Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Cotes de Provence

Since Roses are such a big item again we thought some further definition of the greatest Rose appellation in the world was in order.  For instance - How does Cotes de Provence differ from just plain Provence

It turns out Provence is one of those overly large appellations, like Paso Robles in California, that has smaller wine appellations within it.  The Cotes de Provence appellation is the largest of these with fifty thousand acres (!) in eastern Provence.  Actually it is the eastern half of Provence though not entirely contiguous.  It is also home to most of the Rose made in Provence.  Eighty percent of its production is Rose.  Of the remainder, 15% is red and just 5% is white.

The red grapes allowed in Cotes de Provence Rose are Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Carignon and an indigenous variety called Tibouren.  The first four listed are those blended into Southern Rhone reds with Grenache being the greatest of them.  Some Roses are 100% Grenache.  Carignon is the least of these.  No Cotes de Provence Rose may have more than forty percent Carignon.  

Tibouren is an interesting item in itself.  It accounts for fifteen percent of vineyard plantings in Cotes de Provence and offers an earthy bouquet to typical blends.  It also has a lengthy history there arriving from further east around 500bc.

Within the Cotes de Provence there are three departments: Var, Bouches-du-Rhone and Alpes-Maritimes and between them lie eighty-four communes.  Two distinct geologies exist in the region: calcareous soils to the northwest and crystalline soils to the southeast.  

We would be remiss not to mention the very important garrigue of Provence, the low lying fragrant vegetation of lavender, thyme, rosemary and juniper.  We have written about this before.  In short, the vegetation actually affects the resulting wine flavors!

It should be mentioned that wine quality in the Cotes de Provence is uneven and that has to do with the extremes in topography.  We're talking about the Alps afterall, so we're pretty sure blending would have to be an art form there.

Then lastly we should mention the rose winemaking method responsible for the great success of the region.  They use the saignee (sohn-yay) method which is extracting (bleeding) extra phenolics, color and flavor from red grape must to goose the rose.

Please call 770-287-WINE(9463) or email wineguy@bellsouth.net if you would like to attend the Dominique Chambon Halloween wine tasting this Saturday afternoon (1-4pm).  Dominique is one of the most entertaining presenters in the business and he has an unbelievable fine wine portfolio.  At least one of our tasters should be a Provence Rose.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Cave Aged Gruyere (groo-yair)

For the longest time whenever someone asked me what my favorite cheese was, I would deflect back to them just to make sure I got them what they really wanted.  Now I take just the opposite approach.  I'll scream it from the rooftops - "Gruyere is absolutely to die for!"

FYI - It's also the best cheese in the world!  That's not coming from me.  So says the World Cheese Awards, an annual event held in London, England where the Cave Aged Gruyere has won four times in the thirty-four years the event has been held.  That's more wins than any other cheese has garnered so by that one metric, it is the best!

Our Gruyere is aged for one year in sandstone caves in Kaltbach, Switzerland which is near Lucerne where the Hadron Collider is speeding stuff up in hopes of revealing secrets of the universe.  Good for them!  At the end of the year I'm betting slow and steady wins the race.  When that Gruyere emerges from its cave with its assertive earthy complexity, which would you rather have, secrets of the universe or orgasmic swiss cheese!

In all seriousness...when it's young, Guyere is sweet and salty and creamy and nutty.  After a year in the caves the inherent saltiness becomes crystallized just as the creaminess becomes grainier.  If you unpack the assertive complexity mentioned above, you may get carmelized apples, hazelnuts and brown butter.  Nah, that's too textbooky.  This stuff just plain funky.  AND it goes with most any red wine worth its weight in Gruyere.

Along with being a perfect accompaniment with serious red (and white) wine, Gruyere is also an intrinsic part of the dinner table.  It does well grated on salads, pastas, French Onion Soup, quiche and Chicken/Veal Cordon Bleu.  Of course it is also part and parcel of traditional fondue.

Gruyere has been around since the thirteenth century and in 2001 it received its Appellation d'Origine Protegee.  This is the European Union legal protection ensuring all steps in the production of Gruyere are consistent with its historic definition.  This also defines the cheese geographically so France can no longer call its own version of Gruyere by that name.  Gruyere is wholly Swiss! 

Please join us here at the store on Saturday the 31st (Halloween) between 1 and 4pm when Dominique Chambon leads us in a tasting of some of his new French wines on the market.  Please call 770-287-WINE(9463) to reserve your participation.  I'm sure the Gruyere will be on the tasting table also! 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Tricky Rabbit

Why on earth would you brand a wine "Tricky Rabbit?"  It seems to be just a little too silly.  We'll get around to answering that question in a bit.

Tricky Rabbit is a line of six wines from the Invina wine company which is a project of the Huber family of the Central Valley of Chile.  The Hubers are Americans who did well enough in banking to now own eight hundred acres in vines in Maule, Chile.  Maule (mow-lay) is the wine appellation in Chile where close to half of all of Chilean wines come from.  

Chile, as everyone knows, is a vertical ribbon on the South American map so latitude-wise their winemaking potential is limited.  It's basically the middle third of the country.  Chile has also designated three winemaking districts between the Andes to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west which makes sense considering the differences in terrain, topography and climate.  The Hubers own vineyards in each of the districts.

Here's where we get to the meaning of the Tricky Rabbit name.  The label depicts a rabbit riding a unicycle on a tightrope.  Each element conjures up qualities of its own but together they make no sense.  The Hubers believe in blending grapes.  Each of their wines blends from the three districts to produce what they feel is the best product from their efforts.  So while the wine label posits the absurd, the wine in the bottle conversely shows a complementary relationship between the components.

Put another way on one of their web pages, they talk about "the Color of Maule" which is what they feel they create through their blending and that brings us to Por Fin.  Por Fin means "at last" and it is a premium red blend separate from Tricky Rabbit label.  The blend is 48% Syrah, 23% Malbec, 18% Carmenere and 11% Petit Verdot.

We have five of the Invina wines in the store and all of them overperform in their everyday-priced category.  Stop in and check 'em out!  And if you want to taste Tricky Rabbit or Por Fin, stop in Saturday afternoon!

Wednesday, October 7, 2020


Let me take you back thirty-five years or so to a time when yours truly was a wine department manager for Big Star Foods.  The most profitable store of the chain of fifty-two stores was mine and it was located two doors to the left of where I am standing presently.  It was where the Publix store currently stands.

It seems quaint now, but Big Star was progressive and ahead of its time with concepts like defined departments within the store that lent themselves to more specialization in their offerings.  Like the idea of a wine department within a grocery store.  What a concept!

So I was hired out of Atlanta to run that department which was largely scripted from corporate headquarters.  The "laydown" racks, a couple of which still exist in our current store, were mostly intended to feature selected fine California estate wines, ie., the best of the best.  No other big player was doing such a thing so this was a coup for Big Star.  As the resident "wineguy" for the store my job was to sell those wines.

Here's the problem: I had just trained with Jim Sanders of Sanders Beverages of West Paces Ferry in Buckhead.  Jim was the French Burgundy expert of the southeastern United States.  So while I knew that the wines I was supposed to sell were good, many weren't world class.

Gundlach-Bundschuh was one of those acclaimed California laydown wines and my history with them goes back five years earlier to a time when I really was new to the business.  It was at that time that Atlanta was awash in California wines, so great was the promotion of what the culture savants were sure would be the next big thing.  As I recall Gun-Bun excelled at Gewurztraminer and Merlot back then.

Founded in 1858 Gundlach-Bundschuh is the oldest continually operating family-owned winery in the country.  With 320 acres they were the premier California winery until the 1906 San Francisco earthquake nearly put them out of business.  Their production facilities were in the city and everything there was a total loss.  They emerged from the quake a fraction of what they were before.  

Then the Prohibition Era (1920-33) pretty much finished the job.  Like so many others they made sacramental wine during those times but also segued into being a cattle farm until the commercial winery was resurrected en force in 1973.

The Gundlach-Bundschuh vineyards and winery are located in eastern Sonoma County in the Sonoma Valley AVA where it abuts the Napa and Carneros AVA's along the Mayacamas Mountain range. 

So how do Gun-Bun wines compare with others?  As we said above their Merlot and Gewurz are great.  The Cabernet is also.  We have the Gewurz and a red blend coming in on Friday and if the demand is there, the Cabernet and Merlot will follow.  All of their wines are estate products so I'm sure all types should be competitive with the best from California.