It’s easy to say ‘I love you’ to ice wine
April 28, 2011
There is a joke I wanted to share with everyone this week. It goes like this — a woman is sitting on her porch with her husband and says “I love you.” He asks her, “Is that you or the wine talking?” And, she answers “It’s me … talking to the wine.” (ha, ha). But, I have the perfect wine for you to say it to!
Last week, I had the opportunity to see a lot of you respond to a particular wine — an ice wine from Canada. We were just finishing our soft shell crab dinner at Plums and that was the dessert wine. Right away, I know the questions are “Canadian wine?” and “What’s Ice wine?”
Well, Canada, like most other countries in the world, does make wine. Obviously, their geography plays a huge part in what parts of the country can grow grapes — mostly its southern British Columbia and southern Ontario with some growers also showing up in southern Quebec and Nova Scotia. The two largest areas, though, are the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia and the Niagara Peninsula of Ontario. Canada has produced wines for more than 200 years. But it was three important events in 1988 that solidified the business and helped the industry become what it is today — free trade with the United States, the establishment of the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) wine standards, and a major grape vine replacement and upgrading program. Since then, Canadian vintners have been able to show the wine world that good grape varieties in cooler growing conditions can have complex flavors, good aromas, focused structure and long aging potential.
So, what is ice wine? It is a type of dessert wine that is made with grapes that have been frozen on the vines. The grape pulp and sugar in it do not freeze, but the liquid does and that makes for a much higher concentration of sugar in a much smaller amount of juice. This process is very labor intensive and very risky and makes a very small amount of wine. A quick look at some of the laws and difficulties in making these wines — the process requires a hard, natural freeze, 17*F or colder in Canada, the grapes have to remain on their vines for several months after the regular harvest, hopefully without too much rot, if the freeze does not happen fast enough the grapes do rot and the crop is lost, if the freeze is too severe no juice can be squeezed from the grapes, wild animals like to eat the ripe grapes while they are hanging on their vines waiting for the first freeze, ripe grapes tend to drop off the vines on their own, once the few frozen grapes are pick (individually by hand) they also have to be presses while they are still frozen which makes for really cold working conditions. So, yes, these wines are very expensive.
It’s interesting that even the Romans made ice wines, by mistake (they forgot to pick one batch of grapes). Post-Roman history, the first Eiswein (the German spelling of ice wine) was made in Franconia, Germany, in 1794. But, these wines were not popular; only six vintages with Eiswein harvests were recorded in the 19th century. The 20th century saw a rise in their popularity, but, then, in the early 2000’s, good eiswein vintages in Germany have been rare.
As Germany was starting to make less and less Eiswein, Canada with their new plantings of “vinifera” grapes and growing industry became the primary producer of this style of wine. Inniskillin is a Canadian winery with facilities on the Niagara Peninsula. Incorporated in July, 1975, it was the first licensed winery in Ontario since prohibition. The founders, Karl Kaiser (an Austrian-born chemist) and Donald Ziraldo (an Italian Canadian agriculture graduate) both grew up with wine on their family tables. They were some of the leaders in planting “vinifera” in Canada, and have always supported wine research and high quality standards, including the formation of the VQA.
Today, they make ice wines from three varieties. Ours for dinner this week was the Cabernet Franc. Yes, a red wine grape! It was a beautiful shade of pale red; it had an abundance of candied red berry aromas and flavors of strawberries and cream. And, with chocolate, it was spectacular. Wines like this usually come in half bottles — partly because you don’t need as much of them and partly because less wine keeps the price down a bit. We don’t always get to try this kind of wine but when we do, boy, do we like it.
So, having told you that ice wines are expensive, and hopefully having explained why, we don’t always have these half bottles in the store. They do cost just under $100. But, do remember them for when the occasion comes your way — holidays, special nights and dinners, surprises for yourself. A couple of days notice and we’ll have yours waiting for you. I did get mine and have it hidden for my special night. And, yes, I will definitely say “I love you” to it. Enjoy!
T and R
By Celia Strong
February 17, 2011
Well, I guess if you’re drinking when you read this headline something else might come to mind. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s heard of T and A’s in low budget mediocre movies. My mother would cringe beyond belief if she thought I’d ever even heard of such a phrase, but I’m the one sipping and writing right now and she’s not with earshot so that’s that. Anyhow, moving forward with this week’s wines (They are called T and R but more about that in i minute, after I’ve had a few more sips!), they’re new ones this week and they come to us from Argentina.
First, some history so you have a reasonable perspective, and I get a few more sips in while I tell you all of this. In 1932, Marshall Goulart was the leader of Brazil’s Constitutional Revolution. In 1915, while he was living in exile in Mendoza, he bought two separate 15 hectare (close to 30 acres) properties and planted them with Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. In 1988, his granddaughter Erika re-vitalized the old vineyards and added a new section that she planted with Torrontes. She also hired Luis Barraud as a consultant winemaker, who along with his wife, is a partner to Paul Hobbs in one of his Argentinian wine ventures. And, bingo, a new winery named Bodega Goulart! And we have a great new white wine and a great new red wine.
The Bodega Goulart Torrontes may be one of the very very best Torronteses that I’ve ever tasted. Usually, the best Torrontes wines are thought to come from Salta, a more northern wine region in Argentina. But, apparently, the higher hills in Mendoza do make bad ones. This wine is made from grapes from 30 year old vines and the picked grapes are hand sorted so that only the best go to the crushing. The wine is light straw colored with aromas of spice, lychee nuts, pineapple and citrus. It is crisp and dry, easy to drink, and, like I said, my favorite Torrontes wine. (It’s not really fair to say the best because that would mean better soil, grapes, wine making, etc. Stylistically, though, is where it got me!) For food, this will go with fresh fish, fried shrimp, chicken, Asian flavors, some spicy foods like mild curry and probably a whole lot more that I don’t have time to try right now. Yum, yum. In the store, make sure you look for the big white “T” on the bright green label. All this other stuff isn’t there so it’s nice and easy.
As much as I like the Bodega Goulart Torrontes, wait until you try the R. Like the Torrontes’ “T” on its label, the Reserve red from Bodega Goulart has a big gold “R” on a gray background for its label. The fine print does say it’s Malbec, 60%, and Cabernet Sauvignon, 40%. This wine is made from the two original vineyards and two original grapes that Marshall Goulart himself planted. At this point, the vineyards are 95 years old. And old is what this wine reminds me of. Years ago, and some of you may remember this, what used to be known as “country wines” had a distinct style to them. Having grown up with a lot of these wines from France, there is a particular set of flavors and textures that I recognize as soon as I get a wine into a glass. They have a coarseness and roughness and smell like green tobacco and leather. Please note that you don’t have to be old to remember or recognize this style of red wine, you just have to have drinking wine for enough years to have not missed it. But, we digress. Back to the R, it definitely has this old world style to it all intermingled with a lot of black fruit flavors (blackberry and cassis), some violets and even a hint of black licorice. And it’s smooth with mild tannin’s thanks to the Malbec in it. For food, I suspect the sky’s the limit with this wine. Try and stump it, cuz I think you may end up eating for a long time!
I first tasted both these wines yesterday morning. Now, tonight, having let them sit on the kitchen counter I have re-tasted them and both of them are so close to how they tasted when the bottles we first opened. Not that most of us have partial bottles that we leave sitting around unfinished, but it’s nice to know some will hold up if the occasion requires it. For more good news, they both went with my dinner tonight – poached salmon with salt, pepper, and a dusting of chili powder, cumin and cayenne. The hard part is going to be leaving a bit in each bottle to try at 3 days opened. Even if I don’t manage to save some of each, though, you’ll never know!
So, definitely two new favorites. I know I said something last week about a new favorite for a summer white. Now, I have another one. And, the, with all the memories it triggers, I’m sure there’ll always be a bottle in the house in case I need it. And, you can too. Both these wines are are under $20 so come try them. T and R to you. I have to go top off my glass. Enjoy!
Be Still My Heart
By Celia Strong
February 10, 2011
“Be Still My Heart” is a great title for something close to Valentine’s Day, don’t you think? Well, maybe so-so, but it’s all I could think of at the time. Anyhow, it keeping with my usual way of getting something for myself, to guarantee I get things I like, for Valentine’s Day the plan still works, you just end up looking a whole lot better if you get something to share. Please note, too, that this is a gender proof plan. Having said all of that, we’re going to look at some bubbles for this “holiday” and, in particular, Prosecco. For more that several years now, Prosecco has been one of the most popular type of bubbles to buy, and, I guess, we should know why!
Prosecco is an Italian white grape variety, grown in the northeastern part of that country near Venice. Until the 1960’s, Prosecco sparkling wine was usually on the sweeter side and not really distinguishable from Asti Spumante. Since then, production techniques have improved, now making high quality wines, to the tune of about over 150 million bottles a year. (Yikes!) As with other categories of wine, there are different levels, and hence prices, of Prosecco. The wines labeled with “di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene,” “di Canegliano, ” or “di Valdobbiadene” have DOCG status under Italian wine laws, are made from better sourced grapes, and cost a bit more. Bottles that are labeled ” Prosecco spumante” are made with a secondary fermentation within their bottle, like Champagnes, and also cost a bit more. Most Proseccos, though, are made with the Charmat method, where the secondary (bubble making) fermentation is done in stainless steel tanks. This also helps to keep most Proseccos from getting too expensive. In Italy, Prosecco is enjoyed at any meal for any occasion. Here, most of us drink it as an aperitif and for toasts. Compared to other sparkling wines, Prosecco is lower in alcohol, about 11% to 12%. And, it comes in several degrees of dryness – brut (up to 15 grams of residual sugar and extra drywith 12 to 20 grams. Like with real Champagne these two do overlap a bit, but we have to remember that Italians like a bit of sweetness in some of their wines.For us, Extra Dry is still really dry.) Its flavors are described as very aromatic and crisp, with yellow apple, pear, white peach and apricot. And, they are meant to be drunk young and fresh. I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about the really famous cocktail that uses sparkling Prosecco – the Bellini. This is the invention from Harry’s Bar in Venice that combines the Prosecco with nectar from the local white peaches. It’s the Italian Mimosa and it’s delicious! (Don’t miss the pre-made ones, from Italy, on our Prosecco shelf!)
So, time to look at my favorite Prosecco. To be sure, there are plenty of them, and new ones become available all the time. But, for now, mine is Lamberti Prosecco. The House of Lamberti was established in 1964, which in Italy is really just a baby. They are located on the shores of Lake Garda in the Veneto region and named after one of the oldest families in the city of Verona. This is a particularly innovative winery that strives to re-vitalize classic wines from the Veneto area by combining traditional methods and flavors with a modern style, all at affordable prices. The Lamberti Prosecco is made from 100% Prosecco harvested from the best hillside vineyards across Treviso in the Veneto. The grapes are harvested slightly before they are fully mature to preserve acidity in the final wine. The base wine is re-fermented in enclosed pressure tanks, the Charmat method. Having tried the Champagne method, though, this winery found that the aromatic qualities of sparkling Prosecco are better enhanced with a bulk second fermentation. Lamberti Prosecco is light straw yellow colored and has a very aromatic aftertaste. With all this study and precision, Lamberti Prosecco is still only $13.99. Wow! Maybe we could have one for Saturday night and one for Monday night.
Not a Prosecco, but still from the House of Lamberti, there is another bubbly that has to be remembered this weekend – Lamberti Rose Spumante. This wine is made from three grapes, 33% Pinot Noir, 34% Pinot Blanc and 33% Raboso and all three, again, are harvested from the same, best hillside vineyards across Treviso. The red grapes are vinified with the “saigne method” which is a gentle color extracting process. This wine is a light rose color and very delicately flavored. With all the pink candy, flowers and cards that will be around for the next several
By Celia Strong
January 20, 2011
I know we all know Valentine’s Day is coming. How can we miss it with all the grocery stores, drug stores, discount stores overflowing with red, white and pink hearts, flowers, stuffed animals and anything else they think we might have to have? For some of us, it’s nice they do it early because it’s the only way our sigificant others have a chance at remembering to get us something. But, for those of us with more foresight and planning skills, we can do better for ourselves. With that in mind, my Valentine wine comes to mind.
All of us who drink Cabernets have had at least a few California Napa Valley Cabernets. Napa is after all the place that put the United States’ wine business into the world market and, to this day, helps maintain our reputation. Within Napa there are many districts, smaller areas, that we’ve gotten familiar with and learned some of their wines. (Remember a couple of weeks ago we had the great Regusci Stags Leap District Cab at that great price!) Well, one of the smaller, and probably at bit less well known districts is the Spring Mountain AVA (American Viticultural Area). This AVA was established in 1993, a bit later than most of Napa’s, and although the whole area is not that small, the amount of wine produced there is. Encompassing about 8,600 acres, Spring Mountain has only about 1,000 acres planted with vines.
Why so little you ask? Well, the area sits on the steep terraces of the Mayacamas Mountains that separate Napa and Sonoma Valleys. It lies in a northwestern part of Napa, above and behind St Helena. The elevations of Spring Mountain go from 400 feet to 2,600 feet, mostly with eastern facing slopes. (Remember later this means morning sun on the grapes.) Because of this elevation, the district is the coolest and wettest in Napa. Even during the hot days of summer in the rest of Napa, “waterfalls” of fog are common over the vineyards here. Mornings, with the eastern facing slopes, warm up the vineyards early and, then, by the afternoon with its warmer sun, these slopes are back in the cooling shade. The soil here is a combination of Franciscan sedimentary rocks (sandstone and conglomerates) and Sonoma volcanic formations. This equal mix distinguishes the region the the nearby mountain districts – Diamond Mountain to the north with entirely volcanic soil and Mount Veeder to the south with mostly sedimentary soil. All of this together goes into making Spring Mountain wines rare and unique. It’s an expensive and difficult area to cultivate, so what there is we’re lucky to get. (Surprise, though, grapes have been grown here since the Civil War!)
Moving on, my valentine is Terra Valentine. The winery building itself is definitely neat! It’s made from native stones and concrete, looks kind of like a castle lost in the middle of the woods and hills. There are stained glass windows, huge wooden doors with a statue of Bacchus overhead and big brass door handles that are shaped like fish. It really looks like someone wanted to be left alone. Visiting this winery can be done but it’s not the easiest one to get to or to get into. If you do, lucky lucky! My first visit was about five or six years ago with a small group of other wine people. It was the first time I had ever tasted these wines, but I got hooked, badly. Since then, we’ve been showing you the Terra Valentine Spring Mountain Cabernet which is the only one of their wines we could get in South Carolina. The wonderful thing about this Cab was that even though it costs $35, it definitely tasted a lot more expensive. Still true today. This wine if full of cooler climate Cab flavors – currants, cola berries, sweet cherry, spice, bittersweet chocolate,cedar, pencil lead and more. Good tannins wrapped around the flavors make it a great red meat wine too. This wine is made from a blend of grapes from Terra Valentine’s two main vineyards in the district, Wurtele and Yverdon. Just so you know, I have heard rumors that the Cabernets from each of these single vineyards are coming soon to South Carolina. Won’t that be nice! So, time to start planning for your Valentine’s Day. Hope this helps, but you can’t have mine! Enjoy!
Time to Run Off and Join the Circus
By Celia Strong
January 6, 2011
So, Happy Happy New Year! The one big night and day have come and gone and here we are totally into another year. Hopefully all of you had some good wines over the last couple of weeks. If your days closing out last year were half as hectic as mine a good glass of wine now and then came in really handy. Actually, I think it made getting through the last month possible. But, let’s be positive – it is a new year after all. So, OK, I’m positive I had some good glasses of wine and I’m positive they helped me get through it all. See, a good attitude does help! And so does a good glass! With that in mind, I thought we’d start the year with a fun wine.
Our wine this week comes to us from California, the Paso Robes area to be specific. This area is south of San Francisco, about 4 hours driving time (my slow driving and stopping for lunch). Over the last year we have talked about several wines from this area. Today’s comes from a winery called Peachy Canyon. This is a family winery owned and operated by the Becketts who moved to Paso Robles in 1982. The mom and dad, Doug and Nancy, were school teachers looking for a better life with their two sons, Joshua and Jacob. (Personally,I think starting a winery and living and working on it should count as a better life! Maybe not easy all the time, but any time you spend with wine is good time.) They officially started the winery in 1988 when they bought a load of Zinfandel grapes and made a couple of hundred cases of premium wine. With that first vintage, they established their reputation and started to grow.
Since that first load of grapes, the Becketts have used about twenty local growers for their grapes as well as about 100 acres of their own. Over the years, the Becketts’ sons have both come into the business as winemaker (Josh since 2003) and vineyard manager and General Sales Manager (Jake since 2005). For their wines, Zinfandel still dominates their list, but you can also find Cabs, Merlots, Petit Sirahs and special blends. Doug Beckett has taken responsibility for making sure that all their wines are released at the peak of their youth. This way each customer can decide if they like the wines better young or can choose to age them until they like them best. Pretty nice to leave it up to us, isn’t it?
Peach Canyon Incredible Red is their “entry” level Zinfandel. This wine is meant to be enjoyed on an every day basis, and priced at $12 a bottle that is indeed possible. The grapes for this wine are hand picked from four vineyards (Torgesson, Vina De Leon, McGregor and Creston Valley) and sorted before a slightly extended fermentation. Gentle removal of the pomace leaves a softer texture in the wine along with the rich fruit flavors. The current vintage is 94% Zinfandel blended with 6% Petit Sirah and gives you a good idea of what Peachy Canyon wines are all about.
Moving on to a second Peachy Canyon wine, now is when we run off the join the circus. This wine used to be called the “Jester,” but that name had to be replaced because some Australian winery had a wine with the same name and blah blah blah. I’m sure you can guess what all happened there. But “Cirque du Vin” it is now and so that’s what we’ll drink. (In case you skipped French class years ago, “cirque” is “circus” and “vin” is “wine.” So, the wine is called Circus of Wine!) For this wine, this vintage is made from 25% Petit Sirah, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 18% Syrah and 15% Cabernet Franc. Each batch of grapes is fermented by itself and aged separately. This means that when the time for blending comes, the Becketts know what each wine does taste like and what it will give the the Cirque. As they say, they want the finished blended wine to be bold and sexy, elegant and good with food. Even though the name “Cirque” might be more correct in terms of how much is going on in your glass when you have this wine, maybe “Perfect” would have named it just as well. Too bad they didn’t ask me first! Anyhow, flavors and aromas of black currant, leather, sage, cherries and baking spices and a really sooth juiciness in your mouth make this wine great. And, you get it all for $17 a bottle.
I know we’ve skimmed over some of the details about both these wines. But, hopefully, we covered enough so that you know that there is more care and attention to many details than the wines’ prices would let you think. Not many “entry” level Zins like the Incredible Red at $12 are made from multiple specific vineyards. And really not many blends are made from separate individually made wines – that definitely costs more to do but we still get Cirque for $17. Somebody must really want us to enjoy these wines. So, let’s! The circus is in town and we can all go join it! Enjoy!
Gee I’d Love To . . . .
By Celia Strong
December 30, 2010
Gee, I guess I have to explain that a bit. Last week, I was tasting some wines, a group of Spanish Tempranillos, with some friends who like them as much as I do. After the initial tastes and comments, we moved on to just sipping and talking. And, as luck would have it, a comment was made that made perfect sense to me in terms of wine. The original story was about one friend meeting her future husband’s family. Someone there had a new baby and the grandmother was there along with all kinds and levels of other family members to celebrate the occasion. The grandmother, sitting on the couch, was overheard saying “Gee, I’d love to hold the baby, but I’ve had too much to drink.” Now, how could I not use that as the intro to this week’s wines. With just a little bit of paraphrasing it so easily becomes “Gee, I’d love to share this wine with you, but. . . . .” Don’t we all have friends and family that we would share all our wines with and some that we’d have to pick and choose which wines we’d be willing to share with them. As we go into New Year’s Eve, it occurs to me that the appropriate wine and sharing it can become very much more important. Having said that, let’s look at some different levels of bubbles that we can use.
For the “I have to share with everyone,” my very very favorite is Trapiche Extra Brut. The big criteria in choosing this level of bubble is that it is priced right to share but also tastes right, meaning better than its price would have you think. This one is from Argentina and I have several times used it for parties. The “Extra Brut” on the label can be slightly confusing, but, in Argentina where they like their bubbles somewhat sweeter than we do, “Brut” on the label is too sweet for us. Hence, in this country, it’s “Extra.” Made from Chardonnay, Semillon and a bit of Malbec, this bubble is nice and dry, crisp, refreshing and clean – all of which makes it perfect for parties. At $14 a bottle, it drinks way better than its price and yet it can still be shared.
Going a step up, for lack of a better way of putting it, is a French bubbly. This wine is from the Burgundy region so, officially it’s a sparkling wine but not a Champagne. It is, though, made with two of the true Champagne grape varieties – 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir. Again, very clean and dry flavors make this one appealing. Simonnet-Febvre Cremant de Bourgogne is a long name, but just tell us Cremant (pronounced cray-mont) and we’ll get you there. It is slightly more than the Trapiche at $18 and for sure a tad better. Still in the sharing range, just maybe not with as big a group of friends
Level Three, as I’ll call it, is a bit more exclusive – meaning the group you share this one with is smaller. From California, this is a Rose Brut from Domaine Carneros. Just so you know, Domaine Carneros is owned and operated by the Taittinger house in Champagne. The first time I tasted this wine I did know it was from California, but having had it many times since I am convinced if I hadn’t known it was a domestic bubbly I might easily have been fooled into thinking it was Champagne. It is made from 60% PInot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. Lucky me, I still have to open the bottle of this wine I got as a present this year and I will probably share with my husband and maybe a good friend or two. At $40, I think smaller size flutes might be appropriate. At least that way I’ll look nice for sharing but still get my share!
Finally, for the top level, I always go to Champagne, the real thing, and one from the house of Pol Roger. The least expensive wine here is $60 for the non-vintage Brut. This wine is made again from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, no Pinot Meunier like many of the non-vintage Champagnes use. There is an exquisite elegance and delicacy to this wine that you just can’t find in many Champagnes at lower prices. This is definitely the wine I’d really love to share, but . . . . . Just so you know, it might take some practice to handle yourself in this situation, but a glass of Pol Roger that’s not your’s you’ll never get back. Think of it that way and it gets easier – to share or not.
So, here we are, seveal choices with a range of prices. But get this, even though some of them cost more, do you really want to not share at this time of year? A good story line is a great find, but we all know the most wonderful thing about wine is the sharing of the bottle and the time with family and friends. So make your choice and have fun with it. Happy New Year. Enjoy!
We’re Going to the Dogs
By Celia Strong
November 4, 2010
Really, we are! But not dogs with four legs and wagging tails. They’re cute and everything else, but our “dogs” this week are more for grown ups. Two wines who’s name is shortened to “dog” because its easier to pronounce.
Our “dogs”are from Italy, Tuscany to be more precise. They come from the Carpineto winery that also makes Chiantis. The “dogs,” though, are not the higher legal level of Italian wine that Chianti is. They are “IGT” (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) wines, which means they are typical grapes and flavors of the geographic region that they come from. That I can remember, we haven’t talked about too many Italian wines. But this pair, one red and one white, are so good, so well priced, have such pretty fall-looking labels, and will go so well with our holiday meals, it just seemed like the time to do some Italians.
So, these wines are the creation of Dr. Giovanni Carlo Sacchet, one of the founding partners of Carpineto. He is the first and only Italian enologist to have wone the Robert Mondavi Trophy as the world’s ourstanidng winemaker. His first wine was a red, made from Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. “Dogajolo” as he named this wine (You see where the “dogs” nickname came from!) is a young Baby-Tuscan. The name Baby-Tuscan is more of an American name that we came up with to denote Tuscan wines that, while they were still blends of Tuscan grape varieties, are much less expensive than their big brothers the Super-Tuscans. The name “Dogajolo” comes from the word “doga” meaning wood stave. Since the wine finishes its fermentation process in new wood barrels and is aged for six months in barrels, Dr. Sacchet used the name to help decribe his wine. (Of course, this really only applies to the red “dog” which was the first “dog” he made.)
Let’s look at the red “dog.” This wine is 80% Sangiovese and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. It has the nice deep ruby red and purple color of a young and fruity wine. Aromas of cherries and herbs pop out when you swirl your glass. Then hints of vanilla and espresso come out. Cherry is one of the primary aromas of Sangiovese, and this wine shows it without any of the dirt that comes along with it in many Tuscan wines. Very nice for sure. The textures and flavors of this wine are smooth, mellow, mild but not wimpy, and echo the aromas with cherry, plum, coffee and some herbs. Layers and layers of flavors in mild textures are just so nice to enjoy. All in all, a great wine to sip on fall afternoons, but close to perfect with the flavors and textures for some of the up-coming holiday dinners we’re about to have.
The white “dog” came along after the red one. It too is a creation of Dr. Sacchet and it epitomizes the innovative winemaking that the Carpineto winery is known for. This white wine is probably one of the best surprises I’ve tasted from Tuscany in a long time. It is a blend of indigenous Italian grape varieties with better known grapes from Europe and the rest of the wine making world. It has 40% Chardonnay, 30% Grechetto, 27% Sauvignon Blanc and 3% Incrocio Manzoni. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc we know, but Grechetto is an Italian grape that adds minerality to the wine and Incrocio Manzoni adds acidity. The wine is fresh and fruity, it is released from Carpineto the Spring after its harvest and is meant to be drunk young.
This wine is a perfect example of why so many blends are so good. It is layered with textures and flavors from all four of its grapes. At a warmer temperature certain parts show up more, like the fruity aromas and fuller body of the Chard. At a cooler temperature, the mineral flavors and crispness show up more. While you may like it better one way or the other, this means it stays good in your glass for as long as you sit with it. This also means that its a wonderful choice for a turkey dinner. Its full enough and heavy enough to hold up to all the food weight, textures and flavors, but it sure isn’t boring and one dimensional. Just a great treat!
And, remember what we said about these wines being “Baby-Tuscans?” And “Baby” refers to their prices? Here’s the good news. They are under $15 a bottle and worth every penny – really good wines, really nice labels, really fun nickname, and, the important tidbit, really just in time for our holidays! Enjoy!
Memories of Napa
By Celia Strong
October 28, 2010
Hello, hello, hello! I don’t know why but for whatever reason this week I’ve been thinking again about wines that I had out in Napa last month. I suspect that it’s because last month was much smoother for me than this month has been. I’m pretty sure that that’s how memories work, you know. Some event makes your mind go back to a better place and time than it’s in when you remember whatever it is. It’s your head trying to make you feel better when you don’t feel all that good in reality. For me, most of my memories seem to be tied in to wines and when and where I drank them. Psycho babble or not, I do like re-visiting wines I’ve loved before and making them into another, new memory for the future.
So, here I am, back in Napa, in my head at least, it’s 10:00 a.m., the fog is just starting to go away so that we can see all the beautiful vineyards, houses, hills of Napa around us. And we’re walking into Franciscan Oakville Estate Winery. Franciscan’s wines started in 1975 with their Cabernet Sauvignon. This was, and still is, a uniquely made wine in that it’s style was based on using small lots of grapes, then blending them together to make a greater whole wine. Because of this beginning, for years Franciscan was always thought of for their red wines – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Magnificat, their blend of not only lots of grapes but different (Bordeaux) varieties as well. Success with this credo in their wine making has made Franciscan a staple in the Napa wine industry for decades and a roll model for others to emulate.
But, let’s move on to their white wines. Just because they are probably better know for their reds doesn’t mean they can’t do great white wines also. This week I have re-visited the same two that we had in the Franciscan tasting room last month. I didn’t plan this, but one is perfect for everyday drinking (and I had it last Thursday night) and one is a very special, although more expensive bottle, that I had when I got home from work late Saturday night.
My weeknight bottle was Franciscan Sauvignon Blanc. (This wine has been available at the winery for several years but has just recently become available to all of us here in South Carolina.) In case you hadn’t noticed by now, I drink a lot of Sauvignon Blancs just because for me they are easier to sip more of, and let’s face it, easy to sip is part of why we like the wines we like. We don’t always remember this, but Sauvignon Blanc is a grape that can make as many different and distinct styles of wine as Chardonnay. It can range from the very dry, grapefruity wines of New Zealand, to the minerally, or gunmetal as they call it, of the Loire Valley, to light and clean versions from South Africa, Chile and Argentina, to the richer, sometimes very oaky wines of Napa. For me, Franciscan’s Sauvignon Blanc is sort of a blend of all of these styles. Which is part of why it was perfect for last Thursday night – all the best of Sauvignon Blanc flavors and textures without any one distinct style. Kudos to Franciscan because not only did they blend smaller lots for grapes, they used grapes from different parts of Napa (appellations) and allowed those variations to shine through with just a hint of oak. The wine is vibrant and subtle all at the same time. Wow! And for about $14 too!
But, hang on. As great as my Thursday night bottle was, my Saturday night bottle was too! Franciscan Cuvee Sauvage Chardonnay is the kind of wine that gets you through the week to Saturday night. This wine was first made in 1987 and, at that time, caused a great stir in the Napa wine community because a new theory/technique, for Napa at least, was used. Still using their small lots of Chardonnay grapes, the new twist was using only the wild, native yeasts from the vineyards to ferment the wine. All grapes, and plants for that matter, have yeast spores on them. Even the oak barrels for aging the wines have some wild spores in them. The usual practice is to choose a cultured yeast so that the winemaker has more control over the end result, meaning the wine’s flavors. The use of wild, natural spores was the standard practice in Burgundy, France, but revolutionary in 1987 Napa. There is also a lot less control over the fermenting process with wild yeast so there is a risk taken and more work involved too. The first vintage of Cuvee Sauvage Chardonnay, though, proved that Franciscan knew what they were doing. (P.S. “sauvage” is the French word for savage, meaning the wild yeast.)
The grapes for Cuvee Sauvage are chosen from Franciscan’s best lots/vineyards in the cool Carneros area of Napa. The juice is put in barrels which are put in a “special” corner of the cellar and then the waiting begins. Unlike cultured yeast, wild yeast comes in many strains, reflective of the vineyard soil. They work in a relay, and as one strain finishes, another starts, each adding its own personality to the wine, giving it layers of complexity and flavors – all worth the time and trouble when you taste the wine. Each individual barrel of the special group has its own specially flavored wine in it. The blend of these barrels is what we get in our bottles of Cuvee Sauvage. There is really no other Chard from Napa that tastes quite like this one. Price-wise, this wine is only $35, not all that much when you consider all the extra work and chances they take with it.
One more thing, before I forget. There aren’t many Chardonnays that I would like with traditional holiday meals (and don’t kid yourself, they are coming faster that we think), but this one I would. I wouldn’t even care if it wasn’t the best turkey I ever had. I’m just not sure how I’d feel about sharing too much of this wine with others. They’d have to be really really good friends. Maybe not one of my great memories like tasting these wines last month in Napa, and now here again, but, as you can see, wines make memories. Enjoy!
By Celia Strong
October 21, 2010
It’s not often that I think of wine in anyway at all connected to Halloween, but there’s always a first time for everything. It’s not that Halloween is a wine holiday, which is one like Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day and Easter, when everyone, even if they don’t drink wine usually, has to has to has to have wine for their holiday dinner. For those holidays, there is an urgency, or more like a frenzy is closer to the truth, like you wouldn’t believe to get wine. For sure, it makes all of our hearts sing and we spend a lot of time in the month or so before each holiday planning and plotting to be sure we have the right wines at the right prices. This year, though, Halloween has to come into the fold because there is a wine that seems perfect for this holiday. Just, please, don’t ask what candy bar or jelly bean flavors go best with it. You might not like the answer. Surprise!
Before we talk about this Halloween Wine, I need to tell you a little bit about the winery that makes it. Bogle Vineyards started in the mid-1800’s as a family farm. The wines’ beginning was not until 1968 when the father and son team of Warren and Chris planted their first twenty acres of wine grapes in Clarksbug, California, a small farming community along the Sacremento River. In the last forty plus years, the Bogle story has been one of growth and success. There aren’t many of us winedrinkers today who haven’t at least heard of Bogle.
The contiunued family invovlement in the vineyards is part of what has kept Bogle Vineyards and their wines growing and improving. Patty Bogle, Chris’ widow, helped her husband plant the first vineyards and, when he died, she took over the entire operation in 1989. Patty’s daughter Jody aslo contributes to the family business by being active in customer support, running the wine club and handling all international sales. Personnaly, I love to see wormen involved at all these levels – you know we’re supposed to have better palates anyhow. Since 1992, Bogle has participated in the California Appellation Program, where winemakers source (get) fruit from some of the best vineyards in the state. Some of these are blended with the grapes that Bogle grows themselves in Clarksburg, always striving for the best of each grape variety and Bogle’s very approachable style for wines.
Our Halloween Wine is Bogle Phatom, a pretty special wine because it only comes out once a year, they don’t make very much of it and when it’s gone it’s gone until next year. Sometimes, we’ve had small amount of it, a case or two, but, somehow, this year we got a bit more and thought you might like to celebrate with it. The name “Phantom” does refer in part to the fact that this wine is here and then it’s gone, an apparition. But, really, there’s a better story for the name of the wine. The name “Bogle” is Scottish, maybe Welsh. And, get this, means “a goblin, a specter, or a phantom.” Spooky, huh?
Bogle’s Phantom is a blend of three grape varieties that, when they come together, combine lush berry and fierce spice flavors. It has a complexity that is layers upon layers of different flavors and textures, including black pepper, dark black and red fruits, juniper berries, some toasty cinnamon and nutmeg, all in a succulent, juicy mouthfull. The current vintage, 2007, was aged in one, two and three year old American oak barrels. As good as it is now, it will also age well for several years. This vintage is a blend of 53% Petit Sirah, 44% Zinfandel and 3% Mourvedre. And, all of it for $16.99. Forget those little one-bite candy bars. This is the real treat for Halloween!
And no half-off sale the day after – it’s now or never. Enjoy!
It’s All Undone
By Celia Strong
October 14, 2010
What’s undone? How’d it get undone? What do we have to do to undo it now? All good questions but not really things we have to worry about. We all know there’s no way that a wine comes undone so it’s not our problem. Right? Right. So, this week, we’re going to talk about a German wine, maybe our first one ever.
As a wine producing country, Germany has a mixed reputation, depending on the German wines you’ve seen and tasted. Their history of winemaking goes back to Ancient Roman times, sometime between 70 and 270 A.D. In those days, the western part of today’s Germany made up the outpost of the Roman empire against the Germanic tribes on the other side of the Rhine River. Trier, Germany’s oldest city, was founded by as a Roman garrison. Wild vines, forerunners to our current vitis vinifera, grew on the hills along the Rhine when the Romans came to Germany. German wines now are some of the world’s most elegant and aromatic white wines, both dry and sweet. These are the ones that we don’t see very often and, when we do, we aren’t inclined to spend the money to get them. The rest, and what we probably think of first as German wines, are the inexpensive, mass produced, semi-sweet whites that come out for German dinners and friends who like them. The majority of these wines are made from Riesling grapes. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, there was a surge of red wines made as demand within Germany rose, but we almost never see these wines. One of the requests that we’ve always had a hard time meeting is for a German red wine to go with a meal. Once in a while, we’ve been able to stock one, just one, and for those of you who had to have a German red wine, you bought it like it was gold.
When we do see a German red wine, we usually aren’t able to recognize the grape name on the bottle. How could we? Look at these names Dornfelder (a popular one at 7.9% of the total grape plantings in Germany),Blauer PortugieserSchwarzriesling (our Pinot Meunier), Lemberger (we see bits of this grape in Washington state), Acolon, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Domina, Dunkelfelder, St. Laurent, Regent, Trollinger, and Spatburgunder, (our Pinot Noir), with 11% of the total plantings. Overall, at this point, red grape vines are about one third of the plantings in Germany. Today, it’s the last one, Spatburgunder, that we’re going to look at.
Generally, German red wines are lighter colored and light to medium bodied at their fullest. Dry, fruity, slightly tart, moderate alcohol levels with notable acidity – these are the characteristics of German reds. Because of the cooler climate in most of Germany, grapes have a hard time ripening well, and red varieties do particularly because their skins are thicker (harder for the sun to penetrate and ripen the pulp inside). In recent years, with the growing demand for reds in general and better ones for sure, winemakers have started using more barrel aging to enhance the body, flavors, colors of their wines.
So, on to this week’s wine. It’s the Undone Pinot Noir. This wine comes from the Rheinhessen region, where it is called Spatburgunder, but for us its called the more recognizable Pinot Noir. (The original name of this grape comes from its origins in Burfundy, France.) This wine is a great example of the strides that have been accomplished lately with German reds, due partly to several recent, really good vintages too (warm summers for better ripening of the grapes). And what a great surprise this wine really is. Partly because after all the years of looking for German red, I’d sort of lost hope. But, here it is! And it goes with foods besides Wiener schnitzel. It is medium bodied with cherry, cranberry and strawberry flavors and a hint of cinnamon spice. There is a touch of acidity, so you can drink it slightly chilled (no more than 20 or 30 minutes in the fridge). There is no oak on this wine so its plain, unadulterated Pinot Noir. Think Asian flavors and Thanksgiving dinner! The bottle has a screwtop and the label explains the “Undone” name – it’s a drawing of a lady with her corset undone. Definitely think about trying it, at $ 11.99 a bottle it could become one of your new favorites. Truly, a wonderful surprise. Enjoy!
Bubble Bubble Toil and Trouble
By Celia Strong
September 30, 2010
Oh, shoot. Let’s just leave it at bubble, bubble. That means we’re going to talk about bubbles, or more specifically a bubbly wine. Of course, it also means that typing “bubble, bubble” several times quickly is as hard as saying it several times quickly. You have no idea how many times I had to backspace and correct it just now. More than I’ll ever really admit for sure, because it’s before 9:00 a.m. and I am not enjoying a glass. What’s wrong with this picture? I thought I got to sip a glass or more while I typed. Oh, shoot. Wrong again.
Anyhow, another trade show this past weekend. Another walk around in a large room, wandering from table to table, looking for new and interesting wines. (Several walks around actually – have to do a good job, you know.) And good ones of course. For sure there were lots of expensive Cabernets. All good, but they should be at those high prices. And, lots of interesting wines – some we’ll get and some we won’t. Some right away and some later for the holidays or whenever they’ll fit in. Just so you know, the multiple passes around the room accomplish alot when you do them right. Each circuit is with a different person or group. That way, I get varied responses to the same wines, and the wines I think are worth getting into have a perspective built into their arrival at the store. The really good choices get really good reactions from all the other tasters, independently from each other and with all the different tasters’ points of view and palate backgrounds. The few wines that show really well on every pass, tasting, are the ones that I know are going to be right choices. In conclusion, really good choices come from really good reactions to really good wines. Really and truly.
But, back to our bubbles. Its been a long time since I’ve seen one of these wines in our area in southeastern France. The wine’s appellation is “Clairette de Die.” Clairette is a white grape variety, not usually heard of except for this appellation. The Clairette makes up 25% (the max allowed) of the blend for this wine, and Muscat is the other 75%. Historically, Clairette was used 100%, but that’s changed over the years. (Muscat and Aligote are allowed now, and used too.) And, “Die” is the area it grows in, about 30 miles east of the Rhone valley, going towards the Alps. The history of this wine goes back two thousands years; it was first recognized with “appellation d’origine” in 1910, long before the establishment of the AOC laws in 1942.
The vineyards for this wine are some of the very highest in France. The topography and soils of this area around Die are characterized by craggy outcrops of glacial rock formations and high cliff faces of the Alp foothills. The soil is the product of millennnia of erosion – a combinations of chalky clays and sedimentary rocks. The climate is at the northern edge of the Mediterranean climate zone, though, so despite mountains and snow in view all the time, there are extended periods of intense sunshine and warm weather, plus fast moving mountains storms and rainfalls. Part of what keeps this working as a producing wine region is the chalky agulliferous soil that holds onto enough water to supply the vines all summer long under that hot sun. As a wine-producing area, Die is literally out there on its own.
Clairette de Die is not what you’d expect flavor-wise. Because of the richness of the soil and the warmth of the sun, this wine’s flavors lean toward peach and apricot. Big ripe peachs and apricots. And hints of flowers like roses and honeysuckle. The great thing about a good Clairette de Die is the textures. Full of bubbles because it is made, legally, with the second fermentation in the bottle. (That’s what makes the bubbles, lots of them and tiny ones!) And a creaminess that makes the wine, even with its bubbles, feel voluptuous on your tongue. Bubbles and voluptuous all at once? Now you know why everyone I tasted this wine with liked it. So, let’s have at it! Cave Carod Clairette de Die – brand new, bubble, bubble, no toil or trouble. Only $18.99. Let’s get some, fill the cauldren with ice to chill and open the Halloween candy early. Enjoy!
When You’re Good You’re Good
By Celia Strong
September 23, 2010
How’s that for profound? I suppose, when it comes to wine, it’s particularly true. With wine, though, it not only has to be good, but the right choice for the time, place, and, most important of all, mood. Last week, we talked about my packing bottle. (Yes, my packing was as good as usual. Not!) Then, after four days of heavy duty wine tasting work in Napa, a wonderful fourteen hour airplane and airport trip home, and time changes that are so easy to adjust to, I got home late Friday night and decided a glass of wine while I got relaxed and wound down enough to get to bed. Right away I knew this bottle would have to be easy drinking, chilled already because I did not pick it before I left, and not require too much attention to enjoy it. That means something that I’d had before, liked, could drink just two small glasses and get to bed. I don’t ever unpack the night I get home, so there is no such thing as an unpacking bottle. But, I did have to get a couple of things out of my suitcase after it got tossed on the bathroom floor. Phone chargers, stuff like that, had to come out and, right close to the top was my Govino wine glass. And that had to come out to have my wine. A great travel glass and perfect for unpacking too. Really, it’s a lovely glass.
But, back to wine stuff. Having told you that the criteria were for this choice, you do realize I was limited by to the bottles that were in the fridge. After all the reds we’d tasted in Napa, and more than a few good, although heavier style Chardonnays, I spotted some others. In case you haven’t guessed this yet, I always have Sauvignon Blancs in there, always my favorite New Zealand for sure, but that night I had a couple of others to choose from. Quick, like a fox, I raced my head through what I knew about each one so that the decision didn’t take longer that it needed to.
The are several things about Sauvignon Blancs that I like so much. First, they come in as many styles and price ranges as any other variety. They tend to be a bit drier than Chardonnays, so in hot weather I prefer them. You can drink them colder than a Chardonnay. Makes sense, doesn’t it? I have found, too, that lighter, drier, cleaner style wines are more appealing when you just want a drink. Even when you get paid to drink, sometimes you just want a drink. So, my choices in the fridge that night were three Sauvingon Blancs. My New Zealand “go to” bottle I passed on because of the “just want a drink” thing. A second bottle was a California wine that we had actually just tasted on our trip. It is a great bottle, but I’d just had it, at the winery that made it after all, so how could I do that so soon after that perfect tasting? So, third, was a new bottle that we just started carrying. From California, not expensive so just right for drinking, dry, clean and crisp like I like them, and in a cute bottle too. And it has a cute name too. So, that one’s the winner.
This wine is from the Central Coast area of California. Usually, my experience with wines from this location, is they are full of flavors, softer textures (meaning not high acidity in the whites and not high tannins in the reds), and not too high priced. There are some things that make this Sauvignon Blanc special for me. All technical maybe, but the end product is a treasure. The grapes are crushed and fermented at cooler temperatures. And in stainless steel vats too. This preserves the fresh fruit aromas and flavors. And the acidity. The wine has floral notes with hints of lemon, tangerine and melon flavors. There is also a touch of herbal flavors which gives it a tad of greeness that I really like. And, there is no oak used in any part of this wine’s making or aging. It goes into its bottles from the stainless steel tanks. All of this considered, it was a perfect choice for for me that night.
Then, there is the “label” and the name. The label is not paper, but a really pretty “painting” on the bottle. Its fish, four of them, in shades of peach and aqua. How cooling and calming is that? You have to admit, labels are strong incentives in some of your wine choices too – ones you like and ones you don’t like. And the name – it tells you just what you can enjoy with this wine, besides getting home from traveling. Ceviche. So seafood of all sorts is perfect if you need to eat when you have this wine. Or, choose your food to go with the wine. Still easy with the name. Ceviche. Know what else is still easy? The price. At $7.97 we can all drink this wine all the time. And there you have it, one trip done, one safe return, and one really great bottle of Ceviche Sauvignon Blanc empty. I guess I had more than I planned on. But I loved it. Hope you do too. Enjoy!
Brown Bags Again
By Celia Strong
September 10, 2010
You have to know that working in a liquor store brings a total new meaning to brown bags in your life. I’m not sure where the use of brown bags for alcohol purchases started, probably something about anonymity, but there they are in all kinds of sizes and shapes. Over time, I have found that these brown bags make good hiding covers for wines when you don’t want to see the labels of what you’re tasting. These types of tastings are more correctly called “blind” tastings. But, believe it or not, some customers have thought that that meant they, the customers, had to cover there eyes when they tasted. Maybe, after tasting too much, you could want to cover your eyes, but really its just the wines themselves that are supposed to be covered. If I use the term “brown bag” tasting for this kind of thing, no one ever comes back with “How do we see when we pour question. Hence, the name “brown bag” tasting although less professional sounding is far easier to deal with.
But enough of that for now. I do have a brown bag tasting to tell you about this week. It took place last week, on Hilton Head, with the group that I meet every month. As a whole, this group does like blind/brown bag tastings because that way we can all taste a set category without choosing ones we like before. With the wines covered up, none of us can pre-taste, pre-choose, and in particular, pre-not like any of the wines. The hope is always that you find a new one to like, but, at the very least, you get to re-enforce why the like or don’t like the ones you’re already buying.
Our category last week was New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. We usually repeat this category every year. (This group has been tasting for about six years now.) We repeat because we all like these wines as a whole group, but also because there are so many new ones coming into this area every month. And, as you and I know, new is always good when it comes to wine! For the basics, so you know what the results mean, New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are known to be grapefruity, lightly oaked if at all, clean, crisp, and from light to medium heavy body. All of these wines sell for $10 to $16. Our group was about a dozen tasters this time.
So, we had wines Number 1 through Number 6. They were lined up in no particular order. For myself, I was really expecting more tart grapefruit flavors in all of them. To my surprise, not true. While they all did have grapefruit to some extent, it was not as predominant in every wine. Wine Number 1 was mellow, medium bodied, a touch of candy sweetness in the flavors, some citrus trying to stretch to real grapefruit, a real surprise but a favorite of the tasters who preferred less grapefruit in their Sauvignon Blancs Wine Number 2 was also not very grapefruity, also well liked by a lot of us. Again, medium bodied, not too dry or tart. Number 3 was a bit lighter bodied, again a hint of candy flavor in the finish, and a hint of earthiness. Also, not very grapefruity. By the time most of us had gotten through the first three, the discussions were rolling. Like I’ve said, many liked the change from what they expected in terms of less grapefruit, and, in talking, those who did when asked admitted to not really liking grapefruits in real life. Obviously, they can’t be expected to like grapefruit flavored wines, now can they?
Moving on, wine Number 4 turned the corner and came in with some grapefruit flavors. Not quite as full as the first two, this wine was well liked by many. It was a really good, middle of the road style is all aspects. (Seeing which one it was after un-bagging them, this explains why it is such a favorite across the country.) Wines Number 5 and Number 6 hit the jackpot. Real grapefruit flavors but very different from each other. Number 5 was the lighter body of the two with a real perfume nose of pink grapefruit. Not everyone’s favorite. (Remember if you don’t like pink grapefruit you can’t be expected to like this wine.) For me, and several other tasters, this was New Zealand for sure. We loved the tart, fresh flavor and texture of this wine. Wine Number 6 was a bit smoother and fuller than Number 5. It was also really grapefruit, this time ruby red though. Interestingly, some of the tastes who said they didn’t like grapefruit did like this one – my thinking is the fullness masked some of the tartness for them. For me and my other tart lovers, we also loved this one. We decided maybe Number 5 for drinking and Number 6 with food.
So, I guess you need to know what these wines are. (I’m not going to tell you which one “won” because each taster had his or her own winner. The tasters won, not the wines!) Number 1 is Ribbonwood, Number 2 is Stoneleigh, Number 3 is Geisen, Number 4 is Kim Crawford, Number 5 is Sherwood, and Number 6 is Glazebrook. Once we “un-bagged” the wines, every one went back and retasted. All of us had drunk at least a couple of these before. And, as was the whole point, most of us found new ones to like. And, we learned why we liked the ones we do like. It’s not all of us who get to try wines like this. It’s hard to buy and open six bottles unless you have a group that’s large enough and wants to do “tasting.” Sometimes, though, what you get from a tasting if more that what you get from just drinking. Look at it this way, you work at a tasting so that when you need a drink of a wine that you like you’ve got a good one to choose. Let me know if you want to come next time. Enjoy!
Finally, Finally – A Chardonnay
By Celia Strong
September 2, 2010
It’s not often that we’ve talked about Chardonnay. Partly because we’ve all drunk so many of them over the years that another one is just that – another one. But, too, there are so many many many other wines to find and taste and learn about and drink instead of another Chardonnay. You can see where the phrase “ABC – Anything But Chardonnay” got started and how it was sustained for years. And, then, when you least expect it, here comes a Chardonnay that maybe we shouldn’t miss.
First, though, we should probably get acclimated to where our wine for this week comes from. Another “we haven’t talked about much” – Washington state. Wines from Washington state are truly products of there environment. This means for sure soil and climate, maybe more than a lot of other areas, but, further, their commitment to making their style of wines and not copying other area’s styles.
The premium wine industry began in Washington state in the 1960’s. Before that, there were lots of wines made there, but not from vinifera wine grapes. Washington has for years grown lots of fruits so their wines used to be cherry, pear, and one that I loved when I got to taste it years ago, cranberry. Now, the majority of their vineyards are planted east of the Cascade mountain range, an area that includes the Yakima and Walla Walla valleys. The vineyards run along the 46th and 47th parallels, which makes them comparable to the latitudes of Bordeaux and Burgundy in France. The amount of sunlight that the grapes get in these vineyards is actually about two hours more a day than in California. This is because of their more northern location and the curve of the earth. More sun, as we know, means more flavor development in the grapes as they ripen. And more grape flavors means more wine flavors for us! Despite more hours of sun, though, daily temperatures are lower and nights are chilly. This combination of warm days, cooler nights, up and down temperatures all through the growing season also make for more flavors and textures in the grapes. More for us again! The one thing that is difficult in Washington is the amount of rainfall in the vineyards. Unlike Seattle where we’ve all heard there’s rain almost everyday, the eastern side of the Cascades is protected from the moisture coming off the Pacific. This means a really low rainfall. This helps the grapes avoid humidity that causes rot, disease and pests. But growing plants need enough water so growers are allowed to irrigate or sprinkle their vineyards. But, this is a very controlled amount of water to help nature along. By meeting minimal needs of the grapes, we get good grape sizes and concentration of flavors and balance in our wines. For soil content, sandy loam is prevalent in eastern Washington. Geologically, it got there starting about 15,000 years ago when flooding carried silt and sand from across the region into these valleys. This is perfect for good drainage, which grapes need to grow well.
When you think about all of this, Washington vineyards are really quite different from those of California. Once we know that Washington is different, we have to figure that certain grape varieties grow better there than some others. And the wine styles they produce will be different too. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Semillon, Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, some Sangiovese and, Lemberger all thrive in Washington. But, don’t expect them to taste like Napa or Central Coast or other areas’ wines.
Now, finally, finally, our wine today comes from Hogue Cellars. This winery was founded in 1982 by Mike and Gary Hogue. It is located in the Columbia Valley. They chose this location because, as we now know, the soils and climate there produce grapes with intense fruit flavors and high natural acidity levels. This gives their wines a liveliness and ripe, zesty fruit flavors, all of which makes them good matches for a wide range of foods. Their “reserve” level of wines is distinctly different from their other wines. “Reserve” is the designation they give to their best wines, the ones that come from vineyards that get more attention from their growers and more attention to the wines in their cellars before we get them. The Reserve Chardonnay is made from grapes chosen from special blocks and vineyards. The wine is aged “sur lie” and during the months of barrel aging it develops richness and complexity. It has aromas of pear, peach, heavy cream and integrated oak toast. The flavors continue with the pear and peach and cream in a rich and unctuously textured wine. A hint of pineapple creeps in on the finish too. Thinking food? This wine is perfect with rich seafood – crab, sea bass, lobster, king salmon and fresh shrimp. Sounds to me like its made for us. And, guess what! We don’t have to pay the regular price of $20 to $25 dollars. We get this wine for just under $10. But, of course we do, it is made for us! I see alot of good seafood in my future. With the perfect wine with it. You too? Enjoy!
The Buttercup Challenge
By Celia Strong
August 26, 2010
Most of the time, we talk about wines after a tasting. How they tasted, what different people liked about them, stuff like that. This week, I have to plan a tasting for twelve lucky (?) tasters/drinkers. Thought it might be interesting for you to follow along with the choosing process.
First, when you, or anyone else for that matter, are planning to do a wine tasting, the beginning is deciding on some theme for the tasting. This can be a region or a country of origin where the wines come from, it can be a price level of just one grape like ten dollar Cabernets from around the world, wines with the word “XXX” in their name, wines with horses, old cars, furniture, whatever on their labels, wines from just one winery – all sorts of themes. Usually, from what I’ve seen, you would choose wines you haven’t tasted before. I decided for this tasting with this particular group of twelve that new wines were not necessarily essential, because there is a difference between tasting and drinking. Even though they may have drunk some or all of these wines before, they may not have really tasted them. Wines from just one country or winery might not be what they would really like. But a group of five or six good wines, a bubbly, a couple of whites and three reds will be fun, educational and some future favorites.
So, starting with a new bubbly, when I have a captive group, I always love the opportunity I have of forcing then to taste something they would never try otherwise. Of course, this can come back and bite me, but as long as I know I’ve picked a good wine, why worry. So, we’re going to start with a rose (yes, pink) bubbly from Italy. This one, Lamberti Rose, is from up near Venice and is light, clean and crisp. A great way to start a fun evening with friends.
Then, for the whites, I’ve picked Glazebrook Sauvignon Blanc and Jaboulet Parallel 45 Cotes du Rhone White. The Glazebrook is bar none one of my favorite go-to bottles. Its from New Zealand and always fresh, clean, crisp, dry, dry, dry and really grapefruity. I know some of you can’t get to liking the grapefruit flavors of some Sauvignon Blancs, especially those from New Zealand, but, for those of us who do, this one is a real winner. Following with the Jaboulet Cotes du Rhone white is going to another completely different set of flavors and textures. Most of you know the red version of this wine, and alot of you know the rose also. The white is really different from any other white wines because of the grape varieties used to make it – mostly Grenache Blanc. This wine is full and heavy without a lot of oak texture or flavors. If you drink it too cold, you actually lose alot of the flavors (peach, apricot, nuts, flowers) and the weight of it. Knowing this, you may prefer it in cooler times of the year. Thanksgiving dinner is perfect for it, so try and remember.
Now, for some reds. First, I think we’ll do Broquel Bonarda. A great but different one from Argentina. Bonarda is a grape, historically from northwestern Italy, that probably found its way down to Argentina with the immigrants going there centuries ago. This wine is full but not heavy, fruity but not sweet, smooth bu not wimpy, and great with all kinds of foods. Then, we’ll Museum Crianza from Spain. Made from 100% Tempranillo, one of my favorite red grapes as you should know by now, the 2004 vintage of this wine has just come in so I have to taste the new vintage, obviously. And, finally, we’ll finish with a neat Italian – Santi Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso. I’m thinking as we get close, sort of, to fall and cooler weather, this could be a great find for fall grilling menus.
None of these wines are new new. But, like I said earlier, sometimes they can taste different when you have someone to taste them with. And, then, if you learn a little bit about them, you might even like them more. Looks to me like the Buttercup Challenge has been met. We’ll see this weekend when The Group tastes these wines. (Thank goodness, only a few know about the Buttercup and who The Group is. Sometimes anonymity is best.) Just to be sure they get the best taste of each of these wines, we’ll have brand new wine glasses to taste from. But, don’t you worry! You can get these wines, and the new wine glasses all at the store. Join the fun and enjoy!
Back and Forth, Back and Forth, Red or White, Red or White
By Celia Strong
August 19, 2010
Red and white, white and red. I guess we’re lucky there aren’t blue and fuchsia colored wines or we’d really be getting dizzy. Two weeks ago was a red, and last week was white; now I’ve got a new red for you this week.
Even though this is a red, I really do keep in mind that the weather is not overly friendly for heavy red wines. Promise! That being said, you can be sure this is not a heavy duty, winter style wine. And we have talked about this type of wine before, this is just a new one in its category and nice and tasty. It is a Spanish Rioja made from mostly Tempranillo grapes. Ring any bells? Hope so, but here goes, anyhow.
The Rioja region of Spain is centrally located in the northern part of the country. For many many years, these wines were the best known and most favored of all the wines that are made in Spain. This was true because, for centuries, red Riojas were considered to be among the best wines made in the world – rich and full and long-lived. In the second half of the 19th century, when many French producers were hit with phylloxera, British wine merchants were forced to go outside of France to find their wines. Rioja was close enough, being just over the Pyrenees Mountains from France. And, even though these British merchants were looking to replace their beloved wines from Bordeaux, they chose Riojas. This is interesting because these Spanish wines are really more like Italy’s Chiantis than wines from Bordeaux. (Both Riojas and Chiantis are blends, as are most red Bordeaux, but the Spanish and Italian wines both rely very heavily on one grape variety, Tempranillo for Spain and Sangiovese for Italy. Red Bordeaux, although blends too did not usually have such a high percentage of one variety.)
Another thing that makes Riojas more like Chiantis than the missing Bordeaux wines is the natural acidity of their grape varieties. This makes for wines that go with different styles of foods and seasonings. Riojas tend to be medium to medium-full in body, with their main grape Tempranillo giving them a dusty, leathery overcoat on top of raspberry and blackberry fruit flavors. With the added blended grapes (Graciano, Mazuela and Grancha), Riojas become more layered in their flavors and textures. American oak aging of the wines has become very popular because this wood adds vanilla and coconut notes to the wines as well. Then, unlike the wines of Bordeaux, Riojas can be aged in their producers’ cellars for three years to make the wines “reserva” and for five years to make them “gran reserva.”
This week’s wine is Montebuena Rioja, with no special aging. But what a terrific everyday red wine. It is not too heavy, which is the whole point in this weather. It has great balance so that every time its in your mouth you feel how good it is. And, its flavors include lots of red cherry, vanilla, baking spices like cinnamon, close, nutmeg, a hint of the Tempranillo dirt, blueberry, and cola. But where we can all really enjoy this wine more is with the foods we eat when we’re drinking it. And, now comes the hard part, talking about food without even a hint of any in front of me.
Going back to the acidity thing, this wine is spectacular with seafood – grilled, broiled, even some smoked. Think about a paprika rub, green olives and capers in a salsa, saffron flavored rice on the side. And, my favorite is a piece of grilled salmon with fresh rosemary on it. That really brings out the earthiness of the wine for me and I just love it. Besides, seafood, grilled sausages, charred red peppers (in Spain these are pimentos) pork loin and tenderloin, even lean beef. The key to making the wine pair well with your choice is all in the seasonings and sides. Use olive oil, sea salt, a bit of crushed red pepper is OK, and everything I’ve already mentioned. Anyone hungry yet? Good, here’s the plan. You need a bottle for the prep work time and a bottle for the table. Then, you’ll be happy. Or, at least I will be because that’s what I’m off to the kitchen to start for myself. Here’s to summer red wines and all they can be. Enjoy!
Teeney Weeney Steen
By Celia Strong
August 12, 2010
Well enough’s enough. Two weeks now I’ve been in love with red wines, and maybe, for sure is more like it, I’ll get back to them. But this heat and humidity don’t make it easy. This week, it just has to be white, cold, dry, cold, crisp, cold, clean, cold, new, but definitely cold. And luckily I have a nice one to take care of me.
All these wines we’ve talked about and it occurs to me we’ve never even thought of Chenin Blanc. I guess, to be accurate, it’s been up to me and I haven’t even remembered this white grape variety. The thing about Chenin Blancs is that there is a huge variety of styles to be tried, in a really wide range of prices. Part of my problem is the ones that I’ve usually really liked have been more expensive and hard to find here. And with so many other wines handy, that I do like, I guess I figure why pay more and work so hard to spend my money. Chenin Blanc is a grape variety that has probably reached its greatest heights in the Loire Valley in France. Here, it makes a range of wines from very dry through multiple stages to very sweet and sparkling as well. Most of you have probably tried a Vouvray at some point, a town in the Loire that grows only Chenin Blanc. In all fairness, the grape in this soil and climate tastes different from anywhere else in the world; cooler areas like the Loire produce wines with delicate, floral characteristics and hints of melon.
Outside of the Loire Valley, Chenin Blanc is grown many other places. Most of us who have tried Chenins have come across some from California. And most of us have not been thrilled with them because so many California producers have used this grape to make sweeter and or fruitier style wines. In all fairness, these are well made wines, but there is the big “but.” They have been great wines for people who like Rieslings and White Zinfandels, because of their style, but they’ve been hard to include with most meals and, if you really prefer dry wines, hard to understand and enjoy. Also, because Chenin Blanc is a high acid variety, alot of countries that did grow the grape, blended it with other varieties to cut its sharpness.
On the other side of the world, though, there is a country who for years has made really good Chenin Blancs. In the mid-1960’s, it was discovered that South Africa had been growing Chenin for years. We just never knew it, for good reason. In South Africa, they had called theirs Steen, sometimes spelled Stein. Here, like in France, they make dry and sweet wines from this grape, and include it in a lot of their sparkling wines as well.
In South Africa, there is the Riebeek Valley. Chenin Blanc is their unofficial drink. For them, it is the perfect every day wine that offers uncomplicated quality that satifies both novices and connoisseurs. The wines’ fruit flavors are balanced by crisp acidity. Royal Vineyards, in the Riebeek Valley, makes The Royal Chenin Blanc. Unwooded (Remember the word “unoaked?” Unwooded means the same thing!) Chenin Blanc comes from forty-eight year old vines. We can’t even imagine forty-eight year old Chenin vines in U.S. And, when you taste this wine, it is soooooo different that any other Chenin. It is dry, and clean, and crisp, but the flavors include some apple, some pear, some quince, some peach, but also some spiciness. The spiciness is not quite cinnamon or baking spices, but if you think of coriander it’s close. All in all, the first sip of this wine is exactly what we all need this time of year. New, but friendly, different but comfortable. One sip, and you’ve got your end of the day taken care of. And, guess how much? More friendly and comfortable – $ 8.99. Yippee, come and get us you hot, humid weather, you. Enjoy!
Absolutely One of The Best
By Celia Strong
August 5, 2010
So, every once in a while, you get a taste of a wine that is absolutely the best thing you’ve tasted in forever. Then, sometimes, you go back and taste it again, sometimes a couple of times again, and it’s not always as good as you thought it was – good, but not absolutely one of the best. For those wines, you remember the first time, and you usually do try it again, more than once, but you never get as excited as you did the very first time. Imagine, though, that every time you go back and taste one again it is still absolutely one of the best. For this wine, everything changes. Maybe you’ll think about it all day, waiting for a glass when you get home. Maybe you’ll buy a case of it and the case will only last 4 days because you keep sharing it with friends, family, anyone who will have a glass with you just so you can have another one. Just imagine.
Now, taking a step back for a moment, remember all the times we’ve talked about blended wines? Wines that are made from more than one grape, usually no one grape being 75% of the blend so that the wine has to be named for something other than the grape. And remember too how good blended wines can be because you get the total of multiple flavors and textures from all the grapes, more complexities, more subtleties, more nuances. Over the years, many of this type of wine have been popular. As examples, think of Menage a Trois, Red Truck, and, at a higher price level, Opus. And, there are lots of others. The key to any one of them being successful is largely the particular blend of grapes in it, how they meld together, and being individual enough to have consumers like it.
Which brings us back to this week’s find. Someone brought in a sample bottle for us to taste. Foolish me, I didn’t get to it for a couple of weeks, weeks wasted as I now know. But, finally, I got around to opening it and pouring some into a glass. Took that first sniff and right away, I smelled cinnamon. In all fairness, I really like cinnamon, but getting that distinct a scent of it was very exciting. So I sniffed a few more times just to be sure I was right. Then, time to take a sip. And, yep, it tasted like cinnamon too. If you’d been there, you’d have thought I’d found some money in my glass. So, I tasted a couple of ounces and put the bottle aside to taste again a day or two later. That’s how I can learn how well the wine lasts once the bottle is open. Not that we have bottles with too much wine left in them too often, but it can happen and its nice to know it’ll still taste good the next night.
Next night, at home so I could really try it, I poured myself a bit more than a couple of ounces. Sniff, sip, drink, drink, drink. Still terrific! And I was hooked. And I kept on tasting. (Drinking is probably a more accurate term but less professional.) The flavor was to die for, and the textures were so smooth and mellow, lingering, not heavy but definitely not wimpy or light. Taste after taste, it just kept on. Somewhere in my second glass of tastes, I realized what I was tasting was a lot more than just cinnamon. And that’s when I decided it was time to find out more about this wine. (Just so you know, me and my glass of wine on the computer are quite the sight!)
Sometimes, when you go on-line to find out about things you get a lot of info, and sometimes not so much. This wine search was a not so much. Not a complete loss though, either. I did find out the blend of grapes. It is made from 70% Syrah, 20% Zinfandel and 10% Merlot. Each of these varieties gives something special and unique to this wine. The bigger amount of Syrah explains alot of the texture – smoothness and moderate weight. Also, the blackberry flavor was there. Zinfandel adds a hint of pepperiness and more mellow body. And Merlot brings chocolate and dark cherry flavors and some structure to the wine. Still tasting the wine while I found this out, I realized it was a bit more than just cinnamon I was tasting too. So, I went off to the spice shelf in the kitchen and found my bottle of Chinese Five Spice Powder. This is a blend of five spices used in Chinese cooking (duh!). There are actually several different recipes for Five Spice, but they include a combinations of cinnamon, star anise, cloves, pepper (black or Sechuan can be used), cloves, fennel seeds. According to Chinese philosophy, the recipe is made to balance the Yin and Yang of food. What a great idea for a wine, too, but, that’s just me.
So, finally, I have come to love this wine. Flavors, textures, the whole thing. And, now it’s your turn to try some. But you need the name don’t you? Supposedly, the name comes from the idea of old cellars where blends of herbs and medicines were mixed. Same place the name for apothecary shops came from. Let me introduce you to Apothic Red wine from California. Hopefully, you’ll love it as much as I do. If not, that’s just more for those who are with me. Enjoy!
Que Syrah Syrah . . .
By Celia Strong
July 29, 2010
Maybe you remember Doris Day singing this song, maybe not. For sure, though, she was not singing about a wine. Nonetheless, the title has become the take off point for many wine songs, wine jokes and wine drinkers who have over-indulged. Syrah is a red wine grape, and, several months ago, we talked about the two names for wines made from it – Syrah and Shiraz. As Syrah wines have become more popular, the two different names have sort of come to represent the two basic styles of wine from the grape; Syrah wines tend to be leaner and more restrained and less opulent and Shiraz wines are fuller and juicier in style. In fact, most Syrahs come from cooler climates and Shirazs from warmer ones. For the sake of easier talking today about this grape, let’s just keep its name to Syrah. (Can you guess which style we might be headed towards?)
One More Time
By Celia Strong
July 22, 2010
Yep, one more time we had a great wine dinner at Bistro Patois in Habersham. Food, wine, speaker and attendees all came together to make it fun and educational (meaning we found new wines to drink). We even had people there from Fripp so driving home is doable after a wine dinner, which means that excuse has just gone out the window for future attempted use. July 14th, last week Tuesday, was Bastille Day. This is the French holiday that corresponds to our Fourth of July, so we celebrated with this wine dinner. Nothing fancy, which is true of French country style food, except for those there, all the ladies got blue, white and red bling.
So, what about the wine? Well, we started with an unoaked Chardonnay. Yes, there you have it, proof that even the French are willing to change, adapt and move forward. This Chardonnay, by Cousserges ($12.99), comes from southeastern France. It is light, clean, with apple and lemon flavors and good acidity. Everyone got a glass when the arrived and with their first course of Vichyssoise. This is cold potato and leek soup that you can get as a hot soup in the winter. The Chard was lovely with it.
Our second course was mussels, Provencal style, which means with some tomato and garlic in the broth. Delicious, but so was the wine, a Picpoul de Pinet ($10.99). Picpoul, the name of the grape, is from an old French word that means “lip smack.” If you think of a really dry white wine, you will understand what they mean by “lip smack.” On the other hand, who thinks up single words to describe the puckery noise of lip smacking? Maybe that’s why it’s an old, a.k.a. archaic, French word. Nonetheless the wine was perfect. Good with the mussels but also for any hot afternoon or evening around here. And good with anything with tomatoes and garlic too.
And, finally, we had some reds – two, actually, with the entree of thick-cut lamb chops over sauteed local vegetables. The two red wines were related to each other. Our left glass was the Segries Cotes du Rhone ($14.99) and our right glass was the Segries Lirac ($19.29), a specific town in the Cote du Rhone. Both of these wines were made from predominantly Grenache grapes and are considered medium bodied in the world of red wines, smooth, not too heavy in tannins, and, of course, well-receiived. The reason for two wines with one course is that it lets people compare, discuss if they like, and choose which one they like better. For the most part, at the dinner, everyone liked the Lirac better. Personally, I liked the Cotes du Rhone better with the lamb chop and vegetables, but, I suspect, others liked the Lirac better because it was a bit heavier with more pronounced flavors. The really great thing about the Lirac is, like I said, it’s from a small town in the Cotes du Rhone region. Actually, it’s very near Chateauneuf-du-Pape, one of the great red wine towns of the region. This geographic closeness means similar soil, grapes, and, hence, wine. So close in this case, that many experts describe Lirac as the “poor man’s Chateauneuf.” Such a French way of saying it, but it’s true. And, maybe, that’s why most of our diners seemed to like it better.
Last, but not least, was dessert. There is a traditional French “Oeufs a la neige” which is puffs of soft meringue in a sweet custard sauce. (The name means eggs in snow, so there you are.) Of course, we had to have a dessert wine, and in France, that often means a Sauternes. Ours was Ch Hallet ($22.99) in half bottles. Usually, dessert wines come in half bottles so that you can afford them but also so that you don’t have so much left over. You never really drink a full glass of them. Too much sugar means too much hangover later.
So, you can see, dinner was good, wine was good, and friends were there. What a great way to spend an evening. And new wines to keep drinking, too. Which is what we’re all about anyhow. Enjoy!
Once A Trout, Always A Trout
By Celia Strong
July 15, 2010
I can not accept how hot it is! Having said that, I do realize I was not given a vote on any part of the weather subject, so I have decided the best way to handle it is to drink accordingly. Last week, the Saltus Mojitos did the trick – tall, cold and they came with a straw. So, I went outside, picked some basil and mint from my only two plants (Trust me, I only have them so I can make my cocktails on demand!) and came inside to sip and write for this week. Surely, I need to talk about a nice, chilled, dry, crisp white wine today!
Several weeks ago, we got in a few “inventory reduction/close outs” of various things. Some red of course, but one white that I think is a real sleeper. It is Steelhead Sauvignon Blanc from the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma, California. Sauvignon Blancs for several summers now have been my “go to” white grape variety. These wines are not as heavy as Chardonnays and, in general, they have more going on in them than a Pinot Grigio. And, when you find one that is not oak aged, or just slightly, the clean, crisp acidity of the grape shows through and you can enjoy the wine really really well chilled.
The Steelhead Sauvignon Blanc is clean and dry. It is made with 85% Sauvignon Blanc, so you get the great flavors of citrus and grapefruit zest plus the mineral traits that come from Dry Creek Valley soil. The other little part of the wine is made from 15% Semillon, also known for it’s lemony citrus flavors and slightly softer mouth-feel. Both these varieties come from the Fig Tree Vineyard located in the Dry Creek Valley. A well known winery, Quivera, is reknowned for their Fig Tree Sauvignon Blanc. And, guess what? Quivera owns and makes Steelhead!
So why two labels? Quivera is commited to organic and biodynamic farming of all their grapes. But they are also commited to restoring the habitat of the Steelhead Salmon to the Dry Creek and the Wine Creek, a tributary of Dry Creek. These special salmon need cool, clean water to survive and thrive, and the return of fish to these creeks is an indicator of the water’s new, revived health. Each spring, now, the salmon return to the restored spawning grounds of the creek beds. As part of their efforts, Quivera Vineyards has also formed a partnership with Trout Unlimited and a portion of the proceeds of every bottle of Steelhead wine sold goes to help Trout Unlimited’s creek restoration projects.
So, not only is the wine good for all its own reasons – good taste to start with – every bottle you get helps a really good cause. And, don’t forget, I did start out saying this wine is a sale wine. That means you get to skip past the usual $16 price and go directly to $ 7.97. For that I can drink it every hot afternoon for the next 3 months. That means, too, that you better not wait too long to try your first bottle because you know how sale items just seem to disappear. But, wait. What trout? Oh, well. Enjoy!
By Celia Strong
July 8, 2010
Every once in a while, you get to go to a party that is just plain fun. And it’s fun because of the other people who are there, the occasion for the party, the sunny weather coming in the windows from outside, and, yes, what you get to drink while you’re there. A while ago, I got to go to just such a party – a sunny afternoon, everyone knew everyone, or so it seemed, a birthday celebration, and lots of good bubbly to sip on.
So what was the bubbly? Trapiche Extra Brut from Argentina. This winery, Trapiche, is really well known, not only here in Beaufort but around the world. It was established in Mendoza in 1883, at the foothills of the Andes mountains. They have some of the most extensive landholdings in Argentina, over 2,500 acres. Part of what makes them so successful, and their wines so good is the working relationship between their wine making staff and their grape growers. Their theory is that these two parts of the business go hand in hand and that better wines are the result. Trapiche has a wide range of wines in its portfolio, at a wide range of price levels, and all of them, regardless of their price level, are known to be better than others at the same price.
The Extra Brut has been available for the last couple of years and is, finally, catching on as a good bubbly at a good price. It is made from mostly Chardonnay (70%), which gives the wine the familiar Chard aromas and flavors of apples and pineapples. The Chard is blended with Semillon (20%), which gives the wine some lemony citrus notes and keeps it nice and light, and Malbec (10%) that keeps it from being too light. Well chilled, this bubbly is an easy sipping, more than one glass, delightful wine. From what I saw at the party, no one seemed to disagree with me. You can have this bubbly all day long at $13.99.
The other big favorite drink of this party was the Saltus Mojito. For this, you drop several lime wedges, 2 or 3 mint leaves and 2 or 3 basil leaves into the bottom of a tall glass. Then, you muddle (a mixologist’s term for mushing up together) these three, add ice cubes to the top of the glass, fill almost to the top with club soda and, finally, the best part, half a shot of Chartreuse. Stir all of this well, add a straw and have at it! Just in case you’re not familiar with Chartreuse, it is a French, green colored liqueur that is made from herbs and botanicals. It has a very distinctive, mulit-layered flavor that includes mint and basil. It is also fairly high in alcohol, 110 proof, so half a shot is enough flavor-wise but alcohol-wise for sure. With half a shot, you can have a second and third of these drinks cuz they do go down really well. (I suspect the straw helps a little bit too.) Chartreuse is pretty expensive, good stuff always is, but a mini bottle is more than a shot so you can get three of these Saltus Mojitos out of one little bottle. And they are only $ 6.99!
So, there you have it. The makings of a great party. The rest of it, you’ll have to come up with on your own – occasion, time and place, party people. But if you promise them good bubbly like the Trapiche Extra Brut and and exciting new drink like the Saltus Mojito I’m sure they’ll come. Enjoy!
Waddle, Waddle, Waddle
By Celia Strong
July 1, 2010
Bet you’re picturing ducks waddling down to a pond to cool off! But that doesn’t have anything to do with wine, so think Wattle Creek Winery. That’s almost “waddle” and “pond,” isn’t it? And after a couple of weeks of talking about summer style wines – roses and light, chilleable reds – I needed to have a big red. And, guess what! It goes with this weekend’s grilling!
This wine is from California, and like many others that I really like, it is blend of several grapes. Just in case you don’t have this memorized yet, the more grapes that get blended into one wine the more flavors and textures the wine has. Think of a wine as a grilled hamburger. Everyone knows what that smells like, tastes like and feels like in your mouth. If you put the hamburger on a bun, you still know what it smells, tastes and feels like but it’s more than just the burger by itself. Now, if you add lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, no onion, and cheese, you have a whole new set of smells, flavors and textures. And, truthfully, doesn’t a burger with all the fixings, just the way you like them, taste better than a plain old patty on a plate? So, why can’t the same thing be true of a bottle of wine?
With wines made in this country, the law is that to claim one grape variety on the label it has to be 75% that grape. (One plain beef patty to go.) Fortunately for us, most wines are not 100%, we just don’t know it because the labels don’t tell us. And, even more fortunately for us, there are many that are blended, without 75% one variety, and they do tell us on the label what they are made of. (One whopper to go!) The new wine for this week is one of these blends – Wattle Creel Triple Play.
It’s a really neat story about this winery. The couple who owns it bought it in the mid-1990’s. They had gotten a call from friends in Sonoma about a winery property that was for sale, they drove up from Arizona, looked at it, and twenty-four hours later decided to buy! If it weren’t for wine friends, we’d have no friends at all. Now, they’re some of the beautiful sights we drive by when we are lucky enough get to California wine country for a week. But we get to drink their wines, so there!
Triple Play Red Blend, its official name, is made from grapes that come from the Yorkville Highlands in Mendocino County. Mendocino is an a wine area that is located across the northern top of Sonoma and Napa counties. I, for one, have never had a wine from Mendocino that I didn’t really like. This one is a blend is made from 93% Syrah, 4% Petite Sirah and 3% Viognier. Obviously, this wine could be called a Syrah (remember the 75% law) and no one would know the difference. But, “Triple Play” is a much cooler name and we know up front that it’s a blend. It has deep, bright purple and red colors in it, smells and flavors of black current, raspberry, dark molasses, and licorice. And it is a real mouthful – fat and juicy. Food-wise, it’s like it was made to go with grilled food. Burgers for sure, but it’s great with a steak too. All in all, this wine is worth every penny of its true price of about $25. Of course, for you, we got several cases at a deal price – $ 7.97!
So, here you are for your July 4th, holiday new grill wine. I’m going to take my own advice and have grilled flank steak and a bottle of Triple Play. Hopefully, you can duck into your own party, waddle (sorry) up to the grill to cook your steak, and hit a home run with a glass of Triple Play while you do. Enjoy!
A PInk in Time . . . . .
By Celia Strong
June 24, 2010
Hot, hot, hot. So time again to think about some hot weather wine that goes with a lot of foods and moods. And since we’ve made it past the hurdle of screw top bottles, maybe we can get into some pink wine too. But let’s agree that we are talking about dry rose wines, ok? OK!
To start with, we have to understand that dry rose wines are made almost just like red wines. That means the grapes are crushed and the juice is fermented into wine with the skins. Removing the skins much earlier limits the color extracted from them to “pink” instead of dark red. And the flavors extracted from the skins change to lighter fruits, red berry in place of black berry, red and tart cherry in place of black cherry, etc. Most wine making countries and regions make rose wines and most red grape varieties have been used somewhere to make a rose wine. Of course, the grape varieties used account for differences in the wines, just like red wines.
Our newest rose comes to us from the Veneto region in northeastern Italy. Its winery is Santi, which most of us are very familiar with because of their Pinot Grigio, Valpolicella and Soave. And, knowing the quality of these three familiar wines, an assumption that the rose will follow in their great tradtion is safe to make. This wine is actually a Rose of Bardolino. Bardolino is a red wine from this region made from the same grapes as the Valpolicella. It is really just a lighter weight version of the Valpolicella. So, our new rose is made from 65% Corvina, 30% Rondinella and 5% Molinara. Its color is very close to the dark pink shade of watermelon juice. Its bouquet is ripe strawberries and wild cherries and its acidity is clean and refreshing. And, yes, we get to drink it chilled, closer to a white wine temperature, for sure.
Some of us were lucky enough to taste this new Rose, on its very first day in South Carolina, last week at the Plums wine dinner. There we had it with gazpacho topped with crab meat. That gazpacho was made with a watermelon base (Guess how i know what color the wine really is!) with small dice vegetables and a hint of spiciness. And the soup and wine were wonderful together – visually and gastronomically. And, there are lots of other foods you can put this wine with: raw tomatoes – sliced with basil leaves and fresh mozzarella, diced into a salsa with other vegetables and fruits, with sushi, with shrimp, with BBQ, with salmon hot and cold, with shellfish (think mussles provencal), and lots lots more.
And now that the wine has arrived on our shelves, there is no reason not to try some. You’ll love how it looks, you’ll love how it tastes, and you’ll love what it costs ($9.99). If we can’t get along with rose wines at this time of year, something’s wrong somewhere. So come try it and enjoy!
One Red Hot Wine
By Celia Strong
June 17, 2010
So I hope everyone is keeping comfortable in this weather. As you know, we’ve talked about a lot of different and new white wines so far this summer. (We do count summer as starting about April here, don’t we?) The weather the last couple of days made me decide it’s time to talk about the red wine that tastes better when you drink it slightly chilled.
This wine is from the Beaujolais area located on the southern tip of the Burgundy wine region in eastern France. And the wine is named for its place of origin, Beaujolais. (Beaujolais is about the size of Rhode Island.) The thing is there are many different levels of wine made in this area and those levels change the name on the bottle and, to a noticeable extent, the wine in the bottles. But, let’s start at the beginning. It is amusing that even though this area is legally part of the great Burgundy region, many grape growers and wine makers in the parts of Burgundy north of Beaujolais pretend that these wines are not from their region. They can get away with this partly because Beaujolais wine is made from a different grape variety – Gamay. This grape’s wines are far lighter than most reds, with very very few tannins like other reds and with a noticeable acidity to replace the tannins. It is this acidity that makes these wines taste better chilled. Think about a chilled glass of any white wine that you like compared to a room temperature glass of the same wine, Yuck to the warm glass, right? To achieve this acidity, and to gather flavors from the grapes, the winemakers here use a process called “carbonic maceration” when they ferment their wines. This process keeps these wines light bodied, very fruity and acidic. So, if we accept that acidity needs chilling to taste and drink better, then Beaujolais/Gamay wines need some chilling to taste better. About 30 to 45 minutes in the fridge will do it just right.
Within Beaujolais, there are legal levels. Some of these we don’t see here, so we’ll skip them, but the important and better ones we do see, so here goes. The basic level of these wines that we see is Beaujolais-Villages. This wine is a couple of steps up the ladder from the lowest level. It is made from grapes from designated villages within the region. Because these grapes to not come from just one village, their wines are given the region’s names with the generic “villages” designation. There are lists of the approved villages in big wine books, but I thought we might skip that list for now.
The next step up is the wines made from grapes from just one village. These wines are labeled with that village name and the name Beaujolais is usually not seen. It is assumed that we know the village names and that we know its a Beaujolais village. There are now ten villages approved to make their own wines, and, over the years, I have seen wine geeks light matches and name the ten, from lightest to heaviest, or vice versa, before the match burns out. Go frat houses!! Anyhow, the list is, from heaviest to lightest, Moulin-a-Vent (This means windmill and there is one in the vineyards.), Morgan, Julienas (Supposedly Julius Caesar owned vineyards here.), Chenas, Saint-Amour, Fleurie, Cote de Brouilly, Chiroubles, Regnie and Brouilly. The first four heavier ones can be drunk for up to ten years after their vintage. The remaining six are generally better drunk younger, although good ones in good years do last longer. And, of course, this all depends on how you like them. Within the realm of French wine laws these ten wines are called the Cru Beaujolais, and the name of the town is the cru. (The work “cru” in French refers to the growth of the grapes from a specific area.)
Of the ten cru Beaujolais, I have a really soft spot for one of them – Regnie. One reason is because the name of the village has some reference, probably in old French, to kings or, because it ends with an “e,” to queens. Even though tradition has Regnie being the first vineyards planted in Beaujolais by the Romans, it was the last one of the ten crus to be granted cru status. When Regnie got its cru declared in 1988, I was just starting to work in wine, and I’ve always felt like Regnie and I came along together. Many lovers of Beaujolais wines say this is their favorite because it eptomizes what a Beaujolais should be. Its flavors are red currant and raspberries; it is clean and crisp (not a normal term for red wines). And, price-wise, no Beaujolais wines are expensive. Maybe, once in a while, a cru gets up into the teens for price. But, right now, we have some Duboeuf Regnie on sale for $5.97. For sure, I tasted this one. For sure, I got some for home. And for sure, it’s a treat to enjoy it in this hot weather. It really is a red hot (weather) wine. Enjoy!
By Celia Strong
June 3, 2010
Oh no! Please, not another color of wine to figure out what to drink when and with what! No, promise, but green wine does have a couple of different meanings at this point. In the world of organic, sustainably farmed and biodynamically farmed grapes, there is a new term for some wines, “green wine.” And, at some point, we’re going to have to talk about those green wines. But, today, we’re going to talk about a Portuguese wine called “Vinho Verde,” literally translated as “green wine.”
First of all, don’t get nervous. This wine is not green in color at all. The name refers to drinking the wine as young, or green, as possible. (Just so you’re not distracted, these wines range from lemon to straw shades of yellow, like many other white wines.) These wines are light and fresh and drinking them really young makes sure that you get them as light and fresh as possible. The lightness comes from the grapes, which are used, and inlcudes a somewhat lighter level of alcohol (9% to 11%) and the freshness comes from the natural acidity.
For a little history on these wines, Vinho Verdes come from a northern region of Portugal, called Minho. There are written records from 870 A.D. that describe tax breaks for religious orders planting vineyards in this area and there are export records of Vinho Verde to England in 1788. The Vinho Verde region was declared and defined in 1908 and the regulations for production of the wine were passed in 1929. In 1984, Vinho Verde was officially recognized as a DOC wine. As of 2005, there were over 30,000 growers in the region, most of whom train their vines to grow up high, off the ground. They use trees, fences, telephone poles, whatever they can reach with ladders when it’s time to harvest the grapes. Generations ago this upward movement of the vines was due to the growers needing the ground space for other, more edible foods. (In the 16th century, when corn came to Europe from the Americas, regulations were passed that banned the vines of Vinho Verde to the borders of the fields.) Now, with more experience and science under their belts, they find that the dampness on the ground is not good for the grapes because it causes rot and grapes diseases.
Even though we only see white Vinho Verdes here, they do make small amounts of red wines and even some roses. For the whites, according to Portuguese wine laws there are recommended grape varieties and permitted varieties. This is not what we usually learn about Eurpopean wine laws, but it works here. The two better grapes that are used to make Vinho Verde are Alvarinho and Loureiro. For those of you who have had, or heard of, Spanish Albarino wines, Alvarinho is the Portuguese name for the same grape. Loureiro is a local grape variety. Both of these grapes do well in the granite-based and sandy soil of the region and can sustain and bring to their wines, the high acidity from the soil.
So, what about these wines? As we said earlier, they are light and fresh and not overly high in alcohol. They also have a small touch of spritziness in them. Not enough to call them even semi-sparkling, but you do feel a little twitch on your tongue. All of these attributes mean they are meant to be drunk not only young, meaning green, but also very, very chilled. And, of course, we have several for you to try, inlcuding our new one – Twin Vines Vinho Verde. This wine comes in a beautiful, green painted bottle (how appropriate, green paint) with a screw top. And it is everything you would expect a Vinho Verde to be – it is light, it is fresh, it is acidic, it is touched with a spritz, it is easy drinking, it is perfect summer quaffing wine. And how much is it? Well, these wines don’t come with high price tags, but Twin Vines wins at $ 5.99. Way to go! And, yes, there’s plenty for everyone to try some and come back for more. Enjoy!
And a Fine Time Was Had by All
By Celia Strong
May 20, 2010
Again, a wine thing that was fun – good food, good wine, good company. What can you do? Last night was a dinner with an Italian slant to the food and Italian wines to go with it. And, of course, a great speaker to lead us through the wines. So, let’s go through the meal, as hard as it is the morning after when I’m still tired and full, because I ate almost all of every course, and I would rather just remember everything and not re-live it right away. Oh well.
We started with a glass of Melini Orvieto Classico Secco. That is the true, correct name of the wine, but you can shorten it to just Melini Orvieto because we only have one in stock and that will get you to it. Orvieto is a small town on a hill in the land-locked region of Umbria in central Italy. If you look at a map of Italy and its wine regions, they all have either a coastline or a river as one of their boundaries. Umbria is just there, in northern central Italy, surrounded by hills, beautiful hills they are, but no water. Orvieto is this region’s claim to wine fame, and the Melini is delightful – light, clean, dry and, in a very good sense, unassuming. That means its perfect summer sipping wine, and at $7.49 a bottle, you can sip all you want. We had our sips with a home made salmon “pate” that kept us sipping, of course!
Next came the “seafood” course. For this, we had Santi Soave Classico, from the northeastern part of Italy near Venice. Soave is the Italian word for smooth which pretty much describes this white wine. It is dry, medium bodied, and, yes, smooth. That’s what makes it so pleasant. But the Soave is more complex than the Orvieto and so it goes with more foods and flavors. We had it with shrimp in a truffle butter sauce and the two were magical together. This proves to me that we should all be drinking more good Soave because it gets us away from whatever our usual grapes are and opens our mouths and minds to new opportunities. And all that for $12.99.
For our entree, we got crazy and had two wines with the one course. Doing this at a dinner has always been a favorite way of mine to learn the differences between wines (It is easier to see comaprisons and remember them.) and decide for myself which ones I like better with the foods. For these two wines, we went to two different regions of Italy. On our left, we had Melini Chianti Classico “Isassi.” Everyone has had some drinking experience with a Chianti, an area in Tuscany that is probably more well known than any other wine region. Chiantis have a huge range of styles, qualities and legal levels of less expensive to very expensive. This Chianti is dry, almost earthy, with mild cherry flavors and hints of nuts. At $13.99, it is a value priced, mid-level Chianti. In our right hand glass, we had Santi Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso. A long name, I know, which all means something, but you can ask for Santi Valpolicella. This is a red from near Venice and, again, the $13.99 price is deceiving for how much wine you get. Full of fruit flavors, juicy textures and layers of subtleties, this wine can be used all summer with your grill. We had homemade asparagus ravioli with a tomato cream sauce with these two wines and it was tough – choosing a favorite I mean. Most of us didn’t choose because both wines were so good, alone and with the food, and even second glasses didn’t help. (I’m sure the second glasses helped, just not the deciding part.)
For dessert, we had a sweet wine from a little island near Sicily. Not too sweet, the Pellegrino Passito de Pantelleria was perfect with the olive oil cake we had. I hear its also perfect poured over toasted pound cake and peach slices. I think I’ll try that for my entree one time so I don’t get so full.
There us one thing more I have to tell you about these wines. In case you hadn’t noticed, they all (except for the dessert) had the work “classico” in their names. This is really pretty important in the world of Italian wines. It is a “sign” to you that the wine is from a better part of the area it comes from. This is because, with the centuries of background that these wines have, the “classico” means more classic style and flavors. And, as you can see from these wines and their prices, better doesn;t have to break the bank.
So, once again, good food and good wine makes good friends. And fun times. But wait, this is Beaufort, and we all know that. Let’s just keeping trying new wines and finding new favorites. Enjoy!
Grooner, Grooner, Where Are You?
By Celia Strong
May 13, 2010
So, hope all is well with everyone. And do I have my next favorite sipping wine for you. (Actually, sipping is too delicate a word for how well this wine goes down, but it’s a far nicer sounding word than what I’d like to use.)
For the first time, we’re going to talk about an Austrian wine. Over the last eight years, or a little longer, a grape that is grown almost exclusively in Austria has finally gotten me hooked. For those eight years or so, any time you travelled to a bigger city, there were always multiple versions of this grape on any wine list at restaurants that kept up with the latest and greatest. For some reason, though, these wines never really caught hold here, even on the lists of big-to-do restaurants in Charleston and Hilton Head. But, Friday, I tasted a new one and I am definitely going to catch up now.
The grape variety for this wine is Gruner Veltliner. Gruner Veltliner is a white variety, grown mostly in Austria, like I said, and bits in the Czech Republic, and, I think, one or two in California. This is considered to be a very food friendly wine making grape, good when drunk young so its fresh and clean, but also able to age, and morph into another version of itself. In the vineyards of Austria, the Gruner Veltliners from the steep vineyards of the Danube River, to the west of Vienna, make what are considered pure, minerally wines. Down in the flatter vineyards of the plains, the predominant flavors of the wine become more peach and citrus with spicy notes that include not only pepper but baking spices like cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. Think Chinese Five Spice blend and you’ll have it! Historically, the variety claims to go back to Roman times, so it seems to have as long a history as most of the other grapes grown in Europe. If you’re into DNA testing, Gruener Veltliner is the child of two other varieties – one being Gewurztraminer (hence the spiciness) and the other not know yet. Just like kids these grapes, aren’t they? Make them, raise them, and turn them in to good wines!
Most wines made from this grape are labeled “so and so’s” Gruner Veltliner, almost always an Austrian/German sounding name. Which makes sense considering their place of origin. Since they became popular, we’ve had two on the shelf because there was always someone who asked for one. Looking at our new Gruner, we have to remember that sometimes, the name on any given wine can scare away some shoppers and attract others. For a long time, we’ve all bought and drunk wines from Australia and California with all kinds of fun/crazy/goofy names. So, now the name of this new Gruner Veltliner – “Grooner.” That’s it, Grooner Gruner Veltliner.
Grooner is a Gruner Veltliner from the valley vineyards where the spicy flavors come out more. My first taste of this wine was baking spices and right away I though of sushi, soy sauce, pickled ginger, and, yes, Chinese Five Spice blend. My second little sip took me to Thanksgiving dinner. And, finally, my third sip took me to all kinds of places, food-wise and otherwise – riding the golf cart around the neighborhood with my husband, taking a long hot bath, a great glass of wine for the cook, perfect brunch wine, and lots more. All in all, its been a long time since I’ve been this excited, and, yes, I know I get excited about a lot of wines and I mean it all. I guess the allure of this one is that I’ve finally found a Gruner Veltliner that I really like and want to drink and I feel like I can now justify the trend that hit the U.S. wine business years ago. Oh well, better late than never, and at least I waited for the best! Oh, I almost forgot, it’s only $10.99. So, yes, I can lay in a supply for the house. Hope you like it too. Enjoy!
Eat and Drink, Eat and Drink
By Celia Strong
Apr. 29, 2010
And that’s what wine dinners are for. Of course, that’s from the attendees point of view. Truly, they are a chance for a restaurant to show off what they can do, for the wine companies to show off some of their wines, and for the customers to see how they might be able to use different wines in their own eating and drinking lives. Not only is the restaurant trying to put out its best, and you know what you’re going to eat before you go in the door, but there’s someone there who knows the wines well and is there to share information with you on the wines.
Last week, about 30 of us die hard, loyal Beaufort eaters and drinkers got a chance to attend a great wine dinner at Bistro Patois (their first one ever) with wines for well known Burgundy producer Louis Latour. The whole evening was great for several reasons – the chef did his research on traditional Burgundian foods and practiced his recipes before we got there, the wines were chosen to go with his courses and were used in the cooking as well, the guest speaker knew and loved the wines, the restaurant staff treated us all like VIPs, and the VIPs were all great guests.
Unfortunately, I can’t reproduce the dinner for you, but I can tell you about the wines. We started with a traditional Burgundian “cocktail” called a Kir Royale. This is made by adding a splash of Creme de Cassis (Black Currant Liqueur) to a glass to Cremant de Bourgogne, the name for bubbly made in Burgundy. Latour handles a Cremant by Simmonet Febvre, located in the town of Chablis at the northern tip of the region. This particular Cremant is above and beyond most Cremants from Burgundy because it uses two tradtional Champagne grapes (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) and this not the norm. AT $18 retail, this wine is less than half the price of most Champagnes and spectacular. I always have several bottles at home, just in case I might need them. With this first course, we had two different Chardonnays – Latour Grande Ardeche ($10) and Latour Vire-Clesse ($18). It’s not usual to get two wines with one course, but over the years I have found it’s far more fun and far more educational because you can taste each wine with the food, and each by itself and see which one you like better which way. For the dinner last week, our tasters seemed to be split half and half over which one they liked better but no one said they both weren’t really good. For our entree, we had two red wines – Latour Bourgogne Rouge ($13) and Latour Marsannay Rouge ($16). Both these wines are 100% Pinot Noir, and very different from each other just like the whites were. Again, our tasters seemed split on which they preferred with our food. Every table, though, did talk among themselves about the differences and what they’d used each wine for at home. Finally, for dessert, we went back the Cremant, this time without the Cassis added. Boy, is that a good bubbly!
I’ve always found wine dinners to be one of the great parts of the wine business. Even though I’m usually working them in some capacity or another, I do get to “visit” with friends, and learn at least one more thing about a wine that I didn’t know before, and get people liking new wines that they can add to their repertoire of favorites, and have a chance to eat at new restaurants and old favorites ones. Besides all that, the one added benefit that you get from coming to wine dinners, is being able to buy the wines used that night at a discounted price. I know its hard when there are alot of different things going on, but it’s a shame to miss this kind of opportunity. So, stay tuned for future dinners, and tastings, drink well. Enjoy!
A Perfect 100
By Celia Strong
Apr. 22, 2010
Oh, oh. A wine score. But not really. A wine score is only as good as the scorer and the other wines he or she has scored in the past and what other wines are done at the same time. I’m sure most of you have heard of or read about different scores for wines over the years. Sometimes, one wine even gets different scores from different sources. In theory, wine evaluating, and the score that marks the evaluation, is an objective process. But, because evaluators are all human and therefore bound up in their personal whatevers, it is difficult to get a totally objective score. And it’s even more difficult to boil it down to one number, which is why some wine magazines use one to three stars and other non-numerical rating systems.
For someone selling wine to customers, there is a better way to look at how to score wines: those that sell and those that don’t! Wines that customers come back and ask for second, third and fourth times are higher scoring than those that don’t get asked for. Sometimes, we have to introduce new wines that we’ve found to you, but, once that is done, if the wines don’t sell themselves they have low scores. That’s when we move on to the next new one and, hopefully, take you there too. Wineries, even if they don’t admit it, work on the same theory. Despite what they might get as numerical scores from “official” publications, the real score comes from their sales and they make their wines accordingly.
We’ve talked before about the ongoing tasting of new wines, a continuous, never ending process. Remember, some of us get paid to taste! And when we’ve found a new good wine, you’ve been the first to know about it. Many times, I like to go back and re-taste a new one, in different circumstances and with different people. This is a way of re-enforcing my first “score” and, in some happy cases, raising that “score.” And that’s what just happened with this week’s new wine! Banfi, a very well known winery in Tuscany, with a great reputation for Chiantis and other wines, has for years made a wine called “Centine.” What’s new is that the Centine label now has not only the red, but a rose and a white.
Banfi Centino Rosso (red) is the original wine of this group. This wine is a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet and Merlot. Sangiovese is the predominant grape for Chianti and one of the most widely grown red varieties in Tuscany. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, while they are more recognized as the French varieties of Bordeaux, have been in grown Tuscany for centuries. (One of the most entertaining wine family stories is about the marriage of a Medici to a princess of Bordeaux several hundred years ago, and how she brought grapes with her.) This wine is only aged in barrels for six months or so and then bottled. This keeps it young and fresh for you, easy drinking with fruit flavors on top of the spice of the Sangiovese.
One step away from this red, is the new rose. Roses from Europe are dry, lighter colored versions of red wines. This means they are made from red grapes but just get less time with the skins so they pick up less color from those skins. Centine Rose is the same three grape varieties as the red, but the wine is pulled off the skins after just fourteen days. Not only does this give it a lovely purpley pink color but lots of berry flavors and more acidity than tannin so you can drink it chilled. For some reason, roses are very popular for us right now – probably because Beaufort wine buyers know what great wines they are for this kind of weather! Go Beaufort! Centine Rose is a great addition to our selection.
And, now for the new white – Centine Bianco. This is the one I’m really excited about. It is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. But, this is not all that strange a blend for Tuscany because, again, marriages, wars and peoples’ travels spread grape varieties around Europe. The great thing about blends is you get more flavors and textures from more grapes. When the blend is as well done as this one, you get it with your first sip, second glass and with every bottle. I’ve been able to taste this wine three separate times now and every time it is spectacular – nice and dry, not too puckery with just a touch of softness, a long finish, layers of textures as you roll it around in your mouth and swallow it. Yum yum.
So what about the scores on these wines? The Centine Red has a long track record of being a crowd pleaser. The rose is already selling itself. And the white? This is the one that gets the “perfect 100.” Oops, I forgot one detail. A “perfect 100″ also means that the price is fair for what you get in your glass. I figure under $10 for this wine is more than fair. Perfect, perfect. You need to try all three! Enjoy!
No No No No No!
By Celia Strong
Apr. 15, 2010
If that isn’t a perfect headline for tax day nothing is. With that in mind, I knew we had to have a quick, good bottle to turn to and I thought we might talk about wines with no oak. This is a current trend in wines right now and has been for the last five years or so, especially with white wines and Chardonnay in particular. (In the world of wine, which goes back centuries and millenia, depending on how far back you want to go, five years really is current!)
No oak means just that, nothing more and nothing less: no oak fermenting barrels, no oak barrel aging, no wood chips floated in tanks for the less expensive ones. This means that these wines have the grape flavors and their soil and climate flavors, maybe a bit of yeast, but that’s it. Not a bad thing when you consider all the heavily oaked wines we’ve all tasted and drunk over the years. No oak, or heavy oak, or any degree in between is not a quality statement on any wine, just its style as determined by the winemaker and the customers for each wine. For a long time, before the no oak trend, many California wines, white wines, were very oaked because that was the style that was popular with Americans and what they came to expect their wines to taste like. If you think about it, where would some of the big name wineries be if they hadn’t delivered what consumers wanted? There would be no Rombauer Chard, no Mer Soleil Chard, no Newton Unfiltered Chard, and, not to ignore other varieties, no Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc, no Conundrum and on and on. But drinkers’ palates change and so do wine styles change. Some of you may remember what was a popular slogan for a while – “ABC – anything but Chardonnay.” Suppose someone came up with that phrase to get away from not just Chardonnay as the only acceptable white wine but from very oaky Chards as well?
Some of the first Chadonays with no oak came from Australia. Down there they coined the phrase “unoaked,” a completely made up name, that seemed to work. When California winemakers started making this style wine, they didn’t, or couldn’t, use the “unoaked’ name, but came up with their versions of it. To keep everything confusing, as they like to do out on our west coast, some wineries make only one style, oak or no oak, while others make both styles and label reading is essential, and still others make both but change the name completely on one so you don’t know what you’re doing when you look at the shelf. All of these wines range in price from under $10 to over $30 or $40 dollars. Like with anything else, the price is determined by the quality of the ingredients and the skill of the maker. Since oak is out of the equation completely, these wines are a chance to taste what the grapes have to offer from different and distinct parts of California. Over the five years or so that this style of wine has been growing, we’ve had a chance to see more and more come into our market. And, now, they are an integral part of the world of American Chardonnays.
Having said that, I thought I’d give you a current list of some of the no-oak Chards available here, and then, my favorite for today. This list is just American ones because looking to Australia, New Zealand, France, Chile, and Argentina makes it too many and, truthfully, too big a can of worms. (Or should I say too big a bottle of wine? No, no, no such thing!) Some of the California no oak Chards are Tolosa, Silver, Morgan Metallico, Sonoma, and Four Vines.
My favorite for the week is No Chardonnay. And what a cute name that is! No is the name on the label, no kidding, and the back label lists the reasons for the name: no oak barrels, no malolactic fermentation, no cork, no winery, no attitude, no kidding. This wine is from Monterey, California, and has really clean, crips flavors of ripe apples, melons, peaches, a touch of coconut and a hint of tangerine zest. What they forgot to list on the label was no high price. Usually this Chard sells for about $13. But guess what. It’s got a summer deal price of $9.99. How can you not try it, especially with taxes getting paid, refunds not here yet and the days get longer and warmer? No way! (And for those of us who also like to quote and drink the “ABC” slogan once in awhile , there is a No Sauvignon Blanc too.) So no reason for not trying No. Enjoy!
True or False – Once a Zin Always a Zin?
Apr. 8, 2010
Hello, hello, hello. And happy yellow stuff all over everything. Too bad the sinus headaches make it so hard to enjoy a nice glass of wine. But I keep on trying. Last week was our monthly group tasting. This time we did red Zinfandels in brown bags, all priced from $10 to $15 retail.
Like we always do for these “brown baggers,” we have to have a base line of common points in all the wines, this time red Zins and price range, and then enough of a variety within the selection to see some differences even though they all have similarities. The tasters this time were some the same from last time and some new. Also a good thing because there is then continuity in our favorites and new points of view. One of the most poignant comments this time was really very enlightening because one taster said, “There really are differences in all of the Zins!” Apparently, and this isn’t the first time I’d heard this (I just forget it because it seems so common sense to me.), many drinkers/tasters think all wines of one grape taste more the same than they actually do. I suppose, years ago, we all expected every California Chardonnay to taste the same, and when they really didn’t, we learned the names of the ones we liked. Then, when we all got into Merlots, the same thing happened – and Pinot Grigios, etc. As each person moves into a new grape variety, they have to learn the range of wines that grape can make, different flavors and textures from different soils, climates and winemakers, and which ones they prefer. All of this is one of the great things about wine drinking – there is always a new one to like and there’s always something new to learn. Someone who thinks they know it all about one grape or one wine really knows a lot less than they think. Not only have they shut the door on learning more but also they’ve cut themselves off from their next favorite wine.
But enough about that! What did we like at our tasting last week? Two of the Zins proved to be the “bar none” favorites of the group. One is the Joel Gott Zinfandel. Joel Gott is a Napa winemaker well known for his Cabernet. His Zin has a California appellation on it bottle, meaning the grapes come from (possibly) all over the state. This Zin has a really good structure, which means its textures. It has tannins more like a Cab but not as many. With more tannins, the fruit flavors which abound in Zins became a part of the wine and we were able to enjoy both the flavors and textures in a balanced wine. Because most of our tasters were not familiar with this style of Zin, many were surprised it was a Zin and liked it very much. (Usually this style of Zin costs more so maybe that makes them less approachable. Of course, that means this one is a great find!)
The other favorite was Immortal Zinfandel. Yeh, it’s a strange name to me too, but they didn’t ask me either. This Zin is from the Lodi area of California where a lot of heavier style, very fruity, very smooth with softer tanninis, more alcohol Zins come from. For the most part, this style of Zin is very popular because we Americans like our wines up front and in our faces. And wines from Lodi do just that. One of the tasters chose this as his favorite and I told him I knew he would choose that one. Very surprised, he asked me how I knew. Because, several months ago he liked the Cabernet from the same winery from the same Lodi area. And now you know why you need to pay attention to where the wines come from – you too can predict ones you’ll like. (And, if I’m not careful, you won’t need us anymore.)
The other Zins we tasted, and there were three others, were good but these two were the winners. Brown bag tastings are always eye-opening because you’re forced to listen to your mouth when you can’t read the label. And there’s a lot to learn in there! Different styles stand out more and your head is forced to recognize them. New styles that you haven’t had before in a certain grape can be good and you can like them. Styles from different soils and climates pop out and they are re-enforced in your mind. A winemaker’s style of wine shows, assuming you’ve had some of his wines before, and you can see you like his wines regardless of grape variety. How many things can you learn and drink at the same time? The more the better! Enjoy!
Some Bunny Loves Us!
By Celia Strong
Apr. 1, 2010
Hi again. First thing we need to cover this week is that this is our Easter column and, if you don’t get to it before this weekend, it’s too late. All in all, the timing on this is very confusing because I do have to write it ahead of time and by the time you read it and come in to the store to see what you want to see I am on to another week. Then, when I do see you and you say “last week’s” article, I have absolutely no idea which week you’re on or I’m on. Bottom line, this week’s we have to cover this week, because if we don’t we’ll be talking about Easter next year and I know none of us will ever remember that far ahead. So, today is Thursday and Easter is three days from today. Hopefully, we can all get it right.
Easter dinner is another one of those holiday meals where almost everyone needs at least some wine – even people who normally don’t have wine with dinner. The usual choices for dinner, that we see at the store anyhow, are either lamb or ham (no intentional rhyme). Both of these meals can be greatly enhanced with an appropriate wine choice and every year we try to find special selections to cover your bases. This year, as luck would have it, I went to some luncheons (yes, more food and more wine!) that featured Spanish wines. Usually, I wouldn’t put Spanish and Easter in my head at the same time, but over the couple of days since it occurred to me that everything that was said about these wines with food covered our Easter dinners.
For lamb, a sturdy red is usually the best choice. Keeping in mind that there is a difference in lamb (New Zealand vs. American), the exact cut of meat, the exact preparation, etc., a red Rioja will make a great choice. These wines come from a region in northern central Spain. They are based on the Tempranillo grape with little bits of Graciano (a local variety) and, sometimes, a little bit of Cabernet. Depending on vintage, producer and price, there are a wide range of styles of Rioja available. All the ones from lunch last week were from El Coto and Baron de Ley. The El Coto is a great everyday wine (I always have a bottle at the ready in the house in case that’s what I feel like drinking when i get home), for $15, but I’m thinking a step up might be better for Easter dinner. At $20, Museum is a great one, not strictly speaking a Rioja because it’s from a nearby region called Cigales, but it is made from Tempranillo and has enough structure to go well with your lamb. Truthfully, it is a spectacular wine for the price. Going up the next step, Baron de Ley Finca Monasterio at $55 is one of the great wines – the top of the line from this winery, with world-class flavors and textures, this wine is a yardstick for all other Riojas. When I first tasted Finca, I went right out and bought some for myself – had to have it! I have had it with lamb and it was wonderful, but, for after Easter, I also have it with salmon, roast chicken, lean beef and machego cheese on crusty bread. For me, a great wine comes first, then the food.
Now, for the ham. If you go back to what used to be the basics, red wine with red meat, white wine with white meat and fish, then, it makes sense, pink wine with pink meat. Ham being pink calls out, screams out might be more accurate, for a good dry rose. Still with El Coto, their Rioja Rosado is perfect. This wine is made from Tempranillo and Garnacha, the Spanish name for Grenache. Because roses have acidity, they are meant to be drunk chilled. This keeps their flavors fresh and vibrant. And it helps the wines pair well with their foods. This acidity is also what makes these wines good matches for hams and their saltiness. In addition, and this is not technically relevant, but the lovely shade of pink in this rose makes it perfect as a welcome wine for Spring. Once you try it with ham, I suspect you’ll find all kinds of other reasons to have some.
Hopefully now, you’ll get a chance to read this before Easter. That way you’ll have a chance to try some of these wines. If not, don’t give up, it’s not too late. We’ll have them after too – at the store and at my house for sure. Some bunny loves us and let’s us drink good wines! So, happy Easter and enjoy!
St Francis Wines and Dines in Beaufort
By Celia Strong
Mar. 25, 2010
Please, don’t read anything into that title that I don’t mean. Hold on for a second and remember who’s saying it and you’ll realize that I mean it a little differently than what you might be thinking. I do come completely from a wine point of view, so I ‘m talking about St Francis Sonoma wines. Last week, the President and CEO of St Francis Sonoma Winery and Vineyards came through Beaufort and stopped for lunch at the new Plums Restaurant and a lucky handful of us got to taste with him.
First, let me tell you how we tasted. Everyone had two glasses in front of them, left and right. I suppose you’re laughing because I labeled them “left” and “right,” but you’d be surprised how even something that seemingly basic gets confused after you taste five or six wines. We did eight wines in all, in sets of two, side by side so we could compare them – two Chardonnays, two Cabernets, two Merlots and two red Zinfandels. All the wines were from St Francis Winery and their sister winery, also in Sonoma, Wild Oak. I had tasted most of the wines before, they are on our shelves for goodness sake and, as we’ve discussed before, I do get paid to drink! It was really fun and interesting to see how the others at lunch liked them and then, the really good part, to hear what the person who lives day in and day out with these wines had to say about them as he tasted with us. Our guest for this tasting was Chris Silva, President, CEO and tasting leader extraordinaire!
Starting with the Chards, the St Francis was in the left, first glass, and the Wild Oak was in the right. We put them in this order for a couple of reasons, the first one costs less and the second one, although somewhat lighter in body, is far more complex. The St Francis is a little oakier, which adds to its body and is a great everyday Chard at its $11.99 price. The Wild Oak is pricier, usually, and is one of my favorite California Chards since I first tasted it a couple of years ago. I like it because it reminds me of a four or five year old French Puligny-Montrachet at half the price. Of course, for lunch, the retail price went from $26 down to $16. Like I said, a lucky handful.
Second flight (that’s what sets of wines at a tasting are called) was the two Cabernets – St Francis and Wild Oak. Usually you would expect to taste the Merlots before the Cabernets, but, as Chris explained, St Francis for years was known as a big Merlot wine so it should follow the Cabs. Again, the St Francis Cab, full and juicy and unctuous, was less expensive ($17) than the Wild Oak ($26), which was more complex and Bordeaux-like in style. I got a fabulous quick taste of black licorice in it that was killer!
The Merlot flight was third, by now we had our entrees (all of which were great) and everyone at the table has become best friends. (Actually, there was some much repeated birthday song singing, glass clinking, laughing, and all the other usual wine developed noise and motion.) As Chris had said, St Francis was known for their Merlots, and these did not disappoint us. Again, the St Francis ($17) was rich and full and the Wild Oak ($26) was more subtle and complex. In talking about these three flights overall, we came to the conclusion that the St Francis wines were great and priced for everyday drinking and the Wild Oak wines, because they were a step up the wine hierarchy, were Saturday night wines.
Our last set of wines was two St Francis red Zinfandels – the St Francis Old Vine ($17) on the left and the St Francis Pagani Vineyard ($30) on the right. Chris told us the history of the Pagani vineyard, start by a Pagani in 1880. Over the years, the land, and the grapes, passed from generation to generation, with St Francis making the wines. Years ago, when Chris had first started working at St Francis, he asked a ninety year old Pagani (the original’s grandson) what his secret to a long life was. The answer – red wine of course, but also no marriage and no kids. Apparently that worked for him, but for some of us, either married, with kids or some combination of, drinking red wine is a way of life also, maybe just to cope, but definitely a way of life.
So, lunch was great, wines were great, new friends were great. All in all, a perfect Thursday afternoon. The icing on the cake was yet to come, though – special pricing on some of these wines. And not just for the few of us at lunch but for the bottles on the shelves at the store so everyone can get a chance to try and enjoy them. Wild Oak Chardonnay is at $16 and the Wild Oak Merlot is at $20. Personally, I’m going to get some because at these prices you can drink Saturday night on any night of the week. I may get confused the next morning when I wake up and try to figure out what day of the week it really is, but so what. The Wild Oak the night before makes up for it. St Francis can eat and drink in Beaufort any time. And we can all be lucky. Enjoy!
Are You Good and Ready?
by Celia Strong
Mar. 18, 2010
So goody, goody, goody! We have back, after months of absence, Murphy Goode wines from Sonoma. (This is pronounced “good” not “goody,” just so you know.) Murphy-Goode is an Alexander Valley based winery, in Sonoma, that has always made very good wines at very reasonable prices. Alexander Valley wines include some very well known, highly rated and highly priced ones, like Jordan Cabernet and Silver Oak Cabernet.
The Murphy-Goode Chardonnay has a Sonoma County appellation on its label, not Alexander Valley, although a good percentage of the grapes come from the Alexander Valley. Legally, 85% of the grapes in a bottle have to come from the named appellation, and this Chardonnay has slightly less than that. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. The advantage to using grapes from near-by locations is added flavors and textures, which are the result of various specific soils and climates. This Chard is also enhanced by some oak barrel aging and some stainless-steel tank aging. Again, added flavors and textures come to you in the bottle. Flavors of Asian spices (five spice is my favorite), pear, a hint of citrus and more all come together to make this a flavor treat for you mouth.
Murphy-Goode Merlot is designated as Alexander Valley fruit on its label. For this wine, hillside and valley grapes are blended to optimize (big word!) the layers of flavors. My favorites are the blackberry and herb ones that remind me a little of Bordeaux reds. In fact, and this changes a little bit from vintage to vintage, there are small amounts of Cabernet, Petit Verdot and Cab Franc blended into this wine to add more to it. No wonder it reminds me a little of red Bordeaux wines, these are all Bordeaux red grapes. In the world of American Merlots, this one is a bargain because of that.
The Cabernet Sauvignon from Murphy Goode is not always labeled as Alexander Valley but, like the Chard, most of the fruit is from there. This is where you can really get a sense of the great quality of grapes that are used for these wines. Alexander Valley Cab is intensely fruity, with lots of cassis, blackberry and chocolate covered cherry flavors and substantial tannins that don’t overpower the fruits. Remember Jordan and Silver Oak.
And, last but not least, is Murphy Goode Wild Card – their blend of Bordeaux red grapes where none of them are close to the 75% minimum needed to claim the grape on the label. The current vintage is the 2004 which blends 55% Merlot, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot. Talk about a great red, this one far exceeds many that cost twice as much.
So, talking about price, are you ready to look at the value pricing on these wines. The Chardonnay, with oak and steel tank aging, blended grapes from several Sonoma locations, exciting spice flavors, can be yours for $12.99. The Merlot, a true Alexander Valley appellation wine, also blended with small percentages of other grapes, is also $12.99. The Cabernet with all its great flavors, is a steal for the same $12.99! And the Wild Card, a little more at $19.99, is so worth it. The only question left is “are you ready?” We’re really glad to have these wines back on our shelves. Good wines at good prices we’re always ready for. I know you must have noticed by now that I’ve kept saying ready this and ready that, but there is a really good reason; the owner of Murphy-Goode is David Ready. Ha-ha. But enjoy!
How Blissful It Is
by Celia Strong
Mar. 11, 2010
Cannot believe how fast time passes. It seems like just last week I was telling you about my monthly Hilton Head tasting for February and now I’ve just done the March one. Must seem like time is flying because February is just a short month, couldn’t possibly be because anyone is getting older or anything. Absolutely not!
So, our group got together again, this time we we 19 tasters and we tasted wines from a Mendocino winery. Mendocino is an area in California that is located across the north end of both Napa and Sonoma valleys. For wine, it has a fabulous reputation for growing really good grapes. In the beginning, when we started hearing about Mendocino (maybe twelve to fifteen years ago), their big success grape was Pinot Noir. We sold a few brands of them, one of which all of us loved and I can’t even remember the name of now. Then, after about selling it for a whole year (we all had it for Thanksgiving turkeys that year.) I found out that Duckhorn Vineyards in Napa had bought that winery to use the land to grow Pinot Noir for their Goldeneye label. That was proof enough for me that Mendocino grew better than good grapes, Pinot Noir in particular. That and the fact that the Goldeneye Pinot Noir was way over $50 a bottle way back then. Just so you know, the flavors and textures of these Pinots were a combination of rich French and mellow California ones – deep red fruit flavors of cherry, cranberry, strawberry, a little black pepper, some earthy undertones, full body with enough tannins to pair well with lots of foods – there was just nothing you couldn’t like about them, except maybe their prices.
A little while later other varieties of wine started coming out with the “Mendocino” appellation on their bottles. Red Zinfandel was the first I remember and they were more than good wines too. Again, these wines were combinations of the big, heavy Zin styles of southern California and the more structured styles of Napa and Sonoma. And, luckily, their prices were not as high as the Pinots’ were. Then, still looking back, the Lake County area of California started to show up as the originating source of some wines (Kendall-Jackson Sauvignon Blanc is one.) and look at that – Lake County is in Mendocino.
Moving forward to today, there is now a winery located in Mendocino called “Bliss.” Good name but, more importantly, good wines at good prices. Mendocino, Bliss wines and their prices were the subject of this month’s tasting. The winery makes a full range of varieties Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Schoolhouse Red (a blend), Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. We don’t have room to talk about all of them here, but of our nineteen tasters, every one of them was someone’s favorite. For the group, though, the Sauvignon Blanc, the Zinfandel and the Schoolhouse Red were the “winners.”
Starting with the Sauvignon Blanc, the group really liked the clean dryness of the wine. As clean and dry as it was, though, it was not light weight, thanks to a teeny bit of oak aging. It also had a hint of baking spice flavors on the finish that they really fell hard for. The Zinfandel was medium bodied, not over-the-top heavy juicy and alcoholic like Zins from warmer climates. And we could all taste the black fruit flavors with touches of pepper spice, licorice and almost a nougat finish. We loved it! The Schoolhouse Red was my favorite, because I really like blends. It is a blend of Cabernet, Zinfandel and Merlot. With all three grapes mixed together you can imagine all the flavors and textures. Of course, I liked it!
Now, for the really good news. Yes, these are all Mendocino wines, says so right on every label, but their pricing and quality doesn’t quite say “Mendocino!” The varietals are all $11 and the Schoolhouse Red is $12. Even when we started selling them, about a year ago, I knew the prices were not up to the normal level for where the wines came from. Now that they have had an “official” tasting and shown so well at the tasting, we all know they are really really value priced. Really, really!
One more thing, just so you know, Bliss also makes a Pinot Noir, I’m sorry to say, though, that its fruit is not from Mendocino only because they couldn’t do it and keep the price in line with their other wines. The Pinot is about $15 a bottle, still good and value priced and well worth trying too.
There was a reason we called this tasting “blissful,” even before we tasted, and now you know why too. Try some of these wines and put a little Bliss in you life. Enjoy!
It’s Hard Work, But . . . .
by Celia Strong
Mar. 4, 2010
Well, I’ve said it before, but I know how jealous some of you get when you hear some of us get paid to drink. So I really enjoy repeating myself. As great as it sounds, though, it’s not always all that great. And a perfect example of what I mean by “not perfect” happened Sunday. One of the bigger wine distributors in South Carolina had their annual trade show in North Charleston. For this event, they bring in a lot of winery people to pour wines at about a hundred tables spread around a hotel ballroom. Some of the tables had two or three-dozen wines at them. Tastings like this include reds and whites, of course, bubbles, dry wines, dessert wines, domestic and imports, a few sakes, maybe a beer, high priced, very high priced, low priced, possibly cheap (these are particularly hard to taste), and if you’re lucky some water to just plain drink. And all of this you get to do in three or four hours.
The great thing about these shows is that you get to taste certain wines once a year at their distributor’s show. On Sunday, for example, there was a long line of tasters at the Silver Oak table. Because there are never sample/tasting bottles of wines like this available, you have to take the time to taste this great Cabernet. And even though you may never buy a bottle, that taste can be used as your “yardstick” to see how other Cabernets measure up. Even if you’re not a fan of Silver Oak, it is considered to be one of the great California Cabs and a taste is a taste. The fun is in finding other Cabs that you and others may not have heard of by name but may well compare in quality with Silver Oak. Often, the lesser known wines don’t come with as high a price tag either.
The other great thing about these shows is that with the winery people there pouring their wines you can find out all kinds of details about the wines. Sometimes it’s more than you need to know but it is interesting. What particular yeast was used to ferment the grapes, what type of oak barrels, what age of oak barrels (if any, of course), amount of sugar in the grapes at harvest, why the new label, how much acidity with up to two decimal points precision, how many or how few bottles were made, how many are in South Carolina (which is all that matters to us), are just some of the points of interest. And, yes, if you taste every wine and listen to everything about every wine you would have to spend more than a few hours doing it. That means you go in with a plan and a list of what you’re looking for. But you have to keep in mind, you’re not there to find wines for yourself and that only you might like. Every bar, restaurant, store buyer/taster there had the responsibility to look out for their customers. (After all, you the customers are the ones paying for us to drink.)
So, what did I find for you at the show on Sunday? Several new wines that, hopefully you’ll enjoy, and one that we’ve sold for years, that I re-tasted, and is still one of the best Cabs for the money. This Cab is Terre Valentine from the Spring Mountain District of Napa. Spring Mountain is a small area of Napa, in the hills, secluded, and Terre Valentine is not that easy to find. For me, this Cabernet is everything a really good Cab should be – good body and tannins, layers of black and dark red fruit flavors, a lingering finish that leaves you wanting another sip. And you get all of this for $35 retail, about a quarter or third of the price of big name Napa cabs. I’ve never had a glass of Terre Valentine that didn’t make me feel better and glad that this is my work.
For new wines, I found several. The first one is a Sauvignon Blanc from the Silver Oak table. Silver Oak makes only Cabernets, but they have another label, “Towmey,” that before now was used for their Merlot. Now Twomey has two Pinot Noirs and a spectacular Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a beautiful looking bottle that has mild oak, white/yellow/orange fruit flavors and a crisp finish. This wine is very limited in availability; the winery is out and our South Carolina distributor has only a very few left of the few they were allocated. At about $23 dollars, this wine is priced in line with other great Napa Sauvignon Blancs, but it is really a treat.
Another new wine we’re getting for you is Peachy Canyon Petit Sirah. Peachy Canyon is known as a Paso Robles red Zin producer. Petit Sirahs are heavier than Zins and really well priced for the weight of their wines. This one is just under $20 and spectacular – really juicy in your mouth, full of black fruit, coffee, licorice flavors. Cook steak and you’ll be happy.
So, that’s the report from this week’s tasting. Maybe all of it didn’t sound that bad to you, because, I guess, it really isn’t. Please keep in mind, that it is hard to remember details on a few after tasting a possible hundred. (Sometimes, it’s hard to remember the name of one bottle the next morning!) But, when you get paid to drink/taste, that’s your job and someone has to do it. Thanks and enjoy your drinking!
Merlot is back!
Feb. 25, 2010
Oopsy, oopsy. It occurs to me we have somehow managed to not talk about Merlot. Over the years, Merlot has gone from being the most popular, biggest selling red wine variety to almost not being mentioned. What’s that all about?
Fifteen years or so ago, Americans were moving forward, with great interest and energy, into wine drinking. For white wines at that point, Chardonnay was queen. For reds, Cabernet Sauvignon was king. Big and bold and heavy and strong and full of tannins, Cab was also the king of Napa Valley in California. If Americans were anything, they were loyal supporters of their own and Napa ruled the world of American wines. Looking back at those years, there was a pattern, at least with us locally, that developed. All the guys swore by their big Cabs and sought out new Napa icons on a daily basis. On a daily basis more became known and available for sale. Unfortunately, many of these big Cabs became overpowering for all of us. And this led to many couples who could not drink the same wine. The female partners of the big Cab drinkers were just not ready to for all the weight and textures of a big Cab. So “hello Merlot. ” Some winemaker, wine writer someone somewhere put out the word that Merlot was a cousin of Cabernet, just little lighter, a little smoother, not so strong and tannic. And for the next four or five years, Merlot was the red wine of choice.
Over these Merlot years, other trends came and went. Cabernets that used to brag about being 100% Cab started to use small amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and other blending grapes to soften their textures and add layers of subtle flavors. Merlot producers who thought their wines were missing some buyers because they were too smooth or light added small percentages of Cabernet to umph up their wines. Then, even though they’d been around for a long time, blends became very acceptable and even favored wines.
In the last five years or so, Merlot has been around but not really looked for like it used to be. Merlot producers continued to make their wines, biding their time until its their turn again. Often, they would find “homes” for their grapes in other wines that did not even mention Merlot in their names. Many Pinot Noirs and Syrahs from California had they flavors augmented by five, ten, even twenty percent Merlot in their bottles. Label laws say that a wine has to be 75% one grape to claim that grape variety as the name of the wine. So poor Merlot lived on but in hiding.
A couple of weeks ago, we got a chance to retaste a Merlot from Washington state. Washington Merlots have always been highly regarded for their quality because the slightly cooler climate gives the grapes a chance to ripen slowly and thereby develop more flavors and textures. This gives the grapes a good chance of showcasing the their flavors of cherry, plum, blackberry, chocolate and roasted coffee beans. It also gives these wines enough tannins to be great red meat wines. Canoe Ridge Merlot is from the Columbia Valley AVA in Washington, in particular a ridge above the Columbia Gorge that is a unique microclimate and soil type made for Merlot growing. Seventeen hours of sunlight each day give the grapes the warm days they need to develop all the flavors they can. The concentration of these flavors is right in your face as soon as you smell or taste this wine. The wine is 100% Merlot, aged in French, American and European oak.
I know all of this great pedigree makes this wine sound expensive. Its usual retail price is about $30 to $35. But, do we have a deal for you! Again! While it lasts Canoe Ridge Merlot is $15.97 per bottle. So, here’s a chance to re-discover Merlot in all its glory. When you smell the aromas of this wine you’ll see why it was able to replace Cab for a while but also why it can stand on its own as a great winemaking grape. Maybe we have let it go by the wayside, but here’s the remedy. Hope it’s as exciting for you as it was for us. Enjoy!
Do your Math right
by Celia Strong
Feb. 4, 2010
So, now I’m back home, so to speak, and still tasting more wine. Today, we’re going to talk about another new one that I warned you about a couple of weeks ago. I even saw it up in my Connecticut wine store for the same price as here. One of the guys there and I had a little talk about it and we both really liked it.
This one is from California and is called “The Sum.” Which is why I said if you do your math right it means you can end up with a really good bottle. Since the name of the wine is not a grape, the assumption is that it’s not 75% one grape variety. The law in the United States is that a wine has to be a minimum 75% of one variety to call it that, like “x cellars” Chardonnay has to be 75% Chardonnay for the label name to be “x cellars” Chardonnay. Less than that 75% and the winery can call the wine anything it wants. And we’ve all seen many names, good, stupid, funny, whatever that may or may not help sell the wine. All these non-varietal names are known as “proprietary” names and include ones like “Opus,” “Prisoner” and others. So, like I said, this label says “The Sum” and I assumed it was a blend. And it is.
There are three grape varieties used to make this wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Sirah. The surprise is that it is 75% Cabernet, with 15% Syrah and 10% Petit Sirah. So, how come the winery didn’t call it a Cabernet? For several reasons, the first being that the same winery does make a Cabernet and didn’t want to confuse the two wines with similar names. The second reason for the proprietary name is that Syrah and Petit Sirah are not the normal blending grapes that we usually think of with Cabernet. And, even though this is an off the beaten path blend, it’s probably one of the best I’ve tasted lately. A good winemaker knows the flavors and textures of his grapes, whether he’s grown them or bought them. Then, once he (or she, of course) decides to go beyond the normal blends and percentages, there are all kinds of doors that can open up.
As drinkers, we have to get to that place too. Whatever is our traditional wine of choice, personally, trying others isn’t going to hurt you. As an example, I am not a huge fan of Malbec but remember the great MCM (Cavas de Crianza) from Christmas time. And, there is nothing sacred about wines that are 100% one variety. Some single grape wines are great, but if you have more grapes you have more flavors and textures. Think of them as children – don’t they grow up better with family, friends, outside interests and activities instead of all alone in a closet? Some winemakers do see their wines as their children. Those that do their math right end up with wonderful wines like “The Sum.” Our end of the deal is to keep trying them. Enjoy!
Connecticut Yankee Drinks Again
by Celia Strong
Jan. 28, 2010
So today, it’s hello from Connecticut. Visiting family for a week, I decided to taste a wine up here, that I’ve had before, and see if what they say about surroundings and atmosphere really do make a difference. For years, the line has been that the wine you’re drinking when you’re proposed to, or your proposal is accepted, the Champagne you drink in the hospital when a baby is born, etc., etc., all the wines at all the special occasions of your life all are supposed to taste better. In some cases, they are the best wine you’ve ever had. For sure, they are remembered as far better and for far longer than other wines.
Maybe this is a chance to talk about wine glasses too. Where I am right now I obviously don’t have my good glasses like at home. So, I guess one of the first observations I need to make is that a glass from which the wine tastes OK is a perfectly good glass. If that weren’ the case, why would you have a second or third glass. There is a huge difference between “judging” or “scoring” a wine and liking it enough to drink some at the end of your day. Both have their importance and both, meaning all types of glasses, have their place.
So, now, about what I’m drinking. I’m back on a Rioja, a Spanish red wine made mostly from Tempranillo grapes. Rioja is a well known region in northern Spain, centered along the river (“rio”) Ja. Because of the Tempranillo grapes used for this wine, it is medium bodied, smooth with mild tannins, a little touch of acidity, and plum, smoke, green olive and dark berry flavors. If you think of all the flavors in a good paella recipe – saffron, pimentos, shellfish, poultry, sausage, arborrio rice – you’ll have a start on what foods go with these wines. If you take that list to the next step, try hamburgers with a green olive relish on them, pasta tossed with olive oil, shellfish and roasted red peppers, a grilled piece of fish with saffron rice and so much more. All of that makes me hungry.
My bottle of choice this week is Ramon Bilboa Rioja Reserva. In Spain, the word”riserva” has legal meanings. In this case, this wine must be aged a minimum 2 years in the cellars and then in the bottle also before you can buy it. While you may pay more for a reserva Rioja (this one is $20 at the store and in Connecticut), you are ensured of certain traits that come from that aging process. And just so you know, most wineries in Spain also make what is called a Crianza (aged wine but not as old as a Reserva) and Gran Reserva (wines aged, legally, longer in barrels and bottles before you can get to them). An interesting tasting with a few friends is a line up of the three of these from Ramon Bilboa. The Gran Reserva costs more, the Crianza less, but my favorite is the one, the Reserva, that I sip as we speak.
And, as we speak, please know that sitting here with my two sisters, both not sharing wine with me for medical reasons, in a glass which is really a plastic cup, the surroundings and company do make it taste better. On the other hand, I have tasted and drunk this wine at home in “proper” stemware and known it was a good wine. But it is just as good to me tonight, so there. Enjoy!
New wines for a New Year
by Celia Strong – Dec 30, 2009
Goodbye, goodbye goodbye – to 2009 and everything that happened during the last 12 months that any one of us wants to get past. And that includes goodbye to wines that we drank but might not have loved, wines that we tasted (which is not officially the same as drinking them) and didn’t love and chances missed to drink or taste wines that we maybe should have taken and didn’t.
By my way of thinking, the missed chances are the biggest loss, so, for a new year’s resolution, I’ve decided to taste more wines that I might not ordinarily want to, for whatever useless reason. Who knows, I might find a nice surprise!
With this resolution in mind, I want to tell you about a wine that I found a couple of months ago at a trade show up in Charleston. At one table at this particular show was someone I’ve known for years who apparently had started an importing company with a fairly large line-up of Argentinean wines. I went over to the table to taste, not because I needed to taste yet another Argentinean wine, but because I had to say hello and let him show me his new wines, of which he was very proud.
Having done these shows multiple times each year with different companies, for multiple years, I know you take a sip, spit of course, say something nice, take a business card again and keep moving to the next table. At this particular table, I did taste, spit and taste again one of the few Argentinean red blends that I’ve seen in South Carolina. It seemed really good but in the ambiance of a wine free-for-all you can never be sure, so I took a card and kept moving.
Several weeks later, I got a phone call from the pourer to see if I wanted to re-visit any of the wines I’d tasted that day. Being a real professional, he had a list of what I’d said I liked. So, of course, I met with him and re-tasted the wine by without the surrounding crowd and noise. And, yes, I still really liked it. So, yes, I ordered some and put it on the shelf. And, we tasted it at the store, and I still really liked it and so did everyone else. I thought of it tonight because I went out to dinner with friends I only get to see once a year and this is what we drank. And it was sooooooo gooooooood!
So, what is this wine that of all wines I chose to write about for the last time this year? Its name is “Cavas de Crianza.” It is from Argentina and is a blend of 40% Malbec, 30% Cabernet and 30% Merlot (MCM as the restaurant calls it). It is so much richer and fuller and complex than its $20 store price would lead you to expect. Tonight, when the bottle was opened, the nose of heavy chocolate and dark cherries was so intense that I almost didn’t eat any dinner. But, I had to eat so I could have a second glass. And a third bit of a glass.
My lesson from all of this is two-fold. Trust your mouth, it never lies to you, at least not about tastes. And always be willing to try a new wine even when it’s not one you need. It could become your next great favorite. And isn’t that the point in all the wines from around the world that are available to us now. (Just as a perspective, half the wines we drink now were not available to us here 10 years ago.)
So, for the new year of 2010, let’s all decide in our own way to expand our drinking/tasting horizons. We can each do it in our own way in our own time in our own homes. And if we each find a couple of new “go to” wines to get us through we’ve done really well for ourselves. Share them with friends and let them share theirs with you.
And if you want to start with my Cavas de Crianza, I’ll love talking about it with you. Can’t promise you’ll all love it the way do, but most of you will.
With our new resolution in place, wine glass in hand, and corkscrew ready, we can now move onto to 2010. Happy drinking, happy tasting, happy sharing with friends and great new finds. And, of course, Happy New Year!
Celia Strong is an acknowledged expert in wines, and all wines mentioned in her column can be found at Bill’s Liquor Store on Lady’s Island. Questions? Find her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy Holidays! Dec 24, 2009
by Celia Strong
Ho, ho, ho! Have you ever noticed the big sales that start the day after Christmas? For decades, its been another one of the big shopping days and most of us go running to the malls, one more time, to get things that we may or may not need on sale.
Has it ever occurred to you that wine and liquor prices don’t seem to follow this great tradition? That’s probably because you can drink the same winter tequila or Chardonnay in the Spring but someone has convinced you that your new winter sweater won’t be in style this Spring.
But this year, and we’ve talked about this before, there are lots of wines with lowered prices because, despite economic issues, the wineries need to sell as much as last year. And we are here to help them! So, let’s re-look at some of the better wines at better deal prices.
The first one we should mention has to be Duckhorn’s Paraduxx. This is a Cabernet and red Zinfandel based Napa blend from a very well known and not low priced winery. I have never seen anyone taste this wine and not fall in love with it. Paraduxx is rich and smooth, a bit spicy with dark fruit and chocolate flavors, great tannins to make it food friendly and mouth friendly and just all around perfect. About a month ago, the price on this wine was $46. Now it’s $29.99, which I know is not really cheap, but for this wine it’s a steal!
Domaine Chandon Pinot Meunier is another wine with a new lower price. We’ve talked about this one several times, and I don’t want to beat it to death, but, in the world of Pinot Noirs (Meunier is a cousin) it is the bomb. After selling at $30 for years, it’s now $22.99 and a major bargain.
Have to be sure that we don’t forget one little Chianti. In wine speak “little” has always been a word used to infer less expensive than the rest of its category. I suppose it was a nice way not to say cheap. But a good bottle is never cheap, just well priced. Melini Borghi d’Elsa Chianti is a major steal at $6.99 (down from about $10). This wine is a great everyday red with lots of fruit flavors and juicy mouth texture.
A new bargain on the block is Simi Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is made from grapes grown in the Alexander Valley area of Sonoma. Alexander Valley is known for great Cabs (think Jordan, Silver Oak and others) at some very high prices. Usually this one is around $25 dollars but over the last several months, its price has slipped (?) down to a staggering $16.99. At that price, there’s no reason to not at least try it.
In the white wine world, Leflaive Les Setilles Chardonnay from France is a great treasure. We talked about this wine a while ago in terms of “declassified” wines. It is still one of the best French Chards – both when it was priced at $25 and now when it’s back down to $17.99.
Domaine Chandon Chardonnay from California, like its sister red the Pinot Meunier, is down in price. An aristocratic Chard with elegant apple, pear and herb flavors, great acidity and wonderful mouth filling textures, this one should not be missed. At the old $25 price it was a bargain, now at $18.99, don’t wait!
There is one more wine I should tell you about a great deal on, but I can’t. Not because I don’t want to, but because its deal price is sort of not officially recognized. But come see us and we’ll show you, along with any of the others we’ve covered today.
Before we go, there are several details we all have to understand about these great prices. First is that they are, almost always, based on our store buying more than a bottle or two, actually more than a case or two is more like it. Second is that they come and they go, and we never really know when they will disappear. Have to love them while we have them, and get what we can while they last.
To coin a phrase, “A bottle in your house is better than two in the store!” Maybe the wine business can start a new tradition. Ho, ho, ho back at you!
Happy holidays, drink well and enjoy!
Celia Strong is an acknowledged expert in wines, and all wines mentioned in her column can be found at Bill’s Liquor Store on Lady’s Island. Questions? Find her at email@example.com.
It’s so confusing ….
by Celia Strong
So, hope everyone had a great holiday, plenty of turkey and ham and whatever. Just so you know, not only did I have a healthy serving of a $3,000 Chardonnay with friends, but my “best friend” gave me an early surprise and I drank a bottle of Trapiche Manos Malbec. It was as good as I remembered it being in Argentina. Love my best friend.
Now, only because who can round up enough friends to drink like that all the time, it’s back to the days and weeks of “normal” wines. Over the last several very hectic days in the store, it occurred to me how much confusion there is over various wine names, or to be more specific, grape names. The two that come up most often are Pinot Grigio vs Pinot Gris, and Shiraz vs Syrah. Because there is enough to say about each of these, let’s talk about one this week and one next week.
Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are basically the same grape, just two different languages for the same name. While there are different clones of grape varieties, the major differences in all the wines made from this grape are a result of the soil and climate where they are grown.
Pinot Grigio is the Italian name and, in Italy, this grape is grown mostly in the northeastern regions of the country. Over the last five years or so, Pinot Grigio has grown in leaps and bounds in popularity and availability. And, due to its popularity, many non-Italian producers are now calling their wines Pinot Grigio, replacing Pinot Gris on their labels.
Pinot Grigios from Italy are known for their very dry, minerally citrus flavors. These wines are usually light to medium bodied, depending on quality and style, they are great for hot weather drinking, and are refreshing when drunk well chilled.
Pinot Gris is the French name for this variety. Grown in the region of Alsace, right next to the German border, this grape makes dry, flinty wines with hints of floral and lemon flavors. While the Italian versions tend to go really well with tomatoes, basil and parmesan in foods, the French versions go well with white fishes, chicken poached/braised in the wine and other slightly heavier meals. Sometimes, if you taste an Italian version next to a French one, it can be hard to tell that they are the same basic grape.
In the United States, many California producers have started labeling their wines as Pinot Grigio because it has become the far more recognizable name for consumers. In California style, these wines are riper in their flavors, heavier in weight and some are given small amounts of oak barrel aging to add textures and more weight.
All of this is just winery style coming into play. Oregon, with a climate that is cooler like Alsace, uses the name Pinot Gris still. Many of the Oregon wines also show the lovely floral notes of their cooler climate. For those of you who want to try one of each, my list of favorites is this: from Italy, Santi and Alverdi; from Alsace, Hugel for fuller body, Trimbach for verrrrrrry dry; from California, Estancia and J; and from Oregon, King’s Ridge and Erath.
Let’s try some of these for now and meet back next week for Syrah/Shiraz. Enjoy!
Celia Strong is an acknowledged expert in wines, and all wines mentioned in her column can be found at Bill’s Liquor Store on Lady’s Island. Questions? Find her at firstname.lastname@example.org.