Friday, August 21, 2009

Pompous Twits: Livermore Valley Wines

[A Twit Don't Spit]

Our Pompous Twits winetasting group's August event started at noon in the back yard of Bob and Karleta Atkinson in Livermore on a lovely August afternoon. Theme: A Taste of Livermore Valley Wines -- Karleta works at Concannon, so it's an area she knows well.

Jerry, Carol, Mike

Actually, she said, when they went around to various wineries to pick wines for this tasting, they were surprised at how long it had been since they'd visited them and tasted -- the Statue of Liberty Syndrome (those who see the Statue of Liberty least often are those who live in NYC).

Jinny, Dawnelle, Paul

John, Jinny
Here are the wines. They were, without exception, excellent, so you are very safe buying any of these, and all are widely available -- in the San Francisco area, anyway. We vote on our favorites of each flight, and I could have kept track of that and reported, but the votes split so evenly for each flight that it wouldn't be much of a guide for you! In fact, it makes one wonder why wines are so variably priced when they all taste so good. Hmmm... Maybe one or more of my colleagues at the Twits tasting could comment.

Prices are only a general guide; they are what Bob & Karleta paid at the time; they are club members for some, so the price is discounted somewhat from what you would pay retail.

2007 Deer Ridge, $21.95
2008 Bent Creek, $14.60
2007 John Christopher Cellars, $19.70

2002 Thomas Coyne, $10.30
2006 Deer Ridge, $13.17
2005 Fenestra, $15.37

Petite Syrah
The PS's didn't have that tart/sour note they sometimes show, thankfully.
2005 Thomas Coyne, $14.70 - smooth.
2006 Fenestra, $19.59 - juicy.
2005 Concannon, $16.47

2005 Fenestra, $26.85 - my favorite
2005 Ruby Hill, $19.97
2007Mitchell Katz, $12.29

A tasty treat. If you've never had wines from the Livermore Valley of California, one of the oldest winegrowing regions in California, you are missing out!

And special thanks to Bob and Karleta for the excellent grilled sausage, and the tasty white starter wines that I forgot to write down; and to the other Twits, who brought additional picnic goodies!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

JW Morris Gewurz--Tasty! And Why Hostile to Sweet?

As I mentioned early, the J.W. Morris Chenin Blanc I picked up at Trader Joe's for $2.99 was a very happy surprise, very tasty and refreshing.

As suggested by my equally cheapskate friend, Jan Roberts, I finally located the J.W. Morris Gewurztraminer at Trade Joe's (I had to ask a clerk--you know how we guys hate to ASK). It was also $2.99 (!) and the verdict: YUM!

It's off-dry -- actually, it's sweet, which is JUST the way I like my Gewurz!

Which makes me wonder: Why is there such hostility to sweet wines? Anybody making a wine that can sometimes be sweet, such as Gewurz, Reisling, or rose, feels compelled to point out that their wine is DRY! NOT SWEET!

They'll even give you the specific residual sugar content to PROVE that it's NOT SWEET! NO, NOT AT ALL!

If you think you taste the forbidden sweetness, it's because of the wonderful fruit they've managed to retain in the wine. That's fruit there, buddy -- not sweetness!

Even a wine that is indisputably sweet is described as "off dry." Never as "a little sweet."

Yet another crime to lay at the feet of White Zinfandel, no doubt.... A hundred times I've had to endure my (non-wine-professional) friends airily announce that they don't like sweet wines.

When pressed, they often reference their youthful indiscretions with White Zin.

Saying you don't like sweet flavors in wine because you drank White Zin when you were a kid is idiotic. It's like saying you don't like red wines because you've tried Mogen David, or Thunderbird. Or that you don't like white wine because you were once offered a Carl Rossi boxed Chard. ("Only once, and I didn't swallow.")

Idiotic. Any experienced wine drinker can point to sweet wines guaranteed to knock the socks off anyone with taste buds and a pulse. When I point out that some of the most expensive wines in the world are "stickies," people are dumbfounded -- and don't believe they'd like them anyway.

But try whites like Thomas Coyne's Sweet Emilie Chardonnay Port, or Fenestra Winery's Sweet Viognier, and you won't be turning up your nose at sweet whites ever again. For reds, try any of many red ports, or if like me you don't usually like port because of the neutral spirits added to them, set your sights on some of the late-harvest reds, such as late-harvest Zinfandel or Cabernet. Rosenblum Cellars and JC Cellars make terrific examples of the art. You'll swoon.

As to Rose's, the recent RAP rose-wine festival in San Francisco illustrates my point exactly. Many of the makers, anxious to avoid being linked to the notorious White Zin, make a point that their wines are dry, dry, dry. Most are, of course, but the French importers had lined up their two-dozen roses along a table, on display from left to right, from driest to sweetest -- and it was an amazing education in the range of roses! The dry ones were wonderful, the off-dry ones were wonderful, and the lightly sweet ones were WONDERFUL!

Please, before you next dismiss sweetness as a flavor characteristic worthy of fine wines -- educate yourself beyond the cheap sweet junk wines of your youth (or the influence of your friends), and give you taste buds a chance to discover yet another world of wine you've overlooked.

Then, the next time you say you don't like sweet wines, you'll at least know what you're talking about. Not that I'll believe you anyway....

Monday, August 17, 2009

Malbec as the Recession Red Wine?

"New Yorkers Swap Bordeaux for Argentine Malbec," says an article in today's Bloomberg. Good Malbecs from Argentina are priced in th $18 to $22 range, says the article, which goes on to give a nice precis of the Malbec grape in Argentina, and the fact that Argentina has come up to 5th place as an importer to the U.S.

In Argentina, malbec, a grape of French origin, has flourished in the intense sunlight, arid climate and nutrient- poor soil found at the foot of the Andes, says Nicolas Catena, whose family owns Bodega Catena Zapata, a century-old winery in the western province of Mendoza.

“The fruit flavors are dense and yet the tannins are very smooth,” says Catena, 69, over a lunch of sweetbreads, blood sausage and a variety of beef cuts at Piegari Vitello e Dolce, a Buenos Aires restaurant. “That’s a rare combination for a new world wine; that’s why it’s popular in the U.S.”

Actually, it's popular in the U.S. because it's a big, beefy wine comparable to a big California Cabernet, but priced at $12 to $50 (depending on the maker -- Bodega Catena Zapata, for example, sells its spectacularly intense reds for $50 and up), it's half or a third the price of comparable Cabs at a given level of bigness (so to speak).

A trade tasting by Argentinian importers in San Francisco this past Spring was a real eye-opener: a grape that made a bad name for itself in the form of cheap, corrosive Chilean Malbecs ten years ago, these Argentinian reds were all flavorful, complex, and interesting. I recommend you try them if you haven't already. (And if you can get a Zapata, jump at it.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

J.W. Morris Chenin Blanc, 2007, California, $2.99, Trader Joe's -- Not Bad!

At the suggestion of a friend, I got a bottle of JW Chenin Blanc down at Trader Joe's, for the munificent sum of $2.99.

So how is it? I'm drinking it now. And it's -- not bad. Not bad at all! Very pleasant, in fact.

Clear, a little crispness without being too sharp. It tastes like - and this will sound odd -- it tastes like it's made from green grapes. You know, the kind you eat chilled at lunch. And this will sound odd too: That's a Good Thing. It's a nice taste.

It sure ain't chardonnay. Or Sauv Blanc, either, for that matter. It's not as oily, and it's not quite as fruity as Grigio or the like.

And it's a lot tastier than the price would suggest.

OK, I'm not much of a white-wine drinker, but this I think will become my house table white. A good after-dinner palate cleanser!

Oh, and an endnote: My friend hadn't actually suggested the J.W. Morris Chenin Blanc. She had suggested this vendor's Gewurztraminer. I couldn't find it on the shelf at Trader Joe's, so I got the Chenin Blanc. Glad I did. But now... I wonder what their Gewurz tastes like?

Excuse me, I have a little shopping to do....

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tasting on the Silverado Trail

Hagafen CellarsImage of Hagafen Cellars via Snooth

Guest editorial from my friends Jim Allison and Lina Enrile of Castro Valley, CA (who are also in my winetasting group, BAWDY).

Dear Friends,
We just came back yesterday from Napa and visited wineries generally in the Stag's Leap district along the Silverado trail. It was great to visit the wineries focusing on one AVA. There is more time for tasting and less time spent driving all over Napa county.

Here is a concise review of the wineries we visited.

[Ambience -Service - Price- Quality (1-5)]

Hagafen Cellars
Tasting free with coupon (4-3-3-3)

Tasting $25 (5-4-4-4)
Owner is Persian Dariuos Khaladi, who made his money in grocery business. The winery is in homage to Persian architecture. It is very pretty, perhaps a bit gaudy.

Darioush WineryImage of Darioush Winery via Snooth

Chimney Rock
Tasting $25 (4-5-4-4). Carla Bosco, pourer: She was very gracious and knowledgeable. The winery is influenced by Dutch architecture. Wines got 90 plus points from WS.

Tasting $15 (2-2-3-2)

Clos du Val
Tasting $10 (3-3-3-3)

Robert Sinskey
Tasting $20 (3-2-4-4) Good Pinot Noir.

Stag's Leap Vineyard
Tasting $30, free compliments of Ben de Leon (3-4-5-5).

Chimney Rock WineryImage of Chimney Rock Winery via Snooth

We bought a bottle of the 2005 Cabernet from the Stag's Leap (the vineyard where the Cab won in the Paris tasting of '76).

Beaulieu Vineyard
ree to club members (5-3-5-5). Tasting for club members is downstairs in a private area. George La Tour Reserve Collection are tasty. Jim now has a wine fridge full of the BV Collection.

Jim and Lina
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hard to get people to do something!

It's surprisingly hard to get people to do things.

I post my monthly Wine Events Calendar to my other wine blog, at (you should subscribe to that too), and send it out to the 35 or so members of my winetasting group, and also post links to Twitter to the hundred or so people, many following me because of wine things. It's hard to tell how much action my efforts generate.

In the areas where I can see action, it's discouraging. From my winetasting group, for example -- only one couple I recognized showed up with me at the Oakland Urban Wineries event. (More may have come from the blog or Twitter, but I don't have an easy way to determine that since I don't know any of them on sight.) More directly, I tried setting up a visit to a winery with the winetasting group, and of the 50 members, none responded. I'm setting up a wine-and-chocolate-tutorial and had to message each person individually, one by one, to get an RSVP! (Fifteen have responded in the affirmative, but only after I messaged each one!)

Regarding the winetasting group, I've decided that you just can't expand an existing group into broader participation. Our group goes to our monthly tasting event. Period. Trying to let them know about other events, and let's get together, or let me know if you're going too so we can link up -- nope. One monthly winetasting. That's it.

So I've decided that I won't try to broaden that group's charter. They are there for one thing; leave 'em alone.

Instead, I've sent emails to members of the group (again, one by one) inviting them to join my separate mailing list on Art events (openings, shows, and art classes). Six couples have responded affirmatively. That's good. It's a start, anyway.

Next, I will query my wine group and ask who wants to be on the list to get a full wine-events monthly calendar. For the ones who say no, or who fail to reply (most people simply don't reply to anything), I will trim down my monthly newsletter to just info about the club tasting that just passed, and the club tasting coming up next. More is a complete waste. Email lurkers don't appear to have any longterm value -- I've never gotten growing participation over time from just sending emails.

I also get members asking me to forward email queries or alerts about things you'd think would interest members of the group. I will decline hereafter; they have access to the list, they can send if they like, though it will be largely bootless for them to do so.

This is why it is critical to grow your group as large as you possibly can. If only one percent will respond to any given opportunity, you need lots of subscribers or Followers to have any impact at all. Or at least, to have any impact worth the effort you put into it.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Wines Not Worth Drinking At Any Price

A wine blogger I follow on Twitter, @DailyWine, posted a Wines Not To Buy ( -- a good idea, I thought, so I opened up my tasting file to find wines to not recommend.

I was surprised that most of my Avoids were tasted ten or more years ago. Either my budget, or my tastes, have improved.

Cardinal Zin CellarsImage of Cardinal Zin Cellars via Snooth

Here are some less-than-impressive wines I've tasted in recent years (with the year tasted in parenthesis).

Americana Vineyards Sweet Rosie, NV, $9 (2009)
A dessert wine, but the sweetness is uninteresting. By contrast, the Pinot Noire NV and the Baca Noire NV from this Finger Lakes, NY winery were quite good (at $20 and $13 respectively), as was the NV Revolutionary Red at $14 (all 2008). My biggest gripe with this winery is their refusal to list the varietel on the label--or on their Web site. In the tasting room, they tell you that many of the wines are blends that include American grapes, not European -- grapes developed at the wine research center at nearby Cornell University, where they work to figure out how to tweak the grapes so they will produce tasty wines that grow well in the mid-New York State environment. This should be a bragging point, especially attractive to tourists from, for example, California, who enjoy tasting something really different. To conceal what should be a marketing asset is amazingly dumb.

Beringer 1999 Nouveau Beaujolais, purchased at BevMo for $5. Awful! Strong chemical aroma ruined it. (2000)

Bonnie Doon Vineyards 2001 "Cardinal Zin" "Beastly old vines" Zinfandel - Santa Cruz. This is my third try at the Cardinal Zin and I give up! It's not Beastly or anything like it -- it's just mundane and bland, despite the wonderful wine-label art! (2003)

Chateau Ballan-Larquette Bordeaux. $10. Give it air for at least 30 minutes and it will taste great, says clerk! Nope - just nasty, sour, and uninspired, no matter how much air I gave it! What a loser! (2006)

Domaine la Bouissiere, Gigondas Burgundy. Falls flat and loses interest very quickly--before you're finished your glass! Sigh...Disappointing for this price! $30! (2008)

Frei Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 Alexander Valley, Northern Sonoma Eh! A gift, but I believe this brand, widely available at BevMo, sells for well under $30. (2006)

Michael Pozzan Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006, Alexander Valley Special Reserve. A gift. I've heard good things about the Pozzan wines, but this one was a bit harsh. You'd think something called Special Reserve - and especially, a Cab from the renowned Alexander Valley, heart of Napa Cab country, would be better than this. My gifter certainly hoped so! (Maybe I should have waited a few years?) (2008)

Rosemount Shiraz, 'Hill of Gold,' 2003, $11, at BevMo. I like Rosemount shirazes, and the Hill of Gold is their idea of an upmarket reserve version for a few dollars more. And past vintages of this wine I liked. But this one was simply not impressive; I found it thin and acidic. (2009)

Stonehaven Riesling, 2005, Winemakers Select, south Australia. Uninteresting. (2007)

Terre de Mistral Rhone, Cotes-du-Rhone, Red Table Wine, Estezargues, France, 14% alcohol, Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault, Counoise. Extremely mediocre. Would not buy again. (May 2009)

White Truck Pinot Grigio, 2007, California, BevMo, $11. Two bottles, one tasted Aug 08, the other Xmas 08. I like many White Truck wines, but not this attempt. It amazes me how hard it seems to be to make a drinkable Pinot Grigio.

I notice that it's common for wines gifted to me to be disappointing. This illustrates the ongoing problem that suppresses greater growth in wine buying -- you don't know what you're getting unless you've tried it before -- and sometimes not even then. One reason for the continued popularity Two-Buck Chuck is the convenient fact that you can buy its unpredictable Merlots and Cabs and Chardonnays and, if the bottle you open tonight is not to your tastes -- well, what the heck, it's only $1.99. It's when you pay $30 or $80, figuring you'll get that much better a wine -- and it turns out you don't like it -- that you are disappointed. And you won't be buying pricier wines very often after that. So good wineries lose out.

So tell me -- what sources do you trust for deciding on new wines to try? Which wine blogs or wine sites, for example?
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Saturday, August 1, 2009

2007 Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon: Another Good One from Two-Buck Chuck

Trader Joe's: Giant wall o' Charles Shaw &quot...Image by Chris Devers via Flickr

Once again, a tasty red from Charles Shaw: I just opened the 2007 California Cabernet Sauvignon. Actually, it was a little rough when I first opened it, so I put the rubber air-suction cork back on it, and a few days later tried it again.

And it was tasty: Lots of appropriate fruit, good body; altogether, a very drinkable $12 wine. That of course costs $1.99 at Trader Joe's.

The problem with reviewing Two-Buck Chuck wines is that you absolutely never know what you're going to find in any given bottle. Because Fred Franzia gets his grapes and his wine from all over the place -- including lots of wines on deep discount from distressed winemakers and grape growers -- but doesn't specify anything other than year and "California." This presumably is to protect those distressed winemakers who are fire-sale-ing a wine that might sell in good times for ten or twenty dollars.

So this week the $2 Charles Shaw Cab may be some bulk wine or grape producing a ho-hum box-wine of a bottle just about worth the two bucks. Next week, having burned through that plonk, Fred ships out a few hundred or thousand cases of a wine that would, in better times, sell for five or ten times that two dollars.

You don't know, so you have to do the Two-Buck-Chuck-Parking-Lot-Shuffle: Buy a bottle at Trader Joe's, go out to your car, take out the cork, taste it - and if you like it, go back inside and buy a case. For $25 the case.

Fine, but with the red wines in particular, you run into this problem: Some reds need to sit in the bottle for a while; or they need air before they taste right. The parking-lot taste test won't tell you that.

Instead, you buy some random bottles from time to time, and a few months (or years, in one case for me) later you open a bottle and it tastes better than it has any reason to taste, at that price. Or it's harsh upon opening, but softens with air.

Wow, you run over to your blog and write it up. What good does that do your reader? You bought it -- when? Last January? What are they supposed to do? Go over to Trader Joe's and buy it? The Cab that's on the pallets at Trader Joes today is most definitely *not* the Cab that you picked up last January! It could be good -- or ok -- or terrific. You can't know!

Because the wine in the bottle is, basically, random (except for the specific varietel), this is like walking down the aisle the picking up bottles at random. Fun, actually -- especially at these prices. But random. And maddening if you're trying to recommend things to people.

(The whites, by the way, don't react this way quite as much because their chemistry is different; they don't all need to age or get a lot of air. You can often tell pretty quickly whether that bottle of Chard is worth buying a case of.)

So the only good this blog posting will do you, the wine-enjoying reader, is this: If you happen to have some 2007 Charles Shaw Cab in your wine closet -- maybe you bought a case and are still working through it -- go ahead and open it up, give it some air, and enjoy -- it's ready!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]