Because: The world is going to hell in a
it? As A Local Psychologist Told Us
freaks, not Enough Circuses."
The Wine World is
Full of Freaks and Circuses, however.
HEY! We were listed amongst Food & Wine Magazine's 125
"Favorites" in the October 2003 Issue.
Thanks, Food & Wine!
We update this page periodically as warranted, so check
back, won't you, please?
COUNTERFEIT WINES Having just wrapped up
participating in the San Francisco International Wine Competition
judging, we ran across an article written by a Bay Area journalist about
judging at an event in Europe. That competition "audits"
the tasting by obtaining a bottle of some of the wines entered and
sending that to a lab, along with a bottle of the same-labeled wine
entered by the winery, to verify they are identical.
Some years ago, the then-$1.99 bottle
of Charles Shaw Chardonnay entered in the California
State Fair was judged the
"Best White Wine" of the show. We never read any
articles indicating the organizers of the judging immediately went to
buy a bottle or two to verify that the wine entered was the same wine
being sold in the market. It would have cost them all of two bucks
and, near as we can tell, they did not do so. The
fellow who owns that brand has been nailed for dubious business
There was a noteworthy "scandal"
in New Zealand around 2006
when it was discovered a winery had won a prestigious medal for a wine
it did not actually have in the market under the same label. The
fellow who was the winemaker and, oh-by-the-way, a judge at the
competition, ended up being seriously embarrassed and ultimately
resigning from the judging and his post with the winery.
Some years ago we discovered a
producer of Chianti that had sold its normal wine to a local, Bay Area
importer. At the same time they had sold a totally different wine
to a major US chain store at a ridiculously low price. We bought a
couple of bottles and tasted the wines side-by-side. Totally
different. No question.
We contacted the vintner and he claimed the wine sold to the chain store
was the same apart from being pasteurized for stability.
The wines were remarkably different.
We tried to get a couple of Italian wine critics to report on
this. One had given the "real" wine a good rating in its
annual wine guide, so the validity of their assessments was in question
if someone tasted the knock-off bottling.
Neither journalist was willing to blow the whistle. Sadly.
And the funny thing is the Chianti had a proprietary name which was most
appropriate: The Counterfeit.
Posted June 2016
SALES...CONSOLIDATIONS... We are sad to learn of the sale of some
family-operated wineries to big "drinks" companies. This
is not an especially new dynamic, but we'd seen wineries change hands so
rapidly, it's difficult to recall who owns what these days.
For the individual or family "cashing out" and selling its
brand or winery, it's a bit like hitting the lottery.
And, we suppose, good for them.
For those who have supported those brands or wineries, there's a good
chance things will change and perhaps some accounting department
staffers may have more "say" in how wines are made. Or,
sometimes just as bad, the "marketing department" may have
influence over winemaking choices at the expense of quality.
Frequently the drinks company or new owners of a brand will cheapen a
premium label and increase the range of wines to take advantage of the
fame or prestige of a label. This eventually weakens that label
and it can seriously alter or destroy years of hard work to build such a
As "old timers" in the California wine scene, we can recall
dozens of wineries whose brand we supported, only to see them disappear
after a change (or two or three) of ownership.
We are hopeful that the Foley Family wine group will resurrect Chalone
Vineyard to its former glory (Treasury/Chateau & Estates mismanaged
the brand from our perspective).
In the news at this writing, June of 2016, Treasury announced it will no
longer produce wine at its Chateau St. Jean winery, but will keep the tasting
room open as a facade for that brand. It's difficult to believe
this move is being made to maintain or improve wine quality, as the
wines will be vinified at their Beringer facility in St. Helena.
The Napa Register newspaper posted this photo in conjunction with its
story about the Treasury "consolidations" or reorganizations
(that means they were somehow organized in the first place, however).
We had never visited the corporate offices of Treasury Wine Estates, but
in looking at the photo of the "sculpture" in the vicinity of
Is that a rubbish collector lifting a garbage can?
Inquiring minds want to know.
Posted June 2016
BEST BUYS FOR
The latest issue of Britain's Decanter
magazine hit the mailbox the other day and they've got a feature article
headlined on the cover as "50 Top Riojas."
But open up the magazine and you'll see another headline on the first
page of the article.
Best-Buy Riojas: 50 top reds
we spend a lot of time evaluating the wines we're considering for the
shop and we look to finding wines which we consider to be of good value.
Each newsletter has a nice list of "Weimax Best Buys" and
these are typically wines ranging from $5.99 to $15. That's the
sort of price range most value-conscious wine-drinkers are looking for
in selecting a bottle of wine for everyday drinking.
Apparently you have to be British Royalty to be designating Decanter's
top selections as "Best Buys."
One of Decanter's experts is Tim Atkin. He's quoted as saying
"But for now, Rioja offers incredible quality at reasonable
prices. You just have to know which brands to buy...Just don't
expect prices to stay low forever."
We agree with that assessment. In our shop there are wonderful
Rioja wines for ten bucks a bottle. Few wine regions can compete
with that level of quality for that price.
Atkin has the top selection, Artadi's Vina El Pison 2012.
This "Best Buy" goes for a mere 169 British Pounds equivalent
to roughly $250 a bottle. We checked the current price from the
Northern California importer and this would retail at closer to
$300-$325 per bottle.
Definitely a "Best Buy" if you're Bill Gates or one of the
Koch brothers...the second place bottle, Finca Allende's 2010 "Aurus"
is listed at 144 British Pounds ($207), while the Number Three wine on
the Best Buy list is the Contador 2014 at 210 British Pounds
($302). The Number Four wine on this Best Buy list goes for about
a $100, making it the most reasonable deals.
To be fair, the article does cite a number of wines retailing for less
than $20, with eleven of the 50 selections being relatively affordable.
A few selections are listed as "Not Available," which doesn't
do the reader much of a service. Mr. Atkin selected one wine with
a total production of 400 bottles, while another is even more
scarce: 1 barrel (perhaps 300 bottles).
It's really wonderful to know these experts are privileged to taste such
wines, but including them on a list of wines to "buy" when
they are not available seems fruitless to us.
Posted February 2016
IN THE WINE BUSINESS Back in the 1960s, Robert Mondavi urged
his family, owners of the Charles Krug winery, to invest in the business
and make improvements to enhance the quality of their wines.
The family was not much interested in this at the time and so Robert Mondavi
left the family business and partnered with some Napa Valley grape growers in launching his winery.
These people sold their ownership stake to Washington State's Rainier brewing
company and eventually Mondavi was able to purchase their shares of his
The winery was sold by the Mondavi family to Constellation Brands in
Now Robert Mondavi always wanted to put the Napa Valley on the world's
wine map and he did much to attract attention to this, at the time, new
So we suppose it's safe to say that Robert Mondavi wanted to "get
We visited the property recently and are not sure this is quite what Mr.
Mondavi had in mind.
The sculpture was unveiled in 2015.
Posted February 2016
SOMM GETS SOME PUBLICITY The
fashion and lifestyle publication called "Vogue" offers an
article profiling a New York sommelier who works in a high-profile
restaurant and who happens to be, at the moment, pregnant.
On one level, we find this to be not especially newsworthy and on
another level, it's a bit of "too much
The sommelier who's the subject of the article, Ms. Jordan Salcito,
works as the beverage director for the Momofuku restaurant
And while the headline of the article claims she is "better than
ever" at her job, she admits to not having much interest in wine in
her expectant condition. How can she be better than ever if she
doesn't have a palate for wine?
In any case, Ms. Salcito is cited as saying there's a big gap in quality
between the world's high end wines and those that are affordable which
she describes as "crappily made."
Maybe Ms. Salcito should pay a
visit to our little wine emporium and discover that there are
actually many terrific wines which are affordable and far from
What we found especially distracting in the posting of the Vogue
article is the image
accompanying the article of a "crappily opened" bottle of
Certainly Ms. Salcito, whom readers are informed is a "Master
Sommelier Candidate," would surely know how to deal with properly
cutting the capsule on a bottle of wine.
The image chosen by Vogue has a amateurish attempt at dealing with the
capsule and if Ms. Salcito opens bottles in such a sloppy fashion, we
are certain her attempt at being a Master Sommelier will be greatly, uh,
Posted in November 2015
ANOTHER DAY OF
BEING IN THE RETAIL WINE BIZ We have been described as being
"cantankerous" on some internet bulletin board or discussion
Now if you read a bunch of the material we've posted on our little web
site, you'll probably get the idea we like to have fun and have a good
sense of humor.
But some days, running one's own business is frustrating and
challenging. It's not only that one is working in a very
competitive market, but you have companies with whom you must deal which
are less-than-sensible to dim-witted and others which are simply out to
cheat you. Some companies don't seem to want to do business and
others let you know what a pain-in-the-ass you are by simply trying to
make a purchase.
We received an e-mail from a Napa Valley winery touting their current
release of a new vintage of a 'reserve' Cabernet Sauvignon. It's
so precious, it comes in a 3 bottle case and retails for $250 per
We sent a note to the winery asking
"what other wines do you have currently available to
Shortly after we received a list of nine other wines, ranging in price
from $37 for a Sauvignon Blanc to $75 for some Chardonnays...
We ordered a couple of items and, believe it or not, a 3-pack of the
We do have customers who want to impress a friend or business
associate with an expensive, highly-rated bottle of wine and these
practically come with hundred dollar bills for wine labels.
So here's the reply to our order in response to an email we received
earlier in the day...
Yeah, we colored over some of the
email response in order not to expose the winery.
Not that they are alone in this sort of nonsense...but when your
neighborhood wine merchant seems sometimes less-than-friendly or not
especially jovial, it could be because they've been dealing with this sort
of silliness for much of their day.
Posted October 2015
HOW TO TELL
IF WINE HAS GONE BAD...BAD ADVICE! On something called a "Twitter
Feed" we saw the local rocket scientists affiliated with the
AIS (Associazione Italiana Sommelier)
posted this image, linked to a little article on a web site called Wine
The odd thing is that the image could depict classic coloring for wines
made from Piemonte's prestigious Nebbiolo grape.
Wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco are routinely rather light in color,
so a wine from a recent vintage (say, something less than 5 years of
age), might have the color of the glass on the left.
These wines are often high in acidity and tannin and can age
magnificently for 10 to 30+ years.
We have opened numerous bottles of well-aged Barolo and Barbaresco and
the color of the wine on the right is exactly what one looks for in a
ten to 25 year old bottle of great wine. And, no, these are not
spoiled, despite the suggestion that wine of that hue has "gone
We shared the photo of the wine glasses with a number of prominent
Piemontese Nebbiolo specialists.
One famed Barolo grower/winemaker wrote back: The glass on the right could easily be a Barolo or Barbaresco of
15-20 years of age and it would be vigorous and quite alive. Who
writes such nonsense?
A prominent Barbaresco vintner said: I would guess the wine on the right to be 20-25 years old. I
remember my Dad never looked at the color of a wine. He put it in
his mouth first thing to judge it. Now we are more careful for
color and the nose of a wine. Still, quality remains a very
personal thing. I remember tasting wines I thought were good and a
winemaker was telling me why it was bad. Sometimes I'm tasting a
wine I think it too old and someone is raving about how good it
is. Life is a beautiful thing!
wrote back to say: Probably the sommelier or journalist who posted that image doesn't
have much experience with Nebbiolo. Barolo or Barbaresco of that
color can be in full form and perfectly drinkable. It's too bad
that there's little information amongst these 'experts' about certain
wines such as our famous Nebbiolo bottlings.
The article is not so much at fault as are the rocket scientists
whose group is called NASA. They are the North American Sommelier
Association and for folks who offer high-priced classes in Italian
wines, you'd expect they might be a bit more sensitive as to
"educating" people that wines of brickish/orange coloration
are "spoiled," when some of the most spectacular wines of
Italy display such a color.
We suspect those NASA folks are a bit red-faced. If not, they
Posted October 2015
SAKE: CHIANTI ARTICLE IS A TOTAL FIASCO! Thanks
to our eagle-eyed Weimax colleague, John Kartunen, we had the pleasure
of reading a recently-published article by a wine geek who resides
in Fargo, North Dakota.
Their local newspaper is called the Forum and they maintain a web site
Wine writer (if you want to call him that) Ron Smith posted a most
remarkable article about Chianti.
Inforum took down the article, posted originally on September 30th, by
We learn there are five basic
"classes" of Chianti. There's Chianti Classico and
Chianti Classico Riserva, but then, incredibly, we learn there's a wine
called "Chianti Barbesco," but even better, "Chianti
We suppose the fellow is just ever-so-slightly confused.
Italy produces a wine called
"Barbaresco," but we can find no evidence, apart from Signor
Smith's article, of a wine called "Barbesco."
The genial (and genius) Ron Smith then writes "Chianti
Barbesco identifies the DOCG zone, which is in the Piedmont province,
and produces a red wine that is aged for at least two years."
Of course, Chianti is produced in the region of Toscana or Tuscany as
English speakers call it. Piedmont, by the way, is not a
"province," but a region or sort of "state."
Tuscany is another "state" or region, comprised of 9 provinces
and one metropolitan city that's autonomous, Florence.
The article becomes even more astonishing as Smith writes:
Finally, we arrive at
Chianti Barbesco Riserva "Asili." If there such a
thing as the "crown prince" of Chianti, this has to be
it. The grapes are handpicked from a single vineyard with a very
unique terroir, and it is made in a very limited quantity, which
of course affects the price, higher than any of the preceding
Now we have a slightly greater clue in
piecing together this puzzling article. Asili, you see, is one of
the 60-odd vineyard sites known as a "cru." And it's a
good one, too, but Asili is perhaps some 400 kilometers from the Tuscan
town of Greve in Chianti (to pick one at random).
Mr. Smith informs readers:
The wine is made
around the sangiovese grape, which in some cases can be 100
percent of the grape source. In other instances, this grape is
liberally blended with some half-dozen other red grape
varieties, as well as a couple of white grapes like trebbiano
In fact, however, the use of Trebbiano
and Malvasia for making Chianti Classico has been banned since the 2006
This is a most remarkable attempt at
journalism, but it's quite a dramatic (to use baseball terminology)
swing and a miss.
It will be interesting to see if this fellow tries to explain Piemontese
wines and, in particular, the wines of Barbaresco.
As they supposedly say in Fargo: "Yah sure...you betcha!"
The Article was
withdrawn from the Inforum Web Site and we found this in its place on
October 2, 2015:
You can't make up this stuff...it just happens.
Posted October 2015
SOMMELIER ROCKET SCIENCE
"Eater" (as in "SF EATER") web site runs a
period wine column called "Ask a Sommelier."
Sommeliers are these wine gods who hold court in restaurants,
assembling wine lists frequently heavy in
wines-you've-never-heard-of so you need their guidance when dining
A small percentage of these people work the floor during dinner
service, while many simply print the list, hand it to the wait staff
and run off to the gym, the movies or the nearest bar.
It seems many of these folks need to feature the latest, coolest
If you've heard of the wine, be it some estate in Bordeaux such as
Chateau Gloria or Chateau Margaux, they don't want it on their wine
If you know the Chianti Classico of Isole e Olena or the Rioja wines
of Marques de Murrieta, they don't want them.
We are being a bit facetious, of course, but dining out in San
Francisco, I'm amazed at how extreme many wine lists are these
days. Some offer exclusively mainstream brands you'd find in
your neighborhood supermarket or, just as extreme, they feature only
over-priced trophy bottles which few consumers would
We are sensitive to the discrimination practiced by many domestic
wine producers who bend over backwards for sommeliers and restaurant
wine buyers, while telling retail wine people such as ourselves that
we are unworthy of handling their wines.
We recall tasting wines of a particular Napa winery and inquired if
they sold wine to retail shops. Our colleague, Ellen, was
ready to jump over the table and strangle this fellow when he told
us "My wine needs to be accompanied by good food, so we only
sell to restaurants." We can only imagine he thinks
customers come in to our shop to ask for a suggestion of a bottle to
accompany a Swanson TV Dinner or a can of Dinty Moore's Beef Stew
(are we showing our age by citing those products?).
The August 26, 2015 Eater interview is with a fellow who's a real
rocket scientist and he's accredited by NASA!
Well, okay, maybe not the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration. This NASA is the North American Sommelier
Association, a group affiliated with Italy's "Associazione
A fellow in San Francisco who teaches NASA classes and handles wine
selections for the Press Club is interviewed by Kat Odell.
In the article, Mauro Cirilli provides some good knowledge on Barolo
and its soil types: "The
soil types divide these regions into two zones: the Central Valley
to the east, made up of Tortonian soil (creates more approachable
wines with fragrance, softness and elegance); and the Serralunga
Valley to the west, consisting of Helvetian soil (generally creates
long-lived, powerfully concentrated
I can't recall people in the Langa area using the "Central
Valley" term in describing the areas of La Morra and Barolo,
But if you have a look on the map, you will see Serralunga is in the
eastern part of the Barolo area and the "Central Valley"
is, then, west of that.
Yet Signor Cirilli's sense of direction is a bit skewed, as he
described the Serralunga Valley as being "to the west."
Please take away this fellow's keys to the car!
In addition to the article being posted on the Eater web site
HERE FOR THAT), it's
also posted on the NASA web site (CLICK
HERE FOR NASA'S WEB PAGE).
We asked the interviewer if she might have mixed up the geography,
but she checked her e-mail response from Signor Cirilli and said
"that's what he wrote."
Apparently those operating the NASA web site are not sufficiently
clued in to Barolo's geography to correct the error, or perhaps
they've simply not read the article.
Classes taught by Cirilli and his colleagues cost in the
neighborhood of $600 so you can, as they proclaim "Learn
Italian wine, from Italian people."
Might we suggest, however, you bring your own map?
Posted September 2015
THINGS WE HEAR WHILE
TASTING WINE We
attended the Summer 2015 "Family Winemakers of California"
wine-tasting on a warm afternoon in San Francisco.
These events are always interesting, often illuminating and frequently
We routinely encounter new, fledgling wine brands hoping to make a
(good) name for themselves.
We sometimes make a new wine discovery which is worth sharing with our
customers back at the shop.
And we often hear remarkable drivel as people hope to entice someone to
part with some cash in exchange for a bottle of fermented grape juice.
With a couple of hundred wineries crammed into a couple of hotel
ballrooms, standing out from the crowd is difficult. It's even
more daunting challenge for these producers, given there are tens of thousands of
wines in the market, all vying for the attention of a consumer.
In addition to tasting, we'd appreciate hearing something
sensible about the wine.
Can you tell us your story quickly (we have a lot of wine to taste, you
know) and concisely?
Who are you?
Where are your vineyards?
What makes your vineyards unique?
What kind of wine are you attempting to make?
A friend of ours from the Napa Valley,
Paul Wagner, runs an organization selling "Public Relations"
services to wineries.
He's got a marvelous bit of marketing and public relations advice...Click
Here to see that.
We heard much too frequently at this
event, as someone poured their wine "We released this two weeks
Wow...that's information that is about as helpful as telling us what
breakfast cereal you ate this morning.
What do we do with that nugget of gold?
Another, somewhat more amusing strategy that we heard more frequently
than we would have liked to hear it is:
"This wine was made in The French Style."
I'm sure the French would be slightly flattered to know you are attempting
to copy their winemaking.
But, having been in the wine business for more than a few minutes, we
actually know a thing or two about French wine.
When your wine has little in common with good French wine, we then
identify you as a rank amateur and not a serious vintner.
When we would hear "Our wine is made in The French Style," we
would often ask what that means.
And typically, sadly, there was not a well-thought out response.
"Oh, well, our winemaker was born in France."
We finally concluded that "Our wine is made in The French
Style" meant something like "We're not sure what happened, but
this ________(name the type of wine) is different from other wines of
this category. Since it is not a wine you can favorably compare to
that made by our neighbors, we'll obfuscate a bit and claim our wine,
which we know to be 'different' somehow, is French in style."
On top of that, a vintner totally blows his/her cover by claiming their Cabernet is made
in the style of good Burgundies. Similarly, a Pinot Noir producer
telling us their wine is reminiscent of a good Bordeaux has just painted
themselves as a total jackass.
The French make wines from numerous benchmark grape
If your Sauvignon Blanc is devoid of varietal character and tastes like
mineral water, claiming it's made in the style of a good Sancerre is
going to meet with a "Surely you jest" thought by those who
enjoy a bottle of good Loire Valley Sauvignon.
Putting your Pinot Noir into a French oak barrel for 10 months does not
make the wine "Burgundian" necessarily.
Fermenting your Rosé to dryness does not make your wine unique, nor
does it make it comparable to a wine from France.
After hearing the comparisons with French wine so frequently and finding
wines that were rather uninteresting, we felt the French may have a good
case to bring against some of these jokers.
Posted August 2015
Posted August 2015
TAKING A BATH The
Miami Heat have a basketball player who's posted a selfie photo on the
internet showing himself bathing in a bath of red wine.
Amar'e Stoudemire enjoys visiting a spa in New York where they fill a
tub with a Tempranillo wine made in Spain. The treatment costs
$500 ($550 on weekends) for a 30 minute soak in vino followed by a 90
Ancient Baths is based in
Spain, so no wonder they've chosen Tempranillo for filling the tub.
The spa claims the antioxidant properties of the wine are beneficial and
they may be right. But we suspect to benefit from the antioxidant
properties one must imbibe the wine, not bathe in it.
And drinking wine from a tub in which someone has been bathing
themselves probably has some odd flavors.
We're a bit surprised the spa doesn't have several options for the
pricing on such a wine bath. The younger, less expensive Tinto
Joven should cost an appropriate price, while big spenders such as NBA
basketball stars might want to splurge to sit in Crianza, Reserva or
Gran Reserva quality wine.
This whole scenario makes us wonder if Stoudemire isn't the only one
being soaked, as we taste a lot of over-priced wines all during the
week. Some vintners think they've hit the jackpot as they put a
hundred dollar price tag on what we view as a ten buck bottle. So
we know some consumers are being soaked.
And then there are some of these California "amateurs" who
have started a winery and who claim their wines are "selling like
hotcakes." They routinely craft sales pitches indicating
their wine is in demand and, as a result, quite scarce.
Their optimistic sales reports would have more credibility if these
wines were not being dumped on various "flash" websites in a
So, the bottom line is, apparently, it's not only Amar'e Stoudemire
who's taking a bath in wine.
Posted July 2015
A ROSE IS A
ROSE IS A ROSE ??? Steve
Heimhoff worked for The Wine Spectator as well as The Wine Enthusiast
before taking a job with a wine producing company, Jackson Family
He's written a couple of wine books and he's been (Kendall) Jackson's
Director of Wine Communications and Education.
Given his résumé, you'd
expect to read sensible postings on his "SteveHeimhoff.com"
Now this fellow has written critical reviews of wines, so one might
expect he'd have a sniffer and palate that's sufficiently sensitive to
differentiate between various types of wines.
But then we read this in his Prosecco article:
So Mr. Heimhoff is admitting that he
cannot find a reason, in the glass, to buy a bottle of real,
honest-to-goodness French Champagne because Prosecco is
"qualitatively...as satisfying as Champagne"???
The only difference is "image and perceptions"???
I suppose, then, that Ten Buck Supermarket Pinot Noirs are
"qualitatively as satisfying" as top flight Grand Cru Burgundy?
Would we be correct in assuming that Kendall-Jackson's Vintner's Reserve
Chardonnay is on par with top drawer French White Burgundy?
Are we being led to believe that Mondavi's Woodbridge Cabernet is of the
same quality level as, say, Mondavi's Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet or Opus
One? Is it comparable, then, with Mouton-Rothschild,
Lafite-Rothschild or Chateau Latour?
Would Mr. Heimhoff find riding in a Smart Car to be about the same as
riding in a Mercedes or Lexus?
I see people everyday who spend money for "image and
perceptions." I'm in the wine business and try to guide people
to making intelligent purchasing decisions in their pursuit of
happiness. I remind colleagues almost daily to pay attention to
what's in the glass, not listening to the singing-and-dancing of a sales
pitch or being blinded by the prestigious label or lofty price tag.
When we taste and evaluate sparkling wines, we're looking for wines which
might be comparable to top Champagnes. ((We found a Loire Valley
bubbly that's matured for about a decade en tirage that floats our
boat at the $20 price level and we have a Cremant de Bourgogne ($23.99)
that is worthy of comparison.) We appreciate good bottles of
California sparkling wine, especially Roederer Estate's L'Ermitage.
We appreciate top Spanish Cava.
Perhaps our taste buds are a bit more discriminating than Mr. Heimhoff's.
But when we began studying the complex subject of wine, we learned that
bottle-fermented sparklers were potentially far more complex than simple
Charmat Process, tank-fermented bubbly. We can differentiate between
benchmark bottlings of Champagne and good Prosecco.
Apparently Mr. Heimhoff, over the several decades of wine explorations,
simply has a lead palate or tin ear when it comes to sparkling wine?
There is one occasion where we might agree with the assertion that a good
Prosecco is as satisfying as a good bottle of Champagne:
For a fellow who's stamped his ticket in so many enological excursions,
he's missed the boat on this score.
Posted July 2015
customers have been asking for the new release of Caymus Napa Cabernet
Sauvignon. They liked the 2012 vintage, a wine marking the 40th
Anniversary of the Caymus winery. We remember visiting the little
cellar in Rutherford in 1974, or so, and buying Cabernet and a pink wine
they called Oeil de Perdrix (Eye of the Partridge). We
have purchased wine from Caymus every year since!
The 2012 had been curiously sweet and the winery even cautioned its
distributor to not deliver the wine on days when outdoor temperatures
exceed 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Sales reps were ordered to deliver
"will calls" (when they picked up the wine at the warehouse)
with a 60 minute window.
The new 2013 vintage is just being released and the local distributor is
told production levels are substantially lower than in 2012. This
is curious, since Napa Valley harvest statistics show the 2013 Cabernet
crop being a mere 4.4% less than in 2012.
It seems the Brain Trust at Caymus (if you want to call it that) decided
to not purchase the same quantity of grapes in 2013 that it had in
So now they have trade partner
customers angry because they are told the quantity of Cabernet that will
be available this year is significantly less than last year. And
certainly those growers who'd been happy to sell grapes to Caymus in
2012 must have been a bit peeved to learn they were being cast aside in
Imagine how happy retailers will be if they sold 100 cases of 2012 and
are now hearing the news they may be able to purchase 25 cases of
The marketing manager at Caymus is tracking sales of its other brands of
wines in helping determine allocations. Customers who have been
buying Caymus wines since its initial release are being cast aside in
favor of new, more attractive trade partners who might be able to sell a
broader range of Wagner Family products. Of course, were all the
wines at a high level of quality and priced properly, this might be
One distributor affiliate told us (don't mention my name if you repeat
this) that the tension in the room when the Caymus folks held a little
sales meeting was palpable. "Not only that, you could feel
We were initially a bit perturbed when
told we'd receive perhaps 20% to 25% of the quantity of 2013 we'd sold
in the 2012 vintage.
But now we've had a chance to taste the wine, along with other Wagner
Family offerings. We began thinking perhaps the brands of the
Wagner Family will be sold within the not-so-distant future and we
wondered if Gallo, Constellation or Diageo might purchase the company.
As with the 2012, the 2013 does have noticeable residual sugar. We
tested it using our little sugar-measuring device. You put so many
drops of wine in the test tube and then so many (twice the number) of
water and add a special little tablet, let it dissolve and fizz for 15
seconds and then compare the color of the liquid in the tube to the
As you can see in the photo, the
wine does show somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 grams of sugar per
liter. The 2012 showed a color closer to bright orange (20 grams!).
Our colleague Ellen described it as showing notes of "prune
juice" on the nose and palate.
The wholesale price increased by 28% for the 2013 over the 2012, a mighty
healthy bump if you're Caymus.
In Italy's Veneto region where they
make a red blend called Valpolicella, producers often leave some grapes to
dry and shrivel, producing a wine of higher alcohol and, sometimes, a
touch of sweetness. Those wines are labeled
Perhaps Caymus' winemaking crew is enamored of those wines and decided to
Given what's in the bottle of 2013 Cabernet, perhaps the Wagner Family did
know what they were doing and chose, wisely, to make less wine.
Posted June 2015
HE'S A CASTAWAY! A San Diego eno-scribe
posted his pick for the lone wine he'd choose were he adrift at sea...
"...Gaja Sperss, the only Barolo in Angelo's stellar lineup."
The Piemontese red wines from the Gaja family are impressive, as are
Gaja does make one lone Barolo, with a number of "Langhe"
Gaja, if you are unaware, is single-handedly deserving of praise for
being a champion of Piemontese wines. He was "the bad boy of
Barbaresco" years ago and cast off his family's Barolo vineyards.
Studying how the world's top wines were made, Gaja implemented a program
from vineyard to cellar to emulate these production
He also dramatically increased the price of a bottle of
Barbaresco. Neighbors, jealous of his success, though, had no
trouble appreciating the higher prices for their wines, too.
At one point, there was a referendum seeking to allow a small percentage
of "other" grapes to be incorporated into wines labeled as
Barolo and Barbaresco. (This was after a small scandal where it
was common to "fortify" those noble wines with something
darker in color and more full in body, as producers sought high scores
from critics and consumers looking for alternatives to the big Cabernet
and Bordeaux they were accustomed to drinking.)
The referendum did not pass and today Gaja's top Barbaresco wines are no
longer labeled as Barbaresco. Instead, with a small percentage of
Barbera in the blend, Gaja's single vineyard wines carry merely (if you
want to call it "merely") the Langhe denominazione.
The Gaja winery produces three "Barolo" wines, but since two
of them are also made along the lines of the single-vineyard bottlings
and have a bit of Barbera in them, just one bottling is actually labeled
The wine Mr. Whitley claims is "the only Barolo in Angelo's stellar
lineup" (Sperss) is labeled, in fact, as a "Langhe" red
wine, not as a Barolo.
The lone Barolo in the portfolio is, in fact, called Dagromis.
So it seems Signor Whitley is,
perhaps, adrift at sea regarding the Gaja Barolo!
Or might we say he's 50% correct or "Half Whitley"?
Posted June 2015
attend a lot of trade tasting events. Typically there are people
on one side of the table, singing and dancing in hopes of attracting a
customer, while potential customers, armed with a wine glass, sniff, sip
and (hopefully) spit in hopes of finding something worthy of
recommending to their customers.
For some attendees, these are a party. For others, such as
ourselves, this is work and we hope to justify our time by finding some
We participated in one trade event recently which featured a bunch of
organic, biodynamic naturalistas. Now, we're told these
vintners are super sensitive to supposedly wholesome wines, farmed
organically out of concern for Mother Earth. We don't use
herbicides in the vineyard...no pesticides, either...
So you can imagine my amusement when a
half a dozen of these naturalistas are standing three feet (okay,
maybe one full meter, or two) from the front door...and they're smoking
Very healthful, I gather.
Then, we arrived at one table, seemingly unmanned. The first two
samples were unimpressive and over-priced. We picked up the third
bottle and a fellow immediately came over and grabbed the bottle.
"Oh, this fellow wants to pour his own wine, tell his story,
etc." we thought as we let him have the bottle.
He then pointed his index finger our way, moving it in our direction and
then recoiling for another point at us as he said "You!
You!! You are not permitted to taste my wine."
was clear, as well, this fellow had his panties in a bunch.
"You may not taste my wine!" he continued, apparently in some
measure of disgust.
"You insulted me once!"
He stood there, guarding his bottles with his arms held out from his
sides as though he was attempting to box out some tall basketball player
on the court.
It seemed as though he feared we might lunge past him and attempt to
grab one of the precious bottles on the table.
This all came as a shock. We could not recall ever meeting this
fellow and the brand name of his winery was unfamiliar, too.
When we returned to the shop we asked our co-workers if anyone might
recall us tasting this fellow's wines. We came up empty.
It was then suggested that perhaps, instead of a case of Cabernet
Sauvignon, this was a case of Mistaken Identity?
We've racked our brains trying to recall what might have transpired,
apart from us saying we did not have a place for his wine in the shop.
That, however, is a normal result of vintners driving around, looking
for a home for their wines. The "batting average" of a
winemaker is typically lower than a league-leading Major League Batting
As we continue to ponder this curious and uncomfortable incident, we
wondered "How is it that some winemakers have thinner skins than
the grapes they crush each harvest season?"
Posted March 2015
COAST GRAPE PRICES
Robert Mondavi once provided the wine
industry with a very simple formula for calculating the cost of a bottle
of wine. He'd said you divide the cost-per-ton of the fruit by 100
and that would yield the suggested retail price for a bottle of
Therefore, a wine made from grapes costing $2000 per ton should retail
Of course, in Mr. Mondavi's days, corks cost a few pennies each and a
glass bottle might have cost 25 to 35 cents.
Here's a bit of information on the relative cost of grapes for the 2014
harvest, should a winery not grow its own.
SELECTIONS...HITS or MISSES? Every month some new labels hit the
market, hoping to find fame and a measure of fortune.
We appreciate wine brands named after the winemaker, the piece of hand
housing the winery, a nearby landmark and so on.
We were a bit surprised to see two new proprietary wines listed in a
distributor's catalogue and so we searched for the winery web site.
Here's the label design for the red wine. Can you guess the name
of the wine for this label?
"Bombs Away" was the guess of several folks to whom I showed
In fact, they're calling it "F Bomb."
And if that's not sufficiently classy, what do you suppose they call the
wine bearing this label art?
They're calling the White Wine "G Spot."
Maybe we're simply old fuddy-duddys, but the notion of calling up the
distributor and ordering some F-Bombs and a couple of G-Spots is not at
And here's the real test: If the wine has a name you'd have to
whisper to the waiter or sommelier in a restaurant to avoid both embarrassment
and your guests (or others at neighboring tables) from hearing, maybe the
name of that wine is not suitable.
Posted January 2015
ARTICLES FROM LONDON...ONE WITH SOME AMAZING ASSERTIONS!
Two London newspapers and their
on-line web sites posted stories within a few days of each other
covering the most costly bottles of wine in the world.
The authors of each article both used a wine-price comparison web site
to document their findings. The author of the article in The
Telegraph posted a few words about each wine.
The Mail's article, written by Anucyia Victor also has some verbiage
about the wines, but with some remarkable notations.
The Number One wine on the hit parade is a Domaine de la Romanee-Conti
"Romanee-Conti." Interestingly, both authors quote some
Archbishop of Paris as saying it's "velvet and satin in
But The Mail article claims the wine "must be made from at least 85
per cent Pinot Noir grapes."
This is an astonishing discovery, since we've always wondered what else
is in this remarkable wine apart from Pinot Noir.
Of course, the French wine law for this wine mandates it be made
entirely of Pinot Noir, so we're sure the authorities will be visiting
the Domaine to cite them if they've incorporated 15% of anything else in
their red wines.
The Number Two wine is Henri Jayer's Cros-Parantoux, which is described
as "full-bodied and rich."
Really? (Must be the 15% of something other than Pinot Noir to
make it full-bodied...)
Wine Number Three comes from the Egon Muller's Scharzhof winery and it's
a Trockenbeerenauslese Riesling, a wine made from raisined, dried
grapes. As the fruit it hugely sweet, so is the wine.
Ms. Victor's amazing articles contends "...this Riesling is
produced on the banks of the Moselle River in Germany's Rheingau
Okay...look, it's either the appellation of the Mosel or the Rheingau,
so pick one, will you please?
And if you're going to pick correctly, you'll take the Mosel sub-region
of the Saar.
If you can't read the caption: "Individual vineyards in
Rheingau, on the banks of the Moselle River." I kid you not!
Wine Number Four is Domaine
Leflaive's Montrachet, but the photo accompanying the article depicts a
bottle of their Chevalier-Montrachet, which, of course, is not the same. The caption claims the J.J. Prum wine, another Trockenbeerenauslese,
is "the only sweet wine on the list," despite tabbing the Egon
Muller late-harvest wine earlier!
Wines Six and Seven are both Red Burgundies, a Domaine Leroy Musigny and
Both articles note Leroy uses a sorting table that has no conveyor belt
(for the berries to roll around on and be transported to the crusher), a
very obscure bit of information.
A DRC Montrachet is Number Eight and both authors cite some critic's
description of the wine identically, mentioning the adjectives
"...multi-dimensional, honey and graphite, pear, pineapple, orange
peel and vanilla."
Of the Number Nine wine from Jean-Louis Chave, the "Ermitage
Cuvee Cathelin," both writers note this is a vineyard
"...owned by a family which has been making wine since 1481"
and each notes the Chave family could claim to be "France's
winemaking royal family."
And Number Ten is another Jayer wine, that from his Echezeaux
parcel. Both authors mention Jayer's organic approach to weed
control in the vineyard.
We wonder, then, did both authors have a relatively identical idea for
an article simultaneously or did one plagiarize the other?
(Stay tuned...we posed that question!)
Posted November 2014
CHABLIS !!! A new San Francisco dining spot posted its
wine offerings on line and they have some rather nice selections at
fairly reasonable price levels.
This one caught our attention, as it's got a couple of errors...
We're willing to bet you've never
seen a William Fevre Chablis that would qualify as a "red wine."
And, by the way, the Premier Cru wine has the designation
"Montmains," not "Mountains."
Such an entry should leave the sommelier or wine director blushing, at the
Parenthetically, the restaurant is named after a famous Piemontese pasta,
"Plin." (Agnolotti del Plin is found on almost every menu
in the Langhe hills where you'll find Barolo and Barbaresco wines.)
And yet the menu posted on-line has a number of pasta dishes, but no
Posted November 2014
ALL THOSE BRUNOS LOOK
Decanter magazine's web site, Decanter.com has a little "slide
show" presentation featuring some picks of new releases in the
realm of Barolo and Barbaresco.
One of these "Top 30" wines is Bruno Giacosa's 2011
But if you take a look at the bottle depicted on the slide show, you may
notice it's a wine from Bruno Rocca, not Bruno Giacosa!
Do you suppose they were drinking some Barolo or Barbaresco when they
assembled the slide show?
Posted September 2014
A few California wineries eschew having a
scanable "UPC" bar code on their bottles, knowing some buyers
hold the notion that if a wine has a "Universal Product Code,"
it must be made by a large, industrial winery.
It seems, the wineries have learned, that some restaurant wine buyers
(and perhaps others) will immediately reject a bottle of wine if it has
a pre-printed bar code.
Their rationale is, of course, that a wine with a bar code on its label
can't possibly be from a small, artisan winery.
In fact, though, we have wines from very small producers who do utilize
a scan code on their bottles. These have a more professional
appearance, in our view, than the dot-matrix printer labels we generate
for bottles without a bar code.
The photo to the left is a back label of a bottle of Cakebread's
Sauvignon Blanc and this product has no UPC or scan code.
Yet it does have a QR code (as you can see) on the bottle which
is even more "high tech" than a UPC code. (A QR Code
allows someone with a "smart phone" to scan the "Quick
Response Code" and their device will then open an internet browser,
showing them a web page where there is information (or public relations
materials) about the product.
And even more amusing is the fact that Cakebread (and they are not
alone) does sell bottles of wine WITH UPC scan codes! Typically
they offer those bottles to "chain stores" who routinely
monitor inventory and sales of various products strictly by scan codes.
So, they try to portray the image theirs are the
products of a small, artisan producer, while having sufficient
quantities of wine to accommodate grocery and big box
It's called having your cake and eating it, too.
Posted September 2014
"PACKAGING" AND PRESENTATION
We may be a bit old fashioned when it
comes to wine packaging. Sure, we can appreciate the convenience
of wine in a plastic, screw-capped quarter bottle format, as well as
wine in a soft-drink can.
Our friend Mike Lynch had an amazing collection of cartoons he
commissioned for his store's periodic catalogue and one of the earliest
was this image...and he was ahead of his time as now there are some
wines making their way to the market in cans!
Yes, a pop-top can of Chateau Lafite
Rothschild! Brilliant idea to quench your thirst while at the beach
with a can of such a wonderful wine, although serious wine geeks would
certainly prefer the 1961 and eschew the 1963.
We've had some wine in liter-sized
Tetra-Pak. Fine. It has its place at a picnic, beach or pool
party. How do you feel about this format for wine?
Does it taste like paint?
Or more like Paint Thinner? Here's another wacky way to package your
Yes...in a handbag!
This gives new meaning to the phrase "pursing one's lips."
And then someone is trying to market wine to fans of the TV cartoon
And how about wine in "paper bottles"??? Paper Boy
Sometimes there's more emphasis on packaging than on wine-making.
Posted September 2014
STING OPERATION IN TUSCANY
If you're not aware, the pop singer known
as "Sting" (what kind of name is that, really?) owns a nice
little vineyard and farm in Tuscany's Chianti region.
We visited the place and found a nice little azienda agricola
with vineyards and a small planting of vegetables which they sell in a
little shop out on the road near the property.
We were amused to read they're enlisting "volunteers" to help
with the coming 2014 harvest.
But there's a bit of a twist on this.
Instead of paying these pickers a small wage for the back-breaking work
of cutting bunches of grapes and schlepping heavy fruit bins through the
vineyards, Sting and his "Il Palagio" winery folks have come
up with a novel concept: THE VOLUNTEERS PAY THEM!!!
Yes...for a mere 262 Euros (about $345) per day, you can "Roll up
your sleeves and join the grape or olive harvest in the field of dreams
at Il Palagio".
The price includes a picnic lunch mid-day and a taste of some of the Il
Palagio wines after a day of toiling in the vineyard, plus the
opportunity to slice your thumb open with a picker's knife (a nasty
little sharp hook on a stick, actually) as well as throwing out your
back from bending over a small bush-vine. Add to the mix the
possible sun burn and heat-stroke and you've got a lovely little
We've worked a harvest in Italy many decades ago and it's a
physically-demanding work-out. And we've helped some American
enology school students obtain harvest season internships in Italy (and
they were paid a small stipend for their efforts)...
But the notion of paying a winery owner $345 for a day of picking
his/her vineyards seems like a real STING to us.
Posted August 2014
SEEING IS BELIEVING! In
the reporting on the Napa Valley Earthquake, one local TV station
admitted to trolling the internet and finding images on web sites such
as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. of the aftermath of the August
The news anchor on KRON TV of San Francisco gave this reportage:
"...look on the ground there. There are grapes that fell
right off the vine! That's how strong this earthquake was.
It was able to shake grapes right off..."
Clearly the newsies at Channel 4 are
unaware of a practice called "green harvesting." A
vineyard crew is sent through the rows to cull out bunches of grapes to
allow the vine to concentrate its efforts in ripening the remaining
fruit. The notion is the quality improves at the expense of
They found, then, a snapshot of a recently green-harvested, thinned
vineyard and came to the comical conclusion that the grapes much have
been "shaken" off the vine as a result of the earthquake!
We heard a CBS radio news report asserting that "...the Napa Valley
produces 25% of the wine made in America."
We're not sure where they came up with that. The Napa Valley
Vintners association claims Napa produces but 4% of the wine made in
California, a far cry from the CBS radio report.
It was an incredible shake and we felt it here
Too bad some news reports are not credible!
Posted August 2014
SUGGESTIONS FOR GASTRONOMICAL DELIGHTS Yet
another journalist has entrapped some wine gurus into pairing their
wines with items you might not consider to be "wine friendly."
As an accompaniment to Twinkies (I kid you not), writer Anneli Rufus
gets a Santa Rosa vintner to offer his wine pairing for this sponge-cake
confection with a creamy filling.
Jon Philips of Sonoma County's Inspiration Vineyards recommends a Late
Harvest Gewurztraminer. "The creamy richness of
the Twinkie and the acidity of the Gewürz are what wine-and-food pairings
are all about. You can cleanse the palate between each bite. Yum."
I usually have a knife and fork on the
table...here we see some dental tweezers and a dentist's mirror.
Peanut Butter & Jelly?
"One of my favorite combinations
of 'kid' food and wine is Pinot Noir and PB&Js," exults Joshua
De Loach of Hook & Ladder Winery in Santa Rosa, CA. "Our 2013
Hook and Ladder Pinot gives the peanut butter a strong chocolate
characteristic and the jelly a great depth."
This may explain why we've not
found any of the Hook & Ladder wines to be to our taste.
Pop Tarts are on the menu, so a social media specialist for a Northern
Sonoma wine & tourism web site named Anne Loupy suggests pairing
these with Semillon.
"Why?" you ask quizzically.
Because "...the effervescence
will cut through the sweet inside."
California Semillon is a real rarity these days and we can't think of a
single winery producing a sparkling version.
Three experts suggested wine to pair with a can of Spaghetti-os.
Someone from Fritz Underground Winery advised pairing this gourmet treat
with Fritz Malbec.
Kathleen Kelly-Young of Kelly & Young (of "Robert Young
Vineyard" fame) Wines suggested Merlot.
"As with any pasta dish that has
a tomato sauce, Merlot would be a great pairing because of its rich
fruit, rounded tannins and acidity."
Julia Lander of Moshin Vineyards suggests
adding some cayenne pepper to the Spaghetti-Os and then pairing it with
(are you ready for this gastronomical wedding?): "Semi-sweet
Gewürz -- 6 percent RS or so..."
One winemaker suggested matching Oreo cookies with Zinfandel, which may
explain why some Zinfandels are undrinkable.
Of course, we're in favor of taking the mystery out of wine and wine
We suspect, though, that the folks responding to this writer's queries
are a bit desperate for publicity and hoping to make a sale for their
We wonder, though, if they damage their brand and credibility by having
their wines associated with canned pasta or industrial confections.
Is the joke, then, on those who responded or is it on those who read
(and write) such malarkey?
As our late colleague Bob Gorman used to
"Everyone to his/her own taste."
But that presumes these individuals have "taste."
Clearly some do not.
Posted July 2014
SAUTERNES The Napa newspaper called the "Napa
Valley Register" sent one of its writers to tag along with other
would-be eno-scribes on a trip to France to learn about French wines.
visited a couple of estates in Sauternes.
The article mentions Botrytis Cinerea, the famous "Noble
Rot" which can form on the grapes at harvest time, concentrating
sugar and acidity, while contributing a honey-like quality to the
wines. This is the hallmark of great Sauternes wines...they can be
rich, unctuous and a connoisseur's dream-of-a-wine. In years where
there's not sufficient humidity to encourage Botrytis, producers
tend to make more simple dry white wines. But when there's a bit
of rain or a lot of fog, the "mold" takes hold on the grapes
and dehydrates the fruit. Botrytis-affected sweet wine is what
Sauternes wines are all about.
Here's a quotation from Sasha Paulsen's July 3, 2014 article regarding
the estate of Chateau Guiraud:
Aside from spelling
Guiraud incorrectly 2 out of three times in that paragraph, Paulsen
claims the winery produces three wines, the Chateau Guiraud, the Petit
Guiraud and the G de Chateau Guiraud. Yet the winery web site
indicates there's a fourth wine, Le Dauphin de Guiraud.
writes that the winery seeks to produce a "cleaner, lighter
and more elegant Sauternes...no botrytis notes..."
And yet here's the winery web site:
The writer visits the estate,
presumably tastes the wines of Guiraud and comes away holding the notion
they're trying to make Sauternes from grapes which have no Botrytis
cinerea despite the region's long history of making wines from Botrytis-affected
We contacted Sasha Paulsen and
here's the response we received:
Apparently contacting the winery
through its web site or making a phone call to Chateau Guiraud was out
of the question. If the journalist is "puzzled," should
they ask for clarification from the source?
And far be it for a journalist to be able to correctly spell the name of
the winery they've visited!
With a staffer who submits such a
poorly-researched, shoddy article, can you blame the copy editor for
having a headache?
Posted July 2014
THESE NEW RELEASES
"TAKE THE CAKE" !!!
First someone was marketing a wine called Layer
Cake. Then a marketing company developed a line of wines called
Cupcake. Now someone else is entering the fray and the new entrant
hoping to batter the market is called Birthday Cake Vineyards.
The vineyards are in France and
they're not planted with Cabernet, Syrah or Pinot Noir. Those
grapes, apparently, don't hold a candle to these unusual enological
The good news is for "Birthday Cake Vineyards" wines, the
added flavors are "natural." (Are you listening, Alice Feiring??)
It sounds like one very Unhappy Birthday to us!
Posted July 2014
TAKE YOUR PICK,
SONNY BOY! We thought this had a
measure of charm.
Posted May 2014
I've never been to the City of North
Carolina, have you?
Posted May 2014
ALS NIE (Better Late Than Never)
We enjoy thumbing through the various food
and cooking publications, in our hunger for more knowledge about the
world of "cuisine" (and wine).
For publications such as Bon Appetit, The Art of Eating and Saveur, wine
is a bit of a sideline. Sometimes they'll run a feature article on
some wine-related topic, but it's not the main focus of the magazine.
Food & Wine? Well, they often have feature articles on wine.
Then there's Fine Cooking, another publication where they enlist the
services of a Brooklyn, New York wine shop owner. Patrick Watson,
of Smith & Vine, typically has some nice suggestions in matching
various featured recipes to adult libations. His wine picks are
usually pretty good, so we were surprised when we picked up the
June/July 2014 edition of Fine Cooking.
Here we found this:
As someone who spends much of the day assisting customers with wine
pairings for various menus, I, for one, can't say I'd be quick to
recommend a Spatlese-level Riesling with a steak as one of my Top 50
picks for that dish.
And most customers go with my top three suggestions as, when it comes to
eating and drinking, they usually defer to someone of greater
I suspect Riesling was a choice when Mr. Watson factored in the Miso
Butter...Asian...Riesling pairs well with Asian...let's go with
Riesling! And, sure, if we were dealing with Sea Bass,
Halibut or Lobster with Miso Butter, perhaps Riesling makes sense.
On top of the curious and debatable selection of a Riesling, let's
consider this statement, which ought to cause readers with a modest
amount of knowledge to question this fellow's credibility: "Spätlese
on a Riesling label means the wine is dry..."
Where did you come up with this?
(Now, if he'd noted "Spätlese Trocken" indicates a dry wine,
then we've got no issue.)
Mosel Slate Riesling, by the way, has 83 grams of sugar per liter
(according to a tech sheet posted by importer Rudi Wiest), making it
fairly sweet, while the Loosen wine has about 70 grams of sugar per
liter according to US importer Kirk Wille.
To put the numbers in perspective, The European Union regulations find
"dry" wine to be 4 grams of sugar, or less.
A wine described as "medium dry" could have as much as 12
grams of sugar per liter. "Medium" might have as many as
45 grams per liter, while they categorize any wine with more than 45
grams of sugar as a "sweet" wine.
Of course, the key to German wines is balance and some hugely sweet
wines actually have a fine balance of acidity so that you might have a
difficult time in identifying precisely how much sugar is in a sweet
And now, just when wine drinkers were beginning to master the various
terms on a German wine label, one group of vintners requires its members
no longer label quality wines which are "dry" as being
Kabinett, Spätlese or Auslese wines. Up until recently,
members of the VDP group could label as wine as a "Spätlese
Trocken" Riesling, for example. (Not every German winery,
though, is aligned with this organization, so you will still find
Kabinett or Spätlese wines with the word Trocken on the label!
The VDP's new regulations, though, push dear Mr. Watson even farther off
as the old proverb advises: If at first you don't succeed, dry,
dry again. Or something like that.
WELL, THEY DO
DRIVE ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD...
In searching for a liqueur requested by a customer who could not
recall the brand name of the product he wanted, we found this web site
for "discerning drinkers."
They offer all sorts of opinions on topics related to libations,
including ratings of various alcohols, guides to city bars and ratings
of these establishments.
Of course, when one reads the notation that San Francisco is an
"East Coast" city, much of their credibility goes down the
Perhaps the author of that article had been imbibing too many cocktails
when he wrote this???
Posted April 2014
CARD...NICE SENTIMENT! A customer sent this along...
Posted April 2014
AMERICANS !!! Every
day I hope to learn a bit more vocabulary in various foreign languages.
And today I have to thank The Wine Spectator for adding a new word to my
That word translates to "brain damaged" and it's how many
Italians view the list of "Top 100 Italian Wineries" selected
by the American publication The Wine Spectator.
The outspoken Italian grower/winemaker Fulvio Bressan (that's him in my
photo to the left) used the term "cerebrolesi" in assessing
the quality of the selections of the "top 100."
Of course, Fulvio makes the same mistake that we make: We expect
such a list reflects the quality of the work of the vintners in growing
grapes and making wines. We'd expect a publication which claims to
be objective and critical to select producers whose wines are of
But we see, in reality, a list which reflects the influence of money and
marketing success in some cases more than it does the actual grape
growing and winemaking.
And this is what causes Bressan to express his
In the Trentino region, for example, there are but three
selections. Does The Wine Spectator actually believe the wines
from the Mezzacorona co-op cellar are superior to those of Cesconi or
Pojer & Sandri (who are not on the list)???
From Piemonte the list cites Damilano, Casa E. di Mirafiore
(Fontanafredda), Michele Chiarlo and Prunotto, but neglect to mention
Bartolo Mascarello, GD Vajra, Cavallotto or the Produttori del
Barbaresco. And yet the list has a dozen Veneto producers
including Santa Margherita and Cesari, but not Dal Forno, Quintarelli or
Only two producers make the cut from Friuli and apparently you have to
be named Felluga to be on the list. Not on the list, then, is
Borgo del Tiglio.
There are 32 wineries from Tuscany on the list and, yes, all the big
names and large advertisers are on the list...I don't think my list,
however, would include Cecchi or Mastrojanni.
The Falesco winery made the cut from Umbria, as did the under-achieving
(in my view) Lungarotti. Four Sicilian producers made the grade
and yet, curiously, not a single vintner from Etna is on the list!
The article linked above does put it in
perspective noting the US market is more than a billion dollar customer
for Italian wines, even some wines which are not purchased or consumed
Maybe that says something about the list.
Posted March 2014
OF CHAMPIONS It's
difficult to believe we missed this remarkable posting on the
Broward/Palm Beach New Times web site, but we did.
It's written by Miami native Mandy Baca, who considers herself to be a
gastronome. Headlined "Pair it with Wine," the
article suggests that since pairing table wine with chocolate is not
especially outrageous, one shouldn't scoff at pairing wine with breakfast
We learn that Cap'n Crunch cereal is best paired with Riesling. Frosted
Mini-Wheats are best enhanced with Pinot Grigio. Ms. Baca claims a
friend of hers enjoys red wine with his breakfast cereal and "goes
through bottles and boxes as quickly as you go through toilet
(Frankly, I'm uneasy about Ms. Baca knowing much about my usage of
so-called "bathroom tissue." And maybe someone should
suggest her friend enroll in one of those 12-Step programs???)
It seems Frosted Flakes are "Grrreat" with Spanish wine from
the Rioja region.
The article informs us:
"Why it works: Rioja,
which is a big full-bodied red wine, can stand up to the high levels of
sugar present in Frosted Flakes. Plus, the wine's fruity character
blends well with the sweetness of the cereal without overpowering or
competing with it."
Apparently the most sophisticated
pairing is this one:
Honey Nut Cheerios and some sort of
"Why it works: If
you're looking for a sophisticated choice, this is your pick. Both red
Bordeaux and Honey Nut Cheerios are considered classics in their
respective realms. The wine's minerality adds an extra oomph to the
subtleness of the natural and earthy cereal."
Yes, "sophisticated"!!! Nothing
says you're a real wine aficionado more than using a corkscrew at the
breakfast table and matching your Cheerios with a bottle of some
well-aged First Growth Bordeaux!
Readers are cautioned to avoid certain
"Forget about softer wines
like Pinot Noir and Barolo, as the milk will overwhelm the wine. Also
stay away from Champagne. The strong sparkling components do not pair
well with the smoothness of the cereal and milk."
We have not viewed the wines made of
the Nebbiolo grape in Italy's Barolo region as being
"soft." (In fact, as savvy readers of this page are well
aware, it is often one of the world's most tannic and astringent red
wines.) That said, it did not take us until the end of the article
to surmise Ms. Baca is far from being considered a "wine
Finally we learn one should not substitute wine for the milk when
preparing a bowl of breakfast cereal, lest the cereal turn to
All of this reminds us:
Posted February 2014, years after
the article saw the light of day.
PUT A CORK IN
e-mail trumpeting the release of some marketing genius's latest ideas
for fame and fortune came our way in the form of a new line of French
wines called "Tire Bouchon."
In the French language, a "Tire Bouchon" is a device helpful
in opening many wine bottles...it's a "corkscrew" and the
label of this new wine features a drawing of a very simple,
old-fashioned cork puller.
The release letter says:
have decided to create a brand new line of single grape varietal called
in the Pays d'Oc, France, our aim is to produce elegant and fresh
wines, easy to understand but also consistent with food.
Therefore we have isolated
very nice parcels and selected carefully the best grapes of Chardonnay,
Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet-Sauvignon, Syrah and Pinot Noir.
delightful juices age between 4 and 6 months in stainless steel tanks
before being bottled. We proceed to a smooth filtration and fining to
protect the flavors and ensure stability over the time."
this is "the wine business," it should come as no surprise to
veteran observers of this realm that the bottles of wine named after a
corkscrew are sealed with...
...yes! A screwcap!
world of wine!! It is a screwy business.
PERRIER-JOUET AND THERE'S
PERRIER A local, smallish chain of grocery stores
posted an ad for some of the items featured "on sale" during
One item that's appropriate to ring in the new year is Champagne.
And in this instance, they're offering Perrier Jouet's famed
"Flower Bottle," known as the "Belle Epoque"
Here's a partial screen shot of their advertisement:
Is that some sort of editorial comment regarding the quality of Perrier
Jouet's top Champagne, we wonder?
Or can they not distinguish between water and wine?
Posted December 2013
MAKING LITTLE SENSE
Some people contend that pairing wine
with food is a lot of nonsense.
"Drink what you like," they'll tell you.
And that's all well and good...drink what you like.
But for some of us, pairing wines with food is also a wonderful
challenge and sometimes the combination allows for a greater enjoyment
than you might have pairing a particular dish to a glass of water or
merely drinking a particular wine without any food.
That's what we strive for when
matching wine to food or food to wine.
We were recently presented a book by German wine and food guru Christina
"Making Sense of Food &
Wine" is a marvelous discourse on the ins and outs of pairing wine
with food. Ms. Fischer explains the 'textures' of the wine
matching the texture of a dish, too.
The book is written with German precision and attention to
At the back of the book, there's a "Quick Finder: Who With
Oysters and Muscadet...Coq au Vin with Beaujolais or Pinot Noir.
Lamb Chops, Grilled with Bordeaux, red wines from the Douro, Nero
d'Avola or Toro...Sure.
Curiously, grilled steaks didn't make the chart.
But "Leg of Venison" is on this chart and readers are guided
to having a "Riesling Auslese at least 20 years of bottle age
Really? We wouldn't want a nice Claret from Bordeaux or a good
Super Tuscan?? Barbera? Syrah? Tempranillo?
Ms. Fischer suggests with your Lasagna you serve a "White wine,
fruity, harmonious, medium-bodied...something along the lines of a Pinot
Grigio or Silvaner."
We'd take into account the ingredients in a classic Lasagna:
Tomato sauce, meat, Béchamel, Ricotta or Parmigiano cheese...perhaps
In Italy our friends who've prepared Lasagne have paired it with
uncomplicated red wines from near their homes. In Piemonte we'd
see it with a Dolcetto, lighter version of Barbera or a youthful, entry
level Nebbiolo. In Toscana you'd see bottles of uncomplicated
Sangiovese on the table. In the Alto Adige, don't be surprised to
find Lagrein as the preferred wine of choice. In Campania, you'd
be served a nice Aglianico.
But Pinot Grigio or Silvaner with Lasagna? Solamente in
Germania, forse! Nur in Deutschland.
Only in Germany.
Posted December 2013
EXPER-TEASE A local "wine
expert" posted an article in November of 2013 reporting on Southern
Italian wines of recent release (all 16 of them!).
Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis writes about a De Lucia "Falanghino"
wine...except the grape is actually Falanghina. She notes this
comes from "Sannio,
inland near the border of Molise."
I'm not sure why she mentions Molise, since most readers won't know
where the hell that is...some people might, though, have a better idea
of where Naples is located, as the Sannio region is about 30 miles
northeast of Napoli.
But the most curious information gleaned from this expert's article is
Now there's a wine!
Of course, the grand vin is Chateau Mouton
"Mouton Cadet" is a branded wine which carries a humble
Bordeaux appellation and it's a wine that's fairly low on the scale of
nobility in the realm of French wines. There is no
"Chateau Mouton Cadet."
Further, Mouton-Cadet would not be, nor is it, worthy of comparison with
a noble red from Campania.
The Grape Goddess (as she bills herself), Catherine Fallis, claims
the Aglianico variety is "the world's most tannic grape,"
though some enologists might have Tannat, Nebbiolo and Cabernet
Sauvignon on their lists ahead of Aglianico.
Posted December 2013
LET THE CHIPS
FALL WHERE THEY MAY The folks who make and market Lay's Potato
Chips have hit on some marketing genius, offering wine pairing
suggestions for their various flavors of potato chips. See what you make
of their wine suggestions...
We clicked on the "download pairing" link and noticed the
address of that page is called
"flavor-discoveries-san-francisco/wine-pairing," so we suspect
these wine suggestions are intended particularly for the Northern
Kudos to Frito-Lay for correctly
spelling "Riesling," but they botched Pinot Noir and Cabernet.
As for their pairing suggestions: you're on your own there.
Posted November 2013
NUMBERS These days people in the wine business are
constantly looking at "the numbers."
They're concerned with "the bottom line." They're
concerned with numerical scores from critics. There are numbers
and percentages with respect to blended wines, too.
We attended a trade tasting and asked someone pouring wine for a
particular winery "What else is in this wine besides Pinot
Blanc?" The woman responded it was 100% Pinot
I'm typically fairly polite, but I'm also direct and I blurted out
"Bull shit!" when she made her claim.
We tasted the other wines being offered and the woman returned to the
table a few moments later to say "You're correct! It's got 4%
Muscat in the blend." She was a bit embarrassed, too.
Well, just by chance this week, in researching production notes for our
web site, we ran across these "tech sheets" posted by wineries
on their web sites.
Do the math and see what you come up with!
And then here's another mathematical
mystery for you:
106%! So that's a veritable bargain!
Some winemakers have difficulty operating cellar machinery, others have
trouble operating a calculator.
Just remember, when alcohol is involved, anything can happen!
No matter what the numbers, we can tell you both the Ridge Cabernet and
the Tendril Pinot Noir are good quality wines and they taste good, too!
Posted October 2013
"INTELLIGENCE" There are some supremely intelligent
people in the wine trade, but there are also some others who are far
from being Mensa candidates.
We are routinely amused and bemused by the goings on in an effort to
sell a bottle of wine.
We've seen a big liquor distributor sending out periodic e-mail offers
for some of its wines and spirits in hopes of drumming up a sale.
Here's one which is a bit remarkable. We've cut out 9 of the
wines, but show you the first one on this special e-mail
See what you think...your mileage may vary.
With such an attractive discount, I'm betting they
made a few sales, too!
Posted October 2013
Indian publication called the Business Standard posted an article wine
by Bangalore wine consultant Alok Chandra touting "Tuscan
The article mentions basic Chianti wines, Super Tuscans and Brunello di
Montalcino wines in covering Sangiovese-based wines from Toscana.
Curiously missing is a mention of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
Antinori, Frescobaldi, Renieri and
Banfi are all producers of Brunello di Montalcino. Vietti, on the
other hand, is a winery located far from Tuscany...they're in Italy's
Piemonte region and the winery is famous for Barolo, Barbaresco, Arneis,
Barbera, Dolcetto and Moscato wines...No Brunello.
Thanks for playing. Try again.
Posted August 2013
TRAVELER OFFERS WINE & FOOD PAIRING TIPS A
Connecticut-based real estate mogul, who fancies himself an expert on
travel, automobiles, as well as wine & food has sent a "press
release" publicizing himself, it seems, more than anything else.
Type the name Gary Richetelli into a search engine such as Google and
you'll find a number of items on travel, wine & food along with some
legal entanglements with the Securities & Exchange Commission.
Our expert highlights "Bubbly
wine from the Veneto region such as a fine Prosecco or Franciacorta..."
except that Franciacorta is not located
in the Veneto! Oops.
The article contends that "Most 'food
wines' are labeled so because of how the acidity makes flavors pop like
hot sauce on a wing or mustard. They are typically lower in alcohol
content and are fruity, not sweet. Sweet wines are known to distract
palettes from intense food flavors; these include Chardonnay, Cabernet,
and other high-alcohol wines."
Hot sauce on a wing or mustard?
Sweet wines distracts palettes (I suspect he meant to write
'palates')? Not every Chardonnay or Cabernet in the world is
The author contends "A white from the
Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, for example, goes nice with figs and
prosciutto, or even a well-rounded octopus salad. Friuli wines are known
for rich, almond finishes and the acids and minerals in the white wine
goes great with nuts and vegetables."
Is it just me, or is this written in New
Jersey/New York "Soprano Speak"?
The most astounding assertion
made by The Expert is this one: "The
Piedmont region of Italy, for example, is known for flavorful,
full-bodied Chiantis and Barolos."
Uh, Chianti is not from Piedmont, it's from an Italian region called
Posted August 2013
HAIL STORM OF
VITICULTURAL NEWS Britain's Guardian newspaper (formerly The
Manchester Guardian if you're old enough to remember) has a U.S. edition
and they've got a presence on the internet, of course.
We noticed on their web site they're looking for an editor for their
U.S. edition and perhaps here's a good example of precisely why:
The headline of this story centers on
a devastating hail storm which destroyed some vineyards in France's
The sub-headline then mentions the Cote de Beaune, which is, of course,
NOT IN BORDEAUX.
It's in Burgundy.
Perplexing as the headline is, the article, several paragraphs below,
mentions hail storms which hit France's Burgundy region (the Cote de
Beaune being a particular stretch of vineyards there) some 360 miles
The journalist also mentions, in passing, hail storms in Alsace and the
region of Champagne.
meteorological disasters in vineyards are typically accompanied by some
authoritative voice immediately predicting higher prices as a result of
Here's a screenshot of Decanter magazine's web site reporting on the
disaster which happened in the Champagne region.
Oh, my! We had heard earlier in the growing season of a previous
weather-related problem which adversely impacted production of
And now this!!
Do you ever see those
stupid Info-mercials on TV?
"But wait! There's more!!!"
No wonder consumers and news readers are confused!
It's enough to drive one to drink.
Posted August 2013
They bill their publication as "The
World's Best Wine Magazine," so we're amused to see precisely how
good "the best" is.
In their August 2013 edition, there is a column with suggestions of
"Vintages to Buy Now."
In fact, though, the 2008s have been
available for some months, many arriving this past Spring...they can hit
the market beginning on January 1st of the 4th year after the
harvest. So, let's see, for 2008: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012.
Yet Decanter indicates this will be released in a month, or so.
We suppose the editions are printed well in advance of the month noted on
the publication, so we may excuse them for not noting that Franco
Biondi-Santi passed away this past April.
We checked their on-line site and
were a bit surprised to see the misspelling of the name of a famed winery
which is featured in the August 2013 edition.
Trimbach is the family name and it's clearly noted on their wine labels.
We suspect Decanter has simply "trimmed back" the salaries of
its staffers and editors are not so wine knowledgeable.
The "Expert's Choice," if
you're sharp-eyed, you'll noticed they botched the spelling of Spain's
The Decanter web site has links to a
number of articles recommending various wines. Under "Italian
Wines" we noticed a curious entry.
In fact, Italy DOES produce quite a
few rather exceptional Sauvignon Blanc wines, so perhaps Sancerre
Alternatives featured such wines as Sauvignon Blancs from producers such
as Venica, Villa Russiz, Ronco Blanchis, Russiz Superiore, Renzo Sgubin,
Tercic and a host of others. There are notable Sauvignons in the
Alto Adige, too.
But all of the Expert's Choices were French wines from appellations such
as Pouilly-Fume, Menetou-Salon or Reuilly.
The World's Best Wine Magazine?
That's the best they can do?
Posted July 2013
INCORRECT We were perusing the
internet to dig up some info on various colleagues at a recent wine
judging and found one fellow was associated with something called
This company sells a DVD which they describe thusly:
"Like having your own personal
sommelier, this interactive DVD is brimming with beverage basics –
from wine tasting and labels to purchasing, serving and pairing foods
Their website even
has a page of "corrections," as apparently the original DVD
included a card which misspelled the names of various wine types.
As a result, they have an "updated" card...
Here's the one that's been corrected:
How many errors can you spot?
We found Dolcetto is misspelled...
Many Muscat wines are labeled as "Moscato."
And Gewurztraminer has but one "t" in it (and not all are made
sweet). And there are many Rieslings which are vinified to
REMIND ME TO
BRING MY OWN... Arriving at a trade tasting in San
Francisco the other day, we signed in, picked up a tasting book
price-list and then looked for a wine glass.
At the entrance there was a table with bright red plastic cups (for
spitting and dumping out wine) and what I initially thought were water
I looked around for some stemware and then realized the fancy-pants
distribution company was not offering conventional wine glasses at their
trade tasting event.
Celebrating their 40th year in business, this enterprise invited its merry
band of vintners, coming from Italy, Germany, France, Portugal,
Washington, Oregon and California to come pour the fruits of their labor
into, essentially, a water tumbler glass.
In an attempt to be 'hip,' avant-garde
and just generally cool, the brain-trust at this company decided to offer
a stemless water glass to customers attending an event to evaluate wines
retailing from $10 a bottle to several hundred dollars.
Forty years of experience
in the wine business and this grand crew provided glasses which would be
clouded with fingerprints ("Let's check the color and clarity of the
wine...garnet red with interlocking loops...").
Of course, you'd be warming the wine when holding this sort of glass,
while a proper stem allows the wine to retain its temperature for a longer
And, of course, swirling the wine in a water tumbler means you might elbow
others in the face moving your arm to do so...holding a proper glass by
the stem allows you to swirl (affording the taster a better opportunity to
evaluate the aromas and bouquet) the wine more easily (and
We've suggested these glasses for the management of this company when they
are evaluating the offerings of prospective purveyors:
And for customers attending future
trade tastings, why not ask those winemakers to pour their triple-digit
priced wines in a "tastevin" such as this?
Now we appreciate those stemless
glasses as being appropriate for informal gatherings such as a picnic,
beach party, concert venue, etc.
And, in fact, the owner of this proud distribution company hosted several
hundred of her closest friends to celebrate their 40 years in the wine
business. It was a lavish, by most accounts, outdoor affair and a
good opportunity to use those stemless glasses.
Here's a snapshot from that outdoor fest:
Posted May 2013
AMADOR or AMATEUR?
The Amador County wine
association, the Amador Vintners sent out a postcard invitation for
people to come for a special weekend of wine tasting.
Thirty-six wineries will be pouring their vinous efforts.
Here's the card they sent out...
Can you identify the winery where
this snapshot was taken?
I thought it looked more European than Californian and we called the
Amador Vintners group (since they did not respond to a couple of e-mail
queries). As you might imagine, they were a bit embarrassed to
admit the picture of the wine cellar was NOT TAKEN IN ANY AMADOR WINERY!
"We purchased the image from
a photo bank. I have no idea where it was taken, other than I
suppose it's a European cellar." said the Amador Vintners
Apparently there are no photogenic cellars in Amador.
REISLING, I SAY RIESLING The International Riesling Foundation,
based in New York state where they make a fair bit of Riesling, sent out
an e-mail trumpeting the fact that at the upcoming Presidential
Inauguration luncheon, Riesling will be the featured beverage.
At least they spelled the President's name correctly.
Too bad they misspelled Riesling in their headline!
Oops. They later corrected the error in spelling and resent the news
Posted January 2013
ME?" or "PARDON?" or as they say today, "WTF?"
We dined in a fancy San Francisco
restaurant the weekend following the annual release (or unleashing, if
you prefer) of the Nouveau Beaujolais.
The producers of Nouveau used to do a better job of getting this event
into the media, so you'd see stories on TV and read about these simple,
easy little wines in the newspaper.
Tucked into the voluminous wine list is the little card depicted to the
The restaurant employs not one, but two sommeliers, people who are
thought to be wine knowledgeable and capable of guiding patrons to good
wine. Many folks in the wine industry view "somms" as
"wine educators" and hugely wine-savvy.
Most readers of this web page are fairly wine savvy and know that
NOUVEAU BEAUJOLAIS refers to the wine from the just-harvested crop which
is rushed to market on the third Thursday of November. It offers
wine fans to enjoy a taste of the new vintage as though this was some
measure of the quality of more "serious" wines which are
probably still in the tank or barrel in some phase of fermentation.
So, in our wonderfully wine-sophisticated city of San Francisco, a
gastronomic Mecca of sorts, we have these Eno-Evangelistas offering a
$19 "flight" of Nouveau Beaujolais wines.
How many 2012 vintage wines do you see offered in this
For people who "love to talk Beaujolais," I'd say they've got
some 'splaining to do.
Posted November 2012. Yes. That's
DEBRIS OR LOCAL SPACE CADET?
The San Francisco Chronicle carried a report about what science writer
David Perlman surmises might be debris from an old meteor.
We know Mr. Perlman, who's now in his 90s(!), is a capable reporter and
he does his homework.
However, given the number of stupidly-priced wines being made in Napa
(especially) and Sonoma, we wondered if the sighting of this supposed
meteor was actually another brand of wine flaming out?
Posted October 2012
CHARDONNAY? If you've concluded that many Chardonnays
are a bit dilute, you might be correct.
Here's a little snapshot we took while visiting a vineyard in Sonoma
which may explain why.
We're just sayin'...
Posted October 2012
UC DAVIS VINEYARD
PEST TRADING CARDS UC
Davis is offering a collection of cards to help vineyard workers to
identify various pests, mites, insects, diseases, etc. in the course of
their viticultural work.
Also includes descriptions of natural
enemies as well as handy inch and metric measurement scales. A sturdy
rivet keeps the set together so individual cards don’t stray.
These 50 information-rich cards will help
growers, vineyard managers, and their teams identify and manage most
Includes everything from mealybugs and
phylloxera to glassy-winged sharpshooter and Eutypa dieback, all of
which have an impact on California vineyards.
We noticed, though, the set is
So, as a public service we found the "missing" card which has
a photograph of a pest which has had a major impact on California's
vineyards over the past several decades. It's a nuisance which had
caused so many wines to end up tasting more like cooked prune juice than
Cabernet Sauvignon, more Zinfandels to taste like jam and so many wines
to have elevated levels of alcohol under the guise of enhanced quality.
STICK TO MAKING
CABERNET & LEAVE THE HISTORY LESSONS TO OTHERS, PLEASE! A release letter from a
prominent California Cabernet producer was sent to its customers
trumpeting news of its 40th Anniversary.
The year was 1972, Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" was
number one on the music charts, the Goodyear Blimp launched its
inaugural flight and on the North Coast of California, the first
vintage of Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon was born.
We were surprised to learn
this nugget of trivia regarding the Goodyear Blimp, since we're certain
we'd seen it long before we'd seen a bottle of Silver Oak Cabernet.
Our colleague, "Dinosaur Bob" Gorman was born in 1937 and he
says he's sure he'd seen the blimp when he was a kid! "I think
I was eight years old when I first saw da' Blimp!"
Billboard Magazine shows Stevie
Wonder's "Superstition" was the Number One song for the
last week of January in 1973, though the tune did crack the
Top 40 in late 1972. It spent one week at the top before being
ousted by Elton John's "Crocodile Rock".
We congratulate the Silver
Oak crew on its 40th Anniversary, but suggest they leave the "history
lessons" to those more learned in that field.
We can imagine this brief telephone conversation:
SILVER OAK RECEPTIONIST:
"Good morning, Silver Oak Cellars. How may I direct
Wiseacre: "May I speak with your History Department,
SO-R: "We don't have a history
W-A: "Yes, I'm fully aware of that. I received
your release letter announcing your 40th anniversary!"
We did hear a customer say, just the other day, in fact, "Silver
Oak? That's SO yesterday!"
Maybe they knew what they were talking about.
Posted July 2012
NEEDS EDUCATING A
web site featuring "headlines" of wine-related articles had
one mentioning a favorite producer of Sonoma Pinot Noirs, Arista.
We clicked on the link and found an article posted on an "examiner.com"
site written by "New York Wine Pairing Examiner" Marisa d'Vari.
The winery has recently hired a public relations firm to promote its
wines and one of the owners of Arista traveled to New York to wine &
dine at least one prospective blogger/writer, the noted Ms. d'Vari.
You can find her write-up on the examiner.com site (CLICK
HERE) or her own
"awinestory.com" website (CLICK
Her credentials are impressive:
She now holds the Fine
and Rare Wine Specialist Diploma, having graduated from the
course with Merit.
In March of 2011, D'Vari
was awarded the
Level 5 Honors diploma from WSET for completing a year long
research project focusing on the topic of marketing wine to
millennials. Fewer than 67 people hold this designation
One might expect, then,
given such illustrious wine-world achievements, that spelling the grape
variety "Gewurztraminer" would be a piece of cake.
And she's a
"certified" wine educator?!?!
The article mentions the winery is located in Sonoma, but we never learn
the Ferrington vineyard is actually in Mendocino County, something close
to 45+ miles away from Arista's Healdsburg-area winery.
In the same article, the Toboni vineyard is mentioned and spelled "Tiboni"
at one point.
We perused her site and
found this doozy of a spelling error...
All through the entire article, this expert wine
guru spells it "Montalchino," even mentioned "Brunello
di Montalchino." And she's a
"certified" wine educator?!?!
The image above is the emblem is that of the Consorzio of producers of
Brunello (and Rosso) di Montalcino and you'll notice they actually spell
the name of the town correctly.
The article posted by Ms. d'Vari has tasting notes for the two wines she
and her friend enjoyed while having lunch at a New York dining
establishment. We're presuming each bottle came with a label
affixed to it and surely the names of the wineries and wine denominazione
were spelled correctly.
We're fairly certain the Rosso was made by the Caparzo winery, not
"Camparzo," although it's possible the Gruppo Campari bought
the winery and changed the name to partly reflect their ownership...but
that hasn't happened. And she's a
"certified" wine educator?!?!
In another article about Pinot
Gris and Pinot Grigio, readers are led to believe that all Pinot Gris
wines from Alsace are "...off dry, with at least 30 grams of
Just for the record, the reputable and fairly large family wineries
owned by Hugel and Trimbach both make Pinot Gris wines with around 7 to
8 grams of residual sugar. Anne Trimbach says theirs is the
best-selling Trimbach wine in the U.S. market as a result of its
dryness. And she's a
"certified" wine educator?!?!
In a write-up of a nice winery in
the Costieres de Nimes we learn this:
also try Francoise’s traditional white – very good, but the
white that stands out for me is the Viognier de Campuget. If you
are a wine geek, you probably already know that the Viognier
grape receives its finest expression in the northern Rhone, though
it is also very popular in Austria.
Both are relatively cool regions, unlike the hot Costieres de
Nimes at the most southern area of the Rhone valley.
The grape doesn't make the current list of grape acreage in Austria, as
it's lumped in with "others."
Do you think Ms. d'Various-Errore meant Australia, perhaps?
And she's a "certified" wine educator?!?!
Here's her note on the Campuget red wine:
things considered, I am a red wine drinker and really enjoyed
the Traditional Rouge (made from the area’s key grapes,
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Carménère).
Carmenere, we learn, is
one of the "key grapes" of the Southern Rhone!
Ms. d'Vari speaks highly of the special bottling, too. It's a wine
she calls "Chateau de Compugent “1753."
Compungent? We suppose it has quite the bouquet! Yer killin' me lady!
When you write articles for
general circulation and set yourself up as some sort of expert or
knowledgeable wine educator, you owe it to your readers (and yourself,
for crying out loud!) to do a better job and not be so sloppy.
If you're reading "A Wine Story," keep in mind it may
be "A Sad Story" and you'll have d'Variable results.
Posted July 2012
CIRCUMSPECT VINTNER? Not
many wine connoisseurs have Nova Scotia on their vinous radar screens,
but, truth be told, a dozen wineries are in production at this Canadian
One vintner, Jost Vineyards, has been producing wines since the
And what classier name to have for a red wine blend that's made of a
quartet of locally-grown varieties than "4 Skins"?
The marketing department at Jost is just coming out with this ballsy
blend of Castel, Lucie Kuhlmann, Marechal Foch, and
Leon Millot (that's not a rock band, by the way).
One wag described this saying "Consumers aren't shafted by
the 20-buck bottle of a cockamamie blend from Canada."
You're hereby duly warned about ordering a bottle of this in a
restaurant or shop.
Luckily, it's not available in the U.S.
As they say north of the border, "Classy, eh?" Posted June
MERELY A BLOGGER?
Everybody and her sister seems to have a
"blog" these days and the world of wine writing is awash with
much flotsam and jetsam.
We confess to enjoying a handful of wine-related blogs and we bristle at
some of the misinformation and shoddy writing that shows up in some
corners of cyber-space. Most wine blogs would have readers believe
these are posted by serious wine-knowledgeable people and they are
unbiased sources of opinion, education and wine criticism.
It's a bit like the description for
distilled spirits, in that "Not all brandy is Cognac, but all
Cognac is brandy."
Not all blogging is journalism.
In researching a wine we happen to like (well enough to bring it into
the shop, recommend it to customers and put a bottle on our own dinner
table from time to time), we found a "blog" posted, apparently
by the Portuguese winery which makes this wine. Esporão.
We were a bit curious to see a link to a page which was tabbed
What could they possibly be disclosing, we wondered.
And here's what we found:
We don't read the blog of
1WineDude.com, but were curious to see if there was a disclosure of any type
on his web site.
And here's what we found:
It seems to us that if you're going
to pose as an objective reporter (or journalist) and want to be taken
seriously, then being paid by a company in that field "in some
way/shape/form" disqualifies you as a journalist. It also
tarnishes your image as an objective observer or reliable critic, doesn't
seems that Mr. Roberts has been hired to write a wine column for Playboy.
Do you suppose they couldn't find someone who is not connected
financially to the wine industry?
YOU'RE KILLIN' ME!
Sometimes you'll read a
tasting note or description of a wine that is so remarkable, you just
have to share it.
This is one of those tasting notes.
Some eno-scribes write short, concise notes, giving the reader a brief
outline of what they might find in a particular wine. Others go
for more detail.
Here's a tasting note we read and re-read simply because it has so many
adjectives, we were swimming in verbiage and nearly drowned.
Your mileage may vary,
but give this a go.
Okay, a bit detailed, but I get it.
What's it smell like?
(Fasten your seat belt...this is quite a ride!)
And they're crushed!
Not merely Pomelo, but "pomelo fruit segments"?
Okay, what's it taste like?
Anything else, Professor?
The most expensive grape in Spain makes Ten Buck
Mr. Lempert-Schwarz plies his trade in Las Vegas
and apparently what gets written about wine in Las Vegas doesn't stay in
were surprised by the description two different sets of students had in
searching for various sparkling wines as part of their
"homework" for a wine class.
It seems a lot of people have signed up for WSET courses in the Bay Area
(Wine & Spirits Education Trust). Students, apparently, set up
study groups outside their classroom and do additional course work in
order to hone their wine-tasting skills.
Curiously, students have had
difficulty in identifying a famous Rheinpfalz estate's sparkling wine as
being a "Deutscher Sekt."
We would expect the label of this German bubbly to be rather clear in
identifying the wine as a "Deutscher Sekt," especially with
the name of the estate clearly printed on the label (Reichsrat Von Buhl)
or the location of the winery (Deidesheim being listed as the town and
the Pfalz as the region). Maybe the words on the back label:
"German Sparkling Wine" would be fairly clear?
This would be a bit like someone picking up a bottle of Dom Perignon or
some other noteworthy bottle of Champagne and wondering if it was a
French sparkling wine since the words "French Sparkling Wine"
are not prominent on the label.
But even more disturbing is the
student's questioning us about the various Spanish Cavas in the shop.
It struck us as most odd that each prospective sommelier was hunting for
Cava which has aromatics reminiscent of rubber or rubber bands!
We actually enjoy bottles of good Cava. And we've never looked for
"rubber" as a hallmark of these bubblies.
Here's the Spanish Cava producer's organization's web page describing the
"fruity and fresh...fruit in all its splendour"..."mature
fruits..." Apparently the Spanish Cava producers don't
find "rubber" to be a trait of their fizzy, sparkling wines.
We queried the WSET in London and a fellow who's enrolled there was kind
enough to respond, sending along the official description of Cava in their
Level 3 textbook:
And the WSET "handbook"
will instruct students that "rubber" in a wine is a flaw.
It seems to us that prospective
sommeliers and wine-tasters ought to be trained to look for the benchmark
characteristics of various wines, sparkling and otherwise.
Leading them to believe that Spanish Cava is, by its very nature,
"flawed" in having a rubbery element is doing both the category
and the students a disservice.
And, oh-by-the-way, we had a stellar
Cava from Juve Y Camps which had spent nearly 10 years on the yeast.
The wine was a phenomenal bubbly and every bit as good as top-of-the-line
The WSET home study course costs $800, while the classroom version is
$1100 for "Level Three."
That could buy a lot of bottles of good, rubber-free Cava!
YOU'RE LOOKING FOR
The ability to recall, with precision,
the name of a wine with which one is unfamiliar, can be challenging for
both the consumer and the poor wine merchant.
We routinely play a game, somewhat akin to Charades, where the potential
customer attempts to give us clues as to what they want.
It's nice when we meet with some success in guessing or identifying the
wine they're looking for. It's even better when they choose to buy
the wine (many will say "Oh my goodness. You have it.
Well, if I ever need to buy a bottle, I'll certainly know where to find
One day, our friend, the late Gino Ricci called to ask me to participate
in a "Stump The Wine Merchant" episode. A woman came in
to his shop looking for a wine she described as being of the brand
"Oops." Now, there IS actually a Chilean brand called
"Oops!" but this wasn't what was on her fuzzy radar screen.
"Gino, maybe she was looking
for Opus One?" "Oh, shit!" he exclaimed. "God dammit...and
I have some bottles of that! Yes, I'll bet that's what she
wanted. Aw hell..."
We recently had a request for
"the white wine called Wiener Schnitzel."
The fellow wanted Gewurztraminer.
The photo above was posted on the door of an Italian enoteca after the
fellow there was asked for "Brunello di Montecitorio" (not
Brunello di Montalcino). Montecitorio is a small hill in Rome and
home of the lower house of Italy's Parliament.
The enoteca proprietor has also had requests for "Piato di
Avellino" (Fiano di Avellino), "Vermentino di Gallarate"
(Gallarate is a town near a Milan-area airport, while in Sardegna there's
a denominazione of Gallura) and "Ribollita Gialla" (Ribolla
Gialla is a wine from Friuli, while Ribollita is a thick Tuscan soup).
The sign's last notation deals with a Shrimp Cocktail, noting that "it's not a drink!" and
politely leaving out the words "you
MORE BITCHING ABOUT
My rants about wine lists continue
(are you listening Chuck?)...stemming partly from frustration with some
California wineries who eschew selling wines to "retailers,"
but who will allow their artistry to be sold in restaurants. If
you ask some marketing gurus, they contend restaurants offer "free
publicity" (like our profiles of various wines on this web site
isn't?) and add value to their efforts.
We'd like to think we add some value, as well, and customers shopping in
our little wine emporium can learn more here than they can at most
Here's a snippet of a wine list from a prominent San Francisco dining
establishment with an ambitious wine program (you'll feel like a
cheapskate if you're not spending a hundred bucks a bottle)...
In perusing the list, we were amused
to see 6th entry (above): Vidal-Fleury Champagne!
The house of Vidal-Fleury is a venerable one and it's located in France's
Rhone Valley. Today it is owned by the Guigal family and the elder
Guigal even worked for Vidal-Fleury in his youth. We had no idea
they'd invested in buying a Champagne house.
There is no Vidal-Fleury Champagne.
But it's an easy mistake for a prominent sommelier to make.
So they've mistaken Fleury Champagne
for Vidal-Fleury Rhone wine...
The bottles, you know, DO come with labels and most of the time the winery
has its name and type of wine spelled correctly.
I was surprised to see the price of
a Macon on the wine list...$13.99 at retail....$42 in the
restaurant! But then I was even more floored to find a fairly
commercial little Entre-Deux-Mers on their list which wholesales for $9 a
bottle, maybe $10, costing patrons $48. <Ouch!>
That's life in The Big City these days, apparently.
Another hot-shot place which pays a sommelier offers this remarkable entry
on their wine list:
At least they got Riesling right!
Misspelled Semillon, though.
YOUR WINE IS
A South American wine is suddenly in
demand in an Asian market, but for reasons which may have the producer
There are periodic marketing gaffes when brands are brought to
You may recall Chevy trying to sell a car to Spanish speaking markets
using the brand name of "Nova." "No Va" in
Spanish, though, means "it doesn't go."
Electric and Plessey joined forces for a telecom company called
G-P-T. In French this sounds like "J’ai
pété," which translates to "I've farted." Gerber
doesn't sell its baby food in France or Canada, as the word "gerber"
in French means "to vomit." Oops.
The Waterpik company discovered the word "pik" in Danish is a
reference to male genitals. Water translates to "vand,"
but the term "vandpik," as it turns out, refers to a
"morning erection." Similarly, Starbucks discovered that
"Latte" in German refers to an erection, so advertisements
touting a "morning latte break" ('break' translating to
'destroy') caused a bit of embarrassment.
In China the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan of "finger lickin'
good" missed a smooth translation, being understood by Beijing
residents as "eat your fingers off." Coca Cola's first
shot in China had its brand name as "Ke-ke-ken-la," which has
two possible meanings: "bite the wax tadpole" or
"female horse stuffed with wax." These days, now
much wiser, things go better with Coke when it's called "ko-kou-ko-le,"
as this translates to "happiness in the mouth."
some marketing geniuses imported "Chilensis" wine to China.
I asked a native Chinese-speaking customer for his translation of "Chilensis"
and he said it equates to "fucking crazy."
Now that's Chilensis!
THE END OF
CIVILIZATION AS WE'VE KNOWN IT?
Here's something to ponder for a
Is the phrase "Lodi Wine & Chocolate" redundant?
Some years ago, during
weak economic times, we were horrified to see producers of Napa Valley
Cabernets trying to convince customers that their wines could be enjoyed
We love good Napa Valley Cabernets and we're fans of fine quality
chocolate, but the idea of consuming these at the same time is an
indication that civilization is near its end.
We've not been great fans,
we must confess, of seriously "hot climate" wine regions.
As a result, we're not terribly fond of some of the wines from Paso
Robles, nor are we enamored with much of the curiosities coming out of the
Yes, we've tasted some good wines from each region...we're not snobs, but
if you're a fan of wine as a meal-time beverage and like wines which have
modest levels of alcohol and fairly crisp acidity, these regions don't
often provide wines of that character.
If you read the "tasting notes" of the wineries, for example, of
the Lodi region, you'll find the vintners often describe their own wines
in terms which make one think more of "dessert" than of
dinner. Someone attributed this to, in part, ours as being a
"Coca Cola Culture."
Here's a representative tasting note for a Zinfandel from a small
winery: "Our Zinfandel
delivers exactly what Lodi’s renowned old vines are famous for: complex
decadent fruit. Uncontainable swirling scents of smoky amber, jammy
raisin-rhubarb, coffee and a dash of sage waft from the glass, becoming an
exciting velvet carousel of wonderfully-structured chocolate-drizzled
black cherries jubilee with a seemingly unending finish of sweet
Boysenberries and raisins."
We've long thought Lodi
could possibly give producers in Portugal's Douro Valley and Spain's Jerez
a run for the money, but so-called "fortified wines" have
largely fallen out of favor and so vintners look to make table wines.
So, perhaps it's fitting that Lodi is promoting a "Wine &
Chocolate Weekend" in close proximity to Valentine's Day, a major
Here are some of the gastronomical treats being offered. (Your
mileage may vary.)
Celebrate Valentine’s Day and the grand opening of Lodi’s only all
white wine winery with our unique Rhone-inspired wines and a belly
dance! Yes, that’s right, Nyla Crystal will be belly dancing,
teaching and interacting with guests both Saturday and Sunday.
Clap to her blend of Middle Eastern music, do a little dance and take
great photos with Nyla. While you are jiggling, try our delicious
Acquiesce Rosé Jell-O “shooters” and our delicious White
Chocolate Grenache Blanc gourmet cupcakes!
BORRA WINERY S’mores galore…featuring our annual s’mores by the Borra
grandchildren. Sample our Swiss chocolate coming straight from
winemaker Markus’ Swiss source while sipping our handcrafted wines.
Don’t miss our FUSION – Double-Gold medal winner at the
prestigious SF Chronicle Wine Competition!
Wine, chocolate and bacon! What? Who would have thought
chocolate-covered bacon, mmmm! Not your thing? Meatballs with
chocolate BBQ sauce go great with Old Vine Zin! Stop by and try our
Rock Lobster Old Vine Zinfandel which pairs nicely with the Classic
Rock sounds of “Rock Lobster” – band starts at 4:00pm, Saturday,
Another winery is offering Chocolate Pizzas to accompany
its wines, while someone else is featuring "chocomales" (yes, Chocolate
Tamales) with its Zinfandel and Tempranillo.
You like potato, I like potahto,
You like tomato, I like tomahto,
You like Ganache, I like Grenache,
Let's, please, call the whole thing off...
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A
frequently left scratching our head (this is why my hair is thinning)
after speaking with various wine marketing geniuses and gurus.
The other day, for example, a delightful rep is accompanied by the
"marketing" person from a wine importing company in an effort
to "show & sell" their wines.
This is called a "ride with" and most sales reps look forward
to these like they look forward to a colonoscopy.
The sales rep had taken the time to print a
list of the wines they were showing with the pricing on each offering.
One particular wine had a wholesale price of $12.50 per bottle. I
asked the marketing lady if this price was correct, as I'd just seen
that brand offered for about ten bucks by a bricks & mortar
"Oh, don't worry," she explained. "They aren't
selling the same wine."
"Really? Don't you think customers might be confused and
think we're gouging them with this wine if we had it in the shop for
$16-$18 a bottle?"
"No, no no!" Miss NASA told us. "You see, those
guys are selling a single vineyard 'reserve' tiered wine. This
isn't the same. We're pouring for you the winery's entry level
that's clear as mud, isn't it?
WINE BY PHONE We
answer our phone here at the shop with a greeting of something like
"Weimax Wines and Spirits, May I help you?"
And so a young lady was calling from some wine company wanting to speak
Our colleague paged Gerald, who answered the phone with "Hello,
this is Gerald. How may I help you?"
"Hi Gerald! This is
Susan with the X-Y-Z Wine Company."
Okay...nothing out of the
ordinary...we get these calls all the time.
"Gerald, I'm calling today
because I wanted to find out what your favorite wine is."
Alright...now this is odd...a
new sales rep from a company we don't know...and she's calling to ask
what my favorite wine is?!!! Oh wait...this is a cold call from a
telemarketing company...she's calling not as a wholesaler or broker rep,
but she's trying to sell me wine at the retail level! Okay...I get
"Well, I'm rather fond of Barolo." I respond.
"Oh, that's great because we
import a very special Barolo...it's a 2003 vintage from the Pee-an-pohl-vair-ray
vineyard and we sell it for a mere $65. In fact, I just opened a
bottle for lunch today and it was great, displaying some cherry fruit
and mild, supple tannins."
Being curious as to what other
Italian wines these people dealt with, I engaged this lady with various
questions as to what other wines they might have.
Barbaresco? Sangiovese? Vini Friulani? Vini Trentini?
Other Piemontese wines?
We covered the countryside and finally she was trying to pin me to the
mat and finally make a sale, go celebrate the conquest with a coffee and
then call some other pigeon.
"Gerald, here's what I'd
like to do. I want to send you a case of wine, twelve bottles with
6 different wines in there. I'm sure you're going to love each and
every one of these because we have some exceptional
I didn't bite and, in fact, she
was a bit surprised when I said I'd just tasted one of the wines they
handle when dining at San Francisco's NOPA restaurant the week before.
"Why, Gerald, that's
impossible. We don't sell our wines to restaurants. We only
offer them to our own customers."
"Well, you might not sell to
restaurants, but the California importer for that producer does and that
exact vintage and vineyard site is being poured at NOPA presently."
A bit exasperated at not having me in a head lock, she was grappling
as to how to finally achieve success and make a sale.
"Gerald, what do you do
for a living?"
"I own a wine shop in the San
Francisco Bay Area."
the light bulb went on over her head.
Apparently our answering the phone with "Weimax Wines &
Spirits" wasn't a sufficient clue for this gal to realize she was
trying to sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo.
"Gerald, why did you
waste so much of my time if you're not interested in buying wines from
"You know," I
pointed out to her, "you called me. I didn't call
She hung up the phone, quite clearly exasperated at having to answer
a lot of questions. And, to her credit, she was pretty good at
bluffing her way through my queries. The telemarketing company
must have a decent computer program to allow the nimble-typing operator
to have access to just enough key words and terminology to seem like
they are speaking authoritatively.
She hung up the phone, quite clearly exasperated at having to answer
a lot of questions. And, to her credit, she was pretty good at
bluffing her way through my queries. The telemarketing company
must have a decent computer program to allow the nimble-typing operator
to have access to just enough key words and terminology to seem like
they are speaking authoritatively.
But she was so annoyed,
apparently, she had a co-worker dial us a half hour later to ask ME some
questions about Barolo, its geography and vintages. I was capable
of answering his questions and so to further pester us, he said he'd be
flying in the following day and wanted to stop by and pick up a case of
an older vintage of Giacosa Barolo.
A member of a tasting group told us he
was bringing a 25 year old bottle of Freemark Abbey's special bottling
of Cabernet, a wine bearing the name of the vineyard owner John Bosche.
Back in the 1970s, this wine was much sought-after and it was a real
trophy if you owned a bottle. The wine came from a small
vineyard in Rutherford.
I was curious to see the Freemark Abbey website, as the winery changed
hands years ago and they've not made wines which have attracted our
attention for well more than a decade.
Perhaps the description of the current vintage of Cabernet Bosche may
explain our lack of enthusiasm...
While most Cabernet wines
are described as having notes of blackcurrants, dark berries, plums,
cedar, cigar box, tobacco, herbs and such, Freemark describes its wine
as "Refreshing lemon,
lemon-lime and green apple...citrus, floral and white peach..."
It sounds more like a candidate for a tasting of Chardonnays, Riesling
or Sauvignon Blanc, perhaps?
"SEDIMENT" IN DECANTER The
publishers of Britain's "Decanter" magazine claim their
articles are penned by "the world's foremost wine
authorities." They further claim it's "the wine
So we were interested to read the latest scripture from on high
regarding the 2007 vintage in Piemonte's Barolo region.
There's an annual presentation of Piemontese wines called "Nebbiolo
Prima" and it's held in the month of May. Some 50 journalists
from around the world are invited to taste the newest vintage of Roero,
Barbaresco and Barolo.
There's a separate venue for those in the wine trade to taste the same
wines and I have been able to attend and further my knowledge of
Piemontese wines. I was interested to read the article concerning
the 2007 Barolo wines. American Tom Maresca wrote the
"Vintage Report" for Decanter's November 2011 issue.
The first paragraph points out the quality of a wine is dependant upon
"who you ask and, if you follow a particular producer, where its
vineyards are located." Producers of Barolo often ask which
communes fared the best in a particular vintage and the wines are
presented village-by-village, vineyard site-by-vineyard site.
One, then, expects to know who's who and who's where.
So, the second paragraph of Signor Maresca's articolo begins
So...Here's an old
Cavallotto label which identifies the commune in which the winery (and, coincidentally,
its vineyard holdings) are situated...
Of course, one might have a quick
look at the winery website...
They're not in the commune of Barolo...
We contacted Signor Maresca and he
wrote back, blaming the error on "miscommunication between
Cavallotto and myself. I'd like to blame it on too much wine, but
I think the real culprit is haste."
Of course, one might expect an
editor at Decanter to have caught such a gaffe. But then they
probably do not expect their "acclaimed critics" to be a bit
more careful in writing their biblical works and not do so in haste.
OF TOUCH Having
seen the World Series victory of the St. Louis Cardinals, we had a peek
at their hometown newspaper's website to read of the glories of manager
Tony Larussa's success.
Along the way, we spied an article in the food section for a
"Barolo" Wine Reduction Sauce.
The recipe is fairly straightforward and calls for 2 cups of Barolo to
make this sauce for your filet of beef.
We were especially amused to read the "tester's
Savvy shoppers may be able to find
Barolo wine starting at $10 to $15 a bottle.
For testing, I found only much more expensive bottles and
substituted a good Italian dry red wine. The sauce was delicious
but did take considerably more reduction (to about 2/3 cup) for
the flavors to concentrate.
Of course, it's been 20 years since Barolo was
available for ten bucks a bottle! These days most bottles of
Barolo are in the $40 to $200 range, with a scant few costing less than
The author of the recipe, Alanna Kellogg, confessed in an e-mail that
she used something other than a Barolo in making her "Barolo Wine
"And I'm afraid I don't remember what
I used -- except a dry Italian red, it might have been a Chianti
Classico, I paid about $18 for the bottle."
Well, that narrows it down,
Of course, one might consider using another Piemontese red wine as a
substitute for the rather costly Barolo...she could have suggested a
Nebbiolo Langhe or Nebbiolo d'Alba as a cost-effective alternative.
TRADE TASTINGS Many
wholesale wine companies, importers and winery groups host "trade
tastings" with the idea of eventually making a sale.
There's an old bromide in the wine biz: "Buy on apples and
sell on cheese."
This means you'd clear your palate by having 'cleansed' it with an apple
(palate-refreshing malic acid works wonders), but you would
"sell" wine by clouding the palate of customers with cheese,
thereby making even a bottle of plonk taste appealing.
We were invited to a couple of remarkable tastings recently and both
totally missed the mark.
The first was hosted by an importer of
Italian wines. They were going to be showing their "Non Plus
Ultra" wines, featuring top bottlings from wineries such as Vietti,
Marchesi di Gresy, Casanova di Neri, Avignonesi and Inama.
Some of the wines are quite costly, with Vietti's 2004 Barolo
"Villero" retailing at approximately $300 per bottle. As
a wine buyer, of course, you'd want to be "buying on apples."
small courtesy at a tasting is the importer or hosting company should
provide appropriate stemware. After all, the wine is not going to
show especially handsomely if tasted out of a coffee cup.
When we signed in at the entrance, a
staffer from the import company handed us a tasting vessel, but the word
"stemware" would not apply to this! It was a
stemless 'glass', patterned, somewhat, after Riedel's "O
Series". These are essentially the 'bowl' of a nice
wine-glass, but with a flat bottom.
However, in this instance, these were made not even of glass, but
It seems this importer also represents this line of
I will admit, these would be perfect for drinking Dolcetto or Beaujolais
at a picnic. They're well suited to sips of Moscato d'Asti at the
beach or pool.
But these are totally inappropriate to hand to professional wine tasters
to evaluate your triple digit-priced bottles of Italian wine.
What does it say about this importer's respect for the hard-working
winemakers and the wines they produce?
What does it say about the importer's respect for the buyers whom they
are hoping will purchase wholesale quantities of their wines?
Another company has the brilliant notion of having
restaurant sommeliers come taste wine when they get off work in the
evening. This means the "tasting" (if you want to call it
that) begins at 10pm and continues until 1 in the morning.
I kid you not.
I already work a 10 or 12 hour day, but I was curious to check out one
of these events to see what sort of youngsters attend and how the wines
are presented. Perhaps I'm merely suffering from Terminal
Arriving at the tasting venue promptly at 10pm, we found ten wineries
showing their wines. Two were in a dimly-lit foyer which was a bit
crowded. I tasted (these people did provide proper
stemware) a range of Champagnes and a handful of offerings from a
fledgling Sonoma winery.
The back room had wineries such as Kistler, Laurel Glen, Shafer and Long
Shadows showing various wines. It was very crowded and a bit like
trying to taste wine on a metropolitan subway line during rush hour.
Having made my way to the Laurel Glen table, I was offered
a taste of their 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon. Before tasting, though, I
had a look around for a "spit bucket." These should be
easy to find at a trade tasting, especially one held so late at night when
the local constabulary are looking for motorists who've imbibed too much
A winery staffer spent a few minutes trying to locate a spit bucket, but
finally gave up the search.
realized I was going to need until 1 o'clock in the morning to taste
everything since the place was over-crowded. Not only that, the
temperature of the room with so much humanity was in the range of 80
degrees. Quite uncomfortable. I decided to give up, since
these conditions were hardly conducive to serious wine evaluation, let
alone wine appreciation.
So, it was a wasted effort on the part of numerous vintners, hoping to
sell wine and it was a wasted day on the part of intrepid wine buyers,
hoping to taste some new vintages.
From a sales standpoint, both hosting companies did a wonderful job of
shooting themselves in the foot.
WINE SMARTS A
local wine distribution company has a nice little website...
I was searching to see if they still represented a particular winery and
in doing so, noticed they had on their "education" web page, a
So I clicked on that and answered their questions. These are
intended, of course, for their sales team in hopes of making them more
interested and, ultimately, more "wine smart."
How did I do?
correctly answered 8
out of the ten questions on the first quiz...
Here's what I missed:
Yes, I selected Burgundy as the correct answer...too bad I was wrong.
The correct answer, you see, is "Burgundy."
(Is someone not using the spit-bucket when tasting wine and posting quizzes?)
And I missed this one:
Yes, all these years I've thought Cheval Blanc was in the appellation of
Apparently the folks at
Regal know it as a Pomerol wine....
Certainly that's a horse of a different color.
Here's another one I got
Meanwhile, the French regulatory bureau, INAO, posts my answer as the maximum
for white grapes in Saint Joseph Rouge:
At least they spelled Marsanne and Roussanne correctly...
FACEBOOK The Internet is remarkable. You
never know what you might find.
I found this posting on a Facebook page.
Apparently Facebook has been posting pages for various companies with
the hope that these firms will get the hint and start using their brand
of social (or anti-social) media.
One local wine distributor has had its page posted and a sales rep (who
did a splendid job for them, in our view...he called on our account, so
we're familiar with him) whom they recently fired is the one guy who's
taken a moment to post something.
I might point out that it's one of those distributorships that does a
great job in taking care of high profile restaurant accounts, while many
other customers feel like second or third class citizens. Over the
years, we've often had issues with how they choose to sell wine, having
to jump through hoops to be able to buy certain allocated items.
I once asked a San Francisco sommelier about their relationship with
this company and said I imagine they must be on good terms with the
firm. "Oh no. Actually, it's not simply retailers they
treat poorly...I'm treated shabbily, too."
So...Here's a snapshot of their Facebook page in mid-August of 2011.
I can't decide whether this is more ironic,
funny or simply sad.
The current issue of The Panel magazine
depicts an airborne image of a blimp advertising Hangar One Vodka.
Apparently, though, the blimp blew
away from its moorings at an Ohio airport and crash-landed in someone's
So, we're not surprised to open
the publication and see this page in the August, 2011 edition.
Of course, the results are, in fact, not from the 2010 wine judging, but
from the recent 2011 event!
AWARD OF EXCELLENCE You
know the main feature of The Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence to
restaurants for their wine lists must be that the $250 check to
"enter" doesn't bounce.
We were amused to read a "news article" touting the great
achievement of several restaurants in a particular locale which had
"won" this prestigious "award."
The Wine Spectator even claims they check the spelling on the wine lists
before bestowing their "award" to a dining establishment.
Restaurants must submit a current copy of their wine list with a check
FROM THE WINE SPECTATOR
must provide vintages, appellations and prices for all
selections—including wines by the glass.
Spelling is also taken into
consideration, as is the overall presentation and appearance of
The submitted wine list must be an exact copy of what is
currently in use in your restaurant. Lists entered for judging
must accurately reflect what your customers will see and have
access to. Once past these initial requirements, lists are then
judged for one of our three awards.
On a lark, we checked the wine list, then, of one of these restaurants
cited in a news article.
Maybe "Riesling" should be spelled correctly, along with
Gewurztraminer before this restaurant was given an "Award of
Here are a few more listings from that decorated wine list...
See how many errors you can find.
I think there are at least 7 mistakes...maybe more.
WHAT SHOULD A
WINERY PAY FOR A REVIEW?
Let's say you're the
importer of a wine or perhaps you are the owner of an American winery.
You want the world to know how good your wines are, so you decide to
submit samples to various critical publications in order to garner some
good, "Third Party" approval.
You send your bottles off in good faith. Some producers might send
a special bottling, labeled as their normal wine, knowing it should
receive a more favorable review than the regular bottling.
Few publications actually spend money for a bottle of wine...they rely
on the free samples sent in by vintners, so they are not likely to audit
their tasting results by purchasing a bottle off the shelf.
A few publications rely solely on the funds generated by paid
subscriptions to pay the rent, claiming they are impartial and
objective. One such journal once noted that wines tasted at the
cellar of a particular European producer always tasted better than the
wines did out of bottle here in the United States.
The publication was sued and had to pay the vintner for alleged damages.
That's the price of being objective and critical, apparently.
Other publications accept advertising revenue while claiming to be
objective in tasting and evaluating wines. We're always amused to
see an occasional article on the wines of, say, Barolo, with critical
evaluations, followed by a page of small advertisements by some of the
wineries whose wines are being praised.
Still other journals ask
wineries to pay to have a reproduction of the wine's label included with
the supposedly objective review.
Here or on the Image Above
to see a "close up" version of the document.
We are not alleging there's a direct correlation between advertising and
a favorable review, we're merely shining on a spotlight on this.
You can draw your own conclusions.
Robert Mondavi's "formula" for justifying the price of
a bottle of wine was to divide the price per ton of grapes by 100 and
you'd have the consumer's retail price.
Therefore, if a ton of fruit costs $4000, you ought to expect to pay $40
The chart below explains, in small part, why you don't
see many $20 Napa Valley Cabernets these days. On the other hand,
Napa Chardonnays, using this formula, should sell for $22 and Sauvignon
Blanc for about $18 per bottle. Of course, these days, land prices
are out of conntrol, which further complicates Mondavi's simplistic
Here are the average prices per ton in the Napa Valley for the 2010
Harvest which wineries paid.
Tons Per Acre
3.03 tons per acre
4.05 tons per acre
2.27 tons per acre
4.68 tons per acre
2.31 tons per acre
3.07 tons per acre
3.93 tons per acre
2.27 tons per acre
2.60 tons per acre
3.37 tons per acre
166 - 707
4.26 tons per acre
266 - 558
2.09 tons per acre
997 - 2386
2.39 tons per acre
25 - 117
4.68 tons per acre
LITTLE HELPER There's
a legal entanglement involving two companies selling "Mommy"
The label on the left, Mommy's Time Out, is that of an importer of
inexpensive Italian wines.
The colorful label on the right is produced by California's Clos la
Clos La Chance has asked a California court to find that its use of the
word "Mommy" does not infringe upon the copyright of the
"Mommy's Time Out" brand. ((Someone else has trademarked
a wine called "Mom's Riesling...and a German company has registered
the word "Mama" for wine...wonder if they know about those!))
At issue is whether or not "Mommy
Juice" will be confused with "Mommy's Time
Hard to believe they're fighting over this. The labels are not at
all alike and unless they're "bottled" in a Sippy Cup, we
cannot imagine there's much confusion here.
Of course, there's Stags Leap Winery and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars...Now
THAT'S confusing to the average bear.
But under the heading of "wine marketing," there are all sorts
of curiously named wine brands being registered...just in case the time
For example, someone has trademarked "Big Ass Wines," a New
York firm owns "Pompous Ass," while another outfit has
"Big Tits-Full Bodied Red Wine." Do these companies
expect customers to put those names on a shopping list?
A Santa Barbara company has registered "Peep Show," while a
Sonoma company has "Living in Zin."
A Concord firm has "Right Wing Red," but near as we can tell,
no "Left Wing White."
There's "Fat Bastard" wine.
At the other end of the scale, someone else trademarked "Skinny
Bitch," while there's also a registration for "Jealous
Bitch." Will those two square off in some sort of cat
Foster's Wine Estates registered "S-O-B Sun of a
Oh my gawd!
TXT Cellars has registered the lovely wine name of WTF and OMG.
What the f***?
Another outfit is considering using "Big Pecker" as its brand
name. You have to have balls to buy that one, we suppose.
Imagine asking the sommelier at a fancy restaurant for one of these
curiously named brands!
WINE IN THE
An American firm is attempting to market
this wine-in-the-box from Spain.
The word "Charla" in Spanish refers to "chit
chat" or some sort of conversation, possibly gossip or it could be
a "charla literaria" which would be a literary talk or
One concern, though, is that if one
sells a wine called "Charla," does that make the vendor a
YOU CAN'T GO WRONG! Surely you've heard the
expression "You can't go wrong."
I hear it from sales reps all the time, as they bring in plonk from some
famous appellation or much-heralded vintage, thinking we buy wines which
we can sell.
Many sales people do not understand we are not looking for wines which
We are looking for wines we can recommend.
So, I was amused when I heard the "You can't go wrong"
expression and then I saw this photo of a road sign.
Apparently, it's just as I suspected.
DENIRO GETS IT
Robert Deniro presented an award to
film director and vintner Francis Ford Coppola.
INTERNET NEED THIS SUCKER? A wine industry friend sent me a link to
this video, viewable on YouTube.
I watched it for a minute and a half, or so, and thought it was intended
as something satirical.
Then I realized the fellow, former Wine Spectator critic, James Suckling
actually intends this little nugget as something 'serious' and has
posted it in search of viewers.
The video begins asking
"Is perfection attainable...? Probably not."
And then we see numerous video snippets of his Lordship pronouncing
precisely how many points various wines are to be awarded.
"I'm 91 points on this...I'm 92 points on that..." until
he pronounces several wines as "100 points."
And while we find the notion some people have that it's possible to
quantify on a numerical scale something as nebulous as one's enjoyment of
a particular wine as though this was scientifically replicable, we're
amused to have this little look into the World of James Suckling.
Video snippet after video
snippet....there's our hero, issuing grand proclamations to winery owners
who have poured various bottles for this critic.
The video, though, does illuminate one facet of wine judging: It's really easy to rate a wine
when you're not tasting it blind and you're being hosted by some chateau
owner in Bordeaux...you know who made the wine, where it comes from and
have an idea of how much you're supposed to like a wine based upon
the preliminary vintage reports. You know the prestigious reputation
of the wine, its lofty price tag and how you've rated the wine in previous
Does a diligent restaurant critic
waltz into a dining establishment and announce he's going to critique the
I'm awarding Mr. Suckling a 70 point
score for his abilities as a wine critic.
LOOKING FOR A WINE...." We have this sort of thing happen all the
A customer has had a wine at a restaurant or a friend's house and they
want to buy a bottle of it to enjoy at home...but they did not write
down the name, nor did they snap a photo with their pocket camera and so
they are relying on their memory.
Unfortunately, most people develop amnesia by the time they leave the
eatery or friend's home...and so we have this sort of dynamic to deal
As amazing are the people who go
"It came in a green bottle and had a cork in it. The label was
white/green/red/black/blue...Do you think you have it?"
Thanks to Susan R. for the clipping.
SMOKE GOT IN THEIR
The October 2010 edition
of the famous Revue du Vin de France has a major gaffe.
The 101 best white wines of
France...our best bottles...a festival of flavors!
And, as one might expect, there's a
Sauvignon Blanc from the late, great Loire Valley winemaker, Didier
Dagueneau had a brilliant sense of
humor and he was fiercely competitive, wanting to be the best at whatever
he did, whether it was skiing, racing his sled dogs or making wine.
Years ago he offered a wine from a vineyard called "Buisson
Menard" near his place in the town of Saint Andelain. A
prominent French wine critic tasted the wine and mistakenly published a
review of Dagueneau's wine as a Pouilly-Fume from the "Buisson Renard"
Didier had a healthy skeptical view of the world and so to permanently
poke fun of the critic, Dagueneau changed the name of the wine to "Buisson
And, it remains so-named to this day.
The French word "Renard" translates to
"Fox" and Dagueneau was certain as crazy as a...
So...now the question is whether or not Didier's son, Louis-Benjamin,
will, in the great Dagueneau tradition, buy some vineyard land in the
Macon region to actually make a wine called Silex from fruit grown in the
How can RVF make such a mistake?
Not using the spit bucket?
Or were they simply "drawing a Blanc"??
YOU LOOTH. I
still have not figured out how this web company called Snooth pays the
rent, but they sure send out a lot of e-mail material.
We received a lovely message with an article about "Risotto
al Barolo," so we had a look.
Author Eric Guido writes:
"The classic recipe is not
a risotto for the uninitiated. It's a rich dish that tastes of the
wine you pour into it, which is important to remember when selecting the
Barolo for this risotto. In this case, I chose a young Barbaresco
from Produttori del Barbaresco."
While we appreciate a good
Risotto, if you're going to use a Nebbiolo wine, why not call it
"Risotto al Nebbiolo"? But please don't call it
"Barolo" and then use Barbaresco.
Of course, the wine used to make this risotto might be the perfect
candidate to pour in your wine glass to pair with this dish, right?
Not according to Chef Guido:
"As for the wine, my
favorite pairing with Risotto al Barolo is easily Barbera."
While we love Vietti's Barbera wines, we'll stick with a wine that's
going to echo the character of the risotto.
We can further criticize the fellow for misspelling
"Carnaroli," probably the best type of rice for this dish, but
He's from New York and there they probably do call it "Cannaroli."
Mr. Guido later posted
an article featuring a pasta with bitter greens...
for the wine, this dish pairs best with crisp
whites, due to the bitterness of the greens and
light nature of the sauce. However, due to its
spicy character and earthy roots, you can also get
away with Italian reds that lean toward a balance
of acidity, such as a Barbera. I chose 2006 Les Crêtes
Torrette Les Toules, a wine a little off the
beaten path from the north-eastern tip of Italy,
in a region named Valle d’Aosta.
The Valle d'Aosta is
well off Mr. Guido's map, apparently...it's not located in the
north eastern tip of Italy, but is highlighted on this map.
DON'T LET HER
DRIVE IN TUSCANY!
Panel magazine is offered "free," as the publication relies on
advertising revenue to pay the bills.
Eno-scribe Deborah Parker Wong writes of the wines of Italian vintner
Lionello Marchesi in the September 2010 issue.
We're told Marchesi's Monastero winery is "just
outside Siena in the heart of the Chianti Classico zone."
Luckily, Ms. DPW isn't a cardiologist, for Chianti Classico aficionados
know "just outside Siena" isn't exactly the "heart"
of that vaunted wine region. It's quite to the south, in fact.
Signor Marchesi owns a Scansano-area estate called Poggio Alle Sughere,
which Ms. DPW says "...runs
along the eastern coastline of Tuscany..."
Here's a map, in case you, too, are a
bit fuzzy on the geography of Italy...Tuscany is in red:
Unless Umbria, the Marche and
Emilia-Romagna have fallen into the Adriatic, Tuscany doesn't have much of
an "eastern coastline."
We suppose this is just another piece of evidence proving Richard Paul
Hinkle's response to the question," What are the requirements for
being a wine writer?"
His answer: "A pen."
Today, we might suppose that answer would be "a computer."
are looking for all sorts of creative outlets to attract customers.
Judy Jordan's "J Vineyards & Winery" offered a "Groupon"
e-mail enticement for wine tasting, selling a $20 tasting for ten bucks.
We're not sure who wrote the text accompanying the offer, but it's
A good glass of wine can
brighten even the rainiest of days, just as an appearance from
Alan Alda can add cheer to long business meetings, and Labrador
retrievers holding sparklers can perk up dreary art
The serene destination is nestled in the fertile hills of the Napa
Valley in Healdsburg, which is a bit over an hour's drive
north of downtown San Francisco.
We usually think of Healdsburg as being in
Sonoma, not Napa. And if you visit the J tasting facility, it's on
a rather flat piece of terroir.
At J Vineyards and Winery,
no reservations are required; simply walk into the modern,
art-laden tasting room and taste the winery's vast variety of
fine wines, many of which hail from the Russian River Valley,
an area known for its lush, fully matured grape trees...
Maybe that's the trouble...they're
getting the fruit from orchards, not vineyards.
Or, the author of the Groupon text
may have been out of his or her tree.
MODERN FLAVORS Reading
articles on wine, we often wonder how much research has been done
by critics, journalists or bloggers.
an era when the internet allows one to easily double check so much
information (and misinformation), it's difficult to understand some of
the poor quality work which passes for journalism.
The Miami Herald features wine articles written by a fellow named Fred
We were shocked while reading an article printed in early 2010 called
"Ancient Grapes, Modern Flavors." This highlighted a
number of Italian wines made from off-the-beaten-path grape varieties
such as Torbato, Aglianico, Negroamaro and Vermentino (though to serious
fans of Italian wines, these last three varieties are not so unusual).
In the article, Signor Tasker highlights a wine from San
"Near the many-towered Tuscan town of
San Gimignano, the husband-and-wife team of Teruzzi and Puthod are
blending vernaccia, an aromatic grape that may date to the Greeks, with
crisply mineral vermentino, spicy malvasia and modern chardonnay grapes
to produce Teruzzi & Puthod Terre di Tufi."
What's amusing is that the husband
and wife team sold their winery in 2005 and it's being run by the large
Gruppo Campari company these days.
We also get this gem:
"In the Tuscan region called Vino
Nobile di Montalcino, the Tenimenti Anelini (sic) family has added
cabernet sauvignon to its traditional blend of sangiovese and canaiolo
to create a powerful and fruity wine called Trerose."
There is no "region"
called "Vino Nobile di Montalcino."
There is a Tuscan town called Montalcino and another called
Montepulciano. In the former, they make wines such as
"Brunello di Montalcino" and "Rosso di
Montalcino." In the latter, there's "Rosso di
Montepulciano" and "Vino Nobile di Montepulciano."
The proprietor of the Tuscan estate is the Angelini family.
"Tenimenti" refers to the estate or property. In former
times, it was a word used to describe properties owned by the church and
given to farmers to work the land. Today it's fashionable amongst
the wealthy to say they have a "tenimenti" or estate.
Some wineries are called an "azienda agricola," "fattoria"
or "tenuta." In this case, it's "Tenimenti"
with the family name attached to the various estates owned by Angelini.
We wonder if Signor Tasker has tasted any good Brunello di
Does anyone in Germany actually
misspell the name of their famous Riesling?
You'd expect the publishers of Germany's annual reference book on German
wines to get it right.
This is a snapshot from
their website...Hard to believe they'd have Riesling spelled as "Reisling."
Meanwhile, one wine merchant sent out a list of upcoming tastings.
This seemed a bit odd:
Did Quilceda Creek move to South
And when did they start producing Barolo in Washington state?
The Wall Street Journal
recently hired some new eno-scribes to replace the couple who mistook
"enthusiasm" for wine "knowledge" and
Former Food & Wine journalist Lettie Teague has been hired to pen
some articles and blog postings. So has Jay McInerney who
wrote the novel "Bright Lights, Big City," as well as a
charming wine book, "Bacchus and Me." Mr. McInerney also
wrote a wine column for House & Garden magazine.
a Wall Street Journal blog posting on July 23, 2010, Mr. McInerney
shines his spotlight on the wines of Beaujolais. We're delighted
to have the wines from this often-overlooked region brought to the
attention of prospective imbibers.
Is it, we wonder, that today's writers, with spell-checking prospects at
their fingertips, are simply in too much of a hurry to
Do we blame the world of text-messaging and social media websites for a
lack of proficiency in spelling correctly and curious
a bit of prose from the Wall Street Journal blog posting:
"Beaujolais from one of the 10 crus—specially
designated AOC villages—can be a very respectable drink, especially in
a year like 2009. In fact, 2009 is the best vintage since 2005 and
if you haven’t had Beaujolais in a while, this is a good time to try
it again. And you don’t have to call them Beaujolais—you can call
them by their village names: Brouilly, Julienas, Fleury, Morgon,
Chénas, Chiroubles, et al.
Most of the small artisanal producers
haven’t released their wines yet, but I just tasted through some of
the Georges Dubouef ‘09 Cru Beaujolais, and I was very
impressed. Duboeuf, of course, is the spectacularly successful
negotiant who really put Beaujolais on the map, and while some wine
writers cast him as Darth Vader, the fact is that Dubouef
Beaujolais almost always represent good value, never more so than in a
vintage like this. Of special interest are the single-estates wines
which Duboeuf distributes."
"beef" has little to do with the touting of Beaujolais wines,
though some aficionados might quibble with the selections being the
somewhat "factory-like" Duboeuf offerings. You'd think
he'd spell "Fleurie" correctly. "Duboeuf,"
too, for that matter.
We do find this choice to be ironic, since it's Mr. McInerney and his
Wall Street Journal editors who have "oeuf" on their faces...
AND YOU'RE OUT
There's a bit of a storm centered in
Tuscany following the publication of a book by journalist Andrea Scanzi.
"Il Vino Degli Altri" is aimed at Italian winedrinkers and
takes them on a "tour" of the wine world. The idea is if
one is better acquainted with wines from famous regions around the
planet, one has a better perspective on one's own (Italian) wines.
Interviewing a prominent Tuscan vintner, Massimo d'Alessandro, Scanzi is
“I’m about to tell you
something that you shouldn’t write about. But I’m going to say it
anyway. The Tuscans are a shrewd bunch. They have always made wines that
were somewhat fake. It’s part of their history. You know full well
that there is a very serious investigation of Tuscany wine going on
He then cites allegations involving the famous enologist, Carlo Ferrini
and some wines bottled by one of Ferrini's consulting clients, the wine
brand called Brancaia.
Here's a further excerpt from Scanzi's book, quoting d'Alessandro:
“Poorly tended vineyards,
low-quality vines, and wines improved using base wines from other
regions. The base wine always has a high quantity of dry extract. The
flavor is neutral so that it won’t be detected and it is always
produced using highly technical methods: infrared rays and such. It
gives the wine color, structure, and extraction. Wine has been impounded
all over the place. I’m a friend of Brancaia. They told me that 75,000
bottles of their wine, already sold to the Americans, were seized. The
same thing happened to Frescobaldi and to others as well. Do you know
what the only solution is? Get rid of that magistrate because this way
of doing things is too widespread in Tuscany. It will never change.”
So the folks at Brancaia, having been "outted," felt the need
to respond. They sent a note to prominent Italian wine blogger,
Franco Ziliani, stating:
"We produce three top wines: Brancaia Il
Blue (IGT), Brancaia Chianti Classico (DOCG), and Ilatraia (IGT).
For these wines we use only grapes grown in our
vineyards: 25 hectares planted to vine on our estate in Chianti Classico
and 40 hectares planted to vine on our estate in Maremma.
Our easy-drinking wine, Brancaia TRE (IGT), is
made from grapes that we have not selected for our top wines.
Because of the success of and demand for
Brancaia TRE, in addition to the grapes we grow ourselves, we have been
buying grapes and bulk wine — both Toscana IGT — for some time now.
This is no secret and it is by no means a crime.
Here are the facts:
- Two Tuscan sellers of bulk wine are under
investigation for having sold wines with falsified documentation
- As a result, all of the bulk wine, and even the wine already delivered
to producers, has been blocked.
- Since we bought wine from these sellers in good faith, the wine that
was used for Brancaia TRE has been blocked.
- During the inspections, we showed all of the documentation requested
and we answered all questions.
- Following inspection, Brancaia TRE was released.
- We have purchased only a small amount of bulk wine and only for
- The use of purchased grapes and bulk wine is allowable by law and is
based on high quality standards.
- All of our other wines have been made only with grapes grown by us.
And so they admit to purchasing bulk
wine, having been under investigation.
Yet a couple of months after this admission, here's a shot of the
Brancaia website, leading customers to believe that their TRE wine comes
exclusively from their own estate's vineyards.
Having been a fan of
Brancaia's wines, it's sad to see such a producer continue to
"massage" the truth.
SPAM and My
Response to SPAM Having an e-mail address posted on our web
site, we receive a ton of spam.
This is not wine-related, so we're off-topic, but I thought I'd share
this for giggles.
Here's the e-mail message we received:
Ricardo Lewis wrote:
My name is Mr. Ricardo Lewis of the
International Monetary Fund investigation unit. Attached
pictures was received and forwarded to our office here in London
UK today the 21TH of APRIL, 2010 requesting that your unclaimed
fund be paid to Janet Williams.
In the said
letter of change of beneficiary/ownership, representatives of
Janet Williams states that you are dead and as such your fund
should be paid to her as the next of kin to you.
Because of the
elaborate global scam, we decided to contact you for
confirmation. If after seven working days, no response is
received from you, it will be assumed that you are dead and as
such authorization and approval will be granted on behalf of
Janet Williams to claim/receive your fund.
pictures and reconfirm your Information and how you want your
fund paid to you without further delay if you are still alive.
Send your response to my email address: email@example.com
Below is the
information you are expected to re-confirm,
Date of Birth:__________
7. State of
9. Copy Of Your Identity:____________
You can also
call for clarification +447035993289
Director Of The
Fund’s Office Of Budget.
Monetary Fund Investigation Unit.
Here, then, is the missive I sent off to Mr. Lewis:
Yes, I am dead. But they have computers and the internet
here in hell.
I saw a message posted on a bulletin board saying we're to
expect you here with us shortly, so I hope your documents
are all in order.
Consumers are often befuddled by the rules
and regulations governing wine labels. The United States federal
government has a bureau in charge of granting "label approval"
to wine, spirits and beer packaging.
There are codes covering things such as the notation of the alcohol
contents, brand name, varietal (or generic) designations, as well as the
The appellation answers the question (many times) as to where the grapes
were grown. Some bottles bear the very non-specific appellation of
"California," meaning the grapes can come from various
regions. Some inexpensive wines, made from grapes grown in the
industrial vineyards of California's Central Valley have a
"California" appellation, as that's more romantic than, say,
Merced County, Madera County or Fresno County.
Napa Valley is a prestigious appellation.
Sonoma and Mendocino also are found of expensive bottles of wine.
The Segue brand offers a perplexing single vineyard Pinot Noir from
Mendocino's Anderson Valley. But you might notice the emblem over
the red part of the label with "RRV" on it. That's an
indication the wine is made from fruit grown in the Russian River
Valley. Now, the Russian River appellation is located within the
confines of Sonoma County. And the Filigreen Vineyard is situated
in Mendocino's Anderson Valley.
This is what happens when people make high alcohol Pinot
And if the Feds were paying attention, they'd have caught this goof.
ON THE WALL... A
Chicago eno-scribe posted a note on his informative website, Reflections
on Wine, with some assessments of the 2010 Gambero Rosso publication's
tasting in the Windy City.
Tom Hyland, author of this web
site, writes of the diversity of the wines and grape varieties one might
encounter at this wine tasting:
"...this is an opportunity to sample
wines that the magazine’s staff rated on an equal level (Tre
Bicchieri) with those famous bottlings. These included wines made
from Vermentino, Sylvaner and Grechetto for white and Corvina, Garganega
and Pugnitello for red."
Here is a photo of each of the
latter three grape varieties...Corvina, Garganega and Pugnitello.
As you might guess, it's going to be difficult
to make a red wine from the middle one, Garganega.
This is the predominant grape variety from the Veneto appellation of
Soave and, of course, it produces white wine. And while it is
possible to produce a white wine from "black" grapes, we
cannot recall ever tasting a red wine made of Garganega. Or
Chardonnay, for that matter...Lord knows, in California there seem to be
some vintners who are trying to make "red wine" from
But if there was a red wine made of Garganega, we're certain it would
bear the label: Nero d'Soavola!
All the news services have been reporting
the story of some French vintners who sold California's Gallo winery
some tanks of wine they called Pinot Noir which turned out to be, we're
told, a tandem of Merlot and Syrah or Pinot Noir with Merlot and Syrah.
Gallo has been peddling (or pedaling, if you prefer) a brand of wine
called Red Bicyclette, featuring table wines they've purchased in bulk
from a grape grower's co-operative winery in Limoux that specializes in
sparkling wine. The only red table produced by this winery is made
from Merlot, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah.
Gallo, however, asked the winery to provide them with a boat load of
Pinot Noir. And so, wanting to make a sale and please the
customer, the Sieur d’Arques co-op, sold Gallo, on paper, Pinot
A dozen people were convicted in this scam, each given a suspended
sentence and fined somewhere between 3,000 and 180,000
It seems the wine broker which was hired to source and provide wine for
the co-op sold them a quantity of Pinot Noir greater than the particular
region produces in one vintage! Further, the wine was sold at
approximately 60% of the normal market price for Pinot Noir from the
south of France.
Didn't Ernest & Julio's mother ever tell them if "something
appears to be too good to be true, it probably isn't true"???
A French newspaper reports one of the convicted as saying they'd have
labeled the wine as "Yoplait" (a famous brand of yogurt) had
they been asked to do so.
Meanwhile, Gallo's "Red Bicyclette" website claims the 2007
vintage of Pinot Noir had been blended with 7% Syrah and 5% Grenache.
Some people claim Gallo is innocent in all of this...others blame Gallo
for not detecting the fraud on their own. Didn't anyone from Gallo
"taste" the wine at some point to verify if it, at all,
resembled Pinot Noir?
But shady dealings or frauds in the world of wine are not isolated
Italy seems to have a quarterly scandal involving either mis-labeled or
counterfeit wines. France has a long history of enological
shenanigans as well. California wineries are allowed a certain
amount of leeway in labeling wines and if one tastes a lot of what is
labeled "Pinot Noir," one might wonder what other enhancements
have been added (MegaPurple? Syrah? Petite Sirah?)...
Ask some California vintners how many grams of residual sugar their wine
has and they'll proudly lie, proclaiming their wine is
"dry." And we know they're all wet!
So, whether it's the
Billionaire's Vinegar or a pauper's Pinot Noir, it's not been uncommon
for there to be a bit of chicanery.
A couple of ironies in this particular "scandal" (with respect
to bicycling terminology):
Gallo might be said to have "won the door prize" in
this incident, the "door prize" being how cyclists describe a
rider who collides with the open door of a parked car. Ouch!
Cyclists use the name "Fred" to describe "An
unskilled racer with aspirations to appear more capable than they in
fact are." Keep in mind, Fred Franzia is the
nephew of the late Ernest Gallo. Mr. Franzia was indicted in 1993
on federal charges of conspiracy to defraud by misrepresenting cheaper
grapes as premium fruit. Fred pled guilty and paid a nice
In any case, consumers opting for wines of the Red Bicyclette label are,
one might say, buying a "wine with training wheels" and they
deserve the flat tire they get.
We're dizzy as a goose after a spin
cycle in a washing machine after reading this description of a
California red wine blend from a winery that's as unknown as the
dreams of a sleeping infant...
The tasting note is written by Santa Cruz Mountains-based Laura
Ness...it reads the way your tongue hurts after you've accidentally
nailed it to the wall.
VineNess on Wine"
Poetic Cellars “Ballad” Bordeaux Blend, Livermore Valley,
$30 What I like best about this
blend is its seamlessness – there is a very lean angularity
that weaves it all together.
Not that there are too many outlying points on the graph –
this wine follows a very precise line in its faithful
replication of just-so Bordeaux.
It’s a total seesaw balance of Cabernet and Merlot, with only
a 10 percent fulcrum factor of Cabernet Franc to complete the
balance of power-tie knot.
My other favorite thing about this wine is its amazingly low
alcohol content for a wine from Livermore and a cabernet of any
kind in California. At 13.5 percent, it has restraint and
balance, with lovely notes of lavender, dark cassis, caraway and
tarragon, layered with cured Westphalian ham and spicy green
olives. This is the kind of Cab blend that won’t make your
mouth suffer from tannin overload, and at the same time, it
won’t overwhelm you with alcohol. Katy Lovell is really
learning the nuances of the vineyard and how to marry its
disparate elements into musical scores that might just work
their magic on your minstrel memory.
After spending hours tasting
numerous optimistically-priced Zinfandels at the 2010 "ZAP"
tasting in San Francisco, our associate Kareasa Wilkins grew weary of so
many of the wines.
"A lot of the Lodi Zinfandels simply taste like Chocolate
Cheerios!" she noted.
Well, here's the label from a box of that breakfast treat...check the
lower right hand corner....
appreciate competently-written journalism and we marvel at how some
people, enthusiastic though they may be, are willing to publicly
embarrass themselves by sharing their "expertise" in the form
of a newspaper or magazine article or a world-wide-web internet
From Ashland, Oregon comes a
remarkable article by wine guru Lorn Razzano, who's dubbed The Wine
His December 22nd, 2009 posting recommends a wine by Spindrift
"Spindrift Gewerztraminer." (sic)
In extolling the virtues of this wine, Mr. Razzano misspells Gewürztraminer
five times! In fact, his November 24th column also touts wines
made of this lovely grape:
"...the name "Gewerztraminer"
means "spicy traminer" in German. The European Gewrztraminers
are notably French with great houses selling this noble wine for well
more than 100 years..."
One might expect the fellow to have
made a note of the correct spelling simply by having a look at the label
of the wine he's so highly recommending.
Mr. Razzano also suggests a couple of
"Portacollo Spanish white wine: Spanish white wines are becoming
fashionable and offer great bang for the buck. This is a white wine that
delivers lovely fresh flavors, almost citrus in the finish, but also has
a very lovely bouquet. This is a white wine lover's dream and continues
to give a wonderful performance throughout the white wine world."
Another wine from Spain is recommended:
"Vorehijon: This is the other white of great note from Spain. It
continues the great tradition of these cuisine-friendly white wines and
is impressive not only for the balance of the wine but for the elegance
that it brings to the table."
Have you ever heard of the wine "Vorehijon"?
We checked with the search engine called Google.
...a mere one result. This guy's article
is the only reference to his recommended Spanish white wine.
And just for the sheer beauty of sentences cobbled together:
"Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc: The
South Americans are becoming the guys to reckon with as far as the reds
and whites of great value are concerned. This chateau boasts a pedigree
from the great Chateau Lafite in Bordeaux, France, and is living up to
its tradition. I love this white wine for its brilliance and
cleanliness, as well as its ability to cross over from seafood to fowl
very easily. Sauvignon blanc can be problematic in some areas and from
many wineries but this little hummer is just the ticket. I do not know a
better wine under 20 bucks in this varietal."
A friend of ours said he, too, often has difficulty in remembering how
to spell the names of the wines he's been drinking. This is caused
by, he asserts, the lack of a wine glass and drinking these straight out
of the bottle. "You can't see the label like you can when the bottle is on the
table and you're imbibing from a wine glass."
Ah...that explains it!
Aside from all the e-mail messages
offering snake oil, diplomas and letters from barristers in
Nigeria representing dead people who've left us millions of dollars, we
receive numerous wine-related postings.
Leslie Sbrocco is the
author of several books and hosts a local TV show spotlighting Bay Area
restaurants. She teaches wine classes and is an engaging and
The author of Wine for Women: A Guide to Buying, Pairing and Sharing
Wine, one might expect Leslie to offer good suggestions in pairing
wines with food.
In her periodic e-mail for the Conde Nast publishing empire, Leslie sent
out a missive under the Epicurious banner touting the virtues of
Sherry. Now, we enjoy a nice glass of Sherry from time to
time. A chilled Fino with some salty Marcona Almonds and some
Anchovy-Stuffed Olives is a delight. A sweet Sherry with a nutty
dessert can be magnificent. We're all in favor of drinking whatever
wine you like with whatever foods you want.
We're just a bit hesitant to take Leslie's advice 100% of the way...
...can't imagine pairing a
bottle of Sherry (whatever style you like) with a grilled steak, frankly.
Whatever floats your boat,
as they say.
Isn't there a law saying if you're going to vinify and bottle
Gewurztraminer, you have to, at least, be able to spell it correctly?
This reminded us of an
old advertising poster the Gundlach-Bundschu winery had back in the
Champagne reception, and 3 course lunch prepared by Michael Mina. Each
course is paired with 1 aged California wine and 1 aged French Burgundy.
Trio of Lobster
Chateau St. Jean Reserve Chardonnay,
Sonoma County 2005
Francois Jobard Meursault les Tillets, Burgundy 2005
Four Story Hill Farm Poussin
"Coq Au Vin"
Curly Red Mustard Greens
Chateau St. Jean Durell Vineyard Pinot
Noir, Sonoma Valley 2007
Bruno Clavelier La Combe D'Orvaux [sic] Chambolle-Musigny 1er
cru, Burgundy 2006
Soo Young's Cheese Selections from
Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages
Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County 2005
Maison Leroy Bourgogne Blanc, Burgundy 2002
Amusing to find the notion that
current releases from Chateau St. Jean are considered "aged"
If you've ever tasted the Meursault wines of Francois Jobard, you'll
know that a 4 year old bottle is young, undeveloped and backwards.
The Leroy 2002 Bourgogne Blanc illustrates that not every wine ages
Another amusing aspect is that Lawrence Stone's Rubicon wine lists
didn't exactly feature wines from vineyards such as Chateau St.
Jean. I'm betting none of the other award recipients at this event
are big fans of California wineries such as St. Jean, either.
We sent the menu/program to a wiseacre friend who's an experienced
His response was "Well,
hell, if Larry Stone is what passes for a mentor, that's just as
egregious as what passes for old wine."
or SCREWAGE ??? We
have periodically ranted about restaurant wine prices and there's one
service charge which seems unusually excessive.
Restaurateurs have corkage fees (the price you pay the dining
establishment for bringing and being served your own bottle of wine)
ranging from $10 to $50 (generally). Fine.
We have heard, from time to time, that the restaurant will charge
patrons its standard corkage fee, "unless you bring a wine which is
already on the wine list. Then we will charge you the price of the
wine on the list."
We were reminded of this philosophy
the other day when a customer was perusing our rarity cabinet. He
was going to a famous San Francisco restaurant and was looking at the
pages from the on-line wine list to be certain he wasn't bringing a
bottle already on the list.
"I can't afford to pay them $1000 for a bottle of wine with our
meal and I want to be sure not to bring something they already
have." he explained.
Let's give this some thought...
The burden is on the customer to be more familiar with the wine list
than most of the servers at the restaurant.
If a customer has been cellaring a bottle of 1959 Bordeaux to celebrate
the wife's 50th birthday, he might have to chose to dine at an
alternative restaurant because the first choice happens, by chance, to
have that very same selection on its wine list...or pay today's
"market price" for the privilege of being served a
well-cellared (hopefully) mature bottle...
On one hand we understand that restaurants are in business to make a
profit. Of course. But they are also in the business of
"hospitality" and penalizing a patron for bringing a special
bottle seems inhospitable.
We'd like to suggest to those bringing a bottle to a restaurant to:
Bring something that's not on the
wine list but is of exceptional quality...not some current release,
right off the shelf.
Buy, at least, a flute of bubbly or
a white wine as an aperitif to support the restaurant's wine
Offer the server or sommelier a
taste of your grand bottle.
Restaurateurs might consider changing
the excessive policy of charging the same price as is on the wine list
to a standard corkage fee, providing white wines are, say, at least 5
years old and red wines are say, at least, ten years of age or something
worthy of special attention. If a patron brings in a bottle of Two
Buck Chuck or Yellow Tail, politely escort them to the door and point in
the direction of the nearest McDonald's.
Just a thought.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
Germany crowns a
"wine queen" every year as has been the tradition for the past
They've recently given the honor to a young lady from the Franken
She's the gal in the middle and her name is Dumbsky.
We couldn't possible make up this stuff, but we will simply say while we
don't know Fräulein Marlies, we do know a number of "Dumbsky's"
who are in the wine business.
I'm just sayin' and that's all I'm sayin'.
& DINING We
appreciate a wonderful meal paired with good wines.
See how this menu strikes your "mental palate."
Lobster Succotash and Buttermilk Sorbet
Chardonnay Mer Soleil Silver
Unoaked Monterey 2006
Stone Fruit Panzanella with
Summer Beans and Burrata Cheese
$150 per person and this does not include tax or tip.
We found this menu to have the makings of a gastronomical train
The fellow who organizes these events
(if you can call this 'organized') claims to be a Master
Sommelier. The soirée begins with what he's calling a "Pinot
Noir Vertical" tasting...We understand a "vertical"
tasting to be multiple vintages of a particular wine. The Master,
though, has three different bottlings of 2006 vintage Pinot Noirs.
I don't mind "Popcorn and
Peanuts" for dessert, but I prefer to have this at a venue where
Tim Lincecum is pitching, not someone from Napa's Caymus and Belle Glos
YOU'RE SH*TTIN' ME! From
the Garden State comes wine from a family with a name most people will
find to be unappealing.
Winemaker Sal Turdo is proud of his wines, though near as we can tell,
he labels them "Turis" for some reason.
Not having tasted his wines, we cannot say whether or not they're
The wines have been entered in various wine competitions and have won
Not for the name, though.
And don't call to ask if we have their wines...
I don't want to have to say "no shit."
One of our major pet peeves with wine
marketing folks (as you'll be tired of reading if you're a regular to
these pages) is how so many "cater" to restaurants.
They view a restaurant wine list as "free advertising" and
often will make hard-to-get wines available exclusively to dining
establishments, as though all are temples of haute-cuisine and all
stores are 7-11s. Many will offer significant discounts to
restaurants, as well, often having 20-40% discounts for "on
We dined, well, "ate" dinner, at a local eatery.
This restaurant has appetizers in the $10 to $18 range and main courses
go from $15 to $40.
The place has a joke of a wine list. It's a 'book' featuring all
sorts of "quota" wines from the two large California liquor
distributors. The wine list attempts to be interesting and
helpful, since there's no sommelier or wine steward and the young folks
waiting tables have little or no wine knowledge.
The liquor distributors have not, apparently, been much help -- or,
perhaps they've "helped" too much!
The sparkling wine house in Napa,
Schramsberg, is listed as producing an Australian
It's written thusly: "Schramsberg Blanc de Noise"
(perhaps the bottles make a loud sound when they're opened??)
instead of Blanc de Noirs.
Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuissé is
described as having a character of "lemon zest and
Stag's Leap Chardonnay has a
"buttery balance and a gouda finish."
Fetzer Gewürztraminer is described
as "sweet cherry and berry."
Baron Herzog Cabernet is said to
have the "essence of licorice and oats."
Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon from
Sonoma's Alexander Valley is sold as having "velvety body with
hits of toffee and almond." While there may be some
California Cabernets which are more reminiscent of "candy"
than wine, Jordan's is not one of them!
Is it asking too much for a restaurant
to transcribe the name, vintage and appellation of a wine correctly and
accurately to their wine list?
When they have a 400% mark-up for wine, shouldn't the customer (and wine
producer) be entitled to a wine list that's closer to
"perfection"? And 400% mark-up?!?! That's
nothing. This place lists a Cabernet Sauvignon from a dear, old
friend of ours. It retails for $20-$22 a bottle.
It's on the wine list at this joint for $104 per 750ml bottle.
That's not funny.
JOURNAL'S ECONOMIC STIMULUS PACKAGE The
always enthusiastic wine-drinking couple whose column in the Wall Street
Journal really struck a nerve with their March 5, 2009
Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher profess a profound appreciation for the
wines of Barolo. They limited their purchases to wines costing
less than $70 a bottle and they claim to have purchased 50
bottles! On one hand, it's difficult to imagine the Wall Street
Journal allowing them to put $3000, or so, worth of wine on their
expense account. On the other hand, perhaps the couple paid for
these bottles themselves so they could earn a paycheck for writing a
column about Barolo. A noble cause, to be sure. The wine
industry, in these recessionary times, needed the stimulus!
writing their column, they tell us about their affection for Barolo, yet
they mention pairing it with "spicy chicken dishes" in one
instance and opening a bottle of a 1964 vintage and John choosing
"mango chicken" as his main plate to accompany it.
"Whatever floats your boat," as we say, though those culinary
choices seem a bit strange to us.
I was fortunate to be invited to taste more than 160 different bottlings
of the 2004 vintage last year in Piemonte. It was a remarkable
week of tastings and there's good reason to be excited about many of the
The assessment of the WSJ columnists is "Darn
it. They really just weren't that impressive. You can't imagine our
shock and disappointment."
I'm certain many producers of Barolo, reading this critique of what has
been generally regarded as a "Very good" to
"Outstanding" vintage will opine the WSJ column, darn it,
is not that impressive and many Langhe winemakers are probably shocked
In my experience, young Barolo is a very difficult wine to assess.
In photography, one does not cast final judgment of the quality of an
image until the photo is fully developed.
I found many of the wines to be exceptionally promising, but too young
and undeveloped to express the character one will find in 5, 10 or 20
years. I've been tasting Barolo since the 1970s, so I'm not
exactly new to this. The 2004 vintage provided exceptional quality
fruit and the wines, today, are years away from blossoming and
developing the high level of complexity one can expect when these
"kids grow up."
The regal Barolo is merely a prince in its youth and it takes years in
the bottle before it's ready to take on its role as being the "king
of wine and the wine of kings."
Much has changed in Italian winemaking. Wineries have indoor
plumbing and electricity these days. The technical level of
winemaking expertise has never been higher. It's rare to find
young Barolo wines with significant levels of volatile acidity,
mouth-searing tannins with no fruit, funky cellar smells and other flaws
one would often encounter 20 or 30 years ago.
Dorothy and John exposed themselves to the world of wine knowledgeable
people as being amateurs. Enthusiastic amateurs, to be
sure. But they've shown themselves to be less "expert"
than one might expect from a publication such as The Wall Street
Are they entitled to their opinion?
And it's understandable how inexperienced tasters would conclude the
2004s are "simple."
But they are only "simple" at this stage of development!
Should a restaurant critic review a dining establishment after the
Would a movie critic be able to write a critique if they walked out
after the first 30 minutes?
Is an apple pie ready to eat 30 minutes after it's been in the
No! It's half-baked, much like the Wall Street Journal's
assessment of the 2004 vintage of Barolo!
MORE QUALITY WINE
Few people are skilled
writers. Fewer are capable of writing about the world of wine.
The March 2009 issue of a locally-produced wine journal, Vine Times, has
an article regarding the Livermore Valley.
Here's an amusing quotation from the article entitled "Destination
Livermore Valley" (there's no authorship noted):
"Wood Family Vineyards
is a family run winery located in the eastern foothills of Livermore
Valley. Specializing in limited production handcrafted wines,
Rhonda Wood is one of the sole female winemakers in Livermore..."
We wonder: Who are the
other sole female winemakers?
Meanwhile our associate Kareasa Wilkins signed up for a wine class
through San Francisco's City College.
class was not actually taught by Fred McMillin, though this fellow does have a
column published in Vine Times and on an internet web site called Global
Gourmet. Results of his City College class tastings are often posted.
Mr. McMillin "...was voted one of the U.S.A's 22 Best wine
writers by the Academy of Wine Communications."
His current column on the Global Gourmet site reports on the quality of
Northern California wines versus their "Southern"
McMillin writes: "However,
we got to wondering if the rise of Santa Barbara wines means the SOUTH
has caught up at least with the far NORTH's Mendocino County? So, we
matched a number of Mendocino reds with their southern counterparts,
such as two 2004 Syrahs of about the same price." Then there's a list of the
wines tasted, from 7th place to first place. (Look for the two
Syrahs, won't you?)
Did you find both Syrahs?
Neither did I. I didn't find that much "Santa Barbara"
wine in the line-up, either, come to think of it.
I'm uncertain how tasting Pinot Noir alongside Carignane alongside
Zinfandel alongside a Syrah can actually illustrate much.
Meanwhile, a column posted by One of The 22 Best Wine Writers in the US
of A had me, once again, scratching our head...
Our Best Bottles In Recent
"O-M has tabulated my City College
(Ft. Mason campus) classes' wine rankings for years. So I asked her to
list the highest scorers of recent years. Here they are, with the
highest listed last. The order doesn't mean much however, since they all
were bunched together with scores well above 90!
Icaria Cabernet Sauvignon
King Estate Pinot Gris
Adelaida Cabernet Sauvignon
Bonny Doon Syrah
Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon
Kahana Royale Macadamia Nut Liqueur
Bargetto La Vita
Trinchero Cabernet Sauvignon
Simi Cabernet Sauvignon
Jarvis Cabernet Sauvignon
Jarvis Lake William (blend)
Gary Farrell Pinot Noir
And the highest scorer:
Silkwood Petite Sirah
I wonder if they tasted the Macadamia Nut Liqueur
in a flight of Chardonnays or do you think they compared it to something
with even higher "octane," like, say, Pennzoil?
Amusing on one hand, dismal on the other.
What with the economy in a
tailspin, some people are looking to economize, but I think this is
taking things a bit too far...
often amused by the creative use of language, as well as its inadvertent
A Sonoma winery sent out an e-mail blast inviting recipients to register
for a Valentine's Day "Wine Blending Party."
The winery owner/winemaker will be there and they've invited a
"celebrity" wine server and part-time wine writer to join in
the festivities. A wine steward sometimes has the French job title
But in this instance, the e-mail blast misspelled the word and he's been
dubbed a "Sommeliar."
We've dined in restaurants where the wine server was full of bull-bleep
and so we now fully appreciate the newly-coined term "Sommeliar."
Another commonly-used term in the world of wine is "palate".
This is spelled
"palate." You can taste wine if you have a palate.
is a palette...an artist's palette.
this is a pallet. Very convenient in a warehouse.
Our friend Henry! Moore received an e-mail with
the subject being "DELIGHT YOUR PALLET WITH REDS AND WHITES.
Mr. Moore hit the reply button and typed:
My pallet doesn't drink, it just lies in the warehouse with a
dozen cases of wine on it.
No response yet from the company offering the Delightful reds and whites.
We've felt many people in the Napa Valley
have been a bit "out of touch" with the realities of the rest
of the world.
The journal published an article by L. Pierce Carson which is headlined "Tasty
holiday cabs that won't break the bank."
As we're always looking for a bargain in a reasonable price range, we
had a gander at Mr. Carson's budget-priced suggestions. One of the
recommended wines carries a $20 price tag and another goes for a
"mere" $29. Fair enough.
But the other (four) wines go for $50 to $65 a bottle.
In a world where triple-digit price tags are fairly common, it's little
wonder L. Pierce writes of one of the $60 bottles: "Just goes
to show you, Napa Valley cab doesn’t have to be expensive to be this
In the world I live in, sixty bucks is a bit of a stretch for
most people. We sell a lot of ten-buck bottles to people who love
wine and who drink it regularly. Most of these folks consider $20
to $30 a lot of money for a bottle of wine.
long as we're picking on the Napa Valley Register, let's continue doing
so by having a look at an article headlined "Out of the Ashes"
and written by Sasha Paulsen. It's about the rebuilding of Silver
Oak's Napa facility following a fire in 2006.
In chronicling the history of Silver Oak, the December 19, 2008 article
has a major blunder: "They became one of the first California wineries to age
their wines in American oak rather than the traditional French oak
barrels, then the industry standard."
From the post-Prohibition era until the 1970s, very few wines
made in California were matured in small French oak barrels. Most
cooperage was either redwood or American oak, both of which were less
costly storage containers than 60 gallon French oak barrels.
Sixty bucks for a wine which "won't break the bank"???
Only in Washington, DC and the Napa Valley is cash viewed as such a
January 2009 edition of Decanter magazine has an article entitled
"Fallen Oak" by Italian wine guru Tom Maresca.
"In the late 1990s, Alba was infatuated with new French
barriques. A decade on, TOM MARESCA looks at whether time has
changed not only these Barolos and Barbarescos, but also the mindset of
The article begins with Signor Maresca
claiming "I've never been persuaded by either the arguments
for barriques or by the wines made with them."
Maresca quotes another author in
describing the features of Nebbiolo wines, including the adjectives
blackcurrants, black cherries, mushrooms, truffles, leather, tar,
"In my experience, many of those wonderful characteristics of
the Nebbiolo grape can be obscured, and in the most extreme cases,
totally blotted out, by the use of new barriques."
Yes, there are wines which are extremely oaky and heavily
wooded. A friend of ours, barrel salesman Mel Knox, claims there's
no such thing as wine that's "over oaked." Mel will tell
you it's "under-wined."
Maresca continues his rant against the use of French oak: "Many
people--producers, consumers, and wine critics alike--believed or hoped
that time would mellow those strong oak flavours and integrate them into
a more traditionally maturing Barolo or Barbaresco. Well, it
doesn't and they don't. I've never been persuaded by either the
arguments for barriques or by the wines made with them."
Fine. We enjoy traditionally-made wines of Barolo and
Barbaresco. We also appreciate some of the modernistas, who
do use French oak but who use it appropriately.
The article gives praise to a number of wines from the rather
over-looked 1998 vintage, a year overshadowed by the grand wines of
1996, the flashy and over-hyped 1997s and the well-structured, classic
The wines of the traditionalist, Cavallotto winery, get top praise,
along with a single-vineyard wine from Fontanafredda (these days matured
in small, new French oak along with larger cooperage of French origins).
Also highly praised is the wine of E. Pira & Figli, a Cannubi
vineyard Barolo. "Leather, dried roses, tar, a touch of truffle -- everything
just as it should be. Drink 2009-2020."
We're big fans of the E. Pira wines and we're delighted Mr.
Maresca found the wine to be so enjoyable and praiseworthy. Our
tasting notes, in fact, echo those of Signor Maresca.
The winery website notes the 1998 was matured in "new French oak
which was lightly toasted."
The cellar at E. Pira in Barolo.
So much for Signor Maresca's argument against the use of French oak!
Several other wines on his list of worthy 1998s also saw the inside of a
French oak barrel.
Perhaps wine critics ought to simply pay attention to what's in the glass
and not give so much advice in winemaking?
CRIME OF THE
upstate New York wine and liquor emporium has been cited by the state's
alcoholic beverage control squad for "running a secondary
business." You might say the State Liquor Authority has
"bagged" a major criminal and residents in the Rochester area
will certainly sleep better as a result.
The proprietor of the store has been fined $10,000 for his misconduct
and totally blatant disregard for the law.
Given the headlines and the fine, one
might expect the fellow was involved with money laundering, drug sales
or prostitution, but then one would be incorrect.
It seems the "crime" Mike
Palmeri, owner of Marketview Liquor, is charged with stems from selling
gift bags and drip collars for wine bottles!
New York state does not permit grocery stores to sell wine and
"liquor stores" are not allowed to sell items unrelated to
wine. Wine racks and corkscrews are allowed to be sold,
apparently, in New York liquor stores, but selling gift bags and drip
rings constitutes criminal behavior.
Had Marketview Liquor not "sold" gift bags, but given them
away, they would have been within the bounds of decency and good
taste. Since they were getting filthy rich by charging a couple of
bucks for a gift bag, state law enforcement authorities have come down
hard on the scofflaw.
Palmeri, quoted in news articles, says he did not know the law and he
admits "ignorance is no excuse."
As we've posted at the top of this
page: The World is going to hell in a hand-basket, ain't it?
We've not been big fans of Nouveau
Beaujolais and 2008 is the first year since the 1980s where we have not
had the new crop of Beaujolais Nouveau in the shop.
Importers of good Beaujolais wines, faced with a weak dollar this past
summer and increasing prices for air freight (remember, gasoline was $4
a gallon at the pump and price quotes for shipping were astronomical),
were hesitant to take orders for a wine which would need to retail for
$15 to $20 a bottle. The price of a good bottle of well-made
Beaujolais-Villages is $12 in our shop, with 'cru' Beaujolais being
available for $14-$18 a bottle.
Having the inferior 2008 Nouveau for a higher price didn't make sense to
us, so we passed on offering the wine this year.
Sorry to disappoint, but we have trouble asking people to pay $15 to $18
for what is, in reality, a ten-buck bottle of wine. And, in years
past, when the wine has not sold out immediately, we reduce the price to
less than we paid for the wine, essentially, "taking a bath."
So, we're amused to see some folks in Japan found an interesting, and
perhaps appropriate, way to put the 2008 Nouveau Beaujolais to good use.
Most wine distributor and importer
catalogues feature photos of idyllic vineyard scenes, wine glasses,
barrels and other enological or viticultural images.
So we're amused to see the cover of a catalogue of an importer which has
a wonderfully eclectic array of wines...
$100 per bottle (at retail) Austrian Rotgipfler
$90 Côte de Beaune white wine (not some famous appellation, but simply Côte
$75 Ribolla Gialla and Tocai from Friuli.
$54 Primitivo from Puglia
$75 Vernaccia di Oristano, an oxidized,
$63 bottles of Albariño (two different bottlings)
$60 500ml bottles of Tuscan olive oil...the Abruzzo producer of
$140-a-bottle Trebbiano offers a $75 half-liter of olive oil.
So, it's easy to understand the message they're
sending with the cover of their current catalogue...
Apparently someone has lost their marbles.
British wine publication "Decanter" has a lovely interview
with South African winemaker André Van Rensburg.
He presently works for the Vergelegen winery and makes a showy bunch of
wines, particularly his wine labeled simply "V."
Van Rensburg claims to make wines which respect their origins. He
says, in the November 2008 issue of Decanter, that he has no problem
using technology, but that he treats his wines and the terroir they come
from "with respect."
As for vintners in California, Van Rensburg observes "Californians
don't really believe in terroir. They believe in the taste of wine
Of some of his competitors in South Africa, Mr. V-R says "Those
producing blockbuster wines here are trying to impress American critics.
I won't sell my soul; I'm not going out there to wine-and-dine
influential journalists. If you don't appreciate what I do, then f***
Apparently Van Rensburg has a very discerning palate. When queried
about other "New World" wines he told Decanter, "Chile? I
don't even need to taste the wine. You can just stick a bottle up my
arse and I can tell you where the wine's from."
We wonder if Van Rensburg is "vintage sensitive" with respect
to Chilean wines?
Frankly, we'd prefer to open the bottle, pour some wine into a glass and
determine its qualities and features in a more conventional fashion!
TASTING THE WINE IN
Here's a nice little clip of a fellow
impressing his date with his impeccable wine acumen while dining
out. It's from Germany, so while you might not quite fully
comprehend the dialogue, you'll surely get the point by its conclusion.
WHAT WERE THEY
Back in the Dark Ages, wine marketing
people thought they were being clever by using proprietary names for
wines were sold using generic names. If your wine was red it was
sold as "Burgundy" and whites were typically
"Chablis" or "Sauternes." If the wine was made
of Sylvaner or Riesling, it was often labeled as "Rhine Wine."
The clever folks at Beringer made a blend of Pinot Noir and Grignolino
and this was sold as "Barenblut" or Bear's Blood.
Paul Masson sold a Ruby Cabernet-based red under the name "Rubion."
They had an Emerald Riesling as "Emerald Dry" and a nice
little red was labeled as "Baroque."
Christian Brothers winery made a proprietary sweet wine called
Ernest & Julio Gallo made a
fortune (and then some) with their little red blend sold as "Hearty
Burgundy." This was, by the way, dubbed "Hardly
Burgundy" by some people.
Taylor California Cellars offered a lemon-flavored white wine called
"Chablis With a Twist." I made up a label for a red wine
with a Banana on it called "Burgundy with A Peel."
Those were tame times and
The folks at Napa's Frog's Leap Winery have a good sense of humor
and they came up with an off-dry white wine along the lines of a German
wine called "Liebfraumilch."
Some crafty people in Lodi make a cutely named Zinfandel...
7 Deadly Zins.
Too much "truth in
labeling" is probably not wise in some cases.
California is the home of many a "big ass" wine.
A Sonoma winery produces a Zinfandel which
confirms the suspicions of some Francophiles we know...
It's called "Poizin."
Now, if you were going to blend Zinfandel and
Barbera, what, pray tell, might you call this red wine?
Zinera? Zinbera? How about....
What an appetizing name for a wine!
"Waiter, we'll have a bottle of Barfandel with our filet
I wonder, do you think the winemaker is named "Ralph"???
HOW CALIFORNIA VINTNERS
"VALUE" POTENTIAL ACCOUNTS
We're disappointed to learn from
some new winery marketing "executive" that we are not
"worthy" of purchasing a particular wine, as their precious
nectar is being "reserved" for more valuable customers, those
which come under the heading of "restaurant."
A couple of months ago we wished to re-stock Chateau Whoop-Tee-Doux
Chardonnay, having sold out the 2005 vintage. The 2006 is
available from their distributor, but it's "restricted" by a maniacal
We were this estate's first (or second) sale EVER back in 1973, 30+
years before the marketing genius was hired by Whoop-Tee-Doux and we've
purchased wine from this producer EVERY year since the release of their
Contacting the winery manager, we received a lovely note indicating they
had actually "allocated" us some wine and this allocation was
held until May.
"May has come and gone and so has the wine. We'll come see
you in the Spring of 2009." The distributor was, sadly,
unaware of the allocation.
We sent a note to the winemaker whose family owns Whoop-Tee-Doux and
didn't hear back. Three weeks later we crossed paths with this
fellow who indicated he received our missive and passed it along to the
marketing geniuses. "I'm just in production." he
Meanwhile, the distributor had more than 100 cases of the Chardonnay
available, but it's being held for their more important customers,
accounts which were not knocking on the winery door in the 1970s, but
places which have just opened (and may likely close in the next 12 to 24
The whole situation confounds most normal, rational and sane individuals
(none of whom are in the wine "bidness").
The way these savvy marketing people determine who's "worthy"
of buying their nectar is a modern day bible called the Zagat
Guide. If you're listed in Zagat, you're eligible to buy
wine. If you're not listed there...too bad.
One wine broker received a call insisting they show a $40 (retail)
bottle of Pinot Noir to a particular, highly-rated Zagat Guide
"I'll show it to them, if you insist." the broker told the
wine owner. "But keep in mind the place does most of its
business at breakfast and they probably won't sell much Pinot Noir with
Another sales rep, when I explained the notion of Zagat Guide Marketing
Mania exclaimed "Ohhhh! That's why I had 'orders' to show
certain wines to a list of restaurants, three of which have closed their
doors since being given good ratings in the current Zagat Guide!"
Meanwhile, an area manager for Whoop-Tee-Doux's distributor indicated
sales are sluggish on most of the other wines. They apparently
have such high standards in choosing customers, they've choked off sales
to a trickle and will blame the distributor (of course) for poor
sales. Few wine marketing folks read the newspapers and all
the economic turmoil across the country, so it will be news to them when
they do hear about the economy.
Thirty five years of buying Chateau Whoop-Tee-Doux. Shameful.
The Joys of Retail One
thing when you open the doors of a retail establishment, you never know
what's going to roll through the front door.
Every day there's a new challenge.
Ellen helped a customer who brought back the bottle of Pinot Grigio
pictured to the left.
The bottle was returned in the plastic bag with a cork from some other
wine bottle jammed into it to keep the wine from spilling on the car
ride from The City.
The customer was concerned because when she removed the "foil"
capsule from the bottle, she noticed there was no cork to seal the
Now, I've come across this sort of
situation on two occasions. One time we had a case of a Napa
Cabernet back in the 1970s and the corking machine 'missed' one of the
bottles, the capsule was put on the bottle and it was packed into its
case. As the capsule didn't have a hole in it, the bottle arrived
relatively intact. The wine wasn't very good, of course, since it
had been 'aged' for several years without a more secure
So, this dear lady had managed to remove the top part of the closure and
was stunned to not find a cork underneath what she thought was the
But there's a good reason there was
no cork below the 'capsule.'
The reason for the "snafu"
is because the poor dear, in removing what she thought was merely the foil
capsule, had actually removed the top part of the screw cap closure that
sealed this bottle of wine.
Of course there was no cork
in the bottle!
We had a phone call from a woman who
was quite concerned since the wine we had sold to her had turned to
vinegar. Of course, we do our best to taste and select good quality
wines for the shop, but it is possible that a wine 'turns' for some reason
or another. A prominent Burgundy domaine had such an issue a few
years ago when its Nuits-St.-Georges turned to salad dressing.
The customer had bought a bottle of some nice little red table wine.
She spent about $5.
She opened the wine and the first glass was nice, she said.
But when she opened the wine again, it was undrinkable and she thought we
should know since we should not sell such a wine.
It seems this gal had left her
partially-filled wine bottle on the kitchen counter for nearly two
months and she was "shocked and dismayed" to find that
the wine had spoiled.
I'd be afraid to see what "vintages" of milk she might have in
her refrigerator that go back to the Nixon administration.
THE PRICE OF FAME When
we've asked people if they'd trust a restaurant reviewer who was paid by
the dining establishment for a review, they say they'd not put much
faith in the critic.
Then, we inquire, why do you put any stock in a journal which accepts
payment from the wineries whose wines it claims to evaluate objectively?
Though most wine critics will profess to be "independent" and
objective, as consumers, how can we put our trust with so-called
journalists who have their hand out, so-to-speak?
We've seen The Wine Spectator attempt to liken itself to the Consumer
Reports periodical, but Consumer Reports does not accept advertising
money from the washing machine manufacturers whose appliances they're
Most wine publications accept samples from vintners, rather than
going out and actually buying wine. This, of course,
much like the restaurant critic who's known to the dining room staff,
opens the door for shenanigans such as sending the reserve wine to the
critic, but labeling it as the regular bottling.
The Wine Spectator, in
addition to accepting advertising dollars from wineries and wine
importing companies, also asks stores and restaurants to pay them for
Stores selling The Wine Spectator are eligible to be listed on their
internet web site directory of wine shops. You'll notice we are
not listed, since we do not handle the publication and don't even have a
Restaurateurs are asked to send in wine lists and a check for
$250. In exchange, The Wine Spectator will send an "Award of
Excellence" to a dining establishment. If your list has
multiple vintages of various wines or you have a wide range of wines,
you might get a "Best Award of Excellence." (Any
self-respecting San Francisco sommelier, it seems, is required to have
at least one Grüner Veltliner on their wine list and a bunch of Pinot
Noirs, even if these wines don't pair well with the cuisine.)
your restaurant has a telephone-book-of-a-wine-list, you'll
their Grand Award.
Why, I wonder, does the wine list need to be such an imposing tome for
it to have merit? How about a wine list featuring wines most
people can afford to put on the table without having to engage the
services of a mortgage broker?
An enterprising fellow named Robin Goldstein has authored a book called
"The Wine Trials." One of the points of the book is that
paying more money for a bottle of wine doesn't necessarily mean the wine
will be of better quality or more to your taste. Another issue is
the credibility of various reviews and, even more so, those in the
business of passing judgment.
Goldstein participated in a panel presentation at a recent conference of
economists specializing in the wine industry. He dropped a
bombshell that's sending shockwaves around the planet.
As part of his presentation, he explained how he phonied up a wine list
and sent The Wine Spectator their $250 "fee." In return,
despite his not even having a real, bona-fide restaurant, he received a
Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.
What makes the scam even more delicious is Goldstein put together a list
of "reserve" wines for his OsteriaL'Intrepido
(supposedly located in Italy) which features a number of wines garnering low scores
from The Wine Spectator. Imagine winning an "Award of
Excellence" from the Spectator for a list featuring some 64 point
Barolos, a 65 point Sassicaia and a 58 point Piemontese Cabernet!
But Goldstein, it seems, is not totally honest in his reporting the
story. He makes note of the low-scoring wines, but these, we
understand, accounted for but a small percentage of the reserve list.
ruse was rather elaborate. There's a telephone number connected to
an answering machine. If you dial it (011-39-024-074-6174), you'll
hear a recorded message (in Italian) saying the restaurant is currently
closed for 'vacation', but will reopen shortly. You can either
leave a message or send a fax.
I left a message asking for a table for one under the name "Marvin
On the foodies web site called Chowhound, there were even a few postings
extolling the virtues of Milan's Osteria L'Intrepido, adding a further
measure of credibility to the ruse.
The Chowhound folks,
however, alerted to this scam, have since deleted the posts touting the
"Signore Shanken! Signore Shanken!! Your table is
Talk about having egg on your face...
Using our patent-pending Beffatameter,
this ruse rates 100 Wine Spectator Points! Okay, maybe only 98.
THE BLAME FOR SLOW SALES A sales rep recently offered
us a Napa Valley wine which we'd been told was "sold
out." This is not unusual...wineries often don't like selling
wine to just anybody. They like to "script"
sales. Customers who actually want to buy a wine are often
shunned in favor of potential customers who are perceived as more
"sexy" or desirable (and who often times, don't want the
We were told sales of this particular wine were sluggish in the Southern
California market and the wine was simply not in the limelight.
It was shipped back to the Northern California winery.
The reason for this farce?
"Sales are slow due to the strike by the Screen Actors Guild."
know whether to laugh or cry...
Oh, yes: The Screen Actors
have yet to declare whether or not they're actually going to
VINTAGE CALIFORNIA WINES BE "SMOKE-TAINTED"??? An
Australian company is offering its "wine doctor" services to
California vintners to deal with this year's possibly 'smoke-tainted'
Australia experienced tremendous wildfires a few years ago, resulting in
wines which had profoundly different character due to the fruit having
been exposed to smoky conditions.
In June and July, California has experienced some horrific fire storms
and we've had extremely hazy conditions.
Memstar, a company specializing in
"wine membrane technology," offers this:
been established that lignins in burning wood break down into small
phenols which are then taken up by grapevines and other plants.
Unfortunately, smoke taint
character is derived from a whole host of these small phenols, and the
smoke taint character differs dramatically from that of barrel aging and
Smoke tainted wine has flavors
and aromas that are variously described as wet ashtray, charred meat,
burnt coffee, beetroot, salami, smoked salmon, or bacon. It also
is often described as producing a drying, ashy backpalate in wines. This
is more readily noticeable in white wines, but young red wines should be
carefully screened for this, because it can be mistaken for young
tannins, but does not resolve with aging.
Sensory thresholds are higher in
red wines than whites, but are relatively low for both. "
They will bring a contraption such as
the one diagrammed above to the winery to remove the "taint"
from a particular wine.
Call me crazy (and many people do, so you won't be the first),
but it seems to me, with so many wineries offering wines worth $10 or
$20 for $50-$200 a bottle, there's long been a lot of smoke in California.
And mirrors, too.
can recall, some years ago, a prominent California winery executive bitching about
dealing with some wine writers.
"You give them the story, basically already written for them, with
all the facts and figures and still they screw it up!"
A good example of that is the posting on a journalist's blog about a
recent tasting featuring a half-a-dozen wines from a prominent
Piemontese winery. The writer is the "Northern California
Editor" of a wine industry publication, so one might expect a
greater degree of precision in blogging the facts correctly.
by third generation winemaker Luca Currado,
these wines are characterised by extremely low-yields, "one bottle
per vine" and embody the tar and roses descriptor so often applied
to fine Barolo. Known for its Arneis
and the single-handed revival
of Barbera, Vietti
will harvest its 40th vintage
I've been a good friend of the Currado family at Vietti, this posting
was most interesting.
We're led to believe Barbera was, somehow, dying out and the Vietti
winery was instrumental in its revival. In fact, it was Luca
Currado's father, Alfredo, who is often credited with resuscitating
interest in a white grape variety called Arneis.
Barbera has long
been a mainstay in Piemonte and in recent years it's become a wine often
fetching a premium price. Vietti is a member of a group of
producers (5 wineries and a grappa distiller) which makes a hugely
expensive Barbera. The Barbera grape, however, had not been on the
verge of extinction.
Even more amazing is the notation that 2008 marks Vietti's 40th vintage
of Pinot Grigio. I've been visiting these people (and they visit
me) for nearly 3 decades and I've never SEEN a bottle of Vietti Pinot
Grigio. Of course, there's a reason for this: they do not
grow, nor do they make Pinot Grigio.
The Pinot Grigio grape plays a very minor role in Piemonte. It's
far more commonly cultivated in the Alto Adige, the Veneto and Friuli
where you'll find its most interesting renditions.
We shared this remarkable article with a Italo-phile friend who sent
this giornalista and inquiry, asking what vintage or vintages of
Vietti Pinot Grigio were recommended. He was most amused by the
for reading my blog, I'm surprised that you found it! These
wines are the polar opposites of Barolo. They are 'make and drink'
wine for everyday consumption - typically within the vintage year
they are made - and are not intended to be cellared or
to improve with bottle age though I am certain that Vietti's pinot
grigio would hold up reasonably well for at least a few years under
this answers your question."
teased our friends at Vietti with a note saying how disappointed I am in
not ever having tasted their Pinot Grigio.
Co-owner Mario Cordero wrote an amusing response: "This is
fantastic! That journalist is VERY competent and
professional! In any case, I promise you next time you visit, I'll
be sure to open a bottle of this wine...but don't tell anyone, because
it's a surprise."
Luckily this individual covers only the Northern California wine
scene...can you imagine if their 'beat' was, for example, The White
House or Congress?
Food Editor at the Staten Island Advance asks, in an article published
May 28, 2008, "Why are Americans drinking more wine?"
Geez...have you seen the price of a gallon of gasoline? The credit
crunch? The housing crisis? The war in Iraq?
Washington politics? Any of those might drive some people to drink.
Journalist Jane Milza writes "Experience
has convinced consumers that many relatively inexpensive wines are high
Her article claims "Sales
of wine in the United States are ready to outstrip Italy in per capita
consumption, and in less than a decade, Americans may leave French wine
drinkers behind as well."
I could not believe the
good news! If sales of wine in our country are, as Ms. Milza's
article claims, on the heels of such enological paradises as France and
Italy, that means the wine business is going to experience a real
I visit Europe once in a while and see wine on the table at every
meal. Here at home, many people only drink wine for celebratory
purposes. Heck, many people who live in "Middle America"
view us Left Coast wine drinkers with suspicion. Fans of NFL
Football, for example, are a Budweiser-loving bunch and view San
Francisco 49er fans as a bunch of "Chablis-drinking, brie-eating
snobs." Is wine especially popular amongst NASCAR fans?
I suspect World Wrestling Federation fans drink Budweiser or
But back to the bombshell news out of Staten Island that the U.S. will soon surpass Italy as a wine
I was in some good dining establishments in Italy over the past several
months and it's possible to buy a good bottle of wine for $12 to $25 and
have it served in nice, elegant stemware. Here it's difficult to
find a restaurant with a decent, drinkable bottle for $30.
I looked to the California Wine Institute for some statistics to see
just how close to France, Italy and Spain we are in terms of wine
There's the chart...Liters-Per-Capita-Per-Year.
Americans drink less than 9 liters per year (a case of 12 regular
sized bottles is 9 liters), while our Italian amici consume more
than 48 liters annually. The French drink approximately 55 liters
So, as you can see, we're this close to over-taking our European
The article tells us there are several reasons for the boom in wine
sales in America. "Experts
offer several reasons," we
read, but no "experts" are cited
or quoted in the article.
Ms. Milza tells
us "Distributors and vintners
also have learned to market wine in a way that will attract a broader
audience." She opines that
"Flashy names and eye-catching labels" are two major reasons for
"Wineries also are putting more effort
into producing higher quality wine that they can sell at lower prices."
More "effort" or oak chips, alcohol and residual
sugar, I wonder???
I wonder if Ms. Milza is soon to be buying the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge?
Good thing she's not a baseball umpire, NBA referee or NFL line judge...
SEEING A BRAVE NEW
WORLD THROUGH ROS COLORED GLASSES I've
tasted a few newly-released California ros wines this Spring and can't
say many are especially impressive.
Most are saignes, a method where a winemaker drains juice from their
tank of red grapes. This means the skins-to-juice ratio is higher
in the tank and can lead to a bigger, more powerful red
wine. Saigne, by the way, is a French term for
"bleeding" off juice from the tank.
As California winemakers often harvest fruit at a potential alcohol
level of 15-17%, the pink wines made by these vintners is often rather
One young fellow was curious to hear
my thoughts on their 2007 vintage ros and I told him they missed the
boat by making 14.5% alcohol pink wine and that $25 a bottle is out of
line for such a wine.
"Why don't you devote a parcel of vineyards to making ros?"
I asked. "You can have a higher crop level and pick at an
appropriate time to make 12 or 13% alcohol wine."
Though the kid is too young to know black & white TV, a time when
there were no fax machines, rotary-dial telephones or an era when
wineries here DID make lower-alcohol wines, he told me "It simply
cannot be done. We can't do that in California."
Really? Hard to believe.
And as for the notion of "Saigne," at $20-$28 a bottle for
California ros, it's not merely just the fermentation tank that's
PLEASE BUY, THEN TRY
TO SELL OUR WINE A
new Napa brand has released its first wine. The people behind this
label have a long history in Napa Valley winemaking, but like many
California vintners, they seek to micro-manage sales of their lovely
The wholesale price of their wine is $90 a bottle, meaning it would
appear on a wine list for $250-$300 and in a shop for $125-$140, or so.
The lucky souls who have been
allocated a few bottles are asked to
not post availability of the wine to potential customers. Stores
are being asked to not mention the wine in newsletters, ads or web
sites, while sommeliers are told to NOT list this nectar on their
wine list. We have been asked, further, to NOT display the wine in
Of course, we are expected to pay this artist for the wine in 30 days,
even though we're handcuffed in selling it.
What's especially amusing is the brokerage representing this little
enterprise has the wine profiled on its very own web site with a link to
the winery "tech sheet."
It used to be said that
you could divide the price of a ton of grapes by 100 and that would give
you an indication of the retail bottle price of a bottle of wine made of
that particular variety.
We've seen tremendous inflation in the price of a bottle of premium
California wine (increases which might make even oil industry executives
Here are some stats from the 2007 harvest in Napa (center of the
universe for California wines in the minds of many people)...
Keep in mind the 'average' prices are just that...average. I read
where some grower got paid $14,000 per ton for a particular grape
variety, while other growers were 'rewarded' with a mere $600 per
PRICE PER TON
Percentage Differential from 2006 if known
PUTTING A CORK IN IT With
the weakening dollar (it took $1.26 to buy one Euro in April of
2006...today it takes $1.56 to buy that same Euro), some importers are
being forced to raise prices.
Many European vintners, conscious of
this dangerous situation, have reduced their pricing in Euros to allow
them to maintain consistent sales in the American market. When
(if) the dollar becomes stronger, they will adjust their pricing
Producers of Champagne are finding the
demand strong for their sparkling wines and prices are increasing in
We were amused and shocked, however,
with the price increases of one Champagne house. The wholesale
price of their deluxe cuvee will increase from $534 for 6 bottles to
$972. Magnums of this Champagne will escalate from $621 for three
bottles to $1094.
Even more astounding is the price increase of a pink Champagne...it's
going from $570 per six-pack to a mere $1842.
Benedictine monk who was experimenting with closures for wine bottles
employed a cork to stopper a bottle of wine which was still
fermenting. When he uncorked the bottle, he found the wine to be
We're not certain if it was merely the taste of the wine or the price
which caused Brother Perignon to exclaim "Come quickly, I'm
drinking the stars!"
In France, a commonly used credit card is the "Carte Bleu."
Better make that "Black & Bleu" if you're buying
At VinItaly in April of
2008, many people were shaking their heads over the "scandal"
regarding wines from a tiny percentage of estates in Tuscany's
The "scandal" centers on a rather small number of high-profile
estates which had been "fortifying" their Sangiovese
Grosso-based wines with perhaps 7-20% of "illegal"
grapes. Varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah or
Petit Verdot had perhaps been incorporated into "Brunello di
The grower's consortium has long been
rather proud of the fact that for the denominazione of
"Brunello di Montalcino," wines must meet strict standards for
vineyard sources, aging requirements and, of course, the wines aremade
purely from the Sangiovese Grosso (known locally as the Brunello
Posting this piece nearly two weeks after this hit the newspapers (or
the fan, if you will), I've even seen articles in the Italian media
laying the blame for this embarrassment at the feet of certain American
wine critics. The dots to this puzzle get connected by blaming
American tasters for giving high marks to wines of greater intensity and
concentration. The notion is Montalcino winemakers were merely
pandering to American preferences for wines bigger and deeper than
Sangiovese Grosso can actually produce. And, frankly, let's not
include solely American palates as being guilty of this. Numerous
European publications also seem to prize "big and bold" as
hallmarks of good red wine.
In thinking about the notion of this being a "scandal," let's
put it into some sort of perspective, shall we?
Firstly, the accused are not being charged with adulterating their
products with wines from, say, Puglia or Sicily. One might hear
rumblings, sottovoce, about certain sorts of Italian vini
being "ameliorated" with bigger, deeper wines from sunnier
climes. In this instance, the wineries being investigated are said
to have grown the "illegal" grapes themselves on their
properties within the delimited Montalcino area.
Secondly, numerous Italian wines are made with the help of a concentratore.
Many vintners have these machines which will concentrate the mosto, or
grape juice. If people think certain athletes have become
unnaturally powerful thanks to "better chemistry," then have a
look at some of the supposedly "natural" Sangiovese wines
being made in various parts of central Italy. We've been told by
vintners that the hugely inky, purple wine they've vinified is simply a
result of small yields in the vineyard and careful
Who's the enologo for these, Barry Bonds?
A few years ago we asked the winemaker at an estate whose Brunello
seemed unusually intense if they incorporated any Cabernet Sauvignon
into the wine. Of course, the fellow couldn't possibly admit to
any shenanigans and we were told, politely, "No."
Naturalmente, when prices escalate to spine-tingling levels,
there is always the temptation to cheat, if only a little.
Some producers may have been caught doing something dishonest. The
jury is still out, so time will tell. In the interim, it's a
difficult situation for those under investigation and for those honest,
hard-working vintners who abide by the rules and regs.
the course of tasting at the VinItaly fiera, some winemakers
would proclaim their wine to be "100% Sangiovese." To
tease them I would ask, "One-hundred percent as they make in
Some producers of modestly-priced, blended table wines would volunteer
their wine was "Eighty percent Sangiovese and 20 percent
Cabernet." "Oh," I would rib them, "your wine
is just like a Brunello di Montalcino!"
Well, the whole "scandal" is more a major source of humiliation
for the producers in Montalcino, since they've steadfastly insisted on
their wines being "100%" Sangiovese Grosso" and now some
have been accused of, perhaps, not playing by the rules. (Growers
in the Chianti region changed their regulations to allow
"improving" their wines by not mandating the inclusion of
white grapes, which watered down the Sangiovese. Secondly, they
now allow non-traditional varieties to be blended into Chianti.)
I had thought which may be just the thing to help ease the
It would involve hiring a spokesperson for the Montalcino estates to
carry the flag, so-to-speak. I think there's more
"taint" to the reputations of the estates accused than there
is, in reality, to the wines.
I happen to know of a prominent American who's currently
unemployed. This out-of-work fellow surely would have the time to
make a whistle-stop tour of the U.S. market and conduct tastings of
Why not hire former New York Governor Elliott Spitzer to promote the
wines from Montalcino?
It would possibly help the poor growers there who are having trouble now
to sell their $50 to $100 bottles of Brunello wine.
And it would take an out-of-work American off the unemployment roll.
It's clearly a wine/win solution.
CHAMPAGNE ARTICLE FIZZLES Towards
the end of December, journals, newspapers and websites seem obliged to
print or post articles dealing with Champagne. We often see
articles written by people who have little grasp of the subject matter.
The "poster child" for this syndrome is a series authored by
Jennifer van der Kleut, a writer in Silicon Valley.
Her article "South Bay Folks Toasting to a Great 2008" is a
doozy. This was posted on the MercuryNews.com web site and Ms.
V-d-K is listed as a writer for the "Los Gatos Weekly
Times." I wonder if "weekly" is spelled incorrectly
given the quality of this article!
The "experts" she finds might lack a measure of credibility,
for one thing. Interviewed for the article is the assistant
general manager of a San Jose restaurant who described a
"lower-priced" French Champagne (when did $24 for a quarter
bottle/half of a half bottle qualify as "lower priced"??) as "It
doesn't go through malolactic acid fermentation, so it's very smooth and
silky on the palate. It has a much sweeter texture," she says.
"I absolutely adore it. It has a really nice, fruity flavor."
the wine retains its crisp 'edge' of acidity by not undergoing what's
called a "malolactic fermentation," this would not
contribute "smoothness" or "silkiness" to the
wine. As a Brut Champagne, too, describing it as having a
"sweeter texture" just seems totally wacky.
The article reads like a high school student's attempt at writing an
essay on Champagne. "Vintage wines are only
made during periods of optimal weather, yielding the best grape
selection possible. This makes vintage wines rare because supply is much
lower, and companies that make it do not produce a guaranteed amount
each year...Vintage wines are more unique than non-vintage due to the
fact that no two batches are alike. This is because each batch is tied
to the particular crop of grapes and is only made from that
Here's a particularly lame
statement: "Also, vintage wines
are often left to ferment for decades at a time..." Difficult to imagine a
fermentation of Champagne routinely taking decades! ((They may be
matured on the spent yeast for a decade, or so, if it's a deluxe cuve,
but the fermentation process is typically a month or two...))
"Rose champagnes and
sparkling wines are named for their pink color...After the grapes have
been pressed, the skins are left to soak in the juice, causing the juice
to acquire some color...Ros can sometimes be more expensive, due to
the fact that it is more rare and often has a more robust flavor." If the grapes have been
"pressed," then the juice has been separated from the
So the price of the wine is tied to its "more robust
flavor"??? (This may explain why so many California wines are
No wonder my San Jose pals describe this journal as the "San Jose
A Northern California wine writer asked me to
look into my crystal ball and make some predictions about the local wine
industry from the perspective of a retailer.
She was hoping to have some insightful comments from me for an article
in a British wine magazine.
I'm not sure I was of much assistance. Here's what I came up with:
********************************************************** California wines will all be 18% alcohol on the low end.
"Dry" wines will have 10 to 20 grams of residual sugar per
The average price of a bottle of Napa Cabernet will be $200.
Gasoline will be expensive, too. It will be $30 a gallon, just a
bit higher than the Ever-Popular "Seven Buck Chuck" from the
"Bucking Bronco Wine Company, A Division of Fosters-Constellation-LVMH
All Napa Valley Vintners will be required to drive Mercedes or BMWs.
No VWs or Hondas will even be allowed within the "EnClave du
Napa", a walled, gated community extending from Calistoga Springs
in the North to Carneros-By-The-Sea to the South (oh, I forgot to
mention the earthquake...Don't worry, they still make nice wines on
Sonoma Island and virtually the entire county is now
Robert Parker resides in the Yountville Veteran's Home, spending his
dotage alongside Danny Duckhorn, Mikey Mondavi and "Farmer
Andy" Beckstoffer. They formed a barbershop quartet, except
none of them can remember the words to the tunes, let alone when a good
bottle of Cabernet cost less than fifty bucks.
The average price for a "wine tasting" at a winery is $25 and
you can taste both the regular bottling and the reserve, but not any of
the 15, or so, single vineyard, limited production,
The former California wine critic for The Wine Spectator, James Laube,
retired a few years ago and now raises bomb-sniffing dogs for airport
security which he also 'rents' out to wineries wishing to check for
Tim Mondavi managed to buy back his father's old winery in Oakville
thanks to a loan from a small brewing company in St. Louis, Missouri.
The Clydesdales furnish a certain amount of fertilizer used in the
biodynamic farming practices employed by Mr. Mondavi.
Al Gore is the California Wine Commissioner, having moved to the Golden
State when Governor Schwarzenegger left for Washington DC as
California's junior senator. Gore is especially pleased with the
results of "The Paris Tasting, Part 4" where California
Cabernets from the "cool" Santa Rita Hills appellation bested
their Cabernet-based counterparts from the Cote de Nuits and Cote de
McDonald's, Jack-in-the-Box and Burger King all have
"Wines-by-the-Cup" programs, but you still can't buy a beer at
any of these places.
Having tapped out on the internet with wines-direct-to-consumers
programs, many wineries now employ door-to-door sales reps in hopes of
signing up more households for direct shipments of wine. Sales
were particularly strong in Alabama and Arkansas until folks started
receiving the boxes of Zinfandel they'd ordered only to uncork the wines
and find out they're "red"!!
Most California vintners still view wine shops as
"competition" instead of as "ambassadors," as
wineries seek to sell 110% of their production to collectors.
Now that grapes are planted from the Oregon border south to San Diego,
Exxon opened "alternative fueling stations" where you can fill
up on 89-Octane Chardonnay and 91 Octane Zinfandel. Steve Tanzer
reported he got 30 miles to the magnum on a 93-point, high octane
Pinot Noir "which smelled great at the pump and I was able to buy a
lotto ticket, too."
Bonny Doon Vineyards is selling Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and Santa
Barbara Chardonnay. President-for-Life Randall "I'm
Okay-You're Okay" Grahm was quoted as saying "If you can't
beat 'em, join 'em." His latest attempt at a Rhone blend got
high marks from The Wine Enthusiast which gave the wine 95 points for
what's in the bottle and "an extra 10 for the cute label and name,
"Chateau de No-Castel."
Motion Picture Academy President Sofia Coppola runs a chain of 30 wine
bar/restaurants and has 5 wineries up and down the West Coast.
Rubicon now has Roman numerals for its vintage date on the label and her
Sofia sparkling wine now comes in 6-packs of cans instead of merely just
Now that so many wineries make moderately sweet Chardonnays and
Sauvignon Blancs, it's ironic that California's legislature banned the
production and sale of foie gras in the state. The Food Network's
Grande Dame de Cuisine, Rachael Ray was quoted back in 2015 as saying
"These are simply yummo with a slice of foie gras quickly sauted
in E-V-O-O." The British Rachael Ray, Lady Nigella, is signed
to an advertising campaign promoting this combination of California wine
and French liver (both duck and goose) in the UK where they still
know how to eat and drink, even if few people can cook.
NEED TO BREATHE? Yes. To Air is Human.
So is a lot of wine writing.
Once upon a time a wine writer was
queried as to "what it takes" to be an eno-scribe.
"A sharp pencil" was the response.
And so, the The London Times, which features some wonderful dining
critiques from a marvelous writer, A.A. Gill (go have a look...his
writing is deliciously entertaining!), has an on-line wine
section. In November of 2007 there was a quiz entitled "Wine
Buff or Bluff?" featuring a set of multiple choice questions.
I took the plunge and was stumped (imagine that!) by Question #7. #7 WHAT IS THE SCIENCE OF
WINEMAKING KNOWN AS? There were three options,
B) Wineology (Not "Enology", but "wineology"!)
C) Something else.
The Times' had "viticulture" programmed as the correct answer.
But "viticulture" is about the cultivation of vines, not the
science of winemaking.
I sent the Times' wine editor, Jane MacQuitty, a note asking about this.
She responded... Dear Gerald,
(Do you know I didn't even know there was a times wine quiz?)
You're absolutely right -well done!...
I apologise for that slip, if they're going to do a quiz then they
least have the correct answers lined up, especially as it seems we have
on-the-ball readers following it. Thanks for bringing it to my
I checked the web site and they've "pulled" their on-line
year's "Nouveau Beaujolais" day fell on November 15th.
It used to always be the 15th, until a few years ago when someone
changed it to the third Thursday in November.
The Philadelphia Inquirer posted an article on November 21st, the day
before Thanksgiving (a prime time to drink Nouveau for many people).
Writer Bryan Miller claims to be a fan of Nouveau Beaujolais, saying
every year he brings home a couple of cases. "A
weeks" before would have been November 7th, well before the sale of
this year's Nouveaux wines...
In the same article, Mr. Miller suggests some alternatives to
Beaujolais...he picks a couple of Piemontese Barbera wines, along with a
Sicilian red from the Planeta winery. The wine is a proprietary
blend called "La Segreta" and, since it's a red wine,
"Rosso." "This is here where I
came across a classic example in the lush but well-balanced 2006 Planeta
La Segreta Rosso vinified from the indigenous rosso grape." I'm
not sure where "here" is, but we learn it's made from the indigenous
charming surprise comes from the Languedoc/Roussillon region of France,
for long a source of cheap table plonk but now one of the most vibrant
and exciting wine regions in the country. A boutique outfit called
Domaine La Garrigue - it refers to the dry limestone soil and wild herbs
that characterize the area - produces a fresh and juicy wine that
tickles the palate with faint spiciness, the 2005 Domaine La Garrigue,
Don't let Mr. Miller
drive the bus on a wine tour of France!
His "Languedoc/Roussillon" selection actually comes from the
Southern Rhne Valley.
Mr. Miller should make a
few more "Vinquiries" before sending his article off
It makes you wonder if some wine writers simply don't spit as often as
PERSON'S VIEW OF SENSUALITY
Here's yet another one of those
Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. Although, in
this instance, it seems as though the eye of the physical contortionist
on the label may be in one very dark place.
I have said, and heard others in the wine trade, use the expression of
"having one's head up one's ass," but I never thought I'd see
this sentiment expressed on a wine label!
Perhaps the brand name should be slightly altered to "UnuSual"???
BARNUM...THE MOUTH THAT ROARED There's
a lovely article on the CNNMoney.com
web site featuring much-despised vintner Fred "Mister Two-Buck
In a lovely article written by
Stanford graduate and LA Times reporter Joel Stein, the P.T. Barnum of
California Wine asserts "only
a sucker would pay more than $10 for a bottle of wine."
The article is a
treasure-trove of enological and philosophical nuggets, as Franzia puts
in his "two cents' worth."
Many winemakers credit particular vineyard sites (called "terroir")
with the high quality
of their wines.
Franzia claims "We can
grow on asphalt. Terroir don't mean sh*t."
Franzia's Bronco Wine Company owns
something like 35,000 acres of vineyards...quite a serious amount of
The article gives us a bit of insight into the world of Fred Franzia and
his appreciation for fine wine: "After
relieving himself by the side of his Jeep, Franzia recounts a trip to
Burgundy where, after an elaborate tasting, he told the winemaker at Chteau
Haut-Brion, "You can bottle gasoline if you can sell that." Chteau Haut-Brion is, of
course, not located in France's Burgundy region, but in a little area
called "Bordeaux." And the wines bearing Haut-Brion's
label sell for $200 a bottle on the low end and hundreds more for
prized, rare vintages. If Mr. Franzia equated the fragrance and
flavor of Haut-Brion with something from ExxonMobil, perhaps he needs to
have his palate and sniffer adjusted.
Franzia, it seems, has an opinion on all sorts of subjects.
On wine critic Robert Parker, Franzia says he likes "tannic
wines that make people gag."
(Okay, so maybe Franzia's right on this one...)
When he discovers the university attended by the CNN-Money reporter,
Franzia says "We buy
wineries from guys from Stanford who go bankrupt. Some real dumb-asses
Mr. Franzia had been nailed by the federal government in the early 1990s
when he misrepresented the grapes he was selling to various wine
companies as more costly Zinfandel. The Bronco Wine Company
reportedly paid a fine of $2.5 million and Franzia himself paid a
$500,000 fine, as well as being sentenced to community service.
The article quotes Franzia, ever the comedian, as saying "of
the mentoring of single mothers he was ordered to do: "I picked up
on young girls." Charming.
Stein incorporates a few thoughts from New Jersey wine retailer Gary
The "star" of the on-line, video "sip & spit",
Wine Library TV, Vaynerchuk is quoted as saying: "What Franzia is doing,
more than creating outrageous quality, is exposing a lot of mediocre
people. There are so many fools in the wine industry who are overpriced.
Look at Franciscan, Simi, Kendall Jackson. Those guys are jokers." We perused the on-line web
site of Gary Vaynerchuk's store and found he features many wines from
the so-called "jokers."
There are 14 offerings from Kendall-Jackson (starting at $8.99 a
bottle), while only 5 Franciscan items are available and half-a-dozen
from the Simi winery. We could find but 6 Bronco offerings.
While we appreciate Mr. Franzia's sentiments in the pricing of many
wines, we find it difficult to support various brands of wines sold
under the guise of coming from prestigious terroirs (such as the Napa
Valley), when the wines are from high-yielding vines out in the Central
Valley. If Mr. Franzia's Bronco Wine Company is so confident of
the quality and quality/price ratio of their wines, why (we wonder) does
he need to build a bottling plant in Napa?
The answer lies in the ability, then, to utilize the Napa name as the
bottling address. The average consumer is not educated in the intricacies
of wine labeling protocol, so they will be misled into thinking the
"vinted and bottled by," California appellation wine in the
bottle is actually a product of the Napa Valley.
Obviously Mr. Franzia is a believer in "Caveat emptor,"
let the buyer beware.
Even if you're spending a mere two bucks for a bottle, you still might be
BUY A LEMONADE, MISTER?
thousand people attended the August 2007 tastings in San Francisco of
the Family Winemakers of California.
The event has grown since its inception. I think the first year I
attended, it was at a San Francisco hotel ballroom and featured a few
less than 50 wineries. Today the event sees about 400 wine
"brands" on display and thousands of people come to
taste. There's a four hour Sunday tasting open to the trade and
public, while Monday features an even longer time frame and is limited
to "trade only."
The California wine scene has changed
dramatically over the years. "Wineries" come in all
shapes and sizes. Custom crush winemaking facilities are available
and thanks to the medium of the internet, every Tom, Dick and Harriett
seems to be "in the wine business." For a few thousand
bucks, you, too, can be a "vintner," just like the Antinoris,
Gajas, Rothschilds, Chappellets, Seghesios, Kistlers, etc.
In traipsing up and down the aisles at the tasting this year, it seemed
as though I was visiting lemonade stand after lemonade stand.
"romance" of wine must be even more intoxicating than some of
the 16% alcohol Zinfandels I tasted, as table after table featured some
"new" fledgling brand of wine. Clearly, some
people have really good, interesting wine. But many have dull,
boring, "a-face-only-a-mother-could-love" sorts of plonk in
The average price of a bottle of wine at this tasting is shockingly high
if you have any clue as to what good wines cost from various 'corners'
of the planet.
The words "Napa" and "Cabernet" seem to
automatically equate to $50 or $60. When combined with the phrase
"We only made _______ (fill in the blank) cases," you can add
another $20-$50 for the typical "scarcity tax."
Certainly many great wines are produced in rather small
But producing a minuscule amount of wine does not assure
in mind, Chteau Lafite Rothschild makes, typically, 15,000 to 25,000
CASES of their famous, fine, hundreds-of-vintages-of-a-track-record,
known-around-the-world, little Cabernet-based blend.
My guess is that a significant percentage of those "wineries"
in attendance in 2007, will not be in existence come 2017.
Not many people realize how difficult it is to "sell"
wine. It doesn't "drink" itself and disappear
easily. Few vintners understand that their first year or two are
only a phase of "solving the mystery" of a brand new
label. You're only new once and after people have had a taste of
your first vintage, the quality and price/value ratio has to convince
customers to buy the next year's wine. Mystery solved!
Kudos to "old time" California wineries who've managed to stay
in business for a decade or two. Double kudos to those who've
lasted a quarter of a century (or more) with the same family or families
at the helm.
That's a lot of "lemonade."
NOW HERE'S A
WAY TO DESCRIBE AN "EXCELLENT" WINE British
eno-scribe Tom "Call Me Ralph"
Cannavan posted some notes following a blind-tasting of originally-disgorged
and recently-disgorged bottlings of vintage-dated Veuve Clicquot
Champagnes. I wonder if the organizers of the tasting were
throwing up their hands after seeing this fellow's notes.
Please read Cannavan's enthusiastic spewings on the recently-disgorged
1988 Gold Label and see if you're going to hurl over a hundred dollars
to acquire a bottle which answers to this description:
Veuve-Clicquot Vintage Reserve
"Pale gold. This was the recently disgorged wine, disgorged April
2004. Quite an old Champagne nose - a touch of vomit (sorry) and it
seems much more oxidised. Much fresher on the palate, with a real
streak of lemony fruit. This is quite poised on the palate, with floral
and lime nuances, and lots of freshness. Excellent length, with tingling
I can't say that
I've ever described a wine as having "a touch of vomit,"
though I have tasted wines which came close to eliciting such a
reaction. I'm gagging over the notion of popping the cork on such
a bottle, frankly. It's difficult to believe that I'm
reading a description of a wine as being reminiscent of
"vomit" which is ultimately pegged as being of "excellent
PAIRING WINE WITH
SOMETHING, UH, SUITABLE
Apparently the stars and
planets are, once again, a bit out of alignment and customers are
finding it difficult to enjoy a good bottle of wine with which it was
intended to pair well.
Just today someone returned a few bottles of an absolutely splendid red
Burgundy. They had opened it the night before and it "just
wasn't what the expected." ((Bob remembers this customer as
having previously purchased a bottle, liking it and returning to buy a
half a dozen more!)) The wine was delightful and clearly not
"corked" or tainted in any way. We offered to exchange
the returned bottles for other wines.
It seems they'd dined out last night and the restaurant had difficulty
in differentiating between "red wine" and "white
wine." So the customer went home and decided to open a nice
bottle of wine. So far, so good.
But then they paired this French red Burgundy with chocolate.
The wine tasted awful ("Quel surprise!" ), so they
returned it. I forgot to ask if they brought the chocolate back to
the store, too.
someone brought back a handful of bottles of Chardonnays.
All were described, and this is a technical term enology school students
learn in Wine-Tasting 101, "Yucko!"
It seems a group of people was having a cocktail party and enjoying
numerous dry martinis. Maybe they ran out of vermouth?
Maybe they ran out of olives?? It was at this point the host and
hostess got the brilliant idea of changing the tipple of the day to
Chardonnay. Having had several martoonies by this point, the first
bottle of Chardonnay-ski was opened and, whoopski! It didn't
"taste good" to them. ((Probably not enough
olives?)) So they opened a bottle of another Chardonnay and, "Holy
Battonage, Batman!," that one didn't "taste good,"
either! About five bottles were opened and not a single one of these
was worth drinking.
I wonder if these people were on the wine judging panel at
the California State Fair recently?
reminded of a fellow who brought back a full bottle and a half-consumed
bottle of Chianti.
The wine sold for all of $6.99 at the time (it's up to $9.99 these days)
and he wanted credit for not only the unopened bottle, but also for the
opened bottle since it was such a "loser."
I was surprised by this, since that little wine had been extremely popular
and people routinely came back for more bottles after trying a first one
with their "spaghetti and meat-bawls" dinner.
I asked the fellow what sort of food he'd paired with the
"Oh, we didn't have it with food. We were
watching a video and eating popcorn."
I should have exchanged the Chianti for a fine vintage of
fellow once returned a bottle of Malmsey Madeira. We had not
suggested the wine, he had simply seen the bottle on the shelf and brought
it to the counter without comment.
But he wanted to return the wine the following day, since it "didn't
taste good with the grilled steaks we were having."
So all of these curious instances in
"the-customer-is-always-right" has me wondering if other
businesses deal with these sorts of issues?
"We'd like to return this mustard as it didn't taste
good with our Rocky Road ice cream last night."
"Say, this didn't taste good on my hair or my
"I tried using this Coca-Cola to remove the rust
stains in the toilet and it didn't, so can I please return the rest of the
"My neighbor told me to smear
Cool-Whip on my shoes and that in the process of licking it off, the cat
would end up shining my Size Tens. But they're dull-looking
now. Can you please refund my money?"
"I was told this would help curl my
hair, but all that happened was a swarm of bees followed me around all day
and stung the hell out of me."
"I bought this salad dressing to relieve the itch of poison oak and
it didn't. Give me my money back!"
"This throat spray didn't work very well in stopping
my foot odor problem. I want my money back!"
The point is, consumers of any product, be it a bottle of
wine or a bottle of salad dressing (and hopefully you can differentiate
between the two), should consider using the product in a manner in which
Expecting stores, vintners or manufacturers of products to give a consumer
a refund for the consumer's ignorance (or worse, stupidity), seems
What a wacky world!
SIPPING AT TRADE TASTINGS
I attended a large trade tasting organized
(if you want to use that terminology) by a large distribution company.
While standing at the table of a producer of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay,
a fellow approaches the proprietor of the winery and thrusts his glass
out, saying "Give me a pour of your Cabernet!"
The owner of the vineyard explains "We make only Chardonnay and
The taster leans over to eye-ball the
various bottles in front of him.
"Okay then," he announces, "I'll have a taste of your
I could sense the winery owner, having worked this gig for more than 20
years, was beginning to contemplate retirement.
A few moments later, I was
standing in front of another table when a sales rep comes over to say
'hello'. Her family name is "Katz."
A genius on the other side of the table sees the name tag and asks the
rep, who's in her 40s, "Has anyone ever told you that your name means
'cats' in German?"
At another tasting, a
fellow inquires with the representative of Sebastopol Vineyards where they
"Uh, we're in Sebastopol." she politely responds.
"Oh." replies the inquisitive taster.
Yeah, imagine that.
A man is tasting through
the Italian wines being poured by a nationally-distributed importer at an
event sponsored by a large, statewide distribution company.
Attendees are all tagged with a name badge with the distributor's name on
it, as well as having a tasting book with the company name and logo
prominently emblazoned on the front cover. Each page also has the
firm's name on it, along with the wines being poured.
"So, these are pretty good." says the taster. "Who
distributes your wines, anyway?"
not brain surgery, but at times it may seem as complicated.
MORE BRILLIANCE IN
A customer phoned the
other day wanting to purchase a bottle of wine from a particular estate
in Napa. The wine retails for $375 a bottle. I phoned the
distributor and learned they had more than 30 bottles available for
sale, if you can get the "okay" from someone, as cash is not
The wine is produced by a winery from whom we've been buying wine (with
regularity) since the 1969 vintage.
The distributor's sales rep told me "No way!" in response to our chances of
making this customer happy.
I sent the winery a terse e-mail and a week later the California
"winery representative" call to "reach out to us"
(my bullshit detector goes off immediately when I hear this sort of
babble) to apologize for what happened.
She said the distributor should have simply told me "There is no
wine available" and this would have solved the problem. I was
further told the bottles in the warehouse were "being held for
customers" who apparently have little in the way of storage
capacity and no room for a three pack of this rare wine.
Once we hung up the phone, I immediately dialed the order desk of the
distributor to inquire about the availability of this rare nectar.
"We have bottles available, but you'll need your sales rep to get
the okay for us to ship you this wine."
I inquired if these were in the "sold" or
"No, they're available with an okay."
We lost a sale, sadly.
The next day we, by happenstance, had a conversation with someone who,
unbeknownst to us, represents this same winery in an out-of-state
market. "That wine sells very slowly!" we were told.
"We only keep a couple of three-packs in our warehouse."
I inquired as to whether or not the wine required a letter from The Pope
for a customer in their market to be "allowed" to purchase
"No. We're happy to sell it to them. Are you
kidding!?!? It's nearly $300 a bottle wholesale!"
Lovely. Better to put
forth the notion of scarcity than actually sell a bottle of wine to a
customer who wants it. And you think it's easy being a wine shop proprietor???
I attended a tasting of wines from an importer of French wines. A
domaine in Burgundy offers a Bourgogne Rouge wine for $75 a bottle
Yes...the "simple" Bourgogne Rouge appellation would cost a
consumer $100-$115 a bottle at retail or $200+ in a restaurant.
The wine was delightful and certainly extraordinary.
But even more amazing was the requirement that stores or restaurants
must purchase 12 additional bottles from this domaine if they wish to
spend $900 on a case of "Bourgogne Rouge."
The additional bottles one must buy wholesale for a mere $210 each. Ouch! And you think it's easy being a wine shop proprietor???
A winery representative just sent out
a lovely little missive with tasting notes from the winemaker and a
couple of critics. It seems the crop level of one variety was
rather meager and so, according to the letter, "Unfortunately,
we have only half the quantity we had in 2003; hence, retailers have
been essentially shut out of this wine for the very first time."
Wouldn't it make
more "sense" (I know it's difficult to be sensible when we're
dealing with marketing geniuses) to evaluate customers with a bit more
scrutiny and care than to simply kiss off selling the wine to stores?
(It demonstrates how little wine shops are valued by your average
A shop such as ours has been buying wine from this estate since they
opened their doors in the early 1970s. Few of their restaurant
accounts have been buying wine from this place for as long, yet, quite
obviously, their patronage is more highly valued by the winery.
A few days after this missive arrived, the winemaker (whose family owns
the place) sent out a letter of "heartfelt thanks" for our
support with notes on his Cabernet and saying perhaps we're interested
in three other wines they make including the one not available to
And you think it's easy being a wine shop proprietor???
SAY WHAT? This
fellow's column appears with regularity in a free publication called
There's routinely a laundry list of wines tasted by Mr. McMillin (one of
America's 22 best wine writers we're told at the bottom of the
list...awarded by the Academy of Wine Communications, whose membership
is largely comprised of Public Relations agencies and wine
The column entitled "Quick! Take a Pick" has this
curious notation: "These wines tasted better than more than rivals."
I'm not certain as to the tasting protocol, but perhaps the
customary spit bucket is not used with sufficient frequency?
WHAT'S THE POINT? We've
been rather outspoken about the silliness of assigning wines a numerical
score, since we believe one's enjoyment of a wine cannot be
Our colleague here at the shop, Bob
Gorman, who authored a wonderful book in the 1970s called "Gorman
on California Premium Wines," describes the 100-point 'system' as a
"dumb rating system for dumb people."
I don't want to be quite that harsh. But we're amused by a
new web site called "just wine points," an off-shoot of the
now defunct magazine, Wine X. This was a publication aimed at
Generation X wine drinkers. Publisher Darryl Roberts was an
outspoken critic of the "100 point" rating system, so he or
apparently, have taken the attitude of "If you can't beat 'em, join
All wine-marketing folks will tell you a 90-point rating is a 'must' for
selling "product." An 89 point score, or less, is the
Former Wine X Magazine Associate Editor Jenna Corwin and her partner
John Thomas have a new business : assigning 90+ point scores to
virtually any wine which manages to not break the glass it's poured into
(that is, if they actually 'judge' the wines by pouring them into some
sort of tasting vessel). Corwin contends that only 25% of the
wines submitted to justwinepoints receive a 90 point score or better.
justwinepoints web site explains :
Dont let your lifestyle be
You never settle for less, and youd
prefer never to drink another wine that has scored less than 90 points.
But who has time to filter through hundreds of pages of excess
information during their ultra-busy day to try to find the right
wine? justwinepoints to the rescue!
This is great! It
perpetuates, on one level, the mindless notion of buying (or selling)
wine on the basis of a flimsy number. Who on god's green earth,
after all, has the time or the intelligence to digest descriptions of
wines? Don't tell me if the wine has a lot of oak, tons of tannins
or elevated alcohol! Let's not bother with descriptions of black
fruit, low acidity or high residual sugar.
suspect Corwin and her associate judges have a "Three dart" system, sending
three darts onto this board, adding up the numbers and, voila!,
we have a numerical score!
More from the justwinepoints web site:
Savvy wine consumers also know that
pairing wine with food is a subjective preference; therefore someone
elses opinion is absolutely irrelevant. Thus, wine descriptors and
any other verbiage lashed onto rating points is wasted time and effort
by both reviewer and reader.
For an extra fee, wineries can have a
small reproduction of their label. The site even has a
"testimonial" from a Sonoma vintner:
"After our initial
sales presentation, Beverages & More asked if we had any
90-point-plus scores for our wines. justwinepoints provided the clout
that we needed." -
Michael De Loach, Hook & Ladder Winery
Isn't that impressive?!?!
And if you're wondering who's desperate for a 90 point rating, we can
include Schramsberg, Chalone, Handley, Sebastiani, Chappellet, Cosentino,
Guenoc, Oakville Ranch, Grgich Hills, Hess, Amizetta, Robert Hall,
Pedroncelli, Ironstone, Zaca Mesa, Cinnabar, Franciscan, Sterling,
Raymond, Brassfield, Tangent and Paraiso, amongst other labels.
What a deliciously devious and potentially profitable way to illustrate
that the "numbers" are merely "cheerleading" methods
to promoting and selling wine.
Here's a nice little "scoreboard" for you to ponder:
In Latin the phrase is "Caveat emptor."
VARIETAL CONFUSION We tasted a rather nice
little, fruity red wine which is labeled "Gamay
Beaujolais." Vintners have until April 7, 2007 to use this
designation for their wine, which must be at least 75% Pinot Noir and/or
Valdigui (the grape thought to be "Napa Gamay" or
"Gamay Noir" once upon a time).
We were 'surfing' the 'Net for information about "Gamay
Beaujolais" and found a winery in Texas which makes one.
Their description is intriguing:
Beaujolais is an excellent blend of Pinot Noir, Gewrztraminer and
Muscat Canelli. The subtle elements of the Muscat and Gewrztraminer
produce a fresh and floral portrayal of Pinot Noir. Its aged in
European oak for six months and finished off dry. It is the perfect red
wine for white wine palates. Fruity and floral, this Gamay is soft,
light, and contains just a hint of sweetness. It's delicious with
hamburgers, BBQ or pork chops. Serve at 60 degrees F."
Gewurz and Muscat are considered
The wine is "finished off dry" yet has just a "hint of
sweetness." Did they mean "finished off dry" or
Meanwhile, a California winery
sent us a sample of their product with this information: "100% from
2004 Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown at our vineyards with touches of
Merlot." Got that?
It's 100% Cabernet but has "touches" of Merlot.
Is the White House "press secretary" now moonlighting as a
flak for wineries, or what?
KNOWS THE TRUFFLE I'VE SEEN
We're big fans of white truffles
from Alba and a friend who works for a local food company takes great
pains to import the real thing.
He sells them, primarily, to San Francisco Bay Area restaurants for
their special late fall/early winter menus.
A nearby restaurant sent out the menu in the neighboring right
frame with a special menu of a "Piemonte,
Italy Wine Lover's Truffle Dinner" and
so we were interested in not only the menu featuring all sorts of
truffled courses, but in the selections of Italian wines, particularly
Piemontese, to be paired with each dish.
As you can see, the Lobster soup is paired with a Piemontese wine from
the sub-region of "Alsazia," as is the first course.
The Risotto is matched with a Pinot Nero from the Santa Croce
region, while the main plate, veal, is partnered with your choice of
Kistlerini Chardonnay or Legno d'Argento Cabernet, both
excellent Italian selections.
They did manage to find a wine from about 300 kilometers east of
Piemonte to pair with the Truffled Pecorino cheese.
We know the Roman Empire extended over much of Europe and the Middle
East, but have just come to realize that California's North Coast as
well as the island of Madeira must also have been in this confederation.
Here's an opportunity for a lovely dining establishment to broaden the
horizons of Bay Area diners. Instead, they've chosen to bait the
hook with "safe" choices in Kistler and Silver Oak, even if
these aren't especially good matches with truffles.
It's revealing if they've chosen this route because they are, after all,
catering to their customers. What does that say about the mundane
taste of those spending $185 a person for a special menu?
But more sad is that winery marketing people would rather sell their
precious wines in a restaurant such as this one than in a shop such as
I shared the menu with a number of wine industry folks
and received some interesting responses.
One person wrote "At
least they spelled "Piemonte" correctly."
Another wrote: "The
menu you sent me is quite a kick indeed....I wish them luck trying to
find people willing slap down $185 for dinner with those wine
pairings....are they kidding??
Someone else wrote:
the menu. And XXX Restaurant actually has Italian wines on their list.
Talk about unclear on the concept... I guess they figured they had
better have Kistler and Silver Oak to get people to show up. But the
Cremant d'Alsace, while I'm sure perfectly good, is a molto divertendo
One Italian wine
importer saw the menu and neglected to comment on the wine
pairings. I asked if he'd taken a look at these, since none of the
wines being poured were his and he wrote "I
missed that! Cabernet and Chardonnay. How creative."
The producer of one of the wines in
this line-up cried out "You're joking!"
when I read them the menu and wine pairings.
Greetings from XXXX
Bistro and Cafe! Don't forget to join us for our special Piemonte,
Italy Wine Lover's Truffle Dinner....
White truffles, grown in
, are considered a rare delicacy. We are celebrating the truffle
season with a special dinner prepared by Executive Chef L-R
perfectly paired with exquisite wines selected by Sommelier C-B.
Truffles are included in each delicious course:
Clerostein Cremant d'Alsace
Wild Mushroom and
Montasio Frico ~ Tiny Arugula
2004 JB Adam Pinot Blanc Reserve, Alsace
Risotto with a Lightly Smoked Poached Egg
Parmigiano Reggiano Brodo
2004 Varner Pinot Noir, Spring Ridge Vineyard - Hidden Block, Santa CruzMountains
2002 Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon, AlexanderValley
Green Apple and Walnut Salad
2003 Zenato Ripassa Superiore, Valpolicella
Hazelnut Cake with Chocolate Truffles
Miles 10-year-old Malmsey Madeira
Join us to enjoy the incredible aroma and flavor of
these special white truffles. The cost is $185 per person (plus
tax and gratuity), and begins at
with appetizers, and for
dinner. Seating is limited.
WHAT, EXACTLY, ARE
A new company in Sonoma is hoping to pimp a
line of locally-produced wines via their internet web site and hook
customers by soliciting them on the phone.
The outfit is "Call Girls for Wine" and the company web site
notes "We all want what we can't have"
and "Our girls are knowledgeable and passionate about our wines. We are eager to place our wines in your homes so that you too, can be passionate."
The firm's mission is "full
service" as the girls have "Day to day responsibilities
including soliciting consumers via phone sales, packing and shipping
wine and occasional vineyard tours." Wow!
An enological escort service!
Most of their portfolio comes from Sonoma
County (not the Valley of the Dolls) and they've gotten the green-light
to sell wines from hard-to-get estates. The line-up includes
Trecini, Dobbin Lane, Meola and the Central Coast's Castoro Cellars (not
surprisingly*). No word as to which wineries have given the firm
the red light on representation of their brands.
(I'm surprised they're not offering Cleavage Creek wines, Alexander
Valley Vineyards' Sin Zin, Heron's "Sexto" or the "Pin
Up" line from a small Sonoma vintner.)
Wine marketing guru Lori DeMello is the "madam" at Call Girls
for Wine. One of its portfolio's web sites shows a wine at $180 a
case while the Call Girls' site asks a seductive $156 a box for the same
wine, so customers are not exactly getting screwed, especially those
keeping abreast of pricing.
* Castoro, by the way, is the Italian word for the the furry little
animal known as a "beaver." (I don't make up this stuff.)
little bit of wine knowledge can be dangerous. Quite clearly, the
"human resources" department at the Cost Plus stores have but
a "little bit" of wine of wine-manship.
A "help wanted" posting on a wine employment site hopes to
entice future staff members with this:
Job Description: Cost Plus brings the world's markets under one roof. Our goal is simple; to bring our consumers one of a kind merchandise from the far corners of the world. Coffee from Sri Lanka, burgundy from the south of France, hand carved furniture from Indonesia, Cost Plus is where you will find them and reasonably priced too!
As wine drinkers know,
"burgundy" (sic) does not come from the "south of
France." It comes from the region of Burgundy, loosely
depicted in the black little blob on this map of France.
Coffee, by the way, is produced in Sri Lanka, but it's not
exactly on the radar screen of coffee connoisseurs in this century
(though it was a major exporter up until a few years ago...like around
1870, actually, when the industry was destroyed by a leaf virus.
Coffee exports from Sri Lanka are microscopic compared to the country's
The job posting does note "Wine knowledge a plus."
SCENES: WINE MARKETING If you've been a periodic visitor to these
pages, you'll note that we have mentioned, from time to time, that many
California vintners view "retail wine" shops as
"competitors," rather than as :"Ambassadors."
This is a short-sighted view, in our opinion (keep in mind our
perspective as wine merchants).
The world's finest wines are typically sold in "distribution
channels" as there are but a few wineries who sell everything they
make at the cellar door. Top estates such as Lafite-Rothschild,
Haut Brion, Domaine de la Romane-Conti, Gaja, d'Yquem, Leflaive, etc.,
don't have "wine clubs," nor do they sell wine directly to
The dream of many
California winery marketing directors, though, is to sell all their
wines at full retail prices to throngs of enthusiastic, eager, wealthy
consumers. In our view, though, the wine industry will not grow
with the limitation of direct sales. If you were
"building" a salad and had to contact every farmer to assemble
this, you might grow weary after calling the tomato farmer, the lettuce
guy, the cucumber grower, etc. You might find it easier and more
convenient (and perhaps less costly) to visit your nearby grocery
emporium to find all the ingredients. Obliged to buy directly from
each and every farmer, some parts of the salad would be left out due to
time constraints, money limitations or the simple fact that you don't
need 36 heads of lettuce for one simple salad. Other farmers might
oblige you to buy Brussels Sprouts to be able to acquire a bunch of
their prized arugula. Another agricultural paradise might require
customers buy a dozen parsnips to be "rewarded" with the
opportunity to buy a few precious heirloom tomatoes.
We were saddened when we learned that a winery, from whom we've been
able to buy a small allocation of wine each year, has decided to stop
making its wines available in shops. Instead the winery will sell
only to "premier restaurants" and those fortunate enough to be
able to get on the mailing list and pay $70 a bottle for Chardonnay and
$150+ for a bottle of Cabernet.
We sent the winery a letter, thanking them for allowing us to sell their
wines for the past 15, or so years. We do skewer them (a bit) at
the conclusion of our missive.
Our letter has not met with a response as of this writing. My
letter was sent on June 30, 2006. I write this in mid-August of
2006, sufficient time, one would think, for someone to compose some sort
of response. ((As of November 2006...not a peep out of Sir Peter
and his minions.))
This "world class" winery drafted a letter and asked its
distributors to make photocopies to hand out to the retailers who had
been privileged to buy its wines. They did not have the
courtesy to dignify these customers with the letter, sent directly by
and from the winery!
Of course, the distributors who represent this winery still have to deal
with these "cootie-laden" (and probably angry) retail accounts
if they want to stay in business.
If you click down below, you will be shown a copy of the rather
impersonal winery letter, my letter to the winery and a most interesting
from a "head hunter" agency looking for a marketing person for
Especially priceless are these "highlights":
The winery letter states
"While we love everyone who has played their part in our story
over the years it is with great regret that we have taken the
decision to limit distribution such that off-premise wine shops will
be unable to obtain their historic supplies, at least for the
A head-hunter agency's letter, sent
to potential "candidates" for the position of
"Director of Sales and Marketing" for the winery.
One of the key "challenges" facing this person is "Maintain
the image of scarcity while increasing the customer base."
BLIND-TASTING There were numerous accounts of the
British "bad boy" chef Gordon Ramsay offering singer (and
"good boy" winery owner) Cliff Richard three rounds of
"blind tasting" on "The F Word" TV program in the
The controversy swirling around this little 4 minute episode of wine
tasting concerns whether or note Mr. Richard actually uses the
"f-word" after the third round of wine tasting where he
dismisses his own wine as not worthy of purchase unless it's
cheap. The TV show seems to feature the foul-mouthed chef
attempting to bait "guests" into using equally bad
language. That's entertainment?
Decanter magazine reports Richard
describing his own wine as "tainted and insipid" on the TV
program. In fact, he does criticize the wine as being
"harsh" and says of the pair of wines "I wouldn't buy
either one." We are to presume, of course, that all the wines
are legit and that the wine inside the Vida Nova (and others, for that
matter) is the wine which was bottled by the respective wineries.
Adam Lechmere's June 9, 2006 article reads: "Of the second, his own wine Vida Nova from his estate in the Algarve, southern Portugal, he said, 'That's rubbish. I wouldn't pay for that, it's tainted, it's insipid. It tastes like vinaigrette. I'd never buy that.'
Click on the
Decanter Magazine Logo to read the account of this prank...
can click on The F Word Logo to have a look at about 4 minutes of this
little game of blind-tasting and see if the actual TV show bears much resemblance
to the news account.
The Decanter article quotes Chef Ramsay as declaring the 1990 Vieux Chteau
Certan as costing 400 British pounds. If you listen carefully,
you'll see he clearly states it's a "300 pound" wine.
Here in the US retail market, this wine currently goes for about $200 a
bottle. I, for one, never heard Richard use the words
"tainted," "insipid" or
While it's a good "story" in tricking a winemaker into making
derogatory comments about his or her own wine, I think you'll find the
"news" accounts of this little event to really exaggerate the
singer's few words about the wine from his own vineyards.
I'm sure Cliff Richard will think twice now before "blindly"
commenting on a wine being offered for "blind-tasting"
purposes. Apparently, deleted from the video shown on TV was
Richard asking Chef Ramsay "Do you wash your hands before you cook?
Wash your mouth out as well next time!"
BATHING IN WINE We
know some consumers feel like they're being "soaked" when
paying so much for today's attempts at premium (have you noticed some
wineries claim they make "super premium" or "ultra deluxe
Now we've come to understand there are spas where one can actually be
totally submerged in a red wine bath.
Vino Fino tasting group member John McGlothlin alerted me to this spa in
Japan where they have a red wine pool, complete with a humungous,
Godzilla-sized wine bottle.
We've read reports of
tremendous over-production of wine in Australia and we know many French
companies are awash in wine, but the idea of doing the back-stroke in a
pool of Pinot Noir gives new meaning to the movie "Sideways."
A South African spa offers
"Vinotherapy," which features a Shiraz Grape Seed Scrub (ouch!),
a Chardonnay Cocoon Wrap (so that's where typical South African Chardonnay
is best, uh, served) and the Cabernet Sauvignon Wine Casket Bath with colour, liquid sound and magnetic field therapy.
Interestingly, no Pinotage treatments are offered! You can go for a
"wellness" meal in their restaurant and have a dessert called
"Hanepoot Grape Fool," some sort of Muscat and cream concoction
which you take internally, unlike these other treatments.
There are places which will massage your body with grapes and grape seeds.
I'm already rubbed the wrong way when asked to pay such
huge sums for a bottle of wine, I'm not sure I need further
massaging. I figure they're already sufficiently massaging my
I wonder if the staff members at these spas have trouble
stifling a cackle of laughter at their well-heeled guests subjecting
themselves to having slices of grapes scattered on one's face
Makes me think of the Dave Frishberg tune, "Peel Me a
Apparently you don't have to venture far from the San
Francisco Bay Area for some of these treatments. The Kenwood Inn
offers a Wine Barrel Bath, Sauvignon Massage, a Merlot Wrap or a Crushed
Cabernet Scrub if you're looking to being more fully immersed in wine.
It sure gives new meaning to the term winemaking term "skin
contact," doesn't it?
OY GEVALT! The
USA Today newspaper had a bit of meshugass when its wine maivin
inadvertently combined a most curious wine pairing suggestion with
his April 7th article on Kosher wines.
Wine writer Jerry Shriver highlights some interesting wines which are
Kosher for the annual Passover seder(s). The article features a
number of wine suggestions, from an Israeli Chardonnay to a Spanish red
from Montsant to an Edna Valley Syrah.
But the poor schlimazel combined this article with a most
untimely segment called "Who's Drinking What?" This
features a wine suggestion from a restaurateur and a food recommendation
for that particular bottling.
Shriver's Passover article queried the general manager of a Louisville,
Kentucky restaurant called "Proof On Main," a dining
establishment featuring American cuisine with a hint of Tuscan
seasonings. Ms. Cassandra Hobbic is meshuganeh for
Mariah Zinfandel from Mendocino.
The perfect food accompaniment?
"Our slowly braised pork shank that's served with Weisenberger grits -- they're from a traditional mill here in Kentucky -- and green tomato marmalade. The herbal notes in the
Zin are really lovely with the shank."
Well, bubeleh, I've got news for you...that
pork shank ain't likely to be very Kosher.
first met Richard Sanford and his partner Michael Benedict back in the
mid-1970s. We had tasted some really interesting Pinot Noir made
by an old lady (Mary Vigoroso was the sweetheart's name) at the Los
Alamos Winery and we were optimistic about the future for wine in the
Santa Barbara region.
The 1976 Pinot Noir of the Sanford & Benedict Winery was really
eventually departed and the winery name became simply
A few years ago, the Terlato family (owners of Paterno Imports and
dealers in the hugely over-priced Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio) bought
a few shares of the Sanford enterprise. Things were rosy. Or
were they? Eventually Richard Sanford and his wife Thekla,
minority shareholders, were tendered a "pink slip" (or,
in this instance, was it a "Vin Gris" slip???).
Some months later, winemaker Bruno D'Alfonso was also asked to pack up
his refractometer and take his barrel bungs elsewhere.
We can't comment on the various personalities involved, nor the reasons
for changing the winery personnel.
But isn't it sad that the current winery web site does not mention
Richard Sanford by his full name?
its "about" web page dealing with "History and
People," it seems as though Richard Sanford never
existed. The text refers only to "Sanford Winery"
and "Sanford" planting Pinot Noir in "its Sanford & Benedict vineyard."
Not "his." Seems rather impersonal for such a personal
enterprise, doesn't it?
It would be as though the web site of Napa Valley's "Robert Mondavi
Winery" neglected to mention its founding father.
Interestingly, in Mondavi's case, the "history page" neglects
to mention who currently owns the Robert Mondavi winery...Constellation
This recalls the Raymond Chandler quotation about ego: "The creative artist seems to be almost the only kind of man that you could never meet on neutral ground. You can only meet him as an artist. He sees nothing objectively because his own ego is always in the foreground of every picture."
Chandler could have been writing about winemakers and wine
HEIRLOOM VARIETIES We
enjoy a nice, ripe tomato from time to time. Some
friends of ours grow wonderful, old varieties of tomatoes which have
incredible aromas and flavors.
The Kendall Jackson winery hosts an annual Heirloom Tomato Festival each
September and the monies raised go towards a good cause: they promote
garden cultivation at about 50 schools in the North Bay Area.
Promoting such an event takes some time and resources.
Visitors pay more than fifty bucks to attend this festival, which
features garden tours and some 50 food purveyors.
We were amused, in receiving the press release for this event, as it
contained a small package of Soldacki tomato seeds.
We know these are old heirloom seeds, you see. Though the
press release promotes the 10th annual festival taking place later this
year, 2006, the seed package is clearly marked: PACKED
THESE GUYS! "Travel
Specialist" Daniel Harrison has compiled a list of the "Top
Ten" wine regions. The headline declares these as
"Famous Wine Regions," while Mr. Harrison's opening paragraph
describes them as the "best wine regions."
Number Ten is the Baden area of Germany. Although any fan of
German wine will cite Riesling as that country's best grape and the
regions of the Mosel and Rheingau as the most prestigious wine places,
Herr Harrison pegs the Badenland as Germany's leading wine region.
His "must see" winery: "The Carl Schmidt-Wagner winery, which sells dry, half-dry and classic Riesling wine."
We've tasted some good wines from a Mosel estate called Carl
Schmitt-Wagner and couldn't locate the "Carl Schmidt Wagner"
estate in the Baden region.
We contacted the Carl Schmitt-Wagner winery in the Mosel and
received this response: "I agree with you that this is a
mistake because our winery is located on the Mosel and there is no one
with the same name in Germany.
I should let them now that they spelled my name wrong and that I am not
located in Baden."
Alsace and La Rioja are on the
So is Southeastern Australia, which we learn: "Near Sydney, you'll find amazing Pinot Noirs, while vineyards in the Yarra Valley (Victoria's oldest vineyard region) offer numerous sparkling wines. In fact, wherever you go in this fertile land, you'll stumble on over 50 great wineries to sample from. Some even stray from the traditional and produce concoctions like kiwifruit wine, which is definitely worth a try."
We asked Australian eno-curmudgeon Ric Einstein for his reaction
and he wrote back: "What a big load of diarrhea.
There are a few Pinots grown in the Hunter and exactly one of them is
well regarded. There are NO well known Pinot areas near Sydney, they are
all in Mexico; i.e. south of the border in Victoria, in Tasmania or in
the Adelaide Hills.
They refer to
South East Australian wines. Thats code for one of two things.
Riverland industrial crap; or blends of industrial crap from anywhere in
the bottom right half of the continent.
If people are
silly enough to produce KIWI fruit wines, most are not stupid
enough to talk about it in polite company."
is Number 5 on the list and we learn that northeast of Venice "...Merlot and Cabernet grapes generate some great reds..."
We wonder who's making these?
Portugal's Douro Valley is Number 4 with California's Napa at
"Must see" in Napa is "The Fife Vineyard" which, we
are informed, "offers a great
Zinfandel." The Fifes do
own some vines within the Napa Valley, but the Fife winery is actually
located 10 minutes' drive north of Ukiah in Mendocino County! This
is more than an hour and a half by car from St. Helena or Calistoga in
the Napa Valley.
Number Two on the list is Tuscany, while the Number One Top Wine
Region is Bordeaux.
We learn from Monsieur Harrison that: "the red wines produced here are synonymous with high quality and orgasmic flavors.
Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes produce incredible Pomerol, Graves and Malbec wines..." Wow...there's an amazing tidbit...We knew Merlot, Cabernet and
Cab Franc produce various wines such as St. Emilion and Margaux (as well
as the noted Pomerol and Graves), but now it seems they also
produce the grape variety known as Malbec, too!
There's a book written by Richard C. Francis with
the title "Why Men Won't Ask for Directions." Maybe that
can explain how AskMen.com's Daniel Harrison got so lost!
BROKER MEL KNOX ON "SELLING WINE IN THE USA" Mel Knox shares his ideas for tailoring
your wine sale's technique to various markets around the United States.
REPUBLIC OF BERKELEY
Your wine is made by a cooperative of indigenous peoples from the rain
forest. The wine is aged in recyclable barrels made of special
grasses and bamboos that replenish the soil, repair the hole in the
ozone layer and eliminate Republicans, Democrats and the petite
WYOMING, IDAHO and parts of EASTERN WASHINGTON Your winery has seceded from the United States and formed its
own posse comitatus. No federal employee from the United
States of Satan is allowed on your free land.
TEXAS Your winery shows the brilliance of supply side economics.
Instead of growing grapes, you are growing a prosperous new America,
thanks to recent tax cuts. None of your wine goes with vegetarian
cuisine, which is un-American. Ten percent of your profits go to
George W. Bush and it's just a coincidence that you received a special
wine depletion allowance in the latest budget bill.
UTAH Your wine is really carefully flavored Hawaiian Punch.
ANGELES Your wine was thanked at the latest Oscar awards by Stephen
Spielberg, Robert Evans, Michael Douglas, Angelina Jolie and Lindsay
YORK Your wine can be retailed for less than replacement
wholesale. Also, its combined score from Tanzer, Parker and The
Wine Spectator is over 400.
DISTRICT Have you seen the
brochure and map of the wineries in the Stags Leap District?
See if you notice...
Apparently Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, one of the pioneers in the
appellation, is not a member!
Owned and founded by Warren and Barbara Winiarski, you'll have trouble
finding the Winiarski name anywhere on the Stags Leap District
Winegrowers' web site. Though the site does note Stag's Leap Wine
Cellars winning the Cabernet flight of the famous "Paris
Tasting" in 1976, the Winiarski name is not mentioned.
Pity for all parties.
writer and politician Benjamin Disraeli is quoted as saying "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
Wine marketing folks are often prone to "puff" up their
awards, medals and ratings.
The Aspen Times, not The New York Times, ran a story about the two
silver medals won by a local Colorado winemaker. It seems
Woody Creek Cellars won a couple of citations at the Denver
International Wine Competition! Wow!!
Journalist Stewart Oksenhorn writes: "But Woody Creek Cellars' 2002 Merlot took a silver medal, beating out Sonoma's Lambert Bridge - "a legendary Merlot powerhouse," according to Doyle. Edging Doyle out for gold in Merlot was Pedroncelli, a 75-year-old winery located in an area of California's Sonoma Valley known as "the Merlot Bench." Proving he was not a one-wine wonder,
(winemaker Kevin) Doyle likewise earned silver for his Cabernet Franc, besting the likes of California giant Robert Mondavi."
I'm not sure anybody but
staffers at Lambert Bridge would categorize that winery as a Merlot
"powerhouse." Pedroncelli is not, of course, in
the Sonoma Valley. They're in Dry Creek Valley. And Dry
Creek is the appellation of their "Bench Vineyards" Merlot,
though you probably won't find the locals referring to the site as
"The Merlot Bench."
Even more amusing is the assertion that Mr. Doyle's Cabernet Franc
"bested" the likes of Robert Mondavi. We've never seen a
varietal bottling of Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Franc, so we called
the winery to inquire. In fact, Mondavi does not bottle this
particular wine on its own, so it's no wonder Woody Creek's wine won a
medal and Robert Mondavi did not.
If you want to take this even farther, Woody Creek's proprietor might
have pointed out Chateau Lafite-Rothschild Chardonnay, Chateau Margaux's
White Zinfandel and the Domaine de la Romane-Conti Tawny Port won no
medals. None of those wines are made, either.
Doyle is quoted as giving his "recipe" for winemaking: "You crush the grapes, you put 'em in a barrel, put 'em in a bottle," said Doyle,
"...New school, they put a lot of chemicals in, they use pumps to create heat and friction. To me, God is perfect, and I'm just the shepherd, getting the grapes in the bottle." Later in the article: Doyle said his competitors were less than gracious about getting beat by a trailer-park resident with all of five years experience in winemaking.
"Not a word," was the response Doyle said he received. "Because I'm the wrong guy to be winning medals. Not one person said congratulations."
What a surprise that
Robert Mondavi himself hasn't picked up the phone and dialed Mr.
Doyle. I'm sure he'd ask him about all the chemicals, pumps and
friction, especially since Mondavi promotes "sustainable
farming" and has one "gravity flow" facility presently.
We finally learn: "I'm an old-school Aspenite. My desire is to sell all my wine in Aspen. Because it's a drinking town. I'm like the village winemaker."
I, for one, was thinking Mr. Doyle was,
indeed, "like the village..." Oh, never mind.
"FOOD, WINE & TRUFFLES FROM PIEMONTE"
One of the
Bay Area's top dining spots recently hosted a special event dinner which
attracted our attention. The fall and winter months are
"truffle season" in Piemonte and we've enjoyed some wonderful
meals in the Langhe region featuring fresh local tartufi.
Half Moon Bay's Cetrella offered this on its web site:
Featuring the food, wines, and truffles from Piedmont, Italy
$185. per person (plus tax and gratuity)
White truffles, known for their powerful but extraordinary delicate aroma, are grown
in Alba, Italy, where they are considered "king". They are harvested from September
through December, by special "truffle-hunters" who use dogs to "sniff" out the
unusual mushroom from its underground habitat. Sold for prices that have ranged from $1,500.
to $2,000. a pound, they are typically eaten raw and shaved paper-thin over egg
dishes, pastas and other light foods, or incorporated into products such as
white truffle oil or paste.
Experience it yourself -- this limited-seating exclusive dinner will be held in
the private Wine Cellar Dining Room. Enjoy the incredible aroma and flavor
of shaved white truffles with some of the chef's finest cuisine.
What Piemontese wines will the sommelier select for such an
What Piemontese recipes will the chef employ to show off truffles???
Here's the wine and food line-up:
of Veal Tenderloin
Arugula and Celery Salad with Smoked Caciocavallo Cheese
Terlano Pinot Bianco from Alto Adige
Egg Fettuccine Pasta alla Gallinella
Barbera d'Alba Andrea Oberto from Piedmont
Roasted with Truffle under the Skin
Red Kuri Pumpkin Mousseline and Black Trumpet Mushrooms
2000 Antinori Guado alTasso
Fontina Val DAosta
Golden Delicious Apple Crisps
Polenta Souffl with Fresh Grated Citrus
Rye Passito di Pantelleria
I've had "Fegato
The Veal Carpaccio sounds good... though the cheese comes from someplace
in Southern Italia, as regions such as Campania, Basilicata, Puglia,
Molise and Calabria produce Caciocavallo. I guess they
couldn't find any white wines from Piemonte, so they chose something
from the Sud-Tirol.
Next we have a pasta that's paired with a young, zesty Piemontese
Barbera...good...a wine from Piemonte!
The main plate features a tiny chicken with truffles under the
skin...the Piemontese wine chosen to accompany this dish is an Antinori
wine from, uh, Tuscany. It's an unusual blend for Piemonte:
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.
The cheese course features a selection from nearby Aosta. No wine.
And for dessert, a Polenta Souffl. Apparently no Piemontese
sweet wines were available, so they chose a lovely Moscato from Sicilia.
Or am I confused?
ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH
We think wine writers out
to help clarify the murky world of wine for readers. So many
consumers avoid exploring the wonders of wine because you have to know
special lingo, have a degree in geography and be able to navigate a
restaurant wine list with ease.
Eno-scribe Jennifer Rosen writes about wine in the Rocky Mountains and
so, perhaps the elevation and thin air has taken a toll.
Her November 2, 2005 column in the
Rocky Mountain News offers readers tips on what's currently
"cool" or "cutting edge" in wine:
Spain: Especially the areas of Monsanto, Priorato and Valencia. Hippest grapes include albario, monastrell, garnacha and anything else you've never heard of and don't quite know how to pronounce.
Portugal: Once-trashy vinho verde, as well as dry reds from Douro.
Italy: Friuli, Veneto and all of Sicily. Hippest grapes: lagrein, fiano, nero d'avola, aglianico and anything starting with a "v."
Also on the bus: Austrian gruner veltliner, German and Alsatian sylvaner, South African sauvignon blanc and Argentine malbec and torronts.
It seems to me that chardonnay, long derided by the in crowd as nothing but buttered-up Wonder Bread, is due for a comeback. It'll be the same hip-to-be-square gestalt that compels your well-pierced teenager to exhume your old mint-green ruffled tuxedo shirt and start wearing it around. Yes, the same one you were wearing, you in the perm and wide sideburns, in those wedding photos that you had shredded. Cool. It's the new hot.
We appreciate "Chotzi's"
suggesting all sorts of wonderful grape varieties, but wonder if you're
going to cite Albario as a "cool" grape, shouldn't its
home region of Galicia be on the list?
Being big fans of Lagrein, Fiano and Aglianico, Chotzi gets applause for
suggesting those grapes, but the home regions for those varieties are not
on the "list." Lagrein is found in the Alto Adige and
Trentino regions, while Fiano and Aglianico are making a name for
themselves in Campania.
We suspect Chotzi meant "Montsant" instead of Monsanto when
referring to Spanish wine regions.
Anyway, we're on the "bus" filled with all those
"cool" wines. Some may tell you we're periodically behind
the wheel of that vehicle.
B-S PROTECTORS I
might have to pick up these handy devices to wear on my ears next time
I'm at a trade tasting...
I saw a photo of some old "feller" wearing these at a
political speech given by Mr. Bush. Wearing these when we're
tasting wine would probably be very helpful. I could block out the
numerical score from some wine critic when it's told to me by the sales
rep (because if I don't like the wine that received 91 points, there
must be something wrong with me!). I won't be hearing the words
"fruit forward," "hand-crafted," "wine begins
in the vineyard" and other blather which some sales hacks employ in
the course of their singing and dancing to sell a bottle of wine.
And I won't have to hear which "is my favorite wine"
when standing at a table full of dreck being poured by someone who
barely knows which of the wines on the table is red.
Why, here's a sales pitch for a wine that would have been worth
"protecting" myself from:
Chehalem Willamette Valley Inox Chardonnay is 100% tank fermented,
without malolactic fermentation or lees contact, which means it retains
a high amount of natural acidity and does not display undue richnessIt
is NEVER put into oak barrels, and is bottled in the springtime (April)
following harvest. This brightly colored and flavored Chardonnay
is pure fruit and personality. It will accompany a wide range of
food ranging from elegant dinners to casual, late summer barbecues.
Find out what true Chardonnay tastes like when it isnt
over-extracted, overly alcoholic and over-oaked. This wine is
Burgundian in style, but not in price; its $19.99 per
so let's see...we have a wine that's fermented in stainless steel tanks
and never sees a barrel. It spends no time on its lees and,
therefore, not a moment of battonage. It's bottled months after
the harvest instead of being matured, in wood, in a cold, underground
cellar where it will develop complexity and blossom.
Yes...that sounds JUST like a Montrachet to me!
Very "Burgundian," indeed.
If you'd like to make your own, click on this link: BULLSHIT
PROTECTOR and knock yourself out.
THE ABC'S OF
article on the website of Suite101.com, posted in 2004, concerns pairing wines with food
and features some "wine country recipes." Writer Michael
Vyskocil interviews one of Beaulieu Vineyards' winemakers, Robert Masyczek
for some tips on pairing wine with food.
Vyskocil writes Masyczek "has an ABCs rule of thumb for choosing the right California wine"Anything But Chardonnay or Cabernet."
The article quotes Masyczek as suggesting
people drink Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Viognier wines.
I'm sure this pleases the top brass at BV and its parent company,
After all, Beaulieu is regarded by most wine industry folks as a
"Cabernet winery" and a BV tasting room staffer we queried
guesstimated that about half of BV's production is Cabernet
The article will probably have wine-savvy
folk scratching their head, as we learn that Pinot Gris is "created from the same grapes as Pinot Noir."
Here's a curious statement about Viognier: "At one time, only 5 acres of the grapes needed to make this wine existed in the world; today 600 acres are grown in California."
(Had Mr. Vyskocil done his homework, he'd have found the California Farm
Bureau report from 2004 which indicates California currently has 2091
acres of Viognier.)
Post Script: Mr. Vyskocil sent me a note in April of 2006,
taking me to task for criticizing his article. "I
would like to address several issues with the posting you made. First,
while Robert Masyczek recommends tasting Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and
Viognier, there is no explicit endorsement for those wines over
Take another look at how the statement is written: "He recommends
following for a satisfying wine experience." Masyczek merely
people sample these wines; it was not a specific endorsement. Secondly,
the research my editorial team did for this story, we discovered that
Gris is created from a pink-colored grape and Pinot Gris from a
colored grape. Yes, the way the statement is worded could be interpreted
the exact same grape variety; we, however, were thinking more about the
color of the skin that was similar, not the variety. The statement could
have been further clarified to mean color. Third, the editorial team had
researched the fact that the acerage (sic) devoted to growing
increased from 5 acres to over 600 acres. At the time we did our
for this piece, California did have 600 acres of Viognier under
In the publishing world, pieces are assembled and put together well
deadline. At the time the story was submitted to Suite101, the figure
that clears up that mystery, doesn't it?
THROWN FOR A LOSS
National Football League is doing its part in assuring homeland
Attending the game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas
Cowboys at Candlestick Park, I was surprised to see a Homeland Security
Advisory poster at the entry gate. Even more surprising was a
fellow on a bullhorn advising men to file through gates 7, 8 and 11,
while women needed to enter through gates 9 and 10.
It seems there's a potential threat at football stadiums and so security
"guards" (if you want to call them that) are there to do more
than peek into your bag to see if you're bringing in a bottle of
Cabernet (illegally), a Budweiser or a football.
Security at the stadiums around the country has been ratcheted
up. Of course, we think the notion of looking for a suicide
bomber is probably a good idea in these terrorist-influenced
times. (Some may say fans of the 49ers are probably suicidal
anyway, but that's not the point.)
Imagine my surprise when I saw a security "guard" tossing a
plastic bag full of nail-clippers into a trash container! During
the course of my "pat down," I was found to be attempting to
smuggle in a corkscrew!!!
I wondered precisely what airline "flight" I was getting
on...was someone thinking of "hijacking" Candlestick
Park? Or was I suddenly on the real life "set" of
"The Longest Yard" and entering someplace such as San
Quentin? It was eerie!
"Sir, you can't bring in a corkscrew to a football stadium!" I
was informed by Colonel Klink. I always have a corkscrew in my
pocket. You never know when a bottle of wine needs
He graciously offered to allow me to return to the car out in the
parking lot so I could return "clean" and then get back in
line so I could spend another 30 minutes of "Homeland
Security" protecting America from itself.
Unfortunately, though, parking at Candlestick is at such a premium,
we've been encouraged to take public transit. I had no place to
stash my weapon of potential mass destruction, so I was asked to please
surrender it for the good of America.
An older couple was told its 49ers blanket would be allowed in to the
stadium, but not the zippered container they keep it in.
"We're at war!" exclaimed the security guard. (No zippered
bags larger than a certain, specified size are permitted, though a
shopping bag -no zipper-, is allowed!)
The people who sit behind us said the security folks would not allow
them to enter the stadium with their two nectarines. (Did the
security folks KNOW the 49ers' performance would be worthy of tossing
fruit on to the field?) I sure felt much more secure knowing this
couple didn't have their nectarines! They said they felt more
secure, too, knowing I was missing a corkscrew. (Well, I was only
missing one of the two I happened to have in my possession.
Security, you see, isn't perfect.)
You are, however, allowed to buy a 20 ounce plastic bottle of Coca-Cola
at stadium concession stands. They also sell 16 ounce plastic
bottles of beer. Tossing these from the second deck onto the field
is, apparently, less of a danger than a ripe nectarine, though I can't
quite imagine any of these items is quite a threat to "Homeland
Now I appreciate the NFL wanting to be sure nobody brings in a pistol,
machine gun, machete, dynamite or nuclear weapon, but it seems to me
someone is a wee bit confused on this issue. Box cutter knives may
have turned into a "weapon of mass destruction" in an
airplane, but is someone likely to "hijack" Candlestick Park,
in the first place? And in the second place, would small nail
clippers, the kind that attach to your key ring, be able to be an
implement of great destructive capabilities?
Someone must have patted-down 49er Quarterback Tim Rattay, since he was
so ineffective in the 2nd half, especially the fourth quarter.
When he needed to "throw the bomb" in the final minutes, it
should have surprised no one who'd gone through security that the 49ers'
play-caller didn't have one. Dallas won the game,
DO YOU WANT
FRIES WITH THAT? Many
California vintners are enamored with the notion of selling their wines
in restaurants and dictate to their distributor or broker that they want
half (or more) of their wine sold in "on sale" accounts.
(Retail shops such as ours are "off sale" accounts.)
The model for this sort of marketing was designed in the 1970s,
pre-internet. There were but 20 wineries in Napa.
Restaurants would print their plastic laminated list every other year,
or so. Being on the wine list would guarantee some continuity of
The world has changed since then. Today many dining establishments
have several hundred selections, maintained on a computer. The
list is re-printed as needed and a wine might be on the wine list at
lunch and off it by dinner. There are hundreds of wineries in Napa
and many more wine brands as everyone seems to have their own
label. Many restaurant buyers like to change their lists on a
frequent basis, too.
We appreciate the notion of consumers discovering a wine while having a
fine dining experience, but not every restaurant is a paragon of haute
cuisine. Not that every restaurant needs to be...we appreciate
"good eats" with good wines. But many dining
establishments totally hose consumers with awful wines bought at
close-out prices and then charge ridiculously high prices for this
garbage. So let's agree, please, that only a small
percentage of restaurants "get it" with respect to offering
good food and good wine service.
Sadly, the marketing guru at many wineries don't "get it,"
Many view shops such as ours as "competition" instead of as an
"ambassador." Many wineries today view their tasting
rooms as a "profit center" instead of as a place to
"plant seeds" for future sales.
We are fans of Joel Gott's (yes, winemaker Joel Gott owns Taylor's
Refreshers) lovely "fast food" emporiums (one
in St. Helena in the Napa Valley, the other in San Francisco's Ferry
Plaza Building). The place always has some nice, sensible wines
available for by-the-glass purchase to go with their Patty Melt, Ahi
Tuna Burger or Chinese Chicken Salad.
You can imagine our shock when we saw Shafer's "Hillside
Select" Cabernet, Caymus' "Special Selection," Dalla
Valle Cabernet and Joseph
Phelps' "Insignia" available by the bottle at Taylor's
Refresher in San Francisco. We are certain a bottle of Phelps
fantastic "Insignia" wine will add much pleasure to your Wisconsin
Sourdough Burger or the Texas Burger, but are not sure this is quite the
venue the marketing folks had in mind when demanding their wines be sold
in "restaurants." Do you think tourists (or locals) are
going to pop for a $200 bottle of wine to go with their $5.49 Classic
The sad fact is an increasing number of wineries look to sell their
wines only in "restaurants" and directly to consumers. Some people might say this
"rant" is merely "sour grapes" since we're being
shut out and excluded from making a buck on a sale, but there is no
shortage of good wines for us to have in the shop and the place is
over-flowing with wine.
The wine business will not "grow" if consumers have to
"work" to buy wine. Imagine if you want to prepare a
salad. Think how difficult this would be were you to have to buy
the lettuce directly from one farmer, a cucumber from another source and
tomatoes from someplace else. Let's not even include arugula,
Belgian endive or an avocado, since now it's too laborious to
economically source all these ingredients and get them in a timely (not
to mention, cost-effective) manner. People would stop enjoying a
salad if it became that much of an effort to obtain all the
Yet many California vintners, looking at the successful sales models of
Mendocino's Navarro Vineyards and Napa's V. Sattui, think they can sell
their nectars "only at the winery," too. That elevator
is getting mighty crowded!
We think it's great that Caymus and Shafer make sufficient quantities of
these special wines to be able to sell them to Taylor's Refresher just
in case someone pops for a $200 bottle of Napa Cabernet to go with their
$2.99 Grilled Cheese Sandwich.
McChardonnay might give new meaning to the term "Happy
Meal." Burger King Cabernet might be offered with
additions of oak flavoring so you could really "have it your
We believe it's a pity America's fast food giants don't offer some sort
of wine-by-the-cup program, too.
THE TRUTH ABOUT WINE A
column on this Restaurant Row web site offers some tips from famed
restaurateur Julian Niccolini of New York's "Four Seasons."
We appreciate his suggestion to "Question Authority."
Niccolini suggests ignoring the advice of The Wine Advocate publisher,
Robert Parker, since "...he
is not concerned with regular people enjoying wine."
Okay, sure. Maybe.
Then Niccolini adds "If you want to learn more about wine, I would recommend you read Wine Spectator magazine. Because it is consumer-oriented..."
Keep in mind The Wine Spectator
offers an "award" to restaurants for outstanding wine lists,
but does not visit each and every award "winner" to verify if
the wine list is, indeed, outstanding. Further, restaurants must
PAY the publication to "win" such a distinction!
The Wine Spectator also accepts advertising dollars from wineries whose
wines it claims to objectively critique.
Readers are further advised: "Aside from in the vineyard where the grapes are grown, there is no better place to enjoy good wine than in a restaurant...It's also a place where you can order any bottle with utter confidence that it will be good. No one is going to put an awful bottle on their wine list. So you have nothing to fear about ordering one. So, be adventurous."
Apparently Mr. Niccolini does not
dine out very frequently...We often see appallingly bad wine selections
in restaurants. Some restaurateurs only buy distressed, close-out
wines for their buy-the-glass or bottle lists. Please!
The article is not without some measure of merit. Readers are
urged to "keep an open
mind" but then
he adds "Try
a glass of Chardonnay,"
though, "Personally this is not my favorite wine. It tends to have a strong taste that can overpower most foods."
We're also told to "Toss out the Rule Book"
and "Trust your own Taste buds."
"If You Like White
Zinfandell (sic), Raise Your Glass
There are terrific snobs in every profession. Please don't let a few insecure, wine kooks throw you off. In the world of wine, white zinfandel is considered to be the
musak (sic), the fluff, the "lite" version. But the truth is that if you like it, you should enjoy it. And don't let a snob try to tell you anything different."
We agree that consumers ought to
drink what they like and like what they drink.
I was curious, then, to know which White Zinfandels might be offered by
the bottle at Mr. Niccolini's Four Seasons, so I called the restaurant
I was told by a gentleman "We don't have ANY White Zinfandels on
our wine list!"
The corkage fee for your bottle of
White Zinfandel, by the way, is a mere $40.
There are a couple of
tell-tale (as opposed to Yellow Tail) signs there's a glut of
1. Producers of Cabernet suggest their wine can be paired with
chocolate. Listen...there are wonderful sweet wines which pair handsomely with
chocolate. Think of Port and Banyuls, for example. Those
wines are INTENDED to match nicely with a chocolate dessert.
some winery's Cabernet can be successfully paired with chocolate, it probably won't
taste very good with a grilled steak, a rack of lamb or a prime rib
2. There's a
proliferation of goofy wine brands. Check the shelves at your favorite grocery emporium and you'll
undoubtedly see a most curious array of wine brands. You might
wonder if you're at the zoo or in the wine aisle.
Enough already! Put a leash on it.
Do we need "Thirsty Lizard" wine? What's next, Drunken
Weasel White Zinfandel? Whistling Wombat Gewurztraminer?
Frisky Ferret Folle Blanche?
And then there's Gnarly Head...Jar Head...Toasted Head.
The marketing whizzes might as well have "Pin Head" Pinot
and "Knuckle Head" wines while they're at it.
Another brand is called "Gravity Hills" and they sent out
postcards showing a pick-up truck stuck in a tree. "Obey
Gravity" they write. "It's the law."
Apparently they're not good drivers. I tasted their wines and
found the winemaking to be about as competent as their driving ability.
Fish Eye and Twin Fin brands are, apparently, being aimed at surfing
wine drinkers. "Hey, Dude! Try this Syrah!"
There's a "Jest Red" and "Jest White". We
tasted these. Surely they jest.
You know they forgot to put wine in their bottles when the salient
selling point is the screw cap closure for their bottles.
One firm is marketing Mad Housewife wines.
has "Working Girl" wines such as "Ros The
Riveter," "Go Girl Red" and "Working Girl
While we appreciate these interesting attempts at marketing wines,
sometimes the various brands and types of wines can be too cute.
Knowing how much inventory remains unsold at various wineries and
knowing many sales reps have amazing quotas to meet, we're surprised not
to have been offered "Desperate House Wines."
MILANESE PROTEST HIGH PRICE OF
One of our friends in Europe sent
along this photo of a display which they claimed was a concerted effort
on the part of Milanese wine collectors protesting the high price of
certain Italian wines.
I'm not so sure their interpretation of this photo is accurate, but it
does make for a chuckle.
DAVIS "RESEARCH" A
graduate student at U.C. Davis studied the supposedly symbiotic
relationship between wine and cheese and found that when consumed
together, each alters the other's taste!
Boy, there's a news flash!!!
Imagine the months of agony for the tasting panel...having to slog their
way through tasting various combinations of wines and cheeses to
discover that certain cheeses lessen the tannic "bite" of some
wines! The tasting panel found that drinking wines with
various cheeses made the wines taste less woody and less
There is an old saying in the wine business: Buy on apples,
sell on cheese.
Apples are acidic and cleanse the palate. Cheese coats the
palate and makes certain features of a wine (fine points, flaws, etc.)
Isn't it great that "science" seeks to define precisely what
combinations of wine and food make the best matches?
In a field where matters of "taste" are so subjective, it's
remarkable that a "scientist" seeks to quantify what should be
a hedonistically pleasurable experience.
The next thing you know, some fool is going to claim to be able to
numerically define the quality of a wine using some mythical hundred
There was an armored car parked across the
street from the shop the other day, taking up a couple of parking
spaces, much like the trucks that bring our shipments to the store.
A customer, keenly aware of the price
tags on many California wines these days, piped up, "Hey
Gerald! I think you're getting a delivery of some Napa Valley