Thursday, December 19, 2013

Special Report, This Year’s Lucky Seven are definitely to seek out! Great Stuff ! Wine Correspondent Ralph Del Rio's 2013 Toppermost!

By Ralph Del Rio, Wine Correspondent

Every year I make an effort to bring up some memorable wines for the year; which are some of the overall best; standouts! In previous years the list was a little more comprehensive. This year we are a bit more concise in pairing the list down to a great seven wines. So let's get on with 2013's top wines.

2011 M.Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem, Cotes du Roussillon Villages

Just a flat out knock out wine! It can be put up against the greats. Super complexity on parade here… there’s toasty vanilla, licorice and an all-encompassing richness. Smooth like velvet, supple and tannins are very fine it is extremely meaty and briny tang with hints of lobster!?! Has to be tasted to be understood!

2012 The Prisoner, Napa Valley

Not subtle at all. This wine has been the bees knees for some time now; It’s the 2012 is menacing; Its deep black and ruby/purple color is trailed by a big, peppery, substantial, Rhone-like bouquet with hints of Spanish cooking bay leaf, cigar tobacco, black currants and honeyed cherries. It’s yet medium to full-bodied; mouthwatery plummy…Very decadent.

2012 Fess Parker Ashley's Vineyard Chardonnay
The wine is dry and cutting, It is completely polished in you can recognize lemons, limes and pears and tart apples, a little smoky It is a firm wine. It makes you think of salmon and baked chicken. Take your time drinking it. It saddles the old world /new world. It has tons depth.

2010 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa (750ml)
A killer from a ‘Judgment of Paris’ wine; this Cabernet is full-bodied with colossal ripeness and fruitfulness. A lush wine that has nice long finish and mid to high tannins. It is herbaceous and has sage and sweet oak savory-ness.  Blackberry is integrated with the toasty sweetness of oak. There are hints cinnamon, clove. Very fulfilling!

2005 Bodega Classica Hacienda Lopez de Haro Reserva, Rioja
The major value of the bunch. It is crisp acidity and firm tannins on the dry, dusty dusky finish It is very intensive. A Gorgeous nose of five spices, tobacco, balsamic and black fruits. The mouthfeel is deep with sheets of spicy ripe black fruit. Finishes in waves…

2010 Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva, Chianti (750ml)

This Chianti is expressive and very pretty. There is a delicacy to the wine that keeps you going to the nose over and over. It is juicy and mouthwatering. Very dark berries, cut flowers, leathery and tarry notes and spices combined with some anise that adds complexity. A delicious wine that is great with food; a lot of diversity.

2012 Poet's Leap Riesling 2012

It is a very openhearted wine. It’s rich, and vivacious and youthful. It’s very racy. But…What is thought-provoking is that this Riesling's bouquets drier than it is, with its limeade and papaya aromas. It's actually feels balanced, rich and fleshy. It screams for a spicy food dish. Perhaps Asian, Indian or even spicy meats. It has a stony minerality;  carroty, citrusy and exotic flavors whisk through this attractive wine

Monday, November 18, 2013

Some suggestions about my Cellar

I have a cellar of my own. How I got to that point is a little bit of a mystery but I think it has a lot to do with being simply mad about the grape!

Nevertheless, I am often asked about how I stock it or if I stock it or how do I know what I have etc…

I think that every individual stocks his or her own cellar according to his or her own tastes. The early drink wines really do not gain anything from being in a cellar. The less age worthy bottles that you have the more care you need to have to replenish the cellar. So there needs to be a balance.

I read somewhere that keeping a wine cellar is like doing a ‘Chinese Puzzle’. I feel that is fairly accurate. So one needs to have some detailed requirements to give your wine cellar some principles or reason. For instance…

Try to acquire wines of the same usage and style but which do not develop at the same rate. It is not good if they all reach their peaks or mature at the same time. It also helps you work on developing your palate and enjoying varietals.

Also, try to find wines that can stay at their peak for as long as possible; so you do not have to consume them all within a short period of time.

Furthermore, try to then vary the wine as much as possible in order to not have to drink the same wines over and over. It does not matter how great the wine is you need to have variety in your cellar so you can have it on hand for different occasions and for pairing with food.

The most important think about the size that you have to store and the budget that you have to spend.  In my case it allows ne to buy two to three bottles at a time so I can drink one sooner and save some for later.

Eventually you end up with the ability to choose a different wine every now and then; which for me is the best part of having a cellar; to be able to pick a wine out of a few choices when I need to.

By the way; other than reading the wine magazines; if you do travel to wine country buying wine from the producer, vineyard(via club) affords the pleasure  of getting great wine at a good price. It is also a great way to begin to understand the art of wine-making.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A little about the Vine through the year and the Soil...

Winter through Spring

The winter is the resting period for the vine and it then proceeds to budding and the flowering of the fruit and the appearance of fruit begins.

The pruning and the tying up of the vines transpires during the winter to spring and towards the summer the training

The soil is uncovered in the winter and then gets reworked through the spring into summer.

Summer through Fall

In the summer we see the ripening of the fruit and the fall brings the fruit fully ripened and ready for harvesting.

We will have the trimming of the vines in the summer and in the fall it will be cut back to get ready for the next winter. It is the winter when they bank up the soil.

The soil, both topsoil and subsoil play a crucial role. Vines grow on very poor soils and the restriction helps the flavor and the richness of the grapes. The key is the soil must be able to supply enough water for the vines to grow, yet be able to drain excess rainwater, especially during the ripening period. Drainage is a precarious factor; conditions may be too wet or too dry and may require artificial drainage.

The soil also contributes to the color, aroma, and flavor of the wine. The same grape variety, under the same climatic conditions, may produce wines of markedly different character according to the type of soil on which it is grown such as clay , gravel beds, limestone or granite to name a few; but that’s for another day.

Friday, August 2, 2013

CIGAR 101 - The cigar-smoking experience is very personal; It’s comparable to finding your favorite beer.

The cigar-smoking experience is very personal. Everyone has different tastes, so make sure to try a few different varieties in order to discover your cigar of choice. It’s comparable to finding your favorite beer. You possibly didn’t know it was your favorite until you tried some with different variations: more hops, less wheat, maybe some orange zest. But when you finally found your favorite beer, you knew it was the one. Cigars are going to be exactly same way.

Let’s quickly talk about the key parts of the cigar…

The head of the cigar: This is the end that you put in your mouth. It’s sealed off and will require cutting; a guillotine or punch cut is preferred to reduce the chance of smooshing the cigar up; however, a sharp knife might do. Please do not use your teeth!

The foot of the cigar: This is the side that you light; try to slightly toast the edges before you light up.

 The filler: A good, consistent blend of dried and fermented tobacco.

The wrapper: The outside of the cigar. A lot of the cigar’s flavor comes from this outer layer… 60% -70% of it. It differs in color from light to dark and there are many good ones( but that’s another article).

How do you know if your cigar is good ?

There are two general elements involved in the making of a fine, handmade cigar: QUALITY TOBACCO AND QUALITY CONSTRUCTION and the CONSISTENCY in both of those.

Look at the aesthetics and smell the aroma. It should feel good to the touch too. The construction of the cigar aids the taste and draw of the cigar. If a cigar has been made with less leaves in the filler; then it will feel to be smoked easy; which may not always be a good thing. If a cigar is under filled then when you draw on the cigar it will burn faster and maybe unevenly.

If you overfill the cigar and it will be much harder to draw a smooth smoke. It will be tight. So the correct amount of filler in the construction is essential to a good cigar.

While smoking…the ash should be relatively firm and get to an inch long without difficulty (except in small ring gauges). A falling ash is not necessarily a sign of a poorly constructed cigar, but, if your cigars develop a firm, even ash while you're smoking, it is an indication that they are well made.

A poorly made cigar if inferior quality is used, the cigars will produce a harsh, rough, musty taste with an unpleasant, penetrating aroma that usually brings negative vibes.

So it goes without saying that reputation is important. Ask your tobacconist if you get the chance; usually they are aware of what the folks are saying and how they are selling. GO EXPLORE!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough is booming! others too...

This week I picked up a couple of bottles of Kim Crawford’s Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough; I've always liked this wine. Even today being run by large conglomerate; It is still very tasty. Sauvignon Blanc is coming from many places in great quality. Here are some examples...

Some nice ones are,  New Zealand's own Cloudy Bay, Oyster Bay and Loveblock(to name three), South Africa's Mulderbosch, Chile's Erraruiz Max Reserva, Napa's Frog's Leap and the Loire's Domaine de la Perriere Sancerre...You get the message. Sauvignon Blanc rocks all over the place.

But the wines of New Zealand have really picked up over the past ten years and the Marlborough region has been the center of terrific attention.

Ok here are some New Zealand facts and storytelling to chew on.

The modern era of Marlborough’s winemaking history really starts in 1970s but the folks of Marlborough truly have been pioneering grape growing and winemaking as early as the 1870s, one hundred years earlier. Honestly, I don’t think those folks would have ever predicted the progress and fame though.

The main reason for the growth in the region is because of the Sauvignon Blanc. This has all happened so fast it wine years.  The region is now considered a benchmark region for the varietal which in itself is pretty remarkable. But, it's deserved.  The key to future lies for this region to stay true to itself; evolve and not become a victim of standardization over time.

Sauvignon Blanc….with its’ individual spiciness and invigorating fruit flavors have really caught the imagination of international wine community and general consumers.

So this has spawned vineyard development that is reaching its highest peak now. It has also inspired other countries such as Argentina and South Africa to put more stock into Sauvignon Blanc... with success as well.  The wines are very tasty.
According to the New Zealand’s Winegrowers  Association  the  first exportation of wine in 1963 came ten years before grapes were even planted in Marlborough. Nevertheless, Marlborough is now the largest wine producing region in the country, 79% of New Zealand’s total active wine production.

As Sauvignon Blanc has continued to fuel that the Marlborough, New Zealand wine boom;  The region itself has advanced to  23,600 hectares of land planted with planted grapes. These plantings are primarily located within the Wairau Valley...(but has also spread southeast into the smaller slightly cooler Awatere Valley.  Furthermore, recently the southern side valleys of the Wairau – Fairhall, Hawkesbury and Waihopai – have grouped an assemblage of vines).  
Located on the east coast with mountains to the west, Marlborough is one of New Zealand’s sunniest and driest areas.  In these sunny, but moderately ‘cool’ climate conditions, the grapes have the advantage of a lengthy slow, flavor intensifying ripening period.  The average daily temperature during summer is nearly 80 degrees F… but clear cool nights keep acidity levels high in the grapes.

The obvious day and night temperature shifts are a major factor behind the ability of the Marlborough grapes to retain both fresh, vivacious fruit and crisp, herbaceous characters(The contrast between day and night also helps to enhance the color in the skins of Pinot Noir).

In the same way, within the wine region, grape growing has been developed primarily on sites with moderate low fertility and a strikingly stony, sandy loam top soil covering deep layers of free-draining grit, as found in the wine areas of the Wairau and the Awatere Valleys. 

These shallow, fast draining, low fertility soils help to produce a lush, aromatic ripe wine and this is because this type of soil lessens the vines potency; when a more herbaceous style of wine is looked-for, sites with more water retentive soils and restrained fertility are selected. - If you can picture that?!?
If you have the opportunity… pick a bottle up today and try it with some Salmon or maybe a Caesars Salad. It's grapefruit, melon and herbal qualities go well along side shrimp with dill or other herbs; even goat cheese! I like Sauvignon Blanc it with Buffalo Wings myself.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Summer BBQ and Wine. Think about Whites, Roses and Reds - it’s the perfect accompaniment!

It’s time to think of wine when you fire up the grill. These days there’s something about the outdoors and all the exciting foods being grilled it’s the perfect accompaniment to a barbecue—besides it’s not as filling as beer or various cosmos and daiquiris!

There's one snag with red wines, when you BBQ in the summer is that it can get really hot! In hot weather, red wines lose their aromas, seem flabby and less refreshing and spicy foods cry out for a nice-cool beverage, which is why beer and frozen drinks are popular.

Not to fear!

Crisp, intensely aromatic high-acid white wines, like Sauvignon Blanc, is great with grilled with grilled vegetables and shrimp, and is the best wine with tomatoes. Off-dry and slightly sweet Rieslings and Gewurztraminers pair really well with nicely with spicier and sweeter barbecue flavors. A cool Chenin Blanc is tasty as well with its flair for pears and apples.

Also dry rosé, the comeback wine of late is a summertime delight. Good rosés combine the juiciness and pick-me-up of chilled white wine but with uncommon and exciting flavors—that come from some of the red fruits typical of red wine, but also notes, orange rind, strawberries and fittingly watermelon

Please…don't let anyone stop you!  Some say dry rosé is the definitive wine for hot dogs!

And for the red wine drinkers…  

Anything coated in barbecue sauce, with its smoky, spicy, and typically sweet flavors, is a challenge for  wine pairings unless of course you pick the right wines.

A young, bold, spicy red such as Zinfandel, Shiraz, or French Côtes du Rhone will stand up to the barbecue flavors without a problem. Also a Chianti and a Barbera, with their higher acidity, are great too and guess what??? They will also handle tomato-based sauces.

Grilled meats, like steak, can work with a wider range of reds, including young Cabernets… Just don’t pick any older Cabernets. It’s better with the young ones. Veggies one the grill are outstanding too!


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Let's talk about the wines of Spain, the main grapes, and classifications

Recently I was at a Grand Spain tasting at one of the great wine spots in the Tampa, FL area… B-21’s Wine Warehouse. I’ve been patron there for about 15 years and about every quarter they host an abundant informative tasting event.  It’s one of the definitive wine stores in the Southeast USA; probably the prototype for Total Wine.

This tasting got me rethinking the major Spanish grape varieties and wine laws a bit, because they are imperative to the wine and the country. So, I am going to go through this a bit right now and break it down according to the wines we tasted that afternoon.

Spain has a somewhat large number of distinctive wine producing regions, more than half taking the classification Denominación de Origen (DO) with the most of the rest being classified as Vinos de la Tierra (VdlT).

There are only two regions nominated as Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa). The Rioja and Priorat regions are the trophy and flagship regions of Spanish winemaking.

For Instance, familiar wine places such as Jumilla, Ribera Del Duero, Rias Baixas, Toro, Navarra, Campo de Borja, Calatayud, Costers de Segre, Yecla, La Mancha and Penedes are all Denominación de Origen (DO).

The Oxford Wine Companion says that there’s an estimate of over 600 grape varieties are planted throughout Spain but 80% of the country's wine production is focused on only 20 grape varieties.

Spain grapes have always developed with winemakers reworking things to the wide-ranging and extreme climate of the region. Yet, the dry weather in many parts of Spain eases the threat of common viticultural problems . There is always the other side of things.

In Spain the vineyards are several decades old, with the old vines producing lower yields of fruit. This is an issue that has being constantly addressed and is a main reason for the Spanish wine boom these days. In the 1990s, the use of irrigation became more popular after droughts hurt the harvests; so the practice of using irrigation in all Spanish wine regions was legalized with many regions quickly adopting the practice. The widespread use of irrigation has encouraged higher density of vine plantings and has contributed to higher yields in some parts of Spain which has led to an abundance of good wine.

As the Spanish wine industry becomes more modern, there has been a larger presence of international grape varieties appearing in both blends and varietal forms, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. Other Spanish grape varieties that have significant plantings as well including Cariñena, Godello, Graciano, and Mencia(which is similar to Cabernet Franc).

The red wine grape Tempranillo is the most widely planted grape variety(really the top honor goes to Airén the Spanish brandy grape…). Tempranillo has recently eclipsed Garnacha(Granache) in plantings. Tempranillo is known throughout Spain under a slew of different names including Cencibel, Tinto Fino and Ull de Llebre.  So be on the lookout for that.

Both the Tempranillo and Garnacha(Granache) are used to make the full-bodied red wines linked with the Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Penedès regions.  The Garnacha happens to be the main grape of the Priorat region. The Garnacha blended along with Cariñena and some international varieties is creating some of the great age-worthy cellar wines in the world today in the same way the Super-Tuscan is doing that for Italy.

Further,In the Levante region(the eastern region of Iberian Peninsula, the Spanish Mediterranean coast), Monastrell and Bobal have significant plantings and they are used for both dark red wines and dry rosé.

In the northwest of Spain , the white wines Albariño and Verdejo are popular plantings in the Rías Baixas and Rueda regions respectively.

In the Cava producing regions of Catalonia(sparkling wines produced in the Champenoise Traditional Method may be labeled Cava)and elsewhere in Spain, the principal grapes of Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel·lo.

And lastly in the southern Sherry and Malaga(in the Costa del Sol) producing regions of Andalucia, the principal grapes are Palomino and Pedro Ximénez.

With all this wine Spain is the most widely planted wine producing nation according to researchers, but it’s the third largest producer of wine in the world behind France and Italy and this is due, in part, to the very low yields of the old vines planted on the dry, infertile soil found in many of the Spanish wine regions.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Ripeness in Wine has a very big impact!

It’s summer time and all the fruit trees are starting to ripe. For me ripeness and the degree of ripeness is where the fruits real achievement is prepared and it is a big key to how great a fruit can be.

Over here in Florida we have a lot of Mango, Avocado and Citrus trees.  We love our ripe fruits. Because of the tropical climate and grapevine diseases, particularly Pierce's disease, vitis vinifera (grape vine we know today as the wine grape) does not grow well in Florida. In fact as early as 1990 the Florida Orange Groves Winery began to cultivate wines made from 100% tropical fruit. And because of that the term Florida Wine now comprises varieties like mango, key lime, orange, grapefruit, blueberry and strawberry and several other wineries located in Florida now experimenting with tropical fruits with success. Even though there are no designated American Viticultural Areas in Florida; the state is one of the most important wine states in the country.  It is home to several major wine wholesalers and distributors. Naples, Sarasota and Tampa are among the most influential in the wine business due to it’s proclivities to cuisine, great wine lists at restaurants and news worthy and improbable wine events for charities including festivals for foodies.

Anyways, ripening is when the small grapes begin to grow larger and all the flavor compounds, sugars, and water start to form inside the grape.  When the fruit begins to set the grapes go through a change called veraison which is when the color of the grape changes and it begins to soften as the water and sugar is flowing from the leaves.  As we learned in grade school as sunlight hits a plant photosynthesis creates sugar in the plant and it starts to send the sugar to the grape which makes the high acidity in the grapes fall off.

Hence, ripening is crucial to viticulture. It’s very important.  The reason is because it directly impacts 3 major characteristics of the finished wine.

The acidity in grapes transmogrifies into acidity in a finished wine which can be sensed on the palate and tasted. The less ripe a grape the higher the acidity, the ensuing wine will have; simultaneously, sugars in a grape will eventually be converted into alcohol during fermentation. The more sugar found in the grape the more potential alcohol can be produced in a finished wine.  Also, sugar and other compounds dissolved in the juice of a grape also give to the concentration, viscosity and thickness of the juice. Riper grapes have heavier juice and will produce a thicker or heavier wine.  You know how sometimes you hear the  expression ‘that wine has legs’ after a good swirl coats the glass and tears stream down; higher alcohol and the thickness of the juice creates that effect.

The more a fruit hangs on the vine the riper it gets but remember the length of ripening is mostly governed by climate conditions. Cooler climates intensely shorten ripening periods. A grape vine ripening in a cooler climate will have a lot more acidity and lower alcohol content and a lot less body than the same vine planted in a warmer climate.  So understanding ripeness is pretty vital across the board.


Saturday, May 4, 2013

"The Ideal Benchmarks"...How do you taste wine? How do you learn? I'll show you!

I’m going to try and explain the art of tasting. Well, I am going to try. Over the years I have done a lot of tasting and it’s really not a race to finish line. There is so much to learn. Yep, It’s a good way to live mathematics!?! Huh?
In actuality wine is infinite. Endless!!! I often tell my friends…’How many flavors do you come across each day when you drink?’ After a blank stare, I usually say milk, orange juice, soda pop, etc…but in wine the flavors are endless, and the nuances are not just subtle either. It’s changing all the time in the bottle too. Drink it on its own or drink it with food. There is so much opportunity!
The pairing of food and wine ‘is’ a life altering experience. But you have to educate yourself a little and understand that there are benchmarks and a classic way of thinking that you have to acknowledge and pay attention to; because wine has been made for a very long long time and there are some things set in stone on how varietals (the grapes) are supposed to taste like. Learning to taste like the “Pros”; this way is not inexpensive, but if you do it among friends it can be done consistently and there’s nothing more important while learning about wine than talking and listening to others that’s how it sticks in the brain.
So let’s talk about that…
You often near people say “Oh, that’s Old World.” “Oh, that’s a New World wine.” Let’s get one thing straight. There is awesome wine being made all over the planet and there has been a lot of updating and rebirth happening over the last 50 years. There’s a lot of money to be made these days.
When it comes to the character and style of wine it really boils down to 4 or 5 places maybe a few more with some pockets here and there in some very historical wine countries. Wow! Now before you tar and feather me about this fact. I will explain and honestly there is no eccentricity permitted from this school of thought...It’s not set in stone, but it is close.
Tuscany, Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne…Old school Rioja and Albarino from Spain are benchmarks. The Barossa Valley in Australia for Shiraz as well as the Rhone in France has equal expectation. I like to include New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in this list because of its down right distinctiveness.
Most French wines are good to taste with because they have a lengthy track record and are made following laws that are firm, developed and methodical. Places like Loire, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone and Champagne can be relied on for the character of the grape along with the style which has gone through extensive and consistent documentation.
For example, In Italy it boils down to Tuscany, Piedmont and Veneto with Umbria, Campania and Sicily starting to make the cut.  It’s only because in Italy just as Spain even though they been making wine since the beginning of time it seems are going through a wine revolution where areas that were basically inactive for years are now exploding in activity but it’s New World wine. Great stuff though!
So places in Spain like Ribera Del Duero, and La Mancha are not acceptable for benchmark tasting, perhaps Priorat though…
Let me give you another example, California Chardonnay. It can be delicious, especially with shell food.  In fact it’s constantly besting the regions of Burgundy in highly profiled competitions since the mid 1970’s. Yet, California Chardonnay has been traditionally perceived as a oaky, tropical, buttery with vanilla characteristics which is also found in Washington State, Australia and Argentina. You see there is no real reference point like there is in the communes of Burgundy. So as good as it can be; it cannot be used as a benchmark.
You see that is the key. There has to a model or “The Ideal Benchmark” where you know characteristic or style comes from.
We live in a period of wine discovery and there is a wine revolution going on. The thing is to learn what “The Ideal Benchmark” for the wine region or style is and you do that by picking one or two and remembering and realizing and knowing it. That’s how you know the classics. I relate to it this way too. It’s like thinking about the intricacy of all the Beatles songs and thinking about all their influences and listening to their stuff.
Well then, how do you remember and realize and know this stuff. Try to train your palate to spot aromas and flavors (I made up and posted a chart that can get you started). Also try to do it with friend too. Find a wine guy you can work with at a wine store to chat things up. Try to travel to wine country. It’s hard to do it alone; but it can certainly be done.
Let’s move on to just some of these ‘Ideal Benchmarks’…Which can set you back $50 a pop. But remember the goal here is to get the idea of the characteristic and style of the benchmark.
  • Merlot should taste like wines from Pomerol which is kind of rare even though it’s well known…demand also outstrips supply. So it’s more expensive. It’s fleshy, supple with minerality. Try Chateau Bourgneuf Pomerol and Chateau Lafleur-Gazin an entry level.

  • Pinot Noir should taste like wines from Burgundy, Oregon has also reached classic status in my book Louis Jadot Gevrey-Chambertin and Louis Latour Volnay 1er Cru En Chevret…The Oregon Pinot’s are less expensive. Tempranillo should only be from old school Rioja like Muga or LAN. Try a Reserve or Grand Reserve some which are in $20 - $40 range.

  • Chardonnay has some terrific values Mâcon and Chablis are the two places to look. Look for lemon, pears and some creaminess, flowers, limestone, minerality and barely a hint of oak. Try Louis Latour’s Pouilly-Vinzelles and Simonnet-Febvre at about $20.
  • Sangiovese from Tuscany where the classics come from Chianti and Brunello Montalcino. Herbal, strong nose nice tarty cherry or some earthiness and spice, ruby red garnet with acidity. If it’s real dark it’s a more modern style because they are using more oak. Try Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG and the Friggiali Brunello di Montalcino $20-$40.

  • Cabernet Sauvignon is a great grape!  Reach for the Pauillac region of Bordeaux. Black currants(cassis), black cherries, Hints of herbs and bell peppers, tobacco and cedar. When Cabernet is very ripe blackberries come out in front… the blackberries conquer and you get the plums and the jam flavors (happens a lot in Napa Valley). Cabernet Sauvignon can sometimes have vicious tannins and in Bordeaux it is blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc to legendary success. Old Bordeaux’s bring on the flavors of leather, meat and mushrooms and have what I call a Robin Hood effect with suggests a cool forest. The older they get the more they can be easily mistaken for Syrah/Shiraz. Try Château Batailley it is a rock-solid about $50 wine that rates high and may find this wine's prices somewhat reasonable compared to the other and I mean that seriously. Château Pontet-Canet is another reasonably priced, very well-made Pauillac. Try Cabernet’s from the Santa Cruz Mountains just for kicks as well.
I’ll stop there for now… you get the point, I hope…about tasting. In the future I’ll write about some other varietals. I’ll also write about the ‘Repetitive Method’ of tasting and ‘Developing your palette on a budget’. All this wine stuff is endless, you know…

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Wines from Chile...Great, Unique and now 4th biggest exporter! Good Juice!

It’s amazing that in just a few short years, Chile had become the world's 10th largest wine exporter!
Here's a short story on Chile's wine.
Chile is the 4th biggest exporter of wine to the United States.  The country is very resourceful with virtually all major varietals represented. The country produces its fair share of white wine but Chile is probably most recognized for its assortment of reds. In sheer volume, Cabernet Sauvignon is the country's bestseller, but Chile is also known for producing some tasty, spicy, ripe stylistic Syrah as well.

Chile's terroir is essentially textbook for wine production. With its 800 miles of coastline cushioned between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean it shields its grapevines from a lot of the vexations that plague other wine regions of the world. The melting snow from the Andes flows into Chile's wine-growing regions, providing vital irrigation in the face of a relatively dry climate.

Chile has a number of winemaking regions, each unique. All through the country, vineyards on the coastline benefit of the cooler temperatures to produce the white wines, while those vineyards located inland hang on the warmer weather to produce the reds.

The Casablanca Valley is essentially the main white wine region in Chile. Located in the northern part of Chile and with its closeness to the coast it’s the perfect climate for growing wine much of Chile's Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, along with other whites like Viognier and Riesling. Pinot Noir, which is a red that really likes the cool weather is also grown successfully in Casablanca.
Farther south and inland, you'll find the Maipo Valley, which is the oldest winemaking region in Chile with over 30,000 acres of vineyards. The Maipo Valley is the epicenter of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot production. The city of Santiago, is the country's capital and it’s in heart of the Maipo Valley which makes for great for traveling to this wine region.

Below the Maipo Valley is the Rapel region, which is home to the Cachapoal and Colchagua valleys.

Rapel is also home to Apalta, probably Chile's most renowned vineyard. This rich history, burly, rugged terrain and countless vineyards located in close proximity to one another makes the area very  popular for tourists.
This area is home to the Carmenere. This and a lot of other varietals are produced here.

In a story that's being told over and over these days...for years, Chile produced enormous quantities of what was thought to be Merlot; and basically all of this juice was sold inside the country, which makes it all the fascinating. In the 1990s, a bunch of wine buffs from France curious about the origins of the Chilean grapes, analyzed the grapes and were able to identify them as Carmenere, not Merlot! 
Once grown throughout France, Carmenere was all but devastated due to the insect infestation in the 19th century which virtually eliminated these vines. Fortunately the Spaniards brought trimmings to Chile back then and now more than a hundred years later Carmenere has become Chile's signature wine; along with it’s flavorsome hints of five spices, herbaceous pepper and dark plums.

…and what’s also interesting is that many of Chile's vineyards were started using vines imported from France; but that’s another story for another day.… Yep! most of the world has only recently discovered Chilean wine, but its wine production in the country dates back to the 16th century!

Here are some Chilean wines to seek that are making quality across their portfolio where the value wines provide some good juice plus a fine representation of their regions and varietals… and the higher end wines can get really classy and downright prized!

Concha Y Toro


Casa Lapostolle

Vina Montes

Vina san Pedro

Vina Santa Rita

Vina Almaviva




Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Buying wines, storing wines and finding wines to store

Today, the majority of wines are best drunk immediately.  But if you are looking for a wine to nurture for the future it is often smart to look for a wine from a good vintage.

Few of us are fortunate to live in a house with a readymade wine cellar or even a house with a cool dark basement. Nevertheless for wine lovers a “cellar” or wine fridge is not just a small nice to have-it’s essential.

With an attentively stocked cellar you can be confident of having the right wine for the right occasion, even if most of them are for ordinary quaffing.

What I like about wine buying is the mystery behind it.  It’s no science. It’s important to have a few different places to buy your wine. Not only just to keep it interesting, but also it allows you to try to build some relationships.  Not all your wine should be bought at the grocery store or the large outlet.  There’s always several nice wine shops in town and yes, you may pay a little bit more but you might get some valuable information in return…

Is there a guarantee that you will be a successful wine buyer and how do you know if you are good at it? The answer is not plain and simple but if you are thoughtful about it…

The joys of drinking those budding wines that you have stored for its peak of maturity for a certain occasion (recognizing your thorough judgment/luck) can be rewarding and a lot of fun!

So what’s a good place to start? A good place to start is with wine producers.

You might ask… Is it okay to purchase blindly from certain producer’s …Sure!

For example , these days for Spanish wines, I can reach for an Eric Solomon and Jorge Ordonez wine.  If it is under $25 per bottle and it is in my budget; I will try it. Another is Kermitt Lynch; I will certainly consider his stuff because it’s always well-made. Try one of his burgundy wines (red or white). He has great French product that I trust and a lot of good restaurants do as well. Jeffrey M. Davis is excellent too especially for Bordeaux wines!

Mainly these producers are purchasing grapes or finished wine from countless minor estates, then blending, bottling and selling the wine under the their name. A lot of the times it’s excess grapes from expensive vineyards.

In Burgundy, France some of the best, and well-known, burgundy producers are primarily négociants (merchants)—including Louis Jadot, Joseph Drouhin, and Bouchard Père & Fils and they make great wines at all price levels.

Recently folks like distributor Cameron Hughes and Australian Cult winemaker Chris Ringland with the same inspiration are buying lots or creating ambitious even nontraditional wines that I like as well. There are a lot of good ones out there.

So what about storing the wine.  Here are a few general tips on storing wines…

Basic Red Wines:

Cabernet Sauvignon wines are often created to be drunk young but in overall will improve with aging. Bordeaux, France produces Cabernet based wines that have varying degrees of aging potential. A Classed Growth from a good vintage may sometimes need 10 years to mature. Some Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, California and Washington State have aging potential as well.

The Bordeaux’s best Merlot -based wines also need about 10 years to mature.  Lesser Merlot’s tend to peak in 3-5 years.

Pinot Noir  is the ‘noble’ grape. It can age well if grown correctly. Hailing from Burgundy France; it grows best in Oregon, California and New Zealand.  A good red Burgundy needs about  2-5 years to develop its peak complexity.

Syrah/Shiraz based wines especially from the Rhone, France are outstanding wines for aging; some can be cellared for 20 years. In general terms 4- 10 years and let’s not forget that artificial aging achieved through 30 minutes to an hour of decanting will help you consume these wines while they are young.

…and now the

Basic White Wines:  (which very few whites are truly suited for aging too long in the cellar or wine fridge).

A Grand Cru Chardonnay can arguably last up to 15 years but all Chardonnay is really at its best between 2-5 years.

Riesling is usually immediately drinkable but can age well….especially the German Rieslings have great storage potential, the Grand Cru’s can store for 10 years or more. Look for the Rieslings from Washington state, upstate New York Canada for excellent drinking.
Sparkling and Fortified Wines  are a story as well and both can be kept for years but that is best  another story for another day.

Well obviously there is an inherent risk with aging but as you can see… buying, storing and finding wines to store can be very rewarding… and remember it’s not a science.

Monday, March 4, 2013

A small conversation on the Taste, Texture and Weight of food while matching wines

What is it about wine and food that sometimes can be so earth shattering! It's probably because the parallels between food and wine are endless. In the same way the method of cooking used, as with winemaking techniques can influence flavors and textures. The way food is cooked has a huge effect on the way it will taste. It doesn’t have to be a puzzle. Basically…fast, hot and dry conserves taste and slow, moderate and moist cooking exaggerates flavors.

Here's a secret...
When it comes to pairing wines the general rule is that foods prepared in a light method of cooking like poaching or steaming usually requires a fruity lightly acidic wine rather than a tannic one.

As we think this through; the essential methods of cooking are steaming, poaching, and boiling, stir-frying, deep-frying, braising casseroling, stewing, grilling and roasting.
Cooking methods exude the food’s weight and texture which is what creates the variables of taste. Weight is the heaviness of the dish.  For example Osso Bucco is more substantial than salad. You may have put the same seasonings in both but they will each require different wine to compliment it.

Now texture is totally different than weight.  You need to think about the mouthfeel of the wine. Is it smooth? Is it supple? Does it feel like glycerin? Does it grip your teeth or make your mouth pucker (the tannins)? Is it light and crisp? Is there acidity?

Here is a short list on taste, weight and texture to contemplate:

Acidic and Fishy foods– Acidic wines, aromatic, fruity and off dry whites, full bodied reds

Oily and fatty foods – Acidic wines or non-tannin reds

Salty foods – Low tannin reds ; sweet whites

Smoked foods – Spicy reds or oaked, rich and fruity whites

Spicy foods –  Whites with sugar and light acidity, fruity young reds

Regardless of this short list; there is always the technique of comparing textures to see what the food will taste like. Just to see how the tastes blend. Sometimes it turns out just as effective.








Book Review - The Billionaire’s Vinegar 2009 – Benjamin Wallace

The Billionaire’s Vinegar 2009– Benjamin Wallace

The best wine book right now that can be made into a great movie. The whole Thomas Jefferson wine bottle story is an engaging yarn; kind of Hitchcock-ian. You can see where Michael Broadbent could have gotten a little touchy because it does paint him as a scandalous figure. Today wine fraud is in the news regularly. I hear Johnny Depp may star.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Columbia Valley! Wake up and jump in with both feet to America’s second largest wine region

The say that the Columbia River was created when ice dams gave way on an ancient lake and sent a massive flood of water from Montana through Idaho and Washington State.  They also say that this flood was so big that it was as big as the flow of all of today’s rivers combined(that's more than big!!!) and when you include the non-stop volcanic activity of those times you get the conditions for  great soils for grapevines. Let's raise our glasses and give three cheers to the Geologists!
The state of Washington is truly becoming a hot spot! The Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and especially the Reisling coming out of this northwest state is to be reckoned with. The Columbia Valley AVA incorporates about 11 million acres of land and you will find  the high end wines as well as the value wines. The Columbia Valley is actually recognized for being the foremost area for value oriented sparkling wines too, done in the traditional method; which rival from time to time the expensive bubblies. Yet their reds are the ones to watch.

The Columbia River forms a boundary between most of Washington and Oregon. The Walla Walla Region is near the 90-degree bend on the river. Cabernet Sauvignon is the most eminent and widely planted grape in the area, followed by Merlot, Syrah, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Franc.
Nearly 40 percent of Washington’s wines come from grapes grown in the Yakima Valley which is different than the rest of the Columbia River Basin in terroir. It's different because the soils are much more sandy and the weather is cooler. The water drains rapidly in this area and this leads to brighter acidity in the wines. A lot of the times you find that this acidity makes the wines adapaptable to food...and you thought the Italians were the only ones playing on this field!

The Yakima Valley is bordered by some of the states most admired and respected sub-appellations – Rattlesnake Hills, Horse Heaven and Red Mountain; Makes for Great Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Further, there is also the new Wahluke Slope which is on the east of Yakima on the Columbia River and is the warmest wine region. This smaller area is known for its Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Giant Chateau Ste. Michelle owns a majority of the Columbia Valley vineyard land ; nevertheless, there are over 250 wineries in the “Columbia Valley” appellation. And really great ones too. Wines such as Amavi, Cadence, Cayuse, Le Ecole No.41 and Leonetti are several to search for.

PS...Columbia Crest and Chateau Ste Michelle are wineries that provide a path to taste alot for starters. Good wines, good values...and they also have very sophisticated wines as well if you enjoy their profiles. I also like what winemaker Charles Smith is doing at all price points. His wines usually have funky names like Boom Boom!, Kung Fu Girl, and get the point.