Thursday, December 4, 2014

Craft Wine: The Phrase is New, the Concept is Not

This is a buzz phrase being thrown around in wine articles a lot lately. Perhaps this tells us more about lazy journalism than a new trend. The craze surrounding craft beer made, and continues to make, sense because it changed a paradigm. Expanding selection beyond industrial options deservedly drew attention. The same tectonic shift is not available in the wine world.
Shelves, even in chain grocery stores, have held small production, hand-crafted wines for decades. Mass produced, corporate juice is the newer arrival. Giant marketing budgets and formulaic wines create backlash and I guess that's what's happening here but mostly this seems to be about millenials finding wines made by other millenials. Maybe there's a new trend there and maybe that needs a name. Perhaps Swillenial Wine?
The bottom line is that I wholeheartedly support the attention being paid to small producers, of any age, but if anyone thinks "craft wine" is a new thing they're not paying attention.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Rosés Galore...For Thanksgiving and Beyond

This article reviews lots of rosés and makes a note about some that will be particularly friendly with the wide array of foods provided at most Thanksgiving dinners. Pink wine shouldn't have a season. 
A special salute and thank you to Beth at Swirl who held a tasting of 15(!) rosés on November 22nd! It was brilliant and gutsy and, I hope, successful.
When I lived in Portland, Oregon rosés went on sale in September. Demand dropped with the temperature. I stocked up knowing I would want a little reminder of summer during the wet, rainy winter. In NOLA, on the other hand, rosé remains a wise choice pretty much year round. Even if the pool isn’t quite as appealing, a porch or picnic might still call your name. 
Pink wines pair beautifully with all sorts of food and are all but guaranteed to put a smile on your face. With that in mind, here are most of the rosés that have crossed my palate over the summer and into the fall. All of them were purchased in New Orleans at the following places: Kiefe & Co., Martin Wine Cellar, Swirl, Bin 428, Pearl and Rouse’s (specifically at Napoleon and Tchoupitoulas). Many are certainly available elsewhere. Importers are noted where appropriate to make it easier for your favorite retailer to track some bottles down.
Some of these may have sold out but you'll be able to find others. My thoughts on food are shared as well, sometimes a wine takes me to a very specific thoughts, but remember rosés are incredibly versatile and I find very few foods that don’t pair with well with pink. My top Thanksgiving choices are marked accordingly. 
Where I have experienced year in and year out happiness from a bottling, I have marked noted that so you can buy with confidence when the new vintage is released. (I thought about putting a Pharrell mountie hat on them to signify ‘Happy’ but I’m pretty sure the heavy rotation of that song has left a bad taste in some people’s mouths and that shouldn't be held against the wine.) Where available there is information about their environmental practices, because the earth is important.

This is a long post, it was originally supposed to be a two part series for a local website. They never ran it and I reclaimed my rights so I could share some gems with my readers in time for Thanksgiving! I considered breaking it into two posts but decided to let it rip. There are plenty of pictures...and I know you can handle it!

In no particular order but grouped together by country:

France: 
Plouzeau Chateau de la Bonneliére Chinon Rosé, Rive Gauche 2013

Imported by Weygandt Metzler - This is made from cabernet franc in the Loire Valley, the appellation is Chinon. The grapes are farmed biodynamically (super -organic) and the specific site, Rive Gauche, is located on the river. 
Orange-salmon color, delicate but not wimpy. Lovely balance, dry but mouthwatering. Tasty. Some orange fruit notes, great texture, mouthwatering (again, it was dancing on my tongue) and LONG! Nothing wrong with sipping but this would love some shellfish and hard, mild cheese. $15
Good Thanksgiving choice.

Charles Joguet Chinon Rosé 2013 

Imported by Kermit Lynch - For years this was my favorite pink wine. The Joguets made wines that defied easy categorization - wild and untamed but not sloppy. While I believe the man in charge now, Kevin Fontaine, and his team do a good job, the wines are different. 
He employs lutte raisonnée, which essentially means chemicals are okay to use if you must but should be avoided.
The color for the last few years has been much more pink but this version found a nice middle ground, showing salmon and orange more than vibrant pink. The first pour displayed some spritz, was long and creamy but remained fresh. Delicious. Great weight, rich, tactile, long, persistent. Real wine...serious but also enjoyable if you’re not paying attention. Grilled fish and meats seem about right for this wine.  $18 
Consistent and a good Thanksgiving choice. 

Dom de la Noblaie Chinon Goutte de Rosé 2013

Imported by European Cellars - Situated on a fairly high point in Chinon, all grapes are hand harvested. The winery is certified organic and the grape in this wine is 100% cabernet franc.
This was darker than the other two Chinons. It looked almost brown in the bottle until held up to a white sheet of paper where it was clearly more pink. In the glass it was a little of both. The wine was a little dirty on the nose, tasty enough but simple. It was outclassed by the other Chinons but tasted okay on its own. Overall, a good representation but not worth searching for.  $18

Domaine de la Sanglière Juliette, Provence 2013

Imported by Turquoise Life - This is a new winery to me and I am thrilled to have found it. They talk of an organic approach but are not certified. They do not employ weed killers or insecticide. 
The wine is 70% grenache and 30% syrah, a classic blend. The color is also classic Provencal rosé, pink with a pronounced orange hue. You will not find exotic berry fruit but you will find a silky feel and plenty of pleasure. The palate shows some orange peel and subtle strawberry while the wonderful acidity makes my mouth water so much the impression the wine leaves behind is, ironically, one of sweetness. The wine is actually so dry it makes your mouth water. It is also rich enough to feel full-bodied without getting heavy. This is classic and delicious and I bought some (not enough) at Swirl's tasting. $13-$14
Good Thanksgiving choice (and, I hope, consistent because I love it and the price!).

Domaine de Reuilly, Reuilly Rosé 2013

Imported by Kermit Lynch - [Note: this is not the rosé label, I missed taking pictures of a few, but it looks just like this except with pink print]
This estate is nearly single-handedly making more people aware of this appellation. In the past this pinot noir rosé has been hard to appreciate unless you aged it for a year (or more) or opened the wine the day before to let it open up. 
Farming is done organically and biodynamically. 
Immediately, it was obvious there was much more color than I remember but still much more orange than pink. The wine remains RACY but is now enjoyable right out of the bottle. The juicy feel and subtle strawberry provide just enough balance. It got even better with time. For fans of crisp wines with plenty of acid. Seems like some bread, mild cheese and maybe some olive tapenade might be ideal. Salads too.  $26

Domaine Faillenc Sainte Marie Rosé des Glacières 2013

Imported by Neal Rosenthal - From southern France, Corbieres to be specific - although this bottle carries the generic Vin de France designation. The rocky, windswept region naturally keeps yields down and concentrates flavors. The vineyard is farmed organically and this wine is 100% syrah. It used to have a small amount of residual sugar but not for the last few years. 
The color is deep and the nose screams of strawberry extract. It is intense and wild, just like the area where the grapes grow. This wine had been open a few days before I tried it and had clearly lost some verve but still showed well, which is an amazing thing to say about any wine, especially a pink one. Tasty. Serve this one to a devoted red wine drinker who swears he/she does not enjoy rosés. Real pink wine fans will love it too. This would play well with grilled meat, pastas and rich cheeses.  $17
Consistent and a good Thanksgiving choice if you're serving meat instead of poultry.

Domaine La Manarine Cotes du Rhone Rosé 2013

Imported by Neal Rosenthal - A classic southern Rhone producer with plenty of rocks in the vineyards and lots of limestone, which leads to a minerally style. The blend is approximately, 60% grenache, 20% mourvedre and 20% syrah.
The color is very evocative of southern France, orange and salmon. The aromas have some notes of orange also with grapefruit, lemon and some red but racy, acid-driven fruit. The acidity is wonderful and tingly. Watermelon shows up again here and it is intense. This is a big mouthful of wine! I wanted pasta with pancetta, herbs de Provence and lots of garlic. Or a plate of cured meats, some goat cheese and a view. Or door number three...all of the above!  $16 I know this is sold out at Kiefe & Co. where I bought it but it’s possible you’ll find some around town. If not, snag some next year.
Consistent and a good Thanksgiving choice.

Chateau Famaey, Malbec Rosé 2013

Imported by Scott Levy Selections - From southwest France, essentially Cahors - the home of malbec. The winery says they’re “semi-organic” and then explains they avoid chemicals unless absolutely necessary (lutte raissonée). 100% malbec. 
Another one with that Kool-aid color. The wine is soft, simple and easy. The palate is juicier than many others. There is not much happening in the glass but there is nothing wrong either. This is porch wine, pure and simple. It might pair with a lot of food but nothing jumped at me.  $10

L’Argentier Aramon Rosé 2013

Imported by Fruit of the Vines - The Jourdan family have run the estate for nearly 80 years. The wine is 100% aramon, (it’s okay, I had to look it up). It used to be a very widely planted variety but is described by Jancis Robinson as “coarse, high-yielding” and referred to as a “workhorse grape.” Hardly a ringing endorsement, but certainly explains why I’d never heard of it.
This was pretty big with a dark color, easily observed through the clear glass. It also has some meat on its bones and wants to be at the table...or wherever you choose to eat food. A nuance of orange, both sweet and tart, appeared and my impression of the wine on my tongue was softness and luxury, like my mouth was relaxing in a velvet hammock near a lake (I was near a lake, maybe wishing for a hammock). Watermelon shone through also, like so many others I have tasted lately. This is really delicious and has good weight for the red wine drinker. The finish is long and somewhere between the edginess of minerality and the lushness described earlier. There is also an oily, earthy note that I can only try to pin down for you, reminding me of fresh sardines and their intense salinity. Grilled sardines sounds perfect but grilled meat (lamb!) and grilled shrimp sound easier to acquire. Olives and pesto pasta also spring to mind.  $15
Consistent (two years) and a good Thanksgiving choice.

Jaboulet Parallèle 45, Cotes du Rhone Rosé 2013

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons - The 45th parallel is a mere two kilometers from their cellars. Jaboulet produces a wide range of wines from the Rhone Valley. They do an excellent job from top to bottom. This is a blend of 50% grenache, 40% cinsault and 10% syrah.
Pale pink, atlantic salmon color with plenty of mineral and not much else very distinct. It was tasty enough but didn’t wow me. When I poured a second taste, it made sense, the wine was corked. It was unnoticeable at first, only showing that telltale wet cardboard taste (and a hint on the nose) with time and some air. This is a decent wine for a good price but a reminder why all bottles in this style - fresh, meant to be consumed young - should be sealed with a screwcap. A fine choice for the money when it isn’t tainted.  $11
Consistent and a good Thanksgiving choice - assuming you get a bottle the way it is supposed to be.

Italy: 
Tintero, Grangia Moscato Rosato 2013

Imported by Kermit Lynch - The winery is in Piedmont, a sweet spot for moscato grapes (sorry, couldn’t resist. You may not see that noted on the bottle since they source from around the appellation. The winery farms sustainably. 
This is a bit of a kitchen sink blend: barbera, moscato, favorita and some arneis, at least. Some almond notes shine through - that comes from the arneis. Great watermelon color. Lovely texture, good depth, subtle on finish. Nice balance, a bit short but not un-rewarding. Mouthwatering - (underlined in my notes). Perfect for whetting the appetite or as a light dessert wine with perhaps some nuts or biscotti. Also fantastic as a refreshment for the grill master or gardener. 11.5% alcohol means you can enjoy the flavor without getting tipsy too quickly. $14

La Spinetta Il Rosato di Casanova, Tuscany 2013

Imported by Indigenous Selections - locally Lirette Selections - The winery is well known and respected for their full-flavored wines that speak of the Italian roots but exhibit more polish and immediate pleasure than many other neighbors. They are 75% biodynamic (no idea of the vineyards not included) and use no chemical products, fertilizers or pesticides. They produce in Piedmont and Tuscany. This wine is 50% sangiovese (the base for Chianti) and 50% prugnolo gentile (don’t worry about it).
The color is a very light rosé color, it reminds me of copper. The palate is tangy with some earth on the finish - much more presence than the color would imply. The finish is nearly a lemon curd but less round than that sounds and with more pronounced acidity. Some fine tannin appears on the huge, long, mouthwatering finish. Despite all of my salmon color references, this was the fist wine that made we wish for the fish.  $17-$18.
This could be a good Thanksgiving choice though I worry about it being overwhelmed.

Maiano Refrain Vino Spumante Extra Dry, Non-Vintage, Tuscany

I fell down on the job of drinking sparkling rosé, mea culpa. I will NOT let it happen again. This was another wonderful Swirl find. Bizarrely, this wine label is all in Italian and lists no importer, but a web search found Bon Vivant Imports. 
The winery pursues a natural approach, avoiding herbicide and pesticide treatments. 
The wine is 100% malvasia nera. I am amazed they use the charmat method to introduce bubbles. Usually, I find this process very obvious and sometimes even a little heavy-handed and clumsy. Instead of developing the bubbles in the bottle (as they do in Champagne and most high-end sparklers) CO2 is pumped into a tank and the bubbles develop there, the wine is bottled later. 
The bubbles are fine and focused, and the wine is as well. While the website claims the wine is "a little bit sweet," I found it pretty dry and thoroughly enjoyable. Lovely red berry notes predominate and the focused mouthfeel made me want some food immediately. $15-$17
A good Thanksgiving choice

Portugal:
Vinho Verde is produced in the northwest of Spain and literally translates as ‘green wine.’ The rosés are the right color. rink them young, they do not age. 
Casal Garcia, Vinho Verde Rosé 

Imported by Alveda, Inc - This bottle seems not to display a vintage, always a warning sign to me, especially with simple rosé, and even more so with Vinho Verde. Approach with caution and buy from outlets that feature it prominently to ensure turnover. Made from Vinhao, Azal Tinto and Borracal (I know, me either).
The hallmark spritziness is present and delightful on the tongue. The color is bright, almost grenadine - and you can actually see the bubbles. The finish is short but the mid-palate is full. The sweet cherry middle avoids being cloying but is far from bone dry. Another quaffer at a mere 10.5% alcohol.  $8
Consistent wine, just try to make sure you’re buying a current release.

Ela Vinho Verde Rosé 2013

Imported by Touchstone-Wines - There is precious little story about this winery but the price might mitigate a need for one. 60% vinhao, 30% borracal and 10% espadiero (again, me either). 
There’s that vibrant Kool-aid color again. This was the sweetest of the pink wines we tried. Not bad though with some subtle spritz. This is beach wine. Uncomplicated but a bargain. Low alcohol also, 10%.  $7-$8

United States:
Elk Cove Pinot Noir Rosé, Willamette Valley 2013 

I adore this winery but have been disappointed in their rosé ever since I first tasted it. Too much fruit and not enough depth for my palate. Their vineyard practices are very much in keeping with an Oregon sensibility about sustainability, read more here. 
The wine has a different color than in years past though the winemaking notes do not reflect a new approach. It looks pale to me, peach almost, quite a change. Rose petals on the nose with hints of citrus: lemon when the wine was cold and orange as it warmed. Watermelon on the finish! The texture is soft but has some weight. The wine is subtle, elegant and shows none of the sweetness like it has in the past. Yay! I wanted guacamole and chips, something salty. $15
Finally(!) a good Thanksgiving choice.

Argentina:
Crios Malbec Rosé, Mendoza 2012

Imported by Vine Connections - Susana Balbo (winemaker) is a genius. She’s not afraid of making big wines but they never become ponderous or unbalanced. The wine is 100% malbec. Although they do not share their viticultural practices, Mendoza requires very little chemical use because they do not have many pests and rarely experience mildew or rot issues.
The lone 2012 in the series. This was in the middle of color, not quite Faillenc but darker than Elk Cove. The wine was thick, tactile, rich and fairly heavy but not cloying at all. It shows lushness without being creamy. It wasn’t very complex but sometimes solid and big is enough. This is for cabernet drinkers. Cherry is the dominant flavor and it is dark, but not quite black. I wanted a steak salad or maybe some seared tuna with plenty of pepper. $14
Consistent and a good Thanksgiving choice.

Spain: 
The regions that produce the wines featured here rarely need much chemical attention in the vineyards. They do not have mold, mildew or pest issues allowing the wineries to operate in a sustainable way. That said, I do not have a clue about any of these wineries’ specifics.
Bodegas Muga Rosado, Rioja 2013 

Imported by Jorge Ordonez, locally by Wines Unlimited - Muga is a very traditional producer that makes classic wines. The rosé has always excelled. 60% garnacha (grenache), 30% viura (white wine similar to sauvignon blanc) and 10% tempranillo (the classic grape of Rioja). 
Great pink color, with citrus on the nose and some watermelon. The fruit is intense, not quite strawberry, and some oak shows through on the nose and palate. Great texture. A hint of earth emerges on the finish and the wine is clean and dry but not tannic. After it opened, it got a little soapy but the high acid remained. Overall, not as impressed as I have been but still a good value. I just wanted to drink this one, relaxing or cooking. Snacks are fine but not needed. $11
Consistent recommendation in the past but this year was a different style of wine.

Dominio de Eguren Protocolo Rosé 2013

Imported by Jorge Ordonez, locally by Wines Unlimited - From La Mancha, the official appellation is Vino de la Tierra de Castilla but what you need to know is that it is made from 70% bobal and 30% tempranillo. 
There is very little to say about this wine. It’s pink, it was cold and it was simple. There is not much going on but for the price, how much do you expect? At this price, try it with everything. I give it 4 Ps...perfect pool/porch/party wine.  $6
Consistent and a good Thanksgiving choice for a crowd.

Bodegas Borsao, Borsao Rosé, Campo de Borja 2013 

Imported by Jorge Ordonez, locally by Wines Unlimited - Yes, the wine is named identically to the winery. No, they are not crazy, just confusing (confused?). The region of Campo de Borja is located immediately south and east of the more famous Rioja. The appellation’s signature grape is garnacha (grenache) and this wine is 100% that grape.
Although I am a huge fan of the winery, I have been iffy on this bottling in the past and this year didn’t change my impression. It lacks complexity and there’s too much sweetness for my palate. This wine is a throwaway for me and I would rather save $2 and drink the Protocolo. I had no interest in pairing this with anything except maybe some tonic and vodka. $8

Austria:
Weingut Familie Juak Schilcher Klassic, Blauer Wildbacher 2013

Imported by Haus Alpenz - There is precious little out there about this wine but here’s what I know. It comes from Styria in the southeast of Austria. Schilcher is a style of rosé wine, including sparkling. Christian Jauk makes a few Schilcher wines, this is their ‘classic.’ The grape, Blauer Wildbacher, is dark-skinned, obvious when you see the vibrant hue of the wine. Blauer means ‘blue’ in German and is used to describe grapes with deeper color.
Looks like Kool-Aid. Wow, insane acid! The long, layered attack is mesmerizing and the wine is rich and untamed. It makes my mouth water for a long time...a really long time. I wanted cured meats and washed rind cheese. Nothing civilized for this wine, maybe ribs...this wants food with a bone or venison. Maybe just a similarly wild guest. $17
Good Thanksgiving choice with wild fowl or meats.

South Africa:
Mulderbosch Rosé, Coastal Region 2013

Imported by Mulderbosch - The winery participates in the BWI (Biodiversity and Wine Initiative) addressing the vineyards and their surrounding flora and fauna. I have been a huge fan of this winery but it was bought out and the long time winemaker, Mike Dobrovic, left. The new owner, Charles Banks, has been acquiring wineries left and right and this approach rarely bodes well. I wrote a short piece about this specifically referencing Mulderbosch about a year ago (read it here). Production was slated to grow, quickly. If this is the result of the new ownership I do not need to pay attention to this winery anymore.

No longer big and brawny like it used to be. It is now soft and lush (new) but still full with deep color and lot of texture. Some cranberry, cherry and hints at cassis with some watermelon too. It’s a decent drink but not like it used to be and it is sweeter. A new audience will enjoy it but the old one is going to be disappointed. Tasted twice with consistent notes. I’ll try again next year. More of a cocktail wine now than a food wine.$12

Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Truth in Labeling? Part 2

Wine labels do not always tell the truth. Do you know how?
Full disclosure labeling, as covered in my last post, would be great. I want to know what is being added to my alcoholic beverages. Fireball has served as an unlucky lightning rod for a conversation that was long overdue. However, listing all ingredients for wine, beer and spirits on the label will take time, if it ever happens at all.
Here are some loopholes you may not be aware of for wine labeling. (I use domestic rules because they are relevant to more readers and because the rules are in English)

The Grape:
That pinot noir you drank last night from California might have had 25% of another grape (or grapes) in it and the winery does not have to tell you this. As long as the grape listed on the label is 75% of the wine, the rest is up to the winery. Syrah is a classic addition to inexpensive pinot, it adds color and body for a low price. The same percentages hold true for any variety of wine, white or red.
Oregon is stricter. In Oregon a pinot noir would have to be at least 90% pinot to be labeled as such. The other 10%? Legally, any other grape is okay. Some other grape varieties (18 of them) are allowed to be 75%. This was mostly allowed due to Bordeaux varieties, red and white, and the tradition of blending them. Rhone varieties are the remaining majority in the list.
To be labeled as coming from Oregon, 100% of the fruit must come from the state. However, if a specific appellation is listed, 5% of the wine can come from outside that appellation as long as it's still from Oregon. For a single vineyard bottling, 100% of the wine must be from that vineyard if Estate bottling is claimed. If not, 5% can come from other sources - within the state. Good luck keeping all this straight.

The Vintage:
The wine can be from different year(s) and still carry a single vintage date. 5% other vintage(s) are allowed if the wine lists a specific American Viticultural Area (AVA). If the winery lists only by county or state then the required percentage for wine of the vintage on the label drops to 85%.

You can read more from the Alcohol and Tobacco Bureau here.

There is more. The division that approves labels often displays inconsistencies. There are plenty of tales of labels being submitted and rejected only to have a re-submission of the same label get approved. The original denier might have been on vacation or at lunch or just having a better day.
Bonny Doon once got a label approved for their zinfandel and they described it as "Beastly Old Vines." Some of these got into the supply chain when the TTB said they could not use the term beastly. Labels had already been printed so Randall Grahm and his merry band took a hole punch and "erased" the word beastly from the label.
The term old vines has no regulations whatsoever. A winery can call their wine old vines whenever they want. Believe the ones that actually tell you how old the vines are on the back label. A winery with a nod to scrupulousness could designate their ten year-old vines as old if they planted some new ones.
Another labeling quirk the TTB allowed was the designation, by Sea Smoke, of a "Grand Cru" vineyard (see Dr. Vino's post). France has a dedicated Cru system but the U.S. does not. Still, it is not forbidden by the French nor regulated by the TTB. Approved...but confusing.

Alcohol is another place wineries can deceive you. Below an alcohol level of 14%, a producer has 1.5% leeway to change the declared level on the label. That's a lot. Taxes increase once the level is over 14% so wineries have an incentive to tell you the percentage is lower than it really is. Once the 14% threshold is surpassed, the adjustment allowance drops to 1%. If the wine is 15% alcohol, an unacceptable level for some drinkers (rightly or wrongly), a winery can label it 14% and skate by. For more on this and to learn about a yeast strain that might reduce alcohol, see an earlier post here.

In the end, truth in labeling is a great concept but if/when it gets fully argued, negotiated and regulated the new labels may still not tell you what you need to know.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Truth in Labeling?

We all know what goes into wine, right? Grapes, yeast, oak (well, the wine goes into the last one). All the videos of winemaking show grapes being crushed and wine being magically created in a vat or barrel. What they don't show you is the "adjustments" that take place.
France sometimes allows chaptalization - adding sugar to bring the alcohol level up to a more normal level. You can add powdered tannin, you can acidify and you can use oak barrels, staves, chips, sawdust or even liquid smoke without having to tell anyone. Ever see anyone dump a bag of something into a vat in one of those romantic montages? Me either.
Today, word is out that Fireball has been recalled in some of Europe because it contains too much propylene glycol - an ingredient in anti-freeze. Apparently there was a shipping error. Sazerac, who produces Fireball, knows the Euro Zone countries have a lower threshold for levels of that substance. The U.S. allows more and the domestic version mistakenly was exported to Europe. You can read more about that here (Daily Meal) and here (Daily Beast). Pretty sure Fireball's label doesn't divulge the presence of propylene glycol, much less the specific amount. This is a known toxin that can kill you - although you would die of alcohol poisoning way before the anti-freeze ingredient would be an issue.
Lots of attention (too much?) has been paid to sulfites which occur naturally in grapes (and oranges, for example) and help stabilize the wine from oxidation. Some people get worked up about these, claiming allergic reactions. If sulfites have been added (almost every wine on a retail shelf) there will be a small statement to that effect on the label.
For a more in depth presentation of additions, check out this Washington State University link.
Many wineries tell you what they remove from the wines - fining and filtering - but very few disclose what goes in. We demand truth in labeling for food and medicines, why not wine? Ridge Vineyards has come to the rescue and voluntarily decided to show what they are putting in the bottle. This short video from Ridge explains the process and shows an example label. They have been doing this for a while so this is not breaking news but I thought it worth acknowledging.

While I don't view the additions to wine as health risks I would like be able to see if a wine has been adjusted. Generally, more expensive wines are coddled from grape to bottle. Because they are well-tended they do not need to be "fixed" as often. You should assume most cheap bottles of wine are more of a chemistry experiment. It is the bottles in between that need the disclosures. If there are two similarly priced wines on a shelf and one reads like Ridge's label and the other looks more like the back of a Cheetos bag, I am going to choose the more natural one, every time. And my palate will thank me. I can sometimes taste acidified wines. I can sometimes tastes wines that have powdered tannin added. If I can't taste the manipulation then I don't care. But the only way to know, for now, is to buy the bottle and open it. Sure would be nice to take a quick glance at a label and know one more thing about the wine you're considering.

Next post: A continuation of this them addressing grape percentages, alcohol level and organic declaration.





Monday, October 20, 2014

Offer Samples Instead of Saying No

A post with links to multiple wine articles appeared in my RSS feed and two of them piqued my interest. Clicking each brought up web pages of the San Francisco Chronicle and the Wall Street Journal respectively. Each one offered the headline, a sentence or two and then told me to log-in or sign-up.
It is entirely possible that signing up would be quick, easy and require only that I agree to receive emails. Perhaps there would be a need to conjure up yet another password to something I may never use again. Even less appealing would be needing to pay to access the article.
In the end, it didn’t matter. Despite wanting to read both articles the obstacle placed in front of me outweighed my desire for access. The Wall Street Journal has good articles but my lack of familiarity with the author caused me to close the window and skip the read. I know little about the San Francisco Chronicle and, although I did know the author, I do not always love what she writes.
How easy is it to let me visit as a guest and then bar me from access on a subsequent visit unless I then decide to share my contact information? I’m happy to invite you in once you demonstrate value to me but there is too much good information and great writing available for free to make demands before I make a commitment, even one as small as sharing an email address while creating an account. 

If you meet someone are you expected to provide them your contact information in order to talk to them? Of course not. (If you said yes to that, please tell me where and when you interact with new people so I can come observe this process and the hilarious reactions that will inevitably follow). You talk, you learn, you decide if you’re interested.
Wineries would be smart to remember this. Wines sell because people taste them and like them. In many cases, the first experience is free, whether by the generosity of someone who bought a bottle or through marketing efforts.
Free samples are everywhere. Taste, experience, buy-in...or don’t. The offer of food or wine to taste costs someone money every time and some moochers will never support your business. Sharing an article that has already been written and is currently available on the internet costs no one anything to share it with more people. When walls discourage potential new customers it can cost you everything.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

More counterfeiting news

The attention being paid to counterfeiting continues. Bill Koch and Rudy Kurniawan are the primary cause of the press covering fake wine and methods being used to defeat would-be shysters. See my earlier posts, herehere and here.
All of this time and effort spent discussing wine fraud probably makes people nervous. It shouldn't. This will almost assuredly never matter to almost every wine drinker. No one is bothering to counterfeit a $20 bottle of wine. This goes well beyond #FirstWorldProblems to #RichPeopleProblems. The money some people spend to acquire old, rare wine is insane. Even if you can guarantee the wine inside the bottle is actually what the label claims, you can not guarantee it will be any good. This is partly why counterfeiters get away with it. Most people have no idea how these wines taste.
I don't support the fraud in any way shape or form but it certainly has reminded big spenders that an old Latin phrase still has relevance in the digital age. Many would have done well to recall caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) earlier. Some of the fake wine sold for huge sums were from vintages before the producer ever made wine. A minimal amount of investigation would have revealed the scam.
Mark Ellwood, on Bloomberg, writes an in-depth post about even more ways to prevent criminals from ripping off rich people. Read his entire article here. Bill Koch now spends upwards of $500, in some cases, to authenticate a single bottle of wine. I've never spent that king of money on a bottle, much less to verify its provenance. Particle accelerators, laser and microchips are some of the techniques Mr. Ellwood explains in his piece.
The whole concept fascinates me and the amazing, and expensive, efforts to thwart counterfeiters are impressive but you can't stop it entirely. I will continue to read and share articles but none of this causes me to lose any sleep, my wine purchases are safe.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Let's Raise the Price Again, They're Still Buying!

Financial reading is dull and usually has little to do with wine, the only regular link is that they both involve my wallet. Last night, however, two articles by the same author reminded me of pricing insanity that has long been part of the wine world. 
A fund I have a small investment with apparently bought some of the stock mentioned but their decision better not have been based on either article. The analysis began by admitting the company was having trouble attracting customers but then said everything is fine because they are making more money off of fewer people. In fact, his delirium over this so infected the author he continued to say the sky was the limit. Sure, as long as people are willing to pay $1,000 a ticket and $50 for a hamburger, the sky might be the limit. 
Steve Martin did a routine about this decades ago where he calculated how much money he was making and how much he could make. Eventually he reached a high enough ticket price, assumed a five digit audience count, figured he could retire and announced, "One show and goodbye!"  
Bordeaux, Burgundy and California, among many others, are all guilty of the same backward logic. We can make more money if we just charge more! That's great until one day you realize you've pushed it too far and revenue begins a slow (if you're lucky), steady decline. At first customers might keep coming/buying but less frequently. Then lots of them will find something else to do/drink. Suddenly your loyal cash cows are grazing in someone else's field and they're not coming back.
During the wild price escalations of the late 1990s I asked a winemaker from California how some people priced their wines. He told me the in vogue method was to gather a handful of similar wines from the area and taste them blind with a wine made in house. While the tasting was technically blind, winery people tend to recognize their own product and rate it more highly then the others, almost without fail. Then they would price the "winner" higher than the other bottles on the table. This led to prices spiraling out of control with, seemingly, no end in sight. It was a nightmarish Escher print of high end grape juice.
It happens on the spirits side too. Allow me to quote Stoli Group USA's president from this article in Shanken News Daily
“We’ve successfully moved our price up to premium, which was one of our goals this year,” says Esposito, adding that Stoli’s retail price now sits at around $25-$29 a 1.75-liter and $19 a 750-ml. “Previously, we were $3-$5 a bottle below Absolut. So right now we’re moving toward that, and we’ll continue to move it up. It’s where the brand belongs, and now that the advertising is there, we have a great opportunity to justify our pricing.”
Wow, wow, wow. No mention of changing quality, just a higher price - followed by advertising to justify that increase. If I drank Stoli and read this, I would be looking for another vodka, quickly. They are far from the only ones employing this style of pricing but this is just so blatant it was impossible to ignore.
But I never thought this upside down logic would reach the financial sector. In addition to the specious argument that declining attendees and higher costs result in a sound investment the author admits there is a lot of debt and that operating expenses are rising every year. Sounds great, how do I invest? Oh wait, I am invested...bye, I've got a call to make.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Huber Heritage - an Indiana Gem

I "discovered" this winery at Vintage Indiana in 2013. Miss Wright and I tried a lot of wine that day. She had visited this farm in the past but hadn't fully explored the wines. We had a stellar tasting experience with that day, including tasting with the winemaker - always a nice treat.
Huber's is a family run operation, since 1843, with wine production coming in the late 1970s. All of the wines are estate based. The winemaker admitted that sometimes they run short on fruit due to you-pick-'em sales but those issues are limited to non-grape-based wines like their blueberry port. If extra fruit is needed for these wines it is purchased from other Indiana farms.
The Heritage wine I purchased that day clearly wanted some time to develop in the bottle and I tried to offer that. Eventually, the temptation overtook my desire to let it age and I opened my bottle for some friends.
The bottle claims the blend in 65% cabernet sauvignon and 35% cabernet franc.
The website says 45% cabernet sauvignon, 40% cabernet franc and 15% petite verdot. I am going with the website since that specifically references the 2008 vintage. The back label does not. Plus, I'm pretty sure I tasted petite verdot...see below.

Heritage 2008 - A round dollop of oak greets the nose along with deep red and black fruits and even a little hint of mint. No green, herbal flavors, but mint, like I sometimes find in Aussie shiraz. This wasn't so pronounced that it reminded of a Thin Mint Girl Scout cookie but it was much closer to that than a mint julep or mojito. The wine fills the mouth nicely, from the roof to the tongue and is clearly rich without feeling heavy. The color is impeccable - no browning despite the age and the bright violet rim leads to an opaque purple core. Petite verdot provides great color and contributes to the fleshy texture of wines and I would be hard pressed to believe there is none in this blend. The flavors come in layers and the wine evolved while we drank it.
I continue to be amazed that they can achieve the ripeness with a grape I do not associate with the middle of the country. Cabernet franc loves the sun but thrives in cooler climates. Cabernet sauvignon, to my palate, demands sun and warmth or else it can taste of bell pepper and feel sharp, almost punishing.
While $40 (the current price, I think I paid $30) is more than I usually pay for a bottle of wine from anywhere, much less Indiana, this wine should be the calling card of Indiana wines. If you're a wine fan from Indiana, or visiting Indiana or want a distinct gift for a wine lover in your life, this would be an excellent choice.
If I was helping to develop the Indiana Wine Trail, I would be sure to include this in any tasting for high profile wine writers. This is the kind of bottle that can reshape perceptions and all of Indiana's wineries would benefit.
I look forward to visiting Huber in person and can't wait to try more of their wines.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Winery Spin Unspun

This is the first in what I envision being a series of articles taking winery PR or writing and debunking it. Being able to put a nice shine on a pile of something you might not want to step in always amazes me. This practice is particularly egregious in the wine world where far too many people are confused and the spin patrol only serves to keep them that way. 
Don't worry, this won't take long...
Diageo, a massive liquor/beer/wine company, is preparing to release a new line of wines called Woodwork. I nearly did a spit take when I read their information. 
"Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines has launched Woodwork Wines, a brand with three varietals. The wines are created using wood staves instead of barrels, which is a lower impact on the environment and allows more robust flavors, according to the company."
You can read the other few sentences here if you want.
Vintners have used wooden staves for a long time but I have never seen anyone brag about it. It saves money not the environment. Oak for barrels is mostly farmed now so no one is out cutting down old growth forests. 
Wooden staves, less expensive than actual barrels, are placed into stainless steel tanks to flavor the wines with oak (I assume they're using oak, they only say "wood"). However, when you're saving money you rarely go the extra mile of allowing the wood to age and mellow (seasoning). This means that what you have is a very raw product that will indeed result in "more robust flavors." I would view this as a potential flaw, not something to brag about, although staves are superior to wood chips and sawdust, two other inexpensive ways of getting wood flavor into wine. Still, you have to hand it to them, spinning this money-saving technique into being environmentally friendly is brilliant. Especially if you can keep a straight face.
A true barrel allows the wine to breathe and soften and develop while stainless steel tanks do not. For crisp, fruity whites that lack of oxygen contact is a bonus, preserving their freshness. Woodwork is producing chardonnay, cabernet and pinot noir, all varieties that benefit from some air. 
Bizarrely, the Diageo website has no reference to the brand and, at a different time of year, I might write this off as a prank. However, Shanken News (the industry daily from the Wine Spectator) also featured the same press information so I have to believe it's real. Perhaps they're already backpedaling and rebranding? 
Good luck to them, I won't be buying.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Stop the Vino Vitriol

Create an organization in pursuit of a reasonable goal and you will have enthused participants go too far. Their actions or statements will then rile up people who feel threatened or wronged and the entire undertaking can devolve into a pointless exchange of unpleasantries that pretty much misses the point entirely. The gloves come off, civilized discourse devolves into name calling and most people tune out. This is the nature of politics but it shouldn't happen over wine.
Steve Heimoff reported yesterday that James Laube wrote an editorial in Wine Spectator that "comes out swinging against Pursuit of Balance." "The Empire Strikes Back: Laube Takes on IPOB" is the title of Mr. Heimoff's piece. During the summary paragraph Mr. Heimoff says, "Jim has presented his case cogently and respectfully." I disagree. You can sort of read the article from the picture Mr. Heimoff posted but you must subscribe to the Wine Spectator to read it more easily. However, anyone can see the title, "Dim Somms." There is nothing respectful about that.
I have no skin in this game. James Laube routinely bestows rave reviews on wines that I find to be over the top. Many of his favorites are too lush and too oaky for my palate but most of these are very popular. He and I do agree on some wines. Mr. Laube's status in the wine world as well as his predilections have set him up at the opposite end of the spectrum from IPOB.
In Pursuit of Balance focuses on California chardonnay and pinot noir and desires wines where terroir appears. I like the concept but they have gotten off base as well. The entire exercise feels like a clique of cool kids promoting indie bands you've never heard of and sneering at you if you mention a band that's played on mainstream radio. It all seems a bit like work...as does drinking more than half a glass of some of Mr. Laube's choice wines.
IPOB's manifesto says nothing about alcohol levels but that has become the big point of contention. There are sommeliers who will not even taste wines above a certain level as there are people who sometimes buy because of that same elevated percentage. Mr. Laube makes a good point about alcohol levels not being absolute on wine labels. Producers in California have 1.5% to play with if the wine is actually below 14% or 1% if they tip the scales over 15%. (If you don't want to strain your eyes trying to decipher his piece on Steve Heimoff's site, read an earlier post from me that discusses this, here.)
Unfortunately, some zealots decry wines in sweeping generalizations that confuse, or anger, their customers. These fanatics are not all supporters of IPOB and this sort of vinous bullying has existed far longer than that organization. I remember a soon-to-be famous restaurant opening in New Orleans in the 1990s that refused to carry white zinfandel. The sommelier didn't consider white zin 'real wine' and planned to offer (force?) those customers to drink German riesling. Customers complained and eventually, as I recall, some white zin was available, if not actually on the wine list.
The fine balance of offering what people want and what you want them to experience is a challenging one for restaurants. I'm sure seeing a delicate dish being crushed under the ponderous weight of an over-oaked monster is frustrating to sommeliers but my 20+ years in the wine business has taught me you don't win converts by forcing them to drink the wine you want. Let them drink what they want and offer a taste of something you recommend. If/when that clicks, you will have an ambassador of you and your employer. If it never does you will still have an appreciative customer because you are offering something extra, allowing them to explore.
The wine world is large and varied and far from absolute. There is no reason to denigrate wine styles that are not your favorite, they are not foes to be vanquished. Palates change and tastes evolve. Nurture your passion, share it when appropriate, but don't try to browbeat others into joining your cult of wine.
In the meantime, wine "professionals" yelling at one another and uttering wild generalizations will not serve to enlighten anyone. I thought the idea of wine writing and education was to share insight and offer options so people could make the best choices for their palates. If no one else likes the wines I like, that's okay. I don't need confirmation of approval, in fact, it might mean more for me...and at better prices.

Friday, August 22, 2014

How Not To Learn Anything About Wine

Read junk like "How To Not Embarrass Yourself While Talking About Wine." Wine is simpler than most people believe and more nuanced than a lot of writers want to admit. You don't have to be able to score the third movement of any of Beethoven's symphonies but you should be informed that his music genre (classical) also includes the vastly different styles of Mozart and Wagner.
I am going to pick on the article linked above but have no agenda against the author, Jonathan Cristaldi. He "is the deputy editor of The SOMM Journal," and may know what he's talking about but this type of wine writing is a huge disservice to the consuming public. It seems to offer absolutes but these are few and far between in the world of wine. It is, unfortunately, becoming the norm in this short attention span world.

Let's take a look at the nine points in the article:
First, ignore the clickbait in the introductory paragraph, they lead to articles only vaguely about their link words - "wine philistine" takes us to a guide to making prison wine, for example.

1)  Don't say you'll just drink anything
Agreed. However, the simplistic notion of 'because I like this, I'll like that' will help almost no one. Black coffee drinkers won't necessarily enjoy pinot poir. A better piece of advice here would be to pay attention when you drink some wine and make a few mental notes to describe those you enjoy. "I like wines that are lighter and crisper, like New Zealand sauvignon blanc."
Also, don't hesitate to ask for a taste, whether you're at a restaurant or a party.

2) Don't guess on the grapes
The example given is of a tasting room employee trying to stump a guest. I have never seen this happen except with wine professionals where this is a fairly classic game I have always called "Stump the Chump." Mr. Cristaldi is correct that if you are confronted with this in a challenging manner you should not support the winery.
You also should not be afraid to state an opinion. This is a critical element of developing the confidence to describe what you want.

3) Don't be a grape racist
Remove the word 'grape' and I fully support this point!
"This is an immediate tip of the hat to any discerning wino who is looking to sniff out the defensive novice. Declaring war on a wine because of its color will warrant a barrage of questions and humorous jabs at your expense from any wine aficionado within earshot." 
Unfortunately, a-holes like this exist. Mr. Cristaldi paints a picture of pretentious wine nerds like sharks sniffing for blood or lions looking for a weak antelope. If you are surrounded by these people you shouldn't make up stories to cover your dislike of red or white wine you should hang out with a different crowd.
I always encourage trying new wines but at some point you can certainly surrender to liking red or white exclusively if that's what your palate wants. Pushing people into lying about why is disingenuous and also exactly the kind of bullying Jonathan decries at the end of the quote above.

4) Remember that Bordeaux is not a grape
An oddly specific reference that should also include any number of other old world locations where the place name is featured on the label, not the grapes. Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne, Brunello, Chianti, Rioja, etc. should also be mentioned. Or, if he wished to avoid a laundry list he should at least say that Bordeaux is not the only wine with this potential confusion.

5) Don't say you prefer 'dry' reds
"Eyes will roll immediately because all wine pros know that most red wine is dry." 
Yes, most red wine is dry. Yes, you should also refine your explanation since some wines are more fruity than others, giving the impression of sweetness, even though they are fermented to dryness. This is good. However, Jonathan completely ignores the growing segment of wines that are being made to be sweet, or at least off-dry. This is bad. The category is bigger than ever and I would much rather say I like dry wine and take my changes than say I like a more fruit-forward style and risk getting something sweet.

6) Know your Champagnes vs. sparkling wines
Again, he uses an implied threat, this time in the form of "an age-old lecture"and then uses "Champers" to describe champagne. No one serious enough to lecture you about describing sparkling wine as champagne would then use the word "Champers."
I will now pick on him for a pet peeve of mine, admittedly very nerdy. Champagne, the place, should be capitalized while champagne, the actual wine, should not. (Sorry about that one...I'm in therapy to let it go)
The final recommendation, to be safe and "talk about the bubbly" is good advice.

7) Don't announce an arbitrary price limit
He does admit you should "[t]alk about your ideal budget...at a bar or restaurant" so I have no quibbles with this section.

8) Don't fear the wine list
This is brilliant and the explanation that follows is perfection!

9) Quit hating on Merlot and sniffing corks
It's still okay to hate merlot (yes, small 'm' is correct). It's safer in most cases. There are still lots of merlots being made that lack any sort of character or complexity. For my palate, I need to pay a lot more to find a merlot that tastes good than I do for any other grape. Merlot is welcome in blends but not so much on it's own.
The whole cork sniffing thing ignited some controversy in the comments section - go ahead, read it, I'll wait. Mr. Cristaldi's analogy to sniffing a dog's butt to see if it's male or female is amusing but off base. We don't sniff something else on a dog to determine that either. We do use our noses to find a corked wine and I find that sniffing a cork can help remind me to pay close attention.
A cork can smell of TCA (tri-chloro-anisole, the bacteria that leads to corked wines) and still be fine. However, in most cases if the cork smells like wet cardboard you will have a problem and I routinely smell them because the amount present in the wine can be much more subtle...and therefore harder to detect.

My biggest gripe with the article is not the opinions expressed. My issues stem from these opinions being expressed as facts with no room for interpretation or presentation of other ideas. Make it an op-ed piece and it can stand alone...or post my responses as the con side.









Sunday, August 17, 2014

Lynch Bages Face-Off


Tasting a classic like Lynch Bages 1982 once is special enough. Getting to do it three times in three months is even better. Having two of those bottles, from different cellars, at the same time felt a little like winning the wine lottery.
Heading north for a lot of the summer was part of my plan, incorporating lots of old Bordeaux into that time continues to surprise. I named the first post, A Rare Opportunity To Try Some Old Bordeaux, since it was, especially on a rooftop in Manhattan. Then the 4th of July brought out another chance to sample more of the case my father received as a gift for officiating a wedding (More Old Bordeaux with Family). A trip to Massachusetts to visit family created A Very Happy Surprise when we opened a Chateau Latour 1955...and another when we discovered it was in amazing condition. I felt spoiled and lucky and the tastings felt a little less rare, though excitement always builds when trying old wine.
Then came August. My time up north was winding down. My Uncle Jim brought up a treat from his cellar and we made plans to taste. When he told us it was a Lynch Bages 1982, Dad smiled. He had one of those as well. So, we stood them up and pulled the corks the next day. 
One came out cleanly, the other crumbled a bit. No major mess of cork bits in the bottle, and we skipped decanting.
I swear by giving young wines a chance to breathe and rarely decant old wines for fear of them falling apart too quickly. Stand older bottles up a day or two before opening and pour carefully. Unless you have an outrageous amount of sediment you won't have any issues until the very end of the bottle. Never filter wine if you can avoid it (more on that in another post).
My father's bottle was a gift, so we did not know when it was purchased, or where, or whether it moved around during its life. Jim's bottle had been in his cellar, unmoved before coming to Maine this year. The price tag was still on the bottle. Price and date are clear and easy to read.

His bottle had a better fill, clearly lower than when bottled but nothing to worry about. The wedding gift wine was just below the neck (almost exactly like the one from June). We started with the wedding bottle, thinking Jim's would turn out to be superior and we could have it second. 
Lynch Bages 1982 - Wedding gift - I recognized a lot of the same things from the first bottle we had in June (in case you don't want to scroll to the top, click here). The wine was soft, lush and long with that old Bordeaux brick aroma and impressive color. The core of red was a gradual fade to the edge of brown.
Cedar, some earth notes and a distinct whiff of fresh cellar dominated the nose. I did not get so much of the brown sugar or the iodine that appeared in the previous wine but this one exhibited more palate feel. I noticed subtle fruit but mostly the aromas echoed their presence. There was a dirt element and it was not quite chewy but tannin was noticeable. I could feel almost a clay note on the palate. Again, the sense of a bit of a hollow note appeared about halfway through the finish but it was thoroughly enjoyable and only became less so in comparison to the other bottle.
Lynch Bages 1982 - Jim's - The core of red was immediately noticeable and more pronounced. The first showed a more consistent color throughout, but this red was vibrant and differed more dramatically to the slightly orange edge. (The pictures hardly to it justice).
It also was lush and soft and long on the finish but had more happening. There was still that exciting edge of liveliness and acidity that I treasure in wine. The first began to fade, where this one filled out nicely and got much plumper in the middle and finish with about 15 minutes open. It even showed some spicy character that I associate with minerality, almost like what I expect from a Graves wine. Tannin was present but very subtle. What dominated was dark red fruits and that amazing zing of minerality and wet gravel that did not appear in the other bottle at all. The clay note I found this time around appeared here too but it was fresher and more appealing than the somewhat dirty (again, only in comparison) version of dirt/clay in the wedding gift wine.
We were all very happy and the order was correct. Returning to the first made it seem dull and lacking. The bottles emptied quickly and then we moved on to a 1997 Brunello with dinner. The first few tastes of this was very disappointing after our high water mark of the Lynch Bages face-off.
We all won in that contest...



Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Tale of Ancient Counterfeiting and Is Fraud Changing Today's Wine Culture?

Wine counterfeiting continues to dominate the news, at least in the wine world. The whole Rudy Kurniawan thing has captured much more attention than anything since the bottle of Chateau Lafitte purchased by a member of the Forbes family that was supposed to have come from Thomas Jefferson's cellar. (See some of my earlier posts, Wine Fraud and Lessons for You and More on Counterfeiting and Foiling Counterfeiters).
Even I was shocked to see this post by Steve Heimoff about a writing from Cato the Elder on how to make grapes taste similar to a more specific and (I assume) better wine. Although this seems less like counterfeiting and more like trying to make a Philly Cheesesteak or Shrimp Po-Boy in a place they are not native, it does seem to be on a large enough scale that perhaps there were nefarious goals.
At any rate, the problem has existed for a long, long time and is unlikely to disappear while insane premiums are being paid for select bottles.
The other article that caught my eye today was about the effect this publicity has had on some people's impression of the wine world. I have always enjoyed tasting older wine and share my experiences here often because they are unique and maybe you have an old wine you should drink. Perhaps it's to demonstrate that while older wines are potentially rewarding, many disappoint. The takeaway, I hope, is to enjoy what you can and share with friends and family. I do not desire to brag or one up anyone.
Mike Steinberger, writing on Wine-Searcher, wrote Rudy, Fraud and Wine Snobs and it is worth a few minutes of your time. In case you don't click right away, here is a sample:
"In the wake of Kurniawan’s arrest and conviction, however, all those blowout dinners don’t seem nearly so inviting. It turns out that, really, the only thing the rest of us were missing was the opportunity to drink fake wines and to be publicly humiliated when the truth was revealed."
Great sentiment and amusing takeaway! My mantra has always been that trophy wines are for people who are unsure of themselves and have more cents than sense. A $20 wine can be twice as good as a $10 one but a $1,000 bottle of wine can not be 100 times better. So, the reward per dollar spent decreases exponentially as you climb higher and higher into the rarities market. I rarely buy Burgundy anymore but I never stopped buying Cru Beaujolais: they are reasonably priced, complex and interesting, they do not require patience and are much easier to find...Mike Steinberger echoes that sentiment.
If you do too, keep coming back for wine sanity, always available right here.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Very Happy Surprise

I probably should expect the unexpected more often. Especially when an extended trip north brought my daughter and I to Aunt Pammy and Uncle Charles' house. They live here:

a gorgeous, tucked-away, passively solar, quiet masterpiece. It was designed by my Uncle Andrew, a not so mad genius, who is no longer with us. His legacy remains (in more places than this) but it was my distinct pleasure to visit this spot again for the first time in twenty years.
I knew there would be some happy exploration for my daughter because my aunt has immersed herself in art, poetry, family lore and whimsy...she also teaches yoga. My Uncle Charles is a lover of life with an amazing depth of intelligence, a quick wit and seems closer to being at one with the planet than most anyone I've ever met. Perhaps it's because he's a woodworker, creating art like this. Or this. Or, maybe my favorite, which reminds me of something simple and pedestrian like a doughnut and also something complex and ethereal, requiring a Neil deGrasse Tyson explanation for us ordinary folks. Charles also rollerblades.
I felt fortunate to get some real connection time with them. Being able to spend a day in and around this amazing house, exploring, playing, learning, sleeping, eating and drinking was a lovely bonus. But let's get to the last of those, since that's what really prompted me to write this.
Roast chicken was on the menu for dinner and I stopped at their local wine shop to look for an appropriate bottle that would pair well if we opened it or age well for a few years if we didn't. I selected a St. Innocent Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, one of my favorite producers and one of my favorite vineyards from a vintage that is for lovers of finesse and balance and wines that showcase the place they're grown. We opened that and it was fairly tough right out the bottle but 30 minutes let it open up and begin to strut its stuff.
As always with Mark Vlossak's wines I found structure and suppleness. He somehow manages to find richness and intensity without ever sacrificing the inherent nature of the grape itself. His Pinots taste like Pinot, not Syrah. Although the wines are accessible in their youth, they are among the most age-worthy Oregon Pinots (see some of my earlier posts about some 2006s and 1998s and another 1998). The Shea 2011 was brilliant but paled in comparison to the unexpected surprise that came next.
Uncle Andrew was a collector of wine and hunted around regularly to find some overlooked gems. Many of his treasures remain, some cellared by my Uncle Jim (need a program to tell the players?). We pulled out a few, including a 1969 Romanee-Conti Echezaux that had a very low fill (and isn't from a great vintage to begin with). Then Charles pulled out something that made his eyes light up. A moment later mine did too.
Wow, is the only word. 1955 Chateau Latour! With a good fill (above the neck, almost like it had been re-corked at some point)!! A nearly 60 year old First Growth...wow!!!
The cork was covered in mold and dirt and I managed to break the it in half even using an Ah-So, which is great for older corks. It usually extracts brittle closures brilliantly, wedging down the sides and slowly moving them up and out without the inevitable crumbling cork caused by the intrusion of a corkscrew worm. At least we didn't have lots of floating cork pieces.
The color was impeccable,

and we got very excited about this wine. The core of red was only slightly faded on the edge. It had certainly lightened over the years but was not washed out or oxidized in the least. The aroma was subtle but perfectly previewed what appeared on the palate. The fruit was sweet and juicy, not sugary but in a ripe fruit way. There were fine tannins on the back end that stood out a bit but then the finish washed over them nicely. Some earth notes, like a clean cellar, appeared in the middle and the finish echoed the sweet entry and also added some brown sugar notes. Again, this was not sweet and sugary but, to my palate, was an unmistakable brown sugar note. The wine still retained bright acidity and the finish was long, long, long! It lasted for minutes. It worked well with chicken and even broccoli - stems and tops.
What an impressive wine, amazing to see such an old wine perform so wonderfully and I would have been lucky to share it with anyone but with the family assembled, it became a very happy surprise that I will remember always.








Friday, July 25, 2014

More on Counterfeiting and Foiling Counterfeiters

Here are two pieces on counterfeit wine to go along with my earlier post, Wine Fraud and Lessons for You...Yes, You!.
Counterfeiting has been in the news a lot lately and with Rudy Kurniawan's sentencing around the corner, it will get even more press soon. As it should. The practice has ramped up to new levels as obscenely high profits can be made while status-hounds (almost always men) chase rare wines.
Alison Griswold's piece for Slate.com isn't exactly a how-to guide but it does explain how many fakes are made, and how hard it is to verify if the bottle (and the wine within) are the real thing. Who knew there was a market for empty bottles of old Bordeaux? Maybe my family could justify buying some old Bordeaux if we sold the empties from these recent tastings - Part I and Part II.
I love the mention of testing for radioactive elements in wines bottled before we produced a particular kind of radioactivity. I would imagine there are few opportunities to employ this option but it's a fascinating concept.
The other piece to explore is about as complete an analysis of methods of authenticating wine as I have ever seen. Elin McCoy on wine-searcher.com shares some cutting edge techniques used by wineries are to verify if the wine is the real McCoy (couldn't resist). These include, embossing gold (yes, real gold) onto bottles, special paper, marking inks used to print the labels, unique capsules covering the cork, holograms and more. It's a fascinating, well worth a click.
All of these amazing efforts will, almost certainly, have work-arounds from criminal enterprises.
Enjoy the reads.





Thursday, July 17, 2014

Wine "Glasses" for the pool

Summer in New Orleans will never appeal to me. If I could leave shortly after Jazz Fest (May) and return in late September I would. This year hasn't been too bad. There have been many days where I could breathe deeply and fully without wishing for gills. The pool still feels cool and refreshing (rare for this time of year) and I have been spending a lot of time out there.
Glass and pools do not mix. My landlord's warning about this was unnecessary...but appreciated. Beyond the obvious risk of bare feet and pieces of broken glass I am the guy who always finds the last shard. No matter the toweling, mopping, vacuuming, down-on-your-belly-flashlight-searching, I discover one last piece, sometimes weeks later, embedded in my foot. 
I resisted buying "glasses" made of synthetics because I feared the wine wouldn't taste, or smell, the way it should. However, serving wine for another summer in plastic Mardi Gras cups was even less appealing and I caved.
Govino got my nod for a test drive and now my recommendation! They are shatterproof, though I do think you could break them with a little effort, and did not smell of plastic even immediately out of the package. Impressive. While I maintain a dislike of stemless wine glasses, these are ideal for wine drinking anywhere you don't want glass. The pictures on the home page show some Bocce balls in the background which appeals for my Maine visits where we play cross-country Bocce - no groomed courts for us thanks.
They do give a little if you press them but they are sturdy and I never feared they would collapse or fall over. They can not be packed flat and they do not nest inside one another but a little jostling won't break them and having them at a pool is fine. A friend recommended avoiding the dishwasher as they will warp a bit from the heat, I took him at his word and did not experiment.
I am thrilled to be able to drink wine pool-side out of a proper-ish wine "glass" but these would be great for camping, the beach, picnics, etc. Thanks govino, these are winners.

Govino also makes decanters, flutes and now a beer "glass" too. There is also a "cocktail glass" which is nearly indistinguishable from the wine version - a little shorter and with less capacity but I would opt for the wine version and stick with it.