Sunday, August 11, 2019

White Wines & Seafood

Last summer was all about roses here at ol' V&C.  This summer whites are back on top and in particular it's the light dry Euro whites that everyone wants.  Seafood wine.  If you're an Italian Pinot Grigio lover, you know what I'm talking about.  Just take a look at a map of Italy and see if their pinot might not be meant for seafood!

This week alone we have brought in Italian Pecarino, Vermentino, Arneis, and Pinot Grigio  (of course); Spanish Albarino; and French white Loires, Bordeaux, Burgundies and sparklers.  None of these purchases was gratuitous, by the way.  All were brought in just to keep up with demand!

Just in case you thought we were short changing the new world, we also brought in a case of Lodi's award-winning Sand Point Sauvignon Blanc and a stack of last week's tasting winner, Manu New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  Here's another map quiz: Do you think the New Zealand wine industry perhaps has seafood in mind?

Speaking of seafood (which is what this post is about after all), did you ever consider all of the types and applications?  Crustaceans.  Mollusks.  Fish.  Sushi, any one?  Blackened fish on the backyard grill?  Broiled on the stove?  How about deep-fried, cured, smoked, tinned or fermented?  Or seafood in sauces, soups, stews or pasta?  Maybe limiting our white wine considerations to light and dry alone doesn't begin to cover the expansive seafood repertoire.

Herbs and spices of course matter when choosing your seafood wine partner.  Sauces and the other adventurous styles even more so.  In short if your meal is simple your white wine should be likewise.  Pinot Grigio would be fine or the new Nora Albarino would work perfectly.  Got spices in the works?  How about a white Rhone or the new Sardinian Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino.  Then with the sauces et al?  Alsatian Gewurztraminer or the Wakefield Clare Valley Australian Dry Riesling.

And it it's California wine you like I'm sure the Sand Point would be fine!

Please join us this Thursday after 5pm when Dominique Chambon presents a tasting of Domaine Jacky Marteau Cremant de Loire, Domaine du Prieure Chenas and Bourgogne Pinot Noir, and Domaine Saint Andeol red Cotes du Rhone.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Polyester Wines

Great title, eh?  Polyester Wines.  I stole it.  Back in late 2013 the WSJ ran a book review by Robert Draper of Edward Humes' A Man and his Mountain.  Polyester Wines was his title for that review.  Humes' work was a biography of Jess Stonestreet Jackson, founder of Kendall-Jackson Winery.  This post is about the review.

Do you like bad movies?  Probably not.  So you read a review of the flick before wasting your time if it's available on TV or worse yet, if you have to lay down money at the theatre.  Sometimes those reviews can be worthwhile entertainment in themselves.  If the critic is a Siskel or Ebert they can easily be better than the movie.  That's what we have here.  In this review Draper is even better than Siskel-Ebert.

Draper is a wine guy, by the way, which gives him creedence and leeway to savage Humes and his paean to Jackson.  He does such a great job you have to believe he must be a natural polemicist at heart.  Draper goes so far as to challenge whether Humes (or Jackson) even drink wine!

Did I mention that Draper is a wine guy?  He writes wine columns for the WSJ in tandem with Lettie Teague so this book review comes from someone who knows what he's talking about.  Draper's cynicism for the mass-marketers of California wine on display here is most appropriate and even refreshing.

Kendall-Jackson is to Chardonnay what Sutter Home is to White Zinfandel.  Both companies claim a "stuck fermentation" led them to create their sweeter style of varietal wine.  Both companies effectively killed their competition organically; they gave Americans what they wanted - sweeter wines.  The difference between the two is that Sutter Home created something new that took off as a light sweet rose style.  The dry rose category destruction that followed was just collateral damage.  Jackson took the historic Chardonnay category, distorted it and then lectured Americans that it was the terroir that made his wines taste the way they did.

So it wasn't the Muscat or Gewurztraminer he blended into his Chardonnay after all that made that magical taste.  I guess it wasn't the oak or residual sugar he left in either.  It was the terroir all the time.  I'll be darned.

Draper not only has nothing for Mr. Jackson, he has less than nothing for Humes whom he ridicules for his glorification of Jackson.  For Draper, Jackson is a blood thirsty capitalist who purchased wine country real estate with abandon when he discovered his business was a potential goldmine and became a billionaire as a result.  Humes describes wine making as "something ancient, unique, mystical and profound" and Jackson as "a man who set out to teach America to love good American wine."  Geez!

There is nothing wrong with prospering from your labors in the wine industry - or anything else for that matter.  Investing in vineyards and wineries is a huge gamble.  It is hard work that at the end of the day, may be for nothing.  If you can do well at it, that's to your credit.  So if you're recounting history why not keep it real.

Please join us this Thursday at 5pm when Rob Dye offers us a tasting from his portfolio.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Taxes and Tariffs

All of the following is taken from two articles published by Reuters July 26, 2019.

We woke up Saturday morning to learn President Trump was threatening tariffs on French wine and spirits imported into this country.  Apparently, the day before, President Macron had announced a 3% tax on the revenue our largest technology companies generate in France.  So just like in The Godfather, "They hit one of ours so we hit one of theirs."

France's proposed tax would be retroactive to the beginning of this year and would apply to those tech companies with revenue of twenty-five million euro annually in France ($278 million) and seven hundred fifty million dollars worldwide.  So the tax is only on the very largest of tech companies.  Austria, Italy, Spain and Britain have also announced plans for their own similar taxes in their countries.  Macron has said the tax would be lifted if the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) or similar international entity could arrive at a universal technology tax.

Next month two important meetings on the issue will take place.  On the 19th the United States Trade Representative office will hold a hearing on revenue taxes and their deviance from normal taxing policy.  Revenue taxes are "extraterritorial," revenue-targeted and not income taxes, and they punish commercial success.  Then on August 24-26 the G7 meets to discuss the idea of a universal tax on digital activities.

But there is more...EU director general for trade, Sabine Weyand, says she fully expects Trump to implement the tariffs as an extension of the fifteen year long Airbus subsidy complaint we have in defense of The Boeing Company.

The French alcoholic beverage industry is the second largest in the country after aerospace.  The United States is the largest importer of French wines and spirits in the world with a quarter of all French exports amounting to 3.2 billion euro or 3.6 billion dollars.

Please join us this after 5pm Thursday, the first of August, when Adam Bess leads us in a tasting of Manu New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Testamento Argentine Rose, Chateau du Duc Red Bordeaux and Scherrer Russian River Syrah.

Monday, July 22, 2019


"Contains Sulfites."  It's on the back label of practically every wine bottle.  Most of us pay no attention to it.  Like when your mom is hollering at you to clean up your room. deserves the credit for most of what follows.

Sulfites are a preservative in wine.  They both preserve the unopened bottle on the store shelf and your open bottle from yesterday.  Sulfites added to wine as a preservative supplement those that occur naturally in the vineyard and in the winemaking process.

Added sulfites are about five times more prevalent in commercial (grocery store) wines than in real estate-bottled wines for the reasons stated above.  They are also more common in whites than reds and more common in lower acid and sweeter wines than in dry red wines.  Once again, the purpose for all of this is to preserve the product.

The problem with the "contains sulfites" admonition is that the percentage of sulfites is not spelled out.  If a wine has less than 10mg/l it may be labeled sulfite-free.  If it has between 11-300mg/l the label only has to say contains sulfites.  So if you have asthma, that may be a problem and if you value your thiamine level (Vitamin B1), that could also take a hit.

Just to keep things in perspective, most wine is 99.99% sulfite-free.  Candy has twice as many sulfites.  Jams and jellies, three times.  Sodas, four times.  Packaged meats and prepared soups, 5 times.  Frozen juices, six times.  French fries, twenty times.  And dried fruit, forty times!

So wine ain't so bad!  Swirling wine in the glass, by the way, releases up to fifty percent of its sulfites into the air.

Additives in today's mass market wines are the real problem.  Sulfite-free may be on the label but whatever else is used to make that twelve dollar bottle taste so good doesn't have to be disclosed.  And that's scary.

Please join us Thursday July 25th after 5pm when Cheri Rubio leads us in a tasting of three from Santa Rita of Chile and a very special Shiraz from Wakefield of Australia.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Paso Robles Appellation(s)

We've been selling a lot of Paso wines here in recent months prompting me to do some homework on the subject.  Opolo, Austin Hope and Broadside are just a few of what's been hot here lately.  All carry the Paso Robles appellation on the label, meaning at least 85% of the juice was sourced from Paso Robles.  Two other labels from Austin Hope, Quest and Troublemaker, are also here and they too carry the Paso appellation.

Paso Robles was legally defined as a wine appellation in 1983.  In 2014 it was subdivided.  There are now eleven appellations within the Paso Robles district.  How does this happen?  Back in '83 there were five wineries with five hundred acres in vines in Paso Robles.  Now there are two hundred with 32,000 vineyard acres.  I'd say the newbies want to distinguish themselves from the crowd.

Paso is huge, by the way, so they can't all have the same terroir.  Elevations range from 700 feet to 2,400 feet.  Rainfall ranges from ten inches annually to thirty inches.  Soils range from sandy and silty to rich and calcareous, so yes, there was a reason for further legal definition.

The new Paso appellations are San Miguel, Estrella, San Juan Creek, Highlands, Creston, Santa Margarita Ranch, Templeton Gap, Willow Creek, Adelaide, Genesis, and El Pomar.  Are they all fine wine regions?  Probably not, at least not at this time.  Experimental plantings of different grape types may yield a game changing discovery that could alter the equation.  As it stands right now the western (higher elevation) appellations look to be the best.

So what is our point with this discussion?  Going back to the Paso wines in the store, none of them carry a specific appellation other than Paso Robles meaning they are blending grapes across the region.  You might also conclude that Austin Hope and the others must be sizable players in Paso in order to get distribution out here.  Wineries of scale deserve credit for their success.  By sourcing component grapes across the region, they turn out a good product.

Wine appellations, it should be noted, are not created for the purpose of making value judgments.  They are intended to be educational.  They should define a region by showing what types of wine are made there and the character of each.  And if a particular grape characteristic in the Willow Creek appellation works well with something different from Templeton Gap then you blend them and go with the larger Paso Robles appellation labeling.

Please join us this Thursday after 5pm for a tasting of domestic red wines.  The Opolo Montagna Mare red blend should be on the table for that one.

Sunday, July 7, 2019


A couple weeks ago we tasted the 2015 Primus Red Blend from Veramonte of Chile.  Just below that information on the front label is the appellation of origin - Apalta.  Below Apalta the label says "Colchagua - Chile."  All of the above information is set out on a clean, off-white, matte label with a large ornate "P" centered in the top half of the label.  Give 'em an "A" for classiness.  Well done, Veramonte!

So Apalta is the title of this post and it was just last year on August 21st that we blogged about the place and its newly designated Apalta appellation.  Scroll down to that post if you want to learn more about the legal definitions and Chile's novel concept of "climate designations."  It's a good read.

The new Apalta appellation was carved out of the larger Colchagua appellation.  The Chilean appellation system is most similar to California's system and California has several smaller wine appellations within larger appellations.  The Central Coast is the greatest example of that.  In Apalta's case not only are they within Colchagua but that region is within the Rapel region which is within the Central Valley of Chile where virtually all of the better wines of Chile come from.

Apalta has the finest vineyard land in Chile, which is the backstory for all of the legal definitions.  It is a horseshoe-shaped river valley with around 1,000 hectares planted in red grapes.  The appellation is sheltered to the north, east, and west by mountains with the Pacific Ocean's Humbolt Current from Antarctica moderating the region's Mediterranean climate.  That climate has sunny, warm and dry summers and mild winters.  Apalta also has the diurnal temperature shift of warm days and cool nights, essential for creating ripe fruit with good acidity.  The daytime sun ripens the berries while the cool nights develop the acidity.

The alluvial soils of Apalta are a sandy/clay loam in the valley with granitic soils on the hillsides.  In the local dialect, Apalta means "poor soil."  Wine grapes love poor dry nutrient-lacking soils where they have to struggle to survive.

The three great grapes of the region are Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere and Syrah.  The Cabernet, Carmenere and other Bordeaux varietal grapes do best in the bottom land while the Syrah and other Rhone varietals do best on the hillsides.

Our Primus is a Cabernet-based blend with large portions of Merlot and Carmenere and bits of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.  It would serve well with most any roasted red meat or something on the grill.

Please join us this Thursday at 5pm when Dominique rejoins us for a tasting from his fine Italian/French portfolio.

Sunday, June 16, 2019


"Like humans, young wine thinks it's immortal.  Wine holds an eternity's worth of souvenirs.  When we drink wine we are not eating a fruit salad of grapes.  We are tasting a memory of fruit, water, soil and savoir-faire."  -  Pierre de Benoist, Domaine de Villane, Bouzeron AOC

I like that.  The writer is talking about aging Aligote white wine which he says expresses Burgundy terroir better than its more prominent sibling, Chardonnay.  According to de Benoist, his new 2017 vintage displays "bitter almond and energy."  He says his 2010 now shows toasty hazelnut and tarragon.  The 2005 is all about cloves and ginger.  And the now twenty-year-old 1989 shows both a savory character and sticky citrus fruit.

That any aging white wine could show such character, sounds too good to be true much less that it's Aligote that we're talking about.  Thirty years ago Aligote held no significance in the larger wine world.  It was a distant third place in the hierarchy of Burgundy whites.  First place by acclamation went to Chardonnay.  Second place fell to Pinot Blanc.  Aligote was almost an afterthought, an also-ran, in third place. 

Now Aligote is the second most popular white from Burgundy after Chardonnay.  Out-planted by more than ten to one, to be sure, Aligote must still bow to King Chardonnay.  The big loser currently seems to be Pinot Blanc, which has fallen mightily since the "Pinot-Chardonnay" days of fifty years ago.  Now such field blends are a thing of the past.  Everything in Burgundy is quite varietal.  Most    blends now tend to be no more than 85-15%.

The Aligote grape is a small, thick skinned variety that is both high-yielding and cold tolerant, making it quite popular across eastern Europe where it adds acidity and structure to blends along with apple and lemon aromas and herbal flavors.  The classic Kir cocktail, by the way, is traditionally made with Cassis and Aligote wine.

Please join us this Thursday after 5pm for the regular weekly wine tasting and then on Saturday the 22nd (1-4pm) for our Humane Society charity tasting.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant

Today I sold a Kermit Lynch white burgundy to a customer and pointedly told her, "Whenever you see 'Kermit Lynch' on a wine's back label, you know it's going to be good."  I've repeated that statement so often over the years I don't even think about it.  Until today.  That's why we're posting now.

So who is Kermit Lynch?  I actually never thought about it.  For all I knew it was two guys, Kermit and Lynch.  Or maybe it was a made up name.  Pleasantly, it turns out Kermit Lynch is a real person with a great personal story which is available at  It's well worth a look-see.

Lynch got his intro to wine via foods. The right way.  He had been raised in a spartan white bread and tee-totalling home like many of us and going off to college meant for him an introduction to the world of fine foods...and wines.  Friendships with restaurateurs and food writers created opportunities for trips to Europe and meetings with winemakers there.  In 1972 with a five thousand dollar loan Lynch bought his first thirty-five cases of wine for re-sale.

Today KLWM does five to ten million dollars annually.  Lynch has written three books and recorded five roots music CDs and been awarded twice each by the French government and the James Beard Foundation.  He has also become part owner of Domaine des Paillieres in Gigondas in the Cotes du Rhone.

From the beginning Lynch understood that terroir is everything in wine appreciation just as it is with food.  He faults varietal wine labels because any single type grown around the world may have as much in variance from the type as it has in common.  Terroir matters more than grape type so place of origin labeling makes sense.

Lynch also disparages the printed wine press for their colorful characterizations that differ so much from the product on retail shelves due to the passage of time.  With time any wine will have dissipating fruit flavor changes so why characterize fruit when place of origin and age are so much more appropriate.

Monday, May 20, 2019


According to Lettie Teague in her September 15-16, 2018 WSJ wine article, fashionable and popular mean quite different things when applied to wine appreciation.  A popular wine is one that appeals to newer wine lovers, one that may be talked up at parties and probably has a hefty advertising budget to promote it.  A fashionable wine is more likely to appeal to seasoned wine lovers who recognize its historic value.

White Zinfandel was a 1980's sales monster that practically killed the rose category.  Yellow Tail is a line of inexpensive Australian wines that have been killing it since the 2000's.  What Yellow Tail has been killing is basically the entire Australian wine business since it seems to be the only Aussie that sells now.  While Yellow Tail could be called a marketing creation, White Zinfandel's success was organic.  It just happened and the rest is history, as they say.

Both of these are examples of popular wines and both could be considered to be predators of historic wine styles. 

On Thursday May 8th we tasted four from Treasury Wine Estates including Minuty Cotes de Provence Rose.  Provence Roses have become the leader of this large fashionable rose category.  The Provence Rose style is the model the rest of the world emulates and may have been around since the Greeks established Marseille in 600bc.  That's 2,600 years.  Archaeological evidence there shows earlier winemaking using indigenous grapes before the Greeks re-planted and this is where it gets interesting: Roses have actually existed since the very beginning of winemaking, that is, whenever pottery was first created.  Maybe 6,000 years ago.  So is fashionable even the right term?

The Minuty is a blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah.  It has the standard light and bright Provence color and crisp and round mouth feel.  The nose features orange peel and red currants; the mouth, peach and candied orange.  The entire tasting experience displayed a smooth acidic freshness.

Like all roses, this one would accompany any meal but especially soups, salads and grilled meats.  It would also go well with tee-shirts, cut-off, old sneakers and a porch swing.

Please join us after 5pm this Thursday the 23rd when Dave Klepinger presents a tasting of new French Burgundies here at the store.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Georges de Latour & Andre Tchelischeff

Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon is the premier wine of Beaulieu Vineyards of Napa Valley and one of the great wines of the world.  The wine is named for the Frenchman who in 1900 purchased four acres in the heart of Napa Valley and began planting wine grapes.  His wife is said to have remarked at the time that their new home was a "beautiful place" or beau lieu.

While the Prohibition Era (1920-33) was devastating for the wine industry as a whole, for a select few in the "sacramental wine" business, it was good.  Beaulieu Vineyards was one of those and as the era progressed their business continually improved.  When it ended Latour was in a position to hire the kind of winemaking expertise that would make Beaulieu the best in California.  He went to France and secured the services of the premier viticulturalist/enologist, Andre Tchelischeff, who would become BV's vice president and head of winemaking.

Among Tchelischeff's many accomplishments at Beaulieu were the introduction of recent French winemaking improvements including small barrel fermentation and aging.  Over time at Beaulieu Tchelischeff contributed to other revolutionary winemaking methods like cold fermentation and malolactic fermentation.  By working with various grape types in different places, he delineated microclimates leading to appellation designations, the type of spade work that would pay dividends for future winemakers.  Tchelischeff was a visionary who reached out to other wineries to share his insights understanding that the big picture of wine as a central part of our culture meant all would prosper.

In 1938 Tchelischeff crafted the first Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  The wine would become standard fare at many White House functions through the years.  In 2016 Beaulieu was purchased by Treasury Wine Estates who say the great wine will remain estate-sourced from the same historic Rutherford district Napa vineyards.

This Thursday at 5pm Rob Dye leads us in a tasting of three from the fine Italian wine company, Zenato.  The Lugana white, Alanara red and rose will all be on the table that evening as will the Paso a Paso Spanish Tempranillo.  Please join us!

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

A Portela 2014

A month ago we tasted the wines of Ole Imports of Spain and proceeded to order two dozen new Spanish and Portuguese wines.  Last time we posted about the 2016 Zestos Blanco, our best buy among the whites.  This time our subject is the best red in the bunch.

Like Zestos, A Portela is old vine wine.  This time the the vines are 20-25 years old and the D.O. (place of origin) is Valdeorras in northwestern Spain.  In the latter half of the first century Rome mined gold there, hence the name, "Valley of Gold."  Viticulture followed the mining there and just like always, the church took over the management of the vineyards and wine making.

The grape type here is Mencia (men-thee-ah) which is only grown on the Iberian Peninsula.  Genetic testing has shown Mencia to be a cross between two Portuguese parent grapes so it has its origin across the border.  Again like Zestos, this wine is sourced from 2,000 ft elevation vineyards and the soil is a mix of slate, granite and clay.  Typically Mencia is 85% of a blend utilizing other indigenous varieties to flesh it out.

If you are a Pinot Noir lover, Mencia may be up your alley.  Earthiness and red fruit flavors and aromas dominate here.  Additionally Mencia wines may show black pepper, minerality and either a floral or vegetal character.  This is complex wine and it's our olfactory system that best comprehends what's going on here.

Think of your flower garden or better yet, the spice rack in your kitchen.  What so overwhelms us with spices are terpenoids, the organic chemicals that abound in sixty percent of all plants, only more so with spices.  Mencia grapes display the exceedingly rich aromas of those organic chemicals.  No oak aging is required for such a wine.

A Portela is a twelve acre estate.  Before fermentation the grape juice (with skins) receives a five day pre-soak at forty-five degrees to enhance the aromas.  Then after fermentation the soak-with-skins continues for ten more days for more color and tannins.  The wine is then aged for seven months in stainless steel.

Mencia is recommended as an accompaniment to chicken, pork, salmon or whatever you typically have with your Pinot Noir.  

Monday, April 29, 2019

2016 Zestos Blanco

Ten dollars.

That's it, just ten dollars.  

Wait a minute, let me get this just right - FOR CRYING OUT LOUD THIS IS A STUNNING VALUE AT TEN DOLLARS A BOTTLE!

When the Ole Imports representative was here a couple weeks ago I employed all of the cognitive skills I could muster up and I got it.  I heard his voice quaver when he mentioned this wine.  He became a little animated, just briefly, and then moved on.  It's a cheap wine so he wasn't pushing it.  He just couldn't help himself.

At the end of his presentation I redirected back to the blanco and ordered a few cases.  Mr. Ole Imports just looked at me and smiled.

So what is this stuff?  It is a pale yellow-colored dry white wine made from 100% Malvar grapes with 90% of the juice being sourced from the Vinos de Madrid DO southeast of Madrid.  The vineyards, first planted in 1950, are clay and limestone over sandy subsoil at 2,000 feet elevation.  These are not highly esteemed vineyards and Malvar, or Lairen, is an indigenous grape type not even well known in Spain so we're not looking at Napa Chardonnay pricing.

So what makes it so good?  Well, being old vine and dry farmed in poor soil, the tap roots have to go deep for moisture bringing up trace elements of minerals and nutrients in the process.  In the winery after a twelve hour maceration, the juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks and then moved to both concrete and stainless steel tanks for aging.  Then it is combined.  The stainless steel preserves freshness; the concrete allows for micro-oxygenation for complexity.  Voila!

On the nose are scents of peach, nectarine, orange and litchi fruit.  In the mouth are flavors of orange, apricot, green apple and ginger.  Nuanced tropical fruit flavors are present from start to finish.  In their literature Ole says this wine combines the acidity of Sauvignon Blanc with the body of Chardonnay.  Viognier seems a better comparison.

The Zestos label depicts women carrying huge baskets of grapes on their shoulders, an allusion to their name - Zestos means basket.  It also may allude to picnicking since this wine would work well with those kinds of foods.   Or by itself! 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Wine Labels

(Reflections on the Lettie Teague WSJ wine article February 16, 2019)

Stand before any grocery store wine set and let the imagery work its magic.  There really ought to be awards given out for some of these labels.  The Most Beautiful.  The Most Evocative.  The Most Outrageous.  Your eyes can glaze over as you succumb to the stunning array on these shelves.

Me?  I always preferred plain white labels with minimal information.  I always thought plain white labels were classy... as long as classy print was part of the production, of course.  Put your money into what's inside the bottle, I always thought.  Secretly though, I kind of liked some of the gaudy labels, which couldn't help but demystify this stuff.  Besides, who wants to look at shelves full of white labels!

So what about the actual information on a wine label?  The Bureau of Alcohol and Tax declares "Labels may contain information other than the mandatory information (place of origin, grape type, etc.) but it must be truthful, accurate and specific.  Any additional information should not be misleading."  And therein lies the rub.  Just as the visuals on the wine labels draw you in, some of that additional wording does the same.

"Reserve."  Clearly means quality, right?  Actually there is no legal definition for "Reserve" when placed on a wine label.  It can mean anything.  But you can bet the customer will impute his own meaning of the word to the product.

"Hand Selected Lots."  Obviously, this means the winemaker went through the vineyards and chose the best berries for this effort.  Sorry.  Once again this phrase is meaningless, legally-speaking.

Here are a few others: "Barrel Select", "Old Vine", "Old Clone", "Proprietor's Blend".  It's not just the domestic wine industry that embellishes either.  Argentina has the highest altitude vineyards in the world, a great selling point for a wine's quality, but in Argentine wine law, "High Altitude" on a label has no legal meaning.

Back in my grocery store days the best selling wine we had was Glen Ellen Reserve Chardonnay.  I never tasted it but eagerly sold it because I was graded on sales.  One day a good customer was buying several cases for a party and suggested we buy one and taste it in the parking lot.  I declined but he insisted, saying I really needed to know what I was selling.  I relented and he was right.  The stuff was awful.  It didn't even taste like Chardonnay, much less reserve Chardonnay.

Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay?  Never tasted it.  Sounds good though, like that winemaker really did his due diligence both in the vineyard and the winery to make it just right.  Uh, okay.

Maybe we should back off criticizing meaningless labeling.  It's just a few words, after all.  They could be writing paragraphs!

Please join us this Thursday at 5pm when Dominique Chambon leads us in a tasting from his fine French/Italian portfolio.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Wine Tasting Report 4/11/19

Interesting tasting here last Thursday evening.  We tasted Gabbiano Chianti Classico, Sonoma-Cutrer Rose of Pinot Noir, Seghesio Angela's Table Zinfandel, and Black Stallion Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Gabbiano was a no-brainer.  It was the best buy on the table at $10/bottle.  The other three pricier wines were competing for the best wine on the table...period.

Before we get into that though, what the three California wines share in their common history needs to be said.  They all started out in private hands only to end up in the hands of mass marketers.  This is reality in the California wine industry, circa 2019.  That said, each has its own story.  Let's take them one at a time.

Seghesio has the longest history of the three.  They go back to the 1800's and around the middle of the last century they were a legitimate powerhouse in this industry.  In fact for a while they owned most of the vineyard land in Sonoma County and most of the Zinfandel produced there.  In 2011 they were bought by Leucadia National, a Wall Street financial giant.  Leucadia owns the Napa-based Crimson Wine Group (Pine Ridge, Chamisol, Archery Summit) so they weren't just looking for return on investment.  The Zinfandel at our tasting was very tasty indeed.

Black Stallion has the shortest history of the three.  A couple Minnesotans bought the thirty-eight acre Napa estate at the turn of this century and sold it to DFV (Delicato Family Vineyards) ten years later.  The only tangible asset aside from the land, itself, was the hospitality center since the business had no vineyards or winery of its own.  DFV is also a family run business but they are a powerhouse.  They are a perennial Top 10 wine company worldwide.  This vintage of the Cabernet at our tasting was a little thin, which reflects the mass marketers' intention to not offend anyone.

Sonoma-Cutrer was established in 1973 with the intention of specializing in Chardonnay.  Their timing couldn't have been better.  Chardonnay was about to begin its reign as the king of white wines and Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnays were some of the best.  In 1999 the beverage giant Brown-Forman (Jack Daniels, Southern Comfort, Canadian Mist) bought the operation with the stated purpose of maintaining the estate as a separate entity from its existing wine portfolio (Fetzer, Bonterra, Jekel, Mariah.)  Two years later that pledge was abandoned and their labels now share facilities and winemakers with the other brands.

The Rose of Pinot Noir from Sonoma-Cutrer is a recent addition to their line and it is wonderful, It is very light and dry and charming and refreshing, all of the qualities everyone wants in rose.  So, since we have already written off the Black Stallion Cabernet, which was the winner between the Seghesio Zinfandel and the Rose?

That's up to you.

Please join us this Thursday at 5pm for a store tasting with Bob Reynolds who has a portfolio specializing in Spanish and Oregonian wines. 

Monday, April 8, 2019

Tomme Brebis St. George

This cheese was so good we just had to write about it.  One of our historic favorites here at the store is Ossau-Iraty, sheep cheese from the Basque region of France.  This tomme is comparable if a little softer and juicier than Ossau-Iraty.  It hails from the Midi-Pyranees region a little to the north of Basque.

What is a tomme, you ask.  Literally, a tomme is a wheel of cheese.  The word is generic and means nothing more.  Yet it does.  For knowing cheese lovers the word tomme on a label signifies a product of quality.  It's a specialty item made by a dedicated cheese maker as opposed to being one of a number of products made at a generic dairy.

Historically tommes were made using the left over milk after butter was made.  And this cheese is nothing if not historical.  Tomme-making in the Midi-Pyranees region goes back to ancient times.  That left over milk with its fats depleted after the butter making, was leaner and earthier tasting than the original.

Tomme cheeses are also a generic style.  That style is intrinsic to the French and Swiss Alps and each tomme label states the location of manufacturing immediately after the word, tomme.  In this case the the town of St. George is the locale near the larger city of Aude in the Midi-Pyranees.  This region is like a thumbprint on the map in the interior between the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts and south of Bordeaux.

The Tomme Brebis St. Charles is moist and creamy and nutty and rich.  It's like toasted bread at the beginning and sweet cream with leeks and chives at the finish.  This complex sumptuous cheese would pair with Pinot Noir or another similar light sophisticated red.

Please join us this Thursday after 5pm at the regular weekly tasting and on Saturday the 13th between 1 and 3pm when David Hobbs presents a tasting of Spanish wines here at the store.  We'll be sure to have Tomme Brebis St. George on the cheese table!

Monday, April 1, 2019

What Goes Wrong

Last week was filled with failed attempts to get the wines customers had ordered so I thought we might catalog some of the many ways things can go wrong.  At least four of the following happened here last week.

1.  Sometimes, frankly, it's the salesman.  He/she either doesn't care, or worse yet, doesn't know how to do their job.  For the larger suppliers whose bread and butter is the chain stores and large package stores, the smaller accounts really don't matter that much to the guy on the street.

2.  Sometimes the sales person is alright but the company isn't.  Maybe the product number that is supposed to match up with the wine you want doesn't do it.  Maybe in an effort to keep their inventory tight, the company runs out of what they sell.

3.  Sometimes it's the warehouse.  Businesses everywhere want to keep payroll low and inevitably you get what you pay for.  In the warehouse that sometimes means they can't find the product or worse yet, they can't read the label, or even worse than that, if the warehouse is like a Sam's Club, they don't want to climb to the third tier to get the stuff.

4.  Sometimes it's the truck driver.  Flat tires happen.  Nothing you can do there.  But sometimes the driver prioritizes the larger accounts at the expense of the small ones.  Sometimes they're on a short company leash and are told to skip the mom and pop store so the large store is ensured of getting its large order.

5.  Sometimes it's government.  If the wine is imported it's sometimes held up at the port of entry for reasons beyond my pay grade.  Local governments rightfully want their share of the tax money this industry generates.  If a supplier doesn't want to pay up then the wine isn't delivered.

6.  Sometimes it's the Beverage Journal, the trade paper that lists what wines are carried by which wholesaler.  The Beverage Journal, which is now online, has always been the butt of jokes for insiders in this business because of its deficiencies.  Some things never change.

7.  Sometimes it's inter-distribution manipulation, i.e., product trades. An item can be swapped between distributors without notification leaving the retailer/restaurateur without supply.  The one who jettisons the brand doesn't want to help the new vendor by telling the customer where it is and the Beverage Journal isn't up to date so the product is just lost for a while.  Worse yet, if one player gets mad at another, a product can be pulled from the market for up to five years by law!

Now comes the hard part:

8.  Sometimes it's the customer who asks the retailer for the product.  They get the name wrong and the retailer can't figure out what it is.

9.  Sometimes it's on me.  I screw up.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Pinot Grigio, Part 2

I don't know why but we're blogging about Pinot Grigio...again!  Actually I found an old Lettie Teague WSJ wine article on the subject and just like always, I became inspired.  In the article Teague is on a quest for "Pinot Grigio with personality."

Teague acknowledges that there will always be watery ten dollar pinot because there always has been.  It has its place.  Just like cheap beer.  In our previous post we said its way too easy to move up the price scale with Pinot Grigio since there isn't an extreme change in character between the cheap stuff and the twenty dollar bottles.  Let's call it a continuum of sorts in what pinot lovers have come to expect flavor-wise.  Teague cites current great pinot wine maker, Elena Walch - all you have to do is raise your expectations.

There are differing flavor profiles from the better pinots though.  The best pinot comes from northeastern corner of Italy and Alto Adige on the northern side of the corner may be the best.  Those are characterized by an aromatic minerality.  On the eastern side of the corner lies Friuli which offers rich complexity. Between them and to the south is Veneto which always over-performs with a fruity standard style, which unfortunately seems destined to always be overshadowed by the other two.

Then there's Alsace.  An entirely different animal.  And why is it that nationalities seem to dictate wine styles?  Italian wines always seem to taste Italian.  French wines always taste French.  And Alsatian wines always taste French/German.  Anyway, Alsatian pinot is fruity and minerally yet not as winy as the Italian.  Obviously, each is better suited to the cuisine of their respective places.

Please join us after 5pm on Thursday the 28th when Morgan Miller offers us a tasting from his fine California portfolio.  David Hobbs presents California wines on the 4th of April and then on the 11th Dominique Chambon offers us a tasting of French and Italian wines.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Italian Pinot Grigio

I haven't kept track but Pinot Grigio may be our most blogged about subject here, which is ironic considering for half of my long career in the business, I've had no use for the stuff.  That would be the first half of the career, of course.  Then the gradual adjustments and accommodations happen in life and one accepts that big red (and white) wines aren't really the be-all and end-all of all things vino.   Sometimes less is more.  Ergo, Pinot Grigio.

The marketplace will also change your wine values.  About ten years ago Pinot Grigio surpassed Chardonnay in sales here for the first time.  Chardonnay had always been our best selling white wine before that.  I remember telling an industry salesman about the transition only to hear in response, "Well, that's sad."

We're prompted to write about Pinot Grigio today for a couple reasons.  Last Thursday at the weekly tasting we featured the 2017 Tenuta Maccan from Friuli and it was wonderful.  One of the most common wine adjectives bandied about around here is "smooth" and I hate it.  What the heck does "smooth" mean anyway?  Well, in the case of Maccan, it is most applicable.  Whereas some wines have distinct stages from start to finish, this one just glides through the process with nothing impeding its flow.  It is smoothness.

Beyond the indelible impression Maccan made, the second reason for writing is the incontrovertible shift in consumer tastes within the Pinot Grigio category.  Back in the bad old days the pinot we got from Italy could have doubled as nail polish remover.  But it was cold and wet and cheapNow we have so many wonderful examples at every price point and the savvy pinot consumer has gotten the word.  So just like the smoothness shown in the Maccan tasting the gradual transition from ten dollar pinots to twenty dollar bottles has been similarly smooth.

The Maccan is a $16.99 retail, by the way, which represents the lower end of this higher end pinot category we're talking about.  Not too long ago there were branded elite wines that positioned themselves upwards from thirty dollars but have now comedown ten dollars or so.  They now represent the higher range of superior pinot pricing.  So if this schema is accurate you don't have to get reamed to enjoy your fine light dry white wine.

Please join us on Thursday the 21st of March at 5pm when Cherie Rubio presents a tasting of new Spanish wines to include a red, white and rose along with a truly great Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon.  Then on the 28th Morgan Miller returns with a tasting from his fine wine portfolio followed by Dominique Chambon with samples from his fine French and Italian book.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Cava, Part 2 & Clos Pissarra

First things first: The super premium Cava category created a year ago is called Cava Paraje Calificado (CPC).  CPC sparklers must be sourced from single vineyards that are at least ten year old with limited yields from those vineyards.  They must also be estate bottled and vintage dated with thirty-six months aging on the lees.  They also must be fermented dry, resulting in at least a brut classification, if not extra-brut or brut nature.

Last time we said only two percent of Cava produced was Gran Reserva quality.  CPCs should be a likewise miniscule percentage of that two percent.  Retails of a hundred dollars a bottle should be common.

CPC wine is blind tasted by a panel before its second fermentation and then blind tasted again after the bubbles are added.  The panel judges whether the wine conforms to the standard they set yet still shows the individuality of its terroir.  Last year, the first for this Cava category, only twelve wines qualified.  This year that number should double or triple.

Whether or not hundred dollar Cava is viable in the marketplace will be determined by discriminating Champagne connoisseurs with the pocketbooks to qualify.  Fine wine has its price; that is, unless the wine is the 2013 Clos Pissarra, the big fat Spanish red we've been selling here for the past month.  Unlike similar efforts out of California, the complexity of Pissarra is built into its structure and like all European wine, that structure is tied to its terroir.  For Pissarra the breeding emanates from the Priorat/Montsant region.  Like truly great Euro-wine, with decanting (or a lot of patience in the glass) this one delivers voluptuously.  Short of tasting it for yourself, go to for the Pissarra lowdown.

Next Thursday the 14th at 5pm Adam Bess joins us for a tasting of red wines from Opolo Vineyards of Paso Robles and a particularly nice Italian Soave.  Then on the 21st Cheri Rubio tastes us on new red, white and rose Spanish wines.  On the 28th Morgan Miller brings us a tasting of as-yet-to-be-determined wines from his fine portfolio.  Please join us for the tastings!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Cava Reserva

A couple years ago we came upon a perfectly lovely sparkling wine out of Spain which quickly disappeared after the holidays.  You see, it was priced at twenty-five dollars a bottle, roughly twice the going rate for Cava.  More recently I read a WSJ article by Lettie Teague on the subject and she opined that Cava Reservas really were something special compared to other similarly priced sparklers.  So maybe we ought to shift our focus from France to Spain for our bubbly.

Maybe we should also start at the beginning for this discussion.

Cava is Spanish sparkling wine.  Most of it comes from the Catalonia region in eastern Spain where the beverage was created in 1872 by the Raventos family of Codorniu fame.  The three main grapes of Cava are Xarel-lo, Macabeo and Parellada, hardly household names.  Of the three, Xarel-lo is the most important.  Over time Malvasia, Garnacha Tinto, Monastrell and Trepat have been added and more recently the international varieties, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were also allowed.  Some of the best Cavas, however, are still made solely with Xarel-lo grapes.

The name "Cava" has only been around since the 1950's and its legal appellation, its D.O. (Denominacione de Origen), was granted in 1986 with admission into the European Union.  The D.O. declares three quality levels of Cava: Basic Cava must be aged on the lees for nine months; Cava Reserva, fifteen months; and Gran Reserva, thirty months.  Eighty-eight percent of Cava produced is basic Cava; ten percent is Reserva, and two percent is Gran Reserva.  All Cavas must be made like Champagne using the secondary fermentation in the bottle.

Prior to the E. U., ninety percent of Cava was consumed in Spain.  Now two-thirds is exported, mostly to supermarkets around the world.  Eighty-five percent of all Cava sells for under twenty dollars.  A year ago in January of 2018, Spain introduced a new super premium category of Cava and that's what we'll talk about here next time.

Please join us here next Thursday after 5pm when Dustin Whiten presents a tasting of wines from Italy and Chile.  Then one week later on the 14th, Adam Bess joins us for a tasting of red wines from Opolo of Paso Robles along with an especially nice Italian white.  Please join us for the tastings.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Wine Prices, Part 2

Recently we posted about wine prices and how we expect to pay more for better wine.  On August 14, 2017, Science Daily reported on a University of Bonn study on the subject.  Thirty subjects, fifteen men and fifteen women, participated in the study by lying down for an MRI and tasting wines through tubes.  All of the wines tasted were purchased locally at the same average retail price.  The price of the wine shown to the subjects before tasting varied greatly either higher or lower than the actual retail price.  As might be expected, the "higher priced" wines were deemed to be better.

In medicine we are all familiar with the placebo effect and something similar is demonstrated here.  The marketing placebo effect shows that identical products can be perceived differently solely due to the price given to them.  The medial prefrontal cortex integrates price comparison and expectation while the ventral stratum of the brain integrates reward and motivation.  The MRI scanning showed both to be activated by the showing of the higher prices before tasting.  Then with that expectation in place the actual tasting of the wine skewed higher.

So if you expect something to taste better, your brain tricks you into enjoying the properties you ascribe to the "higher priced" subject.  If "quality has its price", well then, of course, we would enjoy the wine that cost more.

This Thursday after 5pm we will probably be tasting Italians here at the store.  I say "probably" because we don't actually have things set yet.  In any event, please join us for the event.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Crljenak Kastelanski

Let's just call it "CK."  Or maybe we should call it the heirloom Zinfandel of Croatia.  We'll go with CK cause it's easier to type.

Zinfandel has always been thought to have origins in Europe even when California was claiming it as their own.  It just had too many similarities to European vinifera grapes, in particular, the Primitivo grape of southern Italy.

Then with the advent of genetic testing in the late 1990's, Italians and American lovers-of-all-things-Italian could rejoice.  The grape was in fact determined to be one and the same.  Zinfandel was Primitivo.  Unfortunately the joy for Italianophiles was short-lived because Primitivo was then determined to be the Tripidrag grape of Croatia.

Tripidrag is a truly historic Croatian grape mentioned in fifteenth century literature.  It is also historically documented to have found favor in other Mediterranean nations including Italy.  In fact Tripidrag means "the first to ripen" while Primitivo means "early ripening" so, yeah, they're one and the same.

So where does CK come into this? And what the heck is Plavac Mali?

Plavac Mali (PM?) is the most popular grape of Croatia and as soon as the Zinfandel discussion moved to Croatia it was assumed it was Zinfandel.  It isn't.  Crljenak Kastelanski, which translates as the "black grape of Kastela," a community in the Dalmatia region, is genetically identical to Tripidrag and may even be closer to the clone of Zinfandel of California.  So CK is Zinfandel.

Over time names of things change so Tripidrag is now called Pribidrag in Croatia, just in case you thought you were beginning to understand this convoluted post.

All of the above is here to announce Ridge Vineyards of Sonoma Valley will soon be making a red blend consisting of 1/3 each of CK, PM, and our own California Zinfandel (CZ?).

Whew, I need to sit down and take a break.

Please join us this Thursday the 21st after 5pm when Morgan Miller joins us with a tasting of Sonoma Valley wines from Gehricke Vineyards.  We will taste their Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel.  Please join us!

Monday, February 4, 2019

When Wine is Too Cheap

"If it doesn't sell, mark it up!"  That's an old saying in the wine business.  If something sells too well at a given price, market forces dictate you really should go up on it.  But why would you mark it up if it's not selling?

I like to make the claim that I can sell a better bottle of wine at any price than anyone else in Gainesville.  I have no problem with making that claim.  Since this little boutique shop conjures up an image of being pricey, I like to emphasize the bargains at the lower end of the price spectrum.  You want better everyday wines?  Well, come right in!

The only problem is, it doesn't work that way.  People shop here because they expect to spend more for their better wines.  While I get it, I still like to sell the cheap stuff.  So my ten dollar bargains aren't going away any time soon.

Back on November 10th of last year, Lettie Teague wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal about Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon.  She said it was "too affordable" and suggested if they wanted to capture more of the Napa market, they should raise prices so the public will recognize their quality, which is kind of sad if you think about it.

We had a wine rack full of Chileans at the front to the store for a couple years.  Now we have a smaller selection at the back.  They just didn't sell.  Last month a customer who was familiar with the wines bought my last bottle of Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon, a $25 bottle.  He had spent some time in Chile and had been to Lapostolle so he definitely knew what he was getting.

In the article referenced above, Teague likes Lapostolle and several others we need here in the store.  She also says Chilean Cabernet is more like Bordeaux with its character and structure than it is like California Cabernet but it has a slightly "green" component in its flavor profile that some people can't get past.  She also compares its salinity to the great Margaret River Cabernets of coastal of Australia.  Maybe we need to give both Chile and Margaret River a fresh start here.

This Thursday the 7th at 5pm Dominique Chambon gives us a tasting of three French Burgundies and an Italian Sangiovese Rose.  Then the following week there will be no Thursday tasting since it's Valentine's Day.  Instead we will have a Tuesday the 12th tasting with Rob Dye.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

House Wine

Most of us have a house wine.  Unless you are a restaurant with printed menus, yours is probably just your regular go-to when you're craving that certain taste.  There's a payoff in familiarity and it's probably your go-to because, bang for your buck, the stuff is pretty good!  At least you think it is.

Restaurant house wines get a bad rap.  They too rely on familiarity but too much so since the wines end up being, frankly, lousy.  They want the stuff to appeal to everyone so there's nothing there that's interesting or distinctive.  Just the same old crap.

Wait a minute.  That sounds a little too harsh.  Today's bulk wine is way better than similar wines were forty years ago when I was just getting my feet wet in the business.  What the mass marketers have done is actually impressive.  By rounding off a lot of sharp edges they've made it imminently consumable.  But that's the problem, right?  It's just not interesting.

A lot of times for just a few dollars more you can bypass the house wine to get something better which makes my old suspicious self wonder whether that's why the house wine is dull.  So you have the option of going for the better (and pricier) wine.  The only problem here is that the next wine, while better quality, is also predictable and boring in the same way the house wine was.  That's mass production for you.

Retailers are kind of like restaurants with respect to the wines they stock.  The chain stores stock all of the mass market wines because it goes to the heart of the deal between supplier and retailer - the shelves must be kept stocked.  No"out-of-stocks" allowed.  Keep the product coming.  So by default, they end up with mass produced wines.

It takes small independent restaurants and retailers to provide distinction and with a little bit of know-how, they can find it at any price.

This Thursday the 31st of January, Cheri Rubio leads us in a tasting of three from Pedroncelli of Sonoma Valley.  That evening between 5 and 7pm we will taste the Merlot, Pinot Noir and Mother Clone Zinfandel.  Our event will begin with a fine Alsatian white blend, Hugel's Gentil.

Then on February 7th Dominique Chambon offers us a tasting of French Burgundies and a particularly nice Italian Sangiovese Rose.  Please join us for the tastings.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Double Cream Gouda

Every time you think you've seen it all, something new pops up.  Double Cream Brie has been a staple around here for decades and Double Cream Gouda seems to have been created as a corollary to it.  Regular Gouda has 40-50% butter fat.  Double Cream or Room Kaas as it's called in Holland, has 60-70% butter fat.  So while it's not really double the fat it is noticeably creamier.  If the cheese is over 75% it can be labeled Triple Cream.

Cheeses are 50-70% water, by the way.  The rest is protein, fat and other dry solids.  The butter fat content percentage on the label doesn't take into account the water content, so a 60% butter fat cheese is actually probably 30% or so.  The extra cream in the creamier Gouda is of course added to the existing whole cow's milk at the beginning of the process.

Not only is Double Cream Gouda creamier, it is also sweeter, silkier, richer and nuttier than regular Gouda.  It slices well for sandwiches and melts well for cooking and on tortillas, casseroles, potatos, omelets, mac and cheese and apple pie.  It also accompanies both fresh and dried fruit.  Pinot Noir is the red wine that might pair best with this cheese.

Gouda is the best selling cheese worldwide.  There are dozens of types out there.  Just today I was offered Coffee Gouda!  Now we can add Double Cream to the stable.  We have a fresh wheel in the deli case so stop in for a taste!

We're closed on Mondays but will be here Tuesday through Saturday from 10:30 to 6:30 and we're tasting here on Thursday after 5pm as usual.  This Thursday Dustin Whiten pours tastes of California Chardonnay, Italian Sangiovese and Argentine Malbec and Pinot Noir.  Maddie will be on the cheese table tasting out Double Cream Gouda.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Calling It What It Is - Bad Wine

My friend Donald (no relation) came through for me again with a treasure trove of Lettie Teague WSJ wine articles.  He knows I'm too cheap to subscribe and bails me out periodically with stacks of his discards.

This time it's the September 29-30, 2018 edition that caught my eye.  Teague is writing about the dilemma of describing bad wine.  Now that's thought-provoking Pulitzer material if I ever heard of it!  Only a true literary artist could go down this road!

Teague says it's easy to heap praise on examples of fine wine.  It might be: "bright, lively, balanced, structured, tightly-knit, vigorous..."  You get the idea.

She also says it's easy to identify cheap wine made from inferior fruit which may be described as such.  Easily identified wine making mistakes can also be pegged like too much oak or flabbiness.  Corkiness and age can also be easy to name.  Too much alcohol can be "hot on the finish."

But what if a wine is so bad you don't know where to start.  Back in the bad old days there were California wines that were all wrong.  Not only were they unbalanced but the fruit flavors that dominated just couldn't have been the ones intended.

Wine industry veterans around here talk knowingly about those "bad old days" of yore when wine was shipped into the Atlanta market unprotected from the heat and then loaded onto trucks Friday evenings for Monday delivery.  A whole lot of those wines had the same profile: stewed prunes!

Then there's the infamous "secondary fermentation" that resulted in a weird tasting fizziness that was impossible to get past.  How about the vague chemically taste that seemed to indicate adulteration of some kind?  Which brings us back to the present with the current generation of additives which have re-written the wine making textbook.

While criticizing wine that essentially tastes good may seem like nitpicking, there is still plenty of room to criticize a philosophy of wine making that allows for additives.  But that's another subject.  In reality, a whole lot of everyday wine is improved by what they're doing in California.  It's just that some transparency would be nice.  Like putting the ingredients on the back label.

But there is a wine tasting criticism to be laid out here: If your highly extracted, overblown big red wine tastes like an aberration of what it's supposed to be then what the heck is that all about anyway?

This question goes back to something fundamental that I have known for forty years: Wines can be good in themselves while at the same time being a bad example of that varietal.  Prime example: current examples of Pinot Noir that sure taste good, but they sure as heck don't taste like Pinot Noir.

David Klepinger represents several wines from Kermit Lynch of Berkeley, California.  Kermit Lynch is an impeccable importer of European wines.  Please join us this Thursday after 5pm as Dave sets out a tasting of these and some fine California examples.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Casas Del Bosque Gran Reserva Syrah

Casas Del Bosque Gran Reserva Syrah was the best wine-related experience we had here last year.  What I mean by that is we had no expectations for this wine before tasting it.  We had been told it was good but salesmen always talk them up before tasting them.  If you're not secure in your palate, you can be influenced that way.  This one just blew us away.  It may have been underpriced by half!

Bosque is a Chilean estate established in 1993 by the Italian Cuneo family.  The Cuneo's primary business is grocery stores so this venture was a sidelight.  Now with 235 hectares in vines located seventy kilometers from Santiago in the western Chilean Casablanca Valley they grow Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Syrah, and Riesling.  Eighty percent of their production is exported.  Casablanca is the appellation known for producing the finest Sauvignon Blanc in the country and that assertion holds true with Bosque whose Sauvignon Blanc is acclaimed by the Wall Street Journal.

They now have a star winemaker in Grant Phelps of New Zealand who consulted internationally before settling in Chile, first with Viu Manent before coming to Bosque.  He prides himself on his abilities with Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.  The former is still a work in progress.  The Sauvignon Blanc is firmly in the "Win" column.

Phelps' Syrah is 100% varietal and sourced from 10-15 year old hillside vineyards.  The soils are red clay over 110 million year old decomposed granite which retains a salinity from being under the ocean for most of its history.  Picking is done by hand using a double selection process.  The wine is fermented in small stainless steel tanks before seeing time in new and used French oak barrels.

The Syrah has a deep garnet color with purple hue.  The nose shows lavender and blueberries; the mouth, black cherry and cedar with the requisite peppery spice and dark berries of type.  The wine also has fresh acidity with firm crisp and savory tannins.  While this wine is more reflective of old world France than Australia, it is most definitely a new world product with its forward fruit, vanilliny oak, and soft creamy texture.  There is not any one thing from above that makes this wine special.  Rather, it's the sum of its parts that make this wine perfect.

Please join us this Thursday at 5pm when Morgan Miller presents a tasting of four from Bosque.  Then one week later David Klepinger offers us a tasting of Orin Swift California wines.