Monday, October 22, 2007

Ash trays full? Replace the car!

How could this happen? I moved into my new house six years ago and built a cellar that was supposed to take me into the end of my wine drinking days. You guessed it, it's almost full. By the frequency of my tasting notes lately you can see I'm obviously not drinking enough. Either I need company (I hate to drink alone) or I'm going to have a wino garage sale.

My too small storage area experienced technical difficulties a couple of weeks ago as my P.O.S. Breezaire unit underwent cardiac arrest. Luckily I found a local commercial refrigeration guy who came up with a solution that should last. Thanks Fred. Anyone planning to build a cellar should look into a commercial unit. Humidity can be controlled and these suckers are built to last.

I'm still weighing my options for long term storage on the ridiculous amount of juice I have coming in 2008. This week I'm going to look at an offsite facility in NY. I'll let you all know how it works. On the other hand, there's always a larger house........

Dinner on Saturday night:
Le Rendez Vous-520 Kenilworth Boulevard, Kenilworth NJ

Old faithful. This 38 seat bistro with it's casual decor is one of my local favorites. They offer a four course tasting menu for $55 or you can opt for dinner ala carte. There's a limited selection but something for everyone.

The wines:

2004 Domaine Vincent Girardin Meursault 1er Cru Les Charmes-Dessus: I don't buy enough of Girardin's wines. Quality for the money seems to always be high and I flat out like their wines. This opened with a nose of tropical fruits. The first sips showed the acidity which characterizes the vintage, but after 1/2 hour the wine became rounder and fuller in the mouth. The group moved on to reds but I drained this bottle. $50 and I'm buying more.

2003 Williams Selyem Sonoma Pinot Noir-I don't have a real note. I was busy Bogarting the Meursault this one got polished off by the rest of the group. I got one sip. It was soft, fruity, not overdone. Very nice for this night.

2004 Kracher Beerenauslese cuvee-Lovely notes of apricot. In the mouth the wine has great viscosity without heaviness. Everyone liked it. $25 for 375ml. I'd definitely buy it again.

On my way out of the restaurant I noticed a table of 4 sipping a 1905 D'Oliveira Verdelho. I asked them how it was and that I just finished a 1922 Boal from the same producer. They were nice enough to offer me some and it was just exquisite. Thanks Andy!!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Vegas and vino

2004 Jean-Luc Colombo Côtes du Rhône Les Forots Vieilles Vignes

Sometimes it takes something you hate to get you back on track. The above mentioned wine was recommended to me by a local retailer who told me a large portion of the grapes were sourced from Cornas and others border the same area. While we're on the subject, I get get numerous emails from retailers touting location. "This vineyard is located right next door to Chateau Latour!" "Just a few steps away from Ch. Petrus" "The next door neighbor of Ch. Lafite Rothschild!". Is that supposed to mean something to me? Plenty of neighbors are assholes (not mine of course). If these properties were such undiscovered gems wouldn't it them make sense that the much larger, famous, and cash rich buddies next door would purchase them?

Back to the wine. That's the last time I ever buy something because of location. The wine was completely uninspiring. There were no real flaws to speak of but absolutely nothing to get excited about either. I took two sips and headed for the drain. The remainder of the bottle should work well in tonight's veal stew. Price tag: $18. Quite expensive for cooking wine.

This week's purchases: Magnums of 2005 Clos des Papes-$135 (An absolute steal)
Lamy Pillot Chassagne Montrachet 2005 Les Bois-$40 (this was a reload for me having made my initial purchase 5 months ago)
2005 Gérard Boulay Sancerre Les Monts Damnés- $30 I love the house style

I just got back from Las Vegas and have to mention the finest Thai restaurant I've ever eaten in. Lotus of Siam sits in a parking lot diagonally across from The Green Door, one of the city's famous sex clubs. It doesn't look like much (LOS not the Green Door) from the outside or inside for that matter but what awaits is an experience not to be missed. Sixty or so wine geeks gathered to share and taste wine but the star was the food. Dishes such as Thai beef jerky, drunken noodles with sea bass, and grilled squid salad poured on the flavor and heat until we couldn't eat anymore. The wine was good too. I find myself daydreaming about the meal and can't wait to return. I only wish there was something in the NY area that came close. I can't recommend this place any higher. The picture in the upper left is one of the shrimp dishes.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Ringer.........

Tasting group number two met last week and we had a grand total of four show up. Am I going to have to resort to arranging these at strip clubs again? Anyway the theme was to bring something from France that cost over $25.

Are you guys as bored with this shit as I am?

I'll post tasting notes later on. They really aren't tasting notes at all. I suck at homework and couldn't, in my right mind, sit at a table with alcohol in front of me and start scribbling bullshit onto the back of a napkin or, god forbid, a notebook. That would complete the stereotype and make me a complete geek.

I do this to share. That's it.

Here are the notes:

2005 Domaine de la Pepiere (Marc Ollivier) Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie Clos des Briords-That's the ringer! I've posted on this before but the wine has put on weight since my last post and gotten more complex. Just incredible for the price point. $13 full retail. I know I've paid closer to $9 for it. I've yet to try the 2006 but at that price you can't go wrong.

2005 Michel Ecard Savigny les Beaune "Les Serpentierre"-Burgundy France.

This is still around on the market. Earth, cherries, leather, with terrific balance and grip. This has become more structured after 6 months in the bottle and to me it feels as if it will close down for a few years. A very nice wine for mid term cellaring. $35

2005 Maison Champy Borgogne rouge-Anyone looking for an intro to Burgundy without paying too much should find these wines. Extremly well made and well priced. Approachable right now. $16

2004 Vieux Donjon Chateneuf Du Pape-Meaty, smoky, with a blast of black pepper on the finish. I love the domaine's style so I can't say I'm neutral. A contrast to the heavyweight 2003, Donjon produced a more classic styled wine in 2004. Don't know how much I'd reach for at $40. Maybe one or two.

Anyone looking for these wines should take a look at . Retailers subscribe and post their prices. The Pro version is well worth the $30 a year they charge consumers as you're likely to make up the cost on one purchase.

By the way........did I mention I also cook?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Tasting Group at my house......

One of my regular groups meets monthly. The guys have been together for over 30 years and have a tremendous amount of wine knowledge (they don't know about anything else!). Coming up with a format that is different is tough.

The theme for tonight was to show a review with the name of the wine and viticultural area removed to see if they could guess what it was and where it came from. The results were a disaster. They did better blind.

Dinner was a treat. I had steaks flown in from Bryan's Fine Foods in San Francisco. They were double cut NY strips aged 30 days. Holy smokes were they good!!

Here's the lineup:

1992 Dom Perignon-Small beads. Bready aromas. Fat mid palate. Right out of the gate it was exciting but faded rather quickly.

2004 F.X. Pichler Gruner Veltliner Smaragd Loibner Berg
-I liked this much more than the rest of the group. Loads of minerals, clean, complex with a long life ahead of it.

2002 Domaine Michelot Meurault Perrieres-Not what I would consider my type of Meursault Perrieres. Nose of orange peel with citrus notes. The wood was a bit more pronounced than I like. Solid wine but not on the mark for me.

1997 Livio Sassetti Pertimali Brunello-Just as I've come to expect from most 1997 Brunello. It tries but falls short. Aromatics were muted. Cherries and smoke. The flavors were great but still appear to be hiding. I'm not sure this will have the stuffing to fully develop.

1998 Dal Forno Valpolicella-Now we're talking. Soaring aromatics, everything in balance, long finish. Me Likey. A WOTN for a couple of guys.

2000 Clos Mogador- Still very young and primary but a hell of a bottle. Can't wait to see where this goes.

1995 Clos Erasmus
-My disappointment of the night. This was my second bottle of this wine and the first blew me away. There was a funk to this one that I just couldn't get past.

1995 Pegau Cuvee Reservee
-Open for business. Meaty, sweet, long. This kept changing as the night went on. My red WOTN.

1995 Leoville Barton
-Very exciting. Everything is here but the wine is still closed. It was enjoyable as hell but just needs more time. I opened this at 4AM and we got to it sometime around 8:30PM.

1994 Galleron Cabernet Sauvignon-My first experience with this. IMO quality that can be classified as a California cult wine. Flamboyant and rich. Great balance.

1991 Chateau Montelena Estate
-This still needs time but is developing beautifully. Restrained and beautiful. Very glad I own more but I'm going to wait a bit.

1993 Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz-None of us has had a lot of opportunity to drink older Aussie Shiraz. This is a good reason to. Lots of herbal, eucalyptus notes. Not over the top. Just a really nice wine that had developed extraordinary secondary characteristics.

1922 D'Oliveiras Madeira Boal Reserve-My first Maderia. Friggin awesome. Coffee, toffee, vanilla notes that ran incredibly deep. I could have kept my nose in the glass all night.

Monday, September 10, 2007

I'm back!!

Does any of this writing matter? I've been drinking and tasting with the same critical eye towards value at every price point. Yesterday I ran to Trader Joe's to pick up a few items for my regular tasting group on Tuesday. What struck me was the amount of wine being purchased. TJ's isn't known for offering undiscovered gems IMO. It's known for selling at a price point and that's what I'm getting at here. Why will folks go out of their way to spend $5 on a cup of coffee at Starbucks but not be willing to spend more than $3 for a bottle of wine to wash down their dinner? I know there are plenty of folks like me (1% of the market) who really scrutinize their choices and would sooner feed the kitchen drain than drink plonk. Is it confusion over labels? Is it that they are friggin cheap? We only get one shot at this life people........this is not a dress rehearsal!

Rant over for now.

So I ask you all now. What the hell do you want from me? Do I continue to drink and write about wines I think are great value at all prices or do I adapt the TJ's model and post on stuff I can get past my teeth without registering a gag reflex? I need feedback. Show me a pulse. I'm actually thinking about doing something related the wine biz. I cannot and will not work with 1% of the population. I'm much more interested in finding out how to educate the public enough to have them want to take the next step. There are great wines available for $5-10 all over America. Anyone care?

Tasting notes for this week:

I've found a new source for proteins in San Francisco. Bryan Flannery runs a business that his father started and sells the highest quality meats, fish and poultry money can buy. I ordered NY strip steaks dry aged 30 days for Tuesday night's soirée. As a throw in I had him send me 1/2 LB of Yellowtail Hamachi Toro he picked out from the dock that morning. The Toro was the best I've ever had. The steaks looked awesome. Bryan personally walked me through the order over the phone and had everything sent second day air. The styrofoam container arrived with cool packs and everything was just as described. Bryan's mission is to offer the customer the best of everything only a little better. Phone 415 819 4366. I rate him 98+ points and maybe higher after I eat the steaks.

Wine tasting note:

Kiralyudvar Tokaji Furmint Sec 2005-Hungary

This was a new one for me. I've never had a dry Tokaji before.

Pale color. Lovely flowery aromatics. Lots of minerals with good weight. Medium long balanced finish.

The non wine geeks loved it. I thought it was an excellent buy at $27.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Simple dinner and a nice bottle.

Last night I didn't have the time or energy to cook so I high tailed it to our local Greek market. Begin with a loaf of bread and a medium sharp feta. Add a few olives, some stuffed grape leaves, and dinner is served. I think she should ask for a refund from the French Culinary Institute for the classes she bought me. I tried to cover the whole thing up by talking about the wine and how healthy the food was. I'm off to the supermarket for something for tonight.

TN: Cervera Lagar de Albarino Rias Baixas (Galicia Spain) - Pale gold. Highly perfumed nose. Granny smith apples and minerals with just the slightest touch of grassiness. A medium to full bodied wine that finishes nicely. A good deal at $15.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A new producer for me

Warmer weather is on it's way and for me that means a change in drinking habits. I tend to drink more whites and DRY roses. When I mention dry rose I don't mean the Bazooka Joe white zins that try to pass themselves off at the real McCoy. High quality dry rose is produced by limiting skin contact with the juice when red wine grapes are pressed. The amount of extraction (color) in reds comes from contact and churning of the skins with the juice. That's right folks, red (black) grapes produce white juice. Blanc de Noirs Champagne is an example. For a while white Merlot hit the market but I don't believe it ever caught on.

What I look for in summertime whites are things that are clean, crisp, refreshing and not containing a tremendous amount of oak. Italy is a great source for tank fermented whites. I'll pass on lots of names as I drink thm. What I'm really focused on are German whites. They tend to have much lower alcohol levels (typically 7-10%) and possess great acidity which makes them go well with food. Prices in general are on the low side but the labels can be daunting to read. German wines are ranked by quality levels. If you're looking to get started QbA, QmP, Kabinett, and Spatlese are good in relatively inexpensive quality levels to look for. Producers are many and if you have specific requests please send comments and I'll fill in the blanks for you.

TN: Heymann Loewenstein Auslese-Mosel Saar Ruwer-This was a great finish to dinner at Epernay, a fine bistro in Montclair NJ. Very traditional bistro fare with professional service and a comfortable atmosphere. We had the wine as dessert which I like to do. I find sweet wines clash more often than not. Very elegant and expressive nose. Clean with excellent acidity and just the right touch of sweetness. I'll be buying more, and at $32 for a half bottle this is a fine value.

I was turned on to this producer by Steve McGuire at Super Saver Liquors in Somerville NJ. This shop is a true gem. Steve is well versed, extremely enthusiastic, and friendly person with a magnificent palate. The store is like a throwback. They don't have an internet presence and there are great things on the shelves whenever I walk in. Prices are extremely fair. Make it a point to shop there but stay away from whatever I want!

Steve got me started with HL's trocken wines which are awesome. Trocken means dry in German and may be a good starting point.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Lots of new wines

I shouldn't do this but I've been storing up notes from the past week. Last night I met a few friends for a casual tasting. Six of us met at a local place for a simple meal and pot luck wines. The results were excellent as no one held back.

Here's some of the notes from last night and the past week:

2004 Mauritson Zinfandel-Dry Creek Valley (California)-My biggest complaint with Zinfandel is it's generally made in an over-the-top style that is great for a sip and then bores me. Not so in this case. Done in a very elegant style with great raspberry fruit, nice round mouthfeel, and a pleasing finish. My only complaint is the heat on the end as the alcohol content is 15.2% A good buy at $15 and a nice pairing with Burgers or ribs.

2003 Di Majo Norante Ramitello Rosso (Italy)-From Molise which is on the Adriatic coast. 80% Prugnolo 20% Aglianico. You have to love these wines grown from indigenous grapes. Dark in color with a nose of plums and anise. You can almost smell the heat (not alcohol) from the 2003 vintage which produced a full bodied wine that feels great in the mouth and goes well with food. At $11 this is a great buy.

1999 Icardi Suri di mu (Italy)
-From Piedmont. If we could have squeezed the bottle for more we would have. Great fruit, balance, finish. Moderate alcohol. I could have drunk this all night. The 2004 vintage is on the market currently at $20. Buy and cellar for a couple of years. Works very well with Veal Milanese or a simple risotto.

Part 2 to come.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Back in the saddle..........

Hi all,

We were in the Grand Canyon area last week and didn't have much of a chance to taste. The scenery was spectacular but you don't go there for the food.

Some tasting notes:

We had dinner at the El Tovar lodge who's dining room is supposed to have the best food in the Canyon. I ordered fish. The next time I do that I'm going to find out how far I am from the ocean.
My wife ordered the duck so I matched it with a Fess Parker Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara county. A very nice wine and a great match for the duck. Unfortunately my fish was DOA and I left DNR instructions for the waitstaff. The price on the list was $35 for 1/2 bottle which I found fair for the quality. Fess Parker happened to play Daniel Boone on TV in the early 60's for all you trivia fans.

2005 D'Arenburg "The Hermit Crab" McLaren Vale Australia-70% Viogner, 30% Marsanne. Very floral with quite a bit of depth on the nose. This was a real surprise as I wouldn't expect a $12 wine to have the length this had. Full bodied with a slightly spicy finish. A great buy.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Are you one of those guys (gals)?

I was listening to the radio today and heard an ad for Dancing Bull Wines. No idea what they are since I've never seen a bull dance. A jackass maybe........ Anyway the tag line was "Don't be one of those guys!". I assumed that meant not to be a wine geek. I agree. The one thing I'm trying like hell not to be is a wine snob. What I am attempting to do is to educate just a bit and give people who ought to and do know the difference some guidance.

Overheard in a wine shop the other day:

Customer: "Is this Brunello any good?"

Wine guy: "It's ok. This one is better (points to his left)."

Customer: "Why?"

Wine guy: "This producer's vineyard faces blah, blah, blah and he does blah, blah, blah to the grapes and................. Get the picture?

These guys speaking different languages? The wine guy could have saved the BS for someone who knew and cared about it. The poor customer was looking for something to have with dinner. I find this a very common occurrence. Save yourself the hassle. Tell him/her what you're having for dinner and that you want something that's ready to drink tonight. See where that gets you.

I'm off on vacation for the next week so chances are I won't post. Please post your own tasting notes in the comment section while I'm gone.

TN: Giorgio Rivetti "Pin" 1999
Very dark in the glass with notes of oak and black fruits. Very round and glyceral in the mouth. Interesting combination of flavors with a long polished finish. Half the table liked it, half didn't. Much more new world in style than most Italians. 50%Nebbiolo 25% Barbera 25%Cabernet. Look for Rivetti's Barberas for something less expensive. $40

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

More ramblings........

Writer's block already? We've been a little under the weather here and that accounts for my lack of posts. No drinkie, no postie. I have in front of me a very large glass of Kim Crawford 2005 Pinot Noir. That's right, I'm posting about something that's from the new world and has a label that actually tells you what's in the bottle. I don't have anything against new world wines. I cut my wine drinking teeth on them. I always find a time and a place where they work perfectly.

This wine is ruby colored with a tinge of brown. The nose has mostly red fruits, cherries in particular, with the slightest hint of smoke. In the mouth it's sweet and pleasant showing the slightest bit of oak. Good persistence on the finish. I can't find anything bad to say except this one glass is it for me tonight. I'll bet a lot of my readers will love this for $14.

Other wine for this week:

1993 Puligny Montrachet "Les Combettes" 1er Cru-Domaine Leflaive
This is how you know you're speking about a great producer. 1993 was a good to very good year for red burgundies while whites were slightly lesser in quality than 1992. A nose of tropical fruits and minerals gives way to a complex mouthful of top quality chardonnay. Wonderful acidity braces a restrained core of fruit creating an experience that delights every part of the tongue.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

To cellar or not to cellar....

Whenever I set foot in home improvement stores these days I seem to run across these 50 bottle wine "cellars". For a grape juice junkie like me that's the equivalent of a six pack cooler for beer. In a week I'd have one of those things stuffed to the gills. Maybe their purpose is modular storage similar to CD holders of old where you just keep buying and filling them. Anyway, the concept is sound and if it gets people interested in long term aging of wine, so be it.

Most of the wine (90%) made today is meant to be drunk within the first 12 months. That's right campers, buy 'em and drink 'em. That's not to say that any bottle wouldn't benefit from 4-6 months in the cellar. I must back up here and explain the generic term "Cellar". In my mind a cellar is an area of your house that maintains a constant temperature, has no light, and as little vibration as possible. Temperature need not be 55 degrees Fahrenheit although that would be preferred. Wine hates extremes. Leaving any bottle at 80+ degrees for any extended period of time will cook it. If you've never tasted heat damaged wine, buy 2 bottles, put one in a cool place for 3 months and the other in your garage in the summer for the same amount of time and see if there's a difference. I've been in houses that have beautiful wine cellars with tasting tables and fancy racking, real showplaces. I've also had great old bottles come from a cool corner of someone's basement that were perfect.

Most of the wines tasted for the purpose of this blog will be those I deem ready for drinking. I'll include whatever I'm currently drinking but will make a special effort to find good, inexpensive juice. My personal cellar is loaded with everything under the sun. I've tried to do some planning (admittedly as little as possible) to have wine on hand for Bar Mitzvahs, weddings and the like. Those bottles were chosen for specific vintages representing birth and wedding years and will be dragged out on special occasions. Away from that I've tried to assure myself of having mature wine in a range of 1 to 50 years from now. I may not have teeth at the latter point but I'll certainly have a straw!

Tasting note:

Sottimano Dolcetto d'Alba Bric del Salto 2005-Piedmont Italy

Please make a special effort to pair this with the proper food! I love Sottimano's house style. His Barbaresco's are some of my personal favorites. This Dolcetto needs food with acid to balance the tannins. Something simple like pasta with tomato sauce would work amazingly well.
the acid in the tomatoes will help flesh out the wine and turn this $12 bottle into something special. I've had this open for 90 minutes and served in a Ravenscroft Grand Cru Burgundy glass.

The color is a deep violet. Cherries and blackberries on the nose. Dolcetto by nature is a simple wine. This example is elegant with a fresh, clean finish. Highly recommended.

Monday, March 19, 2007


I'm sitting at my desk with two glasses in front of me. I know...I've been reminded time and again about the dangers of drinking and posting (as if I'll say something I'll regret) but somtimes you just have to let it all hang out. I stopped into my local Shop Rite wine store and asked the wine buyer for some suggestions under 15 bucks. Tonight's tasting represents the first two wines Howard suggested and I commend him for his suggestions.

The title of the post reminds me to give what's in my glass time to show it's stuff. What I love most about wine is similar to what I like about people, they continue to evolve given enough time to breathe. I'm going to cut you guys short so I can get back to what's in the glass.

Tasting Notes:

Bodegas Olivares Altos de la Hoya Monastrell 2005-Jumilla Spain. Deep ruby in color. The nose started out with spice, cedar, and hints of green pepper. The bell pepper has blown off after 1/2 hour and the nose has opened up. Medium bodied and balanced. Medium finish. A nice wine for a nice price. Not overpowering and a good food wine. A fine value at $8.

Terredora Falanghina Irpinia 2004-Campania Italy. The south of Italy is, along with the northeast, producing some of the most exciting value wines I've been tasting lately. This one is no exception. Here's a wine with soul at a very reasonable tarriff. Golden straw color. The nose is consistently interesting with hints of apple, citrus and minerals. With some time in the glass the mouth fills out and gains weight. No oak, it's light on it's feet and screams out for food. Another great buy at $11.

Props to Howard at Shop Rite wines-Westfield NJ

Friday, March 16, 2007

Two Buck Chuck Smackdown

Last night I grabbed a few friends and headed out for a simple meal, wine, and a few laughs. I told the group I'd handle the wine. I walked in with a box loaded with brown bagged wines and informed them we'd be doing a blind tasting of similar wines.

Flight one: Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wine 1A
- Light in color showing very little on the nose. No varietal character to speak of. Overly sweet in the mouth with a short finish. Nothing seriously flawed but absolutely nothing to make me want a second sip.

Wine 1B-Distinctive cabernet nose of currants. Not overpowering, not unpleasant. I have to say that on it's own I wouldn't have given this wine a second look, but compared to wine 1A this was Chateau Latour.

Flight two: Merlot

Wine 2A
-Light in color showing very little on the nose. No varietal character to speak of. Overly sweet in the mouth with a short finish. Nothing seriously flawed but absolutely nothing to make me want a second sip.

Wine 2B-Very solid plummy nose. Balanced but simple. A nice wine.

Flight three: Syrah(Shiraz)

Wine 3A
- Now we're talking. Spice and black fruits soar from the glass. A very complex, big wine without any sense of heavyness. Nicely balanced with a peppery finish. Wine of the night for everyone at the table. Paired well with Salmon Oreganata.

Wine 3B-Light in color showing very little on the nose. No varietal character to speak of. Overly sweet in the mouth with a short finish. Nothing seriously flawed but absolutely nothing to make me want a second sip.

Wines 1A, 2A, and 3B were all the Charles Shaw labels. $2.99
Wine 1B-Stephen Kent Cabernet Sauvignon 1998. $60 (What a sin)
Wine 2B-Falesco Merlot Umbria, Italy. $13
Wine 3A-Summerfield Shiraz Classic-Victoria, Australia. $20 on closeout and worth every penny.

I live close to a Trader Joe's and in the hundreds of times I've shopped there have never tried any of their wines. The labels they carry that I know are more expensive than I've seen elsewhere so I just don't bother.

The Charles Shaw wines were all similar. Quite monolithic with no defining character. In their defense they are not unpleasant to drink and at the $2.99 price point I can see why they sell well. They also serve an important purpose in the marketplace as I assume people who hadn't had reason to try wine would do so if the cost of entry is so low. I guess the only true measure would be to compare this to jug wine or bag-in-the-box in a blind tasting to see what wins. If anyone has a masochistic streak please write me and send the notes. My tongue still isn't speaking to me today. I'm gonna have to break into the good stuff tonight to make up for what my palate went through last night. How's that for dedication?

PS-I'm working on pushing out notification via email. Please hang in there as I try to locate a 12 year old kid to show me how!


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

What am I looking to buy now-A strategy for the blog

I went into one of my favorite semi-local wine shops today and while I was browsing the aisles the inspiration for today's post came to me. If I were starting my cellar today what would I be shopping for? You guys are going to have to listen to another agonizing story of the mistakes I made when I began building my cellar. Live vicariously through my errors so you can minimize your own and always have great vino at hand.

I got started with wine by buying and drinking cheap Chilean and Argentinian Cabernet. That came after my Riunite, Mateus, and Almaden train wreck in college. I give myself a pass for that time in my life and say I started taking wine a little more seriously after I graduated. I admit at the time I was intimidated by wine shops and especially by the folks who worked there who knew what I wanted to know. So my answer was to find a label that told me what was in the bottle. This way I could decide if I liked the grape or not. Makes sense, right? I also believed that all these French and Italian labels gave me the same information but I didn't speak the language so I was better off with something I could understand.

Without too much trouble I'd bet most of you can figure out what came next. I "upgraded" to California wine. I don't want any of you to think I have anything against wine from this country. I don't. For the purposes of this board I'm looking for the best "values" I can find. Value comes at all price points. They can be a $5 bottle of Spanish wine or a $100 Grand Cru Burgundy but they represent value for the money spent vs what the rest of the market offers. That said I find less and less from California that delivers bang for my buck. Over time you'll see reviews from everywhere. Be patient.

Lets get back to the point here. So I fill up my cellar with ridiculous amounts of domestic wine only to find out I like French and Italian wine better. I'll explain the differences in later posts. The tough thing about learning about Old World wines is the labels are named after places, not grapes. That means you'll need to figure out what is grown where. is a great site with loads of information and a great place to learn.

2005 was an excellent vintage in most of Europe. That doesn't mean you can just walk into a wine shop and ask for something from 2005 in Bordeaux and be guaranteed a great bottle. Producers matter and most great producers make good wine in ok vintages and amazing wine in excellent ones. Knowledgeable wine merchants will be a fine resource for digging out what to buy. The shop I was in today has a wine manager who's palate is second to none. He told me his biggest thrill is when someone walks in and asks for a mixed case of things he's recommend and drink himself for $10 a bottle. Do yourself a favor. Find a shop with a good reputation and do just that. Maybe it's 6 bottles but there are great bargains to be had if you ask!

Last night my regular tasting group got together and did a Spanish theme. I don't have extensive tasting notes due to intoxication.


Llopart "Leopardi" Brut Cava 2000-Clean, fresh, and refreshing sparkling wine. A little fruitier that Champagne but easy to drink and understand. I'd match it with Sushi, smoked salmon, or shellfish. $20-I'd buy this again at this price.

2001 Aalto Ribera del Duero-Wow. Very focused fruit with great balance. Just under $40 I'd buy it at that price.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Wine service

I hope everyone had a nice weekend. Mine was busy which didn't allow for much in the way of wine consumption save for a quick glass of red with dinner on Friday. I had a bottle of 2001 Marquis Philips 2001 Shiraz on the counter open for a day. I bought this after having read Robert Parker's (RMP) rave review a few years back. I believe it was $11 on release. Subtle as a 2x4 across the head, it overwhelmed the food and ended up in the drain. It would work well as a cocktail but not for it's intended purpose on this night.

I wanted to talk a little about wine service. Set a good standard at home so you'll know what to look for when you are dining out.

Glassware: There are plenty of high end companies such as Riedel, Ravenscroft, and Spiegelau which offer specialized glasses for every wine type on the planet. The companies claim the shape of the glass influences the taste of the wine. I haven't done an A/B comparison (yet) so I cannot comment as to whether this is true. I can tell you I like the way the glasses look and I own some from each of the manufacturers. What I look for in a good wine glass is enough capacity for me to be able to swirl the wine without it ending up on the walls, guests, and the table. The rim of the glass should also be slightly narrower than the bowl to trap the aroma. When I find myself going back to the nose of the wine all night I know I've found something interesting. Target carries an affordable assortment of Riedel glasses made for them.

Temperature-So easy to control and so often done wrong: When I first got into wine I was told reds should be served at room temperature and whites at refrigerator temp. WRONG!! What is room temperature anyway? In my house it varies from 68 in the winter to 75 in the summer. It's not a huge range but it can change what comes out of your glass. Generally speaking I like my red wines at cellar temperature (55) or a few degrees above. The alcohol is less pronounced and the mouthfeel is rounder. White's also do well at 55 degrees. Any colder and the nose disappears along with the spectrum of flavors.

If you've ever been to Paris and ordered a carafe of house wine in just about any bistro it comes out cold. Most of my friends have said there was no reason to order anything better because the house wine is so good. Cold masks flaws so it SHOULD taste better. Restaurants here that don't have good wine storage will probably make the mistakes I've listed here. Easily remedied in most cases. Ask for an ice bucket with your red and take it out of the ice if it's white. You might want to order a beer while you wait for the temperature to adjust but it will be worth it.

Tasting Note: 2005 Domaine de la Pépière 'Vieilles Vignes' Clos des Briords Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie.

This comes from the Loire Valley in France and could be one of the best $11 bottles of white wine I've had in a year. Flowers, minerals, and salinity on the nose. Medium bodied with a nice amount of zip on the finish. I wouldn't blink at twice the price. A definite buy. The classic match for Muscadet is oysters. We had this with sushi and the pairing was a disaster. Sometimes these things can't be helped as I was in the mood for time not together.


Friday, March 9, 2007

Wine Shopping

It's Friday night and you're looking for a little something for the weekend. You walk into your local shop and see aisle after aisle of bottles all neatly arranged with one purpose, to confuse and mystify the casual wine drinker. Seriously, if you don't understand some basics, you'll need a GPS and a decoder ring to find something tasty. When it comes to wine most people feel there is a relationship of price to quality so if you spend more you're going to get a better bottle, right? Not always. We'll try to work through some of that here in future posts but let's get back on topic.

So you're standing inside the entrance to the store and a friendly salesperson/stockboy approaches and asks the question that paralyzes you with fear, "Can I help you?". Your palms begin to sweat and sounds begin to come from you're constricted throat, "I'm looking for...........a bottle of wine". No S*** you're looking for a bottle of wine!!!! What the hell brought you in here if you weren't looking for a bottle of wine? Now you're having an out of body experience as the guy/gal in front of you walks you through aisle upon aisle of bottles. You look like Robin Williams in Moscow on the Hudson shopping in the coffee aisle. He eventually has a panic attack and passes out.

Hopefully this person you are talking to has seen the blank look you're displaying before and asks you some simple questions to find out what your needs/wants are. The first thing I'd ask is what the purpose of the bottle was. If the answer is to get a buzz I'd point you towards the glue and cough syrup. If the answer is to have something to drink with a meal or just sip as a cocktail, he or she has something to work with. The next question would be to describe the food or setting and to get a feel for what you've had in the past that you have liked. This is not the time to try to impress whoever you're talking to but to give them information. If for example you are preparing paella and list the ingredients, a competent wine geek could steer you towards Spanish wines with a flavor profile that would compliment the food. Have a plan. It will tell you immediately whether the person you're working with knows their stuff.

Some things avoid when selecting a wine shop:

Try to find places who's specialty isn't Powerball Lottery sales.

If it's a freezing winter day and you walk inside and remark; "Oh, it's so nice and toasty in here!" split. You may like it warm but wine is perishable does better in a cool environment.

A shopkeeper who says "I don't drink wine but this got 90 points from.........." People who don't drink and can only repeat scores aren't going to be able to find your own tastes.

Some things to look for:

People who get really excited when you ask their opinion about what to try (you can't fake passion).

Stores that run periodic tastings. Nothing like trying before you buy!

Folks that are willing to take the time to educate you because they really want you as a customer for the long term.

Today's tasting note:

Michel Ecard Savigny-Les-Beaune Premier Cru "Les Serpentieres"
Burgundy, France
Beautiful bright ruby color. The nose jumps out at you with aromas of cherries and earth. Medium bodied and laser sharp on the palate. Excellent balance with a long, seamless finish.
$33.00 and an excellent bargain. I bought a case for myself. This is drinking extremely well right now.

For those of you new to wine:
Please allow me to explain my tasting note. The wine comes from Savigny-Les-Beaune which is a small village directly to the north of Beaune (The main town and center of Burgundy).
The town produces only Pinot Noir.
Premier Cru 'Les Serpentieres'-In the Burgundy quality hierarchy this would be one notch down from Grand Cru which is the best.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Inspiration

Well, here goes nothing!! This has been one strange week for me. I've had three good friends tell me I should do something related to wine all independent of each other. I was in a large local retail shop on Monday picking up an order and had a woman (don't even go there) walk over to me and ask for help. The salesman who was following her looked like someone kicked him in the privates as she hung on every word I said. Maybe she had a jones for bullshit but whatever I was selling she was buying. She was throwing a wine tasting for 10 couples and needed recommendations to match cheeses and finger foods. Here's where we ended up:

Sparkling: Gruet Blanc de Noirs Non Vintage- From New Mexico of all places! Blanc de Noirs in French means "White of Black". Pretty silly, right? What it really means is the juice comes from Pinot Noir grapes which are dark red to black in color. The juice is squeezed from the skins with almost no contact thus producing a pale colored wine. For $11 you'd be hard pressed to find a better deal on great bubbly.

White: Kris Pinot Grigio-Trentino-Alto Adige Italy 2005. This comes from the northeastern corner of Italy. It's fermented in stainless steel tanks so there won't be any buttery midpalate you might find in a California Chardonnay. What you will get is a crisp, light, food friendly glass of wine with nice balance for $9.

Red-Guigal Cotes du Rhone-France 2003. Mostly Syrah (Shiraz to those of you in the wrong hemisphere) blended with Grenache and Morvedre. 2003 was a very hot year. If you read the news Europe had one of the hottest on record. The wines produced are much more fruit driven because of the heat and will have much more immediate appeal to those of us who have be slaves to what California and Australia produce. The syrah in the wine lend a certain spicyness with a full body but very little tannic grip on the back end. I'd recommend this to those of you looking to try something new. The tarrif-A whopping $7.99.

To my friends and especially to my wife. Thanks for all the encouragement. You've pushed me to do this. Bear with me while I find my "voice".

Much more ramblings to come as I have lots more silly stuff rattling around upstairs.