It was June of 2009, Al and I were in the midst of a road trip across the country (10,000 miles to be exact) on a venture that would end in our new home – Naples, Florida. Along the way we had stopped at multiple vineyards, wine stores and wine bars doing ‘research’ for our new business venture…Decanted. We found hundreds of great small production gems and value wines along the way in Napa, Sonoma, Oregon, and Washington. But we never expected to find our favorite wine of the trip – Charles & Charles Rose (2008) – in Louisville, Kentucky.
We stopped in Louisville for the weekend to meet up with my sisters and her boyfriend at the time (will be become her husband this weekend!) After some research, we decided on an impromptu gourmet dinner at the highly recommended Proof on Main. It was hot and we were all tired from a day at Churchill Downs, so we decided on a crisp and light rose to start the evening. The waiter’s suggestion turned out to be a good one, and four bottles of it later we had bought out the restaurant of its supply.
Charles & Charles is a joint venture between two of our favorite wine makers – Charles Smith and Charles Bieler – made from 100% Syrah grapes from the vineyards of Columbia Valley, Washington. Smith has described the wine in past vintages as a “crisp, jolly rancher.” This vintage? Smith says, “Remember Jolly Ranchers? Hold that thought…grab a bottle of this wine, open, pour, sniff, swirl, taste. Now…dontchya think that this wine is the way-evolved, been-around-the-world-a- few-times, insouciantly hip, cool-as-the-other-side-of-the-pillow, casually bad a** son of Jolly Rancher? Yeah, we thought so, too.” We don’t think there is a better way to describe the wine, or the winemakers. That refreshingly bad a** approach to a style of wine that has maintained an inferior reputation for a number of years in the U.S., gives us hope for the future of rose.
I often tell people there are a lot of things that go into how good a bottle of wine is. And for those bottles of 2008 in Louisville it was a combination of discovering something new, a great wine, great winemakers…but most likely it was the situation and the people. In 2009, we were slightly disappointed by the wine not living up to our insane expectations (how could it?) However this vintage, 2010, is our favorite to date. Complex yet crisp, I haven’t found a domestic rose that can top it. Al and I actually fought over the last glass the other night, which rarely happens. Oh yeah, and if I forgot to mention…it’s only $13.
And for those non-rose believers, we have a new addition to the store…Charles & Charles Red. A blend of Cabernet and Syrah, the project uses some of the very best grapes from the Wahluke Slope and delivers a slamduck table wine at an affordable pricepoint ($13).
I was teaching a wine basics class last night and one of the topics that came up was vintage years for wine, and what makes one so much better than the other? I thought it would be a great topic for the blog as well and decided to recap my answer here. The first thing that needs to be understood when it comes to vintage – or years – is that grapes are an agricultural product which are farmed just like anything else we eat…tomatoes, oranges, etc. There are certain conditions and locations that promote the growth and ripening of grapes . Assuming that a winery has already chosen an appropriate site with soil and climate conditions that are ideal for the type of grape that is planted (a whole other topic), the main factor that affects vintage is weather.
Grapes are picky. They want (in general) the weather conditions we all wish for. Moderate winters, and summers full of warm, sunny days and cool nights with some rain but nothing overwhelming. In a perfect vintage, this is what happens. It may be easier to explain what vintners don’t want to happen rather than the ideal conditions (where none of these things would happen).
Frost/Severe Weather in the Spring: Bud break usually occurs in April/May (for northern hemisphere vineyards), if prior to that the area has frost or some kind of severe weather on the cold side, bud break can be hindered resulting in a reduced crop.
Severe Weather during Flowering: Early in June, the buds typically begin to flower which will in turn start the production of berries. Any severe weather – hail, strong thunderstorms and wind, chilling temperatures – at this stage can be incredibly devastating to a vineyard. The result will be berries that fail to develop or grapes that are uneven in size making ripening and harvesting more difficult.
Summer: This is the longest and most crucial part of grape development. The grapes need the right amount of sunshine/rain to properly ripen. In a drought, grapes will not ripen. Too much rain, same thing. The warm summer days keep the ripening process moving during the day while the cool nighttime temperatures prevent an early harvest.
Harvest: At harvest, rain is the biggest potential destroyer of a crop. If the area receives too much rain, the grapes are engorged with water and will develop watery flavors.
In general, the best vintages had perfect weather. If you are a wine enthusiast planning on starting a collection of premium wines, pay close attention to vintage. Erobertparker.com is a great resource and contains a vintage chart and ratings for just about every available vintage and region. Just buying wine to drink? Trust your local wine professional to sell you a decent vintage. Most vintages are good (in ratings about 80 – 90) and the wineries produce good wine. Professionals will be well aware of great vintages and most often point them out (over 90 points). Terrible vintages? You shouldn’t event be able to find them in our stores!
Hewitt is not a new wine to us, but with a recent deal we’re offering on the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon I decided to revisit – and re-taste – this Napa big boy.
A closer look at Hewitt Vineyards
The vineyard that is now Hewitt was planted originally in 1880, it was one of the few that actually survived the Prohibition area and even one of the fewer that admits it did it by shipping grapes to home winemakers on the east coast (a not so technically legal practice). The property borders the original Ingelnook vineyard (now Rubicon Estate) in the Rutherford district of Napa, known for its high quality fruit and its signature ‘Rutherford dust.’ In 1962, William Hewitt – a former head of John Deer Company – from the daughter of the original vineyard owner. He immediately enlisted the help of his neighbor, Bealieau Vineyard’s winemaker, André Tchelistchef, to replant the site with Cabernet Sauvignon. In 2001, Hewitt produced its – and the vineyards – first single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
2006 Hewitt Cabernet Sauvignon
Hewitt produces only wine one each year – it’s single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. The goal of the wine is to highlight the storied terrior the fruit comes from only the best fruit available. Winemaker, Tom Rinaldi, says “I get to select the exact rows I want from our spectacular vineyard.” Qualified selection such as that comes at a price to pay – low production numbers. It is a limited edition wine with production often times in the 5,000 case range. The 2006 exhibits flavors of red currant, rustic earth, sage, and licorice. The wine is full bodied with a full fruit flavor balanced with tannins that will help the wine to continue to develop until 2016. Receiving a rating of 92 points, Wine Spectator calls it “Intense and full-blown, rich and concentrated, with a rustic, earthy edge to the dried currant, sage and underbrush notes.”
The wine begins with an extreme selection of only the best grapes in the vineyard. The wine is typically 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, but at times other grapes are blended to add complexity and body. The grapes are destemmed before crush so at least 30% of the fruit goes through full berry primary fermentation
Hewitt Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006
Regularly $105, Sale $75.00
I really don’t mean to, but I rub off on people. It might be my youth, insatiable personality, or the mullet I’m currently working on. But I’m also pretty sure it has something to do with my wine knowledge. I wrote last time about how I have a little wine box – chardonnay, cabernet, and pinot noir. Unfortunately sometimes I think that my little box rubs off on my clients as well. As I have started to venture outside the box, subsequently they do as well.
Recently, I suggested a bottle of Purple Angel to a group for dinner. Purple Angel is a premium carmenere and petit verdot from Chile. We also added some other bottles to the pile including Soda Canyon’s newly released 2009 Cabernet. So what happened with my little experiment? The Purple Angel was popped open at dinner to reveal a complex, but tightly wound wine. Giving it even just an hour to breathe doesn’t do it justice. So the group opened the Cabernet which paired wonderfully with the meal. The Purple Angel was put aside for another day and time.
The next day, one member of the group tasted the Angel. Better. The day after, better still. The wine continued to develop over the next three days and blew the client away – something he was not expecting from a carmenere or Chilean wine.
Lesson learned? Drink what you like, but have the courage to explore once in a while. Oh…and always bring a back up bottle to dinner, who knows what is going to happen!
- The last email of the day came at 4:57pm with a list of 20 things to be done by 12noon tomorrow.
- As you started the car to head home the “check engine” light appeared.
- Your computer did not need to be restarted once today! Celebrate!
- It’s the 28th day of the month; that means all the bills are due in the next 3 days.
- It is the season finale of your favorite reality TV show – who is going to win? Who is she going to pick?
- You made it through one full week without caffeine – you deserve a treat.
- It’s taco night and what goes better with tacos than a nice spicy Malbec?
- For at least one hour before the kids go to bed there will not be once piece of laundry in the laundry baskets.
- Looks like you’re out of milk for breakfast – guess wine will do.
- TGI ..M…T…W…Th…F…S…Sun
- Leftovers don’t taste as good unless you are having the same wine with them you had the night before
- What’s the old saying? It’s gotta be Friday night, 5 o’clock somewhere?
- A Sponge Bob marathon is on tonight, that’ll keep the kids busy
- The drive home from work only took 30 minutes today.
- The drive home from work took almost 2 hours!
- That sock you lost 2 weeks ago just appeared under the couch
- I’ve been working at the same company for so many years and the CEO hasn’t a clue who I am
- The weather was terrible today, need some wine to warm up.
- It has been sunny for 4 straight days, I’m so thirsty I need a glass of wine.
- What’s the saying? A bottle a day, keeps the doctor away?
I stay in the same box all the time: chardonnay, cabernet and occasionally get crazy with some pinot noir. But lately for some reason all I want to drink is zinfandel. It’s so god damn good! And no, it doesn’t matter that we’re heading into the unbearable hot summer in Florida. Apparently zin pairs perfectly with humidity.
Last Wednesday was my blue collar day. A full day of manual labor, I packed and shipped around 125 cases of wine. At the end of the day most people crave a beer…all I wanted way a cheeseburger and a glass of zinfandel. Maybe it stems from my recent memory of heavy wine and burgers. About a month or so ago, a friend suggested a bottle of 1997 Guigal La Tourque with a Five Guys, not your typical pairing but I was up for it. Turned out to be both a brilliant and delicious idea.
Unfortunately, since then I haven’t been able to replicate that bottle of Guigal but have found that zinfandel pairs equally as well with burgers (Five Guys or not). Some recent finds include Martinelli Giuseppe and Luisa and for those ‘everyday drinking’ bottles Klinker Brick. So for me, put those summer whites and roses away. Just hand me a big, bold, kick you in the teeth wine and a juicy burger and I’m all set.
One thing I love about wine is the geography and history aspect, as I have mentioned before I am a book nerd so this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to those who know me. Since wine does have such a long, deep and interesting (I often compare it to a soap opera) history I thought I would start my first post in this topic with a brief timeline.
8,000 – 6,000 BC: Evidence shows that the earliest wine production began in the areas that are now Armenia, Georgia and Iran. Wine production has also been discovered in Macedonia where there was also evidence of crushed grapes.
6,000 BC: First wine press, found in Armenia
1,000 BC: Romans begin to classify grapes by color, ripening characteristics, and taste. They also begin research on diseases that can attack grapes and identify which soils tend to produce better grapes.
325 AD: Oldest known bottle of wine that has been discovered. It was found in 1867 in a small town in Germany.
1001: Leif Eriksson discovers North America and names it ‘Vineland’ for the endless species of native grapes he found. It was later discovered that this was a separate species of grapes – vitis labrusca – than the vitis vinifera grapes being grown in Europe.
1152: Britain becomes the principle buyer of Bordeaux. At this time, French wines dominated the wine market and are consider the best in the world.
1500s & 1600s: Exploration brings grapes (and wine) to new areas such as Mexico, Argentina and South Africa.
1609: American settlers make the first wine from the native vitis labrusca grapes and are thoroughly disappointed. Settlers respond by ordering vinifera cuttings from Europe but fail miserably at growing the vines in the new world.
1683: William Penn plants the first vineyard in Pennsylvania.
1769: The first California vineyard is planted with Mission grapes by Franciscan missionary Father Junipero Serra.
1800s: After numerous attempts of growing vinifera vines on the East Coast, US winemakers are successful with a new breed of grapes – American hybrids – which are a cross between vinifera and labrusca.
1849: The gold rush brings settlers and wine to the modern day wine growing regions of California.
1863: Native American vines (vitis lambrusca) are taken to Europe for research. The grape lose, phylloxera vastatrix, tags along for a ride on the vines (which American vines are immune to). The lose attacks and spreads to European vines destroying almost all of the vines in Europe over the next 20 years. The travesty increases demand for vinifera wine being grown in California. By 1876, California is producing more than 2.3 million gallons of wine per year.
1876: Phylloxera arrives back on American soil and begins attacking the vinifera vines planted in California. Finally, later in the 1800s it is discovered that by grafting vinifera grapes onto labrusca vines, growing regions can outsmart and avoid the phylloxera problem.
1920: US Congress enacts the 18th amendment which begins Prohibition. At this time there are more than 700 wineries in California. At one point, the government even stepped in and disallowed the production of non-alcoholic grape juice (people were ordering it and fermenting the juice into wine on their own at home).
1930s: The French AOC (Appellation d’origine controlee) is created.
1933: Congress repeals Prohibition, but the wine industry in America is descimated. Only 160 wineries remain in California.
Late 1950s: The American ‘wine boom’ begins.
1976: Chateau Montelena and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars top French producers in the blind tasting of Paris.
2011: US becomes the largest wine consuming country for the first time in history.
1980s: The American AVA (American Viticultural Area) regional system is enacted.
This is one of those secret gems I’m always talking about. This is one the first cult wines we carried, and subsequently one of our favorites. Second label of Beau Vigne, I discovered it last year on recommendation when I was trying to find another wine similar to Dave Phinney’s the Prisoner.
The blend changes every year. I think this year is mainly Cab and Syrah? Doesn’t matter, it’s just really good. Wasn’t expecting much out of this vintage especially following 2007 (they skipped 2008 due to low yields) which received those ridiculous ratings as a vintage. I guess this is another wine that goes to show you vintage to vintage doesn’t matter as much when you are dealing with a high class producer.
Call this wine whatever you want, storm chaser, tornado crusher, grape stomper, Barrel Chaser just plain rocks.
Let’s face it wine is intimidating. When I first decided I liked wine, I was so intimidated by its culture and stuffiness that I was scared to walk into a real wine store. So I stuck to my liquor depots (Jersey’s pride and joy) and once or twice I even ventured into Total Wine. But walk into a boutique wine store? No way.
What was I so scared of? Everything. I imagined walking into the store, looking around and seeing nothing that I was familiar with. I couldn’t read the foreign labels, and most of the time I didn’t even know what grape I was looking for let alone know what a ‘meritage’ was. I read a wine blog once where a user responded, ”Wine has always been thought of as the beverage of the privileged class.” And that’s how I felt. At 22 and a beginner in my wine enjoyment career, I was definitely not the privileged class.
So how did I get from that terrified state to owning a specialty wine store? Easy answer, another specialty wine store. After moving to Aspen, Colorado I finally worked up the nerve to walk into a proper wine retailer. It might have been the age (mine), might have been the atmosphere, or more likely the fact that Aspenites are a little bit more friendly than us from Jersey. But I walked in that first day and admitted my flaws (or so I thought).
“I just got into wine, I don’t know much about it – at all – just that I like it. I like everything, reds, whites, I want to try it all. Oh and I don’t make that much money, so I’m most definitely on a budget.” Part of me was expecting the shopkeeper to huff and puff and throw me right out of the store. Instead he laughed, and said “You know what, ditto.” And that’s how it all began.
I realized that wine isn’t some highly intellectual activity that only the wealthy and super intelligent take part in. It wasn’t some club that you needed to study in order to gain entrance. It was a beverage, a very good beverage with good a background and history. I began to enjoy the exploration of new grapes, new blends and even the process of winemaking, viticulture and the history behind it. True, I’ve always been a book nerd so it didn’t come as much of a surprise.
Years later, I’ve tried to embrace what that shopkeeper taught me in my daily interaction with customers. Wine is simple, you like it or you don’t. Most enjoy it for the simple pleasure of drinking it. If you want to know more, great I’ll tell you. If not, no big deal – I won’t judge. Because the last thing anyone in the wine industry - wine makers, owners, critics, retailers, sommeliers - wants is wine to be is scary.
This week’s unique grape varietal even took me out of my comfort zone. Recently I have begun to enjoy more and more Rhone Valley white blends. Each time I taste one, I ask about the blend and get the same standard answer “Marsanne, Rousanne, and a little bit of some of Rhone Valley grapes.” But what other grapes I wondered? We recently received a new Rhone white blend and I decided to dig a little deeper. What I found was that it was a blend of not only Marsanne and Rousanne, but also Viognier and Bourboulenc? I had to do some research on this new, unique grape.
Click here to listen to how the French pronounce it!
Although found in the south of France, it is thought that Bourboulenc could be of Greek origin. It has been growing for centuries in the Rhone Valley, but the production of the grape dropped by about 50% in the 1970′s and then was reduced again by the same amount in the late 1980′s. One area that has increased their production of Bourboulenc is the Languedoc which is southeast of the Rhone.
The grape thrives in southern areas with intense sun exposure and heat. Highly resistant to drought, the vine achieves a high degree of ripeness and corresponding alcohol in the warmer climates.
France: Langeudoc, southern Rhone Valley especially Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Bourboulenc can be used as a blending grape in both the white and rosé wines of the southern Rhône Valley. However, the total production of this grape constitutes less than ten percent of total production and only two to three percent of production of white grapes. Bourboulenc is mainly blended with Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Rousanne, and Marsanne. It can also play a minor role in red Châteauneuf-du-Pape blends.
Well-made Bourboulenc wine can have good acidity level, body, penetrating character, citrus aromas and a hint of smoke, but if the grapes are picked too soon the wines have a thin, neutral taste.