Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Demeter Certification

We've been selling a lot of Hawk and Horse Vineyards wines here lately.  If you go to their website they're all about their biodynamic certification.  Biodynamic is beyond "organic."  When I looked into how many other wineries could claim the certification I was struck by how many do carry this distinction.  They all readily advertise it too which makes sense when you consider they have to pay someone annually to inspect their digs.  You bet they're proud of their certification.

Demeter, by the way, was the Greek goddess of grain and fertility.  She must have resided somewhere prominently in Dr. Rudolf Steiner's consciousness back in 1928 when he started the certification program.  Steiner was a noted scientist in Germany who observed that industrial farming was doing long term harm to the soil and to all of us who rely on farming.  Actually he was confronted with the situation when farmers implored him to investigate why their crops were failing and their animals were sickly.

What Steiner came up with was a solution 180 degrees from the the factory farming model.  Steiner considered a farm to be a living thing, self-contained and self-sustaining.  It should be responsible for creating and maintaining its own health and vitality without adding anything from outside of its boundaries.  That means a farm must have livestock for manure, compost, nutrient catch crops and crop rotation.  It also must have biodiversity, predator habitat, adequate sunlight and air flow.  Any strategies for combating disease, insects, or weeds have to originate at the farm utilizing what is there.  This was the beginning of sustainable farming.

In 1985 Demeter Certification came to America, seventeen years before the USDA started its organic regulatory program.  Demeter remains the sole biodynamic certification program in this country and fifty countries around the world now offer their own Demeter programs.

Please join us this Thursday for the weekly wine tasting at the store.  We start at 5pm and go till 7.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

This Wine Pairs Well With Holidays and Relatives

That's what one of our wine gift bags says.  It's cute and it sells but who's kidding whom: Wine is personal and what one person likes the next person doesn't.  That is, unless it's one of the mass marketed types that is constructed to not offend anyone.  You can confidently pour one of those for friends and family over the holidays and no one will complain...unless they notice the wine has no character.

The way I see it the mass marketers have done two things to further their dominance in the industry.  Through technology they have been able to clean up ordinary grapes to remove bacteria that used to result in unsavory off-flavors and they have added extraneous flavors and texture to their product.  In their efforts to please everyone the mass marketers smooth out all of the wine rough edges and adjust the flavor profile to fit the contemporary palate template.  Unfortunately what can sadly result is a flabby unstructured amorphous wine that no longer has any claim to distinction.

Here are some alternatives that are neither too old world nor completely manipulated.

1.  Trifula "Truffle Dog" Rosso - This Barbera blend from Piedmont (!) Italy is made for the American market with its forward fruit and rich red fruit flavors.  And it's popularly priced!

2.  Chateau de Jarnioux Beaujolais - From Albert Bichot this one has the explosive brilliant Beaujolais fruit and polished profile that no one cannot enjoy.  This is fun wine!

3.  Villa Antinori Toscana Rosso - 100% Sangiovese that seduces with its softness and just enough acidity to keep it interesting.  This one not only complements pasta but any other lighter entree also.

4. & 5.  Need Chardonnay?  Here are a couple that don't go overboard with sweetness or oak.  Rutherford Ranch Napa Chardonnay is 1/2 Steel and 1/2 oak aged.  It is definitely California wine but a step back from being the fully-blown California Chardonnay style.  DMZ from South Africa is my corollary to Rutherford Ranch.  While still a new world venue, South Africa leans European.

6. & 7.  Need Cabernet?  BV Rutherford Napa Cabernet Sauvignon has always been a benchmark in Napa Cabernet.  It's a structured masculine example of what the product is supposed to be - steak wine.  The counterpart currently would be Ferrari Carano Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon which is not really feminine, just more complex with lighter complementary flavors.  Both Cabs offer the muscular grip that good Cabernet needs.

Please join us this Thursday after 5pm when Bob Reynolds presents a tasting of three from Italy and the Niner red blend from Paso Robles.  Then on Monday the 23rd Adam Bess returns for a tasting from his fine portfolio.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

GSM - The Rhone-Style Red Blend

First of all there are two Rhones, the northern Rhone Valley and the southern Rhone Valley.  In the north there is just one red grape, Syrah, and it is the veritable star of the entire valley.  In the southern valley the main grape is Grenache but it has company in the form of Syrah, Mourvedre and a slew of other minor players.  For our purposes here, we'll concentrate on the three majors which are shorthanded to GSM.  All three are indigenous to the region and exhibit an allelopathy or unity of purpose with the other historic plants of the region.  Sage, rosemary, thyme, juniper and lavender are often planted in the vineyards with that influence often finding its way into the makeup of the wine. 

Syrah is one of the great wine grapes of the world.  It offers big spicy dark (forward) fruit flavors of blueberry and plum complemented by black olive and bacon fat aromas.  Firm tannins and structure ensure Syrah will hold fast and improve in the cellar for the long haul.

Grenache is the lightest of the three yet still offers boisterous warm sometimes candied red fruit flavors along with herbs and cinnamon spice, leather and earthiness.  It also has a higher alcohol potential than the others.

Mourvedre adds a deep rich dark red color and flavors similar to Syrah.  It has floral aromas and a persistent length of flavors adding tannins in the process.

When you read their descriptions it's easy to understand why Grenache is the center of the blend.  Syrah adds to the front; Mourvedre, to the finish; and both to the structure and heft of the blend. 

Terroir being what it is and allowing for differences in clonal grape varieties, GSM blends in California and other venues around the world may offer entirely different results.

This Thursday at 5pm we'll be tasting some very special red wines at the store.  One of them may just be a GSM.  Please join us for the event.


Tuesday, November 19, 2019

La Clape

La Clape was my lesson for this week.  Last week my vendor tasted me on Chateau L'Hospitalet Rhone-style red from Gerard Bertrand.  Located in the La Clape AOC in the Aude department of Languedoc, the wine tasted like the formidable Rhone blend its back label said it would be: 60% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 30% Mourvedre.  I bought five cases.

Hopefully this wine will find a home on many holiday dinner tables this month.  It's a somewhat pricey red from a region that only got its AOC pedigree a couple years ago.  When I tasted it with the vendor last week I remarked that the asking price was high for Languedoc wine.  I didn't know La Clape was anything other than ordinary in the scheme of things.

Here's what I learned:

La Clape is unique indeed.  Up until the 13th century it was an island in the Mediterranean Sea. Over time, alluvial deposits from the Pyranees Mountains filled in much of three sides of it leaving lagoons to the south.  Deep ravines remain elsewhere.  The Mediterranean Sea fronts the east side.  On the three landed sides of La Clape can be found five of the better wine districts of Languedoc.

When I got into this business in the 1970's Languedoc was where most of the wine of France came from.  It still is.  That wine is overwhelmingly ordinary.  While I knew there were exceptions and efforts were being made to upgrade the production as a whole, I didn't know it was a concerted effort.  That effort centered on the vineyards that were known to deserve a better fate than just ordinary Languedoc wine.  La Clape is one of these.

A massif is an isolated compact group of mountains set apart from a range.  In the local Occitane dialect La Clape means "pile of stones."  The Massif de La Clape is the highest elevation of the district and stands seven hundred feet above sea level encompassing the entire east side.  Cliffs provide the visual from the east.  Chateau L'Hospitalet is located just above the cliffs.  The vineyards are four miles away.

Just as you would expect, La Clape has the Mediterranean climate of hot summers and mild winters moderated by the marine influence.  Due to its geographical positioning it also has more sunlight than anywhere else in France.  Thirteen different wind currents blow any cloud formations away.  The soil is a free-draining sandy mix of limestone, marl and clay.  Seven hundred sixty-eight hectares of vineyards can be found over this seventeen kilometer area.

La Clape is a protected area as designated by the European Union and several other private and public entities.  It has unique vegetation and the lagoons to the south host a variety of fauna including a year round population of flamingos!

Please join us this Thursday after 5 for the weekly wine tasting.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Classic Wines, Part 2

Last time we wrote about a winefolly.com report of a sommelier-approved list of twenty "classic" wines.  The list included nine whites and eleven reds.  The purpose for the list was for the educational benefit of wine lovers everywhere.  By setting forth a model of what each varietal grape type tastes like when grown in ideal conditions, other examples may be evaluated when compared to that ideal.

Here are the eleven "classic" reds on the list:

     1. Cabernet Franc
     2. Cabernet Sauvignon
     3. Gamay
     4. Grenache
     5. Malbec
     6. Merlot
     7. Nebbiolo
     8. Pinot Noir
     9. Sangiovese
     10. Syrah
     11. Tempranillo
     12. Zinfandel.

I like Wine Folly. They do a good job of explaining wine to most of us whether we have a background in the business or not.  This time however, not so much.  In their article they said the list was "slowly evolving."  That may shed light on the existence of a twelfth wine in what was supposed to be eleven reds to make a total of twenty wines.

In the last post we placed the ideal locale for the different types next to the grape name.  This time it didn't seem to make sense.  For Merlot, they say it's ideal location is wherever Cabernet Sauvignon is planted.  I don't think so.  Others list several locations, which is fine except the reader may assume the one listed first is the best or that each locale is equal to the others.  One type, Cabernet Franc, didn't list a locale at all.

Last time we also drew on a list from forty years ago that broke down grape types into "noble" varieties and common types.  The noble ones from the list above would include Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo.  Those are the types that the taster could assume would show superiority over the others.  This schema is not without its problems.  Argentine Malbec, Northern Rhones and Australian Shiraz would have a legitimate case to contest their exclusion from nobility and all of the insipid Pinot Noir out there certainly doesn't deserve recognition as anything special.

Please join us this Thursday after 5pm when David Hobbs presents a tasting of Vrede Lust Riesling, Chateau Moulinat Red Bordeaux, Esser Monterey Pinot Noir and Venge Scout's Honor Napa Red Blend.  Then on Wednesday the 27th Adam Bess leads us in a Thanksgiving Eve tasting of four from his fine wine portfolio.  Please join us! 

Monday, November 11, 2019

A New Paradigm

Now comes this from winefolly.com: a list of "classic wines" composed by two sommelier organizations for the purpose of educating wine lovers everywhere.  The "classics" include eleven reds and nine whites denoted by their varietal name.  The idea here is to show a classic example of type from one or more venues so wine lovers will learn what the stuff is supposed to taste like when sourced from prime locales.

Sounds like a plan.  It seems to be a little less dogmatic than the schema I remember from forty years ago which separated the noble wines from the common (ignoble?) ones.  That model is still useful today but only if you acknowledge that most wine grapes can show nobility if grown in the right venue.  By the way, if you hang around long enough, doesn't everything get recycled and designated as the "the best new thing."

This week we'll start with the whites:

     1. Albarino from Rias Baixas in Spain
     2. Chardonnay from Burgundy, California and Australia
     3. Chenin Blanc from Vouvray and South Africa
     4. Gewurztraminer from Alsace, Sonoma and Trentino-Alto Adige
     5. Pinot Gris from Alsace, Northern Italy and Oregon
     6. Riesling from Germany, Alsace, Austria and Australia
     7. Sauvignon Blanc from Loire, New Zealand and California
     8. Torrontes from Mendoza, Salta and Catamarca in Argentina
     9. Viognier from Northern Rhone and Central Coast, California

Now, going back to the old noble/common paradigm, the noble grapes from the list would be Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Viognier.  They would be the ones expected to show more character than the others.  There is still a lot of truth to that.

Now here's the challenge: If you're standard wine go-to is limited and you're curious about some of what's on the list, well, spread your wings.  None of us is studying for the sommelier exam here.  We're just in it for the fun of it!

Vine & Cheese has good examples of each type listed including several inexpensive introductory models.  We also have twenty percent off one of the very best Alto Adige Gewurztraminers.  Wouldn't that be a nice one for the Thanksgiving table.

If you want a wine education while having a bunch of fun at the same time join us this Thursday the 14th from 5-7pm.  That evening Dominique Chambon will lead us in a tasting of three from Italy along with a lovely French red from Provence.  Then on the 21st David Hobbs rejoins us for a tasting from his fine wine portfolio.  Please join us for both events!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Ribero del Duero

Everyone says Rioja is the fine wine region of Spain.  It's their Bordeaux.  Their Napa Valley.  Everyone means me too.  So when the wine salesman offers me this incredible red ($85 retail!) from Ribero del Duero, of course, I jump on it.  I have a reputation to protect.  If the wine sounds incredible but the real story is that it will be extremely hard to sell, well then I'm all in!  Let's do it!

So Oracula is now in the store.  It is constructed with the Tinta del Pais grape which is one of the three dozen names for Tempranillo.  Ordinarily the Ribero del Duero blend would be 75% Tempranillo with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Malbec making up the remaining 25%.  Up to five percent total between Garnacha and the white grape Albillo are also allowed.  Those are the historic standards for the region going back more than a hundred years.  Oracula, however, is like an Italian Super Tuscan with no regard to the rules.  It is overwhelmingly Tempranillo with some Garnacha.

Oracula is dark red in color.  It has aromas of cherry, spice, toasted oak and cigar box.  On the palate it is dense and layered with succulent, velvety tannins.  It also has the requisite long finish.  In other words, it's steak wine.

You ought to buy one, what with the holidays and all coming up.  The packaging is smasho!  Ask to see it when you're in the store.

If Oracula really is all it's cracked up to be, what makes it so?  Ribero del Duero is located on the northern plateau of the Iberian peninsula 280 feet above sea level.  The name means "on the bank of the Duero" which is the east-west river crossing Spain and Portugal.  In Portugal it is called the Douro and that is the finest wine region of the country.  On the Spanish side the river hosts seven DO's (denominacion de origen) or wine districts before it reaches Portugal.

Ribero del Duero is huge.  It has two hundred wineries and a milllion acres in vines.  It is the third largest wine producer in the country and almost all of the production is red wine.  Two mountain ranges, the Sierra de la Demanda and Sierra de Guadararia, shelter the region making its Continental-to-Mediterranean climate possible.  That climate means long hot dry summers with harsh winters.  The soil is a silky clay over limestone with marl and chalk.

Is Ribero the real thing?  Are they the best wine appellation in Spain?  According to my current research, there is a groundswell of support for the proposition.  Vega Sicilia (est. 1864) is the great winery of Ribero del Duero and its flagship wine, Unico, is considered by many to be the finest of Spain.

Ribero del Duero red wines are intense.  They are deeply colored with firm tannins and structure with complex aromas of dark fruit.

You ought to try one.  Perhaps the Oracula.

Speaking of great red wines, please join us this Thursday after 5pm when we open some Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons.  Cheri Rubio hosts our event.  The specific wines are yet to be determined but they will be legitimate estate bottled Cabs.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Margaret River

"Margaret River is the closest thing to paradise of any wine region I have visited in my extensive search for knowledge." - Jancis Robinson

Remind me to thank the salesman for selling me a case of 2015 Vasse Felix Margaret River Filius Cabernet Sauvignon.  The salesman, by the way, wasn't the regular guy on the streets.  This was a wine company supervisor who stopped in to check on me.  Whenever that happens it's usually a golden opportunity to pick up some of the good stuff!

It wasn't so much the particular Vasse Felix Cab that he recommended that got me giddy.  It was the reminder of just how great the Margaret River wine region is on the world scale.  That's what has me writing now.  I didn't even realize Vasse Felix was Margaret River wine at the time!  Now I can add Vasse Felix to Cullen and Leeuwin and all of the other wonderful Margaret River wines that are remarkable in their own right yet don't sell worth a flip! They've been making world class Cabernet Sauvignon for fifty years and you still have to hand sell them!

The Margaret River wine region encompasses 5,000 hectares of vineyard land in southwestern Australia.  It measures 100 kilometers from north to south.  They produce 3% of the wine of Australia but account for 20% of the market sales which means they're definitely doing something right.

Margaret River is a cape surrounded by ocean waters on three sides.  It has a Mediterranean climate with some of the oldest gravelly loam soils on the planet.  The ocean breezes moderate the temperatures and the old soils provide drainage for the vines.  Mysteriously, being on a west coast anywhere also seems to be a factor in fine wine production.

Vasse Felix was the first vineyard and winery of the Margaret River region.  It was started in 1967 and saw three ownership changes and eight vintages before hitting their stride.  Initially Riesling was their primary endeavor before learning how great their Cabernets and Chardonnays could be.  Margaret River wines are consistently elegant, showing finesse and ripe fruit flavors appropriate to the varietal.

The 2015 Filius is an estate-bottled red that has a little Malbec in the blend and sees fifteen months in oak.  It has a purplish-maroon color and savory but perfumed nose.  On the palate are notes of black currant, venison, mushrooms, truffles, sage, earth, oak and cedar.  In other words, this is complex wine.  It finishes long and lean.

Please join us this Thursday after 5pm for our weekly wine tasting.


Tuesday, October 22, 2019


Most of what follows is taken from a Wall Street Journal article by Tia Keenan entitled "Cheddar Has Never Been Better."

Cheddar is probably too big of a category for us to treat justly in our limited format here.  For one thing, strictly speaking, Cheddar cheese is made in the area around the village of Cheddar in England.  What we're going to discuss here is the American version.  To be sure though, the American version is a direct descendant of the English since our colonists were English.

For the first 150 years of our American history Cheddar was the premier cheese of the country.  Then with industrialization came supermarkets and pre-packaged commodity cheddar and prepared frozen foods utilizing the commodity.  A further result of industrialization was the creation of "American" processed cheese.  Colored to look Cheddar-ish, American had its reign through most of the twentieth century.  Then when pizza became so popular, Mozzarella took over as our best selling cheese. 

What is Cheddar cheese and what accounts for its popularity?  Cheddar is made by stacking curds at the dairy extracting the liqid whey and drying the curds in the process.  These sturdier curds could then be milled and pressed into molds for aging.

Cheddar's popularity has to do with its many applications.  A chunk on a platter with a nearby knife serves most of our needs at dinners and social events.  If it's not too aged and crumbly, cheddar has a place in sandwiches.  As an accompaniment with apples, other fruit and nuts, cheddar becomes a frity snack.  Melted on casseroles and other hot dishes, you can't beat what cheddar adds to flavor combinations.

Beginning in the 1970's Farmstead Cheddars have been revived.  Like an estate wine, these cheeses are made entirely on the farm and then sold in specialty food stores.  Because we are mass-market nation many of these better Cheddars are now distributed more widely as the producers adapt to consumer demand.

Please join us this Thursday the 24th at 5pm when Bob Reynolds offers us a tasting of Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris, Julia James California Pinot Noir and two from Donati of California, the Cabernet Suavignon and Ezio Reserve Red Blend. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


Mimolette is one of our most popular cheeses here at the store.  For the uninitiated it's appearance is what intrigues us.  It's round, for one thing.  Why that is is something I will never understand.  Imagine trying to cut into a bowling ball!

 If it's aged, Mimolette resembles a cantaloupe, complete with pockmarks from the mites that are used to aerate the interior of the cheese.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Bugs are used to burrow through the rind of the cheese to provide fresh air into the interior and that action is what gives the cheese its mellow nuttiness.

That is also why the FDA banned the cheese for a number of years because bugs burrowing into cheese to be fed to Americans just didn't seem right.  Specifically, the concern had to do with an allergic reaction to the mites.  No such reactions in Europe were ever in evidence.

"Mi-mou" is French for "semi-soft" and young Mimolette is semi-soft in texture, creamy and light in color.  Its flavor is Parmesan-like.  With age the cheese turns more orange and hardens.  With a lot of age Mimolette becomes very dry, hard and brown.  It's flavor seems to sweeten with age but surprisingly it's hazelnut flavor never becomes strong.

Most Mimolette is some shade of orange in color and that is due to the natural dye, Annato, that is used to color the cheese, which brings us to our history lesson for the day: Louis IV was King of West Francia (936-954) at a time of discord with Holland over land proprietorship.  West Francia included much of northernmost France along with some of the modern day Netherlands and Belgium.  Much of the area at the time was called Flanders and the cultural ties for many were to Holland.  Many people actually spoke Dutch.  Louis the IV thought he would drive nationalism by banning the ultra-popular Dutch Edam and replace it with a new creation, Mimolette.  He had it colored orange to further distinguish it from Edam, which is also, interestingly, round.

And the rest is history!

Please join us this Thursday after 5pm when Adam Bess leads us in a tasting of four wines from Testamento of Argentina.  The wines come from the high altitude Mendoza region and include a red blend, a sparkler and two estate reds: Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.  Please join us!

Tuesday, October 8, 2019


Cremant is the French term for high quality sparkling wine produced outside of the Champagne district.  In 1905 when Alsace became a part of France its sparkling wine was christened Cremant.  The region had been German and the product had been called Champagne but since France already had a Champagne district that had to change.

In 1975 the term was expanded to refer to sparkling wines made in any of the French AOC's, (appellations d'origine controllata) or protected designations of origin.  Today there are 300 French wine AOC's.  Most of them were around in '75 so there was no shortage of Cremant back then.

Back in 1993 when the European Union took over, Champagne was facing a lot of competition from other Euro-nations and across the globe.  Within France, Cremant, which was always an esteemed product, became streamlined.  In 1996 it was codified to mean "high quality sparkling wine produced since 1986 from just eight AOC's.

Those eight AOC's in relative descending order of importance are: Alsace, Burgundy, Loire, Limoux, Bordeaux, du Jura, Savoie, and de Die.  The largest producer of Cremant in France has always been Alsace. 

The 1996 law says all Cremant must be made according to the extensive Champagne method.  Moreover, the grapes have to be hand harvested and "whole cluster pressed with a limited must extraction."  The wine also must be aged for nine months.

The grape varietals are determined by each appellation. Once they are ascertained, they too are then written into law.  The Cremant regions of production within the appellation are also codified.  In most appellations the regions and allowable grape types are broadly defined.

Please join us this Thursday October 10th when David Hobbs leads us in a tasting of three from Del Rio Vineyards of Rogue Valley, Oregon.  Specifically we'll be tasting the Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.  Also on the tasting table will be the Vino Robles Red 4, a Paso Robles Rhone-style blend of Petite Sirah, Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache.   We taste from 5 to 7pm.  Please join us for the event.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Wine in the Can

Lettie Teague, wine writer for the Wall Street Journal, took on this subject last month in an article titled, "Is the Wine Bottle Over?"  As my canned wine vendor brought in my order, she paraphrased Lettie by announcing, "This is the future of the wine industry!"  Before we accede to that verdict though we should acknowledge both the historic wine standards and the ethics and acumen of professionals in this industry.  The only obvious conclusion - bottled wine is not going anywhere.

In fairness wine in the can shouldn't be considered in the same light as bottled wine or even boxed wine.  All canned beverages have to be sent for testing to the Ball Corporation just to be sure there is chemical compatibility with the can liner.  All canned beverages also must have a dosage of liquid nitrogen added before the can is sealed so all canned wine ends up being slightly bubbly.  No matter what the preparation is though, the first sip still tastes metallic.  Or is that our imagination?

Wine in the can seems to be meant for outdoor activities.  If you're hiking, boating or poolside there is something to be said for the convenience and against having to deal with stemware.  And since wine is about three times more alcoholic than beer, if you've already had a couple, even more so!  So let's get down to it and pass on the proprieties: Ice down your cans (whites, roses, and reds), sacrifice the aroma afforded by stemware, and if you are a wine snob at all, check your standards at the back door!

In fairness the canned wines we sold here this summer were perfectly fine and even better than we expected.  The wines were 14 Hands from the always reliable Chateau Ste. Michelle brand and Oregon which we were told was made by Stoller, another reliable producer.  We consider ourselves fortunate to have tried these two.  Teague says a wine that is unsatisfactory to begin with will be worsened by being canned.

So, is canned wine viable going forward?  Sales are just a blip on the screen compared to bottles and boxed wines but they do show growth.  This industry is innovative and what works is sometimes surprising.  If pricing is fair then why shouldn't canned wines sell.  Will they supplant bottles?  Uh-uh!

This Thursday October 3rd from 5 to 7pm, Brian Espanol offers us a tasting of Rutherford Ranch Napa Valley wines.  On the 10th David Hobbs presents the wines of Vina Robles of Paso Robles and on the 17th Bob Reynolds tastes us on Willamette Valley Vineyards Oregon wines.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Dry Riesling?

We all know Riesling, don't we?  It's that sweet stuff that has a pretty good flavor but it's really the sweetness we remember.  Wines that aren't sweet are remembered for other qualities usually having to do with their flavor profiles and therein lies the rub for Riesling.  With its peach and melon flavors, Riesling wines with minimal residual sugar may still give an illusion of being sweeter than they are.

Sweet Rieslings are great wines, by the way.  Some of the finest in the world.  But lets put our cards on the table: If you like sweet wines, you like sugar.  Sugar dominates in Riesling the same way oak does in a really oaky California Chardonnay.  Now if you remove the oak or sugar you then appreciate what the wine grape, itself, brings to the table.

Before we move on to dry Rieslings though there is a balance in oaky/sweet wines that shouldn't be minimized.  That balance is achieved by the acidity of the wine.  If the oak influence in a wine is moderate then it takes on an earthy dimension that doesn't clobber you with that one heavy flavor.  It's kind of like feeling the rhythm section of a band instead of having that dimension dominating the music.  With wines with moderate sweetness (or oakiness), if that sweetness (or oakiness) is in balance with the wine's acidity, then it's kind of like honey and lemon in tea.  They sort of cancel each other out and the result is rather nice.

Anyway, back to dry Riesling...  What makes this wine so desirable is its aromatics and food-friendly acidity.  Think light meats, seafood, and salads of all types.  After going through the torrid summer just past, wouldn't a glass of this stuff have been a nice afternoon cocktail!

Wines comparable to dry Riesling include Albarino, Chenin Blanc, Torrontes and Loureiro but in all honesty they don't measure up to the complexity of good Riesling.  Riesling may very well be the great white wine grape of the world.  The finest Riesling comes from Germany where the grape originated but exceptional Riesling also can be found in New York and Canada, Austria and Alsace, and in South Australia.  Wines from these locales may deliver more exotic flavors like jasmine, beeswax, apricot, lime, or petrol.

Two sources for this posting: Wine Folly and Lettie Teague (WSJ).

Please join us this Thursday the 26th when Dominique Chambon leads us in a tasting from his fine French wine portfolio.  We go from 5 to 7pm.  Dominique is both teacher and entertainer in our humble setting.


Monday, September 16, 2019

Whole Cluster Fermentation

We've all heard the term, haven't we?  Willamette Valley Vineyards even markets a Whole Cluster Pinot Noir and that name has probably worked quite well for them.  It sounds, well, wholistic.  The most popular whole cluster wine historically has probably been the the one we'll be vending here in a couple months, Nouveau Beaujolais.  That one has been popular for a very long time.

So what is whole cluster fermentation?  Well, it's just what it sounds like.  Whole clusters of grapes are fermented as a unit.  The fermentation tank is filled with these grape clusters before carbon dioxide is pumped into it.  There is no pressing of the grapes.  The weight of the grapes does that on its own.

No oxygen exists in the tank and no yeasts are added.  This anaerobic environment provides for an intracellular metabolic reaction converting sugar into alcohol.  Fermentation of this type breaks down malic acid leaving more fresh fruit and residual sugar in the wine.

Make no mistake - whole cluster fermentation includes stems in the winemaking process and anyone who has tasted green vegetation in wine should be shuttering about now at the thought.  But this brings up an entirely different issue - does a wine really have to be all about fruit (and maybe a little earthiness) or can steminess be an asset?

Methoxypyrazine is the fifty cent word for the greenness in flavors and aromas brought on by the inclusion of unripe stems into fermenting wine.  When it predominates it's a flaw.  Machine harvesting grapes is responsible for much of that.  So the hand harvesting of grapes done by smaller estates shouldn't be minimized.

What also counts is having a long growing season and a cooler climate environment that will turn green stems brown.  Then those ripe stems add tannins and other hearty flavors.  Some green stems are alright according to David Ramey of Ramey Wine Cellars.  Maybe as much as 50% in a cool climate environment.  They bring out the Syrahness of a wine adding peppercorn, bacon fat and green olive flavors to a wine.

Please join us this Thursday after 5pm for our weekly wine tasting and check out all of the new foods here!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

2017 Stoller Chardonnay

I'm not good at describing wine.  I just know what I like and I r-e-a-l-l-y liked this wine.  But why?

Just a short read of Eric Asimov's New York Times wine article from a year ago clarifies things quite well.  The name of the article was "Chardonnay, the Oregon Way" and in it Asimov determines the key to good Chardonnay starts in the vineyard, specifically, at harvest time.

Until relatively recently Oregon had a troubled history with the grape.  One that was complicated by winemakers wanting to copy what California was doing.  That's never a good idea.  David Harris, who made the best Georgia wines at Blackstock Vineyards, used to say wine is made in the vineyard.  Trust that vineyard to produce the quality necessary for winemaking and then allow the process to unfold with minimal interventions.

Trying to make California-styled Chardonnay disregarded an important element - acidity.  Too many California Chardonnays are flabby and lack a structural continuity from start to finish.  Asimov says an over-correction occurred when some Oregon winemakers opted for a more French style.  That didn't work either.  Now grapes are being harvested at the correct acidity for what appears to be a uniquely Oregon Chardonnay style.

Acidity enlivens a wine.  It gives it a tension, a thrust, energy and momentum.  All of those terms depict movement and if that movement is constant then that churning, that vibrancy, becomes a backdrop for the herbs, flowers and discernible minerality the 2017 Stoller displays.

Please join us this Thursday, September 12th after 5pm when we'll taste the Stoller and others here at the store.

Saturday, August 31, 2019


In southern France it's called garrigue (gar-eeg).  In California, it's chaparral.  In Chile, it's matorral.  In South Africa, it's fynbos and in Australia it's called mallee.  Terms like these in wine parlance are either nouns or descriptors depending on their usage.  Garrigue and all of the others above are names given to the vegetation common in their wine regions.  When describing a wine they refer to the influence of the terrain on the grapes growing in the vineyards.  In short, it's about terroir.  What garrigue imparts to a wine is an herbal character.

Southern France, including the Rhone, Provence and much of Languedoc, has a hilly scrubland terrain with isolated thickets of small oak trees, bushes and herbs.  Four thousand years ago this region was heavily forested with rich topsoil but deforestation for agriculture resulted in the garrigue landscape today.  Herbes de Provence, strictly speaking, would include all of the minty and floral herbs that thrive in the region.  Sage, rosemary, thyme, juniper and lavender all contribute to that pungent bouquet which is evident in the air.

Today the garrigue of southern France is protected by law.  Over the course of centuries the soil of the region has become a chalky lime alkaline clay.  It has a high pH, low infiltration capacity and a hard calcareous crust.  The plants that have thrived there in the long term show an allelopathy, a unity of purpose with each other which disallows newcomers to the area.  Many emit an oil into the soil that asserts their dominance and maintains the open spaces around the plant clusters.  That oil becomes part of the soil and eventually internalized by grapevine roots.

Please join us this Thursday between 5 and 7pm when Cheri Rubio presents a tasting from her fine wine portfolio.  That evening we'll be tasting Lurton White Bordeaux, The Crossings New Zealand Pinot Noir, Villa Pozzi Sicilian Nero d'Avola and Kunde Family Estate Zinfandel.  Please join us.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Red Wine with Seafood

How is seafood like Chardonnay?  It takes on the character of its environs.  Chardonnay on its own is a very mildly flavored light white wine but put it in oak and it can become a monster.

Seafood can be similar.  On its own most seafood is really white wine fodder.  You want to make the simplest of light dry white wines taste good?  Pair it with a piece of poached fish. 

Pair your light dry white with tuna or salmon though and it may very well be overwhelmed.  Those two lend themselves to a heftier white wine, rose or even a light red. Not only are they a more flavorful fish but they have the heft and texture that conjures up a piece of red meat.  So, of course, a red wine would work here also.

Among the more common red varietals most amenable to seafood are Pinot Noir, Gamay or Grenache.  The little known Mencia from Spain would also work as well as everyone's favorite, Italian Valpolicella.

What if we go a step further?  How about putting our fish in a tomato sauce with appropriate veggies making our meal more sweet and savory.  Whenever tomato sauce is in the offing, think Italian.  That's what they do so about half of the red wines available from Italy (the lighter half) would work here.

What if we rub some serious spices into that fish and then put it on the backyard grill?  Now we're talking bigger red wine, perhaps a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet, Merlot and more.  Something more substantial than the light reds but still not a heavy oaky red.  If we're staying with the Italian theme, Chianti Classico might be nice.

You like oak?  Then add some earthiness to the meal.  Add some root vegetables, mushrooms or nuts to the meal.  These elements along with the charcoal smokiness from the grill will nicely complement your oaky California red.

Two final points:

Lemon juice and vinegar are no-nos when matching wine and seafood.  Unless you like a metallic aftertaste.

Sicily may be ground zero for complementing seafood with red wine.  As luck would have it, we have two coming in next week!

Join us this Thursday at the After 5 Wine Tasting as David Hobbs presents Highway 12 Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc, Bench Sonoma Coast (!) Pinot Noir along with a nice Portuguese Vinho Verde and a stellar French Moulin a Vent.  These four examples are part of an initial order of twelve wines from Dave's new portfolio.  Please join us for the tasting!

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Question Authority

"Question Authority" was my favorite bumper sticker from the 1960's.  It seemed to be especially prevalent in college towns or big cities in those times when cynicism prevailed.  But while that was admittedly a different time and place I still wonder whether things are really that different today.

Fifteen years or so ago I attended a wine trade show in Atlanta put on by one of the largest multinational liquor companies.  There were wines from five continents including great brands from the best regions of France and California.  The employees behind the tables were industry insiders; by default, experts in their field.  Yet in a way, they were nothing more than carney barkers inviting the taster to "step right up" and experience what they were paid to pitch as God's gift to the wine world.

Each presentation at each table in the hotel ballroom was the same; moreover, every wine, regardless of origin, tasted pretty much the same.  This gargantuan multinational had poll-tested what American wine drinkers liked and then made every wine they represented taste the same!  They stood the wine industry on its head and did away with the distinction that a place of origin provides.

So why am I barking about this now?  In a Lettie Teague WSJ article from last year, she writes about the "influencers" who are changing the wine reviewing game.  Apparently the "expert" wine critics of the past have lost sway and others have stepped in to fill the gap.  And make no mistake, it's social media she's talking about.

Now before you stop reading because I've gotten too polemical, the era of establishment wine criticism (Spectator, Enthusiast, Advocate et al.) wasn't all it was cracked up to be either.  Remember, the name of the post is QUESTION AUTHORITY.  Robert Parker sold his Wine Advocate and got out of the game back in 2012.  By that time he had already done plenty of damage by "parkerizing" the industry.  In short, he had become too powerful and if wine makers everywhere wanted his approval, they were forced to make the highly extracted style Parker loved.

In a way nothing has changed.  Peer reviews seem to have replaced Parker and if that works for wine lovers then it's all good.  Things can be taken to extremes though.  Apparently celebrity basketball player Lebron James is a wine lover and has legions of followers who trust his wine judgments.  Maybe Lebron has exquisite wine tastes.  Or maybe we could all develop our own palates so we don't need to follow Lebron or anyone else.

Our weekly wine tastings are friendly low-key affairs.  Join us this Thursday after 5pm for a sampling of four types, two contrasting whites and reds.  Tell us if you're new to this kind of thing.  We might have something special for you!

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.

Winefolly.com 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 foodandwine.com/wine/kermit-lynch-interview.  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 miuravineyards.com 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!