian Pinot and the Nouveau Beaujolais arrives this week at under twelve dollars a bottle.  Nouveau is technically not Pinot but rather Gamay from southern Burgundy but that grape is related to Pinot and can be made into wine on a par with Pinot Noirs in the twenty to thirty dollar range.

7.  Vouvray.  There was no seventh suggestion from MSN so this one is mine alone.  The grape here is Chenin Blanc but the key information is the place of origin, the Loire Valley of France.  What Vouvray brings to the table is acidity and moderate sweetness but in particular, it brings finesse (fineness) in a harmoniously complex format.

As I said at the beginning, this is a meal that is wide open as far as pairings go, so have at it, have fun, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.  Don't be too frugal on this selection, by the way.  This is too important of an occasion not to provide something special.

By the way, we'll be tasting here as usual on Friday the 21st and on Friday the 28th, Black Friday, the day after the holiday, so join us for that one too.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Verdict

My favorite Paul Newman film is "The Verdict" and my favorite scene is the courtroom summation which Newman begins with, "So much of the time we are lost..."  He then goes on to imply we are so beaten down by injustice in our society we are left feeling weak and in doubt of our own inherent ability to be just.  Lofty ideas for a wine blog, eh?

I sometimes tell customers, "On the scale of important things in life, wine should not rank too high."  My statement is meant to put the customers at ease with the subject of wine and not to intimidate them.  It is an unfortunate truth that wine appreciation and the wine business itself, can lead to snobbishness amongst some of us and it's a trap we should all avoid at all costs.  After all, this stuff really isn't all that important in the over all scheme of things.

Recently a vendor provided for me a taste of Arcos Salice Salentino, an Italian red wine from Apulia in the heel of the "boot" of Italy.  I liked it and I liked its $12 retail price so I bought a case and poured it at one of our weekly tastings.  None of my tasters liked the wine and I sold not one bottle.  It was a shutout.  In this business there are no returns.  All sales are final and I was stuck with the wine.  So three weeks later I tried it again and not only did I sell eight bottles, but my tasters sang out their praises for it.  So what gives?  Obviously it was a different crowd!

One of the worst things that can happen at a wine tasting is to have a self-proclaimed and vocal "expert" in attendance.  That didn't happen at either of the Salice tastings but it has happened in the past.  If that guy's personality is too dominant, then all of the rest of us must be wrong if we see it  differently than he does.  At the first Salice tasting there were enough tasters in the group who voiced their displeasure with the wine, that I believe others felt inclined to agree with them. 

When this first Salice tasting failed so badly, my vendor told me to taste it out with other Europeans only and none of the over-the-top new world wines.  Let's be honest.  There is a real difference between the austere, high acid food wines of Europe and the jammy, forward-fruit cocktail wines of California and some of those over-blown concoctions are really centerpiece wines and everything else pales in comparison.  In my second Salice tasting I included some of those kinds of wines but I put them at the end of the row.  I tasted the Salice first, before the fruitier wines, and that did the trick.

While I admittedly prefer $12 European wine to $20 California wine, I have to admit, most of my customer base does not.  Oddly enough at the second Salice tasting, I had a reversal of the Salice situation.  In the lineup was a California wine that a customer had ordered cases of but returned because it was too fruity.  I agreed with her assessment of the wine.  I placed it in the middle of the row and it sold fine.

So in "The Verdict" Paul Newman ends his summation by admonishing the jury that on that day, they are the law; not the symbolic trappings of the law, but the law itself.  In my case, my tasters are the experts; not me, not the critic in the wine/food magazine, not the wine textbook writer, not the guy on TV, nor the peer group, and especially, not the blowhard expert in attendance.  Insecurity be damned!  Believe in yourself and trust your palate.  That's my verdict.

Please join us on Friday November 14th between 5 and 8pm for a tasting of French country wines with David Hobbs of Prime Wines.  David has been doing this a long time so his presentation should edify.  Having tasted the wines already, I'll just go ahead and predict the verdict...everyone is going to love these wines!

...and please become a follower of this blog so I don't feel so insecure.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Florette Goat Brie

Florette is one of those pleasant surprise cheeses that comes along occasionally here at the store.  It's definitely a goat cheese (chevre) but its wininess outweighs its goatiness making it acceptible to a larger cross section of customers.  That wininess also makes it a natural playmate with red and white wines and ciders.

Florette is one of more than twenty similarly styled soft cheeses produced by Fromagerie Guilloteau (est.1983) in the French Rhone Alps.  Guilloteau has been so successful with their efforts they opened a second production facility at Pellusin to go with the original at Belley.  The flagship cheese at Guilloteau is Fromager d'Affinois, a pasteurized double cream cow milk counterpart to Florette.

Brie, by the way, is a town in central France, so technically Guilloteau makes soft ripening cheeses and not Brie.  They also make their cheeses using the "ultrafiltration" process for removing water from milk prior to conversion into curds, a process traditional Brie does not use.  In the process milk fat is broken down into smaller globules creating a smoother curd resulting is a gooier paste.  There are two beneficial results from this process.  The cheese retains twice the nutrients and proteins that traditional Brie lacks and ultrafiltration speeds up production from the traditional six to eight weeks to just two weeks.

Florette comes to us in a one kilo octagonal wheel with a brightly colored goat graphic label affixed to the top.  In production the outside of the cheese is coated with Penicillium Candidum which creates the typical bloomy white rind for many soft ripening cheeses.  Once it's cut into, the ooey-gooey, unctuous paste oozes more than most Bries but does not repel with goaty aromas like most Chevres do.

The delicate flavors of Florette are mild and subtle, sweet, and herbal.  They are also "forward" and refreshing.  While Florette scores high in nutrients like calcium, its lusciousness betrays its high saturated fat content.  Florette shows well when spread on baguettes, with a salad, fruit or dessert, warmed over fresh vegetables, or as a component on a cheese tray.  However it is served, my preferred beverage accompaniment would be a medium bodied dry white wine.

Please join us here on Friday November 14th when David Hobbs of Prime Wines presents the French country wines of Handpicked Selections and the wines of Ventisquero of Chile.  There should be at least eight wines on the tasting table and all are priced under $15/btl and the cheeses will be set out as usual.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Expensive Pinot Grigio

My title sounds like it should be a contradiction in terms.  Because it is such a simple wine, Pinot Grigio is easy to pigeon hole as inconsequential.  When it surpassed Chardonnay in sales at this store several years ago I was elated because Chardonnay had ruled the roost in white wine popularity for so long.  Honestly, I welcomed any change.  When I told one of my vendors about the change, he said, "I'm so sorry."  I'm sure he felt it was a step backwards considering the light simplicity of Pinot contrasted with the rich complexity of Chardonnay.  As a longtime wine retailer I don't think he understood my ABC (Anything but Chardonnay) feelings about the subject at that time.

Earlier this summer I had a peculiar situation here at the store.  Either because I was asleep at the wheel or the stuff was just selling so well, I ran out of $10 pinots.  I still had several that were upwards from $15 though.  Conveniently, that situation actually turned into one of those "learning moments" for me because I could now tell whether my customers were strictly buying on price; or if they liked the flavor of Pinot Grigio, they may be persuaded to buy a more expensive bottle.  About half went upscale, by the way, and I found an alternative wine for the others.

Personally it took a long time for me to acquire a taste for the stuff, but remember I go back to the bad old days of Bolla Soave when Italy wasn't trying to sell great white wines here.  (Actually you could clean oil stains in your driveway with some of that acidic stuff!)  Then along came Santa Margherita, the industry leader in high priced pinot, and like all things mass-marketed, quality was uneven, but because they priced it so high, others with a better product soon followed their lead.  In recent years I have sold pinots for up to $35 a bottle!

So what is the difference between $10 pinot and $30 pinot?  Well, $20, of course!  Otherwise, most $10 pinots are light in body, simply flavored, and dryness is relative.  The best Pinot Grigios are rich, dry, and minerally with complex aromas and flavors which may include apricot, pear, apple, pineapple, banana, or raspberry along with teas and grasses, all of which is structured in a frank and nuanced format.  Pinot Grigio at any price is quintessential seafood and salad wine.

This past summer the two best selling pinots in the store were from Sicily (Blog 7/16/14).  As a rule, the best mass marketed pinots come from the other end of Italy, Veneto in particular.  If you want to go upscale from there, it's Trentino, Alto Adige, or Friuli-Venezia Giuli to the north and east respectively.  In general Friuli features more richness and complexity while Alto Adige is all about aroma and minerality.  Then if you want something even more substantial, go with Pinot Gris from Alsace where some will even stand up to sausages!

Join us here on Friday November 7th between 5 and 8pm when David Rimmer of Lynda Allison Cellar Selections once again teaches us how great French wines can be.  Along with French Burgundies, David is likely to have the great Fattori Valparadiso Pinot Grigio open also.  Then on the 14th David Hobbs of Prime Wines joins us with more French stuff.  This time it's the country wines that we'll offer.  Please join us for those events.   

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The California Drought

California is the place a whole lot of us love to hate.  If it isn't Hollywood or Haight-Ashbury it's that smugly aloof "I'm-from-California" demeanor that just rubs this writer a hundred eighty degrees the wrong way.  Having lived out there for close to three years, I think I can truthfully say, I'd rather be in Georgia!

So now that I have that off my chest, let's get to the matter at hand.  The drought in California appears to be of the scale that could alter things there permanently.  For virtually all of the twentieth century, California has used water it didn't actually have.  Now that over-usage plus the drought plus global warming makes the future look downright bleak.  And it is...even though some forecasters see a righting of the ship if and when the drought breaks.  Eventually though, long term, global warming will alter things permanently (Blogpost 5/20/13).

The following few paragraphs on the drought are largely taken from USDA and University of California Davis publications.

The worst California drought on record dates back to 1849.  2014 is the worst year since then.  Because agriculture is so important to the California economy, much of the pain is being absorbed by urban areas where water restrictions are firmly in place.  I actually lived in California during a drought in the late seventies and the citizenry responded admirably without a mandate from government.  This drought though is, of course, much worse than that one with 17,000 jobs believed to have been lost across the state.  Those laid off employees from vulnerable businesses are the human toll represented in the current inflated poverty numbers.

Agriculture as a category includes both produce and dairy, not to mention the wine industry, and with limited water resources to draw from, major decisions have had to be made.  This year agricultural losses have been pegged at 203 million dollars.  If the drought doesn't break, next year could double that.  Planning now includes diverting water to high value crops like almonds, walnuts, and pomegranates, ceding the more staple crops to other states, which brings up a new realization for me.  California is the dairy capitol of the country but they actually have only 21% of the national business which tells me we are more diversified than I had realized.  Wisconsin, by the way, still leads in cheese.

Eighty-three percent of California's cattle are located in the eight counties that make up the San Joaquin Valley which are all Category 4 (extreme drought) areas.  Fifty-seven percent of livestock production is dairy and California's milk production is currently at record levels with prices maintaining at the retail level.  Because pastures will dry up without adequate irrigation, hay and alfalfa prices are expected to increase next year by as much as 40%.  Still, because dairy is so diversified nationwide, prices nationally are not anticipated to increase appreciably.

So what about wine?  Well, there's actually good news there for now.  Droughts are good for serious wine lovers.  They mean smaller berries with more concentrate juice to be fermented into wines with higher sugars and flavors concentrated proportionally to pulp and skin contact.  Moreover because the wine industry has been proactive with the installation of water efficiency technologies, groundwater levels may be spared through the drought.  Wine grapes are dought tolerant by nature so drier sunnier weather will ripen them sooner for an earlier harvest and faster production time.  The drought years of 2012-13 in Napa and Sonoma were rated 96 as a vintage by the Wine Advocate.

Please join us Friday October 31st for a tasting of fine red wines from Spain, Italy, California, and Chile.  And for gosh sakes, become a follower of this here blog!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Shelf Talkers

In the retail wine business we call those mini-reviews that are taped to wine shelves, shelf talkers.  They are meant to both inform and entice the shopper to try that particular bottle.  A good one will offer sound objective and pointed observations with a little subjective something that utters "come hither".  On September 28-29, 2013, Lettie Teagues wrote about these things in a WSJ article titled, "Wine-Tasting Notes Don't Need to Overflow", which pretty much sums it up but I'll continue to expound on the subject anyway.

Authorship of shelf talkers in my experience is usually anonymous.  Teagues, however, knows who writes many of them among her wine writing colleagues and others in the business.  I won't name those people here but I will classify them using a couple of generalized categories.  We'll call the flowery prose shelf talker writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and he's the talented individual who probably feels he missed his calling as a writer of great works.  Now he's taking it out on the rest of us who are just shopping for wine and not in the least interested in his narcissistic and tortured verbiage.  We'll call the opposite approach, the one that uses the fewest words and most direct commentary, Martin Scorcese, which is a little unfair to the writer since Scorcese tends to make his points in film with blunt instruments.  All other shelf talkers are some combination of Scorcese and Fitzgerald.

As I said above, most shelf talkers are anonymously written, sometimes by store employees and sometimes by wine customers courtesy of the internet.  These, of course, range from frustrated Scorceses and Fitzgeralds to embarrassingly amateurish efforts that should never be hanging in stores.  I never thought about hanging my own tasting observations in this store because as I have said many times, I don't have a great palate.  I know what good wine tastes like because of my many years in the business but I have been humbled enough through the years to know I was not blessed that way.

Or am I?  Or are you?

Shelf talkers are by definition short, fifty words or less.  They should be fresh and personal, yet objective.  They should be utilitarian even boring, yet inspirational.  They should open the door just a crack to give a glimpse of what's inside without revealing the contents of the thing.  I can do that, sort of.  The qualities to note objectively include body, color, aroma, oak/steel, tannins/no tannins, flavors on the palate, structure/balance, finish and food affinities.  All of that should be objective, but for the palate-challenged among us, the aromas, flavors, and food affinities may be a problem.  Let's also own up to our personal biases.  Shelf talkers should be affirmative in general; they should sell the product; and they probably should not disagree fundamentally with what most others say about the thing.

Here's the good news on the subject: If you are more of a Scorcese than a Fitzgerald (like most of us), you just may be a budding wine reviewer.  Objectivity is key in the areas that matter; then just a little Fitzgerald window dressing to stimulate curiosity completes the mini-review.  Since I doubt if any readers here are wine retailers, this may be your wine logbook/diary we're talking about.

On Friday the 24th between 5 and 8pm Tommy Basham joins us with a California Wine tasting with high points in Cabernet Sauvignon because I need some good ones in the store at this time!  Please join us.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Jaume Serra Cristolino Brut Rose Cava

The Spanish wine industry just can't get any respect.  Spain has at least as many acres in vineyards as Italy and France but still comes in third in sales behind the other two.  My theory?  France and Italy are just way more familiar to us historically and culturally and that includes American fandom for the food and wine culture specific to each.  Spain remains a distant third in all of these things, hence their wine sales suffer.  If all things were equal and pricing stayed the same, I bet Spain wins the race.

That last line about pricing is actually key to appreciating what Spain brings to the table, so to speak.  Specifically, since we're talking about Spanish sparkling wine here, may I say the twelve dollar Cavas that are so widely distributed in America are, in the main, comparable to similar twenty dollar California wines and certainly heads and shoulders better than sparklers from anywhere else.  They are boldly flavored and dry, which sets them apart from those everso popular easy drinking Proseccos, but breeding shows when compared to new world sparklers.  The Spanish are much classier.

Cristolino Brut Rose is our subject here today and it is without question the best value in sparkling wine...period.  If it were twice its $8.50 retail it would still be a bargain.  How on earth anyone can make a methode champenoise Pinot Noir-based sparkler so inexpensively, is beyond my comprehension.  The charm of this wine lies in its aromas, flavor profile, balance, mouthfeel, finish, and color and bead in the glass.  Basically everything is right about this one.

The Cristolino Rose is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Trepat, an ancient indigenous grape variety.  The wine spends eighteen months on the lees before bottling and fermention using Champagne yeasts.  The resultant wine is a dark orange-tinged pink in color with aromas of spiced red currant and cranberry, strawberry/raspberry, anise, fresh dough, and steely minerality.  On the palate the wine displays even more lively fresh red fruits (pomegranate?) with herbs and spices, finishing moderately long with silky flowery notes.  This wine is complex.

Is this the perfect wine of its kind?  Well, yes and no.  If you are a Francophile when it comes to sparklers, Cristolino is bolder with stronger flavors and it is less dry but the bead is consistent and classy with bubbles that don't attack the nose.  Because of its breadth, one reviewer recommended serving this wine in white wine glasses instead of flutes.  Food pairings would include fresh fruit and salads, appetizers, picnic fare, and light desserts.

Now for the fun part.  In the 1990s Cristolino, which was established in 1943, was sued by Roederer Cristal for copyright infringement.  The case went on for years before Cristolino won...I guess.  The judge ruled that Cristolino had to place a sizeable disclaimer on their label saying they were "not affiliated in any way with Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne".  The irony is inescapable.  In an effort to keep a similar name off an inexpensive Spanish Cava, the great French Champagne company now has a court-enforced name placement right on the front label...and who the heck thought it was affiliated in the first place?

Please join us at our next Friday 5-8pm wine tasting here at the store when Tommy Basham of Georgia Crown Distributing entertains us with a presentation of fine California Wines and become a follower of this blog, for Pete's sake, unless of course, you want to be sued for blog enfringement.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Natural Wine

Lettie Teagues, wine writer for the Wall Street Journal, is my favorite source for blogpost ideas.  I just leaf through her old columns and something she has written clicks with a current theme here or it's a potential new theme that she has already developed for me.  On July 6-7, 2013 she wrote about "The Actual Facts Behind the Rise of Natural Wine", which thematically coinicides with recent posts here and introduces a new term since I have never heard of "natural wine" before now.

As it turns out, natural wine is pretty much what it sounds like.  It is pretty much the opposite of the mass marketed industrial wines that line the grocery store shelves.  But it is at this point that the issue becomes a little clouded.  Teagues cites several authorities in the trade who all define natural wine differently and we begin to see how, with the best of intentions, a rebellion against modern interventions in winemaking can devolve into dissention over trivialities, losing sight of the goal, and just abandoning principle for marketing value.

The trivialities go directly to the meaning of the term, natural wine.  Some in the wine trade would insist the wine must have no additives or chemical adjustments.  Some say no commercial yeasts.  Some say only organically grown grapes may be used.  Some, biodynamic.  Some, vegan (no fining with egg whites).  Some, no added sulphites.  And so on ad nauseam.

When I say this debate loses sight of the goal which is to produce a healthful and good tasting meal accompaniment, I am reminded of our recent post on Michael David wines and the "Lodi Rules".  Those rules enabled grape growers to label their wines "sustainable" by using a composite score covering a number of categories without having to score 100% on everything like the organic growers do.  That 100% costs the consumer an extra 20% at the register.  Moreover according to David Phillips of Michael David, using one specific chemical in the vineyards to target spider mites makes much more sense than the organic treatment which kills more than the targeted one.

Then there is the cynicism of knowing that for some in the trade, words like "natural" on a wine label are really there for their marketing value.  If you take that point of view one step further, it indicates a predatory ideology on the part of the producers to dupe idealistic and naive customers.  Sulfur dioxide added to wine as a preservative of color and flavor against oxidation is the number one enemy of natural wine lovers who believe minimally it can cause headaches in some people.  Conversely however sulfur dioxide is also an effective prophylactic against the side effects of biogenic amines that can occur in wines.

Teagues concludes her article with a quote from William James, "The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook."  If what we really value is a chemical-free product, then natural is for us.  If first and foremost what we want is good tasting wine, we may want to moderate our personal purity rules.

This Friday Allen Rogers of Atlanta Beverage Company returns with a tasting of wines from California portfolio.  Please join us.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Wine Chemistry

My good customer recently brought a September 22, 2014 article to my attention entitled "A Taste of Wine Science: Researchers zero in on flavor molecules, ponder ways to control them during production" by Lauren K. Wolf.  This chemistry magazine article basically falls into two halves as the title says.  The first half being the "zeroing in"; the second, a potential reconstituting of wine once the flavor and aroma molecules have been isolated.

Wine lovers aren't like sausage lovers by the way.  We really don't want to know how the stuff is made...for romantic reasons.  We want to believe wine is "made" in the vineyards with limited human intervention in the winery.  What's more, that winery is small and set in some bucolic hinterland somewhere tucked away from the corrupting influences of the world.  Sausage making involves slaughterhouses and animal parts we would rather not know about being crammed into intestinal skins...FYI.

In actuality science is a part of the modern winemaking process year round, as much in the vineyard as in the winery.  Moreover as a retailer, I can tell you that science and chemistry are affecting the flavor of a wine long after it leaves the winery and enters the marketplace and even as it rests in your home before finding its way to the dinner table, but I guess that's a different blogpost. 

In this article, researchers identify thousands of chemical compounds in Italian Amarone, a commendable choice for a wine guinea pig if I ever tasted one!  Using a mass spectrometer (whatever that is) they identify thirty-five molecules that essentially simulate the taste and feel of real Amarone.  Further they identify approximately the same molecular amount to capture the Amarone aroma.  When other wine types were dissected similarly, those sixty or so molecules worked the same way in each case.  Unique vineyard conditions altered certain concentrations in molecules in grapes but nothing changed essentially.

The article then turned to studies of vineyards growing the same grapes across continents controlling for viticultural practices.  Among their conclusions were that altitude was more important than rainfall and the solution for methoxypyrazine was pruning foliage for more sunlight on the grapes, which is anticlimactic in a way.  Having isolated the sixty or so molecules, I would have thought they could have used their evil scientist dark side to construct some kind of Frankenstein wine which could have been sold to yuppies to turn them into zombies or something.

Actually I have mixed feelings about the article.  Obviously work like this will lead to improvements in winemaking.  On the other hand I think of that Twilight Zone episode set in a futuristic society that was all about conformity.  The plain looking but thoughtful girl was being pressured to undergo that society's change of appearance and personality to be transformed into a beautiful but clueless babe.  I kind of liked the girl the way she was.  If all wines are cleaned up to fit a one-size-fits-all profile, what do we lose in diversity?  Besides I kind of like a little methoxypyrazine in my wine.

Please join us for Friday's 5 to 8pm tasting and also consider being a follower here or I'll take your essential molecules and turn them into play-doh or something. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Michael David Winery

Michael David Winery is really quite a story.  Michael and David Phillips are fifth generation brothers in a six generation family success story with origins in vegetable farming in the 1860s.  Fruit farming would be added in the early twentieth century followed by cattle raising before the Phillips' winery was established in 1984.  During Prohibition boxes of Phillips grapes shipped to homes included written advise on "how to not let the grapes turn into wine".  Implicitly we would think today, it was an admonition to have all preparations in place before the winemaking could begin.

The winery is located in Lodi, California, a place we have covered several times here in the past.  Lodi is at the north end of the Central Valley and was little distinguished from the rest of that long north-south valley thirty years ago.  The advent of the Phillips' winemaking venture coincided with a reappraisal of the region which had always had vineyards since the gold rush days.  Now twenty-five percent of all California varietal grapes are grown in Lodi and they're not going into the grocery store jug wines like they were previously.  Moreover the old vine Zinfandel and Petite Sirah vineyards existant since before the turn of the previous century are treasured for what they bring to today's dinner table.

Michael David Winery follows "Lodi Rules" for ecological sustainability which involves third party inspections with multiple tests which eventuate in a composite score.  This system allows for flexibility for growers so scoring isn't dependent on a high threshold for everything.  The Phillips have some certified organic vineyards with grapes they sell to elite wineries but the costs for growing grapes that way are about twenty percent higher than the Lodi Rules.  David Phillips makes the case that with flexibility, growers can use specific chemicals sparingly in conjunction with beneficial bugs to target pests more efficiently than the broader methods the organic farmers use.

Michael David is a company that is somewhat larger than life and over-the-top when it comes to what they put in and on their bottles of wine.  They market wines with names like Earthquake, Inkblot, Petite Petit, Sixth Sense, Freakshow, Incognito, Rapture; and then there are the "sins" like Lust, Sloth, Gluttony, and their 300,000 case monster, 7 Deadly Zins.  Their reds are husky, concentrated, effusive and high alcohol.  The whites are juicy, off-dry, and accessible.  All are made with very ripe fruit and ample oak.  This year we have done really well with a half dozen labels from them including the Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc which we have stacked on the floor at this time.

So why are we writing about this winery at this time?  In part it has to do with my ongoing psychopathology regarding the place of California wines in the overall scheme of world wines.  The Michael David wines typify what I don't like about California wines yet when I tasted them, I liked most of what I tasted, and in all honesty, that's the way it has always been for me.  Someone who calls himself "The Reverse Wine Snob" on the internet says the stuff is "just fun to drink".  Maybe that's the place of California wines in the scheme of things.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Harlech is a Welsh Cheddar forcefully flavored with horseradish and parsley.  I have sold the cheese for years and have personally enjoyed its fresh, zingy and peppery (even hot) attack especially with cold beer, although "attack" sounds a little harsh since the cheese is actually smooth and creamy.  Reviewers vary when describing the sharpness of the cheddar base which probably means the added flavors mask the essential cheddar taste to the point of confusing the palate.

Harlech is a round disk roughly eight inches in diameter and three inches tall.  It is coated with a thick orange wax, which is a nice color considering the season.  It weighs 2kg or 4.4 pounds.  A large round label covers the top of the cheese with "Harlech Somerdale" appearing in large print.  Somerdale is the leading exporter of British cheeses to the United States and they actually export two hundred fifty cheeses to fifty different countries.  Barbers Cheddar, which we wrote about on September 20th is one of theirs also.  Nowhere on the label does the maker of the cheese appear.  Just for the record, it's Abergavenny Fine Foods of Gwent.

In the middle of the cheese label appears a sizeable soldier carrying a sword and shield which, coupled with his dress and long hair, makes him appear quite medieval.  With just a little research a story begins to unfold about Harlech being a castle in North Wales perched on a cliff overlooking both Snowdonia National Park and the sea.  Harlech Castle is classified as a World Heritage site by UNESCO and "one of the finest examples of 13th and 14th century military architecture in Europe", hence the soldier on the label.

Harlech Castle was commissioned by Edward the king of England and built from local stone by architect Master James of St. George between 1282 and 1289.  Edward was a tall, temperamental and intimidating sovereign who forcefully believed in royal authority and national identity.  Welsh patriots defended their homeland repeatedly against the invading British under Edward over a twenty year period before succumbing to the invaders in 1282.  The castle was to be built as both a fortress and royal palace for the king and a symbol of British permanence in the area.  In 1284 Wales was formally incorporated into England.

In 1301 Edward II was born in the castle and became the first Prince of Wales.  There was an earlier "Prince of Wales" however, one of the Welsh fighters before colonization, and in fact those fighters bore the Harlech name before the construction of the castle, which makes one wonder if the image of the soldier is British and defending the castle or Welsh and defending the homeland.  So is the cheese named after the castle or the Welsh soldiers?

Please join us Friday when Dave Klepinger of Northeast Sales joins us with a tasting of Spanish and South American wines and then on Friday the 10th when Scott Beauchamp of Eagle Rock returns with Italians and California wines. 

Also consider being a follower of this here blog.  Perhaps one day it can all be yours!

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Washington State Wine Country

Three domestic Cabernet Sauvignons, priced in the $15 to $25 range, all produced by large corporate interests, and because I bought a few cases of each, they all recently found their way to the tasting table here at the store.  The happy ending is that all showed well with our assembled tasters and I have no complaints other than the usual beef about vacuous winery websites that are so circumscribed by the aforementioned corporate interests that they actually never tell you anything interesting about the wines. Oh well, I'm just a frustrated muckraker who wants to know stuff that's only of interest to me anyway.

The least expensive of the three Cabs was Skyfall from Columbia Valley, Washington and they actually had the best website, albeit within the proscribed boundaries mentioned above.  Skyfall is owned by Precept Brands based in Seattle, Washington and Precept is one of the largest wine companies in the world.  Their portfolio is multinational but the lion's share comes from Washington State.  Seattle, of course, is on the rainy west coast so it has nothing to do with Washington's real fine wine country, sort of like the way Seattle's star corporate citizen, Starbucks, has nothing to do with the growing of coffee beans.

The Washington State wine country includes 13 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) that seem to cover half of the state's map but the area we are concerned about is a twenty percent vertical rectangle that is along the southern border of the map and just east of the middle of the state.  That area is the Columbia Valley and it encompasses all twelve of the other AVAs and actually descends well into Oregon but that's another post.   The 2012 Skyfall is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, and 5% Syrah all drawn from AVAs within that rectangle; 42% Wahluka Slope, 27% Horse Heaven Hills, 26% Columbia Valley, and 5% Yakima Valley. 

So why does the wine country look like this?  Like other places it has to do with the placement of mountains and rivers.  In this case the vertical ridge to the west of the wine country is called the Cascade Mountains and the convergence of four rivers; the Yakima, Snake, Columbia, and Walla Walla;  lies right in the middle of my imaginary rectangle.  The Cascade Mountains serve to block the rains from the west creating a dry continental climate to the east.  The rivers then moderate valley temperatures and provide the irrigation waters necessary for the vineyards.

At the end of the Ice Age the Missoula Floods deposited gravels, sands, silt, loess, and volcanic dust in the future wine valley.  Today the soil is a sandy loam over basalt, the result of the breakdown of lava.  Washington State has two readily apparent advantages over California.  At their latitude they have two more hours of daylight to ripen grapes and that sandy soil is fortunately the one type that the Phylloxera bug can not stand.  One negative though is the winter freezes that are, as one might expect, quite a bit worse than California's.

This Friday at the weekly store event (5-8pm) we are tasting Cabernet Sauvignons from several locations in the West with the hope of finding wines that uniquely reflect a place of origin.  The consolidation of wineries under banners like Precept has often resulted in wines that are circumscribed to what is believed to be the popular style.  Please join us for the tasting and let's all try to discern difference!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Barbers 1833 Vintage Reserve Cheddar

Well this is interesting.  Barbers is a brand that has been unfamiliar to me for the past twenty-five years or so that I have been in this business...and I'm an English Cheddar fan!  Caerphilly and Wensleydale have been my go-to faves through the years because of that incredible sour edge they have which, by the way, is probably also why they don't sell so well here.  Barbers, which I just tasted for the first time less than an hour ago, is more moderate in the sour department and more mainstream in general than the others mentioned above.  It's aged two years too so it crumbles just right for aficionados of that sort of thing.

Barbers today is a sixth generation family business that was started back in 1833.  If my adding machine is to be trusted, that makes it a hundred eighty-one years old!  What makes that number even more remarkable is that Barbers is the only English Cheddar maker today that still makes cheese using the traditional starter cultures dating back to 1833!  Everyone else went to pre-packaged dry starter kits in the 1980s.  For this reason the European Union has granted them PDO (protected designation of origin) status for "West Country Farmhouse Cheddars" and to ensure that the original cheddar starter cultures are preserved, Barbers built a laboratory on their property to protect them from their obviously threatened extinction.

So why is this so important?  The friendly bacteria strains that originated in the milk of the region a couple of centuries ago were recognized by cheesemakers of that time to be the most important flavoring ingredient a cheese would get.  Dairymen would trade the strains they had with others in the hopes of creating cheese that had a deep, complex, and unique flavor.  Over time and with the help of technology the best strains were isolated and are now the private preserve of the Barbers who now may legitimately claim to market the Cheddar with the most historically traditional character.

The Barber extended family runs Maryland Farm in Ditcheat, Somerdale England, the same venue where they started in 1833.  Today it is a large modern mechanized operation thirteen miles from the village of Cheddar.  Their milk comes from their own 2,000 Holstein Fresian cows fed on their 2,500 acre farmland and from neighboring dairies.  While the operation is very modern, it is still very traditional.  The milk is pasteurized but no growth hormones or antibiotics are given to the cows.  Cheesemakers make hands-on decisions about adjustments in processes from season to season and batch to batch.  Cheddaring, the process of cutting and turning the curds, is also done by hand allowing the experienced cheesemaker to feel the curds in order to make any procedural adjustments at that time.

The Barbers 1833 Vintage Reserve Cheddar is the flagship cheese of the company.  It is creamy and sharp with savory and sweet notes.  Some reviewers get hints of caramel and toffee and nuts and fruit.  It also has the calcium lactate crystals for crunchiness.  Food pairings would include fresh apples and pears and rye bread.  The cheese would also pair with English cider and any of a number of ales, porters, and stouts. 

This Friday the 26th of September between 5 and 8pm, David Rimmer of Lynda Allison Cellar Selections presents new Italian wines from his incredible portfolio.  If you like Italians, don't miss this one.  I also wouldn't mind if you became a follower of this here blog!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc seems to be one of those grapes that yields several different wines depending on the winemaker and vineyard terroir.  In the Loire Valley where it has its finest expression, the wine is noticeably lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon, paler in color, and profiles as floral with pepper, tobacco, raspberry, cassis, violets and dark spices.  Jancis Robinson says basically, Cabernet Sauvignon has it all over Cabernet Franc, especially with body, tannin, alcohol, and color.  That said, she prefers Cabernet Franc for its acidity, finesse, silky texture, and "pencil shavings" aroma.

While those Loire Valley Cabernet Franc charmers are all of that and more, in America we are inundated with our west coast versions of European wines.  My take on domestic Cabernet Franc would be that it's every bit the equal of Cabernet Sauvignon if not moreso with a masculine profile of ripe dark fruits, spices, and the old "violets and tar".  These are wines for roasted red meats.  While I have not tasted Cabernet Franc on a scale comparable to Cabernet Sauvignon, what I have tasted has come from northern California and Washington State, so Syrah may be in there too.

Bob Reynolds is my sales representative for the Atlanta distributor who has just purchased the rights to sell the Durigutti wines of Argentina.  I have sold the Durigutti Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon for years and have them in the store at this time.  I love them for their own dark fruit profiles so I was quite surprised when I asked Bob for his take on the Cabernet Franc which he was trying to place here now.  After a thoughtful pause, he said, "fruity".  We'll taste the wine this weekend at the Friday evening event and see what kind of descriptors others come up with.  The Cab Franc, by the way, is what Bob settled for after I kept turning down the $50 and $100 Duriguttis he raved about and insisted I needed.

I suppose we shouldn't leave this subject without a mention of Bordeaux.  Every one of the five red grapes of Bordeaux is blended with at least some of the others and Cabernet Franc is ranked as the third most important grape there after Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Fifty years ago Cab Franc plantings equalled Cabernet Sauvignon but they declined over the years as much due to Merlot's emergent popularity as anything.  Now Cab Franc is on the upswing again, especially in Pomerol and St. Emilion on the right bank where it's called "Bouchet".  Cab Franc makes up 50% of many of those estate blends and profiles with blackberry, plums, cassis, herbs and spices.  These examples pair well with all lighter red meats and poultry as well as vegetarian fare.

Meritage is the name we have given to American Bordeaux blends with Napa as its epicenter and it's in those wines that I have had most of my exposure to Cabernet Franc.  Considering the distance between Bordeaux and the Loire Valley in France and between Napa and Washington State here, it's at least interesting that the grapes are most often blended in the southern locale and offered up as varietals to the north in both cases.  It's too much of a generalization I suppose, but because Cabernet Franc is an earlier ripening, cooler climate grape, that may shed some light on the reason for this post.  Bob did sell me a case of the Durigutti Cabernet Franc and Mendoza, Argentina is nothing if not a high altitude, cool climate venue so maybe the Friday night opening of Durigutti Cabernet Franc will be...memorable!

Please join us for the event and at least think about becoming a follower here so I don't end up on the streets begging for spare change; or stop in the store, say you read the blog, and have a free peach cider on me (while supplies last)!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

New Zealand Pinot Noir

For some reason I have been ignoring New Zealand Pinots at this little store in exurbanish Atlanta.  I stock plenty of Oregon and California Pinots because that's what the public wants and I stock a few French guys because that's what I want but the New Zealanders kind of fall between the cracks here.  Oh yeah, that's right, they don't sell as well as the others.  I knew there was a reason.  But they should do better because, frankly, they are better than our domestics which I guess just means I'll have to try harder!

Last week we got in Lawson's Dry Hills 2011 Pinot and I loved it for its earthiness but admittedly it's not for everyone because of that very quality.  This week it's the 2012 Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot that passed over our threshhold and after a little bit of internet research, I'm dying to taste it.  Most critics love everything from Villa Maria which is saying a lot because they market an extensive line of wines!  We'll be cracking that one open next Friday at the weekly event.

Both Lawson's and Villa Maria come from Marlborough which is the prime location for winemaking in New Zealand.  What I learned from my research though is that Marlborough is most prime for Sauvignon Blanc, the signature wine of New Zealand.  For Pinot, Marlborough is just one of five appellations that are optimal for the ever so finicky Pinot grape. That said, Marlborough has the most acreage devoted to Pinot Noir.

There are ten wine appellations in New Zealand.  Pinot does best in cool climates and New Zealand is the wine producing country furthest to the south in that southern hemisphere so, of the two New Zealand islands, it's the southern one that has the most and best Pinot Noir.  On the northern island in the bottom western corner lie Martinborough and Wairapa, two of that island's best Pinot producing venues.  At the top of the southern island lie Nelson and Marlborough, to the eastern and western sides respectively, and at the southernmost end of the island lies Central Otago.  So those are the five premier Pinot appellations of New Zealand.

In the next installment we'll further unpack the dirt on New Zealand Pinot Noir and why it is being called the best value worldwide in Pinot Noir and what makes it the only real competition for Burgundy!

Join us for the tasting here next Friday between 5 and 8pm when we'll open that Villa Maria along with a slew of others!  And for gosh sakes, if you love pinot, become a follower of the darn blog!

New Zealand Pinot Noir, Part 2

"God made Cabernet Sauvignon.  The devil made Pinot Noir." - Andre Tschelistcheff

Mr. Tschelistcheff is an A-lister amongst the giants of the American wine industry so what could possibly irk him so about Pinot Noir to evoke that kind of a pronouncement?  Could it be that the darn grape seems to fail to produce anything worthwhile ninety percent of the time?  Actually, in my humble opinion, the percentage should be much higher than that!

In the previous installment we mentioned the cool climate mandatory for the grape's success.  Now lets look at soil.  New Zealand is located on a techtonic fault line in the Pacific Ocean which obviously means the islands were created by volcanic activity.  The soil is a mix of sandstone (Greywhacke, locally) and schist which is a degraded minerally rock that was once clay and mud.  That mix results in a free draining alluvial soil that is common in most vineyard valleys with variations on the many hillsides in New Zealand. 

Martinborough, Waipara, Marlborough, Nelson, and Central Otago are the five major Pinot regions.  They mainly share the same soil and topography but while the maritime climate is common to nine of the ten wine appellations, Central Otago's large wine valley is surrounded by barrier hills giving it a continental climate.  Central Otago is also the place where New Zealand Pinot reaches its lush quality zenith.

Pinot Noir at its best is approachable, refined, and contemplative.  As my mentor Jim Sanders always maintained, Pinot Noir is the only wine that actually improves in the glass.  New Zealand Pinot Noir is fruit-driven, intense, and expressive.  It has old world elegance and structure but because the grapes are left on the vine longer for new world tastes, the wine is rounder and lower in acidity than Burgundy.  Texturally, it seems to be more Syrah-like with the earthiness we spoke of earlier being part and parcel of the product.  But because all New Zealand Pinot Noir is entirely stainless steel-produced, the fruit becomes especially intensified.

So why is good Pinot Noir so difficult to produce?  Aside from the terroir attributes listed above, the grape, itself, is handicapped.  Pinot grapes are small, thin-skinned berries that normally produce a light-in-body, light-in-color, light-in-flavor wine due essentially to the lack of pigment in the skins.  Red wines get their flavor from the skins.  Moreover, this kind of grape is prone to fungal infections, rot, and downy mildew in warmer climates, which by the way, also explains why prices are so high for Pinot.

Please join us Friday the 19th between 5 and 8pm, when we taste 2012 Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir along with a number of other great companion wines.  And become a follower here so I don't end up a greeter at Walmart!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Collio DOC

"Colli" are hills in Italy and in this case they are the hillsides around the town of Gorizea in the very northeasternmost wine appellation, Friuli-Venezia Giulia.  The Collio or Collio Goriziano DOC is a crescent-shaped 1,500 hectare vineyard expanse that hugs the Slovenian border about in the middle of that side of the eastern Italian land border.  To the north are the Italian Alps with Austria not far beyond them and to the south lies the Adriatic Sea.  Italy has owned this territory since the end of World War I in 1918.

The region has an ethnically rich populous composed of Latin, German, and Slavic cultures supported by an economy largely driven by farming, both grapes and vegetables, along with chemical, paper,and textile industries as part of the mix.  Cultural features and resorts are, of course, di rigueur there as in most any part of Italy.  If the region has one component which it can set out as its calling card though, it would be the wine industry which produces aromatically complex whites displaying a purity of fruit superior by most anyone's standards.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia received its DOC in 1968 and became known for Tocai Friulano, a fruity dry white which still reigns among the best of the region but now shares its status with a couple other DOCG wines and nine other DOCs within the Friuli borders.  Like everywhere else, the native grape varieties have ceded vineyard space to the commercially viable international varieties.  Collio is the fourth largest DOC in Friuli with vineyards located entirely on hillsides and it is this ideally unique terroir, particularly the climate and soil, that enables the delightful wines described above to come into fruition.

The alluvial soil of the region is called ponca and it's made up of calcareous marl, flysch sandstone, and microelements including fossils from its seabed origins fifty million years ago.  The climate is Mediterranean but uniquely so with the Alps providing both a barrier against the cold northern winds and allowing the warm moist air currents from the Adriatic Sea to become trapped there making  Collio one of the wettest of wine production regions.  Because we're talking about hillside vineyards though, much of the cloud cover and precipitation lies below the vineyards which, along with the warm sea breezes, serves to reduce any fungal damage to the vines.  The diurnal effect of drastic day/night temperature shifts also works in this terroir to intensify grape phenolics.  

Last night we tasted one of my favorite whites, Attems Pinot Grigio, an IGT out of Venezia Giulia.  The current vintage is 2013 and while the Attems estate is located in Collio and the label used to wear that appellation, it is now imported by Folio Fine Wine Partners and the Michael Mondavi Family of Napa, California.  As these things go, now the vineyard sourcing has been expanded with the resultant flavor profile being less intensified and somewhat more commercialized.  That said, the wine is still plenty good and the assembled tasting crowd received it well.  The Attems profiled with flavors of apricot and honeydew melon in a lean and clean format that would definitely lend itself to seafood of all stripes.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Santa Maria Valley

This coming Friday between 5 and 8pm Scott Beauchamp of Eagle Rock Distributing will be pouring the wines of J. Wilkes Winery here at the store.  These are very impressive new wines to the Atlanta market that bowled me over a couple weeks ago when I tasted them.  One week ago something similar happened when we opened a 2008 Bianchi Winery Pinot Noir here.  The assembled group for that event collectively gushed with the first sip from that deep bowl of spiced mixed fruit.  Now thinking back, I remember a Kenneth Volk Pinot Noir that was, frankly, the best wine I tasted at a hotel ballroom trade show several years ago.  The common ingredient in all of these?  The source of the fruit, Santa Maria Valley, California.

Now, I'm no babe in the woods here with regard to either the California wine industry or the Pinot Noir grape.  With thirty-five years in the business, I have made my mind up as to who produces good wine and who, shall we say, makes what the public wants.  That sounds a little unfair but as a recovering francophile when it comes to Pinot Noir, I've got to admit California can turn out a pretty good product.

That Kenneth Volk wine from several years past was maybe the best California Pinot I have ever tasted, but it also came with a fifty dollar price tag and that may be pushing my value limit.  The Bianchi was one that select customers had been telling me was good before I finally broke down and tried it.  The 2008 vintage had just been closed-out by the distributor so the next day I ordered the last five cases they had!  The J. Wilkes wines number three; Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir; and I believe I actually preferred the whites to the Pinot but all three were exemplary and as good as any comparable wines in this little store.  To show you I'm human, the J. Wilkes label features a hand-drawn leaf on it that so entranced me it may have been part of the wine's appeal for me!

So is there magic in Santa Maria Valley?  Well yes, Virginia, there is.  It's called the transverse valley that runs east-west funneling cool maritime winds from the Pacific Ocean into the valley.  The Santa Maria Valley AVA is at the very northernmost part of Santa Barbara County including a little bit of San Luis Obispo and the E-W trough enables a longer cooler growing season there than anywhere else in southern California.  On the Winkler Scale or "heat summation method", Santa Maria Valley is a Region I (out of five) which is the coolest average grape growing region there is!  The valley also features the well-drained sandy, clayey loam soil grapevines love along with foothill vineyards at 200-800 foot elevations.  With a terroir like that Santa Maria Valley vineyards produce grapes which show great color and aromatics, lively complex fruit, and balanced acid.

Santa Maria Valley was first planted in grapes under Spanish rule in the 1830s.  In the 1960s it was discovered by commercial wine grape growers like the Miller family who in 2001 established the J. Wilkes Winery.  While there are thirty wineries in Santa Maria Valley, there are growers like the Millers who sell to the Bianchis and Volks and market their own production under several labels.  Please join us Friday for the tasting because, if you think about it, if they planted their vineyards in the 1960's and have been selling their grapes to others for decades, wouldn't they know just where to go for the fruit they want for their own label?

Hey you reading this thing, become a follower here so I'll feel important!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Chenin Blanc

Man, I'm really bottom feeding now.  Chenin Blanc.  What could be more ordinary than that!

Being a prolific grapevine, Chenin Blanc often ends up as overproduced bulk wine in most new (and old) world venues.  It's claim to fame in the standard white wine blend is the acidity it contributes to the finished product.  With no special winemaking treatment, the wine itself is left quite bland with no distinction, no footprint reflecting a beneficial vintage or terroir.

This kind of Chenin Blanc thrives in the Central Valley of California and ends up in jugs named after classic European white wines.  Lodi is a California wine appellation that used to produce just that kind of wine thirty years ago but has now evolved into a fine producer of Chenin Blanc.  In general, Lodi has become the Languedoc of California with 20% of all varietal wines being sourced from there and not just as estate bottled Lodi brands.  Prestigious wineries from Napa and elsewhere source premium Chenin from Lodi for their proprietary blends.

South Africa's claim to fame in white wine has always been Chenin Blanc or Steen as it is called there.  Steen may go back to the 1600s in South Africa and is today the most widely planted grape in the country representing 20% of all plantings there.  South African Chenin Blanc vineyard acreage is twice as large as that of France.  While South African Chenin Blanc shares the common dry and off-dry styles with California, South African Chenin is usually superior to the California example.   

In its finest expression found in Vouvray of the Loire Valley in northern France, Chenin Blanc may be made dry, off-dry, sweet, very sweet, and even sparkling.  In cooler climates like Loire its sweet fruit predominates along with its acidity and full body and most Vouvrays show it all in an off-dry style.  Ampelographers have determined that Chenin Blanc originated in the Loire Valley but not in Vouvray but rather two doors down in Anjou.  Today Anjou stands as the finest example of the dry style of Chenin Blanc.  If Vouvray shows a profile of floral honey, nuts, ginger, and fig; the Anjou would be quince and apple.

So why are we writing about Chenin Blanc here today?  Well because it was to be our feature for the Thursday Wine 101 class here at the store.  That had to be changed when I was presented with a package deal on New Zealand wines which had to take precedence.  Since I had already done this research, well, you know...

Three final points though before ending this thing:

1.  The late-harvest Chenin Blancs of Vouvray are among the finest dessert wines in the world and a must-taste for aficianados with pockets deep enough to afford them.

2.  I started out by disparaging Chenin Blanc as a bulk wine blending grape and that, you now know, is misleading.  The redemption for Chenin Blanc, like Pinot Noir in Burgundy, lies in its raison d'etre in the terroir of Vouvray.  Pinot Noir achieves its noble bonafides in Burgundy; Chenin Blanc, likewise in Vouvray

3.  This from a New York Times article: Vouvray's style versatility is possible because its acidity acts for wine structure like a fashion models bones make her frame the ideal structure for modeling different dresses.  (Or something like that.)

This Thursday at the 7pm Wine 101 class we will be tasting four from Lawson's Dry Hills of New Zealand and two Italian sweet reds.  On Friday David Rimmer of Lynda Allison Cellar Selection will be offering up examples of his newly arrived French wines and then next Friday Scott Beauchamp of Eagle Rocks offers us tastes of several new high end California varietals.

Saturday, August 23, 2014


Back in 1976 I didn't know squat about wine.  I don't even want to mention brand names that I thought were good back then.  But I remember a certain charm that I felt the more unpretentious California country wines had and that's what I got in touch with a couple weeks ago when one of my vendors brought by an open bottle of Clayhouse Adobe Red.  That charm, by the way, wasn't always positive, critically speaking.  Some of those field blends back in the day were unstructured, muddy, and flabby but others had some structure and character, albeit rough, but because of my modest financial means, they worked just fine for my purposes.  The Adobe Red we tasted here this weekend was a little lighter than the seventies wines I recall but tasted like a thoughtful, finer update of what came before.

Clayhouse markets a dozen wines sorted between three quality levels.  At their website the Estate Series is priced in the $20-40 range; the Vineyard Series and Adobe Series are both advertised at $15/btl.  The Estate wines are sourced from specific locations in their Paso Robles Red Cedar Vineyard.  The Vineyard wines also come from Red Cedar but utilize varying blends for a consistent year to year flavor profile.  The Adobes are made from grapes purchased from Central Coast grape growers.  On Friday we tasted the 2011 Vineyard Malbec (95% Malbec, 5% Petite Sirah), the 2012 Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petite Verdot, with 3% Malbec/Merlot), and the 2011 Adobe Red which is a blend primarily of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Cabernet Sauvignon along with four other types.

Paso Robles is the largest AVA (American Viticultural Area) in the Central Coast, itself the largest AVA in California.  Twice enlarged to about 617,000 acres today, Paso Robles hosts two hundred wineries with 32,000 acres currently in vines.  Forty different grape varieties are grown there.  Two factors always seem to exist in the history of any wine production region: The first vines were planted by monks, in this case the Franciscan Friars of the Ascension in 1790, and the climate features the diurnal shift of warm days and cool nights which always optimizes fruit quality.

On March 4, 2013 we wrote about Paso Robles and the ideal vineyard soil the region can now claim from a turbulent geological history over epochs of dramatic change.  The net result is a soil that is rich in minerals with enviable drainage from its constituent fissile shale and degraded granite, volcanic rock, and marine sedimentation.  According to one Paso Robles vintner, "This soil naturally restricts yields while promoting firm structure and pure fruit expression in wine."  For a guy who waxes romantic about field blend reds from decades ago, what more could you want?

This coming Thursday at the 7pm Wine 101 class, we'll tackle Chenin Blanc and white blends along with sweeter red wines.  On Friday, it's David Hobbs of Prime Wine & Spirits with a showing of California wines and on the 5th of September, Scott Beauchamp of Eagle Rock joins us for more of their great Europeans.  Please join us.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Casas Del Bosque and the Casablanca Valley

Established in 1993, "The Houses of the Forest" winery was the project of Juan Cuneo Solari, son of Italian immigrants to Chile.  The 232 hectare estate lies in the Casablanca Valley seventy miles northwest of the capital, Santiago, and a mere thirty minutes from Valparaiso, one of the major Pacific ports of the country.  On that property the Solari family grows Chardonnay, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc and more recently, Syrah and Pinot Noir.  The cool and dry Casablanca Valley, itself, has been largely developed as a wine appellation only since the 1990s.

The Chilean wine industry really began in the late nineteenth century in the warmer Central Valley of Chile where Bosque sources their Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere grapes.  If the entire length of the ribbon of a country that Chile is is sixteen thousand kilometers, the wine industry is the four thousand kilometer belt that begins a third of the way down.  Until recent times the appellation system of Chile was viewed vertically north to south.  Expansion is now moving eastward and westward.  Proprietors of eastern foothill vineyards are recognizing the value of the winds from the Andes and the ocean breezes in the west are causing wine professionals in the coastal flatlands to reassess that value for wine quality.

On January 31st of 2013 we blogged about Augustin Huneeus, one of the contemporary wine giants of our time.  In 1960 he bought a struggling jug wine company and following just a few insightful improvements he developed Concha y Toro into the top wine company of Chile.  Today it is one of the top ten wineries worldwide. This week we brought in Bosque's Maipo Valley Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, a worthy descendent of what Huneeus started fifty years ago.  Like all Bosque wines the superior Cabernet grapes are hand-harvested for quality following the long hot Mediterranean climate growing season.  Between the climate, alluvial soils, and Andes breezes the Cabernet exhibits structure, concentrated flavors of black currant and raspberry, and firm tannins.

Along with the Cabernet we also brought in the Casablanca Valley Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc which, as good as the Cabernet is, the Sauvignon Blanc is even better.  For as much acclaim as Loire Valley and New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs get, Bosque may have the best of all.  We have already said here that the primary characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc are citrus fruit flavors, minerality, grassiness, and the floral dimension.  Along with its piercing lemon and pear fruit flavors, Bosque adds an indelible herbal accent.  This example of my favorite white varietal may be the best I have tasted and it also has that attractive Chilean pricing.

History has always been a love here at the blogspot and what we have attempted in this post is to show how considerably things can change in a relatively short amount of time.  New global investment money continues to flow into Chile making the wine industry a player worldwide.  If there is a drawback to the industry, it is the scarcity of rainfall there.  Drip irrigation from wells serves to minimally alleviate the dearth of rainfall and if the wines end up with exceptionally concentrated flavors from water-stressed vines, well, that isn't necessarily the worst situation.

Join us on Thursday at 7pm for the Wine 101 class as we taste the Bosque wines along with others of like quality and if you can't make it Thursday, come by after 5pm on Friday as we repeat the same tasting for that crowd.  We actually have a perfect storm of high quality wines coming together for those two events.  Please join us.

On Friday the 29th David Hobbes of Prime Wines joins us for a tasting of new Greek Wines.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Discount Racks, Closeout Lists, Noble Wines, and Adiaphora

(thoughts at large about disjointed stuff that's somehow connected in my understanding of things)

I have now concluded that my discount racks are clearly not a gamble for my more adventurous shoppers.  I can say that after tasting a dozen or so wines from over there with little in the way of disappointment in any of them.  The reds that end up there are usually little known Europeans that are always better than comparably priced domestic wines.  The whites are older vintages that may be losing their fruit and just need to be drunk.  The 20% that is taken off those purchases at the register makes the whites a fair deal and the reds a ridiculous deal for anyone who dares to venture there.  Also, like any other wine in the place, if you hold it up and ask me, I will always tell the truth as to the quality if I can.

Recently two of my vendors presented me with lists of closeout wines.  I trust both of these fellows to shoot straight with me on such things because of our a long working history.  As it turns out both of these guys weren't so proud of what was being offered on their respective lists, but for different reasons.  After I noticed his discounts didn't add up to much, one vendor admitted his list was a pretender.  Often such lists sneak in regularly priced wines under the guise of being a deal.  This list was entirely just a dollar or so off regular prices so I bought a few niche bottles but let the rest go.

The other vendor always has a serious list but the quality is often suspect.  Most retailers see red flags and stay away from such lists because no one wants to get hung with bad wines.  But I learned something from this fellow.  He told me that one reason for the number of clunkers on the list is because salesmen like himself often don't even look at the list because of questions of quality and the number of clunkers on the list just increases as a result of that neglect.  The "minefield" that results can be navigated to reach some real bargains, but the prevailing wisdom says, "Don't go there."

Adiaphora is a term in Christian theology for things that are not essential to the faith or "matters of indifference".   Religions are known for contructing walls for conformity to ideas and behaviors promoted by the faith.  Adiaphora recognizes that some of these walls just aren't that important and perhaps may be ignored.  So when I got into the wine business back in the late seventies, the prevailing construct held that there were noble wine grapes capable of making superior wines and then there were all of the others (adiaphora) which, in the right conditions, may make good wine but never up to the level of the noble types.

Now it seems like the whole "noble wine" construct is adiaphora as shown by the great wines made in specific venues using otherwise pedestrian grapes.  Chenin Blanc in the Loire Valley.  Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough.  Malbec in Argentina.  Merlot and Syrah in Washington State.  And on down the line.  Pinot Noir was seen as noble back in the day but what really is the difference between Pinot in Burgundy and Chenin in Loire when both are ordinary everywhere else?

Join us this Thursday the 14th for a tasting of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at 7pm here at the store and then at the weekly event on Friday at 5pm Dave Klepinger presents the California wines of Aviary Vineyards and Bread & Butter.  On the 29th of the month David Hobbes returns with a tasting of Greek wines.

Saturday, August 9, 2014


It's always a dilemma when that thing you love so much is priced beyond what is reasonable for you to pay.  Der Scharffe Maxx is an amazing Swiss cheese that unfortunately has no pricing wiggle room and must be a $25/lb retail, any way you slice it (so to speak).  Bergenuss Swiss, on the other hand, is the new alternative on the cheese scene and it excites me to no end.  I can accept $25 and even $30/lb cheeses but it sure is nice to find comparable quality like Bergenuss for just $20/lb.

Berggenuss (literally-mountain treat) is a recent creation of Franz Renggli of Oberberg Mountain Dairy in the village of Entlebuch, Switzerland.  The dairy is an organic operation in Entlebuch which is itself an ecologically protected environment under the aegis of UNESCO.  The cheese is a raw cow milk creation sourced from fifteen dairies around the village located at 2,700 feet altitude and  cheesemakers will always credit the high altitude vegetation for their resultant unique cheese flavors.

Berggenuss is a nine pound wheel measuring ten inches across and three inches deep with defined corners as if punched out of a mold disk-style.  It has an orangish-tan colored naturally thin rind with a semi-hard light golden yellow paste interior puntuated with just a few random holes and cassein crystals.  Berggenuss also has a beautiful Alpine label with green trees in front of white mountains and lots of blue sky behind them.  This is just the second time I have ordered Berggenuss but as soon as I unwrapped it that label let me know this purchase was going to be just fine.

So what excites me so about this cheese?  Well I mentioned Der Scharffe Maxx at the beginning and that is a cheese I have flippantly called "the best cheese I have ever sold".  This one is very similar to Maxx.  They are both heat treated (but not pasteurized), smear-ripened, high altitude cheeses.  What does that mean?  In short, they stink.  Not a lot, just enough to whet your appetite with grand expectations of things to come, like when you near an old favorite haunt and smell the memories of long ago.

To be more precise, these aromatic cheeses are slightly spicy, slightly sharp, and slightly barnyardy with more specific aromas of aged beef, grass, toasted walnuts, and garlic.  Am I communicating now?  It's complexity I'm talking about here.  And the best part is that the cheese taste is still mellow, even silky, with all of the attributes listed above in contained quarters and not running wild, although I have read that if aged further than the normal six months, the cheese flavors are much more pronounced.

I would pair a light red wine like Barbera or Pinot Noir with Berggenuss although complexity in food flavors always opens new avenues for exploration.   Maybe the safest bet would be a rich malty ale!

On Thursday at 7pm at our weekly class we'll take a look at Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the noble grapes of Burgundy, France.  On Friday the 15th, David Klepinger of Northeast Sales joins us for a tasting of new Califonia wines in the marketplace.  Please join us for those tastings.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Dozen White Wines, Part I

In a ten day span beginning last Thursday July 31st, we will have tasted a dozen white wines here at the store between our Thursday night class and the Friday weekly event.  That's a lot of tasting.  Let's sort them out by grape type, starting with the really light dry ones.

Masciarelli Trebbiano d'Abruzzo

The prolific Trebbiano vine is not especially obscure, it's just not really well known by name. In France it is called Ugni Blanc and is primarily distilled into brandy.  In other venues it is really just filler in a given region's standard white blend, consequently when tastes change and another variety rises in popularity, Trebbiano often is the vine to be uprooted in favor of the newest fave.

The name Trebbiano comes from the root, trebula, which means cottage, leading one to believe the vineyards in earlier times were a "cottage" industry, which would explain why there are a hundred different names across Europe for Trebbiano.  Also if you think of Italians the way I do, that so many of them seem so similar, fully a third of Italian white wines share common DNA with Trebbiano.  In short, Trebbiano is a blue collar grape that has its best example in Umbrian Orvieto but also does quite well in Abruzzo.

Domaine de la Vinconniere Muscadet

The grape type here is Melon de Bourgogne and like Trebbiano it's a volume producer.  Muscadet is sourced from four districts just south of Nantes at the Loire River estuary fifty-five miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean in northern France.  It is the largest volume wine from the vast Loire region.  Muscadet is an acidic white wine made from grapes grown in chalky soils which are not harvested until fully ripe and even then don't yield a very flavorful wine.  The wine is a minerally apple/citrus slightly salinated shellfish wine which acquires some creaminess from its "sur lie" winemaking process.

Nardone Falanghina and Greco

Falanghina and Greco are related grapes from ancient origins.  Both of these light dry whites show their best in the Mediterranean climate of coastal Campania, Italy.  Falanghina features citrus blossom aromas and apple/pear on the palate with notes of spicy minerality.  Greco (Greek) is somewhat darker in color with peach and green foliage aromas.  Very similar in flavor to Falanghina, Greco is the later maturing grape making it slightly rounder in body and flavor in the mouth.  Both wines are originally Greek in origin and, of course, love seafood.

Terra d'Alter Alvarinho

Alvarinho is the Portuguese version of Albarino, arguably the finest white wine of Spain.  This light dry white is also seafood wine like those above but this time its more substantial body pairs better with the seafood soups and stews of the region.  Like Muscadet, Alvarinho is acidic with clean rich ripe fruit flavors which may include peach, apricot, lemon, lychee, passion fruit, and orange blossom and zest. Styles and consequent complexity vary widely with this wine.  It may be made in steel tanks with carbon dioxide for a light slightly bubbly style or in oak for a heavier style.

Please join us on Thursday at 7pm for our Wine 101 class on Argentine wines.  Then come back on Friday after 5pm for Taylor Moore of Eagle Rock as he presents Falanghina and Greco amongst other new Italians in the Atlanta market.  On Friday August 8th Dave Klepinger of Noreast Sales presents new California wines for our consideration.

If you like what we're doing here, become a follower of this blog and get a free cookie next time you come into the store!

A Dozen White Wines, Part II

Il Falchetto Arneis

Arneis means "little rascal" and the grape earns its moniker due to its agricultural difficulties in the vineyard.  The wine flavor profile is peaches, pears, and apricots, with almonds and hazelnuts.  It is a crisp and floral, perfumy medium-bodied dry white wine.  Arneis hails from the Piedmont, the finest wine production region of Italy, lying in the northeastern corner of the country.  Since Nebbiolo is the crown jewel of the region, Arneis has historically been forced into a supporting role there.  At times it has been blended into the great wine to lighten that massive red and at other times it has been planted in those vineyards just for the purpose of attracting birds to the larger Arneis grapes and away from the Nebbiolo.

Castelo di Papa Godello

Sourced from Galicia in northwestern Spain, the Godello grape is a versatile and neutrally flavored grape like others on the list but in this case more comparable to Chardonnay, making oak aging an appropriate option.  Godello is fresh clean and minerally with apricot and other ripe and savoury stonefruit flavors.  It has a soft inviting texture in the mouth.  Godello is the same grape as Verdelho and is very popular at this time under either name.  Our "Papa" version saw no time in oak making it yet another exemplary seafood accompaniment.

Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad

This sparkling cava is 67% Macabeo and 33% Parellada sourced from Penedes outside of Barcelona.  The sparkling wine giant, Frexienet now owns Segura Viudas and Heredad is the "tete de cuvee" from this 11th century estate.  The wine is a gold-tinged color with aromas of light smoke and toasty biscuit. Flavors include honey, apple, citrus, dried fruit,and flower petals.  Minerality and yeast permeate the heavy (for a cava) body of the wine.  The wine finishes with noticeable pepper.

Heredad is a full-flavored fruit bomb that complements creamy pasta and roast chicken.

Riondo Soave
Ventisquero Queulat Sauvignon Blanc
Le Lapin and Deep Sea California Chardonnay

We have written about Prosecco, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay so many times here already, I think we can move on.

Gougenheim Torrontes

Torrontes is a neat story even if its Argentine pedigree has now been disproven.  Once thought to be indigenous, through DNA spadework we now know it has descended from the Mission variety crossed with Muscat of Alexandria.  Torrontes is becoming increasingly popular worldwide but is still, by default, Argentina's own since it is planted nowhere else.

Torrontes is as perfumy as any wine on the market and is most reminicent of Muscat and Gewurztraminer. In the nose the floral character of the wine abounds with roses, jasmine, and geraniums.  The color is light yellow with green and golden hues.  On the palate the wine is an unabashed honeyed fruit salad with, once again, peaches and apricots predominating.  It's good acidity and smooth texture make it a natural for Asian cuisine.

There are three varieties of Torrontes in Argentina with Torrontes Riojana being the preferred type.  Gougenheim gets theirs from high altitude vineyards in Mendoza.

Il Falchetto Tenuta Del Fant Moscato d'Asti 

Moscato, the oldest wine grape of Piedmont, is sourced from a thirty mile area in Montferrat in the province of Asti in the cool northwestern part of Piedmont.  The grape gets its name from the earthy "musky" aromas which accompany its floral and fruity bouquet.  Its flavor profile is peaches and apricots (yet again) along with the fresh grape juice flavors that come with a 5.5% alcohol wine.  While Moscato may be made in a dry style, historically the current sweet style has always been popular.  The pronounced bubbly "frizzante" style has been popular since the nineteenth century and is accomplished today using pressurized steel fermentation tanks.  Incredibly, Moscato sales continue to grow by 10-15% annually and the wine is both served with dessert and as a sweet cocktail.

Please join us for a tasting of three differently styled Torrontes on Thursday evening at the 7pm class and then join us on Friday after 5pm for the Falanghina and Greco experience.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


We have written about Merlot often here at the blogspot beginning three years ago on July 14th of 2011.  Just like last week's Grenache post, this one is a refresher for me before tonight's class on the subject.  So here's a thumbnail sketch of Merlot.

Origins: There appears to be nothing definitive here so Bordeaux may be the default birthplace of Merlot just as we learned about Sauvignon Blanc a couple weeks ago.  The first written Merlot reference was in Bordeaux in 1784.  Ampelographers in modern times using DNA tools have determined the grape to be the offspring of Cabernet Franc and a little known ornamental grapevine from Britton, France.  Some Merlot DNA is shared with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Carmenere, which just makes finding origins even more difficult.

History: Merlot has always been a blending grape in Bordeaux and elsewhere although at different times in recorded history it has been more highly regarded than at other times.  Within Bordeaux that highly regarded Merlot has always been in the Gironde River right bank vineyards.  Merlot is not noteworthy in Spain but has performed well historically in Friuli, Italy and in recent times, Tuscany.  Because of its current popularity, Merlot is planted everywhere around the world but notably, France probably has two thirds of the world's plantings!

Popularity:  Merlot plantings are increasing everywhere but it hasn't always been a smooth ride.  The huge American wine market often dictates production everywhere and in the 1980's when our culture was first embracing these things, Merlot was the soft red wine to which wine newbies gravitated.  In the early '90s the 60 Minutes "French Paradox" program, which asserted health benefits related to red wine consumption, further accelerated Merlot sales.  Then in 2004 the film, "Sideways", adversely impacted Merlot sales by touting Pinot Noir at Merlot's expense.

Name:  Merlot is a large, thin-skinned, dark blue, loosely bunched grape that possibly acquired its name from the similarly colored "Merle" French blackbird which feeds on the grape in vineyards.  In the local Occitan dialect the bird is pronounced "merlau".  Merlot's popularity everywhere has always been speculated to be related to its easy pronounciation.

Profile/Food Affinity:  Merlot does better in cooler venues than warmer ones.  In warmer climes the flavor profile is a simple strawberry/raspberry; in cooler venues it becomes more complex with plum and dark fruits.  The lighter version would be Pinot Noir-like as a lighter meal complement while the more complex version would be a steak wine.

The Blend:  Historically Merlot works with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.  Merlot is viewed as an "insurance policy" since it ripens earlier than other grapes, staggering winery demands, and being available in case another type disappoints.  Merlot always softens other types in a blend and contributes texture (fleshiness) as much as flavor. 

Chateau Petrus:  This is the most expensive wine in the world at $2,000/btl and is usually 90% Merlot with Cabernet Franc making up most of the rest of the blend.  The property is located in Pomerol which is on the right bank of the Gironde River in Bordeaux.

Old World/New World: All Bordeaux red wines feature Merlot grapes that are harvested earlier for a higher acid food-friendliness.  The new world Merlots harvest late for ripe fruit flavors.  Old world is no more than medium bodied and moderate in alcohol, showing some vegetal notes in the profile along with fresh restrained raspberry/strawberry fruit flavors.  New world or "International style" is ripe fruit, inky purple color, full bodied, high alcohol, plum and blackberry accented, with lush velvety tannins.

Please  join us Thursday for the class and then come back Friday when Liz Diehl of Georgia Crown offers tastes of the historic wines of Chalone Vineyards of California and fine examples of Argentine Malbec.