Monthly Archives: May 2011

Waiting on a Wine Angel

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!

20 (Legitimate) Reasons to Break out a Bottle of Wine Everyday

Because sometimes we just need to celebrate (and enjoy) little victories in life…or need a pick me up from the day that just occurred. Here’s a list of some everyday reasons to enjoy that bottle of wine, compiled by wildly humorous sister.
  1. The last email of the day came at 4:57pm with a list of 20 things to be done by 12noon tomorrow.
  2. As you started the car to head home the “check engine” light appeared.
  3. Your computer did not need to be restarted once today! Celebrate!
  4. It’s the 28th day of the month; that means all the bills are due in the next 3 days.
  5. It is the season finale of your favorite reality TV show – who is going to win? Who is she going to pick?
  6. You made it through one full week without caffeine – you deserve a treat.
  7. It’s taco night and what goes better with tacos than a nice spicy Malbec?
  8. For at least one hour before the kids go to bed there will not be once piece of laundry in the laundry baskets.
  9. Looks like you’re out of milk for breakfast – guess wine will do.
  10. TGI ..M…T…W…Th…F…S…Sun
  11. Leftovers don’t taste as good unless you are having the same wine with them you had the night before
  12. What’s the old saying? It’s gotta be Friday night, 5 o’clock somewhere?
  13. A Sponge Bob marathon is on tonight, that’ll keep the kids busy
  14. The drive home from work only took 30 minutes today.
  15. The drive home from work took almost 2 hours!
  16. That sock you lost 2 weeks ago just appeared under the couch
  17. I’ve been working at the same company for so many years and the CEO hasn’t a clue who I am
  18. The weather was terrible today, need some wine to warm up.
  19. It has been sunny for 4 straight days, I’m so thirsty I need a glass of wine.
  20. What’s the saying?  A bottle a day, keeps the doctor away?

Outside my box: pairing zinfandel with humidity

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.

A Brief History on Wine

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.

I’ve been waiting a full year for this…. 2009 Barrel Chaser Released

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.

A Great Trade Tasting for Once

I had a surprisingly great tasting yesterday at the La Playa Hotel new wines.  Trade tastings are not my favorite.  You’d be amazed at how many people want to tie one on at 12pm on Tuesday at these tastings.  I’ve even witnessed wine professionals mix two different wines together and continue to sing its praises afterwards.  I’ve held back my comments.

Today was different though –  great group of people that followed the protocol of normal human beings. We tasted through seven wines, six of  which were better than average.  This rarely happens especially with the mood I was in today – I kind of set out expecting not to like any of them.  Paul Hobbs is making wine for a new project called Gaurachi, producing a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Here are my favorites:

  • 2009 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast:  Rather good, 2.25 on my 3 point scale.
  • 2008 Montes Purple Angel Carmenere, Chile:  The standout of the group.  Itook a sip or two of the other wines due to lack of spittoons but drank the  entire glass of Purple Angel.  Incredible nose but followed through front to back flawless throughout; lots of blue fruit and layered…made me even think a bit.  Sat next to a Master Sommelier (only 250 in the world) and he found the Angel incredible as well.  The Purple Angel received a 2.75/3 scale today.

I’m Scared to Walk into a Wine Store

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.

Century Club Varietals: Bourboulenc

A village in Chateauneuf du Pape, Bourboulenc's main growing region

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.

Growing Conditions
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.

Find in
France:  Langeudoc, southern Rhone Valley especially Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Wines produced
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.

Century Club Varietals: Cava

The title of this article breaks one of my cardinal rules:  a style of wine as grapes/varietals.  However, I did it purely as a marketing tactic.  If I had named this post Macabeo, Xarello, & Parellada would you be reading it right now?  Probably not.

Name:  Cava is a style of wine made in Spain which is recognized Denominación de Origen (DO) when produced in the traditional method, which is actually the same method the French use to produce Champagne – méthode champenoise.  Although, most Cava are produced using the three grapes I mentioned about (Macabeo, Xarello & Parellada); Cava can also contain:  Subirat (white), Chardonnay (white), Garnacha (red) & Monastrell (red).

White or red: Cava can be produced as either a white or rose sparkling wine.

Grows: Most Cava is produced in the Northwestern region of Spain, most notably the Penedes area of Catalonia.

Tastes like: To me Cava has a slightly more bubbles than its cousins – Champange and Prosecco.  Cava is traditionally a light bodied wine, dry, with strong floral and fruit flavors.  Cava, like Champagne, can be produced in a variety of different levels of dryness from brut to demi-sec.

Price range: $10 – $40

Examples:  Marques de Gelida Brut Cava ($19); interesting fact – first women Cava producer & owner!
Kila Cava, $10

Wineries going to Hollywood

What do Mario Andretti, Lorriane Braco, Mick Fleetwood, and Wayne Gretzky all have in common?  They all own wineries.

I’ve often said that when I have so much money I need to get rid of some it, I’ll buy a winery.  Funny enough these people actually have that problem.  The list of celebrities, athletes, socialites, and musicians that purchase vineyards as an ‘investment’ increases in length every year.  But what kind of audience are they attracting?  Would you, as a wine consumer, really buy a bottle from Jeff Gordon Wines?  Or is Jeff Gordon just trying to attract the wine-buying, NASCAR fans? (Do those even exist??)

Either way there are two definite strategies when it comes to attaching a celebrity name to a winery.

1.  Put my name (and sometimes face) on the bottle and sell a crap load of it.  Winemaker?  No problem, we’ll find someone out there to make grape juice.  Did I mention that I’m so & so?

2.  Keep a ‘silent’ ownership, find the best damn winemaker out there and sell premium wines.  Oh and use my celebrity status to get in with the best suppliers, retailers and restaurants across the county.

I’m more a fan of style #2.  In fact, after looking at this list on Wikipedia, I was actually shocked to learn some of my favorite wineries have celebrity interest ownership.

Here’s a shorter list of my favorite celebrity-owned vineyards/wineries:

  • La Mozza, Italy (Mario Batali)
  • Bracco Wines, Italy (Lorraine Bracco)
  • Del Dotto Vineyards, Napa (Dave Del Dotto)
  • Beaux Freres Vineyard, Oregon (Robert Parker co-owns with his brother-in law)