Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bloggus Interruptus

Or should that be BackBlog. After about a month-and-a-half of helping set up a new wine store and classroom, taking time out to post new wine ramblings has been rudely shoved to the back of the line. There is a backblog of posts about the Rhone Valley, Champagne ravings, photos, and more to come. But if a visit to the new place is in your travel plans it will be worth your while. The new classroom is worthy of royalty. Photos to come!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Drinking The Koolaid

The aforementioned Provence journeys included many, many wines of note. The challenge is in narrowing down the accolades to only a few. And even more challenging, finding the wines in the U.S. market. Most major cities offer up the famous producers like Domaine Ott, Chateau D'Esclans and Domaine Tempier. But like most of France's wine regions, Provence harbors hundreds of winemakers whose juice never leaves the country.

Here are a few standouts among several intense days of tasting:

Chateau des Annibals - Owner and winemaker Nathalie Coquelle

Across the board, Nathalie's organic wines are multi-layered, sophisticated wines. Her export volume is very small but if you are in the area be sure to visit. She's outside Brignole at a very welcoming property.

Chateau Margui Especially search out the Syrah/Cabernet blend. It is an intense black fruit, coffee bean, truffle-nosed red. And there are several U.S. importers. This is another organic producer

Chateau Vignelaure Best known for their notable red blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Grenache.

Chateau Ferry Lacombe Their Cascai series from their oldest vines is especially good.

Chateau Sainte Marguerite and also Chateau Hermitage Saint-Martin from famille Fayard father and son team, certified organic

Chateau Les Valentines The white, 50% Ugni Blanc, 30% Vermentino and 20% Clairette is both crisp and lush at the same time.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Taking Pink Seriously

If you thought pink wine meant wimpy stuff think again. If it's coming from Provence, they are taking their craft very seriously. A recent whirlwind visit sent a band of wine nerds crisscrossing the region, swirling, sniffing and usually spitting. Sure, Provence wines evoke sun and idyllic wanderings. But while you are lounging in St. Tropez at Cafe de Paris (okay maybe some of that went on too) the expert vignerons are toiling away.

At the Centre du Rose there is a laboratory devoted to analyzing, defining and cataloging all things pink. Charts, graphs, and gradient color analyses are their raison d'etre. They make small test batches of wines there, using grapes from various sites, and constantly evaluate quality, style, and ways to improve.

According to Francois Millo, Director of the CIVP, only about 15% of Provence AOC wine makes it to the U.S. That's something they are working hard to change. And while Monsieur Millo is focusing on the pink, don't discount the reds and whites. Can you find them at your local wine shop? Probably not. So it's up to the U.S. consumer to ask for them.

The trip wasn't all business, of course. After all, it's Provence in September. Who wouldn't be full of Joie de Vivre?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Come To Papa

Perhaps it's cooler where you are. Here the thermometer is reading around 105 degrees F in the day, maybe 85 at night. What you want is a cool, crisp, light, soothing white wine... Something that makes you feel like a delicate breeze is wafting by. Fan yourself with your palm frond and try Ladera Sagrada Papa. It's a Godello from Valdeorras, Spain. The label just says "Papa" on the front. It's pronounced "go-day-yo".

Godello is the grape. It was almost extinct back in the early 70s until some clever person discovered remnants in a vineyard. It hales from the northwestern region of Spain, up in albarino territory. It's rich in aromatics, orange blossom, apricot, delicate spice like cardomom and clove. And it's got bright acidity balanced with a smooth, creamy finish. It pairs beautifully with typical summer fare like grilled fish, salads, lightly steamed vegetables with a touch of lemon and butter, even grilled corn-on-the-cob.

This is one among many of the excellent wines from the Ole portfolio by Patrick Mata. A much appreciated feature of these wines is the information on the labels. You can actually read the back label and know what the grapes are and a bit of information about the viticulture. Thank you very much!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Once Upon A Time

What is there to say about this unique venture...delicious, affordable, interesting, probably trendy? The Sommelier Series from Once Wines invites bloggish attention. Once a year these folks bring together top sommeliers to create/blend wines for some high-end restaurants to serve as house pours. These retail, if you can find them, for about 20 bucks. One of them, The Knife, has become our house wine chez nous. It is 50-50 Cabernet Sauvignon-Cabernet Franc. This evening it was paired with from scratch thank-you-very-much pizza-on-the-grill with spinach/mushroom/pepper/mozzarella/tomato/basil/four cheese toppings. Even though it's about 110 degrees here, it was a beautiful thing.

The wine is loaded with fresh from the patch blackberry, bing cherry, a touch of down South tea leaf, and a long silky finish. How to not polish the bottle is the issue.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

You've Come A Long Way NZ

A recent palate-numbing tasting at The New Zealand Embassy in Washington, D.C. uncovered some gems. When you think of wines from New Zealand do you just picture Sauvignon Blanc and grapefruit juice simultaneously? Think again. That tasting, along with an excellent seminar comparing NZ and French wine, presented by Jay Youmans, C.W.E., M.W. would make a convert of any NZ skeptic.

The standout at the embassy was the wine from Saint Clair Family Estate Their wines run the gamut of price ranges but the quality is consistent throughout. The pinnacle that evening was the 2007 Pioneer Block #14 Doctor's Creek Pinot Noir. Lush, dark cherry and raspberry aromas and flavors with a spicy hint of cinnamon and plenty of body. This is not a wimpy Pinot. Also not to miss is the 2009 Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc. Sure there's some grapefruit. But there's also pear, passion fruit, and zesty acidity with a smooth finish.

Winning the unique prize would be the 2009 Waimea Nelson Edel. "What the heck is this?" was overheard several times. It's a new release for the Waimea brand wines. The blend is Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. Odd but it works beautifully on a hot summer evening with a platter of grilled shrimp and some crusty bread. Here's the description from the winery, "The first release of this special blend has a heady nose of orange peel, Turkish delight, Lychees and spice, plus hints of marshmallow!" But it's not that sweet. The acidity balances it out to make it great with all sorts of foods, but especially spicy dishes.

Also of note are the wines imported by Via Pacifica. They offered the Alpha Domus Hawkes Bay Navigator from 2006, an impressive Bordeaux-style blend, as well as an '09 Unoaked Chardonnay, crisp and aromatic. Alongside those were the 2009 Manu Sauvignon Blanc and 2009 Manu Pinot Gris. All total an intriguing cross-section of New Zealand ingenuity.

Mr. Youman's presentation a couple of days later was called "New Zealand: The France of the New World." He paired like varietals in seven flights and effectively proved the comparable quality of New Zealand's wines. Best of all, New Zealand is committed to protecting the environment with their SWNZ program. (Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand) with a goal of 100% participation by 2012. Those young upstart Kiwis. The nerve.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Whispering Angel - Don't Fear the Pink

With the onset of heat, think pink. Dry, crisp, stony pink wine. And if you can find Whispering Angel from Chateau D'Esclans you will feel blessed. The rose wines of Provence are probably the best on the planet (sorry can't get the proper accent over the "e" there) If you thought pink wine means sweet wine you're mistaken. There are crisp, dry, minerally pinks from all over the world. Another one to look for is Lucy from Lucia winery. It's made from Pinot Noir. $1 from the purchase of every bottle goes to breast cancer research compliments of the Pisoni family who own the winery.

If you look back at last summer's blogs you'll see a testament to Kamen rose made from Cabernet Sauvignon. Alas he's not making it anymore. The point is rose can be transcendent. So don't fear the pink.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Alsace tastes like Springtime

There are several things to appreciate about wines from the Alsace region of France. First and foremost, they put the grape variety on the label. A small thing perhaps but for those who don't have the grapes from every region of France committed to memory it is a blessing. Second, the bottles are distinctive. If you go to a blind tasting you can narrow down your choices with the tall, skinny Alsace bottles, called flutes. Third, they don't make a lot of junk. The wines tend to be carefully crafted and delicious. Look for Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewurztraminer. You may also find some Pinot Noir. Don't worry. They won't be too sweet. (Check the alcohol content. The lower the alcohol content the sweeter the wine.) And they go with so many foods! Cheeses, chicken, seafood, pasta, salads, if it's edible there is probably an Alsatian wine to go with it.

Look for Trimbach, Zind-Humbrecht, Hugel, Lucien Albrecht, Domaine Weinbach...

And if you ever want a dessert wine, the Vendange Tardive wines of Alsace are about as good as it gets. Serve one with a creme brulee or apricot tart. Your guests will love you.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

That's Valter not Walter

If you haven't experienced the wines of Valter Scarbolo you owe it to yourself to seek them out. His winery is in Friulia in northern Italy. He and his family also have a marvelous restaurant called La Frasca which specializes in their own salumi, or house raised and cured meats. The wines range from a piquant Pinot Grigio to a Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc blend to a Refosco to name a few. Have you ever had a Refosco? Maybe not. And Valter has also added his own white blend called "My Time." It's a rich, smooth blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Friulano. It's golden melon, mandarin orange, and a stony finish in a glass. Beautiful with grilled shrimp.

Every one of the Scarbolo wines are crafted with passion. You can see it in his eyes.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Poor Misunderstood Riesling

After a recent visit from Riesling Meister Johannes Selbach, the question to explain the joys of Riesling, probably the most misunderstood wine in the U.S? Riesling is not always sweet. It is probably one of the most food-friendly wines out there. It is very ageable. And in the hands of a winemaker like Herr Selbach it is delectable.

Why are the labels so damn hard to understand? Johannes is dismissive of the troubles Americans have with the multi-syllabic brain teasers. "Look here is the village. Here is the quality. What more do you need to know?" Thanks. Really you have to know the winery to know what's in the bottle. Selbach-Oster has a range of wines from a dry Kabinett to a full on dessert wine. And the prices are also diverse. Basically look for Rieslings from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer area. Kabinett will be the most dry, followed by Spatlese. Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese are all sweet with the last being the most expensive and über sweet.

One of the classic descriptors of a good Riesling is "petroleum". But in a good way. Think of Vaseline but somehow associate that with fond childhood memories or something. The point is good Riesling has aromas that are weird but once you get past that and taste the wine it is heavenly. So give it a chance. And don't buy the cheap stuff.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Captivating Malbec

Malbec was once an integral part of the Bordeaux blend. These days Argentina rules Malbec, especially from the Mendoza region. These rich, deep, intense wines are perfect for cold weather by-the-fire nights. They are intended for pairing with the thickest of steaks and hearty stews. A chewy baguette, a nutty aged cheese and a glass of Malbec is a perfect wintry supper. Best of all there are so many affordable options. The most obvious is probably Catena. Here is an example of a winery that produces a high end expensive wine along with an under $20 weekday option. But also look out for Ben Marco, Doña Paula, and the spectacular Achával-Ferrer.

Malbec generally has a rich bittersweet chocolate quality with black currant and plum notes and often a peppery finish. As Argentina has been influenced by international winemakers, the wines have become increasingly approachable. Although there are those who miss the rustic quality of the originals. If that is you, don't forget the Malbecs of Cahors.
The Cahors region in Southwest France is the ancient home of Malbec. These are dense, chewy wines with bracing tannins and earthy black plum flavors. Try one of these wines and picture yourself in a Medieval dining hall with elbows on the planks and the hunting dogs slavering below in the rushes. Okay a bit much but you get the idea. Haul out your game recipes. Santé!

Trashing Parker

A holiday gift, finally read, Jonathan Nossiter's "Liquid Memory: Why Wine Matters" is worth your time if you're a true wine geek. There is techno-talk and jargon, name-dropping and inside scoop galore. Nossiter made the film "Mondovino" in which enologist Michel Rolland is depicted as a chuckling raconteur who proclaims "Micro-oxygenate!" at every one of his clients' wineries. This is Nossiter's first book and he gives it his all...all his condescension. He is erudite, very well educated, an international citizen. His vocabulary is enormous. Yet with his totally dismissive view of established wine journalists, such as Mr. Parker, he reveals his own foibles. He doth protest too much. While many would agree with him on the unfortunate "Parkerization" of wines, his vehement denouncement is so off-putting it makes you want to cheer for Parker. Having said that, it is a passionate testament to the importance of purity, terroir, and integrity in winemaking. Mr. Nossiter just needs to find a bit of humility.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Out of South Africa: The Wines have Earned a Reprieve

Overcoming a prejudice against South African wines has not been easy. In the past, a combination of unpleasant band-aid flavors and disturbing political associations has engendered total avoidance. But it’s time to let South Africa out of Time-Out.

With the demise of Apartheid in the mid 1990s the wines of South Africa began creeping back into the U.S. market. They had been available all along in many parts of Europe, particularly the U.K. where they had thriving sales. But the wines were overly loaded with asphalt and sweat sock aromas and flavors. The KWV (Koöperatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Afrika Bpkt) controlled pretty much all the wine production and it was a lake of less than lovely stuff. One of the worst elements had been the use of the DOP system to pay vineyard workers. They were paid in alcohol. The system originated in the early years of Colonial settlement. The problems are obvious. To read more about the DOP system and South African vineyard history visit

Which brings us to the purpose here. Anthony Hamilton-Russell visited recently and presented his wines, both the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Hamilton-Russell vineyards in Walker Bay, and the Southern Right brand wines, Sauvignon Blanc and a uniquely South African Pinotage.
Hamilton-Russell’s obvious passion for his craft, his dedication to healthy treatment of his vineyards and his employees, and his devotion to family made for a worthwhile evening. Oh and the wines were really good too.

The 2009 Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc won the day for best value. Crisp, clean, and classic with a combination of lemon zest, mineral, slight herbal undertones and flavors of Asian pear. Find this wine for under $15 a bottle.

Overall favorite may have been the 2008 Hamilton-Russell Chardonnay. Elegant, well-balanced and pure with rich melon and apple aromas and flavors. The oak was a complement to the wine, not a distraction. It retails in the mid to high 20s.

Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, has been a problematic wine. The descriptor most often used is “band-aid.” But the 2007 Southern Right Pinotage showed none of this and was a well-balanced combination of cherry, strawberry, leather and earth. This would be a great match with grilled meats and vegetables. It’s around $25 per bottle.

The 2007 Pinot Noir was notable because it did not seem to be emulating any other styles. It was unique. It was neither Burgundian nor Californian. There is an unusual aroma of sandlewood and spice. While the classic Pinot Noir cherry and vanilla flavors were there, it’s overall style is more exotic, more interesting than so many of the textbook Pinot Noirs. Wine Spectator gave it 93 Points. It sells in the mid-40s.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

When the wine doesn't really matter.

Long time. Busy Season. Happy New Year!

Here's when you don't want to be a wine snob...when you go to an amazing house concert and the wine is undistinguished but it does the job. The concert featured jazz singer Annie Sellick. Her voice is velvet and dark chocolate and makes you think of a classic singer like Peggy Lee. Lounge with Vintage Champagne. She was backed by spot on musicians and when you get the chance for that up-close-and-personal music venue the wine takes a back seat., Having said that...given a choice... her music warrants something silky and decadent. If you can afford it, Torbreck's Run Rig would have been the ticket. Seductive, passionate, downright sexy.

If you catch this post in time she'll be performing with jazz powerhouse Joe Gransden tomorrow night (Jan 18th) at Cafe 290. That's in Sandy Springs.