Monday, February 28, 2005

Quick Swirl: Coto De Imaz Rioja 1999 Reserva (PB)

On opening this Reserva has a unique bouquet of pastry (yeast but with some sweetness) and closer in toward the glass, there is a powerful, jammy wild strawberries, wild blackberries nose of really ripe and fresh fruit that lead into mouth filling flavors. This Rioja has a backbone of toughness which I believe will mellow with some breathing. The finish is firm with some nice and big flavors that linger.

With some air time, there are licorice notes coming to the fore and even more intense bouquet aromas with fabulously rich mouth filling flavors. This Tempranillo’s spine loosens up, flexes its muscle and shows its champion body building form. The finish just keeps on going. There is yet another layer of raisins that pushes to the surface with a Zinfandel-like finish of spice and pepper. This is a first rate wine and at $18, is a real treat. The only thing preventing me from making it a “recommended buy” is I doubt it’s ready availability.

I should note that I am not experienced with Rioja wines. I bought this on the recommendation of the wine store person after Gaiter and Brecher (The Wall Street Journal Friday Wine Column (Feb. 24 ) recommended buying a Rioja–any Rioja–over $20 to find a special treat.

As usual, they were right. This is a special wine.

I paired this wine with venison tenderloin patted with a spicy hot rub and seared in a pan of olive oil. I served it medium rare with a mushroom duxelle and broiled asparagus with homemade linguine topped with a lightly seasoned tomatoe based sauce, fresh basil, and fresh grated parmigianna reggiano. It was marvelous!

Wine, Technology, Legislation, and History (billy)

There is a certain mystique that surrounds the wine-making process. Afterall, it is a process that has changed little since antiquity. Grapes were once crushed by feet in an almost ritualistic manner. Fermentation and aging takes place in wooden barrels - casks that evoke (for some) romantic images and notions of simpler yet more elegant times: times when people were somehow more intentional, more real. Wine was/is stored in caves and underground grottos.

We know that Aristotle drank wine, as did Jesus, as do we. There is a history there; in that bottle. We may vicariously tap into that history, those experiences, that richness and mistique when we open a bottle and sip this wonderful, mysterious, and ancient drink.

It is little wonder then that some of us chafe or at least raise a questioning and skeptical eyebrow as the modern technologies of chemical and biological engineering, farming and irrigation technology, and other aspects of the sciences seek to understand and/or alter aspects of the winemaking process. "Wine was fine," we might say, "in Jesus' day and did not require that the flavor enhancing yeasts be chemically induced." The ancient process has worked

Yet as I've written before, the growth of technologys role in the winemaking process is inevitable as wine becomes more and more of a commodity - something produced - and less and less of something created and coming out of a specific region.

However, there are some (most notably in Europe) who chafe so greatly at the concept of wine in the lab that laws are being emplaced to protect history. Where laws already exist, they are being reinforced. Yet it is technology and scientific study that is challenging those laws. Consider:
For example, in Spain the law says that a Reserva wine must be aged for at least 12 months, and a Gran Reserva for at least 18 months. But when Teresa Garde Cerdán, a researcher in chemical sciences at the Public University of Navarre in northern Spain, conducted the first chemical analysis experiments on different types of wines and casks, what she found was unexpected.

The maximum concentrations of aromatic compounds transferred to wine from wood is reached after 10 to 12 months of the wine being stored in wooden casks, Cerdán found. After that, the compounds either remain the same or even begin to decrease.
Legislation should certainly change as a result of science, said Boulton. Otherwise wine with an inferior aromatic profile will end up having a higher price than better wine.
"European legislation regarding winemaking tends to preserve historic practices, with the result that it functions as economic protectionism," she said. "It's a way to preserve the prestige and exclusivity of traditional European wine appellations in the face of economic challenges from New World producers."

I don't see the trend of technology's increased involvement with wine decreasing. Political pressures will continue to mount. What it means for you and me, though, is that some of our favorite wines may be protectionally priced out of our everyday ranges. But we will have the opportunity to sample and then (possibly) love new wines from newer regions of the world. Yes, they may be altered in the lab or with lab-developed processes. Yet, when it comes down to it, the final analysis is in your glass.

And to THAT I'll raise a(nother) glass.

Read more HERE

Saturday, February 26, 2005

How Do You Say That? (billy)

Though the World Wide Web abounds with wine pronunciations and pronunciation guides, we wouldn't be complete unless we posted our $.02. Wine is an ancient and cosmopolitan beverage. Wine comes from nearly every country in the world and is produced on every continent except Antarctica (I think. If you know of a novel Antarctic "ice wine" let us know). Consequently, there are many many languages, cultures, and regional colloquialisms that inform everything from the name of the wine to the grape varietal, to the name of the vineyard. No wonder it is a sometimes daunting task to simply speak the name of the wine you want.

To the reader who commented on how to pronounce the "Termes" in the excellent Numanthia Termes wine, I tried to find an MP3 or Wav file of it, but alas, to no avail.

Still, there are simply SCADS of websites with pronunciation guides and sound files so you can hear the wonderful wine names, varietals, regions, and vineyards spoken. Here are some of the best that I found. Enjoy them. Hopefully you'll learn something new.

Wine Lexicon Lots of wav files (no need to download - can play and hear them right from the web page)

French Wine Pronunciation Guide Lots of MP3 files of a sultry sounding French woman saying sultry sounding Wines. Play them over and over!

Dictionary Style Pronunciation Guide from the gang in Texas

Friday, February 25, 2005

Quick Swirl: Les Terrasses 2000 (Billy)

I brought this wine to a friends house for a group get together this evening. It was a wonderful hit.

On the nose: olives and black fruit.

On the palate: rich and flavorful. My friend Lee characterized it as "bright". Well balanced tannins but not unpleasant. I characterized it as rich.

Finish: the finish is fruity and unique. There is a slight sourness on the very back of my tongue that persists through the finish and makes the wine characteristic. It is not an unpleasant sourness but rather something that I would characterize as the unique sourness of a wonderful piece of fruit - even bordering on spicy. Think of how the sourness of a grapefruit makes the fruit what it is. So does this aspect of the finish make the wine.

Les Terrasses is from the Northern regions of Spain and comes from a the vineyards of Alvaro Palacios. It is a blend of Garnacha, Cariñena and Cabernet Sauvignon.

I paid about $30 for the bottle at a local store but I'm sure there are deals to be had on this wine. It will run a bit more expensive than comprable wines since the yield of the vineyard is small and they use old vines. But it is still a rich and inviting drink.

Raise a Glass.

Quick Swirl: 2 Brothers Big Tattoo Red 2003 (PB)

This blend with the funny name is another Colchagua Valley success story from the up and coming country of Chile. Two brothers, one a tattoo artist and the other a wine importer decided to make a wine in honor of their mother who died of cancer. The Fleur de Lys on the label was their mother’s favorite design and 50 cents of each bottle goes to cancer research. That aside, this blend of half Cabernet Sauvignon and half Syrah is very fruity on opening with olives and yeast on the nose. In the mouth it is amazingly big and balanced with an initial cocoa tease. With a half hour of air, dried cherries are the predominant flavor with good tannins and an overall nicely made wine. At less then $10 this is a keeper. I would score this an 87.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

What's Your Most Embarrasing Wine Moment?

That’s an easy one for me to answer. (To get the full background to appreciate the level of, All American, red-faced, “Beam me up Scotty,” “Help Mr. Wizard, I don’t want to be an enophile anymore” embarrassment, read my previous blog from 1-12-05.)

There I am, graduate laboratory novice, making $950 a month—Okay, that was in 1979 but shoot, in today’s dollars that would be like $982 a month—standing beside a gorgeous slate topped pool table in the mansion of the chief head and neck surgeon at Emory University in Atlanta. We had a couple of wines already and I hadn’t exactly learned, nor cared, to pace myself too well yet. I had a glass of newly poured white Bordeaux and I was trying to make a good, no, a great impression on the surgeon with the awesome underground wine cellar.

In my most sophisticated 27 year old manner I could muster, I swirl my stem plunging my nose deep into the glass taking a long sophisticated inhalation of complexity and joy. Only problem is I took my eyes off the glass for one little moment as I am sniffing to see, I think, if my host is watching. That was enough for me to inadvertently tilt my glass just enough to let the wondrous creation fill my nostrils; not with the wine’s tantalizing bouquet but with the full force of the wine's 14% ethanol.

If you want to know how sophisticated I looked, take a nose full of soda while looking in a mirror and see how impressively you handle it.

I don’t know whether my host saw or not, I only hoped white wine dried invisible on green pool-table felt.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Quick Swirl: Chateau La Faurie-Peyraguey 2001 (PB)

After our dinner of ravioli (previous post) I decided to open one of those “special” bottles that you never seem to open. But I went into the cellar and pulled out this luscious Sauternes already enticing me merely by its lovely pale golden hue in the bottle. On opening it has a phenomenal, yet gentle bouquet full of bananas and honey. It is of course powerfully sweet offset with a great acid foundation making this one of those dessert wines you just guzzle. With a few minutes it started revealing some its complexities of floral scents and really ripe cantaloup or musk melons. I think it would have only continued to release more layers but heck, it wasn’t around long enough to do so.

This was a purchase I made visiting NW in Jacksonville. I intended to buy a bottle of Chateau Guiraud but the wine guy at the store, which had a really great walk in refrigerator, talked me into this one instead. At $27, it was considerably less expensive than the Guiraud. How could I say no?

I can’t say it was the right move because I haven’t had the Ch. Guiraud, but it would be hard to imagine it having been better. I would give this wine a 92. Something special indeed! I wish I could go raise a glass...but it’s gone!

Quick Swirl: Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot 2001 (PB)

This Washington State varietal is lighter on the pour than I would have imagined. The bouquet is fruity and the nose rich, even meaty. In the mouth it is medium bodied with robust tannins and a foundation of mixed berry flavors trying to break out. I think some “air time” will help this wine open up.

Half hour later a large presence of currants and raspberries climb on top with a nice silky texture. There is even some spice that tops it off for a provocative finish. This wine was #52 of the Wine Spectator’s top 100 with a score of 90. It is a bargain value at $11.00 but for me to score a wine that breaks out of the 80's, it has to be something special. This is a very nice wine, but it’s “just” a very nice wine; nothing extraordinary. I would give it an 88 maybe even an 89.

Columbia Crest is really producing some high quality wines at a bargain price. This is a winery to watch and take advantage of. We had friends over for a dinner of homemade ravioli’s and asparagus broiled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The wine was a nice match. Now raise a glass.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Un-Wine-ding with Torres Gran Sangre de Toro 2000 (billy)

Well, I am just back from another business trip to Portland, Oregon (some great local wines were sampled there, but i'll post on that later). I am now enjoying a glass of a pleasantly silky Spanish wine, Miguel Torres' Gran Sangre de Toro 2000. What a nice way to un-wine-d.

Let this wine breathe for half an hour or so after opening. At first taste it is ok but a bit thin. After breathing for a bit, it flowers into a pleasing and very smooth sip.

On the nose there are blackberries and minerals that pique my anticipation. These are followed by spice and the slightest possibility of bitter chocolate or coco.

I take a sip and swoosh and swirl. Ahhhhhhh. The nosy minerals translate into a spike of mouthy minerals that immediately give way to a silky, spicy and round fullness of flavor. It is slightly tannic, but that gives this 'Grand Bulls Blood' a pleasing body and character. The tannins are not overpowering but complimentary to the palate experience.

I would not call the finish long, but I would call it perfect. The blackberries appear for an encore accompanied by the lingering though subtle tannins to create a desire for another sip.

OK, I'll have another.

Torres Gran Sangre de Toro is a Spanish blend of the Garnacha, Carinena, and Syrah varietals from the Catalonia region of Spain (in the North). I've been quite taken with Spanish wines of late. They have incredible character and uniqueness even within the standard blends, vintages and varieies. This bottle was purchased for about 20 or so locally and, while not the best 'deal' I've ever come across, is well enjoyed for the price.

So enjoy a glass of something different and branch out.

To you I say, 'Salud'

Wine and Temperature (NW)

Have you ever sipped on a glass of white wine that froze your tongue? Has there been a time you drank red wine that made you sweat? Serving wine at the proper temperature can make all th difference.

The proper temperature for serving various wines is hard to pin down, though. I'll argue that it's not worth trying to make an exacting science out of this. The important thing to aim for is a general understanding of how temperature affects wine and determining your own preferences from there.

I have often been served white wines straight from the refrigerator. At 40 degrees F. I can't even taste most whites and very few are supposed to be served like this. If, for example, you are served a glass of ice cold Chardonnay, just cup it in your hands for a few minutes to warm it up. Hopefully, as it warms slightly, layers of scent and flavor will emerge. Experimenting with this can be interesting, as many whites seem to be flat at refrigeration, then very enjoyable between 45-55 degrees F., then flat again toward room temperature. To some degree, this is a matter of preference and one that you will undoubtedly discover on your own. Generally speaking, wines do have a recommended temperature range. If you want further study on this, The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson is one good resource. Johnson provides a matrix that shows recommended serving temperatures for nearly every wine category in existence.

My pet peeve isn't cold white wine though because it's easy to warm up. I also understand that restaurants tend to chill or even store whites in a refrigerator. What bothers me is a really warm red. It is difficult to chill, even after requesting an ice bucket for the bottle. Often, this is a sign of poor storage conditions somewhere in the kitchen or back room. To me, "room temperature" (meaning 70-74 degrees F) red wine often tastes bad. In particular, the powerful red varietals like Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec give off strong alcohol characteristics at room temperature that mask the bouquet. And honestly, I'm not that picky. I just want the wine to be served a little below room temperature where it performs the best. As an experiment some time, try this: refrigerate a bottle of red, pour a glass, and sip on it as it warms all the way up. You just might find it changes qualities several times along the way and you can make your own determinations on when it tastes the best. This is actually an easy experiment when you have a half-finished bottle some time. Just tuck it away in the fridge overnight instead of leaving it out. In the summer, I often do this with half-finished red wines anyway.

Although a matter of preference, there are some general guidelines to wine serving temperature. In general, warm up the whites and cool down the reds. But not too much! Try these basic guidelines:

40-45 degrees: Muscats, Sparkling Wines, Asti
45-50 degrees: Champagne (the real stuff), most Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc
50-55 degrees: White Burgundies, top Chardonnays, top German Riesling, Beaujolias Nouveau
55-60 degrees: Beaujolais, Chianti, Cotes du Rhone reds
60-65 degrees: Red Burgundies, Red Bordeaux, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel

Don't stick a thermometer in the glass, just do your best to get the wines to a suitable temperature. And enjoy! Raise a glass!

Quick Swirl: Flora Springs Trilogy 2000 (NW)

Flora Springs Trilogy 2000:

Berries on the nose
Very smooth texture on the palate
Elegant, silky finish

This is a Bordeaux-style blend that truly offers Bordeaux characteristics. It's not powerful, but it is elegant. The restaurant price in Rhode Island was $99/bottle.

Quick Swirl: Eberle Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 (NW)

Allow me to share a few tasting notes on the following:

Eberle Cabernet Sauvignon 2000:

Mushrooms, olives, and earth on the nose
Earthy and tangy on the palate
Moderate tannins and smooth finish

This wine is different. In fact, Paso Robles, CA, wines are different in general. But this one stands out with a unique flavor that is a departure from common up-front fruit. It may be an acquired taste, of sorts. I was surprised by it, but I enjoyed it with a rack of lamb. The restaurant price I paid was $40/bottle in Connecticut.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Direct Sales To Consumers Before the High Court

Summer before last we were touring the wine country of California enjoying the beauty and the fruits, of the Napa and Sonoma valleys. If you’re a wine enthusiast, this is better than a trip to the Superbowl; if you’re an aspiring enophile, this is Nirvana. From one tasting room to another, it’s nice to have a designated driver for the day. Spitting may be fine for tasting 100 wines for review, but soaking up the southern California rays, on a blanket of grass with fresh dairy cheeses, Italian sausages and a baguette that cracks when broken revealing the supple underbelly of velvety dough, mandates wine that is swallowed.

But the reality of greed crashed the reverie of paradise when I inquired about joining a wine club at one winery which would ship out the wine or wines of the month to your home. Problem is we are one of 24 other states that prohibit the interstate shipping of wine to private residents. In other words, a direct sale from winery to consumer is illegal. The reason? Local wine merchants want to protect their territory and limit the competition from such outside sources. Understandable, but in most other sectors of commerce, such laws have been viewed as monopolistic and consequently reversed.

The truth is that such sales would have a negligible effect on local merchants. I would still spend the same on wine at my local retailers that I would otherwise. With the cost of shipping today it wouldn’t be cost effective to buy wine that is locally available from a mail-order enterprise. I would just be allowed to seek wine that is not available in our locale.

So some savvy and equally disgruntled lover of wine filed suit somewhere challenging the laws that regulate this practice. In the last session of the United States Supreme Court, the issues were presented. From observers, it would appear that such laws are not long for this world. It is expected that this Summer, the court will rule to dismantle state laws that make such sales illegal. I can’t wait! Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

A Valentine’s Evening With the Love of My Life

We had reservations for 5:30 at Café Nouveau in Bangor, Maine; the only wine bar listed on the internet in the entire city. This quaint little nook contains ten tables three of which are two seaters, situated in an old brick building downtown. This would be our first visit.

The menu was simple and the wine list as quaint as the restaurant itself. It was clearly put together for the average working man or woman who has to pay his or her own meal tab—a refreshing change from the norm. In other words, the wines by the bottle were reasonable by restaurant standards (see earlier entry re: wine pricing in restaurants) and there was a modest, and again, fairly pricedwines-by-the-glass list as well.

For an appetizer my date ordered raw oysters on the half shell with a sauce of horseradish and balsamic vinaigrette accompanied by a glass of Seaview Australian sparkling wine. ($5.50)

I ordered the lobster brioche with a Chateau Bonnet 2002 from the Entre Deux Mers a blend of Sauvignon blanc, Semillion and a touch of Muscadelle. ($5.50)

For dinner my lovely girl had quail in a cassis and currant sauce accompanied by a glass of Dry Creek (California) Fume Blanc 2003. I believe it held up to the heavy currant sauce but had I known what the sauce really was like, I would have ordered a much bolder red like a Shiraz.

I had the “spicy mango shrimp” for which I ordered a Seghesio Zinfandel 2003 to beat back what I anticipated would be a hot spiciness. As it turned out, the shrimp was milder than I would have guessed although the wine was not distracting. I haven’t included a review of these wines because I ended up buying a bottle of each for subsequent review at a later time.

We had a wonderful time, in a casual and relaxed atmosphere and the entire evening with dessert and tip was around $90. These days, that’s a bargain. Pardon me now while I go raise a glass! (PB)

Quick Swirl: Peter Lehman Barossa Botrytis Semillon (PB)

This rich Australian dessert wine sits a deep amber in the 375 ml bottle. Botrytis Cinerea is a fungus that brings a delighted smile to the growers of grapes in many parts of the world. It is this wonderful little mold that makes possible the luscious golden nectars from Sauternes and the great Chateau D’Yquem. Under just the right conditions, this fungus establishes on the grapes sending its hyphae (little mold tentacles) into the individual grape sucking water out of the grape to nourish the mold. In the process, the grape is essentially dehydrated thus concentrating the sugar content of the grape. That’s the upside. The down side is you can imagine how many grapes (that look more like raisins) you need to get enough juice to make anything. And now you understand part of the relative high cost of such desert wines. This Australian was $14 (remember this is a half-bottle).

The Botrytis gives a distinctive aroma to the wine adding a honeyed and in this case, a melony bouquet to the wine. In the mouth it sits rich and thick, wildly sweet but in this instance it is almost, not quite, “cloying.” Cloying is a term that means the sweetness is not balanced out by a solid acid foundation that makes the wine almost too sweet.

How can you tell if you’re not familiar with such elements of tasting? Here’s my rule of thumb. If after you have had 2-4 ounces and you think, that was nice, but I’ve had enough, odds are, the acid was not quite sufficient. On the other hand, if you could easily down the entire bottle by yourself without really thinking about it, you’ve probably got a dessert wine with a great balance of sweetness and acid. There’s still some in the bottle for tonight…

After a few minutes some nice vanilla and caramel flavors emerged as well. It’s okay and it’s still a treat but I’ve had better by the same producer for even a couple dollars less.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Quick Swirl: Sebastiani Chardonnay 2001 (PB)

This California Chardonnay was the first bottle of our evening for the Wall Street Journal's "Open That Bottle Night." (Read subsequent entry)

I sought out this wine as a recommended “best buy” from Wine Spectator and found it for $10. It even looks rich in the bottle causing me a second look to see if the bottle glass wasn’t tinted gold. It wasn’t, that is the color of this phenome. On the pour, pears leap out of the glass and there is a rich butteryness in the bouquet. Wow! In the mouth, the flavors are deep and balanced with pineapple lifesavers underneath, silky texture and vanilla highlights to finish it all off. No wonder this made Wine Spectators "Top 100" of 2004 coming in at #76 scoring an amazing 90!

I don’t think you will be able to find this anymore. I have two remaining in my cellar. Hint: Your best bet would be to search the big supermarket type stores where people grab indiscriminately off the shelf. You may very well find a bottle or two hiding in the back of the row of later vintages. Now, Raise a glass!

Friday, February 11, 2005

Quick Swirl and OTBN Don Melchor 1998 (PB)

If you don’t know what it is here you go! OTBN is Open That Bottle Night; a special night invented by wine writers, Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher of the Wall Street Journal. It is a world wide evening when all we enophiles who squirrel away a special wine, are given permission and reason to open that special bottle we’ve been saving for a special time. The problem is, and this is where Gaiter and Brecher are down right precogniscient, that special time never comes.

*But tonight we did it! My girl friend and wife of 31 years started with an appetizer of Mahogany clams steamed in Vermouth with Bruschietta. Our warm up was Sebastiani’s 2001 Chardonnay; an inexpensive Chardonnay ($11) that is marvelous and worth several times the price. The buttery texture and warm Chardonnay, citrusy, pineapple flavors are amazing for the price and complimented our first course wonderfully.

Then I made fresh pasta and formed ravioli’s with grated piave vecchio cheese filling the inside. These were topped with homemade spaghetti sauce. Accompanying this dish with sauteed zucchini was the wine of the night. Concha Y Toro’s Don Melchor 1998. This wine, which I picked up for $40, (a budget buster for this man) was touted by Wine Spectator as an excellent wine peaking now. Of course this was when the wine was first reviewed in 2002.

On the pour it is a youngish looking ruby with a cherry rim. The air is filled with a fruity, almost candied nose. The bouquet is a bit inky with a floral accent almost like Gardenia’s or violets with hints of basil. In the mouth, it is complex--beefy according to my wife--but closed with firm tannins and a bit austere. With some air though the floral wonder remains; it’s fabulous and the tannins have mellowed but this wine, contrary to Wine Spectator’s prognostications which said this wine would be peaked now, will age for a few more years. Dill accents emerge and the finish is not huge but pleasant. Ah, OTBN!!! Raise a glass.
*What a dolt I am! OTBN isn't until the 26th... Oh well, it was a great excuse to open a great bottle of wine.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Quick Swirl: Beringer Founder’s Estate Shiraz 1999 (PB)

This is a perfect example of why you let red wine breathe. It flies in the face of conventional wisdom a bit but I am sold on it. Now if I had an expensive old wine, that would be a different story, but I am sold on the benefit of giving even very inexpensive wines ½ hour to an hour of “air time.” So I opened this wine looking forward to a cozy evening. We are in the middle of a winter storm that is supposed to dump up to 20 inches of snow. We’re well on our way. So I am whipping up some venison chili, and garlic bread and all I wanted was a nice, straight forward, good tasting wine that would compliment the evening.

On opening, I was struck by the really light ruby color of this wine. Shiraz (that’s the grape type) are normally dark–-like inky dark--to black. I was already disappointed. Yet the air was filled with a lovely, though gentle fragrance of yeast with an underlying wildy, wonderful fruitiness. It was not discernible with my nose in the glass. The first impression on the swirl was dried raspberries like nothing I have tasted yet; a good sign but the nice aroma was offset by a tartness that was overboard and a bitterness with a "meaty" aroma like bologna. The texture was thin–too thin and I swallowed saying to myself, "I’m going down to my cellar to select another wine for the evening." But my experience said give it some time.

This is where the name of the producer/vintner/shipper can be very helpful. Beringer is a reliable vintner. They do not put their name on just anything so before I selected something else I would wait until it had time to breathe. I was not optimistic--silly me...

It opened nicely with good structure and balance that puts this wine at its peak. The tartness and bitterness had folded into one indiscernible unity; the mark of a well made and mature wine. The typical raisiny Shiraz flavors came through although not as powerful as might be typical for this grape. It was light bodied (again atypical) yet with a fairly full flavor and raisiny finish. It stood up to the chili fine and the bottle is empty...That says it all. At $11, all I can say is “Raise a glass!

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Quick Swirl: Lindemans Bin 65 Chardonnay 2003 (billy)

Well this is a delightful light Austrailian Chardonnay. While inexpensive, it is not 'cheap' if you get my drift, and can stand toe to toe with many of California's best. It is not crisp, but rather smooth and languid, almost sensuous. This is a romantic wine. It makes love to mouth and is a fine white for sipping with that special someone this coming Monday.

On the nose: there is light and elegant tropical fruit here, pineapple, just a hint of vanilla and citrus but soft, not overpowering.

The Palate: the languid softness continues over my tongue is positively sensuous throughout my mouth. This wine is a french kiss (from Austrailia). Mild tannins and a pleasing acidity leave me wanting more. No. This leaves me wanting to share a glass with someone special.

Finish: like a lover pulling away, just a bit to look into my eyes and suggest that 'there's more where that came from'

This is a passionate wine that turns me on.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Time for a Glass of Port (billy)

I've long been a fan of Port and tonight, after a long day at work, a trip to the Doctor's office for an ill son, a stop at the store to buy diapers, and a late meal, I can think of no better way than to sit back with a glass and a book.

The book is Across the Nightengale Floor by Lian Hearn.

The Port is Fonseca Ruby Port

Raise a glass.

Quick Swirl: Aresti “Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 Rio Claro (PB)

This Chilean Cab. Has a fragrant bouquet of fruit and a little yeast. In the mouth it sits well with firm tannins though it is a bit hot. The flavors seem locked up and trying to break out. If I’m right, breathing will open this up allowing the flavors to emerge. With a half hour or so of air time, the bouquet is opening revealing strawberry hints and the trademark green pepper aromas of Cabernet. Another half hour and this is full bore, wide open with some real nice flavors and big on fruits and berries and a freshness not found in other wines. At $11 this is yet another Chilean success. Nice! But don’t take my word for it; raise a glass and check it out.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Noble Rot–A Bordeaux Wine Revolution (book review by PB)

William Echikson–Wine Columnist for the Wall street Journal (Europe)–writes a telling expose on the holy land of wine and the nobles who run the Chateau and the industry.

The independent artisans of French enology are an endangered species. Indeed the whole French wine monopoly is being undone by a world wine market that is raising up rival competitors who are interested only in producing good if not high quality wine at a reasonable profit without the economic impact of French snootiness and French arrogance (which tends to spikes the price of Bordeaux wine.)

Not unlike the metamorphosing industry in the U.S., France has other challenges to what was once an essential monopoly on prestigious wine. Mega corporations buying the chateau combined with an overly regulated industry, ungrateful politics and owners with egos larger than their vineyards, and you have the makings for a revolution.

Realizing their falling market share and the overall decline in quality of all but the best producers, one solution was to jack the quality of wine being produced. So the members of the Sauveterre co-op under the direction of Remi Garuz turned years of standard operating procedure and tradition on its head. Oversight and regulation would be the order of the day micro managing everything from how to prune the vines, how many grapes would be harvested at a time as well as when, precisely, they would be harvested. At one meeting the vineyard owners had gathered and a battle ensued as to whether harvesting should begin on the upcoming Friday or wait until Monday–all of which was weather dependant. At the end of the day, a vote was taken and the time harvest established. What this does to the individualism and talent of the vignerons should be obvious.

Throughout the pages of Noble Rot one name looms gargantuan and its not even French–Robert Parker...

When Godzilla came a shore he terrorized the streets of the city stomping one building into oblivion while sparing the next. Parker became the American Godzilla with the power to stomp one chateau into bankruptcy by giving simply giving its wine a mediocre score while being the savior of others through a merciful Parker “thumbs up.” So important was the sentiment of Robert Parker on the success of a particular wine, that producers started making their offerings to the taste preference of the Don of Wine. Needless to say, the name of Robert Parker is both infamous and famous.

France’s wine legacy is faltering and has been even before September 11th. The future does not look healthy for the industry as a whole with the exceptions of the great growths. The Margaux’s and Y’Quems, Petrus’ and Lafites as well as scores of others will continue to do well. But–and this is my opinion, not the author’s– I see a day coming when even that may very well change. Market forces have come to bear everywhere else and as the quality of wine in general continues to improve, and the palates (and pocket books) of wine consumers become more educated, the outrageous prices of the best of Bordeaux will--sooner or later–be forced to actually compete on a global scale. You’re never going to see a $30 bottle of Lafite but the days of $1000 a bottle of Petrus are destined to fall. I’m not talking in the next decade, but then again...

Sunday, February 06, 2005

What's Reasonable in Wine Pricing- Addendum (NW)

Wine pricing? Well, here's my take...

On the shelves, wine is priced based on a mark-up over what the store pays the distributor or supplier. These margins vary, but one thing remains relatively constant: you will pay in the ballpark of the "MSRP". In other words, many wine makers post a suggested retail price and you hopefully find their wine for plus or minus 20% of this price. In other words, for a $20 wine, prices will likely range from $16-24 depending on where you live and what store you're in. One thing is for certain, though- you shouldn't be paying $40. That's a restaurant price.

Restaurant pricing is different. The reason the $20 wine costs $40 is because of the cost of storage, service, glassware, printing wine lists, and so on. Many restaurants justify this mark-up with a robust wine list, carefully selected and hard-to-find bottles, high-end glassware, well-organized printed wine lists, ice buckets, decanters, and maybe even a staff wine professional or a sommelier. The problem is, many restaurants don't offer any of these things and still charge $40 for a wine you know costs $20 on the shelves. Even worse, many restaurants offer that wine at $48 or $55. I see more and more extreme variation in pricing wines.

Let's look at an example of price variation and how I use this information. Recently, I paid $105 at a bistro for a bottle of 1999 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. This was a business dinner and the client was fond of this wine. I didn't hesitate, especially since this wine is generally $60-65 in the store. A week later, in a local, family-friendly upstart restaurant, I saw the same wine offered as their best "premium" red and priced at $85- such a "bargain" that I almost went for it on my own dime. Shortly thereafter, I spotted the wine priced at $130 on several wine lists that offered many even more expensive wines. I wouldn't touch it for $130 or more. Therefore, when I see wines at less than 100% mark-up over retail prices, I tend to think they are well-priced bargains. In this example, anything under $120 is well-priced.

The current problem, however, lies in the more affordable wines on the lists. They can be outrageously priced. Many restaurants will have a broad selection of bottles from $20-30. Take a close look, though, and you'll see these are wines that can be bought in a supermarket for $6-12. This outrageous mark-up is unjustified and is especially problematic at national chain restaurants. Not only is the wine too expensive, there is nothing in the experience to even remotely support the mark-up. I cringe at the questionable service and terrible glassware I am presented with, not to mention the high likelihood of wine being served at the wrong temperature.

Routinely, the least expensive offerings at a restaurant are the worst deals. PB, of this blog, is absolutely right- too many $8 wines are priced at $24. I find this time and again. I generally don't order a bottle of wine any longer unless I find something interesting or something that is well-priced (which is usually at the higher end). Relative "bargains" often abound at the higher end. If I pass on a bottle but still want some wine with my meal, I'll find something offered by the glass. In this case, I usually find a $10 glass of a wine the restaurant also offers by the bottle for $40. I probably pay about $20/bottle for the wine at the store. When I get home, I'll drink a glass of wine from my own collection (say a $20 bottle). Total wine bill for the night: about $17, including restaurant glass, tax, tip, and glass at home. If my wife and I are out together, total bill is $34. Had I ordered the bottle, total bill: $48-50, based on bottle, tax, and tip. My wine economics!

My benchmark for restaurant pricing is 100% mark-up from retail prices. I am okay with this, especially for interesting wines that I don't see often. But when it comes to chain restaurants charging $24 for an $8 bottle, I pass. Next time you are headed out for dinner when you are too tired to cook, order carry-out instead. When you get home, pair the food with a wine that you have at home- and make it a good wine. Hopefully you bought the bottle some time ago and have even forgetten what you paid for it. Total wine bill for evening: unknown. Now this is good wine economics! Raise a glass!

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Trying an older wine for the first time (billy)

Being a newer wine enthusiast, I’ve not had the opportunity to sample much less put away a bottle of aged wine. So several visits to the wine store ago, I went looking for something that was aged for at least 10 years – just to try it. I wandered the aisles of wines from around the world and read the labels to see if anything struck me. I had already decided against a US wine (for no reason other than I wanted to try something from Spain). So, I came home with a bottle of Vegaval Plata Gran Reserva 1994 of the Tempranillo varietal (for those of you who are interested).

According to the label the “Gran Reserva” designation means that, “the wine must be from a high quality vintage and spend two years in oak barrels, another three years in bottle, and not leave the winery until the sixth year after the harvest.” Cool, it was older than my kids, my marriage and my car. And unlike my car, the label promised that it had aged gracefully. I bought it and took it home and opened it right away. After all, I bought this for drinking not for keeping.

I wanted to simply experience the subtlety of the aging and maturation of this wine without worrying about getting too technical, so I decided to not take any notes. The memory of this wine is certainly something that makes it special, perhaps more so than the actual drinking of the wine.

The wine was deep and dark, nearly black. It had a scent of leather that was like, “WOW, that’s leather”. Now, I’m not one to get all up-ons about leather smelling wines, but when it’s there, it’s there. After breathing for a while the wine was quite nice with a long and soft finish that I tend to associate with Spanish reds.

I paid under $20 or so for this bottle at a store that I know prices a bit high. So this was by no means a top of the line aged wine. Still, the experience was educational for me and the finish of this wine was worth the rest.

Business Trip To SoCal Yields One Nice and One Forgettable Wine (billy)

Well I spent this past week in San Diego California at a business conference (I was presenting). Unfortunately with our conference hotel directly across the street from the airport rental cars were off the business-funded options list. Nevertheless, I traveled by boat, taxi, bus, and foot to make my way to at least one location I thought would yield at least one wine from the (local) Temecula Valley.

At the conference there were at least two occasions when the company-funded wine flowed freely. However, as you might expect at an event with over 700 customers and 150 employees, the wine was on the lower end of the scale and as the evening wore on, the "white zin" was being depleted faster than either the merlot or chardonnay the caterers were pouring.

The glass of 2002 CK Mondavi Merlot (millcreek canyon) was about what I would expect of a "convention" wine. I would hesitate to call this a Merlot as it lacked the fullness of flavor or scent of most anything else from that varietal. It has more in common with a Beaujolais than most other Merlots. Still, as a choice for a large convention where more folks are interested in loosening up with a drink than with what they're drinking, I suppose it makes an OK choice.

Incidentally, I realize that I keep mentioning that it was forgettable and yet I am writing more than a bit about it right here. I took my tasting notes on the back of a business card while I staffed my "Ask The Experts" booth (I am one of the computer geek experts for my content management software company).

So after that and another event where I didn't bother to take notes on what they were pouring as I had no desire to remember it, I was determined to at least attempt to have something nice. My chance came the afternoon after my conference ended. I had some free time (though still no vehicle) to roam San Diego. A colleague and I ended up on historic Coronado Island. After taking in some of the sights, (the Del Coronado Hotel was fantastic) we ended up at a place called Island Pasta (image here). This little bistro was a good place for us to wait and meet up with another friend. They had a decently large selection of wines by the glass and I asked the bartender if they poured anything local. He said no and indicated that it was too expensive to get local wines in quantity, so they stuck to the more plentiful Northern California wines. Well, that about did away with my hopes to get something from close to San Diego. But, I figured, it's still California. So I asked for a suggestion. After a brief exchange, the bartender suggested a bottle and (this is what sets apart the place for me) offered to let me taste.

Now, most any place will let you taste the wine if you ask, but Island Pasta offered. That makes it unique. I gladly agreed and was poured a sound 1 inch taste of Geyser Peak Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 (alexander valley) in a proper red wine glass. So far so good. What followed was a pleasant and memorable wine experience. To be sure (and with a hat tip to the preceding column) the glass was expensive, but the occasion was enhanced because of it and, after all, the glass wasn't that expensive.

I asked for and received a glass of the wine after I had determined that my taste warranted a full glass. I also asked for and received a pen and some paper on which to write my review of the glass of Geyser Peak Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 I was enjoying. Here's what I wrote:
Nose: spicy berries. strong Cassis and fruit.
Palate: earthy with dark berries and tannins that bite just a bit and a bit early like a younger wine.
Finish: pleasing warmth and a nice sweet surprise of plums that re-emerge to make me forget the earlier bite.
Overall: Nice! good suggestion

The Island Pasta restaurant on Coronado Island was a fine place to spend about an hour in between sight seeing events enjoying a fine selection from a knowledgeable bartender. For all the discussion about the overpricing of wines in modern restaurants going on below, I think that this was an example of when the price is not considered so much as the experience; which was memorable.

Friday, February 04, 2005

What’s reasonable in wine pricing when you’re out and about? (PB)

First point to know is this: There are NO deals when it comes to purchasing wine by the bottle at a restaurant. So don’t pick up a wine list with that in mind. But there is a difference between “normal” restaurant mark-up and ripping off the patron.

This is not based on anything other than my own experience and observation over the years. I always check the wine list of restaurants even when I don’t intend to have any wine. It’s fun and it’s really cheap—always a plus in my world—and it helps me to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s reasonable and where. What you should really be interested in is whether you are getting gouged when you buy a bottle in which case, if you really want wine with your meal—and why wouldn’t you—your best bet is to go to the “by the glass” listing.

So what is “normal” or better—typical? I have found that standard mark-up on a lower end bottle of wine at a run of the mill restaurant is around 100% over retail meaning if you can buy a bottle of wine at the supermarket for $8 it will cost you $16 at one of these restaurants. That percentage seems to decrease as you go higher up on the price of the wine but I believe it’s a pretty good rule of thumb. Last night I just happened to read an article in the Wine Enthusiast that said wine markups can run as high as 500%! I assume these would not be the types of places I would frequent; ca-ching!

Yesterday I was in a local BBQ joint for lunch. Definitely nothing fancy. I had no intention of buying wine at lunchtime but wanted to see what they offered. Their list was very small and familiar. There were two bottles listed that I had just reviewed within the last two weeks. One was Finca El Portillo for which I paid $7 in a store. The price at this restaurant was a ridiculous $24! The other wine I was very familiar with was an Argentinian Malbec for which I paid $10 in a store. To have it with dinner would cost $27. This is gouging. In which case you make a choice; either you say to yourself, money is no object or you say to the wait staff, “I’ll have a glass of your house red, thanks!”

This is not to discourage buying wine in a restaurant; it is to help you to know what you’re getting. A good restaurant wine list is a great way to try a wine you cannot find anywhere else. That is worth something—though not a 200% inflation. And if the restaurant has premier wine by the glass (rather than a bulk house win) even paying $10 or $20 for a glass of a wine is a great way to taste some really nice wines that you might never want to spend on a bottle.

I would invite my colleague NW to add his comments to this as his experience runs with the much higher end restaurant lists. I’d be interested to know what he finds. In the meantime, it’s about time to raise a glass!

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Quick Swirl: Camelot Pinot Noir 2002 (PB)

Okay, the mark of a genuine enophile is being able to actually go on record praising an inexpensive wine. A wine snob couldn’t possibly bring himself to admit that a cheap wine can be enjoyable. My wife picked this up thinking she was buying the Camelot Pinot Noir recommended by Gaiter and Brecher in the Wall Street Journal just a week or two ago. But she bought the 2002 and it was the 2003 that received the praise and “best value” rating from two of my favorite wine writers.

I just had it with curried scallops. On the pour it is really light; almost enough to conclude that this couldn’t possibly be any good. In the glass it has light scents of currants and too much alcohol. But...with twenty minutes or so of air time, there was a thrilling though fleeting moment of dill which gave way to some pretty definite flavors of dried cherries and currants. At $6.50 where I bought it, how can you go wrong? I can’t wait to find the 2003! By the way, the 2001 of this same wine was equally good though more intense on raisins! Now put aside your scepticism and raise and a glass!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Quick Swirl: Columbia Crest 2002 Gewurztraminer (PB)

This wine with the funny name comes from the steadily burgeoning enophilic endeavors of Washington State. This is a sweet wine that will thrill the mouths of people who aren’t too enamored with real wine in general. (I can’t imagine such a thing but it is not uncommon.) It is a gentle golden color with an astounding bouquet of peaches, pears and especially fresh ripe apples. This is not unique to this wine, but is typical of this grape pronounced Ga-VURTS-tra-meen-er. This wine in particular is a bit flabby meaning it is a bit weak in acid which gives the natural sweetness a bit cloying but it is not to the point of a flaw. Keep in mind however, I am a Gewurztraminer fan and I don’t believe I have ever had a bad one at any price. This one at $7 should be served well chilled even poured into a frosted stem. It is nice as an aperitif or even with desert (depending on what desert is) or all by itself as a dinner finisher. Pick one up and raise a glass!