Thursday, July 30, 2009

Affordable Wines Interesting To Drink

Eric Asimov, the NYT's wine columnist, had a piece in May listing drinkable wines in his idea of the sweet spot of wine prices: $10 to $20.

He cites some Oregon Pinot Gris, a couple of California sparkling wines, a rose, a Long Island Pinot Blanc, and only a couple of reds. He remarks, in fact, on how hard it was to find "interesting" reds at this price.

The only wines his lists that I've drunk -- or even heard of -- are the two sparklings. But worth a look.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Trailer to Movie Satire, Corked!

Mike Homula posted trailer to upcoming satire CORKED to his site, Pulling the Cork: - Can't wait to see this one! It looks funny!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tour de France: a Provençal Taste of Ventoux Wines

This charming aside to the Tour de France race is courtesy of my friend, San Francisco-based French wine importer, teacher, and enthusiast (and all-around great guy) Raphael Knapp! Enjoy! -- mac

When the Tour de France climbed the famed Mont Ventoux...
... it gives us the chance to talk about a Provençal taste of Ventoux wines!..

Etape 20 - Profil

Mont Ventoux, located in the Vaucluse department, is one of the most famous mountains in France (2,000 m, 6300 ft). It marks the gate between Rhône and Provence. The weather in Côtes du Ventoux is very hot in the summer but cold in the winter.. and windy with the "mistral" blowing almost all the time! The poor clayey-chalky soils of Côtes du Ventoux stress the vines giving fruity & complex wines, easy to drink & to appreciate. The following wines are made of grapes harvested on the southern slope of the Mont Ventoux and vinified by "Les Vignerons du Mont Ventoux" around the small provençal village of Bedoin.. the starting point of one of the two routes to the summit of the mountain!

'08 Demoiselles Coiffees Rose, Cotes du Ventoux
(50% Grenache, 30% Carignan, 20% Cinsault) tasting note
This wine's name reminds of a site in Bédoin were can be found natural columns sculpted by the erosion and topped by a granite rock named Demoiselles Coiffées.
Clean fruity and floral bouquet with hint of acid drop when aerated. Crisp mouth, supple and light, with expressive perfumes of red fruits. Great with Summer salads, white meat and seafood such as sardines in oil, marinated anchovies... or simply with olives, or small pieces of toast piled with tapenade or tarama (a paste of fish eggs, olive oil and lemon juice).
Price: 108/case (9/b) - 8.10 by the glass or on 3 case-mix!

'07 "O" Rose, Cotes de Ventoux
(60% Grenache, 20% Carignan, 10% Cinsault, 10% Syrah) tasting note
Rich and concentrated, this rosé offers complex aromas of baking spices with hints of roses, raspberry and cherry flavors and lots of minerality on the palate. Summer salads, white meat (ham, chicken, pigs feet) and seafood: seared scallops, grilled salmon with a barbecue teriyaki glaze, grilled shrimp, grilled calamari, barbecued oysters.
Price: 126/case (10.50/b) - 9.45 by the glass or on 3 case-mix!

'06 Dom Balaquere, Cotes du Ventoux
(80% Syrah, 20% Grenache) tasting note
It is a very dark and mellow wine, with a deep red color, aromas of blackberries and peppers with a warm and rather "bold" finish. It pairs extremely well with slightly heavy dishes such as grilled meat and all types of game. Strong cheeses are also fine companions.
Price: 120/case (10/b) - 9 by the glass or on 3 case-mix!

'05 Gigantis, Cotes du Ventoux

(50 % Syrah, 50 % Grenache) tasting note
This wine shows that the Ventoux terroir can produce outstanding wines. The name Gigantis was inspired by the facts the Mont Ventoux is also known as the "Giant-of-Provence" and that this wine is a deep, huge, extracted, "gigantic" Côtes du Ventoux. A world-acclaimed Rhone Valley winemaker specializing in oak-barrel-ageing, Michel Tardieu, was brought on board for the project. Deep purple-ruby robe almost inky. On the nose, aromas of olive, pepper and coffee combined with the fruity dominant characteristic -black cherry, jammed raspberry – with, in gusts, hints of Provençal herbs. A scented and powerful wine with an opulent finish. The great balance between tannins and acidity will help this wine age for may years.
Price: 288
/case (24/b) - special 10% off this price

.. please contact..

Raphael Knapp (or simply reply to this message)
415.297.9673 (cell)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Accessorizing Your Wine Experience

My friend Scott Koegler from Wilkesboro, North Carolina, whose blog, Wines of Yadkin Valley, is a wine-traveler's guide to the area, has posted a handy-dandy guide to wine accessories, from corkscrew to wine rack: Accessorizing Your Wine Experience. Especially useful reading for those of you just starting out in your wine enthusiasms.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Judging the (Surprisingly Good) Wines of the San Joaquin Valley in California

Photo of a cluster of Chenin Blanc grapes.
Image via Wikipedia

So Lew Perdue (CEO of SavvyTaste) and I drove down from the San Francisco Bay area and Sonoma to the middle of California, most of the way down Highway 99, south of Fresno, to the hamlet of Kingsburg, a small farming community that serves as headquarters of the San Joaquin Valley Winegrower's

This area is also the center of the bulk-wine industry -- growing grapes to go into inexpensive wines, sometimes called jug wines because many are sold in half-gallon jugs. EJ Gallo, largest winemaker in the country, is headquartered here, for example.

For that reason, and because the Valley is a hot, flat, featureless plain lying between the Sierras and the Mountain Range, where most of the fruit, vegetables, and nuts in the western part of the U.S. is grown -- it has never been considered capable of producing a quality wine. Wine with 'character' and depth and complexity needs well-drained soils (which means hills and often rocky or sandy soil), and some cool weather, especially night and morning fog, to cool the grapes heated during the day.

The San Joaquin Valley, by contrast, is one of the flattest places on Earth -- it has a slope of only 1%, according to John MacPhee's book on the state. Coolness is something you experience if you are next to an air-conditioning unit. And the soil is rich, ideal for vegetables, but too luxurious for wines, which apparently have to be abused to do their best work.

But San Joaquin wine-grape growers beg to disagree, and have introduced novelties such as spraying the grapes to cool them down in order to produce wines of character. Or so they claim.

To give this claim some weight, they hold an annual wine competition -- local winemakers submit their best examples, and a dozen judges taste them blind and rate them as to whether they are any good.

By which we mean are they wines of character, with sufficient complexity and flavor to be enjoyable. Are they, in fact, wines that taste a whole lot better than you'd think they should taste, considering where the grapes are grown. In other words, are they any better than a Carlo Rossi half-gallon jug of "Burgundy" from the local supermarket?

Judge and Ye Shall Be Judged

The judges are a collection of wine distributors and wine writers from across the state, many from this area. Lew Perdue, my partner, is a longtime wine-industry inside commentator who publishes Wine Industry Insight for the trade. I am a wine blogger (this one), cofounder of the wine-advice site, and enthusiast who might be thought to represent the average wine drinker, in that I have no insider connections with the wine business.

The dozen of us gathered on a Friday morning in June at the ungodly hour of 8:30am at the Hye-Life Restaurant in town. We were divided into two panels, where we were to have the 88 submitted wines divided between us. We'd each be tasting-and-spitting 44 wines. Plus, as it turns out, retasting the top finishers to rank them for best-of-show. All the wines were tasted blind, in flights of similar types/styles/grapes.

As I say, we were basically trying to decide whether each wine we tasted was, basically, any good; not whether it was the best example of whatever it was we'd ever tasted. That made it easier for me; is this Syrah the best example of the winemaker's art of Syrah? I wouldn't know. Is it drinkable? Is it a decent wine? Is it worth recommending to a friend? That is a question I can answer--for my own tastes, anyway.

We dived in, with soda cracker and filtered water as the only palate clearers. I wasn't entirely surprised to find that almost everything I tasted was at least drinkable -- these were the winemakers' idea of their best efforts, so they ought to be at least decent.

Surprise Me, I Dare You

I was, indeed, surprised to find several submissions to be really, really good.

The eight Syrahs our panel tasted were outstanding! Big, gigantic, red-almost-black, cocktail wines I'd be happy to see at my table anytime, baby! Zowie!

To my surprise, the four Zins were disappointing. One of the judges said Zins are a grape that really needs poor soil tilted at an angle (hilly) to be any good. Apparently! If they can knock out blow-your-head-off Syrahs but wimpy Zins, it's got to be the fault of the Zins!

The real surprise for some of us was one of the two Chenin Blancs offered to us. In the U.S., Chenin Blanc is mainly a wine that brings a little acidic kick to jug wines, so basically, nobody takes it seriously. That is, U.S. Chenin Blancs; some French Chenin Blancs, on the other hand, are highly regarded, though pricey.

The Chenin Blanc we were served was absolutely delicious! We were smacking out lips and considering cheating by swallowing instead of spitting, it was so good. The judges around me kept exclaiming with pleasure as they sipped, and so was I. I'll take a case of that, please!

Another surprise, for me, was the Tempranillo. Now Temp is a funny grape: It can produce a full-bodied wine (Rioja in Spain, eg), but it all too often can be a thin, light, and, to me, less interesting wine. In California, it has often been used as a blending grape for jug wines. We were served the three Tempranillo's after the gigantic Syrahs, so I joked that we would hardly be able to taste them, after our taste buds had been bombed by the Syrahs.

I was wrong -- I admit that, ok? The three Temps were terrific: full-bodied, round, full of flavor.


Later we were emailed a list of the 51 wines (out of 88) that scored well enough to recommend. I searched the list to find what wonderful things I was tasting. Here are the best of the wines, as far as I was concerned:

Chenin Blanc, NV, Ehrhardt Estates, Clarksburg
Syrah, 2007 and the 2008 both, Cardella, Fresno County, Fundus Vineyard
Syrah, 2004, Silkwood, California
Syrah, Fresno State, 2006 Madera County, Fasi Vineyard, and the Syrah, Fresno State, 2006 Fresno Sounty, Saviez Vineyard.
Syrah, 2006, from Pasos Vineyards, Lodi, Alta mesa.
Syrah, 2006, Z Wines, Fresno Country, 1st Release. Z Wines is famed for their Zinfandels, but they didn't submit one of those, for some reason.
Tempranillo, Cedar View, 2007, Paso Robles
Tempranillo, South Coast Winery, 2007, Temecula Valley
Tempranillo, Sunfire Esate, 2006, Amador County

Also tasty were the 2006 Estate Viognier from Cedar View, the 2007 Grenache, fro South Coast Winery's Temecula Valley vineyards; the 06 Cab fro Sunrie Estates' Sierra Foothills; the Alicante Couschet from Cedar View (2006, Estate); and the Black Jack Port, NV, from South Coast Winery, South Coast.

Oh, there were two more surprises for me:

They served us a nice, light, refreshingly dry rose that turned out to be a White Zinfandel. Actually, that's unfair: It was actually a 2008 Dry Zin Rose, from Chateau Lasgoity in Madera. You can, of course, make an excellent rose of Zin without making one of those flabby white zins that are the bane of the wine-drinking world.

The other surprise for me was that, after our tongues were raw from the tannins in the big reds, especially the Syrahs, they served us -- bubbly! An NV Blanc de Blanc from South Coast Winery, an NV Sparkling Muscat Canelli from South Coast Winery, and an Almond Sparkling from Weibel, also nonvintage. Turns out, nothing refreshes and revives your taste buds after tannin abuse like sparkling wines! (Even the Almond Sparkling, which was pretty awful from our point of view -- it had the aroma of almond-scented hand soap -- yet for those who like flavored bubblies, it would probably be considered tasty, as would be the Raspberry Sparkling, also from Weibel.) So the next time you host a tasting, have sparkling wine or champagne on hand to refresh the flagging palates of your guests! (I tried this at the Pinot tasting in San Franisco last week too, though this time with Gloria Ferrar bubbly, and it worked again!)

There were a few we tasted that didn't make much of an impression, but unfortunately I don't know which ones those were, or I'd say so.

Conclusion: The Association has done a good job of demonstrating the truth of their assertion: San Joaquin Valley is capable of producing some great-tasting wines. Yes, they are.

So where do you get these wines, and what do they cost? That info was not given to us. A little work with Google gives me some info, but not all: Prices but not necessarily on the exact wine-year judged, little info on production size, little on where available. Here's a little:

Ehrhardt's Chenin Blanc seems to be around $12 a bottle.
Cardella's Syrahs: the 2004 is sold out at $23 a bottle, with only 100 cases produced - ouch; the 2005 was 200 cases and no price is given on their site; their more recent Syrahs aren't mentioned. Don't you hate it when the high scorers aren't available?
Silkwood's 2004 Syrah seems to be about $25, available online.
South Coast Winery's extensive online collection includes their Tempranillo at $20 a bottle. They also operate a winery-based spa, by the way. Temecula is about 50 miles east of LA, in the so-called Inland Empire.

Sunfire Estate, a tiny but interesting winery that produces one of the extraordinary Tempranillos, as well as pretty decent Cabs and other Reds, sells its Temps for about $45, which takes your breathe away to think of a Temp at that price -- until you actually taste it, and then you change your mind very quickly.

Cedar View produced a great Tempranillo, which they price at a bargain $18. They also submitted a tasty Alicante Bouschet ($18), and a nice Viognier ($17).

And finally, Fresno State Winery (which sounds like a ag college) produced a couple of the knockout Syrahs; their site sells only the 07, priced at $25.

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A List of Lighter-Style California Pinot Noirs

Calera Wine CompanyImage of Calera Wine Company via Snooth

(From NYT: Eric Asimov's The Pour wine column, Marh 10, 2009, titled
Finessed and Light: California Pinot Noirs With a Manifesto

On the Lighter Side
The following are among the California pinot noirs made in a lighter style, emphasizing finesse over power. Some wines are widely available; others are sold by mailing list. Prices can range from around $20 for entry-level bottles up to about $75 for some single-vineyard wines.

ANTHILL FARMS Sonoma/Mendocino; lovely, fresh and floral.
ARCADIAN South Central Coast; lively, pure and age-worthy.
AU BON CLIMAT Santa Barbara; well-balanced and complex.
CALERA WINE COMPANY Mount Harlan; intense single-vineyard wines.
COPAIN Mendocino; delicate and nuanced.
FAILLA Sonoma Coast; elegant and focused.
INMAN FAMILY WINES Russian River Valley; bright and pretty.
JOSEPH SWAN VINEYARDS Russian River Valley; restrained and delicate.
LANE TANNER Santa Barbara; light-bodied and fragrant.
LITTORAI Mendocino/Sonoma Coast; structured and energetic.
LONGORIA Santa Barbara; earthy and intense.
THE OJAI VINEYARD Santa Barbara; light and savory.
PEAY VINEYARDS Sonoma Coast; spicy and polished.
PORTER CREEK VINEYARDS Russian River Valley; fresh and elegant.
RHYS VINEYARDS Santa Cruz Mountains; graceful and complex.
RIVERS-MARIE Sonoma Coast; intense, lively and balanced.
TALLEY VINEYARDS Arroyo Grande; earthy yet fresh.

Comment: I discovered the wonders of Euro-style lighter wines while traveling in Europe and am now a big fan. I love big, dramatic, jammy reds, but light-yet-flavorful reds, of which Pinots can be the ideal example, are fabulous too -- just different. See my recent discussion of Beverage Wines vs. Cocktail Wines!

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