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.