Monday, September 13, 2021

Chateau Saint-Sulpice Red Bordeaux

Last week we got in a case of the 2018 Saint-Sulpice Red Bordeaux.  We had tasted it the previous week and were so impressed we jumped on it.  Sulpice is classy in the way only Bordeaux can be.  Its birthright endows it with a credibility the new world can only dream of.

Saint-Sulpice is located near the village of the same name, more or less equidistant between the town of Bordeaux and the hallowed Saint Emilion district.  The area Sulpice calls home is Entre-Deux-Mer which means "between two oceans" and refers in this case to the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers.  It's a sizable wine growing region that is sadly undistinguished for its reds.  The Entre-Deux-Mer name actually only applies legally to the white wines of the region.  

Reds from this region are either considered to be generic Bordeaux or, if the quality merits it, Bordeaux Superior.  Yields must be lower and sugars higher to get the Superior label.  Our Chateau Sulpice is simply labeled "Bordeaux."

Saint Emilion is home to the finest (and most expensive) Merlot on the planet.  A typical blend of the region would include 60%+ Merlot with Cabernet Franc as a secondary grape.  Saint-Sulpice, located just south of Saint Emilion, is 75% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Malbec.

Chateau Saint-Sulpice is owned and operated by the Duberge family who have invested in modern temperature controlled stainless steel tanks while maintaining hand harvesting and other traditional winemaking efforts.  They believe their efforts reflect the style of the classified growths.  

Duberge's Sulpice contrasts with the great Cabernet-based wines of the Medoc.  The local Entre-Deux-Mer microclimate offers an extended growing season resulting in a softer fruitier style wine.  In fact, the wine displays typical right bank fruit/spice complexity and balance wrapped in a ruby red color.  One commentator called it "ripe black fruit, plums, toast, spices and a rich, smooth and soft finish."

Friday, September 3, 2021

Tail Gate Red

 Dateline: Gainesville, Georgia; September 1, 2021; 12:15pm

Text of phone call:

Georgia Winery: Hello, Georgia Winery, this is ______ speaking.

Me: Hi, I'm Don Waara.  I'm a retailer in Gainesville and I'm also a blogger.  I just bought a case of Tail Gate Red and I'd like to write about it.  Can I speak to someone about the wine?

GW: I can help you.  There isn't much to say about it really.  It's sweet red wine.

Me: What else can you tell me?

GW: It's very popular.  We sell a lot of it.

Me: What else?

GW: Just a minute I'll get the bottle.

Me: (Thinking - Didn't I just say I bought a case of the stuff?)

GW: (Proceeds to read the label to me as I look at it myself.)

Me: Please don't take this the wrong way.  Is there anyone else there I could talk to?

GW: Just a minute. (talking in the background)  It's mostly Concord grape with some De Chaunac.

Me: I'm not familiar with De Chaunac.  

GW: There's just a splash of it in there.

Me: Is the winemaker available?

GW: He's too busy.

Me: What about your website.  More information there?

GW: You can look.

Me: My problem is I try to string together four or five paragraphs in my posts.

GW: You won't get that.  It's sweet red wine. 

Me: What about residual sugar?  We all judge sweetness differently.  Do you have the percentage of sugar in the wine?

GW: Wait a minute.  (more background talking)  The wine goes with milk chocolate.  And you serve it cold.  And it tastes like Welch's grape juice.

Me: Thanks for your time.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Chilean Pinot Noir

Let's cut to the chase.  We all know how good Chile's everyday wines are.  You name it, whatever grape variety you like, they are all more than decent as everyday fare. 

But what's better than the everyday stuff from Chile?  Well, Carmenere for sure.  But we're a pinot guy.  And we're downright snobbish about it.   Good pinot is fine, thank you very much, but great pinot is truly exceptional; that is, if you concede that ninety percent of pinots on the market are disappointing, which is why when you get a good one, it's memorable.  How's that for circular logic in a run-on sentence!

So we started this post thinking, if everyday Chilean pinot is as good as it is, just how good could the superior stuff be?  And why haven't we tasted any of the super-duper stuff that we assume is out there?  Are the locals holding it back for themselves?

In fact we have tasted higher tiered pinots from Chile in the past and they haven't been anything to write home about.  Pinot Noir was a latecomer to the Chilean wine scene and it is very much a work in progress.  The changes that are now happening there reflect the difference between Chile and say, California, which seems content to supplement ordinary pinot juice with a goodly dollop of Syrah and then marketing it as superior. 

What Chile is in the process of doing is reassessing clonal varieties of Pinot Noir, searching out cooler microclimates and reducing yields, all in an effort to drive quality up.  

If you look at the Chilean wine map there is no set pinot appellation.  it's not like Oregon.  Pinot is everywhere up and down that ribbon of a country and that actually explains a great deal.  Chile is bordered on the left by the Pacific Ocean and the right by the Andes.  That framework serves to moderate vineyard temperatures greatly.  Now all they need to do is fine tune things a bit.

(Having the right volcanic soils doesn't hurt either.)

Yesterday we ordered the Vina Leyda Lot 21 Pinot Noir.  It was on a short list of high quality pinots.  Vina Leyda is located in the Leyda Valley, a sub-district of the San Antonio appellation fifty miles to the west of capitol city Santiago.  The Leyda Valley is formed by the Acongagua River which extends from the Andes to the Pacific Ocean.  During the day the vineyards are cooled by the ocean breezes while at night the cold water from the Andes does likewise.

Vina Leyda markets a lower tier Pinot that also gets high marks from the critics.  What separates the Lot 21 from the regular pinot is the human element.  Not only are the grapes hand-harvested (not a minor task in itself) but then those grapes are de-stemmed and further pared down bunch by bunch on the winery sorting table.

Sixty percent of the berries get a soft crush, the rest are fermented as whole berries after a six day maceration.  During the seven day fermentation the mass is punched down 3-4 times a day.  The wine is then aged ten months in French oak with malolactic fermentation before its release.

We can hardly wait to taste this one.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Champagne Alternatives

Cheap sparkling wines are fine.  They may even be surprisingly decent.  So we got nothin' against 'em.  But the good stuff is a-l-w-a-y-s so much better.

That said, with real French Champagne starting at forty dollars a bottle, unless it's a special occasion, I'm of a mind to look for one of those higher quality alternatives that approximates the real stuff.

This kind of search for me usually starts with Spanish Cava where they have a certain earthy sparkling wine savoriness down pat.  That savory character is something we really like.  In recent years if we want something a cut above regular Cava we have learned to look for terms like Reserva or Gran Reserva on the label.  Now we have it that the term Paraje Calificado is even more to be desired.  It is a single vineyard Cava.  Now that's special!

Real French Champagne of course comes from a delimited region in northern France and that in a nutshell is why the stuff is so expensive.  Cremants are French sparklers from outside of that district.  Those from the Loire Valley, Burgundy and Alsace share a similar northern climate essential for high quality sparkling wine acidity.  These three can even show the same almond and toast savoriness essential to real Champagne.

Italy's champagne-approximate is called Metodo Classique and unsurprisingly the three exemplars are all from the northern portion of that country.  Milan's Franciacorta along with Trento and Oltrepo Pavese are all from Lombardy and they too offer the almond and toast of real Champagne.  Millesimato and Riserva are key label words to look for on those labels.

As you might expect the new world is abuzz with their own very special sparklers.  South Africa is known for their white wines and Cap Classique is what they call their premier sparklers.  Napa and Sonoma offer up some of America's best sparklers but for true value look to New Mexico. 

Before we wrap up this post two regions need special mention.  With the planet warming England has become the exciting new frontier for champagne quality sparklers.  They are supposed to be quite good...but pricey.  Finally the French Limoux region deserves a nod here also.  After all, Limoux is where it all began.  They were making sparkling wine a hundred years before Champagne and they still make a fine product at a bargain price.  So check out a Limoux!  

And New Mexico!  And Cava!  And...

Friday, August 6, 2021

Champagne & Fried Chicken

First off, let's credit WineFolly.com for the inspiration for this post.  Check 'em out if you like real straight forward, down to earth wine info. 

That said, we've known for some time about the magic of sparkling wines with heavy greasy foods.  Think about it - What do you need when your mouth is coated with the kind of stuff your doctor warns you against?  You need a palate cleanser, if for no other reason than to atone for your sins before ingesting the next mouthful.  So it's redemptive.  Which sheds light on the value of including champagne on holidays in general.

But we digress. Back to business...  

What do you have in fried chicken that lends itself to champagne?  You have oil, salt, and fat.  We're in the cheese business here so we have explicit knowledge of salt, fat and oiliness in cheeses.  Acidity and effervescence are the perfect chaser for a mouthful of this kind of licentious love.

Complementary flavors are always nice too.  If you perceive your meal to be fruity in character try an Italian Prosecco.  If you want to go upscale in this vein, just avoid any sparkler labelled brut.  If your chicken is spicy, try a rose sparkler.  If it's extra spicy and you're expecting gustatory carnage, get a darker rose or a sparkling red.  But if your bird is more or less standard issue, Spanish Cava at the low end pricewise is always to be recommended.  Any brut cremant in the intermediate price ranges would work also and of course, if the occasion warrants it, real French Champagne.  

Hell, if you're serving a few people get a couple of bottles and drink the first one before getting into the bird!

Friday, July 30, 2021

Nino Negri Quadrio

Quadrio. Nino Negri Quadrio.  Or Nino Negri Quadrio Valtellina Superiore.  However you choose to identify it, this one is special.  Just a week ago the Fredrick Wildman rep was here tasting me on a few from his massive portfolio when I asked, "What's the best bang for your buck in your book?"  I expected nothing.  After all, these guys are paid to sell what they are paid to sell.  To my surprise he said, "Quadrio."

He went on to say the wine was a Nebbiolo-based red sourced from the slopes of the Alps in Lombardy of north central Italy.  He also said it shared much of the same character of similar wines from the nearby Piedmont region, the finest wine region of Italy.

The Nino Negri estate in Valtellina, Lombardy, Italy was established in 1897.  Prior to that establishment, the property was called Castello Quadrio di Chiura after a fifteenth century castle there.  Hence the current name, Quadrio.  The old castle now houses the company and the winery.

Lombardy has a thousand year history with the Nebbiolo grape, reason enough to expect quality there.  Nino Negri has four hundred acres under their control and a star winemaker in Casimiro Maule, the Gambero Rosso 2007 Italian Winemaker of the Year.

DOCG reds from Lombardy must be 90% Nebbiolo by law.  Quadrio is not a DOCG wine yet maintains that 90%.  If it were a DOCG you could bet its moderate price would be a several dollars higher.  

Quadrio spends twenty months in Slavonian oak, then four months in the bottle before it is released.  It exhibits a nose of dark berry fruit and baking spice with licorice and mint.  On the palate it shows the same flavors sheathed in a smooth and savory body with fine grippy tannins leading to a long dry finish.  The licorice and berry flavors linger to the very end.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Galea Sangria

We got to taste the wines of Galea of Spain a couple months ago.  The dry red dinner wines were great but a little too dry for local tastes.  The Sangrias, on the other hand, were true charmers.  Not only were they yummy on the palate but their crock-looking packaging practically screams, "Buy me!"

When you consider what passes for Sangria in the chain stores, offering Galea here was a definite no brainer.  It shouldn't even be considered to be in the same category as the mass marketed concoctions.  Galea uses legitimate certified organic vinifera wine grapes made in a less sweet style than the average marketplace plonk.  It even tastes fresh.

Galea Red is sourced from the Barcelona region.  The blend is Tempranillo-based with Merlot and Syrah.  It is organic, as we have already said, with dominant natural orange and cassis flavors.  And as you would expect, it is frizzante.

The white uses the historic grapes of Cava; Xarello, Macabeu and Parellada; sourced from Catalonia. The added flavors include passion fruit and citrus.  It tastes like white peaches.  Between the wine grapes, fruit and effervescence, this one is a real palate cleanser.

The rose features Tempranillo and Bobal grapes with tangerine and lemon and a little vanilla flavoring added.  This one is somewhat candied in character and seems less dry than the others.

All three Sangrias are 7% alcohol.  The red is recommended to be served with an orange and basil garnish.  Both the white and rose are recommended served over ice; the white with berries, lime and fresh mint; the rose, with a lemon twist and strawberries.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Il Ramato

"Ramato" means copper and "amato" means loved one so Il Ramato could mean "the copper loved one." Or something like that.  In any event this intriguing amber colored Pinot Grigio is more than just its veneer.  While its clothing is visually stunning, what's inside is even better.

As everyone knows, Pinot Grigio is perhaps the simplest of white wines, making it perfect for our hot summer days.  But Il Ramato doesn't fit that type.  It is sourced from the Friuli-Veneto Giulia wine appellation in the northeast corner of Italy where pinot is qualitatively better than elsewhere in Italy.  Sure it still has the mild flavor profile; but typically wine from this region has more character than you would expect.  This region is so esteemed by the wine world its white wines are valued on a plane with Piedmont and Tuscan reds.  

This is where things get really interesting.  Ramato isn't fruity in style like most pinots.  It's decidedly deeper and more savory than traditional Pinot Grigio and engages the taster with the long winey flavors Euro-wine lovers crave.  It's actually a throwback to winemaking from the early twentieth century when the inherent grape colors and flavors were allowed to shine.  

Here's some backstory - The pinot grape is actually a family of grapes each possessing a shared unstable genome.  It has a tendency to mutate, not only showing a variety of colors but sometimes showing that diversity all on the same vine.  Even striped pinot grapes are known to occur!

On any given day a half dozen different pinot types may be found in the local wine marketplace.  The types we are most familiar with are Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio but there are many many more.  

Now for a little known fact - Genetically, Chardonnay is even half pinot!

Anthocyanins are the phenolic compounds in plants that give color to their fruit.  Pinot Grigio grapes on the vine may be a light pink, bluish gray or a very light brown.  In the glass those phenolics provided by the grape skins give a wine its tannic grip that engages us when we taste.  The heart healthy anti-oxidants we get from phenolics is a bonus we all appreciate.   

Il Ramato pinot grapes are hand harvested before going into a twelve hour cold maceration.  They are fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks followed by five months of aging on the lees with frequent battonnage.  It's in that five months of stirring the lees that this wine becomes what it is.  That chemistry both enriches the flavors and brings out the inherent colors of the grapes. 

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Knowing What You Like

That's important, isn't it?  Knowing what you like?  That is, as opposed to going along with whatever everyone else likes.  Yet the pressures are there to go along with others and fit in with your peers.  We're all guilty of caving in to the desires of others.  We all want to be liked.

I think all of us start our wine adventure with overwhelming insecurity.  We usually start with a friend's sweet white wine recommendation and stay there until another friend let's us know it's okay to move on.  What satisfied us with our first wine-love was the sweetness, and that's okay, so maybe our next wine-love is something less sweet and in time we're knocking on the door of truly dry wine.   

What is concurrently happening as we wean ourselves off of sweetness is we start tasting more of the intrinsic flavors of wines.  If the palate-satisfaction is there with each new venture then we keep going and in the process we're educating our palates without even realizing it.  

Now for the dark side.  Are we sure we are tasting what we think we are?  We're not all gifted with an optimal palate.  What if we don't have the sense of taste we think we have?  Is some of this self-deception or worse yet, pretension?  Could it be wine industry "smoke and mirrors?"  

I think at some point after hobbling through some wine potholes along our journey we decide we have arrived and this is where we are meant to be.  We know what we like.  And it's a good thing to know what we like.  It makes my job easier.  But if you think there might be something else around the next bend then lets get to work and together we'll see what's next on the journey.  Maybe we decide it's the journey itself that we like.



Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Vinho Verde

The literal translation is Green Wine, although the color is more accurately lemon/straw.  More on that later.  Because it is harvested early and bottled three month later, its alcohol content is low.  Its body is as light as they come and its nose and palate reflect lemon/limeade, grapefruit, white melon and gooseberry.  There is salinity too, no doubt from the adjacent Atlantic Ocean.  And just for yucks and giggles, a CO2 spritz is added!  So if you're looking for a summertime outdoors fun wine, this just might be it. It's a natural with all sorts of seafood and salads and picnics and beaches and if you're with me so far, here's the rest of the story...

Vinho Verde is the very large wine district in the northwestern corner of Portugal.  It actually accounts for almost ten percent of the total vineyard lands of Portugal.  The area is sort of a cross between a vertical rectangle and the shape of the state of Illinois if you're high on acid and looking at it in a mirror.  

This region is lush with greenery fed by the humidity provided by the Atlantic Ocean and the Douro and Minho rivers.  As we've said, the Vinho Verde name literally means green wine but that greenness really applies to the youth of the wine (as in green fruit).  It is also believed the Verde name may have originally referred to the green landscape of the region.

The Vinho Verde wine region was created in 1908, regulated in 1926 and given its DOC in 1984.  Of the nineteen grapes allowed in the region, Alvarinho is by far the most important.  Alvarinho is the Portuguese version of Spanish Albarino, which some consider to be the great white grape of that country.  Alvarinho complements Loureiro and Arinto and other blenders with both citric and tropical fruit flavors.  Loureiro, the second most important grape in the blend, adds a floral component and Arinto offers lemon.  All three of these are acidic in nature.     

The vast majority of Vinho Verde is made by wine cooperatives.  Currently we have four brands in the store.  The best sub-regions of Vinho Verde lie at the top of the map where, unsurprisingly, Alvarinho flourishes.  There the granite soils offer a minerality to the wine that the schist soils to the south do not.  Single varietal Alvarinho wines and Alvarinho/Loureiro blends are now being aged in oak to make the finest Vinho Verdes.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Prosecco

We recently got in a few cases of Santa Marina Italian wines which included a varietal Pinot Grigio and a couple different Proseccos.  Two things caught our attention immediately.  The bargain-priced Pinot Grigio turned out to be really quite good and secondly, one of the Proseccos turned out to be a rose.  Why is that significant?  Because to the best of our knowledge, there could be no such thing as Rose Prosecco.

It's been quite a while since we've written about Prosecco, but as I recall the 1990's were a pivotal time in its modern history.  That's when the Italian wine industry with a little help from the government started promoting it as a cheaper alternative to Champagne.  Prior to that Prosecco was either a low-rent Asti Spumante or a wine geek's prototypical example of bad sparkling wine.  But their fortunes changed as money was put behind the product upgrading the vineyards and winemaking facilities and governmentally re-defining what it is they were actually doing there.  Ten years later the EU stepped in to further advance the cause of Prosecco.

Prosecco had a two hundred year history up to that point; that is, two hundred years of making ordinary wine.  Now it was to be codified as a DOC (denominazione di origine) with the intent of eating into the Champagne business.  Glera was always the historic Prosecco grape.  Now the new and improved Glera was mandated to be eighty-five percent of any Prosecco blend with the remainder being any of three pinot grapes and/or any of three local varieties.  That was the mandate of the new Italian wine law.

At the same time Congeliano Valdobbiadene and Asolo, the two best districts in the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giuli Prosecco appellation, were elevated to DOCG status by the EU.

So what about Prosecco Rose?  First of all, let's just say, there has always been Rose Prosecco.  (Insert wink and a nod.)  The industry has sold it to retailers and restaurateurs forever...if you promise not to look too closely at the label.  Moreover, if the truth be known, the Italian government has been known to let legal technicalities in its wine industry go unnoticed.  So, there it is.  

Now however, we have learned, as of last year (2020), roses are a legal production in the Prosecco arena.  By the new law they must be 85% Glera and 15% Pinot Nero (Noir).  We must have missed the memo.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

The Boatman

If you've been following this blog for any length of time you can't help but recognize the recurring rants we go off on.  One that seems relevant today concerns the question of ownership of some of today's California wineries and relatedly - Who's making the wine?

The Boatman is this really luscious red blend marketed by the Brack Mountain Wine Company.  We've been curious about them for some time.  Their website is tededward.com so you figure Ted Edward (or Ted and Ed) must be the owner(s).  Maybe that's the case.  But tededward.com is the website for a sizable New York alcoholic beverage importer/distributor.  So what's going on here?

Once you get to the Brack Mountain page you see that they too are quite sizable.  Scholar & Mason, Bench and Fable are just a few of their labels you may have seen here in the store.  But no Boatman.

If you go to theboatmanwines.com, which is on the back label of The Boatman bottle, you get an advertisement for godaddy.com.   While vacuous winery websites are another regular peeve here at the old blogspot, this one takes vacuosity to a whole other level.

It took us going to a third party liquor store website to learn The Boatman is made by Papagni Vineyards of the San Joaquin Valley.  Papagni is a credible wine company we've known for as long as we've been in the business.  The Boatman blend is 40% Alicante Bouschet, 26% Merlot, 23% Malbec, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petite Sirah.  The berries are picked at dawn, crushed and de-stemmed while still cool, then immersed in a long cold soak, then heated in fermentation tanks to maximize fruit and color extractions.  Plenty of oxygen is introduced by pumping over the wine twice a day resulting in a wine that is an inky purple color.  The nose features blueberry, blackberry and spice; the palate, sumptuous layers of dark forest fruits and pepper.  

So here's where it gets interesting - If you go to the Papagni website where they market their Papagni labeled wines, they also offer bulk wine to the public.  Papagni has been growing grapes in California since 1912.  Moreover, as Italian immigrants in the hot and dry San Joaquin Valley, they planted the right grapes; Alicante Bouschet, Grenache and Barbera.  They obviously knew what they were doing.  Now we have to wonder - Did Brack buy Papagni's bulk wine and put The Boatman label on it?

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Baby Wines

Baby wines?  Really?  What the heck are baby wines?  Good question.  We've heard the term "baby" applied to certain wines for years.  Can't remember the first time but baby wines have been around quite a while.  So what are they?  Perhaps the place to start for this discussion is what they aren't.  

Baby wines are not young not-ready-to-drink wines, although you could call such wines babies.  When their youthful burn scorches your mouth though they seem more like rebellious adolescents.  Baby wines are also not a second label for a premier producer although they could be a baby version of that top shelf wine.  Even though Mondavi of Napa spawned Woodbridge of Lodi, it could never be mistaken for that parent.

In short baby wines are wines that approximate the quality of an acknowledged great wine at a much lower price.  So a Baby Brunello is one that has much of the same character of the great one but beware - Its bargain pricing may reflect its shortcomings.  Since the advent of Italian IGT laws which allow wines made from grapes grown outside of a delimited appellation to carry the name of the esteemed region, so-labeled wines are acknowledged to be in the style of Brunello, Barolo or whatever; ergo, a baby version of that thing.

Our favorite wine writer, Lettie Teague, is our inspiration for this post and she wrote about the subject in the December 31, 2020 edition of the wsj.com.  After several consultations with wine industry pros, she concluded the term, baby wine, is a selling tool.  The vendor is calling attention to whatever the adjacent great property has to offer and declaring this one is similar to that one but at a much better price.

"The term baby is meant to leverage brand recognition when attached to certain wines to raise the profile of a lesser label at a more attractive price point."  This "associative marketing" intends to convince a consumer that the less prestigious wine merits a try.  We should point out that this ploy works only if the customer knows what the great wine is.

Depending on how you define the term, here are some of our baby wines currently in stock:

    Alain Patriarche Bourgogne La Montagne is a Chardonnay sourced from just the other side of the Meursault border. Patriarche markets their own legitimate Meursault so La Montagne is probably the closest thing to it.

    The Super Tuscan Sassicaia is truly one of the great wines of the world. It can also run upwards of $250/btl.  We have a $16.99 Rosso Toscana made by the same winemaker.  Could it be a baby       Sassicaia?

    Post & Beam is new from Far Niente of Napa Valley.  It's priced a third lower than their flagship Cabernet Sauvignon.  Are they trying to make a baby Far Niente?

Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Mendocino Wine Company

We just got in a case of Parducci Chardonnay, a wonderful example of its type.  Complex, clean.  Not manipulated in any way.  Oak?  Yeah, it's there.  But not unduly so.  It's really a lovely bottle of white wine at a reasonable price.  So we thought we would promote it here.  

We also thought we would report on Parducci, itself, since it's such a historic property.  Managed by the Parducci family since 1932, it's the longest continuously running winery in Mendocino County.  But now things are a little bit different.  While still run by the family, Parducci is now one of seven wineries included in The Mendocino Wine Company.  It's the only one in that group that we are familiar with.

There is much about business we don't pretend to understand.  At our station in the wine business we don't know what the arrangement is that those constituent wineries have with each other.  Are they a collective?  A cooperative?  Is The Mendocino Wine Company a business entity in itself or maybe a creation of a Wall Street insurance company?  There are players of all stripes from far and wide in the California wine industry today and while we here at V&C don't need to know their business, we are curious.

Being a small player in the wine business we understand how guys like us have to get every break we can in order to compete.  And we learn from others who share what they know.  A few years ago the rep from a well known Napa property shared with us how his company had to join other similarly sized wineries in order not to be overwhelmed by the competition.  Part of their collaboration was building one large shared winery to offset the cost of winemaking.  We also read a magazine article by Peter Seghesio who said the big players can lock the small guys out of distribution channels by their overwhelming volume of business.  As I recall, Seghesio ended up selling to one of those Wall Street Insurance companies.

At their website The Mendocino Wine Company devotes a lot of space to sustainability.  To their credit, that seems to be a cornerstone principle of the company.  They list several certifications to prove it.  All of the wines produced there are sourced from certified sustainable vineyards, some of which are certified organic.  

Water is an important issue to companies with this kind of value set.  Any by-products of wineries, even organic by-products, are not allowed to interfere with river ecosystems.  Water usage in general on the properties are limited both in the vineyards and for the use of the winemaking team.  100% of the water used on properties like these is reclaimed and then re-used.  

Cover crops and composting provide nutrients and prevent erosion in the vineyards.  Natural predators are introduced and maintained so toxic chemicals aren't needed.  Wildlife corridors and habitats are fostered.  Solar and wind power are the clean energy sources most favored.

All in all, The Mendocino Wine Company, however they are constituted, seems to be an asset to the industry. 

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Explore - Experience - Evolve

Our post title comes from the side of a wine box that just came in the door.  Kudos to whoever thought to sequence those words that way and then to apply them to wine appreciation.  

You wouldn't think boxes would be in short supply in the beverage industry since everything comes packed in them, but they are.  After a single use they apparently get discarded.  The large distributors in Atlanta have had to purchase boxes for re-packing loose bottles for smaller orders.  Our "Explore - Experience - Evolve" box is one of those in-house creations for one of the huge players in Atlanta so maybe the admonition was meant to apply to beer, liquor or something else.  Anyway, we like it.

We first dipped or toes into the wine business back in 1976 while doing the student thing in northern California.  Back then in that neck of the woods the wine business was really the California wine business.  The store I worked in had imports, to be sure, but the California wines were clearly front and center both on the floor and in the California consciousness.  I'm sure Georgia and Georgians support the the peanut and Vidalia onion industry the same way.

I'm a peanut lover and I'm fond of onions but I wouldn't consider myself a connoisseur.  But if, say, I was really locked into Spanish peanuts, I hope I would venture out occasionally to try other types.  Onions, in general, are great.  The only ones to avoid, in my opinion, are the ones that have been around too long.  Whew!  

I do like stinky wines though.  I mean I like the dry earthy reds of Tuscany or Spain that haven't been cleaned up for the American market.  The Spanish stuff always came naturally for me for some reason; Tuscany was a taste I had to acquire.  One time I told a supplier of this affinity I had and he brought in a half dozen of the stinkiest wines I ever tasted.  They were so ripe they were probably tainted.  He wanted me to stock them in my store.  Yeah, right.  If they were too much for me who claims to like such things, how could I in good conscience sell them to others. 

So if I like stinky wines then, following the dictum on the box, I should try the really-cleaned-up wines made by the mass marketers from California.  And I have.  And they are good.  Much better than that kind of thing was back in the 1970's.  But they lack distinction in the same way the overproduced music of Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles did back then when compared to something like The Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore East.

It's a business though and you have to go with what sells.  But if you ever try that thing that is different from your usual, then at least you then have an understanding of what that thing is.  Maybe that thing isn't what you like.  Or maybe by trying it that one time you will remember it at a future time when your meal seems to call for just that wine.  Maybe you evolve.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Decibel

Decibel Wines is a project of Daniel Brennan of Martinborough, New Zealand.  Brennan is an American from a Philadelphia restaurateur family of Sicilian descent.  Decibel is the primary label of a trio that includes Testify and Giunta, wines which are aimed at lower tier pricing.

Pinot Noir is the primary grape of Martinborough, which is at the southernmost portion of the northern island of New Zealand.  It has been grown there successfully since 1975, which is about when the wine industry started in New Zealand.  The Martinborough wine country conveniently lies one hour east of the New Zealand capital, Wellington.  

To the west are the Rimutaka Mountains which shelter the wine valley from undue rains from that side; in effect, creating a favorable wind tunnel of sorts that controls vine vigor, affecting flowering and leading to lower yields.  Perfect for Pinot Noir.  The grapes are organically dry farmed in this semi-maritime climate.  The soil is clay over ancient river bed providing perfect drainage for the vines. 

decibelwines.com is once again a website short on specific wine information but otherwise it's a very pleasant look/see.  The homepage prose is lovely as is the artwork.  Kudos to the designer.  It makes you want to know more and to do that you have to go elsewhere.

As pinot lovers everywhere will attest; when it's right, Pinot Noir has an elusive charm.  It's hard to put into words.  Fortunately we think we found some that pretty much nail it.  The wine is "spicy, juicy, plummy, gamey, light, dry and earthy and perfumy."  It also exhibits "dark cherry, forest floor and savory aromatics."  Or as one observer noted, "The nose is a smear of fancy strawberry preserves on a cedar cutting board.  The palate is cherries smeared on a dusty chalk board."  -Bingo!

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Hunky Dory Tangle

Hunky Dory is a project of Huia Vineyards of Marlborough, New Zealand.  Four wines are marketed under this label, a Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, rose and a blended white.  Tangle, the blended white, is the only one available in this market.  

Hunky Dory is also the name of the Allan family boat.  We're not sure how Tangle got its proprietary name.  Just a cute choice, I guess.  

hunkydory.com is like so many other winery websites.  It's weak.  But it's not as bad as those that try to create interest by romanticizing its product with stupid made up stories.  hunkydory.com just doesn't say much of anything.

The back label of the wine bottle says as much as the website: The wine is sourced from Marlborough and made by the Allan family.  It's construction is 61% Gruner Veltliner, 20% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Pinot Gris, 5% Chardonnay and 4% Riesling.  It is also certified organic.

We consulted three reviews of the wine and the following is an amalgam of the three: This dry white wine has an aromatic nose of honeysuckle, quince, lemon and lime.  This bright lush citrus/tropical nose leads into a palate that adds ripe apple, pear, lychee, mandarin and spice.  Then this full flavored medium bodied white uses both minerality and acidity to balance out its component flavors and finishes with that same balance.    

4/18/21 Addendum:  We wrote this post about a month ago when we brought in our first case of Tangle.  Now we're told the Pinot Noir is available too.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Gavi, Part 1

We recently tasted a half dozen Italian whites from an impeccable supplier and settled on four new types for the store.  The one we bought the most of was the Gavi and it was the most expensive in the array.  While we have sold a lot of Gavis in the past, this one was special.  Hell, this one was remarkable.

Gavi has been called the finest white wine of Italy.  This one is light and dry, fruity and floral, and chalky and minerally.  You get where we're going here: This is complex white wine that none the less fits into a light body format.  Nice trick if you can pull it off.

When we say this wine is special we should qualify our enthusiasm with a little historical perspective.  When we got into this business forty years ago there was a lot of bad Italian wine on store shelves.  We didn't know how bad it was at the time because we were ignorant.  In fairness to Italy, there was a lot of bad wine from everywhere else also.  Suppliers, both domestic and importers, knew the American market was not wine-savvy and our public could be sold on lower quality.  We didn't know the difference.  Just make your pitch convincing and we'll bite.  

As we became more sophisticated taste-wise, SURPRISE, quality improved.  Transportation and warehousing improved first followed by winery technological improvements and some of the most profound of those improvements originated in Italy.  With internationally flowing investment money coinciding with the production, transportation and storage improvements; we now have the quality we were promised from the start.

The textbook might say a Gavi is a light straw (with green hues) color.  It has a fruity appley-nuanced nose and a taste that is fresh, dry and full-flavored while still elegantly light.  The Cortese di Gavi production region has been making this wine style for the past hundred fifty years.  Modern Italian winemaking, courtesy of technology, is now able to make this wine more structured and complex than ever before.  

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Gavi, Part 2

Gavi is the signature white wine of the Cortese di Gavi region in the province of Alessandria in southeast Piedmont.  It has a documented history going back to the 1600's.  So it has a pedigree.  Piedmont in northwest Italy is the finest wine production region of the country.  Gavi is the finest white of Piedmont.

Like all Italian whites, Gavi is seafood wine.  It is sourced forty miles from the Mediterranean coast.  That forty mile buffer distance is covered by the province of Liguria where a fruitier style white wine is made.  The Cortese grape of Gavi fame is also grown with less renown in other regions of Piedmont and can be purchased at a better price than Gavi.  But it's a different wine.  The Gavi is fruitier and its makeup is said to reflect the Ligurian influence.

Cortese is an indigenous grape of the Gavi region and is the sole variety allowed in the wine.  Gavi is a town also and it is ground zero for the 4,000+ acres where the wine is sourced.  If a wine is sourced entirely within the Gavi township it may be labeled Gavi di Gavi.

The Cortese di Gavi wine appellation earned its DOC (Denominacione di Origine Controllata) legal status in 1974.  In 1998 it received the highest legal wine classification, the DOCG.  The G is significant.  It means everything about the production and quality of the wine is guaranteed.  The wine must be 100% Cortese with yield limits and ripeness guarantees.  The wine must be made using traditional methods before each bottle is affixed with a numbered paper seal to prevent counterfeiting.

This wine is bone dry in character.  It is crisp and flinty on the palate with fresh acidity.  The Cortese grape thrives in the mineral rich soils of the region accounting for much of the description above.  Gavi has a floral bouquet accented by delicate lemon.  Fruit flavors include green apple and honeydew with almonds on the finish.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Wine Group

With sales of fifty-three million cases of wine annually, The Wine Group is the second largest wine company in the world.  As generic as The Wine Group name sounds, you can understand how they may have flown under the radar for a lot of us.  Maybe that was the plan all along: Lay in the weeds as long as you can and then make your move.  Or something like that.

Actually The Wine Group didn't ambush anyone.  Some of us in the trade just weren't paying attention.  What The Wine Group did was they built their empire incrementally with sound business sense at every opportunity.  They did it "the old fashioned way" as John Houseman would have said.  Constellation, the mass marketer they recently surpassed, had been a juggernaut in its own right.  A recent serious miscalculation on their part, an error that will remain unmentioned here, may have been their undoing.  S__t happens.  If you want to know more, stop in the store for the details.

Does the elephant in the room, Gallo, have reason to fear The Wine Group?  Probably not.  But wouldn't that be something if they did!

The Wine Group was established in 1981 but their prehistory is worth documenting.  Giuseppe and Teresa Franzia were Italian immigrants to America at the turn of the last century.  They settled in the Central Valley of California where they bought eighty acres for their vineyards.  At their beginning they were growers who sold their grapes to interests in the Midwest and on the East Coast.  They may have had winery dreams early on but Prohibition curtailed that plan until its repeal in 1933.  The Franzias then took out a $60k loan and were in the business.

In 1973 the Franzias sold their business to Coca Cola which already owned Mogen David.  In 1981 Coke sold their winery portfolio to their wine division CEO, Art Ciocca.  The contrast in wine business acumen at this juncture is hard to ignore.  For people in the know, 1980 marks a turning point in this industry.  It had become evident that wine was going to catch on as a part of our culture.  The signs were there.  Moreover wine coolers were on the cusp of their own boom.  Coke should have seen that opportunity but didn't.  With their buying power in glass they could have dominated that market.  

Upon losing that Coke glass-buying asset, Art Ciocca innovated.  He created the bag-in-the-box format that continues quite profitably today.  Now The Wine Group represents more than sixty wine brands which are predominantly in-house creations but their portfolio also includes historic wineries they have purchased along the way.  In their portfolio are labels like Concannon, 7 Deadly, Cupcake, Imagery, Tribute, Almaden, Beso del Sol, Chloe and Benziger.  These and many others can be found in grocery stores everywhere.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

American Vineyards

The following numbers are gleaned from a 2018 Forbes magazine article, a 2016 wineroad.com article, a 2018 wineamerica.org article and the current wikipedia article on the subject.  What we have learned in this endeavor is that reporting is an inexact science; numbers tend to lie depending on the economic perspective of the reporter.  Also, information becomes dated quickly in our booming wine business.

There are well over two  million acres in grapevines in the United States, fifty-three percent of which are dedicated to table grapes and raisins.  The most widely planted grape in America is the Sultanina at 14% of that 2 mil. figure. 

There are probably a million acres in wine grapes in the country with up to 85% of them residing in California.  If you include Oregon and Washington, that gives you 90% of our American wine production.  Chardonnay is still king in this tabulation accounting for 29% of those vineyards.  Cabernet Sauvignon is second at about 22% of the total.  Pinot Noir is third with about 18%.  Merlot is next at 14% and Zinfandel is the last of the biggies with 9% of the acreage.  Our favorite white wine grape must not be a favorite of many people since Sauvignon Blanc only accounts for 4% of the total.

That leaves 4% for all of the other types combined which confirms our favorite whine about how the wine industry big guys are crushing the farm wineries.  If you mass market the major types to the tune of about 96% of all wine business (which the thirty largest wine companies do) then the Mom & Pops have to eke out a living from the crumbs off the economic table.  Which is, in fact, the way that pie is cut up.  But enough of that.  Back to business...

In descending order, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Rubired, Ruby Cabernet, Barbera, Grenache, Chenin Blanc, Muscat Alexandria, Riesling, Viognier and Gewurztraminer round out most of that remaining 4% of grapevine acreage.  Which brings us to the reason for this rant - We had heard that Rubired was being much more widely planted than it apparently is.  Or is it?

Rubired is one of a handful of the world's tinturier grapes, grapes with a red flesh and juice that are now being reduced to a concentrate.  Think - Welch's.  That concentrate is finding it's way into many wines of differing qualities in order to beef up the richness of the product.  So whether you like your premium California reds big chewy and jammy or you just like an everyday red that is a little more substantial than others, you may have Rubired to thank for what you have. Just how prevalent Rubired is in practice is a closely guarded trade secret. 

By the way, the following grape types are ascendant so look for them to be factors in the future: Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Mourvedre, Vermentino, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Zinfandel

We make no bones about it - Zinfandel is just not our thing.  It has neither the breeding of Cabernet nor the potential to soar like Pinot when that grape is at its best.  It's just ordinary.

Before we dismiss ordinary though, we should acknowledge ordinary as California's historic claim to fame.  When we first got into this business California's three liter jugs were the key to success.  They were what the overwhelming majority of wine lovers bought.  Whatever came later was built on the success of the industry's ordinary jug wine.

But were such wines actually good?  Nah.  They were flabby, muddy, off-dry plonk.  Nasty stuff.  On that scale of production though, they were fine. And better than what a lot of other countries were doing.

Those three liter red jugs were largely Zinfandel-based but, of course, weren't sourced from the better regions of northern Cal.  This was Central Valley stuff we're talking about.  A qualitatively better ordinary was coming out of Amador, Mendocino, Sonoma and other northern appellations.  There the early zin-based field blends effused a charm that us ordinary wine lovers, self-conscious lot that we are, could really get into If you could imagine your briars and brambles blended with your dark berries, replete with your violets and tar, then you have an idea of what us ordinary wine lovers consider the epitome of our craft.  Rough.  Crude.  Red wine suitable for watching football.  That's what I'm talkin' 'bout.

Zinfandel has always been California's pet grape even now that we know its origins lie elsewhere.  Always the mercenary, the wine industry took full advantage of this prolific vine's potential and promoted it as a noble variety worthy of being priced with the great types.  Which largely hasn't worked.  But its utilitarian value has not gone unnoticed.  Zinfandel is now the foundation of pricy ever-so-cutely named manipulated blends with outlandish labels that the public adores.  Guess right on your packaging and promotion and proceed to the counter to collect your winnings!

So where are we going with this diatribe?  In our own way we're trying to keep it real.  Zinfandel may be the workhorse grape of the California wine industry and deserves the respect any workhorse is due.  Speaking of workhorses, lest we forget, if it wasn't for intrepid 1850's Italian immigrants carrying their vines on their backs we wouldn't be having this discussion today.

By the way - We just got in four new zins.  Say you read this here blogpost and we'll discount them down for you!

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

L'Ecole #41 Merlot

L'Ecole 41 is a large Columbia Valley Washington State winery established in 1983.  We would like to call your attention to them now because, while we have known their wines for their quality and stocked them for at least twenty years, we think we may have been underselling them.  

Late last year our vendor sold us a half dozen Washington State reds including esteemed examples from Matthews and Januik.  His casual comment in passing was that L'Ecole was the best of the lot.  If you go to lecole.com, unsurprisingly, they think the Merlot is pretty good too but the winemaker goes on to talk about the 2017 vintage in glowing terms.  Conditions were apparently optimal at harvest time.

If you compare critics' vintage notes on Columbia Valley in 2017, you get mixed reviews.  Robert Parker's Wine Advocate is the only reputable magazine that scores the vintage highly.  However James Suckling gives the L'Ecole Merlot individually a 94 point score.

Suckling says the wine is medium to full bodied with silky tannins and flavors of chocolate, hazelnut and fresh blackberries.  The Wine Enthusiast (91 points) says it has aromas of black tea,dark raspberries, cedar and barrel spice and a similar palate with an accent on the full fruit.

The Merlot grape itself has had a rollercoaster history in the last forty years.  L'Ecole planted the grape opportunely back in 1983 as Merlot was about to become the most popular red wine grape of the '80s and retaining much of that sway through the '90s.  Then the movie Sideways derailed things even as the quality of Merlot was greatly rising because of viticultural improvements.

The truth is - Merlot has always been one of the best grapes of Washington State and the 2017 vintage L'Ecole demonstrates why that is.  From their website - "Structure" is what sets this wine apart from others.  The 2017 vintage is special because the opulent fresh Merlot fruit is balanced perfectly with the acidity of this wine.  It doesn't hurt either that half of the juice for this wine comes from L'Ecole's Ferguson Reserve vineyards.


Reading this post means you are invited to taste here at the store on Saturday afternoons.  We can't promise the L'Ecole will be open but whatever we have to taste here will be exemplary.  Social distancing is still a factor so please work with us.  Calling 770-287-WINE(9463) in advance is recommended.  Please join us.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Matthews & Mullan Road

This week we got in a couple cases from our favorite domestic wine venue, Columbia Valley, Washington.  Both are sourced from the same new AVA (American Viticultural Area), Royal Slope, which is just north of Wahluka Slope in north central Columbia Valley.  Mullan Road Cellars sources from the Solacksen and Stillwater Creek vineyards there.  Matthews Winery sources most of their juice from a few locations there but then goes to Rattlesnake Mountain and Yakima Valley, both to the southwest of Wahluka, for additional juice.

Mullan Road Cellars is the brainchild of Dennis Cakebread of the forty-seven year old Cakebread Cellars of Napa.  You have to respect this guy.  He started Mullan Road because he felt Cakebread Cellars had fulfilled its destiny.  They had maxed out the quality per-their-acreage there and chose not to risk losing that quality by continuing to grow.  Like I said, you have to respect his ethics.

Mullan Road makes one wine every year.  It is a Cabernet Sauvignon-based Bordeaux Blend that is both bold and elegant, which in my opinion exceeds what Cakebread does in Napa.  But that shouldn't surprise anyone since we know the Cakebread Napa wine style and we have yet to learn how great Columbia Valley can be.  The typical Mullan Road blend includes Merlot and Cabernet Franc supporting the base Cabernet Sauvignon.

Matthews Winery was established in Woodinville, Washington in 1992.  It is family-owned and run with certain principles in mind.  They boast an inspiration from Bordeaux while being grounded in Washington heritage, which includes New World energy and innovation.  They market a dozen different wines using Bordeaux varieties that are hand-harvested and sorted in the winery; a nod, no doubt, to Bordeaux.  

The Sauvignon Blanc that we have in the store is actually a Sauvignon/Semillon blend that sees six months of aging before it's ready.  93% of it is put in stainless steel; 7% gets French oak.  The wine ends up with a flavor profile to include minerality, lemon, honey, gooseberry and herbs.  The finish doubles down on the minerality.  Once again, textbook Bordeaux.

So why are these here?  Both wine distributors sold me on them.  We were told the Mullan Road is better than Cakebread Napa.  The Matthews is supposed to be the closest thing to Bordeaux from this continent.  


This Saturday afternoon, the 23rd, we will be tasting a French Vouvray, Spanish Monastrell, Paso Robles Red Blend and Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.  Please call 770-287-WINE(9463) or email wineguy@bellsouth.net if you would like to taste.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

California Red Blends

Generally speaking, there are two types of red blends in California: Some use the noble Cabernet Sauvignon to create a Meritage or Bordeaux blend; others use the more utilitarian varieties like Syrah, Petite Sirah or Zinfandel in what may be called a field blend.  But that's an oversimplification.  By definition a red blend can be anything the winemaker wants it to be.  He may even include a few white grapes.  The options are wide open and that's a good thing considering the straight jacket the mass marketers have foisted upon American wine lovers.  For them it seems everything has to fit a poll-tested profile and if it doesn't, it will be amended to make it conform to the model. 

Last month two red blends did particularly well here at the store.  The Rutherford Ranch Two Range Napa Valley Red Wine is a blend of Merlot, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  The Arborist from Vina Robles of Paso Robles has Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache and Tannat in its makeup.  Coming from Napa where Cabernet is king, the Rutherford Ranch resembles a Meritage wine with an exception.  The Arborist is a Rhone style blend by way of the Iberian Peninsula model.  Both significantly include Petite Sirah (the exception mentioned above) which is an unsung hero in California winemaking.

Differences between the two wines center primarily on the flavor profiles.  The Napa blend emphasizes red fruit flavors; the Paso Robles, black fruit.  Another difference between the two concerns the age of the wines.  Our Two Range Napa is a 2015 vintage meaning much of its vibrancy has mellowed out.  The Arborist is a 2018 and it shows its youth in its big forward mouthfeel.  Also the Two Range comes from the Napa Valley floor while the Arborist comes from a much hillier terrain in Paso Robles which may provide for cooler environs. 

Food affinities for these two wines would probably overlap.  The older vintage Two Range Napa Blend would probably work with a greater variety of meals while The Arborist may be more of a steak wine.  Both would be nice cocktails for any California red lover.


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