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.