Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving: A Retrospective.

Wine to go with turkey.
Having more or less survived the first rush of holiday buying I thought it was time to consider some aspects of wine drinking and retailing after the fact. If you look really closely to the photo above and see past the cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed potatoes (regular & sweet), the vegan pot pie and stuffed onion you will see a piece of turkey. In the middle of stabbing wantonly about the plate and swilling Saumur-Champigny from Terry Germain, I was reminded of those customers asking for wine to go with turkey, just turkey.

There is still a common cry for pinot noir from most people, probably because it’s the always the most heavily recommended wine from any newspaper or magazine wine column. Why is that you might ask? I have a theory, and it’s not the movie Sideways. Before the mid 90’s and the early aughts there was a lack of free and intelligent wine information in the form of the internet; blogs, wikipedia, wine writers from magazines, newspapers, etc. The literature most prominently available at the time (Wine Advocate & Spectator) was saturated with 90+ point wines of massive alcohol and heavy handed new oak. The kind of wines so extreme in every way that they lacked balance necessary to ease along a Thanksgiving meal.

I’d like to see anyone try to put down a bottle of Molly Dooker, or any Zinfandel at 16.5% abv, and not get into some sort of argument or fall asleep at the table.

So the existing writers grasped onto the buoy of pinot noir for Thanksgiving. Why not? Lower natural alcohol, higher natural acidity, freshness of fruit (ideally) - it all adds up to something one could easily enjoy with a meal. This advice was contagious, and besides, it’s easier to go into any ol’ retail shop and ask if they have pinot noir. Going to a shop and finding red from Chinon or pelaverga based wine from Piedmont in Italy is tougher at times.

The advice I gave to people was to look for mid-weight wines of balance, lower alcohol, and freshness. Aside from red Burgundy I was recommending a lot of lighter weight reds from southern Rhone, northern Italy, or the Loire valley, even some Austrian zweigelt or blaufrankisch. It’s advice that will hold through all the big meals in the holiday season.

For the record, I took a bottle of Herman J. Wiemer’s 2006 Brut (disgorged in 2010) and Domaine des Roches Neuves 2010 Saumur Champigny.

I could always say drink what you like though. All those people I saw drinking Yellowtail Shiraz at a b.y.o. sushi place in Philly can’t be wrong... can they?

I guess I need a bottle of wine because it’s thanksgiving...
I had at least a half dozen customers over the week whom I found wandering about the wine floor and each had their own shopping cart full of fabulous Belgian beer (we had a sale going on.) The usual disclaimer was, “I know my beer, but I’m lost on wine...” and they wanted a bottle or two of wine just in case someone actually wanted wine with their meal.

I say pair nothing but beer with your meal, you’ll do just fine. The same principles apply to beer as they do to wine. This is not the time for barley wines, imperial stouts, or Belgian quads. This is the time for saisons, triples, German lagers/pilsners, Flemish sours and sour brown ales. Pair the whole meal with beer and embrace it. If you have a 95 year old grandmother that only drinks white zinfandel, get her that bottle. She’s 95, she’s earned it. Otherwise, get some seriously good beer and enjoy.

Shopping the day of
1. Don’t do it.
2. If you must, then do it early. After 11 a.m. all bets are off.
3. If it’s after 11 a.m. you will find yourself in the company of shoppers who either can’t stand sobriety for more than six hours and did not prepare well for the limited retail hours. Or you might find yourself rubbing elbows with ‘serious’ wine buyers who only purchase wine that comes in a carafe bottle.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Should you really be paying attention to wine points?

In October the Delaware Rock Gym had a climbing competition. To prepare for such a thing many people had to create routes with beginnings and ends that would have a difficulty based on the moves required to succeed in each climb from start to finish.

To establish that difficulty we (staff and friends not planning on competing) would climb the boulder problems and weigh in on what we thought the difficulty was. While myself and Danielle thought one way, some of our co-workers felt another about the rankings in certain categories.

Now what could this possibly have to do with wine?

In rating these climbs for difficulty we were all doing so based on our personal strengths and weaknesses, whether we admitted it or not, it is what we do. I, for example, have tremendous reach but comparatively low strength. Meanwhile, a few of my fellow climbers don't have the same wingspan that I do, but they make up for it in sheer power. So when each person attempts, or completes, a climb they claim a difficulty based on how easy it was for them to finish said climb. This is also what happens when wine is rated on a point system.

In climbing one can say there are objective moves, holds, or techniques that are more advanced and require a more difficult grade. In wine, once one has moved passed the decision of whether or not a wine is flawed or sound, it could be said that there are (reasonably) objective levels of acidity, sugar, or tannin that equate to a certain flavor profile. Whether that flavor profile merits 100 points (!) or whether it rates a measly 94 points [ :( ] depends entirely on any number of factors.

If you like the idea of ranking wines against each other, and at times themselves, it could be worthwhile to follow these ratings. Though some of us in the industry, not that it is a big secret, do not put a lot of stock in wine ratings.

Picture a child's report card; in the second half of 5th grade little Ruddiger Fitzpatrick received a C- in literature. Does that mean you would assign a C- to Fitzpatrick in comprehending, discussing, and creating within the literary arts for his whole life? Or even rate him the same within Russian, Irish, Japanese, or Estonian lit? No. That grade is just a screen shot of his experience at one moment in time, hell even Einstein failed once or twice.

Wine is precisely the same way. Much like the wee Fitzpatrick will (or will not) grow in his ability to appreciate and perceive literature, wine the first year it is in bottle will taste and rate quite differently than the same wine 5 to 7 years after it has been put into bottle. The same wine will also change whether you have it by itself, aside a big honkin' steak, or with a salad.

To me grading wines on a static scale in some sort of tasting vacuum makes no sense, but that doesn't mean my opinions on the scale are right, it just means that there are folks who will agree and disagree with me.

Whether or not you like a numerical point system, the key is finding those whose palates you agree with engaging in a little discussion or research to help find a wine you like. If you like solid clear cut numbers, find a reviewer you like and look for their points. It doesn't matter if it's Jancis Robinson, Eric Asimov, Robert Parker, or Jon Rimmerman, what matters is you find a kindred spirit and you make sure it is their points as opposed to an arbitrary 92 points from 'wine and grape drink magazine.'

Just remember: high points, or cost, does not mean you'll enjoy a wine (or beer) and a lack there of does not mean you won't enjoy it. There is always some subjectivity to what you taste!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

5 Grapes / regions that more people need to start trying.

I'm always happy to see people shopping for wine, don't get me wrong, but it seems like there are grapes or places people get pigeonholed into and settle in comfortably never to extricate themselves for something new. What I find most striking is the avoidance to branching out because, as one perplexing customer put to me, "I've never had it before, how do I know if I'll like it?"

That makes me wonder about their existence as a whole. No travel? No new food? No new movies? The hermit lifestyle must be difficult if not comforting.

1.) Beaujolais - The wines labeled Beaujolais Villages are often easy, fruit forward, and possessing a tell tale aromatic of some carbonic maceration (they only ferment by the whole bunch, baby!) The real magic comes in the 'crus' of Beaujolais: Moulin-a-Vent, Morgon, Chenas, Cote du Brouilly, etc. What really fascinates me about these wines are not the initial fruit aromas but the sneaky aromas and flavors on the side. The saline savoriness of Cote du Brouilly, the hint of something animal in Moulin-a-Vent, the flowers in Fleurie, and the stones in Chenas.

Pricing is pretty fair too, the top of the top-hard-to-get-geek-out-over and go crazy Beaujolais are in the low $40's. Not cheap, but when compared to Burgundy proper, practically anything from California, or top flight Bordeaux these wines downright cheap.

2.) Riesling - Yes Paul Grieco has been doing Summer of Riesling since 2008 and yes practically every interview I've ever read with a sommelier in any food and wine magazine has them raving about riesling, but there is a reason for that. There's focus, age-ability, and a complete range of dry with mouth searing acidity to dessert wine sweet that coats the entire mouth like the finest grape-y juice from the peaks of Mount Olympus.

The problem for riesling is when it's maligned by its out of balance incarnations that have either too much or too little sugar or acid. The power of many a Rheingau, the pleasant hint of sweetness underlying so many Mosel bottles, and the crazy minerality of Wachau in Austria. Come on, these wines show so much of where they're from and frankly, they are just cool.

3. Greece - The desire to have more people interested in Greek wines, honestly, is a quasi selfish desire. Just like my desire to have more people interested in Corsican wine (the more people interested, the more that sell, the more that sell the more I can taste!) The wines I've had from Greece to date have as versatile a range as many other parts of the world; reds that are anywhere from plush and soft to peppery and downright animal, and whites with flowers, fruit, and minerals to keep any one interested.

And for the problem, as there always is one: what do people know about Greece? Ouzo and retsina. Not a good start. Reds from Naoussa or Nemea are not huge leaps for people who drink some more classic incarnations of tempranillo or perhaps drier lighter weight Loire cab francs. The most interesting whites I've tasted so far have been from the island of Santorini. Assyrtiko is the primary varietal used in primarily volcanic soil. They have a persistent minerality that should be appreciable by higher end albarino drinkers or fans of Chablis.

4. Savoie & Jura - When I started at the 'ol State Line we had 3 or 4 wines from Jura and maybe 3 from Savoie. Now we have closer to 8 from Jura and about a dozen from Savoie (and I'll include Bugey since it's just across the river.) The regions themselves are in the east of France, Jura is about an hour east of Burgundy, and Savoie is right up against the Swiss border on the south side of Lake Geneva.

These wines have a little bit easier of a time getting their foot in the door than the ones I've mentioned so far. They have basically no reputation among non-serious wine drinkers, which means it's tough to bring a prejudice to the table, pricing starts at $10 a bottle and goes up to $80 plus for some tougher to get dessert wines, and there is a good range including delicious bubblies. The only aspect jarring to some people is the oxidative and high toned style exhibited in wines from Jura (often Sherry like.) With a little introduction though, some people take very strongly to these wines, myself included.

5. Burgundy - This may seem a bit confusing since Burgundy is probably the most famous wine region in the world, with some of the most expensive bottles, and some of the best known domaines. Burgundy does fine amongst serious collectors and has some great fans, but getting everyday wine drinkers into it sure is tough.

Whenever I happen upon some one in the shop looking for pinot noir once they know where we keep the Oregon and California pinot noir I would probably have to physically drag them to the red Burgundy section, because for some reason there is major aversion to even looking at the Burgundies. Even though, balk if you will, that's where the best pinot value is in my opinion.

White Burgundy is tougher too. Either most of our customers come looking for white Burgundy, or they come looking for a chardonnay they recognize. Almost always Californian. For all the $10 to $15 Cali wine you can buy, there are rivers of Macon Villages at the same price. For all the over oaked, over alcoholic, over malo-lactic, and over priced Cali wines you can buy there stellar ranges of flavor under $40 in Burgundy. When I think of the wild yeast fermented Guillemot-Michel in the mid $20's or the intensely rich, but balanced, Vire-Clesse from Thevenet at about $34, I can't believe some of the things people charge on the west coast.

I would be concerned I was getting too geeky, but I didn't mention Ribolla Gialla or orange wines made by Sistercian Nuns once, so I think I'm still safe.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Mezcal, a new way to get seriously geeky.

 We're all familiar with Tequila, some of us are so familiar that we swear it off forever. In a retail environment it is often the most maligned spirit by my customers due to a single night of unadulterated agave driven madness.

Get over it. Drinking too much happens, don't write off an entire tradition of distilling because of one night with Jose Cuervo and a double shot glass.

The title of this post is about mezcal, but the first thing mentioned is tequila. Why? All tequila is mezcal but not all mezcal is tequila, I would even draw a Venn diagram if I could figure out how to use Microsoft Paint. Tequila  is made with a specific variety of agave, agave tequilana, and produced within legally defined geographical limits in the Mexican state of Jalisco. The agave hearts after harvest are baked in large kilns to convert the starches to sugars that can be converted into alcohol.

Mezcal is the umbrella term for spirits made with agave that do not fall into the Tequila appellation of origin, and many of the ones I've tasted recently that are available at reasonable prices come from Oaxaca. Aside from regional differences, artisanal mezcals are made from different varietals of agave and buried in pit ovens or earthen mounds with stunningly hot rocks. This roasting takes place for days (3 seems to be a popular number) and turned into an alcoholic beverage to be distilled. The difference between the kiln roasting and the pit roasting is immediately obvious, even to those completely unfamiliar with tequila or mezcal.

The mezcals are smokey, oily in texture, totally bizarre, and very cool. On their own they are tremendously intense and idiosyncratic while in mixed drinks they produce extra dimensions of flavor that push boundaries and intrigue the drinker. The diversity of cocktail recipes are easy enough to find.

The real geek potential is in the minutiae of mezcal; just like hop or malt choice in beer, regional production of single malt scotches, and production methods or mesoclimates of wine, mezcal differences are easy to bond over and find perceived superiority.

Get serious beer geeks together, they may bond over styles of beer, or more interestingly, they argue about them. Do IPA's express terroir in hops or is one hop better than another? Do the Belgians, dare I say maybe the Germans make the best beer? Or are they left behind in this new world of American craft brew creativity? Is there anything more complex than a well aged aged sour beer?

Get wine fans together, they will throw down over regional superiority, Chablis v. Carneros, Napa v. Bordeaux, Australia v. North Rhone. New oak or old oak? Indigenous or commercial yeast strains? Technology, tradition, scholastic training, or hereditary knowledge,  et cetera, et cetera, et cetera...

When you see that these mezcals are coming from different altitudes, single villages, and different agave varietals you may let the geeking begin. The mezcals pictured above are courtesy of a group called Los Danzantes who have the goal of preserving local characters in food and spirits.

The line I tasted recently was their Alipus label: San Andres, San Baltazar, and San Juan. They were all tasted neat at room temperature without dilution, so obviously there's a lot more room to experiment with. Each of these distillates come from different elevations, they are made with espadin agave, and each one is from a different locations.

The San Andres was spicy, lightest of the three, and had underlying citrus flavors that kept it very well balanced. San Baltazar was viscous, powerful, smokey, and intense. And the San Juan struck me as slightly sweet, delicate, and with hints of woody herbs.

All different, and certainly all capable of inspiring discussion and experimentation. Let the geeking begin!

Monday, September 17, 2012

A man's home is his chateau, unless the Bordelais have something to say about it.

 According to La Revue du Vin de France, the good folks in Bordeaux take a certain amount of umbrage to the use of the word ‘chateau’ on American wine labels - I’m looking at you Chateau Montelena!

In France if the wine you make is labeled Chateau du Manchot Royal, the fruit must come from land owned by said chateau and vinified at exactly the same chateau in question. In these United States no such requirement exists. I could grow my own fruit, buy fruit, contract someone else entirely to do all the work and put my name on the label.

The Federation des grands vins de Bordeaux (FGVB) believes that the consumer will be misled by the word chateau and be under the assumption that my contract bottled Chateau Joe is all estate grown and bottled - clearly, my cunning knows no end. What the FGVB aims to do is prohibit wine exported from the U.S. into the EU from having the word chateau appear on their label at all.

This slightly reminiscent of Fox News’ attempt to trademark the phrase “Fair and Balanced,” except it might be slightly sillier. If I were to poll our customers, I imagine very few would be aware of those ‘chateau’ label laws within France. A misled consumer does not strike me as a very serious problem.  

Legal labeling distinctions about age, like reserve in Italy or Spain, or location, like Port from Portugal or Champagne from... Champagne, make complete sense. There is a delineation, and theoretically, and indication of quality or typicity in a wine. Wine labeled Champagne must be produced in the ol’ methode champenoise (another issue for another time), come from Champagne, and by golly, it better taste like Champagne.

The word ‘chateau’ alone doesn’t promise any sort of typicity. The Cru rating system in Bordeaux is disparate from that of Burgundy due to the fact that the Bordelais rate based on the Chateau, not the land. This means if a Chateau is granted its status in 1855 and it has 15ha of land, it can maintain this status even if the land increases to 30ha. In Burgundy the cru is the delineated plot of land, not the house making it.

If the Bordelais are really concerned about misleading the consumer, one would think that they might consider the existing rating system that exists on Bordeaux’s left bank.   

The issue will be settled on September 25th with the Comite de gestion de l'Organisation commune des marches agricoles (OCM.) La Revue also quotes Bernard Farges, president of la Confederation nationale des AOC, who is responsible for the AOC rules in France, in saying that there is some precedence with other labeling terms. Bernard is also vice president of la Federation des grands vins de Bordeaux (FGVB.)

I wonder where his opinion will fall...

Monday, September 10, 2012

Dashe Zinfandel - renewing my hope in Zinfandel since... today.

Shortly after my arrival to ye olde shoppe today a kindly salesman with a pleasant accent presented some of his fine wares. Sadly those fine wares happened to be, amongst other things, a number of wines from Rosenblum Cellars. I don’t know what their pedigree or history is exactly, but what I tasted today was an egregious mess of juice.

The cheapest bottle smelled like grapes macerated in a bucket with some sea water and oysters, while the higher end bottlings attained a respectable, and restrained, alcohol level pushing about 16% by volume. It was like a good port, except not from Portugal... and it tasted bad.

Those flavors still in mind and wreaking havoc on what little respect I had left for zinfandel, respect only being kept afloat by a few producers (Ridge & Proulx come to mind) one could imagine my concerns when we decided to open two new bottles we had just brought in to the store; 1. Dashe Les Enfants Terribles 2010 Heart Arrow Ranch zin from Mendocino and 2. same schtick as before but their 2011 McFadden Farm Potter Valley zin.

Their were hints though that I would soon be tasting something far different from the Rosenblums. One, the alcohol on the two wines are 13.8% and 13.6% respectively. Two, 100% Zinfandel with native yeast fermentation. Their website is full of info, my favorite bit is about their using, get this, old oak! Big old oak barrels! Not heavy toast, not 24 months in new American oak, there was a chance these wines were going to taste like actual fruit, not wood!

Without any more rambling proclamations I’ll just say the wines were great. The 2010 Heart Arrow Ranch at times while tasting it reminded me of good Beaujolais; specifically, but not identically, it reminded me of a California take on Moulin-a-vent from Domaine Diochan. There was fruit, tannin, and acidity. Going back to the glass later I pulled something a little more akin to older sangiovese. There’s a theme though, zinfandel that actually has acidity, some might say balance perhaps.

The Mcfadden Farm zin from 2011 was also very good, but a little softer and more fruit driven. What I did especially appreciate about it though was under that primary, and slightly soft, fruit. There was a notion of something slightly green a-la cabernet franc from the Saumur or Chinon, just a notion mind you.

All I can say is, thank you Dashe Cellars for renewing my hope in zinfandel.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Let the wine breathe for four days before you serve it.

Domaine de la Pinte, I take my hat off to you. Partially because this wine was so fantastic and, more importantly, I look bad in hats.

Domaine de la Pinte can be found in the village of Arbois in the region of Jura in eastern France, and though I'm not sure exactly how long they've been operating, I think they have a good bit of tradition going on at the winery. It tastes, and sounds, like traditional techniques with some organic (as of '99) and biodynamic certification (as of '09) going on.

The wine in the photo above is the current release of their savagnin, and yes, the current release is from 2005. Savagnin is a grape unique to Jura, and as far as I know, is really only grown and vinified there (excluding any clones or mutations, I'm looking at you gewurtztraminer!) It is used in a local wine called Vin Jaune that is reminiscent of some sherries because of the layer of 'flor' yeast that appears in production.

Often in Jura, wines are oxidative by design. It's important to differentiate oxidized wine by design and oxidized wine as a fault. Domaine de la Pinte puts their savagnin in barrels for four years and only fills said barrels 80% of the way. One might ask, what, why, who, why, what? But this production method fosters that flor yeast, and if you've ever tasted Manzanilla sherry you will have an idea of some of the aromas and flavors that appear. There is also a nuttiness, something almost saline, more apple than citrus flavors amongst other things.

This is wine oxidized by design, a layer of flor on the wine in barrel protects the wine from being destroyed and lends a host of flavors and aromas that add to the complexity. The result is a wine with great structure, longevity, focused acidity, and just a whole heaping pile of interesting flavors and aromas that would only be lost if I tried to explain them. Sometimes I don't even think it's worth it to try and convey some of these sensory experiences when all I want to say is, "holy crap this wine is good!"

This is another one of those extra-traditional wines that really show that ol' genius of place. It takes a skillful hand to make a wine like this, and I say this because we've had it open in the kegerator at the store where we've been going back and revisiting it every day to see how it develops; this is day 4 and it's still fantastic. I think day three may have been the best, but even that's up for debate.

Their chardonnay is very good too, classic Jura style chardonnay, but it's a 2010 release. I don't want to diminish the chard, but next to the savagnin, few wines stand up. The chardonnay too was in barrel, mind you very old barrels, for 2 years before release, but it didn't see as much (if any) of the flor that the savagnin did. The flavors are more apple with hints of spice and a super focused vein of acidity that would be awesome with anything in a mushroom cream sauce.

Considering they're $35 for the savagnin and $25 for the chard, these are some fantastic wines that could be cellared for years and I think are a downright steal compared to some other wines on the market. Just one man's opinion... on how freakin' cool Jura (Jurassian, Jurassic, Juranese?) wines are.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Vinsobres: Home to fine wine and fewer inhabitants than some high schools have students.

 Many people have heard of, and tasted most likely, wine from the Cotes du Rhone Villages. For those looking for more geekdom and specificity, you can delve into any one of the 15 villages that may amend their name to a label in lieu of the lesser "Cotes du Rhone Villages." And this is where we come upon Vinsobres.

Vinsobres was only granted this legal right of slapping their name on a label in 2006, so as an appellation it is a relatively young wine. The highlights, as far as blending requirements go, say that wine from Vinsobres must contain 50% grenache, 25% of syrah and/or mourvedre, and the rest is up in the air.

The town is small, stunningly small, fewer than 1100 people and it is located in the Drome department of France. The landscape is picturesque, in that it is very reminiscent of scenes from Provence and the cuisine is about as reminiscent. Anisette and walnuts, olives and charcuterie, vegetables, honey, and truffles all play a role under the umbrella 'cuisine dauphinois' stretching from Provence to Savoie in some form or another... but look, now I'm rambling.

The wine from Domaine Chaume-Arnaud is a very good partner to just that cuisine. The grape blend is 60% grenache, 15% each of syrah and morvedre, with 5% each of carignan and cinsault. Grenache is the most prominent component as it reveals itself with dark ripe fruit flavors and a thought of wild herbs, but perhaps due to the cement tank fermentation the wine is not gobbed up clumsy like so many treated with heavy handed oak. There are tannins present, but they're delicate and fine grained, mostly on the finish.

Fairly priced in my opinion at $20, definitely for those who like a wine with a little more finesse that's not going to completely kill their palate with simple fruit and harsh oak.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

This ain't your grandma's Beaujolais!

 Wine from Beaujolais has a bad rap and I’m certainly not the first one to notice it. As a region its wines have been simultaneously promoted ardently, and screwed inadvertently, by one Mr. Georges Duboeuf and the Beaujolais Nouveau campaign.

The third Thursday of every November is the official release, and celebration, of the fresh harvested and fermented gamay grape. Airplanes loaded with the juice are rushed around the world to make the date, restaurants and hotels in France are stuffed to the seams with cases of this funnel worthy wine, and hangover remedies are prepared a day in advance for the coming pain.

What once started as a quick fermented juice for the pickers to celebrate the end of the harvest has become the symbol for a region; and as a symbol, it has locked the region into role of “Lesser Burgundy.” The result is that many of the customers I talk with believe that gamay could never compete with pinot noir as a noble Burgundian grape and that Beaujolais is a sweet headache inducing drink that should be approached with great caution.

A number of the customers I speak with about Beaujolais don’t have a lot of experience with the region (and I can’t blame them) and have yet to really experience something of memorable quality. Why does this come to mind late summer as opposed to the end of November? On a regular mid-August delivery day we received Domaine Diochon’s Moulin-a-Vent and Domaine Desvignes Morgon Cote du Py, two new Cru Beaujolais ( or, any of the wine from villages of noteworthy vineyard sites within the larger Beaujolais appellation.)

2 years ago we had fewer than 12 beaujolais on the shelf, and probably fewer than 9 worth drinking. Now we have almost 20 and they’re encroaching heavily into the Burgundy racks. We do well with the Beaujolais, but we could do better. The crossover from pinot noir, Burgundian or otherwise, to gamay from Beaujolais is not huge. In fact I would say since the best Beaujolais barely break $30, it’s a steal compared to what you get in Bourgogne Rouge or pinot noir from the U.S.

Especially since the number of pinot noir I’ve had from the states that I would actually like to drink I could count on one hand and they often cost $10 - $15 dollars or more than a good Beaujolais!

The good folks at La Revue du Vin de France point out the ageability and quality of these wines when they did a tasting of wines from Moulin-a-Vent anywhere from 10 - 15+ years old.

For a few options one could go with:

  • Dominique Piron (Morgon, Chenas, Moulin -a-Vent, and Beaujolais Village) Accessible in youth, but worth aging if you have the space and patience.

  • Daniel Bouland makes wines that are surprisingly powerful and tight in youth, so much so that an aging might be more ideal.
  • Avoiding producers, but focusing on regions, Cote de Brouilly encompasses vineyards on the hillsides of a dormant volcano - loads of minerality and medium to full weight wines. Julienas and Fleurie tend to be very floral and approachable in youth. No matter what you try, these are some seriously interesting wines... hell, put a chill on them while it’s still hot out and they’re delicious!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Bruno Giacosa strikes again.

 Once again, Casa Vinicola Bruno Giacosa (the negociant end of the Giacosa wines) is topping my lists of Roero Arneis that I've had this year with their 2011 bottling. So that basically means it has beaten two other arneis that I've had this year.

If any one is familiar with either the words Roero or Arneis, more often than not it's for the red grape of Roero - nebbiolo. Roero is due north of the Barolo d.o.c.g., and is considered a lesser source for serious nebbiolo, but it is home to many a great value nebbiolo (for example, Matteo Correggia's.)

The other grape local to Roero is arneis. This white grape was more widely cultivated in the Langhe before the 20th century, to the extent that is was referred to as "White Barolo." Which, I'm assuming, was nothing like white zinfandel. As Barolo transitioned into focusing on Nebbiolo, arneis grew to be forgotten and almost reached extinction.

Thankfully, interest in arneis was reinvigorated and currently there are over 600ha planted in the Piedmont. The flavors tend to be of almonds and/or riper fruits like apricots, peaches, sometimes straight apple (distinctly more red than green,) and the aromatics usually cover the same range.

The advantage I've found to arneis is that unlike many other Italian whites, the acidity is slightly lower and the fruit flavors are slightly riper. There's an impression of sweetness without the wine being sweet. So even though I had just finished eating spicy fried lamb from Yi Palace in Newark, DE just before the bottle was opened to taste, the wine did not clash with the lingering chili and garlic spiciness.

So this is an arneis that I would certainly recommend trying, but if the price (about $30) or availability become an issue Valdinera and Matteo Corregia again would be worth seeking out.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Rudy Ray Moore, eat your heart out!

 I taste a lot of wine for work. Hundreds, maybe into the four digit range per year, and a surprising amount of them are at best uninteresting and at worst just plain bad. The upshot is the good, and rarer yet, truly special wines I taste at the store.

And thus we segue in a most unsubtle way into the wine of Elisabetta Foradori. Elisabetta is a producer based around the Dolomite mountains in Alto Adige (sometimes referred to as Sudtirol or South Tyrol) in Italy. Having never been there, I can only gather so much from photos and information about the region, but it seems like an idyllic Alpine setting; of course I investigated how the climbing looks, and it looks good. Single & multi-pitch sport routes, short approaches... I digress.

Elisabetta has been in the work of growing grapes and making wine essentially for her entire life; she was born in a house surrounded by vineyards and took over as winemaker after an education at a local enological school and the untimely death of her father when she was only 20 years old.

Her bread & butter wine is made from the local grape teroldego. She has 18ha (44.5 acres) of this red grape that makes fresh, bright, and fruity red wines that have a natural high acidity and would undoubtedly pair well with the local speck (salt cured & smoked ham flavored primarily with juniper.)

What we decided to crack open the other day was her nosiola. Nosiola is a local varietal that was close to being forgotten, but she is taking efforts to keep it alive. She has but two hectares of nosiola, a 9th of teroldego plantings, but according to an interview with her, she has real fun with her white varietals (the other is manzoni bianco) because they’re relatively unknowns with “a lot of personality.”

Most of the time, when making white wine, the juice is pressed and removed from the skins of the grapes. Ms. Foradori however, leaves the juice on the skins in clay amphorae for 8 months which creates a wine with a slightly hazy appearance, a hint of pear-skin like tannins on the finish, and some freakin’ delicious flavors.

The wines aren’t cheap, the manzoni bianco is in the mid $30’s and the nosiola is about $54, but if the nosiola is any indication, Elisabetta makes truly special wines that are worth every penny. Now I just have to track down some of that teroldego.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Brux & Branca.

 Brux & Branca, by which I refer to two disparate but intriguing items. Item one: the collaboration beer between Sierra Nevada & Russian River Brewing co. Item two: the Italian liquer Fernet Branca which takes its name from the eponymous amaro. They are completely unrelated, but I liked the alliteration.

I recently had the opportunity to sample Brux which is a self title "Domesticated Wild Ale." They do the initial fermentation with a Belgian yeast strain followed by a secondary fermentation in bottle courtesy of Brettanomyces Bruxellensis. This particular strain of brettanomyces, or brett, is native to the Senne valley near Brussels (Bruxellensis.) I tasted it with my friend, and assistant brewer to Iron Hill Wilmington, Andrew.

It appears that this strain of brettanomyces, a yeast long known to produce rather... unique, flavors in beer and wine, is the same one used by the Trappist brewery Orval. They brew what I consider to be a very well made and iconic Trappist ale; needless to say these 'merican boys have some stiff competition. Taking that into consideration we tasted the beer, and we were quite impressed.

The flavor profile is marked with spice and a certain freshness, while being a very well balanced beer. Frankly, the beer was delicious and I think it has some very interesting aging potential (plus the $15 or so dollar price tag is fairly reasonable for what you get out of a 750ml beer.) All I can say is snag it while you can find it as the beer is on limited release.

As for the Fernet Branca part of the equation, like I said unrelated, but it was brought back to my attention twice in as many days. One occasion was the appreciation expressed by one Alfred Pennyworth in the Dark Knight Rises, the other was a particularly good article from the NPR food and wine blog describing this digestif as having a divisive and cult like following by mixologists in the know. I had my first experience with Fernet on the rocks at a bar in the Mallorcan tourist town Can Picafort, it was an invigorating experience to say the least. The article explains it in greater detail, but it's time to join the club if you've never tried it.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

New zealand wine tasting, or, Shackleton's Revenge!

 Personally I find it difficult to get real jazzed about wine from New Zealand. I think there's loads of potential for very interesting wine, but as of yet it's not the first wine region I go hunting for on a wine list. But in with the goal of keeping an open mind we had a tasting at the store the other night, here's the list:

1. Oyster Bay 2011 Sauvignon Blanc
2. Dog Point 2011 Sauvignon Blanc
3. Craggy Range 2010 Kidnappers Vineyard Chardonnay
4. Craggy Range 2009 Te Muna Road Vineyard Riesling
5. Spy Valley 2011 Gewurztraminer
6. Peregrine 2011 Pinot Gris
7. Matua 2011 Pinot Noir
8. Wild Earth 2008 Central Otago Pinot Noir
9. Craggy Range 2010 Te Kahu Bordeaux style blend

The stand out winners for me last night was the Craggy Range Riesling and the Peregrine Pinot Gris. The pinot gris was done in a richer, drier, more (dare I say) Alsatian style. The riesling had a touch of petrol to the nose, which some found alarming, others endearing, and pleasant floral fruit qualities on the palate. These two wines show what I consider to be some real regional potential.

It might even be worth qualifying what I mean by potential rather than just letting that statement hang out there in space. A lot of the literature I've read on these winery's websites and on wine makers in NZ in general is that they tend to favor planting on flat land for easy mechanization. Some of the great wine regions in the world make such fantastic wine due to their precipitous vineyards; think the Mosel or Hermitage, you would have to be nuts to plant vines there.

But the insanity in planting leads to great wine in the bottle, maybe New Zealand needs to get a little crazier to make some really great wine.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Gini Salvarenza with lasagna: an evening of deliciousness .

 The other day Beth & I were struck with the desire for lasagna and I was looking for an excuse to open this bottle of 2008 Salvarenza from Soave producer Gini. So with a little extra bechamel and a lighter hand than usual on tomato sauce, we concocted a recipe that would allow for both.

Soave was much maligned in its history due to a period of time (thankfully before I began drinking wine) where output of the white wine based on the grape garganega was produced for quantity in lieu of quality. My faith for the wine was inspired when I had the fortune of sampling in 2011 one of their Soave bottlings from the late '90s - it was fresh, youthful, and mind bendingly good!

The grapes for Salvarenza come from a 5ha vineyard with a southeast exposure, and the average vine age, 80 years! The wine was round and loaded with flavors surpassing primary fruit into a mix of hay, flowers, and stones. It's when I taste wines like this for under $30 that I find myself floored by what people will spend on wines that cost a stupid amount of money but have no chance of being 83 times as good.

Oh well, c'est la vie.