Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Answer is Yes! Great Australian Cabernet Sauvignon! So let’s get on with the Key Australian Cabernet Sauvignon Regions!

The kinship that Cabernet Sauvignon has with a maritime climate is understood due to history of Bordeaux’s Medoc region. Cabernet Sauvignon’s origins can be traced back to France’s Bordeaux region.
Over the past 15 years or so there have been many articles written by proponents of Australian Cabernet Sauvignon such as James Halladay, Oz Clarke, Robert Parker Jr and James Suckling and I agree that these wines are authentic, terrific and dynamic.

Cabernet Sauvignon reaches its highpoint (although Napa Valley may beg to differ these days) on the gravel soils of the Medoc, on the left bank of the Gironde estuary where it is widely blended with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot. Within the Medoc are the famous communes, which produce some of the world’s best red wines.

Okay…so, it is fairly obvious that most (but not all) of Australia’s top quality cabernets come from regions with climates similar to Bordeaux (noticeably Coonawarra and Margaret River) which have a closeness to the sea and without any mountainous regions. Cabernet Sauvignon is a somewhat low yielding varietal, with small berries and thick skins, which give off high color, flavor and tannins. Cabernet Sauvignon ripens late, and has firm tannin structure that guarantees that it’s capable of producing wines with good potential to improve with cellaring.

Cabernet Sauvignon has been in Australia for a very long time. Early records show that by the end of the 19th century it had spread to South Australia’s Clare, Barossa, McLaren Vale and Coonawarra regions as well as in Victoria. Today Cabernet Sauvignon is really considered one of Australia’s great red wines and is widely grown all over the country, from the cool climate of Tasmania to some first-rate vineyards in Western Australia.

So let’s get on with the key Australian Cabernet Sauvignon Regions!


Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon

The fine strip of red ‘terra rossa’ soil over a limestone base produces Cabernet Sauvignon of distinction and refined structure, with the best wines merging sophistication and power. There’s this chocolate intermingled with the fruit and cedary oak. Lingering flavors are focused by dusty fine tannins that jog my memory to Rutherford California ...Coonawarra Estates has some fine Cabs as does Phoenix Estate. Penfold 169 is a high end...there is also Penfolds 407 which is a blend of several regions including a good dose of Coonawarra. 

Barossa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

The Barossa Valley has been an important source of Cabernet Sauvignon, largely as a blending partner with Shiraz. The Barossa Valley makes terrific Shiraz. There are vines of Cabernet Sauvignon in the adjacent Eden Valley also but are of smaller quantity, but fit well with the warm Barossa material. Elderton Estate is one that I like as well as Peter Lehman's wines.

Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon

Margaret River has fashioned some of Australia’s finest Cabernet Sauvignons over the past 25 years and is praiseworthy just like Coonawarra. Their best vintages are hardly ever green, and have ripe black fruits, earth and spicy characters. The majority of Margaret River and Western Australian Cabernet Sauvignons, totally benefits from the blending Merlot. The Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignons vintages of late have been outstanding. There have been last six have been good to excellent vintages from 2007 to ’10 decidedly so and ’11 and ’12 to showing well too.

Mt Barker Cabernet Sauvignon

This West Australian region is known for some outstanding red wines. The overall climate and terroir is restrained enough to foster Cabernet Sauvignon to full ripeness with abundant structure and the capacity to develop into great wines.

Yarra Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Some of Australia’s top Cabernet Sauvignon-based reds come from the Yarra Valley, from nicely situated vineyards with great terroir. These wines are low in extraction, supple in texture, with lean blackcurrant flavors backed by hints of Eucalyptus and Black Olives.

Langhorne Creek Cabernet Sauvignon

One of the mainstays for Cabernet Sauvignon many years, there are some of the oldest vines and areas of superior soil in Langhorne Creek that make very rich, substantial and earthy wine. That is offset by notes of cedar with hints of cardamom, tobacco and licorice spice.

Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

The Clare Valley produces very deep, concentrated Cabernet Sauvignon of power and elegance. This region should not be overlooked. These are wines that possess great aromatics that can have good structure that are medium to long-term propositions in the cellar.

Other Australian Cabernet Sauvignon regions

The above regions are the prime areas that produce Cabernet of renowned quality. Other notable Cabernet Sauvignon regions include Central Victoria, South Australia’s McLaren Vale region, the famous Mudgee and the Hilltops in New South Wales.

Some of my favorites are from Mclaren  Mitolo Jester, Two Hands and Kangarilla Road.

There is a wide range of Australian Cabernet Sauvignon styles and regional characters, from elegant, medium-bodied examples through to full-bodied reds full of intense black fruit flavors, with oak to match and firm tannins. Australian Cabernet Sauvignons are generally versatile, rich and well structured, and usually benefit from further age in bottle, so it’s also well worth cellaring them for a year or two.

Australian Cabs also can be decanted as an option! Use a nice big 750ml glass…

By the way…Grilled Steaks and Burgers with Dijon Mustard, Slow Roasted Shoulder of Lamb with Fresh Mint Sauce, BBQ Ribs in a spice rub or sauce are great place to start for food pairing as well.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How do I find a wine I like? How do I find the winners?.. because budget wines are hitting a quality level that is worth seeking!

Over the past 15 years at least a couple of major things have changed. A lot more people are enjoying wine and budget price wines have been improving over the years. Technology has a lot to do with it; but so does the fact that winemakers have been replanting vineyards with grapes that make better wine. Just like plant breeders go all-out to offer more robust, more fragrant roses for gardeners, grape scholars and scientists have helped winemakers improve their vines.

So basically winegrowers are learning how to get more flavor from the grapes they grow by careful timing of watering and pruning. Money matters too. When wines cost $7 or $8 a bottle and above, winemakers can afford to use the better-quality grapes than they used too.

These changes probably mean that today's under $10 wines would have cost $15 five years ago. Or your $15 wines are hitting a quality level that is worth seeking. Then apply that to a $20 bottle and so on.

Just to think that the price for a high quality Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon or French Bordeaux is roughly $50.

But we are talking the budget wines here… and their advancements!

When you walk down the wine aisle will you will see dozens upon dozens of sensibly priced wines on the shelves, yet picking one amongst the often-whacky labels—including everything from funky monkeys to long-tailed eagles—can be a royal pain. In regards to the style or the appeal of the wines in the bottle can be night and day.

So how in the heck do I find a wine I like?!? How do I find the winners?!?

Here are a few tips to follow to find a really decent wine of good quality.

Choose a grape you previously tasted but this time from a country you've never tried. For example some of the best budget or value wines have recently come from Argentina (try Chardonnay or a Malbec) , Chile (try its Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay too). In Spain lower-priced wines from Rioja make good-value (usually the classic Tempranillo grape). Also, South Africa (Chenin Blanc, also known as ‘Steen’ sometimes) are a great opportunity to enjoy.

In the same way; try up-and-coming grapes and wine styles now before they take off in appreciation and reputation (and price). If you enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon style, try a Malbec—those again from Argentina are good values. Vinho Verde is a light, refreshing white wine from Portugal that's famously inexpensive.

Also, just because it’s pink does not mean it is White Zinfandel.

Don’t pass over rows of massively unrecognized and underpriced rosé wines—many of that are enjoyably dry and crisp. Just so you know…this wine generally goes really great with lightly seasoned fish or chicken dishes.

Riesling, too, is so under-appreciated and that the price remains low for many of these well-designed and delicious wines. Riesling is very versatile. It can be bone dry, semi-sweet or very sweet. So have fun with that.  Remember hot and spicy food goes great with Riesling

By the way…A quick very basic food pairing hint…match ‘Power with Power’

You can't really judge a quality of a wine by its label, but the label might tell you a bit about the style of wine inside If you see a wine label with a beautiful pastel collage of flowers on it, it’s not going to be a big, heavy concentrated red wine…but you never know… Likewise, a wine with a huge red or dirty old truck on it is unlikely to be anything too light-bodied or sweet.

Look, If you see the brand..Barefoot, Robert Mondavi, Jacob’s Creek, Lindeman’s, Beringer, Kendall Jackson, Echo Domani, Chateau St, Michelle, Yellow Tail, Concha Y Toro, Gallo…even Joseph Drouhin brand is in the budget price game now. Those wines are standardized uniform and consistent, regular- even unvarying.

While it's tempting to stick to your "same old same old," usual’s… it's worth rolling the dice to find a new favorite at a low price. It's great to know that with all the good wines out there at this price range, the odds are now better than ever that you'll find winners.


Monday, November 2, 2015

Wines for the Thanksgiving season are Excellent with Turkey, Chicken and Fish dishes.

The Thanksgiving reds are the reds of Beaujolais, France.  These consist of of fruity (not to be confused with sweet) light to medium-bodied reds made from the Gamay grape. Excellent with Turkey, Chicken and Fish dishes. While Beaujolais Nouveau is the most popular, there are actually much higher quality Beaujolais Cru wines from this region. For light-bodied sips:





In Beaujolais, France there are also delicious white wines that are made from the Chardonnay grape as well in a crisp lighter style. If you find one, make sure you pick it up.


Light-bodied and tangy whites are excellent for Thanksgiving as well.


Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand can be great, but it’s got unflinching acidity.  he same grape bottled as Pouilly-Fume or Sancerre from France’s Loire Valley is much softer. These whites are still acidic, tangy and herbaceous just like you crave from S.B., but with a subtler sip full of fresh green apples.


Medium to full-bodied whites are great for the fall/winter holiday…

Grapes like Gerwurztraminer and Riesling are often perceived solely as sweet. Not so fast!

For drier versions of these two, head north to Alsace. Gewurztraminer is a spicy white, while Riesling is more floral. Riesling is actually among the most diverse grapes from bone dry to sugary sweet in styles.

For an eye-opening white wine experience:





Burgundy whites almost strictly made from Chardonnay grapes, but they will not be oaky or buttery whites – they’re leaner and elegant with hints of flint, chalk and minerality.

Here is America ‘Chablis’ lost its social status when it became the preferred name for jug wine in the U.S., however this classy white is far from a flat, bland bulk wine. Also made from 100% Chardonnay, it has little and most often no oak, boasting crisp, mineral-spiked sips.

Other whites from Burgundy include Pouilly-Fuisse and the lesser-known and thus less expensive Macon-Villages. Both are lighter than New World styles and show off Chardonnay’s subtleties without the interference of oak.


Another great one is Viognier which is often called Chardonnay’s sexy sister. They are similar in look and body but this glass of white from the Rhône region will surprise you. It’s very aromatic. Viogniers are not abundant, so drinking will cost you, but these striking floral whites are a really good pick for Thanksgiving time.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Quick Tips for Restaurants and staff on Training and Selling Wine to your eager Guests!

Because our industry attracts a diverse workforce, we cannot expect a universal level of wine knowledge from our employees.  With so many wine training programs – what approach is best?

Because the world of wine is so broad and can be intimidating for many, wine training works best as a continuing process, broken down into small, easily digestible bites.  

A “boot camp” approach,  that is a lengthy and intense training session, may work for new hires already conversant in wine, but will be overwhelming for a novice, and probably soon forgotten. 

"Boot camps" do nothing to reinforce the knowledge of long time employees.

Try this...

By incorporating ongoing training into the weekly or bi-weekly routine, information is more easily retained by the staff.  A great time to do this is during pre-shift meetings.  

By focusing on specific subjects, and doing controlled, limited tastings (small pours and spit cups required!), your staff will remember concrete talking points that they can relay to the guest and can use to sell your list.

Also, enrolling wine wines classes taught by one with some experience such as the FDRP, WSET, SWE or CMS is a plus. An outside tutor for example. Establishing a relationship with a wine expert that can be a conduit to your staff. And don’t forget to see if your vendor(s) can host a session on upcoming wines!
Certification should be encouraged as incentive for higher earning potential. Especially if it results in the extra 2 or 3 bottles sold nightly.  Everybody wins! The restaurant wins, the server wins and of course... the customer wins too!

So... selling wine properly is not only very profitable to the business. It keeps your existing customers base happy and it attracts new customers constantly. It really does! ...and it helps when you take the small rewarding steps with thoughtful training.

We often lose track of the fact that the service staff is also the sales staff and arming the staff with knowledge is the smart thing to do.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Some California Reds have provided Sheer Greatness in a relatively Short period of time!

California has an endless amount of excellent red wines and a lot of them are as either as good or more legendary than Old World French Bordeaux, Italian Chianti and Barolo's and Spanish Tempranillo and Garnacha. In many cases the Old World knowledge has lent it's ways to the California Terroir; but most of the time it's been sheer greatness in a relatively short period of time.

Here are some of my California favorites...Including one from Washington State that is on my mind and fits the mold...

Dominus Estate Napa Valley Red (CA) Christian Moueix's California legend shines by sheer density.

Hall Kathryn Hall Cabernet Sauvignon  (CA)Big, dense, juicy raspberry-driven fruit

CADE Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain (CA) familiar to Napa's presitigious PlumpJack winery in Oakville full and intense

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (CA)Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon brings big, brawny flavors

Shafer One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon  (CA)  From Napa's prestigious Stags Leap District, well-integrated intensity and opulence.

Col Solare (WA) Col Solare, Italian for "shining hill," offers an amazing Cab-based blend sourced from some of (namely Red Mountain, Columbia Valley, Wahluke Slope and Horse Heaven Hills)

Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon (CA) This Grgich Hills Cab has got plenty of power, yet boasts both beautiful balance and richness

Signorello 'Estate' Cabernet Sauvignon (CA) Napa Valley - If Italian Cabernet got lost on its way home

Robert Craig 'Mt Veeder' (CA) Cabernet Out of the Mt. Veeder wilderness comes this marvelous mountain wine

Blankiet Cabernet Sauvignon Paradise Hills Vineyard (CA) - Almost La Mission Haut-Brion-ish in its character

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars - Cabernet Sauvignon Cask 23 (CA) full-bodied and opulent personality is profound

Ramey - Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (CA) from valley floor known for creating rich, smooth Cabernet Sauvignon

PlumpJack - Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville (CA) Engaging red despite its richness and obvious size

Ridge Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains Red(CA) limestone, which is not found in Napa is unique and important
Seek these out, Try them...Cellar them. In fact these wines listed are good to lay down. But there's one thing about great California wines...They can be hard to put down.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Delicious Cheese is great! Where do you start? can find them at the supermarket! Yep..Go ahead and experiment. It's so good!

Cheese is great. It's a great appetizer and it's also a fulfilling meal in itself. There are so many to choose from. Where do you start. It's not an easy question to answer but these days there are so many restaurants, Bistros and Pubs jumping on the cheese bandwagon that it's getting easier to dabble, learn and enjoy.  And you can find them at the supermarket!
There are some delicious cheeses that can be found in the local market such as Whole Foods, Publix, Kroger, Hyvee, Costco and Trader Joe's.

Listed are 8 relatively accessible cheeses that I like along with a little bit of a story to illustrate how interesting it all can be especially when you start pairing cheese with wine.
1.            St. Armour Triple Cream (French) – Rich and buttery, Soft and ripened; a heavenly cheese with angelic façade that’s straight-up sinful – Cow’s milk

2.            Cotswold (British) – legendary, made in Gloucestershire England; the cream is skimmed twice; blended with chives and spring onions farmed in the English Country - cow’s milk

3.            Wensleydale (British) a Yourkshire cheese once made by French Monks from the Roquefort region who settled in Wensleydale; cheese has been made here since 1150 AD; this one is infused with cranberry. – cow’s milk
4.            Spicy Gorgonzola Blue (Italian) – Originating from Milan; this is silky, savory and luxurious makes white chocolate seem brash and salty. Adding fruit or even a fruit-tinged beverage might be essential or a robust beer; unbelievably versatile… Pears, Apples, drizzled honey (tempers the sharp inflections), walnuts! – cow’s milk
5.            Manchego  (La Mancha, Spain) - where Don Quixote hailed. This cheese has hay and nutty flavors with a semi-firm compact distinct buttery texture not too strong or creamy that can be aged anywhere between 60 days and two years; great after taste…great with tapas and small plate like chorizo cheese –Sheep’s milk

6.            Goat Cheese Log (French)  - This snow-white, tangy cheese has been made for years, especially in the Loire valley in France; stored in a coolness it softens when exposed to heat to reveal a wonderful tantalizing savory treat that’s tart and fresh often with garlic and/or herbs with amazing results.

7.            The Camembert wheel (French/seasonal) – from Normandy is a soft creamy cow’s milk cheese with a bloomy edible rind; fuller and creamier…not to be confused with Brie that’s from Ile de France – Cow’s Milk

8.            Grana Padano (Italy) – One of the most popular cheeses in Italy; an artisan semifat hard cheese that’s fragrant, dry, grainy and delicious; made in copper kettles. It competes and is similar but less crumbly than it’s relative the king of cheeses Parmigiano Reggiano.

…selected Table Crackers, Baguette or Bread. Butter. A selection of sliced prosciutto and Serrano/lomo ham or chorizo, pork rinds along with fig, honey, raspberry, Red/black currant jellies or jams. Presentation on
a wooden cutting boards or on long serving platters pair-able with wine. Pick your favorite wines. Mix and match.

These are just a few of the ideas. Go ahead and experiment. It's so good!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Not all wine gets better with Age...But the ones that do are awesome!!!

It is a totally false that you must age wine...It's a lie. 

In fact, throughout the world, most wine is drunk "young" meaning relatively soon after it is produced, perhaps 12 to 18 months; while some wines will "mature" and become better over time, others will not and should be drunk immediately, or within a few years.

In due course all wine goes “over the hill," so even the wines meant to be set aside for many, many years should be drunk before it’s too late.

…remember a famous name on the label is no guarantee whether a wine will age well.

For a wine to age well it needs a good spine…a good backbone! (fruit, tannin, aging in the barrel)

Which means it needs acidity, tannins(time on the grape skin) and aging in oak barrels (of course there are wines that see no oak). Without this structure; flavors will flatten out over time.

Further, while in the bottle I like to say a  tug of war ensues that makes the wine go through stages where one factor is overwhelming the other; yet it is perfectly possible that a wine gets expressively mute(where it’s hard to smell or taste anything awe-inspiring or irresistible. They call that a ‘dumb’ wine. Does not mean it’s bad. It’s just not expressive at all. – So be aware of that.

Are older wines better than younger wines? …It’s a matter of taste.

When red wines mature... the bitter tannins will soften and earthy flavors develop, the fruit is less energetic and supple. The wine may remain extremely cerebral and delicious; which is ultimately what you aspire for. Those with the great wine cellars and older classic wines that are well kept. There are wines that are just absolutely incredible when aged!

But there are plenty of people who enjoy buoyant and lively fruit and the tangy acidity of a younger wine. These wines can be just as engaging, nuanced or powerful.  It is a matter of preference.

What about the white wines?

White wines are best drunk when young because when they age whites can become honey flavored and nutty.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Today the cigar movement is once again in major fashion so let's talk Nicaragua Tobacco, which is truly becoming ‘the’ place.

Today the cigar movement is once again in major fashion.  The 90’s saw the decade really pick up with a new generation of real cigar aficionados and why not. The millennial roared with  a new era for food and wine. Yet, tobacco amongst the most important crops in the history of the world; Honestly there is nothing like a great cigar. Just like wine and spirits, cigars are among the world’s greatest and necessary indulgences. Oh boy, do they go together well...
There will always be the controversy about cigars. It is an easy sin tax.  But there is no denying the pleasure of a fine cigar. Whether after dinner, while fishing, golfing, at the BBQ, Beach, or just relaxing at the house or favorite watering hole.
I will be writing in a series of articles some of the basics that come to mind regarding the types of tobacco. In no certain order I will cover 4 types of cigars in four articles this is the first.

 1)Nicaraguan Cigar tobacco

 2)Dominican Cigar tobacco

 3)Honduran Cigar tobacco

 4)Cuban Cigar tobacco

In this article we will talk some about Nicaraguan Tobacco, which is truly becoming ‘the’ place.
Nicaragua is one of the best Cigar tobacco producing countries in the world.

Nicaragua is located just south of Honduras and north of Costa Rica in Central America. Years ago the Nicaraguan cigar industry had seen many setbacks with uncooperative politics and catastrophic storms; the powers have their act together and Nicaragua is on a serious roll and hands down producing some of the world’s best cigars, period. The country has rich and fertile soils for growing tobacco and even has a volcanic island. It’s been known since the Cuban’s came over in the 1060’s.

Nicaraguan Cigar tobacco is very noticeable through its texture. The texture is pliable in nature. In that it  is very unique  in nature and quality. The Nicaraguan cigar tobacco has a weighty spice and it inot as sweet as cigar tobacco from Cameroon, Sumatra or Maduro of other countries.

In the Nicaraguan, there are 4 main regions which are growing the Cigar tobacco –  Esteli, Jalapa, Condega and Ometempe.

Esteli : Estelí is the capital city of Nicaragua’s. Esteli has a black and fertile soil. Esteli produces a heavy spice, full aroma, body and full-flavored Cigar tobacco leaf. Esteli grows strongest of all Nicaraguan Cigar tobacco.

Jalapa : Jalapa has heavy with red clay soil. Jalapa produces a very smooth, elegant, and rich Cigar tobacco. On the Honduran border and really hard to get to;  Jalapa produces beautiful wrappers also. The Jalapa Cigar tobacco is very flavorful, slightly sweeter and unique because of the rich and complex aromas. It is remindful of the rich tobacco from Cuba's Vuelta Abajo.

Condega : Condega has rocky soil. Condega produces very oily and elastic Cigar tobacco leaves with rich colors that are excellent for wrappers. The area sees a lot of cloud cover and the tobacco is mostlt sun grown. The tobacco is not as strong as from Esteli; it produces the second strongest Cigar tobaccos in Nicaragua.

Ometempe : An Island off the coast of Nicaragua. Ometempe have natural minerals in soil, which make it unique because of the volcanoes and provide ideal conditions and atmosphere for Cigar tobacco plant growth. The Ometempe island cigar tobacco is described as producing a sweet and a distinctively earthy and spicy characteristic.

There is a diversity of cigar brands that come from Nicaragua and Nicaraguan cigars come in abundant shapes and sizes with a range of aromas flavors. They do well with Tawny Ports, Jerez Sherry, Madeira and Vin de Naturals not to mention a good Brandy or Scotch. Here are several to look Nicaraguan Cigars to look into…

•Don Pepin Garcia Cuban Classic

• Drew Estate

• Cupido  

• Olivia

• Padron

• Plasencia

• Vegas de Tabacalera Esteli

• My Father

 • Perdomo

Monday, July 13, 2015

If it's the most important task of a wine director...Why is creating and managing a restaurant's wine list seem to be an afterthought?

I often get asked about Wine Lists and why some are better than others.

The general roundabout question always seems to be…
If it’s probably the most important tasks of a wine director; why is creating and managing a restaurant's wine list seem to somehow be an afterthought?

Wow! It sure is a difficult question but it doesn’t have to be...

But just what sets apart a just-ok wine list from a great one? How does a Wine Director or Sommelier go about picking wines and making a great list? What’s most important?

My way of thinking is that there are folks who are interested in wine but may not know anything about wine.
Then, there are interested enthusiasts; who will be eyeing for particular names or styles. It’s key to try to build a list that appeals to everyone.

A great wine list starts with the proprietor(s) caring about wine and caring about profits. This must go hand in hand or the list is doomed.

Also, storing the wine in a hot closet just won’t work. Do it in the best cool environment if not a cellar. Make this happen. It speaks about the heart of the establishment.
Let's get deep for a second...
Today, the new era of the Mixologist is on the rise; just like the new era Sommelier. Knowledge and creativity are in play.
The wine 'is' the driver that sells repeat menu diners; not the mixed drinks. The last thing a foodie wants consider is distillation. It's a distinction that should be understood. Mixed drinks encompass the 'establishment' but truthfully not the meals...That's not it's purpose. But, the wine is both....and I say if you care about 'sense of place' in your wine; you are on the best path.

Then the first step in making a great wine list is talking to the chef about the food. The wine should go with the food. Period. That is crucial. This gives me hints and ideas to the types of wines that will pair remarkably well with the dishes. Wines with the right acidity, freshness, body, salinity, minerality most and notably—structure

The wine list is one that can pair up with multiple dishes and be able to criss-cross where several wines can address the dish. A guest needs to be able to sit with the menu at first glance along the wine list and determine whether he or she will or can return to your establishment and this is even before a bite of food is ever taken. Will it work with the meals? Will it work with Cheese? Will it work with dessert? Will it work on its own?

The list has to be fun and have some crowd pleasers as well the ones that make you think a bit. Like a white or a red that you wouldn’t expect. Or a varietal from a producer or a vineyard that is a curiosity. A great wine list can tell a story about history, geography and the combination of flavors that compel you to want more. They echo a Sommelier's beliefs about wine. Not necessarily what are the Somm’s favorite wines or a who’s who greatest hits… but a diversity of taste. A diversity of value and some prized ones are important as well.

A list that is too small and cheap can tire you very quickly. So a small restaurant needs to be crafty and empathetic to its dishes; if they care about their patrons. Caring means to make sure all the information that is needed is displayed so the guest gets what they thought they were ordering and can make the right decision alone or with help from the Somm.

It’s not about whether the wine scored 90, 92 or 94 points. A great wine list is all about caring and listening your guest likes and providing them with your best options available, all while keeping it fun and enjoyable.



Thursday, June 18, 2015

Yes! Italians can make bubbly just as good as the French, and for much less money! Is “mass market” champagne – under threat from Prosecco??? It’s even passed its French rival as the best-selling type of sparkling wine!!!

At an open air event this past week;  I noticed that there were a whole lot of sparkling wines along side the beers in the coolers. A lot of regular folks enjoying it. After watching a guy underestimating the pressure of a Chandon bottle. I told my friend I would write about the bubbly. One thing is for certain the bubbly is now a lot more part of the mix for regular drinking.

Coincidently in the regular nightly news this week came across a RED ALERT! that it's been a very scary week for Prosecco fans and that the never-ending Sunday brunches are in danger! Oh my !some people are going to be beside themselves!!!
The newswire is saying that Prosecco may not flow quite as freely this year! What a calamity!

But before we get into this…

Let’s talk just a little about Prosecco and also Champagne…

Both Champagne and Prosecco are sparkling wines that take their name from the specific geographic regions they’re made in

We know that Champagne is French, and can only be made in the Champagne region there. Prosecco is Italian, and can only be made in the Veneto region in the northeast.

Champagne can only be made from three grapes in any combination:  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Prosecco is made from an Italian grape called Glera.

Regular wines are only fermented once, but sparkling wines are fermented twice—this is where the bubbles come from. When they make Champagne, it ferments first in a wooden barrel, and then in the bottle you buy it in.  Prosecco’s two fermentations both take place in a stainless steel vat. It’s a quicker way to do things, which makes Prosecco both cheaper and also less able to age than good old Champagne.

Sales of Prosecco have shot up in recent years as people have discovered that the Italians can make bubbly just as good as the French, and for much less money!

Consumers have increasingly embraced Prosecco a more balanced, easier-to-drink alternative to Champagne; it’s even passed its French rival as the best-selling type of sparkling wine early in 2014.

Guess What ?!? The spike in demand has put pressure on Prosecco producers to amp up their output.

Champagne producers are somewhat concerned about the success of Prosecco. But global demand for champagne is rising too, even in markets such as the UK and US where Prosecco is popular. The prices of Champagne have been adjusting and falling as a response…

In 2014, Prosecco DOC sales increased by 27%, according to the Italian news organization Italy24. Prosecco export to the U.K. rose by more than 60% and increased to 38% in the USA, Italy24 also reported.

It is “mass market” champagne that is – or really should be – under threat from Prosecco.

Is this actually be a good thing for the French champagne producers?

It might force them to decide whether they really want to be the market leaders in inexpensive bubbly, or would rather exploit the strength of their protected brand "Champagne" and charge very high prices for a quality product.

Currently, they are trying to do both. It’s a tough decision especially when Prosecco is gaining ground.

OK, let’s get back to the Prosecco calamity…

If you thought the Greek financial crisis was the biggest disaster facing the world, or the Ukraine standoff, or the Chinese property crash – think again. Something really dreadful is about to hit. There is going to be a global shortage of Prosecco. So said Robert Cremonese, export manager of the popular Prosecco brand Bisol.

"Last year's harvest was very poor, and down by up to 50% in some parts, so there is a very real possibility of a global shortage," Cremonese said in an interview with the trade publication The Drinks Business. While the supply is limited, demand is up, according to reports.

The Prosecco DOC, which is made up of territories and provinces in northeast Italy received a lot of rain in the last year, according to Cremonese.

"A lot of the vines in the DOC area are newly planted and they ended up being soaked – the grapes were rotten and yields were down by nearly half in some cases," Cremonese told The Drinks Business.

Yet, Prosecco’s governing body has stepped in to calm fears of a looming shortage, claiming that yields were smaller than expected, the 2014 harvest went ”far beyond the target”. – Wine Business

To further stir the pot; in a phone call with The Huffington Post on Friday, Domenico Zonin, the CEO of Zonin, Italy's largest privately owned wine company, also said that there's no cause for alarm. He doesn't think it'll end up making a serious difference in prices or availability.

Nevertheless, it’s out there…a shortage of the Italian bubbly could occur as a result of high demand and rainy weather.

Despite the fast-rising demand, Prosecco prices have been pretty steady. For the Italian producers, this is a disappointment. With demand rising so fast, they should be able to charge more. The gap should have closed between champagne and Prosecco. It hasn’t. This is probably because even though Prosecco tastes every bit as good as inexpensive champagne – indeed arguably better – it is still not "Champagne" though.

Mind you, inexpensive champagne is something of an oxy-moron. Champagne is a luxury good, and luxury goods tend to be Veblen goods – we drink more of it as the price rises….go figure.  

So it's the demand for good-quality champagnes that is holding up well in the market; since they are not really challenged by Prosecco yet…

...And truly, investment Champagnes have never been so expensive. People just can't get enough of the good stuff!

There you go. I told you it was a calamity!




Thursday, June 4, 2015

One of Wines great companions is Cheese…Cheese makes you Happy! Here are some Easy Tips for Selecting Cheese and Accompaniments...

One of wines great companions is Cheese…Cheese makes you happy! A natural feel-good food. Even though these days, it has a bit of a decadent reputation where health, nutrition and weight loss are concerned.

Cheese is actually quite good for you.

Arguably, in our modern minds: far too much emphasis placed on diets and “low fat” options.

Here in America you can just look at the fortunately-slender and cheese-obsessed nation of France and wonder.

In fact, three of the world’s biggest cheese-consuming countries – France, Italy and Greece – have some of the lowermost rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease in the Western world.

Go Figure…

Probably the more you mess with food the worse it is for it…

Cheese is an excellent non-meat source of protein. It is packed with calcium. It’s also loaded with Vitamin D, which helps our bodies to absorb that calcium, along with folic acid, zinc, phosphorus, and Vitamins A, B2, B12, and K2. All that good stuff that can’t be denied.

Factoid: When consumed together with calcium, vitamins K2 and D3 are especially good at protecting your bones, brain and heart. Cheese has all three.  ..

How about that!.. Great News…Spread it!

So here are some Easy Tips for Selecting Cheese and Accompaniments...

Try to include a variety of textures and flavors. Most cheese belongs to one of four basic categories: aged, soft, firm, or blue.

 For a good variety, choose at least one from each group…

Here are some basic cheese examples:

  Aged: Aged Cheddar, Goat Gouda

  Soft: Camembert

  Firm: Manchego, Parmigiano-Reggiano

  Blue: Gorgonzola Dolce, Stilton

Another way you can try is by selecting cheeses by the type of milk used (cow, goat, sheep). This is where it can get interesting and experimental. It will ensure a range of different flavors on the plate.By the way, try to serve at least one familiar cheese that you know for sure…

How Much do I buy?

Well…plan on buying 3 pounds for 8 people, 6 pounds for 16, or 9 pounds for 24. Another way to think about it is to plan on buying 3 to 4 ounces per person.

What Accompaniments?  What else can we eat with Cheese!?!

Offer a selection of breads, including sliced baguette,  and crackers in all different shapes and sizes.   

Note: It’s a good idea to vary the taste and texture among the breads as well as the cheeses.

Other accompaniments include jarred jellies and preserves; or honey, chutneys, and spicy mustards. You can also add roasted red peppers and maybe prepare caramelized onions, which is a complement to most cheese plates…

Think also of what sweet and salty items often match up  well. Try cured meats such as prosciutto and salami. Nuts and pistachios are good…Also, dried fruits such as figs or cherries, pears are really good.

Here are some serving tips:

Separate strong-smelling cheeses from the milder ones...

If you want to serve a pungent, stinky cheese, place it on a separate plate so it doesn’t overpower more delicate ones.  Four or five choices are enough; more often than not these 'really' are the stars of the show and they pair up great with wine.

Just for starters, for me...the hard cheeses pair up with a Bordeaux, Napa Cabernet or a Chianti.
A Brie or triple cream cheeses with an un-oaked Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. For those Blue Cheeses, try a sweeter wine like a Tawny Port, late Harvest Riesling and Ice Wine.

Set out a separate knife for each cheese, mainly the soft varieties. Soft cheese spreads well with a butter style knife; the firm cheeses might require a paring knife; and aged cheese often requires a cheese plane with a handle to slice slivers, but I like to them in small chunks myself.

Remember Cheese tastes a lot better when approaching room temperature so remove the cheese from the refrigerator an hour before serving. Cold cheese stifles the flavors and aromas




Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Quick History of Madeira Wine...a strong and vigorous wine capable of a very long life

Madeira is a fortified Portuguese wine made in the Madeira Islands. The islands of Madeira are of oceanic climate with tropical influences. Some small amounts of Madeira is produced in small quantities in Crimea, California and Texas although those wines do not conform to the EU regulations. They are worth seeking though...

Now the islands of Madeira have a lengthy winemaking history, dating back way back to the Age of Exploration when Madeira was a standard port of call and stopping point for ships that were heading to the New World or East Indies.

So during that time It was discovered by the wine producers of Madeira that when an unsold shipment of wine returned to the islands after a round trip. They wanted to be able to use it and
try to stop the wine from spoiling.

They figured that a neutral grape spirits could be added. So in doing so to try to conserve the wine.

It became apparent during the long sea voyages that the wines being exposed to extreme heat and movement transformed the flavor of the wine.

This wine being out in the open in temperatures up to as high as 60 °C /140 °F for an extended period of time deliberately exposes the wine to some levels of oxidation. It creates a strong and vigorous wine that can be capable of a very long life even after being opened like this. can age decades to hundreds of years!

In the 16th century records show that a there was a viable wine industry on the island of Madeira that supplied ships with wine for the long voyages across the sea.

The wine was first unfortified and after spoiling at sea following the example of Port, and later Brandy in the 18th Century; a small amount of distilled alcohol made from sugar cane was added to stabilize the wine which boosted the alcohol content.

Madeira became very popular.It spread from the American colonies.

Madeira was an key wine in the history of the United States because at the time no wine-quality grapes could be grown amongst the 13 colonies, so imports were needed.

Madeira also shipped to Brazil in the New World to Great Britain, Russia, and also Northern Africa in substantial quantities.

As it is now known…According to the Oxford Companion to Wine; Madeira was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson and also John Hancock; it was used to salute the Continental Congress and the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams are also said be fans of Madeira.

Madeira is produced in an assortment of styles ranging from dry wines that can be consumed on their own as an aperitif, to sweet wines that are usually consumed with dessert. The essential four major grape varieties used for Madeira production are (from sweetest to driest) Malvasia, Bual, Verdelho and Sercial.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Do German Wines seem imtimidating??? Here is what to look out for to make it easier...

A friend of mine is going to Germany this fall and asked me to give him some info on German wines. I asked him if he preferred dry wines or sweet wines. He said “dry”. So, I told him;  "if you see the word ‘Trocken’ on the bottle, It means it is a dry wine. It will say it right on the bottle."

But there is a whole lot more too German wines. The labels are gothic with long never-ending words, but really it's not too hard to get a hold of the basics. But like most wine labels; all the information is packed in there.

I will give you some tips that I hope helps… Anyways it's Springtime and that which is the time for tasty whites.

When you first look at a German wine. I as I said earlier; check to see if the label has the word ‘Trocken’… If it does... it’s a dry wine. Also, check the alcohol level. If the alcohol level is 11%, 12% or higher; it is most likely a dry wine.

There are many regions in Germany. Those regions have their style and nuances. It is almost a profile…

 Let’s get started by comparing the regions:

Mosel, Saar, Ruwer: An exciting wine, with peach, minerality and from time to time has floral notes; it also has a real zippy acidity.

Pfalz, Baden, Württemberg: Full bodied and fatter wines, with ripe, sharp fruit and a strong backbone of acidity. You see more good Pinot Noir (Spatburgunder) from these areas because it’s a little cooler.

Nahe, Mittelrhein, Franken: The wine is clear and clean, it's vibrant with some mineral and likely to have steely metallic notes.

Rheingau: Elegant wines that are sleek, smooth and measured and some-times very serious.


Rheinhessen: a wine brimming with fresh fruit and wet stones, mineral and sometimes strong metallic and iron-like tones.

The German’s are also sticklers for Quality and have developed a system for Quality. But the old and out of date system is essentially flawed; you can’t always rely on it. It is more of a loose guide to go along with the profiles and styles just discussed earlier.


There are four quality levels;

Qualitätswein, or QbA(which is seen the the USA);

and the supposedly superior, Prädikatswein, or QmP.

If you the letters VDP. That is a level that is completely different

Members of the VDP, or Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter, a group of wineries, that rebelled against the system and created their own. The results up to debatable.

...remember, Generally, the VDP-logo itself indicates superior quality at all levels.

The VDP categories are:

 Gutswein: are the estate wines, dry

 Ortswein: are the village wine (from dry to sweet)

 Erste Lage: are first growth (which can be from dry to sweet), and they are from a single classified site

Grosse Lage: basically means grand cru (from dry to sweet), from a single classified site. Dry wines from a Grosse Lage can be labelled as Grosses Gewächs. The top-class dry wines have the VDP logo and the phrase Grosses Gewächs. Remember the VDP-logo means superior quality at all levels.

Take note of another main thing to look out for…The “Ripeness” of the wine. The German’s track that too (remember “Ripeness” does not necessarily mean sweetness):
Sometimes QmP, the label will include a Prädikat, one of five levels of ripeness level at harvest which might help you with picking a style you like.

 The Five Levels of Ripeness are:

 Dry Riesling are, from least ripe to most ripe: Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese.

 Kabinett: Light, with delicate structure, lots of fruit, noticeable aromas and lower alcohol.

 Spätlese: a lot more textured, rounder with more full-bodied mouthfeel than Kabinett.

Auslese: Much bigger in body and substance, often powerful and textured, but no fat. These can cellar for 20 years or more!
Beerenauslese: Which really means ‘berry select’ such as harvested berry by berry which brings the wine up to desert wine category,

Trockenbeerenauslese: here is where you need to bay attention…The ‘Trocken’ means ‘dry berry select’, shriveled with botrytis…so it is a intensely sweet wine and complex dessert wine.


There are the popular and famous frozen grape wines Eiswein...

They are real sweet and have so much of that acidity. The sweetness levels are like the Trockenbeerenauslese (you might see halbtrocken on a bottle, which means half dry, when they play with the sweetness levels…)

I am sure I’ll hear from my friend after this. But go ahead and take this out for a spin and seek some German wines today!



Thursday, April 23, 2015

Five Top Red Wine Values under $20 - that are Big and Bold; that Drink 3 to 5 times their Cost - A Special Report by Wine Correspondent Ralph Del Rio

By Ralph Del Rio, Wine Correspondent

Every now and then I jot down some of my favorites values; especially when they knock your socks off! Here are 5 wines that are ridiculously good. They are big tasty wines. Decant if you like...but not necessary. All of them are delicious on their own or with a hearty meal, stew or grilled meats. Try them today, they won’t disappoint.

Dona Paula Black Label Red Blend Argentina, South America 2012 - Whiffs of plum, spices and juicy red pepper stand out in this very harmonious(Is it forward or not?) and balanced wine; with round integrated tannins and a deliciously endless finish…grapes are from a very high altitude.

Substance Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley, Washington 2013 - Charles Smith, who continues to make great wines at all prices…the 2013 Substance is big and bold with aromas and flavors of cassis, wild flowers, pencil shavings and tobacco it is a great wine at any price; tastes 3 times what wines like this are usually going for…not kidding.

Bodegas Castano Solanera Spain 2012 – It comes through importer Eric Solomon. Every year it’s one you can count on. This is better than the 2003. It’s rich and harmonious with black raspberries, blueberries and black currants abound. It’s very full-bodied, very intense but somehow approachable. Magic for the price. It taste almost five times as much which sounds totally preposterous!

Gerard Bertrand Corbieres 2011 Languedoc-Roussillon, France - the 2011 Corbieres Terroir offers an elegant lead pencil, tobacco leaf presence and with blackberry notes and plummy aromas and flavors. It has enveloping solid structure with a persistent feel that goes into a memorable finish

Bodegas Zerran Tinto Spain 2011 - a Jorge Ordonez from the region of Montsant which by the way has soils just like its neighbor, Priorat! The overall balance is remarkable, very intense black fruit flavors with high level of concentration with hint of vibrancy. The fruit is ripe, chewy with earthy, smoky nuances on the palate and the retrohale.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Just like Wine; Tasting Whiskey is best appreciated when you Compare and Contrast the profiles...

Just as wine; tasting whiskey is best explored by direct judgment and evaluation which is how you get the appreciation of flavor distinctions and differences.

But unlike in wine tastings, the nose or bouquet is not one of the overriding aspects in drinking whiskey.

...Usually, the ultimate impression of the nose is typically gone after the long savory finish.

There are 5 main areas/regions for whiskey to compare…I have included some key background
1.       Scottish whiskey (Scotch; in Scotland it is spelled whisky…As a general rule, American-produced and Irish varieties spell the spirit, "whiskey," while Scotland, Canada, and Japan refer to it as "whisky.")

Also, note that a single-malt whiskey is the product of a single barrel and does not mean that it is of a higher quality.

The "single" part only means that the whiskey is the product of one distillery, not the kind of grains or number of grains that go into the whiskey.

2.       Kentucky whiskey (Bourbon;  is defined as any straight whiskey made from at least 51 percent corn that has been aged in new charred oak barrels in the United States.

Also note that Scotch whisky ‘can’ be aged in old oak barrels, so a lot of the barrels are sent from the United States to Scotland after they have been used to age bourbon.

3.       Canadian whiskey

The rule for Canadian Whiskey is that It must be fermented, distilled and aged in Canada. That’s it. Like bourbon it is usually made from several different grains. But in Canada each grain is usually fermented, distilled and aged separately. They are only combined together at the very end. Which changes things a whole lot for the Whiskey.

4.       Tennessee whiskey

Tennessee whiskey is straight bourbon whiskey produced in Tennessee. Arguably, Tennessee says it is not Bourbon! It is whiskey created by distilling a fermented cereal grain mash to create a spirit not exceeding 80% alcohol content by volume aging the spirit for at least two years at a concentration not exceeding 62.5% at the start of the aging process. The whiskey is soaked in charcoal chips before going into the casks for aging.

5.       Irish whiskey

Most Irish pot still whiskey is distilled thrice (three times), while most, but not all of the Scotch whisky is distilled twice. Peat is hardly ever used in the malting process, so that Irish whiskey has a smoother finish as opposed to the smoky, earthy nuances apparent in some Scotches

Furthermore, Here are some flavor profiles and some overall impressions:

 1. Scotch is the prototypical explosion of malt, peat and scorched soil. Single-malt scotch means that the barley used stems from a single distillery, no blending. The flavor is relatively sharp and earthy.

 2. Bourbon is corn-driven and usually blended, letting a more creamy, round and gentler flavor than the stately but stoic Scotch counterpart.

 3. Canadian whiskey can be even more softer and sweeter than the higher-end Bourbons. A caramel-like impression is a characteristic. It sometimes feels more delicate in comparison to American whiskey.

 4. Tennessee is recognized for their sugar maple charcoal filtering process. Highly similar to Bourbon in general. It is similar to Scotch in that it is usually aged in new charred oak barrels, for at least 2 years

 5. Ireland doesn't malt their barley, and that absence becomes very clear on the palate. Scotch is smokey and peaty. Irish whiskey is a lot more perfumed and round on the palate.