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.