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.