Monthly Archives: February 2011

Who do you trust with your wine buying?

A recent article in Publix’s publication, Grape Magazine, spurred this post.  I was flipping through the Sunday edition of the Naples Daily News when I came across the Grape and became interested and started flipping as well.  The issue had a lot of helpful tips and recipe pairings, but I was extremely disturbed with one article.  Called “Wine Simplified” it explored the grape varietal of Chablis….uh excuse me?

According to the Wine Lover’s Companion (my favorite wine encyclopedia and a must for all wine geeks), varietal is defined as “A wine that uses the name of the dominant grape from which it’s made such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Riesling.”  That same resource defines Chablis as “A small growing district located 110 miles southeast of Paris that encircles the town of Chablis in France’s Burgundy region.”  But for many of us, we already new that…Chablis is a region, not a grape varietal.  I highly respect Publix’s business model and their history of growth, but this article does make me question the information dispensed by this article.

It is true, that most European wines (like Chablis) are labeled by their region rather than their grape varietal (a new world practice), and it is an education process that many in the wine industry have been working to disseminate to the wine loving public.  Unfortunately lacking this education kind of makes us Americans look a little naive when it comes to wine.

So I ask who do you trust with your wine buying?  With so many self-proclaimed experts (which we are not claiming we are) on the web, in stores and restaurants, it is really hard to disseminate which are qualified to help educate and develop your palette?  Many times it depends on what you – the consumer – want out of the relationship with your wine expert.  Do you want me to recommend a crisp and clean Pinot Grigio similar to Santa Margherita, sure I can do that.  Want to learn about how Caymus makes their Special Selection?  I can help you out with that too.  Want to know how to grow your own grapes and make wine from scratch?  Hmmm, let me refer you to someone else.  And maybe that’s the key, finding someone that you can trust so much that you know that when they don’t have the right answer for you they’ll either find it or refer you to someone else.

So with that in mind, let me refer you to some information about Chablis, sourced from the Wine Lover’s Companion….

Wine: Chablis
Varietal (Grape): 100% Chardonnay
Region: Chablis is a small region within the region of Burgundy in France.  Chablis is an unique growing region because it produces harsher weather elements than the rest of the larger region of Burgundy.  Due to cooler temperatures, the Chardonnay grapes do not ripen as fully as the Chardonnay from other regions of Burgundy.
Description of the wines: Chablis wines are somewhat different than your typical Burgundy Chardonnay.  They are characterized many times by dryer finishes, more complex flavors, and a touch of minerality.  Most producers in Chablis produce an un-oaked version of Chardonnay leading to to cleaner flavors and often a misnomer among Americans that Chablis is a different wine than Chardonnay (the missing oak confuses many people, Chardonnay has a much different flavor when aged in stainless steel tanks).  However, Chablis can also be aged in oak barrels which leads to smoke and vanilla flavors.
Price point: Chablis has a wide range of pricepoints starting at very affordable value brands which can be as little as $7-$8 per bottle.  However this region also produces some of the world’s best known white wines, and the Grand Cru vineyards (seven total) can command upwards of $50-$75 per bottle at release.


A Closer Look at Hestan Vineyards

Love is a funny thing, it’s blinding and often shields its admirer from the truth.  So I approached this Throwdown (more information about the Throwdown at the end of this post) with caution and hesitation not to get too over zealous about my love, Hestan’s Meyer Cabernet.  Yes, I love this wine.  And I mean love.  But I hestitated because the competition was fierce.  Hestan competed against some of the California heavy weights including Nickel & Nickel, Hess, Newton, Darioush, Chappellet, and Paul Hobbs…come on I didn’t even think they had a chance. Was it in my opinion the best selection of wines at the Throwdown – yes – but we all know how sometimes names and reputations can cloud opinions.  Well love defeated all and Hestan took home the championship of our California round of the Ultimate Throwdown Series.  So here’s a closer look at that vineyard and their fantastic wines.

About the Winery

Hestan Vineyards is owned by the Cheng family (Mr. Cheng is the CEO of the Meyer Corporation, the world’s second largest cookware company with brands including Circulon, KitchenAid, and Faberware).  The vineyards have a combined acreage of 52 total with low yielding fruit including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec.  They are located on the eastern slopes of Napa, in the secluded Gordon Valley located far southeast just on the county line.

The Vineyard

With 127 acres, 41 of which is planted with vines, the Hestan Vineyard provides a unique mix and soil and growing conditions for the vines.  At an average age of 8 years, the vines are exposed to slopes, silt and rocky soils, and meticulous care by the vineyard manager, Angel Camarena, in preparation for the winemaking process.

The Wines

Both the Hestan Vineyard and Meyer Vineyard wines are made from fruit sourced at the Hestan Vineyard under the production of renowned winemaker, Mark Herold.  The Hestan wines are made to be powerful and robust and to display the care paid to the growing of the grapes and the terrior of the unique location of the vineyard.  The second label, Meyer Vineyard, is made in the same style as the Hestan Vineyard with a bit of a smoother mouthfeel and finish.  The Meyer wines are also held a bit longer before release than the Hestan Vineyard (our current vintage of the Meyer is 2005, Hestan is 2007).

Hestan also produces a third line of wines called Stephanie, named after the owners’ daughter.  The wines provide an interesting complexity to the winery.  The same grapes and vineyard sources are used to make the same wines, but with a different winemaker.  Jeffrey Gaffner produces a Cabernet, Proprietary Red Blend, and Merlot in a much different style than Herold.

The winery only produces a few hundred cases of each wine per year, making it not the easiest wine to find.  But when you find it, hold on to it…all three lines of wine are equally impressive with tremendous aging potential.

Some of my favorites:

Hestan Meyer Vineyard Cabernet, 2005
Smooth, rich and chocolaty…this wine does need some time to open up to some its true potential.  Spice and wild berry add elements of complexity.  92 points Wine Spectator

Hestan Stephanie Red Wine, 2006
A traditional Bordeaux style blend aged 24 months in oak, with flavors of blueberry and clove.  The signature chocolate and mocha from the fruit enter at the finish. 91 points Wine Spectator

About The Ultimate Wine Throwdown

The Ultimate Wine Throwdown is a series of wine tasting competitions hosted by Decanted Wines in Naples, Florida.  Each event focuses on a different wine producing region.  Eight wineries represent each region and compete for a chance to claim champion and represent their region in the Finale, hosted in December, where they will compete against the rest of the world.  Winners are determined by customer votes and the wineries are selected by a team of wine experts from Decanted and their suppliers.

Traveling through the Ribera del Duero

Spain Wine Regions

I’ve said a few times now that I thought the best value to find in Europe right now is Spain, so I thought I would feature one of my favorite regions of Spain – the Ribera del Duero.

Ribera del Duero is a Denominación de Origen (DO), which is a classification in the regulatory system for Spanish wines, located in country’s northern plateau along the Duero river.  The region is characterized by rocky, flat terrain.  The soil is composed of silky and clay sand with layers of limestone, marl and chalk.  The region has a pretty rough climate with long, dry and hot summers which lead into hard winters with low temperatures below freezing at times.

Wine production in the region stems back to over 2,000 years ago.  Today almost exclusively red grapes are grown in the Ribera del Duero region, the only white varietal being Albillo – a native Spanish grape produced mainly for local consumption.  The vast majority of production is Tempranillo (Tinto Fino as its known in Spain); Grenache (Garnacha), Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Merlot are grown in smaller quantities and used as blending grapes in many of the wines.  The region is best known for premium producer, Vega Sicilia, whose high quality wines are often rated 90+ points by most critics and priced well over $100 per bottle.

But like I said, there is value to be found in Spain and Ribera del Duero.  The wines of this region very much remind of wines geared toward the American palette.  The use of Cabernet and Merlot in many of the blends, smooth the ‘earthiness’ out of many of the Tempranillos that is often associated with the old world.  Here are some of my favorites from the region:

Emilio Mor0, 2007
Ribera del Duero
100% Tempranillo, the vines are between 15 and 25 years old.  Aged for 12 months in French and American oak barrels with no cold treatments.  Surprisingly complex, deep and dark with tannins that will help the wine age in the future but not obtrusive in its youth.  The second in a series from this winery, and in my opinion their best (better than the third in the series at $50).

Vina Mayor Reserva, 2004
Ribera del Duero
100% Tempranillo aged for 18 months in French and American oak barrels followed by another 18 months of aging in the bottle before release.  Deep, dark cherry red with flavors of ripe black fruit and smooth oak.  Sure to stand the test of time.  Ranked in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 of 2010.

Feature Winery: Saddlerock Vineyards

When I think of Malibu, I think of sand and surf, movie stars and shopping…but not necessarily food and wine.  But if you think of the Santa Monica Mountain Range situated slightly west of the city, the climate is actually pretty good for growing grapes.

The mountain range extends for about 40 miles near the coast of California at an elevation topping out at just under 1,000 feet.  Geologists believe the range was created from the Raymond Fault line, the process of uplifting and submergence has created dense sedimentary and volcanic rock under foot.   The climate is also favorable in the mountains, dry, warm summers followed by mild to cool winters.

Enter Malibu Family Vineyards, Saddlerock Ranch was bought by the Semler Family/Malibu Family Vineyards and turned into a winery.  Owners of Patron, the Semler family took their experience from the liquor industry to develop the Saddlerock Ranch winery into a brand.  The winery has developed into about 60,000 vines over 65 acres with plans to reach 100,000 wines.  Today they produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Malbec, Grenache, Viognier and Mouvedre.

Saddlerock Chardonnay, 2009
From:  Central Coast (Santa Monica Mountains)
Description:  Light gold in color, this fruit forward Chardonnay has powerful flavors of green apple, pear, and orange blossoms.   A crisp, clean light style with a smooth finish.

Saddlerock Merlot, 2008
From:  Central Coast (Santa Monica Mountains)
Description:  Fruit forward on the nose with intense flavors of strawberry and cherry on the palette.  A nice spice rounds out the body and leads to a strong and sustaining finish.

Saddlerock Pinot Noir, 2007
From:  Central Coast (Santa Monica Mountains)
Description:  This gold medal winning Pinot Noir displays the true style of the Central Coast.  Balanced fruit flavors with clove and earth.  A medium style with surprisingly restrained oak and jammy fruits.

Saddlerock Cabernet, 2007
From:  Central Coast (Santa Monica Mountains)
Description:  Smooth and complex fruit forward Cabernet with flavors of dark cherry, creme brulee and chocolate.  Dessert in a bottle!


New Arrivals: Value Section

We’ve all been there, we’re three bottles deep with a group of friends and no one can even taste the wine – but we want more…OR that neighbor that couldn’t tell the difference between Kendall Jackson and Kistler ‘pops over for a drink’…OR it’s just Monday night and you really don’t want to open that special bottle.  So we’ve created a new value or best buy area of the store and website for just those occasions and any other reasons you can think of.

We started by doing some massive tasting (I know our job is rough) of wines we can retail for under $15 and came up with about 15 or so to start the section with.  We’ll be continually tasting and look for great finds and rotating them on a weekly basis, so be sure to check it out – we promise there will always be something new.

We picked up a few pointers when searching out these wines.  When it comes to value – think outside the box.  Leave Napa and Sonoma behind and try exploring some other less ‘popular’ regions.  Spain has probably the best values coming out of Europe right now, nice full bodied fruit with smooth tannins…high quality wines that would be priced in the $20 range in the states.  Australia took a beating after the whole over production fiasco a few years ago, but some of the smaller wineries are starting to rebound and with lower prices.  Often we think of French wines as rare and expensive, however if you look to value areas like the Rhone & Languedoc you can find some great values.  Also try buying wines that are made outside their region.  Many Europe wine production rules state that only specific grapes can be grown in a region to be sold as that region’s wine.  For example, in Burgundy, France only Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Gamay can be produced and sold as a ‘Burgundy’ wine.  However, we found a fantastic sparkling made in the Champagne style (can’t be called Champagne because its not from that region) that is produced in Burgundy out of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir…for only $9 a bottle!  You can’t get better quality Chardonnay and Pinot that from Burgundy.  And last but not least, try something new.  It won’t kill you, actually it will only cost you a few bucks…it may open your world to something you never imagined… 🙂

Some of our Value Wine Selections

Kilda Chardonnay & Shiraz

Louis Perdrier Brut & Brut Rose
Burgundy, France

Terra Andina Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir Reserve, Carmenere & Cabernet Sauvignon
$11 (Pinot is $13)

Vina Borgia Tinto

Campos Reales Tempranillo

Ponga Sauvignon Blanc
New Zealand

Protocolo Blanco & Tinto

Fleur du Cap Sauvignon Blanc & Chardonnay
South Africa

Colosi Rosso
Silicy, Italy

What’s In A Glass?

Decanted's Riedel Wine Presentation, Compliments of Ivan Seligman

Last night we held one of our personal favorite tasting events, a Riedel Stemware Tasting & Presentation (compliments of Lisa & AJ from Riedel Crystal for conducting the presentation).  We’ve been longtime advocates of proper stemware, and in particular varietal specific stemware.  We had the opportunity to participate in one of these seminars a few years ago and then again this year at a trade show hosted by Southern Wine & Spirits.

The presentation includes five different stems and four different wines.  Participants are asked to taste the wines in the appropriate stem and then move them around into the others.  For example, Chardonnay goes in the Cabernet glass…Sauvignon Blanc into the Pinot glass, etc.  There is a Sauvignon Blanc/Riesling glass, Chardonnay glass, Pinot Noir glass, Cabernet glass, and a ‘joker’ glass.  The joker glass is a standard all-purpose glass used to represent a typical glass used at restaurants or households (we used a libby wine glass for ours).  The four different wines served are wines that are typical of the varietals that should be served in the above glasses.  Our chosen wines were:

1.  Grgich Hills Fume Blanc, 2008 (Sauvignon Blanc), $30
2.  Forman Chardonnay, 2008, $50
3.  Merry Edwards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, 2008, $60
4.  Whitehall Lane Reserve Cabernet, 2007, $75

The best part of this presentation is watching the reaction of the crowd when the workshop finally gets going.  As participants poured their Grgich into the ‘joker’ glass for the first time they were stunned.  The brilliant color of the wine disappeared, the aromas disappeared and it tasted surprisingly watery.  Even worse was pouring it into the (Riedel) Chardonnay glass, the wine became overly acidic.  As the tasting went on, less and less participants were willing to dump their beloved wine into the wrong glass.  One of our customers commented, “I’m not wasting this wine it’s too good!”

But why the difference?  What makes Riedel so special?  It boils down to two things – crystal and shape.

The Vinum, Vinum Extreme, Sommeliers, Grape, Vitis and Tyrol series and most decanters are made of leaded crystal. (Ouverture, Wine, Vivant and O series are not)  The leaded crystal produces clearer colors and enhanced aromas which typical glassware actually inhibits.  A good example Lisa (Riedel) used last night was a typical glass shelf in your house or retail store…if you look at the side of it, it produces a greenish hue.  That is the true color of the glass, and the true color of most typical restaurant wine glasses – and why the color of a wine can be distorted.

The Riedel family has spent years with the world’s best wine experts to develop the perfect shaped glass for each varietal.  The shape for a specific varietal depends on many different things, but results in the shape that best enhances the aromas and flavors of the wine.  For example, the large open bulb on the Montrachet (Chardonnay) glass enables you to take in the complex and large varieties of aromas in a Chardonnay; while the thin bulb of the Sauvignon Blanc/Riesling glass makes sure that the wine hits you tongue at exactly the center (and the right taste buds) for the wine.  The Pinot Noir and Cabernet glasses may have a larger bulb, but are not as open as the Montrachet (playfully known as the ‘red wine killer’) making sure that the red wine gets enough oxygen to open up the wine but not an over abundance that would kill the aroma.

The comment that summed up the night for me came from Ivan Seligman of (who also reports for Gulfshore Life), “If you want to make a $90 bottle of wine taste like a $9 bottle, just serve it in those regular $3-5 non-crystal glasses you have at home. Conversely, a fine crystal glass of say a Cabernet design, paired with a so-so Cabernet, will make it taste better, though not like a $90 bottle.”

So to all those non-believers in premium (or expensive) wine, I beg the question…The last time you had that $50 of Cabernet that didn’t taste any better than your $2 buck chuck – what kind of glass was it served in?  Was it an old thick, open bulb found at the bottom of your mother’s china cabinet or whatever the server brought to the table?  We’re not advocating stocking every home you drink wine in with a pricey set of every varietal specific Riedel stem, and certainly not traveling with them.  But if you are one that enjoys good wine, isn’t it worth the investment for just a set or two for your favorite type of wine?  An investment that will enhance your favorites and bring out the best in the wine, what the winemaker intended you to experience.

We’ve been in the non-believer place and have met many a customers (and family and friends) that have been or are still there.  But believe us on this, a stemware experiment such as the Riedel presentation is powerful and turns believers out of us all.

A Profile on Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc

Once in a while children become superstars.  It happened with Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, and yes…Cabernet Sauvignon.  The child of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon often outshines its parent when it comes to red varietal wines and even in traditional Bordeaux and Meritage style blends.

Cabernet Franc is one of the main red grape varietals in the world.  It is one of the seven Bordeaux grapes grown in Bordeaux, France and traditionally blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  But Cabernet Franc can be made into a 100% varietal wine in many areas of the world including the Loire Valley in France, California, Washington and Argentina.

Cabernet Franc was discovered in the Libournais region of France (Southwest) in the 17th century, almost immediately transplanted to the Loire Valley.  In the 18th century, Cabernet Franc spread into the Bordeaux region and began to appear in the red blended wines famous to the region.  In the late 1990’s many noticed the similarities between the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and a relationship between the two was discovered.

Cabernet Franc is traditionally a bit lighter in body than Cabernet Sauvignon, but offers a spicier flavor profile often with hints of pepper, tobacco, cassis and even violets and greenness.  The flavor of Cabernet Franc is very specific and often surprises many people, in many ways it is similar to its child, but the reduced tannins and green flavors are very distinctive.

Some of the differences in the flavors of the wine are do to the viticulture and growing practices.  Cabernet Franc buds and ripens about a week prior to Cabernet Sauvignon.  Cabernet Franc is also a bit more versatile in the the types of soil it can grow in, but thrives in sandy, chalky soils.

You can find Cabernet Franc at all price points, however if you are exploring this ‘new’ grape we highly suggest spending the extra money to get a high quality wine from a premium producer.  Here are some reccomendations:

1.  Cougar Crest Cabernet Franc
Columbia Valley, Washington
By far one of my favorite wines (not just Cabernet Franc but overall), this wine is smooth and full bodied…jammy berries balanced with oak, tobacco, pepper, and green herbs.
92 points, Wine Spectator

2. Darioush Cabernet Franc
Napa Valley, California
A premium producer in Napa, this wine is blended with 5% Merlot which perfectly balances the Cabernet Franc.  Vibrant dark fruits (blackberry, cassis) balanced earth and lavendar.

Nectar of the Gods

We have Dionysus to thank for the wine we drink today in the 21st century. Apparently he was the one responsible for inventing wine.

As a Greek god worshiped over 3000 years ago from 1500-1100 BC, Dionysus was praised as the god of all things wine. His duly services include watching over humankind who were involved in wine-drinking for pleasure, drunkenness, wine-drinking for good health, grape harvest, grape tending, wine making, wine types, wine regions, and wine merchants and commerce (evidently, in the instance that things go awry here at Decanted, he’s the go-to guy). He is also known by his Roman name, Bacchus and the two are used interchangeably.

As the story goes, “When Bakkhos saw the wild grapes with a bellyful of red juice…he dug into the rock, he hollowed out a pit in the stone with the sharp prongs of his earth-burrowing pick, he smoothed the sides of the deepening hold and made an excavation like a winepress and made the first ever batch of wine.” That sounds almost too easy, but I guess if you are a god, then I suppose anything is relatively easy.

Since these events weren’t recorded as accurately as maybe they should have been, we have no idea of knowing how the skill and art of wine making was passed along into the hands of us mere mortals, but it was very kind of him to share his discovery to say the least.

From the unimaginative and strictly logical perspective,  I’m going to throw a left handed pitch here. If Greek and Roman gods are in fact “myths”, then I’m guessing that wine was around before the god Dionysus was conceptualized one night around the campfire. If humans made up the story about him inventing wine, then…dare I ask…was it in fact humans that invented wine? And if so, wouldn’t we want to take credit for it? Maybe it was just an excuse to put the work of mankind up onto a pedestal. Gray areas and mysteries of the past forever to remain unanswered.

In any case, stories are always fun and I will leave you with a jovial quote from Mnesitheus, Greek physician and wine drinker; “the gods had revealed wine to mortals, to be the greatest blessing for those who use it aright… For it gives food to them that take it, and strength in mind and body. To those who mix and drink it moderately, it gives good cheer”