Monday, December 11, 2017

2015 Bordeaux looks like a Big Winner; Get ready to stock up; Margaux may be the Champ of Vintage.

I have had a few bottles from the 2015 Bordeaux vintage and they have been very good; which bodes well for the vintage. For what I’ve been able to gather is that the vintage is fantastic and the main worries are that there may be the tendency for the wines to be over extracted or very powerful to say the least. But that was said about the 2003 and 2005, the better vintage. Seek out your favorites for 2015 as they arrive in stores.

One wine is hitting 100 points on most tasting reports and that’s the great Chateau Margaux and it will come in a commemorative. What started as $500 a bottle has quickly grown to up $1000 a bottle and waiting lists…

Ch√Ęteau Margaux 2015 will come in a black bottle with writing and a design of the estate in gold. Margaux communicated that it was the first time it had ever commissioned a one-off design for its grand vin for any vintage. So, it’s becoming a real keeper.

It is a mark of estate owner Corinne Mentzelopoulos’ respect for Paul Pontallier, who joined Margaux in 1983 and became Managing Director in 1990. He passed away and was a very close friend and was credited with steering the wine in the last decade. Together, they have been praised for significantly modernizing and improving the winemaking.

Bordeaux 2015 was Pontallier’s final vintage at Margaux. He died of cancer in March 2016, one week before the beginning of en primeur week for the widely praised 2015 vintage; not seeing the 100 point accolades. The bottle is now in his honor.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Special Report, 2017 was a year full of some memorable wines. Here are 5 of my favorites

By Ralph Del Rio, Wine Correspondent

2017 was a year full of some memorable wines. Here are 5 of my favorites of the year I've handpicked. Each year I try to come up with wines that stand out for me and try to describe them for you. My top 5 wines for the year are 4 from California made my list this year and 1 great value from Australia:
PlumpJack Syrah 2014 Syrah/Shiraz from Napa Valley, California
An intense concentrated aroma of blackberry, blueberry. Boysenberry pie. Structured. Pepper spice on the finish, the oak gives off smokiness to the nose cacao chocolate to the finish.

2015 Flowers Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir California
Sweet red cherry, plum, dried flowers, tea and tobacco flavors. Soft and cagey, totally approachable; Firm tannin yet subtle, Very polished.

2014 Louis M. Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Over performing Champ’ of the year. One of the strongest efforts. eucalyptus, cedar and blackberry jam. Underbrush tones; Multilayered chewy tannins, fresh, good acidity with good fruit finish.

 2015 Turley "Estate" Napa Valley Zinfandel, California
Great aromatics and intense fruit. Wild berries, rich raspberry fruit ; powerful wine. Hints, of burnt cherry pit, smoke and cedar Elegant big and plush.

 Paringa 2015 Shiraz South Australia

This Aussie Shiraz takes me back to the style of the early 2000’s when Aussie Shiraz shook the world. It’s bold, full-bodied, warm and plush, oozing with blackberries, gobs of plums and big with vanilla and mocha flavors. Very obscene and hedonistic. Try the sparking version too!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Pierce's Diease...What is it and Why It's important to fight it

Pierce's Disease is a deadly disease of grapevines. It is caused by the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa, which is spread by xylem feeding leafhoppers known as sharpshooters. There's no way to stop it right now. Scientists are conducting volumes of research to fight this insect and reduce disease infection on vines. Moreover, scientists are studying methods to prevent the spread of Pierce's Disease on wine grapes entirely.

Pierce's Disease is known to be prevalent within the USA from Florida to California, and outside the USA in Central and South America. Xylella fastidiosa works by blocking the xylem, which conducts the water around the plant. 

Symptoms include chlorosis and scorching of leaves, and entire vines will die after 1-5 years. Pierce's Disease is less prevalent where winter temperatures are cold, such as more northern areas, high altitudes and inland areas.

Basically in grapevines, unlike some other fruits it gets detected too late; it is too late fight it when that signal comes; the plant is already dead. So heavy research is being done in modifying the rootstock of vines to automatically generate that same protein for when the bacteria enters the plant, the bacteria can shut down. It is hard work finding success.

Pierce’s disease has been the limiting factor in bunch grape production in Florida. Symptoms include a general loss in plant strength, followed by death of the vine. Different species of grapes have a range of tolerance to Pierce’s disease. High vulnerability of premium wine grapes has practically eliminated the possibility of a wine industry in Florida.

  • Delayed leafing in the spring
  • Shoot dwarfing
  • Marginal scalding of leaves
  • Leaf mottling and interveinal chlorosis and necrosis
  • Wilting and premature coloring of fruit
  • Uneven maturity of canes
  • Eventual death of the root system
  • From IFAS Database (EDIS)
  • A fastidious bacterium, Xyllella fastidiosa
  • Grape
  • Southeastern United States
  • California
  • Southern Ontario
  • Spread by leafhoppers known as sharpshooters
  • Control options: none

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure...A great book to thumb through...

I came across this paperback. over the spring and it's quite a read. Check it out if you can find it. It's called; Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure.

The synopsis is...

France fell to the Nazis and almost immediately the German army began a campaign of pillaging one of the assets the French hold most dear: their wine. Like others in the French Resistance, winemakers mobilized to oppose their occupiers, but the tale of their extraordinary efforts has remained largely unknown–until now.

The book came out in 2002.

This is the thrilling and harrowing story of the French wine producers who undertook ingenious, daring measures to save their cherished crops and bottles as the Germans closed in on them. Wine and War illuminates a compelling, little-known chapter of history, and stands as a tribute to extraordinary individuals who waged a battle that, in a very real way, saved the spirit of France.

It's a good book to thumb through as well. It's like an adventure story and fits in good with other World War II books.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

When you drink a White Wine. Ask if it has Malolactic Fermentation (MLF). Better yet ask if the Red Wine has it.

It is really is up to the winemaker to decide to what extent he or she will allow a wine to go through Malolactic Fermentation (MLF).

MLF is the transformation of malic acid into lactic acid by specific strains of bacteria during secondary fermentation.

Malolactic Fermentation is a series of metabolic effects carried out by a group of bacteria that breaks down malic acid into lactic in wines. Lactic acid is the acid profile found in smooth creamy milk. Mostly it happens spontaneously throughout a wine’s life.

The theory though is… by depleting the malic acid early on; the less chances there are of fermentation spoilage later.

MLF usually happens on its own and if not controlled can end up with wine smelling leathery, sweaty and cheesy and even spritzy because of extra carbon dioxide. 

A lot of New World reds and white wines get smells like artificial popcorn butter and desirable aromas that fit well together like buttery oaky chardonnay that not only consumers like the taste of. The critics do too. This aromatic profile especially desirable in quality red-wines. It adds a rounded feel, glycerin, even chewiness to the fruit to the wine when done right. 

Just consider different food and combinations like Crab or Salmon and California Chardonnay. A Rich and Oaky Red Zinfandel and BBQ Grilled Steak...or a moist Mushroom Risotto with an Australian Shiraz.

From French Wine to California Wine and beyond; when you hear subjective wine sensory terms referring to feeling of fullness, viscosity and astringency the MLF has had an effect on the wine.

With that said Red Wines like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and almost any dry table wine that will be aged for more than 6 months for consumption at least a year after it’s first fermented are encouraged to go through MLF.

In White Wines, Chardonnays makes good candidate for malolactic fermentation for stylistic reasons. Other whites like Riesling are not much… They are better when they retain their freshness, fruity zippy acidity.

So again, it’s up to the winemaker how much if any malolactic fermentation is allowed in a wine.

How do they stop it?

How do they prevent Malolactic Fermentation?

MLF is usually arrested by chilling, adding Sulfur dioxide (SO2) and filtering. Some winemakers want to discourage Malolactic Fermentation at all costs. Even many consumers feel the same way, so they always keep the wine cool and cellars under 62 degrees F. Malolactic Bacteria does not thrive in cold temperatures, it flourishes less in high alcohol, High SO2 and the use of fresh cultures.

That’s a strong reason for making and storing and monitoring wine in cooler environments. It helps fight off potential spoilage.

Malolactic Fermentation has a lot of other things to it that can affect it including racking, enzyme analysis, PH levels, different malic acid powders, concoctions, egg whites, etc. Sometimes MLF bacteria is hard to control and just doesn’t convert into lactic acid as expected.

When you drink a white. Ask if it has MLF. It might start an interesting conversation. 

What’s interesting is that sometimes-experienced winemakers just use their ears during MLF you hear popping and burping and once the popping and burping is done the bacteria is probably finished their job.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The California 2015’s quality is very high but the quantity is low. So, keep an eye out for them at the store.

The California 2015 vintage is turning up as one to seek out due to it's scarcity. Keep an eye on your favorites and snag them. It's great juice.

From 2012 -2014 there was very little rain. Vines eventually get weary by drought and pumping out three substantial vintages in a row. What occurs is the berries are smaller and quantity produced is less. Such is the California 2015 vintage. The earliest harvest in years. This production was most noticeable in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay volume.  These small crops ripened in a hurry.

Hence, the low yields have resulted in extraordinary concentration and intensity and the wines may be able to compete with the extremely successful 2013 vintage (2012 was special too).

The 2015 quality is very high but the quantity is low. So, keep an eye out for them at the store.

It will be interesting to follow this vintage over next 5-7 and beyond.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

When was the last time you trained your servers on how to sell more wine?... your customers will reward you for it.

When was the last time you trained your servers on how to sell more wine? Wine is good. Wine is profit and your customers will reward you for it.

There is no substitute for actual tasting when it comes to learning about wine. Wine tasting should be part of new hire training, and an ongoing activity for all staff members. This can seem like an overwhelming task, but approach it from an easier and fun angle. It will really work!

Generally, but not always the case…the main areas to focus are: 

Limited wine information of management – it happens

Lack of structure in overall training program – sorely overlooked

Cost of wines used at employee tastings – wines do not need to be expensive to learn

Employee (or lack thereof) cooperation – most of the time it’s fear of the unknown


Do you have these challenges? All of them are easy to improve.

Rather than overwhelming servers with geography lessons, offer basic knowledge on grape varieties and regions. Depending on your wine list, you may want to offer some more detailed insight where appropriate.

There are at least five ideal times during a meal to sell more wine because there’s no reason not to get a bottle if you’re enjoying the wine; because even after dinner is a good time to sell a bottle…Especially these days when you can carry out and your list has a lot of wine not in stores.

Having that little bit of knowledge will go a long way in helping servers feel confident they’re pointing diners in the right direction.

So, train servers on knowing a detail of the wine’s story that they can share, even if it’s not something super specific. Find a sommelier that you can trust to help. You may need a Somm’s Somm. A coach for your Wine Director that will work together to help accomplish goals and additional profit.

Monday, February 20, 2017

What Makes a Good Bottle of Wine? How Do I pick a Good Bottle of Wine?

Let’s make one thing clear. ‘Good wine’ is neither expensive, nor old. Cork or Screwcap doesn’t matter either. A screwcap only means that the wine is committed to quality right there and then.

If that the case…. What makes for a good bottle of wine? How do I pick?
There are so many! California Wine, French wine, Wine from Spain...etc.
Let's go for the basics on this one.

The general tasting rules of Swirl, Smell and Taste are a start, but there's more to learn when figuring out if a wine is worthy of your taste and money. So, let’s take a moment to get into it a little bit.

Look at the backside of the bottle.

Sometimes first appearance isn't everything. Front labels can be tempting, but check out the full package before you buy. Also, the back labels usually have more information about a wine. These days, there are some clues about the wine like fruits, flavors, the aging process, importers and the wine region. Keep an eye out for any stamps of approval like awards or reviews—all signs of a currently popular wine. Go ahead and ask for recommendations. Don't be afraid! "Ask the wine steward or a find a wine friend for a recommendation to help make your selection," says Peter Click, president and founder of The Click Wine Group (Fat Bastard Wines). I read in a men’s magazine; If you're on a date, almost always the woman you are with will appreciate your modesty, openness and refuge to ask for assistance from a trusted expert. * Quick Hint…It’s probably one of the easiest times for a man to show humbleness to a woman….LOL ;-)

…Anyways, asking questions is a good thing.

Swirl and smell the wine.

Here's where two fun rules of wine tasting 101 come into play. Does it have nice legs? You know; those lean teardrop lines of liquid that slowly drip down the sides of the glass. Legs don’t mean much when it comes to determining a good wine, but it gives you a clue on its alcohol content. Also, Smell it. always smell. Believe it or not; Tasting is mostly from the nose….

Okay. What do you smell? Honey? Cherries? Apple? Vanilla, Oak, Earthiness? I’ll bet, the more you smell, the better the wine may taste. If it’s juicy and you pick up two or of three types of fruits or aromas or things your nose knows you’re going to like the wine. What’s weird is even if the smell is something totally out of this world. It could make the wine interesting. I am a big proponent of smelling and swirling a lot; the taste is confirming your senses.

So, you see ‘Good wine’ is the combination of all that. So, when you are doing all of this and you think the wine is bad. It probably is, unless there is something else going on making the wine too complex to enjoy right there and then. (And that can be a lot of serious educated info too, remember wines been made for thousands of years).

Taste the wine.

Once you've swirled and smelled your way around the glass, go in for the sip. Let the juice move around your tongue. So yeah wine is pretty sexy … It requires you to focus …

Do you taste dark cherries, plums, grapefruit, minerals, earthiness? Use your taste buds to figure out how many diverse flavors you can pick up on. Guess…

*Quick Hint: as long as the wine is in balance and isn't nasty-smelling, the more you can taste the more complex the wine is. It’s not always that straight forward. But it gives you an idea.

If it’s not in balance you will taste more acidity or more oak or more fruit. But when all the flavors stay on your tongue for some time, it’s awesome! Basically, if fruit flavors like plums, blackberry, cherry, raspberry, citrus, peaches, melons fill your tongue and the finish lingers in your mouth know you've got a ‘good wine’.


Friday, January 27, 2017

The AVA’s are coming into play in the USA...Similar to the way the French are hooked on the ‘Control’ of their Appellations – The USA is getting more detailed!

Here in the USA the more known your wine gets the more independence you want to be able to label your wine from where it comes from. If your wine is actually from Napa Valley or Yountville, you want to be able to say it proud and say it loud.

That’s what the American Vinicultural Area is about – The AVA’s are coming into play in the USA. Very similar in the way the French are hooked on the ‘Control’ of their Appellations – The USA is getting more detailed; which is great for the consumer and great for the winery or the area if it starts to get prevalent. For example, Stag’s Leap, Carneros, Alexander Valley, Paso Robles, Willamette Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Monticello and the Finger Lakes to name a bunch throughout the country.

An American Vinicultural Area (AVA) is a designated wine grape-growing region in the United States distinguishable by geographic features, with boundaries defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), United States Department of the Treasury. As of March 2015, there were 230 AVAs in the United States.

And just so you know the TTB defines AVAs at the request of wineries and other petitioners and current regulations push for extra requirements on an AVA.

For instance, the proof that the name of the proposed new AVA is locally or nationally recognized as denoting to the area. Also key is the historical or current evidence that the boundaries are legitimate (using maps); And the evidence that the terroir or growing conditions such as climate, soil, elevation, and physical features are distinguishing characteristics.

Once an AVA is established, at least 85% of the grapes used to make a wine must be grown in the specified area if an AVA is referenced on its label; per the TTB

Keep in mind that the state or county boundaries—such as for Oregon or Sonoma County—are not actually AVAs, even though they are used to identify and designate the source of a wine. The AVAs are reserved for situations where a geographically defined area has been using the name and it has come to be identified with that area. It is meant to be specific. So one can know with more detail where the wine is coming from, to be able to dig deeper to the source.

To illustrate, a vineyard may be in more than one AVA. Case in point, the Santa Clara Valley AVA and Livermore Valley AVAs are located within the territory of the San Francisco Bay AVA, which is itself located within the Central Coast AVA.

FYI, The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) website, the Wine Institute and Wikipedia has a lot of this good listing and information here; for that matter.

So just be aware…The more popular wine areas get the more you’ll realize what’s on the label and be able to distinguish the efforts at better quality wine and how to use your pocketbook for a real distinguishable and solid AVA wine.