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.