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Because:
The world is going to hell in a hand-basket, ain't it?ranter_and_raver.gif (2887 bytes)
As A Local Psychologist Told Us Recently:
"Too many freaks, not Enough Circuses."
The Wine World is Full of Freaks and Circuses, however.



HEY!  We were listed amongst Food & Wine Magazine's 125 "Favorites" in the October 2003 Issue.
Thanks, Food & Wine!

NEWS FROM THE WACKY WORLD OF WINE
Updated as of  September 2013
Sick Stories, Funny Stories, etc.



RESTAURANT WINE SERVICE RANTINGS & RAVINGS

We update this page periodically as warranted, so check back, won't you, please?

 

REMARKABLY SIMILAR ARTICLES FROM LONDON...ONE WITH SOME AMAZING ASSERTIONS!

Two London newspapers and their on-line web sites posted stories within a few days of each other covering the most costly bottles of wine in the world.

The authors of each article both used a wine-price comparison web site to document their findings.  The author of the article in The Telegraph posted a few words about each wine.
The Mail's article, written by Anucyia Victor also has some verbiage about the wines, but with some remarkable notations.

The Number One wine on the hit parade is a Domaine de la Romanee-Conti "Romanee-Conti."  Interestingly, both authors quote some Archbishop of Paris as saying it's "velvet and satin in bottles."

But The Mail article claims the wine "must be made from at least 85 per cent Pinot Noir grapes."  
This is an astonishing discovery, since we've always wondered what else is in this remarkable wine apart from Pinot Noir.
Of course, the French wine law for this wine mandates it be made entirely of Pinot Noir, so we're sure the authorities will be visiting the Domaine to cite them if they've incorporated 15% of anything else in their red wines.

The Number Two wine is Henri Jayer's Cros-Parantoux, which is described as "full-bodied and rich."  
Really?  (Must be the 15% of something other than Pinot Noir to make it full-bodied...)

Wine Number Three comes from the Egon Muller's Scharzhof winery and it's a Trockenbeerenauslese Riesling, a wine made from raisined, dried grapes.  As the fruit it hugely sweet, so is the wine.  
Ms. Victor's amazing articles contends "...this Riesling is produced on the banks of the Moselle River in Germany's Rheingau Vineyard."
Okay...look, it's either the appellation of the Mosel or the Rheingau, so pick one, will you please?
And if you're going to pick correctly, you'll take the Mosel sub-region of the Saar.  


If you can't read the caption:  "Individual vineyards in Rheingau, on the banks of the Moselle River."
I kid you not!

Wine Number Four is Domaine Leflaive's Montrachet, but the photo accompanying the article depicts a bottle of their Chevalier-Montrachet, which, of course, is not the same.

The caption claims the J.J. Prum wine, another Trockenbeerenauslese, is "the only sweet wine on the list," despite tabbing the Egon Muller late-harvest wine earlier!

Wines Six and Seven are both Red Burgundies, a Domaine Leroy Musigny and Roumier Musigny.

Both articles note Leroy uses a sorting table that has no conveyor belt (for the berries to roll around on and be transported to the crusher), a very obscure bit of information.  

A DRC Montrachet is Number Eight and both authors cite some critic's description of the wine identically, mentioning the adjectives "...multi-dimensional, honey and graphite, pear, pineapple, orange peel and vanilla."

Of the Number Nine wine from Jean-Louis Chave, the  "Ermitage Cuvee Cathelin," both writers note this is a vineyard "...owned by a family which has been making wine since 1481" and each notes the Chave family could claim to be "France's winemaking royal family."

And Number Ten is another Jayer wine, that from his Echezeaux parcel.  Both authors mention Jayer's organic approach to weed control in the vineyard.

We wonder, then, did both authors have a relatively identical idea for an article simultaneously or did one plagiarize the other?
(Stay tuned...we posed that question!)

Posted November 2014

 

COLORFUL CHABLIS !!!
A new San Francisco dining spot posted its wine offerings on line and they have some rather nice selections at fairly reasonable price levels.

This one caught our attention, as it's got a couple of errors...

We're willing to bet you've never seen a William Fevre Chablis that would qualify as a "red wine."
And, by the way, the Premier Cru wine has the designation "Montmains," not "Mountains."

Such an entry should leave the sommelier or wine director blushing, at the very least.

Parenthetically, the restaurant is named after a famous Piemontese pasta, "Plin."  (Agnolotti del Plin is found on almost every menu in the Langhe hills where you'll find Barolo and Barbaresco wines.)  And yet the menu posted on-line has a number of pasta dishes, but no "Plin"!  

Posted November 2014

 

ALL THOSE BRUNOS LOOK ALIKE


Decanter magazine's web site, Decanter.com has a little "slide show" presentation featuring some picks of new releases in the realm of Barolo and Barbaresco.


One of these "Top 30" wines is Bruno Giacosa's 2011 Barbaresco.
But if you take a look at the bottle depicted on the slide show, you may notice it's a wine from Bruno Rocca, not Bruno Giacosa!

Oops.
Do you suppose they were drinking some Barolo or Barbaresco when they assembled the slide show?

Posted September 2014

 

A MARKETING ISSUE


A few California wineries eschew having a scanable "UPC" bar code on their bottles, knowing some buyers hold the notion that if a wine has a "Universal Product Code," it must be made by a large, industrial winery.

It seems, the wineries have learned, that some restaurant wine buyers (and perhaps others) will immediately reject a bottle of wine if it has a pre-printed bar code.  
Their rationale is, of course, that a wine with a bar code on its label can't possibly be from a small, artisan winery.

In fact, though, we have wines from very small producers who do utilize a scan code on their bottles.  These have a more professional appearance, in our view, than the dot-matrix printer labels we generate for bottles without a bar code.

The photo to the left is a back label of a bottle of Cakebread's Sauvignon Blanc and this product has no UPC or scan code.   Yet it does have a QR code (as you can see) on the bottle which is even more "high tech" than a UPC code.  (A QR Code allows someone with a "smart phone" to scan the "Quick Response Code" and their device will then open an internet browser, showing them a web page where there is information (or public relations materials) about the product.

And even more amusing is the fact that Cakebread (and they are not alone) does sell bottles of wine WITH UPC scan codes!  Typically they offer those bottles to "chain stores" who routinely monitor inventory and sales of various products strictly by scan codes.

So, they try to portray the image theirs are the products of a small, artisan producer, while having sufficient quantities of wine to accommodate grocery and big box stores.  

It's called having your cake and eating it, too.

Go figure.

Posted September 2014

 

WINE "PACKAGING" AND PRESENTATION

We may be a bit old fashioned when it comes to wine packaging.  Sure, we can appreciate the convenience of wine in a plastic, screw-capped quarter bottle format, as well as wine in a soft-drink can.
Our friend Mike Lynch had an amazing collection of cartoons he commissioned for his store's periodic catalogue and one of the earliest was this image...and he was ahead of his time as now there are some wines making their way to the market in cans!

Yes, a pop-top can of Chateau Lafite Rothschild!  Brilliant idea to quench your thirst while at the beach with a can of such a wonderful wine, although serious wine geeks would certainly prefer the 1961 and eschew the 1963.

We've had some wine in liter-sized Tetra-Pak.  Fine.  It has its place at a picnic, beach or pool party.

How do you feel about this format for wine?


Does it taste like paint?
Or more like Paint Thinner?

Here's another wacky way to package your wine!

Yes...in a handbag!
This gives new meaning to the phrase "pursing one's lips."

 


And then someone is trying to market wine to fans of the TV cartoon "The Simpsons."

D'oh!

And how about wine in "paper bottles"???  Paper Boy Winery???

Sometimes there's more emphasis on packaging than on wine-making.


Posted September 2014

 

"POLICE" STING OPERATION IN TUSCANY

If you're not aware, the pop singer known as "Sting" (what kind of name is that, really?) owns a nice little vineyard and farm in Tuscany's Chianti region.

We visited the place and found a nice little azienda agricola with vineyards and a small planting of vegetables which they sell in a little shop out on the road near the property.

We were amused to read they're enlisting "volunteers" to help with the coming 2014 harvest.

But there's a bit of a twist on this.

Instead of paying these pickers a small wage for the back-breaking work of cutting bunches of grapes and schlepping heavy fruit bins through the vineyards, Sting and his "Il Palagio" winery folks have come up with a novel concept:  THE VOLUNTEERS PAY THEM!!!

Yes...for a mere 262 Euros (about $345) per day, you can "Roll up your sleeves and join the grape or olive harvest in the field of dreams at Il Palagio".  
The price includes a picnic lunch mid-day and a taste of some of the Il Palagio wines after a day of toiling in the vineyard, plus the opportunity to slice your thumb open with a picker's knife (a nasty little sharp hook on a stick, actually) as well as throwing out your back from bending over a small bush-vine.  Add to the mix the possible sun burn and heat-stroke and you've got a lovely little vacation.

We've worked a harvest in Italy many decades ago and it's a physically-demanding work-out.  And we've helped some American enology school students obtain harvest season internships in Italy (and they were paid a small stipend for their efforts)...

But the notion of paying a winery owner $345 for a day of picking his/her vineyards seems like a real STING to us.
Ouch.

Posted August 2014

 

SEEING IS BELIEVING!
In the reporting on the Napa Valley Earthquake, one local TV station admitted to trolling the internet and finding images on web sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. of the aftermath of the August 24th quake.

The news anchor on KRON TV of San Francisco gave this
reportage:

"...look on the ground there.  There are grapes that fell right off the vine!  That's how strong this earthquake was.  It was able to shake grapes right off..."

Clearly the newsies at Channel 4 are unaware of a practice called "green harvesting."  A vineyard crew is sent through the rows to cull out bunches of grapes to allow the vine to concentrate its efforts in ripening the remaining fruit.  The notion is the quality improves at the expense of quantity.

They found, then, a snapshot of a recently green-harvested, thinned vineyard and came to the comical conclusion that the grapes much have been "shaken" off the vine as a result of the earthquake!


We heard a CBS radio news report asserting that "...the Napa Valley produces 25% of the wine made in America."  
We're not sure where they came up with that.  The Napa Valley Vintners association claims Napa produces but 4% of the wine made in California, a far cry from the CBS radio report.

It was an incredible shake and we felt it here in Burlingame.
Too bad some news reports are not credible!

Posted August 2014

 

WINE EXPERT'S SUGGESTIONS FOR GASTRONOMICAL DELIGHTS
Yet another journalist has entrapped some wine gurus into pairing their wines with items you might not consider to be "wine friendly."

As an accompaniment to Twinkies (I kid you not), writer Anneli Rufus gets a Santa Rosa vintner to offer his wine pairing for this sponge-cake confection with a creamy filling.
Jon Philips of Sonoma County's Inspiration Vineyards recommends a Late Harvest Gewurztraminer.  
"The creamy richness of the Twinkie and the acidity of the Gewürz are what wine-and-food pairings are all about. You can cleanse the palate between each bite. Yum."





This photo was part of the article which is available on-line at The Huffington Post.

I usually have a knife and fork on the table...here we see some dental tweezers and a dentist's mirror.

Peanut Butter & Jelly?

"One of my favorite combinations of 'kid' food and wine is Pinot Noir and PB&Js," exults Joshua De Loach of Hook & Ladder Winery in Santa Rosa, CA. "Our 2013 Hook and Ladder Pinot gives the peanut butter a strong chocolate characteristic and the jelly a great depth."

This may explain why we've not found any of the Hook & Ladder wines to be to our taste.

Pop Tarts are on the menu, so a social media specialist for a Northern Sonoma wine & tourism web site named Anne Loupy suggests pairing these with Semillon.
"Why?" you ask quizzically.
Because "...
the effervescence will cut through the sweet inside."
California Semillon is a real rarity these days and we can't think of a single winery producing a sparkling version.  



Three experts suggested wine to pair with a can of Spaghetti-os.
Someone from Fritz Underground Winery advised pairing this gourmet treat with Fritz Malbec.
Kathleen Kelly-Young of Kelly & Young (of "Robert Young Vineyard" fame) Wines suggested Merlot.
"
As with any pasta dish that has a tomato sauce, Merlot would be a great pairing because of its rich fruit, rounded tannins and acidity."

Julia Lander of Moshin Vineyards suggests adding some cayenne pepper to the Spaghetti-Os and then pairing it with (are you ready for this gastronomical wedding?): "Semi-sweet Gewürz -- 6 percent RS or so..."

One winemaker suggested matching Oreo cookies with Zinfandel, which may explain why some Zinfandels are undrinkable.

Of course, we're in favor of taking the mystery out of wine and wine pairings.
We suspect, though, that the folks responding to this writer's queries are a bit desperate for publicity and hoping to make a sale for their wines.
We wonder, though, if they damage their brand and credibility by having their wines associated with canned pasta or industrial confections.

Is the joke, then, on those who responded or is it on those who read (and write) such malarkey?

As our late colleague Bob Gorman used to intone:

"Everyone to his/her own taste."

But that presumes these individuals have "taste."  Clearly some do not.

 

Posted July 2014

 

 

SAVORING SAUTERNES
The Napa newspaper called the "Napa Valley Register" sent one of its writers to tag along with other would-be eno-scribes on a trip to France to learn about French wines.


They visited a couple of estates in Sauternes.  
The article mentions Botrytis Cinerea, the famous "Noble Rot" which can form on the grapes at harvest time, concentrating sugar and acidity, while contributing a honey-like quality to the wines.  This is the hallmark of great Sauternes wines...they can be rich, unctuous and a connoisseur's dream-of-a-wine.  In years where there's not sufficient humidity to encourage Botrytis, producers tend to make more simple dry white wines.  But when there's a bit of rain or a lot of fog, the "mold" takes hold on the grapes and dehydrates the fruit.  Botrytis-affected sweet wine is what Sauternes wines are all about.


Here's a quotation from Sasha Paulsen's July 3, 2014 article regarding the estate of Chateau Guiraud:

Aside from spelling Guiraud incorrectly 2 out of three times in that paragraph, Paulsen claims the winery produces three wines, the Chateau Guiraud, the Petit Guiraud and the G de Chateau Guiraud.  Yet the winery web site indicates there's a fourth wine, Le Dauphin de Guiraud.

Astonishingly, Paulsen writes that the winery seeks to produce a "cleaner, lighter and more elegant Sauternes...no botrytis notes..."

And yet here's the winery web site:

The writer visits the estate, presumably tastes the wines of Guiraud and comes away holding the notion they're trying to make Sauternes from grapes which have no Botrytis cinerea despite the region's long history of making wines from Botrytis-affected grapes!

We contacted Sasha Paulsen and here's the response we received:

Apparently contacting the winery through its web site or making a phone call to Chateau Guiraud was out of the question.  If the journalist is "puzzled," should they ask for clarification from the source?  
And far be it for a journalist to be able to correctly spell the name of the winery they've visited!  

With a staffer who submits such a poorly-researched, shoddy article, can you blame the copy editor for having a headache?

Posted July 2014

 

THESE NEW RELEASES "TAKE THE CAKE" !!!

First someone was marketing a wine called Layer Cake.  Then a marketing company developed a line of wines called Cupcake.  Now someone else is entering the fray and the new entrant hoping to batter the market is called Birthday Cake Vineyards.

The vineyards are in France and they're not planted with Cabernet, Syrah or Pinot Noir.  Those grapes, apparently, don't hold a candle to these unusual enological adventures.

 



The good news is for "Birthday Cake Vineyards" wines, the added flavors are "natural."  (Are you listening, Alice Feiring??)

It sounds like one very Unhappy Birthday to us!

Posted July 2014

 

TAKE YOUR PICK, SONNY BOY!
We thought this had a measure of charm.


Posted May 2014

 

 

WINEMAKERS ON TOUR!

I've never been to the City of North Carolina, have you?

Posted May 2014

 

BESSER SPAET ALS NIE (Better Late Than Never)

We enjoy thumbing through the various food and cooking publications, in our hunger for more knowledge about the world of "cuisine" (and wine).

For publications such as Bon Appetit, The Art of Eating and Saveur, wine is a bit of a sideline.  Sometimes they'll run a feature article on some wine-related topic, but it's not the main focus of the magazine.

Food & Wine?  Well, they often have feature articles on wine.

Then there's Fine Cooking, another publication where they enlist the services of a Brooklyn, New York wine shop owner.  Patrick Watson, of Smith & Vine, typically has some nice suggestions in matching various featured recipes to adult libations.  His wine picks are usually pretty good, so we were surprised when we picked up the June/July 2014 edition of Fine Cooking.

 

 

Here we found this:


As someone who spends much of the day assisting customers with wine pairings for various menus, I, for one, can't say I'd be quick to recommend a Spatlese-level Riesling with a steak as one of my Top 50 picks for that dish.
And most customers go with my top three suggestions as, when it comes to eating and drinking, they usually defer to someone of greater experience.

I suspect Riesling was a choice when Mr. Watson factored in the Miso Butter...Asian...Riesling pairs well with Asian...let's go with Riesling!    And, sure, if we were dealing with Sea Bass, Halibut or Lobster with Miso Butter, perhaps Riesling makes sense.

On top of the curious and debatable selection of a Riesling, let's consider this statement, which ought to cause readers with a modest amount of knowledge to question this fellow's credibility:
"Spätlese on a Riesling label means the wine is dry..."
Really?
Where did you come up with this?
(Now, if he'd noted "Spätlese Trocken" indicates a dry wine, then we've got no issue.)
The Mönchhof Mosel Slate Riesling, by the way, has 83 grams of sugar per liter (according to a tech sheet posted by importer Rudi Wiest), making it fairly sweet, while the Loosen wine has about 70 grams of sugar per liter according to US importer Kirk Wille.

To put the numbers in perspective, The European Union regulations find "dry" wine to be 4 grams of sugar, or less.
A wine described as "medium dry" could have as much as 12 grams of sugar per liter.  "Medium" might have as many as 45 grams per liter, while they categorize any wine with more than 45 grams of sugar as a "sweet" wine.

Of course, the key to German wines is balance and some hugely sweet wines actually have a fine balance of acidity so that you might have a difficult time in identifying precisely how much sugar is in a sweet wine.

And now, just when wine drinkers were beginning to master the various terms on a German wine label, one group of vintners requires its members no longer label quality wines which are "dry" as being Kabinett,
Spätlese or Auslese wines.  Up until recently, members of the VDP group could label as wine as a "Spätlese Trocken" Riesling, for example.  (Not every German winery, though, is aligned with this organization, so you will still find Kabinett or Spätlese wines with the word Trocken on the label!

The VDP's new regulations, though, push dear Mr. Watson even farther off base!

So, as the old proverb advises:  If at first you don't succeed, dry, dry again.
Or something like that.

Posted April 2014

 

WELL, THEY DO DRIVE ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD...

In searching for a liqueur requested by a customer who could not recall the brand name of the product he wanted, we found this web site for "discerning drinkers."
They offer all sorts of opinions on topics related to libations, including ratings of various alcohols, guides to city bars and ratings of these establishments.

Of course, when one reads the notation that San Francisco is an "East Coast" city, much of their credibility goes down the drain.

Perhaps the author of that article had been imbibing too many cocktails when he wrote this???

Posted April 2014

 

 

CUTE CARD...NICE SENTIMENT!
A customer sent this along...

Posted April 2014

 

 

BRAIN-DAMAGED AMERICANS !!!
Every day I hope to learn a bit more vocabulary in various foreign languages.

And today I have to thank The Wine Spectator for adding a new word to my Italian vocabulary.

"Cerebrolesi."

That word translates to "brain damaged" and it's how many Italians view the list of "Top 100 Italian Wineries" selected by the American publication The Wine Spectator.

The outspoken Italian grower/winemaker Fulvio Bressan (that's him in my photo to the left) used the term "cerebrolesi" in assessing the quality of the selections of the "top 100."

Of course, Fulvio makes the same mistake that we make:  We expect such a list reflects the quality of the work of the vintners in growing grapes and making wines.  We'd expect a publication which claims to be objective and critical to select producers whose wines are of exceptional quality.


But we see, in reality, a list which reflects the influence of money and marketing success in some cases more than it does the actual grape growing and winemaking.

And this is what causes Bressan to express his opinion.

In the Trentino region, for example, there are but three selections.  Does The Wine Spectator actually believe the wines from the Mezzacorona co-op cellar are superior to those of Cesconi or Pojer & Sandri (who are not on the list)???

From Piemonte the list cites Damilano, Casa E. di Mirafiore (Fontanafredda), Michele Chiarlo and Prunotto, but neglect to mention Bartolo Mascarello, GD Vajra, Cavallotto or the Produttori del Barbaresco.  And yet the list has a dozen Veneto producers including Santa Margherita and Cesari, but not Dal Forno, Quintarelli or Maculan.  

Only two producers make the cut from Friuli and apparently you have to be named Felluga to be on the list.  Not on the list, then, is Borgo del Tiglio.

There are 32 wineries from Tuscany on the list and, yes, all the big names and large advertisers are on the list...I don't think my list, however, would include Cecchi or Mastrojanni.

The Falesco winery made the cut from Umbria, as did the under-achieving (in my view) Lungarotti.  Four Sicilian producers made the grade and yet, curiously, not a single vintner from Etna is on the list!

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE LIST

The article linked above does put it in perspective noting the US market is more than a billion dollar customer for Italian wines, even some wines which are not purchased or consumed in Italy.

Maybe that says something about the list.

Posted March 2014

 

BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS
It's difficult to believe we missed this remarkable posting on the Broward/Palm Beach New Times web site, but we did.

It's written by Miami native Mandy Baca, who considers herself to be a gastronome.  Headlined "Pair it with Wine," the article suggests that since pairing table wine with chocolate is not especially outrageous, one shouldn't scoff at pairing wine with breakfast cereal.

We learn that Cap'n Crunch cereal is best paired with Riesling.  Frosted Mini-Wheats are best enhanced with Pinot Grigio.  Ms. Baca claims a friend of hers enjoys red wine with his breakfast cereal and "goes through bottles and boxes as quickly as you go through toilet paper."
(Frankly, I'm uneasy about Ms. Baca knowing much about my usage of so-called "bathroom tissue."  And maybe someone should suggest her friend enroll in one of those 12-Step programs???)

It seems Frosted Flakes are "Grrreat" with Spanish wine from the Rioja region.

The article informs us: 
"Why it works: Rioja, which is a big full-bodied red wine, can stand up to the high levels of sugar present in Frosted Flakes. Plus, the wine's fruity character blends well with the sweetness of the cereal without overpowering or competing with it."

 

 

Apparently the most sophisticated pairing is this one:

Honey Nut Cheerios and some sort of Red Bordeaux!

"
Why it works: If you're looking for a sophisticated choice, this is your pick. Both red Bordeaux and Honey Nut Cheerios are considered classics in their respective realms. The wine's minerality adds an extra oomph to the subtleness of the natural and earthy cereal."

Yes, "sophisticated"!!!  Nothing says you're a real wine aficionado more than using a corkscrew at the breakfast table and matching your Cheerios with a bottle of some well-aged First Growth Bordeaux!

Readers are cautioned to avoid certain wines:
"
Forget about softer wines like Pinot Noir and Barolo, as the milk will overwhelm the wine. Also stay away from Champagne. The strong sparkling components do not pair well with the smoothness of the cereal and milk."

We have not viewed the wines made of the Nebbiolo grape in Italy's Barolo region as being "soft."  (In fact, as savvy readers of this page are well aware, it is often one of the world's most tannic and astringent red wines.)  That said, it did not take us until the end of the article to surmise Ms. Baca is far from being considered a "wine expert."

Finally we learn one should not substitute wine for the milk when preparing a bowl of breakfast cereal, lest the cereal turn to "mush."

All of this reminds us:

 

 

 

 

 

Posted February 2014, years after the article saw the light of day.

 

PUT A CORK IN IT!
An e-mail trumpeting the release of some marketing genius's latest ideas for fame and fortune came our way in the form of a new line of French wines called "Tire Bouchon."

In the French language, a "Tire Bouchon" is a device helpful in opening many wine bottles...it's a "corkscrew" and the label of this new wine features a drawing of a very simple, old-fashioned cork puller.

The release letter says:

"...we have decided to create a brand new line of single grape varietal called Tire-Bouchon.

Based in the Pays d'Oc, France,  our aim is to produce elegant and fresh wines, easy to understand but also consistent with food.
Therefore we have isolated very nice parcels and selected carefully the best grapes of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet-Sauvignon, Syrah and Pinot Noir.

These delightful juices age between 4 and 6 months in stainless steel tanks before being bottled. We proceed to a smooth filtration and fining to protect the flavors and ensure stability over the time."

Since this is "the wine business," it should come as no surprise to veteran observers of this realm that the bottles of wine named after a corkscrew are sealed with...

...yes!  A screwcap!

The world of wine!!  It is a screwy business.

Posted February 2014

 

THERE'S PERRIER-JOUET AND THERE'S PERRIER
A local, smallish chain of grocery stores posted an ad for some of the items featured "on sale" during the holidays.
One item that's appropriate to ring in the new year is Champagne.

And in this instance, they're offering Perrier Jouet's famed "Flower Bottle," known as the "Belle Epoque" bottling.


Here's a partial screen shot of their advertisement:
 

Is that some sort of editorial comment regarding the quality of Perrier Jouet's top Champagne, we wonder?
Or can they not distinguish between water and wine?

Posted December 2013

 

MAKING LITTLE SENSE

Some people contend that pairing wine with food is a lot of nonsense.  
"Drink what you like," they'll tell you.

And that's all well and good...drink what you like.

But for some of us, pairing wines with food is also a wonderful challenge and sometimes the combination allows for a greater enjoyment than you might have pairing a particular dish to a glass of water or merely drinking a particular wine without any food.

That's what we strive for when matching wine to food or food to wine.

We were recently presented a book by German wine and food guru Christina Fischer.

"Making Sense of Food & Wine" is a marvelous discourse on the ins and outs of pairing wine with food.   Ms. Fischer explains the 'textures' of the wine matching the texture of a dish, too.  

The book is written with German precision and attention to detail.  

At the back of the book, there's a "Quick Finder: Who With Whom" Chart.

Oysters and Muscadet...Coq au Vin with Beaujolais or Pinot Noir.  Lamb Chops, Grilled with Bordeaux, red wines from the Douro, Nero d'Avola or Toro...Sure.

Curiously, grilled steaks didn't make the chart.

But "Leg of Venison" is on this chart and readers are guided to having a "Riesling Auslese at least 20 years of bottle age (mature)."  
Really?  We wouldn't want a nice Claret from Bordeaux or a good Super Tuscan??  Barbera?  Syrah?  Tempranillo?  Nebbiolo?

Ms. Fischer suggests with your Lasagna you serve a "White wine, fruity, harmonious, medium-bodied...something along the lines of a Pinot Grigio or Silvaner."

We'd take into account the ingredients in a classic Lasagna:  Tomato sauce, meat, Béchamel, Ricotta or Parmigiano cheese...perhaps mushrooms, too.  
In Italy our friends who've prepared Lasagne have paired it with uncomplicated red wines from near their homes.  In Piemonte we'd see it with a Dolcetto, lighter version of Barbera or a youthful, entry level Nebbiolo.  In Toscana you'd see bottles of uncomplicated Sangiovese on the table.  In the Alto Adige, don't be surprised to find Lagrein as the preferred wine of choice.  In Campania, you'd be served a nice Aglianico.  

But Pinot Grigio or Silvaner with Lasagna?  Solamente in Germania, forse!  Nur in Deutschland.
Only in Germany.


Posted December 2013

 

EXPER-TEASE
A local "wine expert" posted an article in November of 2013 reporting on Southern Italian wines of recent release (all 16 of them!).
Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis writes about a De Lucia "Falanghino" wine...except the grape is actually Falanghina.  She notes this comes from "
Sannio, inland near the border of Molise."  I'm not sure why she mentions Molise, since most readers won't know where the hell that is...some people might, though, have a better idea of where Naples is located, as the Sannio region is about 30 miles northeast of Napoli.

But the most curious information gleaned from this expert's article is this:


Chateau Mouton-Cadet?

Now there's a wine!



Of course, the grand vin is Chateau Mouton Rothschild.  
"Mouton Cadet" is a branded wine which carries a humble Bordeaux appellation and it's a wine that's fairly low on the scale of nobility in the realm of French wines.   There is no "Chateau Mouton Cadet."
Further, Mouton-Cadet would not be, nor is it, worthy of comparison with a noble red from Campania.  

The Grape Goddess (as she bills herself), Catherine Fallis, claims the Aglianico variety is "the world's most tannic grape," though some enologists might have Tannat, Nebbiolo and Cabernet Sauvignon on their lists ahead of Aglianico.

Posted December 2013

 

 

LET THE CHIPS FALL WHERE THEY MAY
The folks who make and market Lay's Potato Chips have hit on some marketing genius, offering wine pairing suggestions for their various flavors of potato chips. See what you make of their wine suggestions...

We clicked on the "download pairing" link and noticed the address of that page is called 
"flavor-discoveries-san-francisco/wine-pairing," so we suspect these wine suggestions are intended particularly for the Northern California market.

Kudos to Frito-Lay for correctly spelling "Riesling," but they botched Pinot Noir and Cabernet.

As for their pairing suggestions:  you're on your own there.

Posted November 2013

 

WINERIES & NUMBERS
These days people in the wine business are constantly looking at "the numbers."  
They're concerned with "the bottom line."  They're concerned with numerical scores from critics.  There are numbers and percentages with respect to blended wines, too.

We attended a trade tasting and asked someone pouring wine for a particular winery "What else is in this wine besides Pinot Blanc?"  The woman responded it was 100% Pinot Blanc.  
I'm typically fairly polite, but I'm also direct and I blurted out "Bull shit!" when she made her claim.
We tasted the other wines being offered and the woman returned to the table a few moments later to say "You're correct!  It's got 4% Muscat in the blend."  She was a bit embarrassed, too.

Well, just by chance this week, in researching production notes for our web site, we ran across these "tech sheets" posted by wineries on their web sites.


Do the math and see what you come up with!

And then here's another mathematical mystery for you:

106%!  So that's a veritable bargain!

Some winemakers have difficulty operating cellar machinery, others have trouble operating a calculator.

Just remember, when alcohol is involved, anything can happen!

No matter what the numbers, we can tell you both the Ridge Cabernet and the Tendril Pinot Noir are good quality wines and they taste good, too!

Posted October 2013

 

WINE INDUSTRY "INTELLIGENCE"
There are some supremely intelligent people in the wine trade, but there are also some others who are far from being Mensa candidates.

We are routinely amused and bemused by the goings on in an effort to sell a bottle of wine.  

We've seen a big liquor distributor sending out periodic e-mail offers for some of its wines and spirits in hopes of drumming up a sale.
Here's one which is a bit remarkable.  We've cut out 9 of the wines, but show you the first one on this special e-mail offer.  
See what you think...your mileage may vary.


With such an attractive discount, I'm betting they made a few sales, too!  


Posted October 2013

 

PIEMONTESE CHIANTI
The Indian publication called the Business Standard posted an article wine by Bangalore wine consultant Alok Chandra touting "Tuscan Treasures."

The article mentions basic Chianti wines, Super Tuscans and Brunello di Montalcino wines in covering Sangiovese-based wines from Toscana.  Curiously missing is a mention of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Chandra writes that Brunello wines tend to be more expensive than Chianti and then cites his picks for these Tuscan gems: 
"...
principal labels available include Brunellos from Antinori, Frescobaldi, Renieri, Banfi, and Vietti."

Antinori, Frescobaldi, Renieri and Banfi are all producers of Brunello di Montalcino.  Vietti, on the other hand, is a winery located far from Tuscany...they're in Italy's Piemonte region and the winery is famous for Barolo, Barbaresco, Arneis, Barbera, Dolcetto and Moscato wines...No Brunello.  Sorry.  

Thanks for playing.  Try again.

Posted August 2013

 

A WORLD TRAVELER OFFERS WINE & FOOD PAIRING TIPS
A Connecticut-based real estate mogul, who fancies himself an expert on travel, automobiles, as well as wine & food has sent a "press release" publicizing himself, it seems, more than anything else.

Type the name Gary Richetelli into a search engine such as Google and you'll find a number of items on travel, wine & food along with some legal entanglements with the Securities & Exchange Commission.

In a release entitled "World Traveler Gary Richetelli Illuminates Dinner Wine Do's and Don'ts," we learn that Italy is Mr. Richetelli's favorite travel destination is Italy.  We learn that Mr. Richetelli "knows a good wine when he tastes one."

Our expert highlights "Bubbly wine from the Veneto region such as a fine Prosecco or Franciacorta..." except that Franciacorta is not located in the Veneto!  Oops.

The article contends that
"Most 'food wines' are labeled so because of how the acidity makes flavors pop like hot sauce on a wing or mustard. They are typically lower in alcohol content and are fruity, not sweet. Sweet wines are known to distract palettes from intense food flavors; these include Chardonnay, Cabernet, and other high-alcohol wines."  
Hot sauce on a wing or mustard? 
Sweet wines distracts palettes (I suspect he meant to write 'palates')?  Not every Chardonnay or Cabernet in the world is "sweet."

The author contends "
A white from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, for example, goes nice with figs and prosciutto, or even a well-rounded octopus salad. Friuli wines are known for rich, almond finishes and the acids and minerals in the white wine goes great with nuts and vegetables."
Is it just me, or is this written in New Jersey/New York "Soprano Speak"? 

The most astounding assertion made by The Expert is this one:  "The Piedmont region of Italy, for example, is known for flavorful, full-bodied Chiantis and Barolos."
Uh, Chianti is not from Piedmont, it's from an Italian region called Tuscany!


Posted August 2013

 

HAIL STORM OF VITICULTURAL NEWS
Britain's Guardian newspaper (formerly The Manchester Guardian if you're old enough to remember) has a U.S. edition and they've got a presence on the internet, of course.

We noticed on their web site they're looking for an editor for their U.S. edition and perhaps here's a good example of precisely why:

 

 

The headline of this story centers on a devastating hail storm which destroyed some vineyards in France's Bordeaux region.

The sub-headline then mentions the Cote de Beaune, which is, of course, NOT IN BORDEAUX.

It's in Burgundy.

Perplexing as the headline is, the article, several paragraphs below, mentions hail storms which hit France's Burgundy region (the Cote de Beaune being a particular stretch of vineyards there) some 360 miles from Bordeaux.

The journalist also mentions, in passing, hail storms in Alsace and the region of Champagne.

 

 

 

 

Reports of meteorological disasters in vineyards are typically accompanied by some authoritative voice immediately predicting higher prices as a result of such troubles.

Here's a screenshot of Decanter magazine's web site reporting on the disaster which happened in the Champagne region.

Oh, my!  We had heard earlier in the growing season of a previous weather-related problem which adversely impacted production of Champagne!
And now this!!

Do you ever see those stupid Info-mercials on TV?

"But wait!  There's more!!!"



No wonder consumers and news readers are confused!
It's enough to drive one to drink.

Posted August 2013

 

DECANTER August 2013

 

They bill their publication as "The World's Best Wine Magazine," so we're amused to see precisely how good "the best" is.

 



In their August 2013 edition, there is a column with suggestions of "Vintages to Buy Now."

In fact, though, the 2008s have been available for some months, many arriving this past Spring...they can hit the market beginning on January 1st of the 4th year after the harvest.  So, let's see, for 2008:  2009, 2010, 2011, 2012.
Yet Decanter indicates this will be released in a month, or so. 

We suppose the editions are printed well in advance of the month noted on the publication, so we may excuse them for not noting that Franco Biondi-Santi passed away this past April.

We checked their on-line site and were a bit surprised to see the misspelling of the name of a famed winery which is featured in the August 2013 edition.


Trimbach is the family name and it's clearly noted on their wine labels.
We suspect Decanter has simply "trimmed back" the salaries of its staffers and editors are not so wine knowledgeable.

The "Expert's Choice," if you're sharp-eyed, you'll noticed they botched the spelling of Spain's "Rueda" wine.

The Decanter web site has links to a number of articles recommending various wines.  Under "Italian Wines" we noticed a curious entry.

In fact, Italy DOES produce quite a few rather exceptional Sauvignon Blanc wines, so perhaps Sancerre Alternatives featured such wines as Sauvignon Blancs from producers such as Venica, Villa Russiz, Ronco Blanchis, Russiz Superiore, Renzo Sgubin, Tercic and a host of others.  There are notable Sauvignons in the Alto Adige, too.  
But all of the Expert's Choices were French wines from appellations such as Pouilly-Fume, Menetou-Salon or Reuilly.

The World's Best Wine Magazine?

Really?
That's the best they can do?

Posted July 2013

 

FUNDAMENTALLY INCORRECT
We were perusing the internet to dig up some info on various colleagues at a recent wine judging and found one fellow was associated with something called WineFundamentals.com.

This company sells a DVD which they describe thusly:  
"Like having your own personal sommelier, this interactive DVD is brimming with beverage basics – from wine tasting and labels to purchasing, serving and pairing foods with wine.

Their website even has a page of "corrections," as apparently the original DVD included a card which misspelled the names of various wine types.  As a result, they have an "updated" card...

Here's the one that's been corrected:

How many errors can you spot?

We found Dolcetto is misspelled...
Many Muscat wines are labeled as "Moscato."
And Gewurztraminer has but one "t" in it (and not all are made sweet).  And there are many Rieslings which are vinified to dryness, too.
Etc.

June 2013

 

REMIND ME TO BRING MY OWN...
Arriving at a trade tasting in San Francisco the other day, we signed in, picked up a tasting book price-list and then looked for a wine glass.
At the entrance there was a table with bright red plastic cups (for spitting and dumping out wine) and what I initially thought were water glasses.  



I looked around for some stemware and then realized the fancy-pants distribution company was not offering conventional wine glasses at their trade tasting event.

Celebrating their 40th year in business, this enterprise invited its merry band of vintners, coming from Italy, Germany, France, Portugal, Washington, Oregon and California to come pour the fruits of their labor into, essentially, a water tumbler glass.


In an attempt to be 'hip,' avant-garde and just generally cool, the brain-trust at this company decided to offer a stemless water glass to customers attending an event to evaluate wines retailing from $10 a bottle to several hundred dollars.  

Forty years of experience in the wine business and this grand crew provided glasses which would be clouded with fingerprints ("Let's check the color and clarity of the wine...garnet red with interlocking loops...").  
Of course, you'd be warming the wine when holding this sort of glass, while a proper stem allows the wine to retain its temperature for a longer time frame.
And, of course, swirling the wine in a water tumbler means you might elbow others in the face moving your arm to do so...holding a proper glass by the stem allows you to swirl (affording the taster a better opportunity to evaluate the aromas and bouquet) the wine more easily (and professionally).

We've suggested these glasses for the management of this company when they are evaluating the offerings of prospective purveyors:

 

And for customers attending future trade tastings, why not ask those winemakers to pour their triple-digit priced wines in a "tastevin" such as this?

Now we appreciate those stemless glasses as being appropriate for informal gatherings such as a picnic, beach party, concert venue, etc.
And, in fact, the owner of this proud distribution company hosted several hundred of her closest friends to celebrate their 40 years in the wine business.  It was a lavish, by most accounts, outdoor affair and a good opportunity to use those stemless glasses.  
Here's a snapshot from that outdoor fest:

Case closed.

Posted May 2013

 

AMADOR or AMATEUR?

The Amador County wine association, the Amador Vintners sent out a postcard invitation for people to come for a special weekend of wine tasting.  Thirty-six wineries will be pouring their vinous efforts.
Here's the card they sent out...

Can you identify the winery where this snapshot was taken?

I thought it looked more European than Californian and we called the Amador Vintners group (since they did not respond to a couple of e-mail queries).  As you might imagine, they were a bit embarrassed to admit the picture of the wine cellar was NOT TAKEN IN ANY AMADOR WINERY!

"We purchased the image from a photo bank.  I have no idea where it was taken, other than I suppose it's a European cellar." said the Amador Vintners spokesperson.

Apparently there are no photogenic cellars in Amador.

February 2013

 

YOU SAY REISLING, I SAY RIESLING
The International Riesling Foundation, based in New York state where they make a fair bit of Riesling, sent out an e-mail trumpeting the fact that at the upcoming Presidential Inauguration luncheon, Riesling will be the featured beverage.

At least they spelled the President's name correctly.
Too bad they misspelled Riesling in their headline!


Oops.
They later corrected the error in spelling and resent the news release...

Posted January 2013

 

"EXCUSE ME?" or "PARDON?" or as they say today, "WTF?"

We dined in a fancy San Francisco restaurant the weekend following the annual release (or unleashing, if you prefer) of the Nouveau Beaujolais.

The producers of Nouveau used to do a better job of getting this event into the media, so you'd see stories on TV and read about these simple, easy little wines in the newspaper.

Tucked into the voluminous wine list is the little card depicted to the left.

The restaurant employs not one, but two sommeliers, people who are thought to be wine knowledgeable and capable of guiding patrons to good wine.  Many folks in the wine industry view "somms" as "wine educators" and hugely wine-savvy.

Most readers of this web page are fairly wine savvy and know that NOUVEAU BEAUJOLAIS refers to the wine from the just-harvested crop which is rushed to market on the third Thursday of November.  It offers wine fans to enjoy a taste of the new vintage as though this was some measure of the quality of more "serious" wines which are probably still in the tank or barrel in some phase of fermentation.

So, in our wonderfully wine-sophisticated city of San Francisco, a gastronomic Mecca of sorts, we have these Eno-Evangelistas offering a $19 "flight" of Nouveau Beaujolais wines.

How many 2012 vintage wines do you see offered in this "flight"?

For people who "love to talk Beaujolais," I'd say they've got some 'splaining to do.

Posted November 2012.  Yes. That's right.  2012.   

 

OUTTER SPACE DEBRIS OR LOCAL SPACE CADET?





The San Francisco Chronicle carried a report about what science writer David Perlman surmises might be debris from an old meteor.

The story, available below,


CLICK HERE

contends the debris was some sort of asteroid.

We know Mr. Perlman, who's now in his 90s(!), is a capable reporter and he does his homework.

However, given the number of stupidly-priced wines being made in Napa (especially) and Sonoma, we wondered if the sighting of this supposed meteor was actually another brand of wine flaming out?

 

 

Posted October 2012

 

 

WATERY CHARDONNAY?
If you've concluded that many Chardonnays are a bit dilute, you might be correct.

Here's a little snapshot we took while visiting a vineyard in Sonoma which may explain why.

We're just sayin'...

Posted October 2012

 

UC DAVIS VINEYARD PEST TRADING CARDS
UC Davis is offering a collection of cards to help vineyard workers to identify various pests, mites, insects, diseases, etc. in the course of their viticultural work.

Also includes descriptions of natural enemies as well as handy inch and metric measurement scales. A sturdy rivet keeps the set together so individual cards don’t stray.

These 50 information-rich cards will help growers, vineyard managers, and their teams identify and manage most common problems.

Includes everything from mealybugs and phylloxera to glassy-winged sharpshooter and Eutypa dieback, all of which have an impact on California vineyards.

We noticed, though, the set is incomplete.

So, as a public service we found the "missing" card which has a photograph of a pest which has had a major impact on California's vineyards over the past several decades.  It's a nuisance which had caused so many wines to end up tasting more like cooked prune juice than Cabernet Sauvignon, more Zinfandels to taste like jam and so many wines to have elevated levels of alcohol under the guise of enhanced quality.

Feel free to print your own copy of this card and add it to the UC Davis collection (available here by clicking):

Posted August 2012

 

STICK TO MAKING CABERNET & LEAVE THE HISTORY LESSONS TO OTHERS, PLEASE!
A release letter from a prominent California Cabernet producer was sent to its customers trumpeting news of its 40th Anniversary.

Dear Gerald,
The year was 1972, Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" was number one on the music charts, the Goodyear Blimp launched its inaugural flight and on the North Coast of California, the first vintage of Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon was born.

We were surprised to learn this nugget of trivia regarding the Goodyear Blimp, since we're certain we'd seen it long before we'd seen a bottle of Silver Oak Cabernet.
Our colleague, "Dinosaur Bob" Gorman was born in 1937 and he says he's sure he'd seen the blimp when he was a kid!  "I think I was eight years old when I first saw da' Blimp!"

Billboard Magazine shows Stevie Wonder's  "Superstition" was the Number One song for the last week of January in 1973, though the tune did crack the Top 40 in late 1972.  It spent one week at the top before being ousted by Elton John's "Crocodile Rock".

We congratulate the Silver Oak crew on its 40th Anniversary, but suggest they leave the "history lessons" to those more learned in that field.  

We can imagine this brief telephone conversation:

SILVER OAK RECEPTIONIST:  "Good morning, Silver Oak Cellars.  How may I direct your call?

Wiseacre:  "May I speak with your History Department, please?"

SO-R:  "We don't have a history department!"

W-A:  "Yes, I'm fully aware of that.  I received your release letter announcing your 40th anniversary!"

SO-R:  <Click!>



We did hear a customer say, just the other day, in fact, "Silver Oak?  That's SO yesterday!"
Maybe they knew what they were talking about.

Posted July 2012

 

WINE EDUCATOR NEEDS EDUCATING
A web site featuring "headlines" of wine-related articles had one mentioning a favorite producer of Sonoma Pinot Noirs, Arista.  

We clicked on the link and found an article posted on an "examiner.com" site written by "New York Wine Pairing Examiner" Marisa d'Vari.

The winery has recently hired a public relations firm to promote its wines and one of the owners of Arista traveled to New York to wine & dine at least one prospective blogger/writer, the noted Ms. d'Vari.

You can find her write-up on the examiner.com site (
CLICK HERE) or her own "awinestory.com" website (CLICK HERE).  
Her credentials are impressive:

A wine educator, D'Vari holds three of the most important and rarest international wine designations including the Diploma of Wine and Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Educational Trust, one of 323 individuals (as of January 2012) to earn the Certified Wine Educator designation from the Society of Wine Educators, and the 'Certified Sommelier' designation from the Court of Master Sommeliers in addition to numerous other designations from the American Sommelier Association and the Sommelier Society of America. She is the first American to be invited to join the UK's prestigious Association of Wine Educators.

She now holds the Fine and Rare Wine Specialist Diploma, having graduated from the course with Merit.

In March of 2011, D'Vari was awarded the Level 5 Honors diploma from WSET for completing a year long research project focusing on the topic of marketing wine to millennials. Fewer than 67 people hold this designation worldwide.

One might expect, then, given such illustrious wine-world achievements, that spelling the grape variety "Gewurztraminer" would be a piece of cake.

And she's a "certified" wine educator?!?!

The article mentions the winery is located in Sonoma, but we never learn the Ferrington vineyard is actually in Mendocino County, something close to 45+ miles away from Arista's Healdsburg-area winery.
In the same article, the Toboni vineyard is mentioned and spelled "Tiboni" at one point. 

We perused her site and found this doozy of a spelling error...


All through the entire article, this expert wine guru spells it "Montalchino," even mentioned "Brunello di Montalchino."
And she's a "certified" wine educator?!?!


The image above is the emblem is that of the Consorzio of producers of Brunello (and Rosso) di Montalcino and you'll notice they actually spell the name of the town correctly.

The article posted by Ms. d'Vari has tasting notes for the two wines she and her friend enjoyed while having lunch at a New York dining establishment.  We're presuming each bottle came with a label affixed to it and surely the names of the wineries and wine denominazione were spelled correctly.

We're fairly certain the Rosso was made by the Caparzo winery, not "Camparzo," although it's possible the Gruppo Campari bought the winery and changed the name to partly reflect their ownership...but that hasn't happened.
And she's a "certified" wine educator?!?!

In another article about Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio, readers are led to believe that all Pinot Gris wines from Alsace are "...off dry, with at least 30 grams of residual sugar."  
Just for the record, the reputable and fairly large family wineries owned by Hugel and Trimbach both make Pinot Gris wines with around 7 to 8 grams of residual sugar.  Anne Trimbach says theirs is the best-selling Trimbach wine in the U.S. market as a result of its dryness.
And she's a "certified" wine educator?!?!

In a write-up of a nice winery in the Costieres de Nimes we learn this:

I also try Francoise’s traditional white – very good, but the white that stands out for me is the Viognier de Campuget. If you are a wine geek, you probably already know that the Viognier grape receives its finest expression in the northern Rhone, though it is also very popular in Austria. Both are relatively cool regions, unlike the hot Costieres de Nimes at the most southern area of the Rhone valley.

Viognier in Austria?!?!
The grape doesn't make the current list of grape acreage in Austria, as it's lumped in with "others."
Do you think Ms. d'Various-Errore meant Australia, perhaps?

And she's a "certified" wine educator?!?!
Here's her note on the Campuget red wine:

All things considered, I am a red wine drinker and really enjoyed the Traditional Rouge (made from the area’s key grapes, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Carménère).

Carmenere, we learn, is one of the "key grapes" of the Southern Rhone!
Ms. d'Vari speaks highly of the special bottling, too.  It's a wine she calls "Chateau de Compugent “1753."
Compungent?  We suppose it has quite the bouquet!
Yer killin' me lady!

When you write articles for general circulation and set yourself up as some sort of expert or knowledgeable wine educator, you owe it to your readers (and yourself, for crying out loud!) to do a better job and not be so sloppy.  

If you're reading "A Wine Story," keep in mind it may be "A Sad Story" and you'll have d'Variable results.


Posted July 2012

 

CIRCUMSPECT VINTNER?
Not many wine connoisseurs have Nova Scotia on their vinous radar screens, but, truth be told, a dozen wineries are in production at this Canadian outpost.

One vintner, Jost Vineyards, has been producing wines since the mid-1980s.

And what classier name to have for a red wine blend that's made of a quartet of locally-grown varieties than "4 Skins"?

The marketing department at Jost is just coming out with this ballsy blend of Castel, Lucie Kuhlmann, Marechal Foch, and Leon Millot (that's not a rock band, by the way).

One wag described this saying  "Consumers aren't shafted by the 20-buck bottle of a cockamamie blend from Canada."

You're hereby duly warned about ordering a bottle of this in a restaurant or shop.  
Luckily, it's not available in the U.S. 

As they say north of the border, "Classy, eh?"
Posted June 2012



JOURNALISM OR MERELY A BLOGGER?

Everybody and her sister seems to have a "blog" these days and the world of wine writing is awash with much flotsam and jetsam.  

We confess to enjoying a handful of wine-related blogs and we bristle at some of the misinformation and shoddy writing that shows up in some corners of cyber-space.  Most wine blogs would have readers believe these are posted by serious wine-knowledgeable people and they are unbiased sources of opinion, education and wine criticism.

It's a bit like the description for distilled spirits, in that "Not all brandy is Cognac, but all Cognac is brandy."  

Not all blogging is journalism.

In researching a wine we happen to like (well enough to bring it into the shop, recommend it to customers and put a bottle on our own dinner table from time to time), we found a "blog" posted, apparently by the Portuguese winery which makes this wine.  Esporão.

We were a bit curious to see a link to a page which was tabbed "Disclosure."  
What could they possibly be disclosing, we wondered.

And here's what we found:

We don't read the blog of 1WineDude.com, but were curious to see if there was a disclosure of any type on his web site.

And here's what we found: 

It seems to us that if you're going to pose as an objective reporter (or journalist) and want to be taken seriously, then being paid by a company in that field "in some way/shape/form" disqualifies you as a journalist.  It also tarnishes your image as an objective observer or reliable critic, doesn't it?

Postscript:  It seems that Mr. Roberts has been hired to write a wine column for Playboy.


Do you suppose they couldn't find someone who is not connected financially to the wine industry?

Posted April 2012


YOU'RE KILLIN' ME!

Sometimes you'll read a tasting note or description of a wine that is so remarkable, you just have to share it.

This is one of those tasting notes.

Some eno-scribes write short, concise notes, giving the reader a brief outline of what they might find in a particular wine.  Others go for more detail.

Here's a tasting note we read and re-read simply because it has so many adjectives, we were swimming in verbiage and nearly drowned.  

Your mileage may vary, but give this a go.


Okay, a bit detailed, but I get it.

What's it smell like?
(Fasten your seat belt...this is quite a ride!)


Japanese gooseberries?
And they're crushed!
Not merely Pomelo, but "pomelo fruit segments"?

Okay, what's it taste like?
Brace yourself...

Anything else, Professor?

The most expensive grape in Spain makes Ten Buck wine?

Mr. Lempert-Schwarz plies his trade in Las Vegas and apparently what gets written about wine in Las Vegas doesn't stay in Las Vegas.

 

BURSTING SOME BUBBLES
We were surprised by the description two different sets of students had in searching for various sparkling wines as part of their "homework" for a wine class.

It seems a lot of people have signed up for WSET courses in the Bay Area (Wine & Spirits Education Trust).  Students, apparently, set up study groups outside their classroom and do additional course work in order to hone their wine-tasting skills.

 

Curiously, students have had difficulty in identifying a famous Rheinpfalz estate's sparkling wine as being a "Deutscher Sekt."  

We would expect the label of this German bubbly to be rather clear in identifying the wine as a "Deutscher Sekt," especially with the name of the estate clearly printed on the label (Reichsrat Von Buhl) or the location of the winery (Deidesheim being listed as the town and the Pfalz as the region).  Maybe the words on the back label:  "German Sparkling Wine" would be fairly clear?



This would be a bit like someone picking up a bottle of Dom Perignon or some other noteworthy bottle of Champagne and wondering if it was a French sparkling wine since the words "French Sparkling Wine" are not prominent on the label.

But even more disturbing is the student's questioning us about the various Spanish Cavas in the shop.

It struck us as most odd that each prospective sommelier was hunting for Cava which has aromatics reminiscent of rubber or rubber bands!

We actually enjoy bottles of good Cava.  And we've never looked for "rubber" as a hallmark of these bubblies.

Here's the Spanish Cava producer's organization's web page describing the various wines.

Adjectives include:  "fruity and fresh...fruit in all its splendour"..."mature fruit"..."toasted aromas"..."red fruits..."   Apparently the Spanish Cava producers don't find "rubber" to be a trait of their fizzy, sparkling wines.

We queried the WSET in London and a fellow who's enrolled there was kind enough to respond, sending along the official description of Cava in their Level 3 textbook:

And the WSET "handbook" will instruct students that "rubber" in a wine is a flaw.

It seems to us that prospective sommeliers and wine-tasters ought to be trained to look for the benchmark characteristics of various wines, sparkling and otherwise.

Leading them to believe that Spanish Cava is, by its very nature, "flawed" in having a rubbery element is doing both the category and the students a disservice.

And, oh-by-the-way, we had a stellar Cava from Juve Y Camps which had spent nearly 10 years on the yeast.  The wine was a phenomenal bubbly and every bit as good as top-of-the-line Champagnes.

The WSET home study course costs $800, while the classroom version is $1100 for "Level Three."  

That could buy a lot of bottles of good, rubber-free Cava!

 

 

YOU'RE LOOKING FOR WHAT ?!?!?

The ability to recall, with precision, the name of a wine with which one is unfamiliar, can be challenging for both the consumer and the poor wine merchant.

We routinely play a game, somewhat akin to Charades, where the potential customer attempts to give us clues as to what they want.  

It's nice when we meet with some success in guessing or identifying the wine they're looking for.  It's even better when they choose to buy the wine (many will say
"Oh my goodness.  You have it.  Well, if I ever need to buy a bottle, I'll certainly know where to find it!")

One day, our friend, the late Gino Ricci called to ask me to participate in a "Stump The Wine Merchant" episode.  A woman came in to his shop looking for a wine she described as being of the brand "Oops."  Now, there IS actually a Chilean brand called "Oops!" but this wasn't what was on her fuzzy radar screen.

 

"Gino, maybe she was looking for Opus One?"
"Oh, shit!" he exclaimed.  "God dammit...and I have some bottles of that!  Yes, I'll bet that's what she wanted.  Aw hell..."

Our friend
Samantha Dugan of The Wine Country posted a note chronicling a phone request by a demanding customer looking for a prominent brand of French Champagne.  While Sam was trying to decipher the request and figure out what the lady was asking for, the woman barked at her, wanting to speak with someone "knowledgeable about French Champagnes," since Sam was working on connecting the dots.  Turns out the customer was asking for "Boo Pecoche." 

 

We recently had a request for "the white wine called Wiener Schnitzel."  
The fellow wanted Gewurztraminer.

The photo above was posted on the door of an Italian enoteca after the fellow there was asked for "Brunello di Montecitorio" (not Brunello di Montalcino).  Montecitorio is a small hill in Rome and home of the lower house of Italy's Parliament.

The enoteca proprietor has also had requests for "Piato di Avellino" (Fiano di Avellino),  "Vermentino di Gallarate" (Gallarate is a town near a Milan-area airport, while in Sardegna there's a denominazione of Gallura) and "Ribollita Gialla" (Ribolla Gialla is a wine from Friuli, while Ribollita is a thick Tuscan soup).

The sign's last notation deals with a Shrimp Cocktail, noting that "it's not a drink!" and politely leaving out the words "you moron."

 

MORE BITCHING ABOUT WINE LISTS

My rants about wine lists continue (are you listening Chuck?)...stemming partly from frustration with some California wineries who eschew selling wines to "retailers," but who will allow their artistry to be sold in restaurants.  If you ask some marketing gurus, they contend restaurants offer "free publicity" (like our profiles of various wines on this web site isn't?) and add value to their efforts.

We'd like to think we add some value, as well, and customers shopping in our little wine emporium can learn more here than they can at most restaurant tables.

Here's a snippet of a wine list from a prominent San Francisco dining establishment with an ambitious wine program (you'll feel like a cheapskate if you're not spending a hundred bucks a bottle)...

In perusing the list, we were amused to see 6th entry (above):  Vidal-Fleury Champagne!

The house of Vidal-Fleury is a venerable one and it's located in France's Rhone Valley.  Today it is owned by the Guigal family and the elder Guigal even worked for Vidal-Fleury in his youth.  We had no idea they'd invested in buying a Champagne house.

Oops. 
They haven't.  

There is no Vidal-Fleury Champagne.
But it's an easy mistake for a prominent sommelier to make.  

Vidal-Fleury...Vidal Sassoon...Fleury...

So they've mistaken Fleury Champagne for Vidal-Fleury Rhone wine...
The bottles, you know, DO come with labels and most of the time the winery has its name and type of wine spelled correctly.

I was surprised to see the price of a Macon on the wine list...$13.99 at retail....$42 in the restaurant!  But then I was even more floored to find a fairly commercial little Entre-Deux-Mers on their list which wholesales for $9 a bottle, maybe $10, costing patrons $48.  <Ouch!>

That's life in The Big City these days, apparently.

Another hot-shot place which pays a sommelier offers this remarkable entry on their wine list:

Gerwurztraminer?  
Misspelled twice!?!?

At least they got Riesling right!
Misspelled Semillon, though. 
 

 

YOUR WINE IS CALLED WHAT?!?!?!

A South American wine is suddenly in demand in an Asian market, but for reasons which may have the producer red-faced.

There are periodic marketing gaffes when brands are brought to "foreign" markets.

You may recall Chevy trying to sell a car to Spanish speaking markets using the brand name of "Nova."  "No Va" in Spanish, though, means "it doesn't go."

General Electric and Plessey joined forces for a telecom company called G-P-T.  In French this sounds like "J’ai pété," which translates to "I've farted."  Gerber doesn't sell its baby food in France or Canada, as the word "gerber" in French means "to vomit."   Oops.


The Waterpik company discovered the word "pik" in Danish is a reference to male genitals.  Water translates to "vand," but the term "vandpik," as it turns out, refers to a "morning erection."  Similarly, Starbucks discovered that "Latte" in German refers to an erection, so advertisements touting a "morning latte break" ('break' translating to 'destroy') caused a bit of embarrassment.

In China the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan of "finger lickin' good" missed a smooth translation, being understood by Beijing residents as "eat your fingers off."  Coca Cola's first shot in China had its brand name as "Ke-ke-ken-la," which has two possible meanings:  "bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed with wax."   These days, now much wiser, things go better with Coke when it's called "ko-kou-ko-le," as this translates to "happiness in the mouth."

So, some marketing geniuses imported "Chilensis" wine to China.

I asked a native Chinese-speaking customer for his translation of "Chilensis" and he said it equates to "fucking crazy."

Now that's Chilensis!

 

THE END OF CIVILIZATION AS WE'VE KNOWN IT?

Here's something to ponder for a moment:  
Is the phrase "Lodi Wine & Chocolate" redundant?


********

Some years ago, during weak economic times, we were horrified to see producers of Napa Valley Cabernets trying to convince customers that their wines could be enjoyed with chocolate.

We love good Napa Valley Cabernets and we're fans of fine quality chocolate, but the idea of consuming these at the same time is an indication that civilization is near its end.

********

We've not been great fans, we must confess, of seriously "hot climate" wine regions.  As a result, we're not terribly fond of some of the wines from Paso Robles, nor are we enamored with much of the curiosities coming out of the Lodi area.  
Yes, we've tasted some good wines from each region...we're not snobs, but if you're a fan of wine as a meal-time beverage and like wines which have modest levels of alcohol and fairly crisp acidity, these regions don't often provide wines of that character.

If you read the "tasting notes" of the wineries, for example, of the Lodi region, you'll find the vintners often describe their own wines in terms which make one think more of "dessert" than of dinner.  Someone attributed this to, in part, ours as being a "Coca Cola Culture."

Here's a representative tasting note for a Zinfandel from a small winery:  "
Our Zinfandel delivers exactly what Lodi’s renowned old vines are famous for: complex decadent fruit. Uncontainable swirling scents of smoky amber, jammy raisin-rhubarb, coffee and a dash of sage waft from the glass, becoming an exciting velvet carousel of wonderfully-structured chocolate-drizzled black cherries jubilee with a seemingly unending finish of sweet Boysenberries and raisins."

We've long thought Lodi could possibly give producers in Portugal's Douro Valley and Spain's Jerez a run for the money, but so-called "fortified wines" have largely fallen out of favor and so vintners look to make table wines.

So, perhaps it's fitting that Lodi is promoting a "Wine & Chocolate Weekend" in close proximity to Valentine's Day, a major "chocolate" celebration.

Here are some of the gastronomical treats being offered.  (Your mileage may vary.)

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ACQUIESCE WINERY
Celebrate Valentine’s Day and the grand opening of Lodi’s only all white wine winery with our unique Rhone-inspired wines and a belly dance! Yes, that’s right, Nyla Crystal will be belly dancing, teaching and interacting with guests both Saturday and Sunday.  Clap to her blend of Middle Eastern music, do a little dance and take great photos with Nyla. While you are jiggling, try our delicious Acquiesce Rosé Jell-O “shooters” and our delicious White Chocolate Grenache Blanc gourmet cupcakes!

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BORRA WINERY
S’mores galore…featuring our annual s’mores by the Borra grandchildren.  Sample our Swiss chocolate coming straight from winemaker Markus’ Swiss source while sipping our handcrafted wines. Don’t miss our FUSION – Double-Gold medal winner at the prestigious SF Chronicle Wine Competition!

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H-G VINEYARDS
Wine, chocolate and bacon!  What?  Who would have thought chocolate-covered bacon, mmmm!  Not your thing? Meatballs with chocolate BBQ sauce go great with Old Vine Zin! Stop by and try our Rock Lobster Old Vine Zinfandel which pairs nicely with the Classic Rock sounds of “Rock Lobster” – band starts at 4:00pm, Saturday, February 11th.

Another winery is offering Chocolate Pizzas to accompany its wines, while someone else is featuring "chocomales" (yes, Chocolate Tamales) with its Zinfandel and Tempranillo.

You like potato, I like potahto, 
You like tomato, I like tomahto, 
You like Ganache, I like Grenache,
Let's, please, call the whole thing off...

 

HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM

We're frequently left scratching our head (this is why my hair is thinning) after speaking with various wine marketing geniuses and gurus.

The other day, for example, a delightful rep is accompanied by the "marketing" person from a wine importing company in an effort to "show & sell" their wines.

This is called a "ride with" and most sales reps look forward to these like they look forward to a colonoscopy.  

The sales rep had taken the time to print a list of the wines they were showing with the pricing on each offering.

One particular wine had a wholesale price of $12.50 per bottle.  I asked the marketing lady if this price was correct, as I'd just seen that brand offered for about ten bucks by a bricks & mortar retailer.

"Oh, don't worry," she explained.  "They aren't selling the same wine."

"Really?  Don't you think customers might be confused and think we're gouging them with this wine if we had it in the shop for $16-$18 a bottle?"

"No, no no!" Miss NASA told us.  "You see, those guys are selling a single vineyard 'reserve' tiered wine.  This isn't the same.  We're pouring for you the winery's entry level bottling."

Well, that's clear as mud, isn't it?

 

 

WINE BY PHONE
We answer our phone here at the shop with a greeting of something like "Weimax Wines and Spirits, May I help you?"

And so a young lady was calling from some wine company wanting to speak with "Gerald."  

Our colleague paged Gerald, who answered the phone with "Hello, this is Gerald.  How may I help you?"

"Hi Gerald!  This is Susan with the X-Y-Z Wine Company."  

Okay...nothing out of the ordinary...we get these calls all the time.

"Gerald, I'm calling today because I wanted to find out what your favorite wine is."

Alright...now this is odd...a new sales rep from a company we don't know...and she's calling to ask what my favorite wine is?!!!  Oh wait...this is a cold call from a telemarketing company...she's calling not as a wholesaler or broker rep, but she's trying to sell me wine at the retail level!  Okay...I get it.

"Well, I'm rather fond of Barolo." I respond.

"Oh, that's great because we import a very special Barolo...it's a 2003 vintage from the Pee-an-pohl-vair-ray vineyard and we sell it for a mere $65.  In fact, I just opened a bottle for lunch today and it was great, displaying some cherry fruit and mild, supple tannins."

Being curious as to what other Italian wines these people dealt with, I engaged this lady with various questions as to what other wines they might have.  Barbaresco?  Sangiovese?  Vini Friulani?  Vini Trentini?  Other Piemontese wines?  
We covered the countryside and finally she was trying to pin me to the mat and finally make a sale, go celebrate the conquest with a coffee and then call some other pigeon.

"Gerald, here's what I'd like to do.  I want to send you a case of wine, twelve bottles with 6 different wines in there.  I'm sure you're going to love each and every one of these because we have some exceptional wines."  

I didn't bite and, in fact, she was a bit surprised when I said I'd just tasted one of the wines they handle when dining at San Francisco's NOPA restaurant the week before.

"Why, Gerald, that's impossible.  We don't sell our wines to restaurants.  We only offer them to our own customers."

"Well, you might not sell to restaurants, but the California importer for that producer does and that exact vintage and vineyard site is being poured at NOPA presently."

A bit exasperated at not having me in a head lock, she was grappling as to how to finally achieve success and make a sale.

"Gerald, what do you do for a living?"

"I own a wine shop in the San Francisco Bay Area."

Suddenly the light bulb went on over her head.
Apparently our answering the phone with "Weimax Wines & Spirits" wasn't a sufficient clue for this gal to realize she was trying to sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo.

"Gerald, why did you waste so much of my time if you're not interested in buying wines from me?"

"You know," I pointed out to her, "you called me.  I didn't call you!"

She hung up the phone, quite clearly exasperated at having to answer a lot of questions.  And, to her credit, she was pretty good at bluffing her way through my queries.  The telemarketing company must have a decent computer program to allow the nimble-typing operator to have access to just enough key words and terminology to seem like they are speaking authoritatively.

She hung up the phone, quite clearly exasperated at having to answer a lot of questions.  And, to her credit, she was pretty good at bluffing her way through my queries.  The telemarketing company must have a decent computer program to allow the nimble-typing operator to have access to just enough key words and terminology to seem like they are speaking authoritatively.

But she was so annoyed, apparently, she had a co-worker dial us a half hour later to ask ME some questions about Barolo, its geography and vintages.  I was capable of answering his questions and so to further pester us, he said he'd be flying in the following day and wanted to stop by and pick up a case of an older vintage of Giacosa Barolo.
Uh huh.


 


A member of a tasting group told us he was bringing a 25 year old bottle of Freemark Abbey's special bottling of Cabernet, a wine bearing the name of the vineyard owner John Bosche.  Back in the 1970s, this wine was much sought-after and it was a real trophy if you owned a bottle.   The wine came from a small vineyard in Rutherford.

I was curious to see the Freemark Abbey website, as the winery changed hands years ago and they've not made wines which have attracted our attention for well more than a decade.

Perhaps the description of the current vintage of Cabernet Bosche may explain our lack of enthusiasm...

While most Cabernet wines are described as having notes of blackcurrants, dark berries, plums, cedar, cigar box, tobacco, herbs and such, Freemark describes its wine as "Refreshing lemon, lemon-lime and green apple...citrus, floral and white peach..."

It sounds more like a candidate for a tasting of Chardonnays, Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc, perhaps?

 

 

MORE "SEDIMENT" IN DECANTER
The publishers of Britain's "Decanter" magazine claim their articles are penned by "the world's foremost wine authorities."  They further claim it's "the wine bible."

So we were interested to read the latest scripture from on high regarding the 2007 vintage in Piemonte's Barolo region.

There's an annual presentation of Piemontese wines called "Nebbiolo Prima" and it's held in the month of May.  Some 50 journalists from around the world are invited to taste the newest vintage of Roero, Barbaresco and Barolo.

There's a separate venue for those in the wine trade to taste the same wines and I have been able to attend and further my knowledge of Piemontese wines.  I was interested to read the article concerning the 2007 Barolo wines.  American Tom Maresca wrote the "Vintage Report" for Decanter's November 2011 issue.

The first paragraph points out the quality of a wine is dependant upon "who you ask and, if you follow a particular producer, where its vineyards are located."  Producers of Barolo often ask which communes fared the best in a particular vintage and the wines are presented village-by-village, vineyard site-by-vineyard site.

One, then, expects to know who's who and who's where.

So, the second paragraph of Signor Maresca's articolo begins thusly:



So...Here's an old Cavallotto label which identifies the commune in which the winery (and, coincidentally, its vineyard holdings) are situated...

Of course, one might have a quick look at the winery website...

Castiglione Falletto!  
They're not in the commune of Barolo...

We contacted Signor Maresca and he wrote back, blaming the error on "miscommunication between Cavallotto and myself.  I'd like to blame it on too much wine, but I think the real culprit is haste."

Of course, one might expect an editor at Decanter to have caught such a gaffe.  But then they probably do not expect their "acclaimed critics" to be a bit more careful in writing their biblical works and not do so in haste.

 

 

SLIGHTLY OUT OF TOUCH
Having seen the World Series victory of the St. Louis Cardinals, we had a peek at their hometown newspaper's website to read of the glories of manager Tony Larussa's success.

Along the way, we spied an article in the food section for a "Barolo" Wine Reduction Sauce.

The recipe is fairly straightforward and calls for 2 cups of Barolo to make this sauce for your filet of beef.

We were especially amused to read the "tester's note":  
Tester's note: Savvy shoppers may be able to find Barolo wine starting at $10 to $15 a bottle. For testing, I found only much more expensive bottles and substituted a good Italian dry red wine. The sauce was delicious but did take considerably more reduction (to about 2/3 cup) for the flavors to concentrate.

Of course, it's been 20 years since Barolo was available for ten bucks a bottle!  These days most bottles of Barolo are in the $40 to $200 range, with a scant few costing less than $40...

The author of the recipe, Alanna Kellogg, confessed in an e-mail that she used something other than a Barolo in making her "Barolo Wine Reduction Sauce."  

"And I'm afraid I don't remember what I used -- except a dry Italian red, it might have been a Chianti Classico, I paid about $18 for the bottle."

Well, that narrows it down, doesn't it?

Of course, one might consider using another Piemontese red wine as a substitute for the rather costly Barolo...she could have suggested a Nebbiolo Langhe or Nebbiolo d'Alba as a cost-effective alternative.

 

 

TRADE TASTINGS
Many wholesale wine companies, importers and winery groups host "trade tastings" with the idea of eventually making a sale.

There's an old bromide in the wine biz:  "Buy on apples and sell on cheese."  

This means you'd clear your palate by having 'cleansed' it with an apple (palate-refreshing malic acid works wonders), but you would "sell" wine by clouding the palate of customers with cheese, thereby making even a bottle of plonk taste appealing.

We were invited to a couple of remarkable tastings recently and both totally missed the mark.

The first was hosted by an importer of Italian wines.  They were going to be showing their "Non Plus Ultra" wines, featuring top bottlings from wineries such as Vietti, Marchesi di Gresy, Casanova di Neri, Avignonesi and Inama.

Some of the wines are quite costly, with Vietti's 2004 Barolo "Villero" retailing at approximately $300 per bottle.  As a wine buyer, of course, you'd want to be "buying on apples."

One small courtesy at a tasting is the importer or hosting company should provide appropriate stemware.  After all, the wine is not going to show especially handsomely if tasted out of a coffee cup.

 

When we signed in at the entrance, a staffer from the import company handed us a tasting vessel, but the word "stemware" would not apply to this!   It was a stemless 'glass', patterned, somewhat, after Riedel's "O Series".  These are essentially the 'bowl' of a nice wine-glass, but with a flat bottom.
However, in this instance, these were made not even of glass, but plastic!

It seems this importer also represents this line of "govino" cups.  

I will admit, these would be perfect for drinking Dolcetto or Beaujolais at a picnic.  They're well suited to sips of Moscato d'Asti at the beach or pool.

But these are totally inappropriate to hand to professional wine tasters to evaluate your triple digit-priced bottles of Italian wine.

What does it say about this importer's respect for the hard-working winemakers and the wines they produce?
What does it say about the importer's respect for the buyers whom they are hoping will purchase wholesale quantities of their wines?

 

Another company has the brilliant notion of having restaurant sommeliers come taste wine when they get off work in the evening.  This means the "tasting" (if you want to call it that) begins at 10pm and continues until 1 in the morning.

I kid you not.

I already work a 10 or 12 hour day, but I was curious to check out one of these events to see what sort of youngsters attend and how the wines are presented.  Perhaps I'm merely suffering from Terminal Curmudgeonality.

Arriving at the tasting venue promptly at 10pm, we found ten wineries showing their wines.  Two were in a dimly-lit foyer which was a bit crowded.  I tasted  (these people did provide proper stemware) a range of Champagnes and a handful of offerings from a fledgling Sonoma winery.  

The back room had wineries such as Kistler, Laurel Glen, Shafer and Long Shadows showing various wines.  It was very crowded and a bit like trying to taste wine on a metropolitan subway line during rush hour.

 

Having made my way to the Laurel Glen table, I was offered a taste of their 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Before tasting, though, I had a look around for a "spit bucket."  These should be easy to find at a trade tasting, especially one held so late at night when the local constabulary are looking for motorists who've imbibed too much vintage Chardonnay.

A winery staffer spent a few minutes trying to locate a spit bucket, but finally gave up the search.  

I realized I was going to need until 1 o'clock in the morning to taste everything since the place was over-crowded.  Not only that, the temperature of the room with so much humanity was in the range of 80 degrees.  Quite uncomfortable.  I decided to give up, since these conditions were hardly conducive to serious wine evaluation, let alone wine appreciation.

So, it was a wasted effort on the part of numerous vintners, hoping to sell wine and it was a wasted day on the part of intrepid wine buyers, hoping to taste some new vintages.

From a sales standpoint, both hosting companies did a wonderful job of shooting themselves in the foot.

 

WINE SMARTS
A local wine distribution company has a nice little website...
I was searching to see if they still represented a particular winery and in doing so, noticed they had on their "education" web page, a "Wine Quiz."

So I clicked on that and answered their questions.  These are intended, of course, for their sales team in hopes of making them more interested and, ultimately, more "wine smart."



How did I do?
  I correctly answered 8 out of the ten questions on the first quiz...

Here's what I missed:


Yes, I selected Burgundy as the correct answer...too bad I was wrong.
The correct answer, you see, is "Burgundy."
(Is someone not using the spit-bucket when tasting wine and posting quizzes?)

And I missed this one:

Yes, all these years I've thought Cheval Blanc was in the appellation of St. Emilion!!!

Apparently the folks at Regal know it as a Pomerol wine....

Certainly that's a horse of a different color.

Here's another one I got wrong.


Meanwhile, the French regulatory bureau, INAO, posts my answer as the maximum for white grapes in Saint Joseph Rouge:

10%!

At least they spelled Marsanne and Roussanne correctly...

 

FACEBOOK
The Internet is remarkable.  You never know what you might find.

I found this posting on a Facebook page.
Apparently Facebook has been posting pages for various companies with the hope that these firms will get the hint and start using their brand of social (or anti-social) media.

One local wine distributor has had its page posted and a sales rep (who did a splendid job for them, in our view...he called on our account, so we're familiar with him) whom they recently fired is the one guy who's taken a moment to post something.  

I might point out that it's one of those distributorships that does a great job in taking care of high profile restaurant accounts, while many other customers feel like second or third class citizens.  Over the years, we've often had issues with how they choose to sell wine, having to jump through hoops to be able to buy certain allocated items.

I once asked a San Francisco sommelier about their relationship with this company and said I imagine they must be on good terms with the firm.  "Oh no.  Actually, it's not simply retailers they treat poorly...I'm treated shabbily, too."

So...Here's a snapshot of their Facebook page in mid-August of 2011.

I can't decide whether this is more ironic, funny or simply sad.

 

TASTING PANEL

 


The current issue of The Panel magazine depicts an airborne image of a blimp advertising Hangar One Vodka.

 

 

 

 

Apparently, though, the blimp blew away from its moorings at an Ohio airport and crash-landed in someone's backyard.

 

So, we're not surprised to open the publication and see this page in the August, 2011 edition.


Of course, the results are, in fact, not from the 2010 wine judging, but from the recent 2011 event!

Oops!

 

SPECTATOR AWARD OF EXCELLENCE
You know the main feature of The Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence to restaurants for their wine lists must be that the $250 check to "enter" doesn't bounce.

We were amused to read a "news article" touting the great achievement of several restaurants in a particular locale which had "won" this prestigious "award."

The Wine Spectator even claims they check the spelling on the wine lists before bestowing their "award" to a dining establishment.

Restaurants must submit a current copy of their wine list with a check for $250.


FROM THE WINE SPECTATOR WEB SITE:

Wine lists must provide vintages, appellations and prices for all selections—including wines by the glass.

Spelling is also taken into consideration, as is the overall presentation and appearance of the list

The submitted wine list must be an exact copy of what is currently in use in your restaurant. Lists entered for judging must accurately reflect what your customers will see and have access to. Once past these initial requirements, lists are then judged for one of our three awards.


On a lark, we checked the wine list, then, of one of these restaurants cited in a news article.


Maybe "Riesling" should be spelled correctly, along with Gewurztraminer before this restaurant was given an "Award of Excellence."

Here are a few more listings from that decorated wine list...

See how many errors you can find.
I think there are at least 7 mistakes...maybe more.

 

 

WHAT SHOULD A WINERY PAY FOR A REVIEW?

Let's say you're the importer of a wine or perhaps you are the owner of an American winery.

You want the world to know how good your wines are, so you decide to submit samples to various critical publications in order to garner some good, "Third Party" approval.

You send your bottles off in good faith.  Some producers might send a special bottling, labeled as their normal wine, knowing it should receive a more favorable review than the regular bottling.

Few publications actually spend money for a bottle of wine...they rely on the free samples sent in by vintners, so they are not likely to audit their tasting results by purchasing a bottle off the shelf.

A few publications rely solely on the funds generated by paid subscriptions to pay the rent, claiming they are impartial and objective.  One such journal once noted that wines tasted at the cellar of a particular European producer always tasted better than the wines did out of bottle here in the United States.  
The publication was sued and had to pay the vintner for alleged damages.
That's the price of being objective and critical, apparently.

Other publications accept advertising revenue while claiming to be objective in tasting and evaluating wines.  We're always amused to see an occasional article on the wines of, say, Barolo, with critical evaluations, followed by a page of small advertisements by some of the wineries whose wines are being praised.

Still other journals ask wineries to pay to have a reproduction of the wine's label included with the supposedly objective review.

Click Here or on the Image Above to see a "close up" version of the document.

We are not alleging there's a direct correlation between advertising and a favorable review, we're merely shining on a spotlight on this.  You can draw your own conclusions.

 

 

2010 NAPA GRAPE PRICES

Robert Mondavi's "formula" for justifying the price of a bottle of wine was to divide the price per ton of grapes by 100 and you'd have the consumer's retail price.
Therefore, if a ton of fruit costs $4000, you ought to expect to pay $40 per bottle.  

The chart below explains, in small part, why you don't see many $20 Napa Valley Cabernets these days.  On the other hand, Napa Chardonnays, using this formula, should sell for $22 and Sauvignon Blanc for about $18 per bottle.  Of course, these days, land prices are out of conntrol, which further complicates Mondavi's simplistic formula.

Here are the average prices per ton in the Napa Valley for the 2010 Harvest which wineries paid.
GRAPE VARIETY 2010 PRICE ACRES/TONS
Tons Per Acre
CABERNET SAUVIGNON $4452 18,426 - 55,572
3.03 tons per acre
CHARDONNAY $2210 6729 - 27,241
4.05 tons per acre
ZINFANDEL $2766 1384 - 3147
2.27 tons per acre
SAUVIGNON BLANC $1810 2539 - 11,879
4.68 tons per acre
CABERNET FRANC $5236 1067 - 2467
2.31 tons per acre
MERLOT $2518 6089 - 18,677
3.07 tons per acre
PETITE SIRAH $3056 707 - 2780
3.93 tons per acre
PETITE VERDOT $4919 643 - 1462
2.27 tons per acre
PINOT NOIR $2471 2840 - 7397
2.60 tons per acre
NAPA GAMAY $1536 19 - 64
3.37 tons per acre

SÉMILLON

$2724

166 - 707
4.26 tons per acre

SANGIOVESE

$2484

266 - 558
2.09 tons per acre

SYRAH

$3015

997 - 2386
2.39 tons per acre

TEMPRANILLO

$3418

25 - 117
4.68 tons per acre

 

 

MOTHER'S LITTLE HELPER
There's a legal entanglement involving two companies selling "Mommy" wine.

The label on the left, Mommy's Time Out, is that of an importer of inexpensive Italian wines.
The colorful label on the right is produced by California's Clos la Chance winery.

Clos La Chance has asked a California court to find that its use of the word "Mommy" does not infringe upon the copyright of the "Mommy's Time Out" brand.  ((Someone else has trademarked a wine called "Mom's Riesling...and a German company has registered the word "Mama" for wine...wonder if they know about those!))

 

At issue is whether or not "Mommy Juice" will be confused with "Mommy's Time Out."  
Hard to believe they're fighting over this.  The labels are not at all alike and unless they're "bottled" in a Sippy Cup, we cannot imagine there's much confusion here.

Of course, there's Stags Leap Winery and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars...Now THAT'S confusing to the average bear.

But under the heading of "wine marketing," there are all sorts of curiously named wine brands being registered...just in case the time comes...

For example, someone has trademarked "Big Ass Wines," a New York firm owns "Pompous Ass," while another outfit has "Big Tits-Full Bodied Red Wine."  Do these companies expect customers to put those names on a shopping list?

A Santa Barbara company has registered "Peep Show," while a Sonoma company has "Living in Zin."  

A Concord firm has "Right Wing Red," but near as we can tell, no "Left Wing White."  

There's "Fat Bastard" wine.  

At the other end of the scale, someone else trademarked "Skinny Bitch,"  while there's also a registration for "Jealous Bitch."  Will those two square off in some sort of cat fight?  
 
Foster's Wine Estates registered "S-O-B Sun of a Beach."  

Oh my gawd!
TXT Cellars has registered the lovely wine name of WTF and OMG.

What the f***?   


Another outfit is considering using "Big Pecker" as its brand name.  You have to have balls to buy that one, we suppose.

Imagine asking the sommelier at a fancy restaurant for one of these curiously named brands!

Classy.

 

WINE IN THE BOX



An American firm is attempting to market this wine-in-the-box from Spain.

The word "Charla" in Spanish refers to "chit chat" or some sort of conversation, possibly gossip or it could be a "charla literaria" which would be a literary talk or presentation.  

 

One concern, though, is that if one sells a wine called "Charla," does that make the vendor a "CHARLAtan"????

 

 

YOU CAN'T GO WRONG!
Surely you've heard the expression "You can't go wrong."


I hear it from sales reps all the time, as they bring in plonk from some famous appellation or much-heralded vintage, thinking we buy wines which we can sell.

Many sales people do not understand we are not looking for wines which merely "sell."  
We are looking for wines we can recommend.

So, I was amused when I heard the "You can't go wrong" expression and then I saw this photo of a road sign.

Apparently, it's just as I suspected.

 

DENIRO GETS IT

Robert Deniro presented an award to film director and vintner Francis Ford Coppola.  

 

Clever.

See what you think.

 

CLICK HERE TO HAVE A LOOK.

 

 

DOES THE INTERNET NEED THIS SUCKER?
A wine industry friend sent me a link to this video, viewable on YouTube.
I watched it for a minute and a half, or so, and thought it was intended as something satirical.  
Then I realized the fellow, former Wine Spectator critic, James Suckling actually intends this little nugget as something 'serious' and has posted it in search of viewers.

CLICK HERE TO SEE THIS SILLINESS

 

The video begins asking "Is perfection attainable...?  Probably not."
And then we see numerous video snippets of his Lordship pronouncing precisely how many points various wines are to be awarded.
"I'm 91 points on this...I'm 92 points on that..." until he pronounces several wines as "100 points."

And while we find the notion some people have that it's possible to quantify on a numerical scale something as nebulous as one's enjoyment of a particular wine as though this was scientifically replicable, we're amused to have this little look into the World of James Suckling.



Video snippet after video snippet....there's our hero, issuing grand proclamations to winery owners who have poured various bottles for this critic.

The video, though, does illuminate one facet of wine judging: 
It's really easy to rate a wine when you're not tasting it blind and you're being hosted by some chateau owner in Bordeaux...you know who made the wine, where it comes from and have an idea of how much you're supposed to like a wine based upon the preliminary vintage reports.  You know the prestigious reputation of the wine, its lofty price tag and how you've rated the wine in previous years.

Does a diligent restaurant critic waltz into a dining establishment and announce he's going to critique the place?

I'm awarding Mr. Suckling a 70 point score for his abilities as a wine critic.

 

"I'M LOOKING FOR A WINE...."
We have this sort of thing happen all the time.  

A customer has had a wine at a restaurant or a friend's house and they want to buy a bottle of it to enjoy at home...but they did not write down the name, nor did they snap a photo with their pocket camera and so they are relying on their memory.
Unfortunately, most people develop amnesia by the time they leave the eatery or friend's home...and so we have this sort of dynamic to deal with:

As amazing are the people who go even further:  
"It came in a green bottle and had a cork in it.  The label was white/green/red/black/blue...Do you think you have it?"

Thanks to Susan R. for the clipping.

 

SMOKE GOT IN THEIR EYES ???






The October 2010 edition of the famous Revue du Vin de France has a major gaffe.


The 101 best white wines of France...our best bottles...a festival of flavors!

 

 

 

And, as one might expect, there's a Sauvignon Blanc from the late, great Loire Valley winemaker, Didier Dagueneau.

 




Dagueneau had a brilliant sense of humor and he was fiercely competitive, wanting to be the best at whatever he did, whether it was skiing, racing his sled dogs or making wine.

Years ago he offered a wine from a vineyard called "Buisson Menard" near his place in the town of Saint Andelain.  A prominent French wine critic tasted the wine and mistakenly published a review of Dagueneau's wine as a Pouilly-Fume from the "Buisson Renard" vineyard.  

Didier had a healthy skeptical view of the world and so to permanently poke fun of the critic, Dagueneau changed the name of the wine to "Buisson Renard."  
And, it remains so-named to this day.


The French word "Renard" translates to "Fox" and Dagueneau was certain as crazy as a...

So...now the question is whether or not Didier's son, Louis-Benjamin, will, in the great Dagueneau tradition, buy some vineyard land in the Macon region to actually make a wine called Silex from fruit grown in the Pouilly-Fuisse appellation.


How can RVF make such a mistake?
Not using the spit bucket?
Or were they simply "drawing a Blanc"??

 

YOU SNOOTH, YOU LOOTH.
I still have not figured out how this web company called Snooth pays the rent, but they sure send out a lot of e-mail material.

We received a lovely message with an article about "Risotto al Barolo," so we had a look.

Author Eric Guido writes:

"The classic recipe is not a risotto for the uninitiated.  It's a rich dish that tastes of the wine you pour into it, which is important to remember when selecting the Barolo for this risotto.  In this case, I chose a young Barbaresco from Produttori del Barbaresco."

While we appreciate a good Risotto, if you're going to use a Nebbiolo wine, why not call it "Risotto al Nebbiolo"?  But please don't call it "Barolo" and then use Barbaresco.

Of course, the wine used to make this risotto might be the perfect candidate to pour in your wine glass to pair with this dish, right?

Not according to Chef Guido:

"As for the wine, my favorite pairing with Risotto al Barolo is easily Barbera."
  
While we love Vietti's Barbera wines, we'll stick with a wine that's going to echo the character of the risotto.

We can further criticize the fellow for misspelling "Carnaroli," probably the best type of rice for this dish, but we won't.  
He's from New York and there they probably do call it "Cannaroli."

 

POSTSCRIPT

Mr. Guido later posted an article featuring a pasta with bitter greens...

Wine pairing
As for the wine, this dish pairs best with crisp whites, due to the bitterness of the greens and light nature of the sauce. However, due to its spicy character and earthy roots, you can also get away with Italian reds that lean toward a balance of acidity, such as a Barbera. I chose 2006 Les Crêtes Torrette Les Toules, a wine a little off the beaten path from the north-eastern tip of Italy, in a region named Valle d’Aosta.

The Valle d'Aosta is well off Mr. Guido's map, apparently...it's not located in the north eastern tip of Italy, but is highlighted on this map.


 

DON'T LET HER DRIVE IN TUSCANY!

The Tasting Panel magazine is offered "free," as the publication relies on advertising revenue to pay the bills.  

Eno-scribe Deborah Parker Wong writes of the wines of Italian vintner Lionello Marchesi in the September 2010 issue.

We're told Marchesi's Monastero winery is "
just outside Siena in the heart of the Chianti Classico zone."
Luckily, Ms. DPW isn't a cardiologist, for Chianti Classico aficionados know "just outside Siena" isn't exactly the "heart" of that vaunted wine region.  It's quite to the south, in fact.

Signor Marchesi owns a Scansano-area estate called Poggio Alle Sughere, which Ms. DPW says
"...runs along the eastern coastline of Tuscany..."

Here's a map, in case you, too, are a bit fuzzy on the geography of Italy...Tuscany is in red:

Unless Umbria, the Marche and Emilia-Romagna have fallen into the Adriatic, Tuscany doesn't have much of an "eastern coastline."

**********
We suppose this is just another piece of evidence proving Richard Paul Hinkle's response to the question," What are the requirements for being a wine writer?"
His answer:  "A pen."  
Today, we might suppose that answer would be "a computer."

 

OOPS!
Wineries are looking for all sorts of creative outlets to attract customers.
Judy Jordan's "J Vineyards & Winery" offered a "Groupon" e-mail enticement for wine tasting, selling a $20 tasting for ten bucks.

 

 



We're not sure who wrote the text accompanying the offer, but it's amusing:

A good glass of wine can brighten even the rainiest of days, just as an appearance from Alan Alda can add cheer to long business meetings, and Labrador retrievers holding sparklers can perk up dreary art exhibits. 

Treat your palate with today's Groupon: $10 gets you an elegant five-wine tasting at
J Vineyards and Winery

The serene destination is nestled in the fertile hills of the Napa Valley in Healdsburg, which is a bit over an hour's drive north of downtown San Francisco.

We usually think of Healdsburg as being in Sonoma, not Napa.  And if you visit the J tasting facility, it's on a rather flat piece of terroir.

At J Vineyards and Winery, no reservations are required; simply walk into the modern, art-laden tasting room and taste the winery's vast variety of fine wines, many of which hail from the Russian River Valley, an area known for its lush, fully matured grape trees...

Maybe that's the trouble...they're getting the fruit from orchards, not vineyards.

Or, the author of the Groupon text may have been out of his or her tree.

 

ANCIENT GRAPES, MODERN FLAVORS
Reading articles on wine, we often wonder how much research has been done by critics, journalists or bloggers.  

In an era when the internet allows one to easily double check so much information (and misinformation), it's difficult to understand some of the poor quality work which passes for journalism.

The Miami Herald features wine articles written by a fellow named Fred Tasker.

We were shocked while reading an article printed in early 2010 called "Ancient Grapes, Modern Flavors."  This highlighted a number of Italian wines made from off-the-beaten-path grape varieties such as Torbato, Aglianico, Negroamaro and Vermentino (though to serious fans of Italian wines, these last three varieties are not so unusual).

In the article, Signor Tasker highlights a wine from San Gimignano, writing:

"Near the many-towered Tuscan town of San Gimignano, the husband-and-wife team of Teruzzi and Puthod are blending vernaccia, an aromatic grape that may date to the Greeks, with crisply mineral vermentino, spicy malvasia and modern chardonnay grapes to produce Teruzzi & Puthod Terre di Tufi."

What's amusing is that the husband and wife team sold their winery in 2005 and it's being run by the large Gruppo Campari company these days.

We also get this gem:

"In the Tuscan region called Vino Nobile di Montalcino, the Tenimenti Anelini (sic) family has added cabernet sauvignon to its traditional blend of sangiovese and canaiolo to create a powerful and fruity wine called Trerose."

There is no "region" called "Vino Nobile di Montalcino."  

There is a Tuscan town called Montalcino and another called Montepulciano.  In the former, they make wines such as "Brunello di Montalcino" and "Rosso di Montalcino."  In the latter, there's "Rosso di Montepulciano" and "Vino Nobile di Montepulciano."

The proprietor of the Tuscan estate is the Angelini family.  
"Tenimenti" refers to the estate or property.  In former times, it was a word used to describe properties owned by the church and given to farmers to work the land.  Today it's fashionable amongst the wealthy to say they have a "tenimenti" or estate.  Some wineries are called an "azienda agricola," "fattoria" or "tenuta."  In this case, it's "Tenimenti" with the family name attached to the various estates owned by Angelini.

We wonder if Signor Tasker has tasted any good Brunello di Montepulciano lately?

 

OOPS!

Does anyone in Germany actually misspell the name of their famous Riesling?
You'd expect the publishers of Germany's annual reference book on German wines to get it right.


This is a snapshot from their website...Hard to believe they'd have Riesling spelled as "Reisling."

Meanwhile, one wine merchant sent out a list of upcoming tastings.
This seemed a bit odd:


Did Quilceda Creek move to South America?
And when did they start producing Barolo in Washington state?

 

ROMBOMB ZINFANDEL



Whaddya think?

 

BEAUJO-LAZY WINE WRITING

The Wall Street Journal recently hired some new eno-scribes to replace the couple who mistook "enthusiasm" for wine "knowledge" and "expertise."

Former Food & Wine journalist Lettie Teague has been hired to pen some articles and blog postings.   So has Jay McInerney who wrote the novel "Bright Lights, Big City," as well as a charming wine book, "Bacchus and Me."  Mr. McInerney also wrote a wine column for House & Garden magazine.

In a Wall Street Journal blog posting on July 23, 2010, Mr. McInerney shines his spotlight on the wines of Beaujolais.  We're delighted to have the wines from this often-overlooked region brought to the attention of prospective imbibers.  

Is it, we wonder, that today's writers, with spell-checking prospects at their fingertips, are simply in too much of a hurry to bother?  
Do we blame the world of text-messaging and social media websites for a lack of proficiency in spelling correctly and curious grammar?  

 

Here's a bit of prose from the Wall Street Journal blog posting:

 

 

"Beaujolais from one of the 10 crus—specially designated AOC villages—can be a very respectable drink, especially in a year like 2009.  In fact, 2009 is the best vintage since 2005 and if you haven’t had Beaujolais in a while, this is a good time to try it again. And you don’t have to call them Beaujolais—you can call them by their village names: Brouilly, Julienas, Fleury, Morgon, Chénas, Chiroubles, et al.

Most of the small artisanal producers haven’t released their wines yet, but I just tasted through some of the Georges Dubouef ‘09 Cru Beaujolais, and I was very impressed.  Duboeuf, of course, is the spectacularly successful negotiant who really put Beaujolais on the map, and while some wine writers cast him as Darth Vader, the fact is that Dubouef Beaujolais almost always represent good value, never more so than in a vintage like this. Of special interest are the single-estates wines which Duboeuf distributes."





 


So our "beef" has little to do with the touting of Beaujolais wines, though some aficionados might quibble with the selections being the somewhat "factory-like" Duboeuf offerings.  You'd think he'd spell "Fleurie" correctly.  "Duboeuf," too, for that matter.  

We do find this choice to be ironic, since it's Mr. McInerney and his Wall Street Journal editors who have "oeuf" on their faces...

 

 

TRE STRIKES AND YOU'RE OUT

There's a bit of a storm centered in Tuscany following the publication of a book by journalist Andrea Scanzi.

"Il Vino Degli Altri" is aimed at Italian winedrinkers and takes them on a "tour" of the wine world.  The idea is if one is better acquainted with wines from famous regions around the planet, one has a better perspective on one's own (Italian) wines.

Interviewing a prominent Tuscan vintner, Massimo d'Alessandro, Scanzi is told:

“I’m about to tell you something that you shouldn’t write about. But I’m going to say it anyway. The Tuscans are a shrewd bunch. They have always made wines that were somewhat fake. It’s part of their history. You know full well that there is a very serious investigation of Tuscany wine going on right now.”

He then cites allegations involving the famous enologist, Carlo Ferrini and some wines bottled by one of Ferrini's consulting clients, the wine brand called Brancaia.

Here's a further excerpt from Scanzi's book, quoting d'Alessandro:

“Poorly tended vineyards, low-quality vines, and wines improved using base wines from other regions. The base wine always has a high quantity of dry extract. The flavor is neutral so that it won’t be detected and it is always produced using highly technical methods: infrared rays and such. It gives the wine color, structure, and extraction. Wine has been impounded all over the place. I’m a friend of Brancaia. They told me that 75,000 bottles of their wine, already sold to the Americans, were seized. The same thing happened to Frescobaldi and to others as well. Do you know what the only solution is? Get rid of that magistrate because this way of doing things is too widespread in Tuscany. It will never change.”

So the folks at Brancaia, having been "outted," felt the need to respond.  They sent a note to prominent Italian wine blogger, Franco Ziliani, stating:

"We produce three top wines: Brancaia Il Blue (IGT), Brancaia Chianti Classico (DOCG), and Ilatraia (IGT).

For these wines we use only grapes grown in our vineyards: 25 hectares planted to vine on our estate in Chianti Classico and 40 hectares planted to vine on our estate in Maremma.

Our easy-drinking wine, Brancaia TRE (IGT), is made from grapes that we have not selected for our top wines.

Because of the success of and demand for Brancaia TRE, in addition to the grapes we grow ourselves, we have been buying grapes and bulk wine — both Toscana IGT — for some time now. This is no secret and it is by no means a crime.

Here are the facts:

- Two Tuscan sellers of bulk wine are under investigation for having sold wines with falsified documentation (fraud).
- As a result, all of the bulk wine, and even the wine already delivered to producers, has been blocked.
- Since we bought wine from these sellers in good faith, the wine that was used for Brancaia TRE has been blocked.
- During the inspections, we showed all of the documentation requested and we answered all questions.
- Following inspection, Brancaia TRE was released.
- We have purchased only a small amount of bulk wine and only for Brancaia TRE.
- The use of purchased grapes and bulk wine is allowable by law and is based on high quality standards.
- All of our other wines have been made only with grapes grown by us.

And so they admit to purchasing bulk wine, having been under investigation.

Yet a couple of months after this admission, here's a shot of the Brancaia website, leading customers to believe that their TRE wine comes exclusively from their own estate's vineyards.


Having been a fan of Brancaia's wines, it's sad to see such a producer continue to "massage" the truth.


SPAM and My Response to SPAM
Having an e-mail address posted on our web site, we receive a ton of spam.  

This is not wine-related, so we're off-topic, but I thought I'd share this for giggles.

Here's the e-mail message we received:

Mr. Ricardo Lewis wrote:

My name is Mr. Ricardo Lewis of the International Monetary Fund investigation unit. Attached pictures was received and forwarded to our office here in London UK today the 21TH of APRIL, 2010 requesting that your unclaimed fund be paid to Janet Williams.

In the said letter of change of beneficiary/ownership, representatives of Janet Williams states that you are dead and as such your fund should be paid to her as the next of kin to you.

Because of the elaborate global scam, we decided to contact you for confirmation. If after seven working days, no response is received from you, it will be assumed that you are dead and as such authorization and approval will be granted on behalf of Janet Williams to claim/receive your fund.

Confirm this pictures and reconfirm your Information and how you want your fund paid to you without further delay if you are still alive. Send your response to my email  address: imfinvestigationunit_uk@w.cn

Below is the information you are expected to re-confirm,

1. Full Name:___________________

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You can also call for clarification +447035993289

Thanks

Regards

Mr. Ricardo Lewis

Director Of The Fund’s Office Of Budget.

International Monetary Fund Investigation Unit.


Here, then, is the missive I sent off to Mr. Lewis:

Dear Mister Lewis,

Yes, I am dead.  But they have computers and the internet here in hell.

I saw a message posted on a bulletin board saying we're to expect you here with us shortly,  so I hope your documents are all in order.

Best wishes,

GW

 


Appellation d’origine UN-contrôlée


Consumers are often befuddled by the rules and regulations governing wine labels.  The United States federal government has a bureau in charge of granting "label approval" to wine, spirits and beer packaging.

There are codes covering things such as the notation of the alcohol contents, brand name, varietal (or generic) designations, as well as the "appellation." 

The appellation answers the question (many times) as to where the grapes were grown.  Some bottles bear the very non-specific appellation of "California," meaning the grapes can come from various regions.  Some inexpensive wines, made from grapes grown in the industrial vineyards of California's Central Valley have a "California" appellation, as that's more romantic than, say, Merced County, Madera County or Fresno County.

Napa Valley is a prestigious appellation.  Sonoma and Mendocino also are found of expensive bottles of wine.

The Segue brand offers a perplexing single vineyard Pinot Noir from Mendocino's Anderson Valley.  But you might notice the emblem over the red part of the label with "RRV" on it.  That's an indication the wine is made from fruit grown in the Russian River Valley.  Now, the Russian River appellation is located within the confines of Sonoma County.  And the Filigreen Vineyard is situated in Mendocino's Anderson Valley.  

This is what happens when people make high alcohol Pinot Noir.  
And if the Feds were paying attention, they'd have caught this goof.

 

MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL...
A Chicago eno-scribe posted a note on his informative website, Reflections on Wine, with some assessments of the 2010 Gambero Rosso publication's tasting in the Windy City.

Tom Hyland, author of this web site, writes of the diversity of the wines and grape varieties one might encounter at this wine tasting:

"...this is an opportunity to sample wines that the magazine’s staff rated on an equal level (Tre Bicchieri) with those famous bottlings. These included wines made from Vermentino, Sylvaner and Grechetto for white and Corvina, Garganega and Pugnitello for red."

Here is a photo of each of the latter three grape varieties...Corvina, Garganega and Pugnitello.

   

As you might guess, it's going to be difficult to make a red wine from the middle one, Garganega.

This is the predominant grape variety from the Veneto appellation of Soave and, of course, it produces white wine.  And while it is possible to produce a white wine from "black" grapes, we cannot recall ever tasting a red wine made of Garganega.  Or Chardonnay, for that matter...Lord knows, in California there seem to be some vintners who are trying to make "red wine" from Chardonnay.

But if there was a red wine made of Garganega, we're certain it would bear the label:  
Nero d'Soavola!

 

WINE WITH "TRAINING WHEELS"

All the news services have been reporting the story of some French vintners who sold California's Gallo winery some tanks of wine they called Pinot Noir which turned out to be, we're told, a tandem of Merlot and Syrah or Pinot Noir with Merlot and Syrah.

Gallo has been peddling (or pedaling, if you prefer) a brand of wine called Red Bicyclette, featuring table wines they've purchased in bulk from a grape grower's co-operative winery in Limoux that specializes in sparkling wine.  The only red table produced by this winery is made from Merlot, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah.

Gallo, however, asked the winery to provide them with a boat load of Pinot Noir.  And so, wanting to make a sale and please the customer, the Sieur d’Arques co-op, sold Gallo, on paper, Pinot Noir.  

A dozen people were convicted in this scam, each given a suspended sentence and fined somewhere between 3,000 and 180,000 Euros.  

It seems the wine broker which was hired to source and provide wine for the co-op sold them a quantity of Pinot Noir greater than the particular region produces in one vintage!  Further, the wine was sold at approximately 60% of the normal market price for Pinot Noir from the south of France.

Didn't Ernest & Julio's mother ever tell them if "something appears to be too good to be true, it probably isn't true"???

A French newspaper reports one of the convicted as saying they'd have labeled the wine as "Yoplait" (a famous brand of yogurt) had they been asked to do so.

 


Meanwhile, Gallo's "Red Bicyclette" website claims the 2007 vintage of Pinot Noir had been blended with 7% Syrah and 5% Grenache.



Some people claim Gallo is innocent in all of this...others blame Gallo for not detecting the fraud on their own.  Didn't anyone from Gallo "taste" the wine at some point to verify if it, at all, resembled Pinot Noir?

But shady dealings or frauds in the world of wine are not isolated incidents.

Italy seems to have a quarterly scandal involving either mis-labeled or counterfeit wines.  France has a long history of enological shenanigans as well.  California wineries are allowed a certain amount of leeway in labeling wines and if one tastes a lot of what is labeled "Pinot Noir," one might wonder what other enhancements have been added (MegaPurple?  Syrah?  Petite Sirah?)...

Ask some California vintners how many grams of residual sugar their wine has and they'll proudly lie, proclaiming their wine is "dry."  And we know they're all wet!


 

So, whether it's the Billionaire's Vinegar or a pauper's Pinot Noir, it's not been uncommon for there to be a bit of chicanery.

A couple of ironies in this particular "scandal" (with respect to bicycling terminology):

Gallo might be said to have "won the door prize" in this incident, the "door prize" being how cyclists describe a rider who collides with the open door of a parked car.  Ouch!

Cyclists use the name "Fred" to describe "An unskilled racer with aspirations to appear more capable than they in fact are."  Keep in mind, Fred Franzia is the nephew of the late Ernest Gallo.  Mr. Franzia was indicted in 1993 on federal charges of conspiracy to defraud by misrepresenting cheaper grapes as premium fruit.  Fred pled guilty and paid a nice little fine.

In any case, consumers opting for wines of the Red Bicyclette label are, one might say, buying a "wine with training wheels" and they deserve the flat tire they get.

 

METAPHORICALLY SPEAKING

We're dizzy as a goose after a spin cycle in a washing machine after reading this description of a California red wine blend from a winery that's as unknown as the dreams of a sleeping infant...


The tasting note is written by Santa Cruz Mountains-based Laura Ness...it reads the way your tongue hurts after you've accidentally nailed it to the wall.

 

 


"Her VineNess on Wine"

2007 Poetic Cellars “Ballad” Bordeaux Blend, Livermore Valley, $30
What I like best about this blend is its seamlessness – there is a very lean angularity that weaves it all together. 
Not that there are too many outlying points on the graph – this wine follows a very precise line in its faithful replication of just-so Bordeaux. 
It’s a total seesaw balance of Cabernet and Merlot, with only a 10 percent fulcrum factor of Cabernet Franc to complete the balance of power-tie knot. 
My other favorite thing about this wine is its amazingly low alcohol content for a wine from Livermore and a cabernet of any kind in California. At 13.5 percent, it has restraint and balance, with lovely notes of lavender, dark cassis, caraway and tarragon, layered with cured Westphalian ham and spicy green olives. This is the kind of Cab blend that won’t make your mouth suffer from tannin overload, and at the same time, it won’t overwhelm you with alcohol. Katy Lovell is really learning the nuances of the vineyard and how to marry its disparate elements into musical scores that might just work their magic on your minstrel memory.


 

NEW BREAKFAST TREAT

 

After spending hours tasting numerous optimistically-priced Zinfandels at the 2010 "ZAP" tasting in San Francisco, our associate Kareasa Wilkins grew weary of so many of the wines.

"A lot of the Lodi Zinfandels simply taste like Chocolate Cheerios!" she noted.

Well, here's the label from a box of that breakfast treat...check the lower right hand corner....

 

REMARKABLE WINE WRITING
We appreciate competently-written journalism and we marvel at how some people, enthusiastic though they may be, are willing to publicly embarrass themselves by sharing their "expertise" in the form of a newspaper or magazine article or a world-wide-web internet "blog."

From Ashland, Oregon comes a remarkable article by wine guru Lorn Razzano, who's dubbed The Wine Whisperer.  

His December 22nd, 2009 posting recommends a wine by Spindrift Cellars. 
"Spindrift Gewerztraminer." (sic)
In extolling the virtues of this wine, Mr. Razzano misspells Gewürztraminer five times!  In fact, his November 24th column also touts wines made of this lovely grape:

"...the name "Gewerztraminer" means "spicy traminer" in German. The European Gewrztraminers are notably French with great houses selling this noble wine for well more than 100 years..."

 

 

One might expect the fellow to have made a note of the correct spelling simply by having a look at the label of the wine he's so highly recommending.  

 

 

 

Mr. Razzano also suggests a couple of Spanish wines.



"Portacollo Spanish white wine: Spanish white wines are becoming fashionable and offer great bang for the buck. This is a white wine that delivers lovely fresh flavors, almost citrus in the finish, but also has a very lovely bouquet. This is a white wine lover's dream and continues to give a wonderful performance throughout the white wine world."

 


Another wine from Spain is recommended:

"Vorehijon: This is the other white of great note from Spain. It continues the great tradition of these cuisine-friendly white wines and is impressive not only for the balance of the wine but for the elegance that it brings to the table."


Have you ever heard of the wine "Vorehijon"?
We checked with the search engine called Google.

...a mere one result.  This guy's article is the only reference to his recommended Spanish white wine.

And just for the sheer beauty of sentences cobbled together:

"Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc: The South Americans are becoming the guys to reckon with as far as the reds and whites of great value are concerned. This chateau boasts a pedigree from the great Chateau Lafite in Bordeaux, France, and is living up to its tradition. I love this white wine for its brilliance and cleanliness, as well as its ability to cross over from seafood to fowl very easily. Sauvignon blanc can be problematic in some areas and from many wineries but this little hummer is just the ticket. I do not know a better wine under 20 bucks in this varietal."

A friend of ours said he, too, often has difficulty in remembering how to spell the names of the wines he's been drinking.  This is caused by, he asserts, the lack of a wine glass and drinking these straight out of the bottle.  
"You can't see the label like you can when the bottle is on the table and you're imbibing from a wine glass."

Ah...that explains it!

 

CURIOUS or EPICURIOUS?

Aside from all the e-mail messages offering snake oil, diplomas and letters from barristers in Nigeria representing dead people who've left us millions of dollars, we receive numerous wine-related postings.

Leslie Sbrocco is the author of several books and hosts a local TV show spotlighting Bay Area restaurants.  She teaches wine classes and is an engaging and enthusiastic eno-preacher.  

The author of Wine for Women: A Guide to Buying, Pairing and Sharing Wine, one might expect Leslie to offer good suggestions in pairing wines with food.

In her periodic e-mail for the Conde Nast publishing empire, Leslie sent out a missive under the Epicurious banner touting the virtues of Sherry.  Now, we enjoy a nice glass of Sherry from time to time.  A chilled Fino with some salty Marcona Almonds and some Anchovy-Stuffed Olives is a delight.  A sweet Sherry with a nutty dessert can be magnificent.  We're all in favor of drinking whatever wine you like with whatever foods you want.

We're just a bit hesitant to take Leslie's advice 100% of the way...

...can't imagine pairing a bottle of Sherry (whatever style you like) with a grilled steak, frankly.

Whatever floats your boat, as they say.

 

OOPS!



Isn't there a law saying if you're going to vinify and bottle Gewurztraminer, you have to, at least, be able to spell it correctly?

 

 

 

 

 

This reminded us of an old advertising poster the Gundlach-Bundschu winery had back in the 1970s...

 

 

HONORING A SOMMELIER
Includes Champagne reception, and 3 course lunch prepared by Michael Mina. Each course is paired with 1 aged California wine and 1 aged French Burgundy.

Lunch Menu

Trio of Lobster

bulletTruffled Flan
bullet"Eggs Benedict"
bulletTarragon Roulade

Chateau St. Jean Reserve Chardonnay, Sonoma County 2005
Francois Jobard Meursault les Tillets, Burgundy 2005

Four Story Hill Farm Poussin

bullet"Coq Au Vin"
bulletMarket Vegetables
bulletCurly Red Mustard Greens
Chateau St. Jean Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sonoma Valley 2007
Bruno Clavelier La Combe D'Orvaux [sic] Chambolle-Musigny 1er cru, Burgundy 2006

Soo Young's Cheese Selections from Andante Dairy

Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County 2005
Maison Leroy Bourgogne Blanc, Burgundy 2002

Amusing to find the notion that current releases from Chateau St. Jean are considered "aged" California wines.  
If you've ever tasted the Meursault wines of Francois Jobard, you'll know that a 4 year old bottle is young,  undeveloped and backwards.
The Leroy 2002 Bourgogne Blanc illustrates that not every wine ages gracefully.

Another amusing aspect is that Lawrence Stone's Rubicon wine lists didn't exactly feature wines from vineyards such as Chateau St. Jean.  I'm betting none of the other award recipients at this event are big fans of California wineries such as St. Jean, either.

We sent the menu/program to a wiseacre friend who's an experienced sommelier...
His response was
"Well, hell, if Larry Stone is what passes for a mentor, that's just as egregious as what passes for old wine."

 

CORKAGE or SCREWAGE ???
We have periodically ranted about restaurant wine prices and there's one service charge which seems unusually excessive.

Restaurateurs have corkage fees (the price you pay the dining establishment for bringing and being served your own bottle of wine) ranging from $10 to $50 (generally).  Fine.

We have heard, from time to time, that the restaurant will charge patrons its standard corkage fee, "unless you bring a wine which is already on the wine list.  Then we will charge you the price of the wine on the list."

We were reminded of this philosophy the other day when a customer was perusing our rarity cabinet.  He was going to a famous San Francisco restaurant and was looking at the pages from the on-line wine list to be certain he wasn't bringing a bottle already on the list.

"I can't afford to pay them $1000 for a bottle of wine with our meal and I want to be sure not to bring something they already have." he explained.

Let's give this some thought...

The burden is on the customer to be more familiar with the wine list than most of the servers at the restaurant.

If a customer has been cellaring a bottle of 1959 Bordeaux to celebrate the wife's 50th birthday, he might have to chose to dine at an alternative restaurant because the first choice happens, by chance, to have that very same selection on its wine list...or pay today's "market price" for the privilege of being served a well-cellared (hopefully) mature bottle...

On one hand we understand that restaurants are in business to make a profit.  Of course.  But they are also in the business of "hospitality" and penalizing a patron for bringing a special bottle seems inhospitable. 

We'd like to suggest to those bringing a bottle to a restaurant to:

bulletBring something that's not on the wine list but is of exceptional quality...not some current release, right off the shelf.
bulletBuy, at least, a flute of bubbly or a white wine as an aperitif to support the restaurant's wine program.
bulletOffer the server or sommelier a taste of your grand bottle.

Restaurateurs might consider changing the excessive policy of charging the same price as is on the wine list to a standard corkage fee, providing white wines are, say, at least 5 years old and red wines are say, at least, ten years of age or something worthy of special attention.  If a patron brings in a bottle of Two Buck Chuck or Yellow Tail, politely escort them to the door and point in the direction of the nearest McDonald's.
 
Just a thought.

 

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

Germany crowns a "wine queen" every year as has been the tradition for the past 6 decades.

They've recently given the honor to a young lady from the Franken region.

She's the gal in the middle and her name is Dumbsky.
Marlies Dumbsky.

We couldn't possible make up this stuff, but we will simply say while we don't know Fräulein Marlies, we do know a number of "Dumbsky's" who are in the wine business.

I'm just sayin' and that's all I'm sayin'.

 

WINING & DINING
We appreciate a wonderful meal paired with good wines.

See how this menu strikes your "mental palate."  

 

Menu
 
     Maine Lobster Succotash and Buttermilk Sorbet
 
Chardonnay Mer Soleil Silver
Unoaked Monterey 2006

**** 
Stone Fruit Panzanella with Brioche, Basil
 Summer Beans and Burrata Cheese
 
Conundrum Caymus Napa Valley  2007

 ****
Masami Farms Waygu Rib Eye, Chanterelles,
 Corn and Truffled Beef Jus
 
Cabernet Sauvignon Caymus
Special Select Napa Valley 2005
 
****
Popcorn & Peanuts
Milk Jam, Black Olive Cremeux, Cocoa Sorbet
Late Harvest Viognier

 ****
café filtre
 
petit fours

$150 per person and this does not include tax or tip.
 

We found this menu to have the makings of a gastronomical train wreck.

The fellow who organizes these events (if you can call this 'organized') claims to be a Master Sommelier.  The soirée begins with what he's calling a "Pinot Noir Vertical" tasting...We understand a "vertical" tasting to be multiple vintages of a particular wine.  The Master, though, has three different bottlings of 2006 vintage Pinot Noirs.

I don't mind "Popcorn and Peanuts" for dessert, but I prefer to have this at a venue where Tim Lincecum is pitching, not someone from Napa's Caymus and Belle Glos wineries.


YOU'RE SH*TTIN' ME!
From the Garden State comes wine from a family with a name most people will find to be unappealing.

Winemaker Sal Turdo is proud of his wines, though near as we can tell, he labels them "Turis" for some reason.

Not having tasted his wines, we cannot say whether or not they're "good shit."

The wines have been entered in various wine competitions and have won some awards.  

Not for the name, though.

And don't call to ask if we have their wines...
I don't want to have to say "no shit."

 

SICKLY AMUSING WINE LIST

One of our major pet peeves with wine marketing folks (as you'll be tired of reading if you're a regular to these pages) is how so many "cater" to restaurants.

They view a restaurant wine list as "free advertising" and often will make hard-to-get wines available exclusively to dining establishments, as though all are temples of haute-cuisine and all stores are 7-11s.  Many will offer significant discounts to restaurants, as well, often having 20-40% discounts for "on sale" accounts.

We dined, well, "ate" dinner, at a local eatery.  This restaurant has appetizers in the $10 to $18 range and main courses go from $15 to $40.  
The place has a joke of a wine list.  It's a 'book' featuring all sorts of "quota" wines from the two large California liquor distributors.  The wine list attempts to be interesting and helpful, since there's no sommelier or wine steward and the young folks waiting tables have little or no wine knowledge.

The liquor distributors have not, apparently, been much help -- or, perhaps they've "helped" too much!


For example:  
bulletThe sparkling wine house in Napa, Schramsberg, is listed as producing an Australian bubbly.  
It's written thusly:  "Schramsberg Blanc de Noise" (perhaps the bottles make a loud sound when they're opened??) instead of Blanc de Noirs.
bulletLouis Jadot Pouilly-Fuissé is described as having a character of "lemon zest and rosemary."
bulletStag's Leap Chardonnay has a "buttery balance and a gouda finish."
bulletFetzer Gewürztraminer is described as "sweet cherry and berry."
bulletBaron Herzog Cabernet is said to have the "essence of licorice and oats."
bulletJordan Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma's Alexander Valley is sold as having "velvety body with hits of toffee and almond."  While there may be some California Cabernets which are more reminiscent of "candy" than wine, Jordan's is not one of them!

Is it asking too much for a restaurant to transcribe the name, vintage and appellation of a wine correctly and accurately to their wine list?  

When they have a 400% mark-up for wine, shouldn't the customer (and wine producer) be entitled to a wine list that's closer to "perfection"?  And 400% mark-up?!?!   That's nothing.  This place lists a Cabernet Sauvignon from a dear, old friend of ours.  It retails for $20-$22 a bottle.  
It's on the wine list at this joint for $104 per 750ml bottle.

That's not funny.

 

WALL STREET JOURNAL'S ECONOMIC STIMULUS PACKAGE
The always enthusiastic wine-drinking couple whose column in the Wall Street Journal really struck a nerve with their March 5, 2009 "Tastings" column.

Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher profess a profound appreciation for the wines of Barolo.  They limited their purchases to wines costing less than $70 a bottle and they claim to have purchased 50 bottles!  On one hand, it's difficult to imagine the Wall Street Journal allowing them to put $3000, or so, worth of wine on their expense account.  On the other hand, perhaps the couple paid for these bottles themselves so they could earn a paycheck for writing a column about Barolo.  A noble cause, to be sure.  The wine industry, in these recessionary times, needed the stimulus!

In writing their column, they tell us about their affection for Barolo, yet they mention pairing it with "spicy chicken dishes" in one instance and opening a bottle of a 1964 vintage and John choosing "mango chicken" as his main plate to accompany it.  
"Whatever floats your boat," as we say, though those culinary choices seem a bit strange to us.

I was fortunate to be invited to taste more than 160 different bottlings of the 2004 vintage last year in Piemonte.  It was a remarkable week of tastings and there's good reason to be excited about many of the 2004 Baroli.

The assessment of the WSJ columnists is
"Darn it. They really just weren't that impressive. You can't imagine our shock and disappointment."

I'm certain many producers of Barolo, reading this critique of what has been generally regarded as a "Very good" to "Outstanding" vintage will opine the WSJ column, darn it, is not that impressive and many Langhe winemakers are probably shocked and disappointed.

In my experience, young Barolo is a very difficult wine to assess.  In photography, one does not cast final judgment of the quality of an image until the photo is fully developed.

I found many of the wines to be exceptionally promising, but too young and undeveloped to express the character one will find in 5, 10 or 20 years.  I've been tasting Barolo since the 1970s, so I'm not exactly new to this.  The 2004 vintage provided exceptional quality fruit and the wines, today, are years away from blossoming and developing the high level of complexity one can expect when these "kids grow up."

The regal Barolo is merely a prince in its youth and it takes years in the bottle before it's ready to take on its role as being the "king of wine and the wine of kings."

Much has changed in Italian winemaking.  Wineries have indoor plumbing and electricity these days.  The technical level of winemaking expertise has never been higher.  It's rare to find young Barolo wines with significant levels of volatile acidity, mouth-searing tannins with no fruit, funky cellar smells and other flaws one would often encounter 20 or 30 years ago.

Dorothy and John exposed themselves to the world of wine knowledgeable people as being amateurs.  Enthusiastic amateurs, to be sure.  But they've shown themselves to be less "expert" than one might expect from a publication such as The Wall Street Journal.

Are they entitled to their opinion?  
Of course!
And it's understandable how inexperienced tasters would conclude the 2004s are "simple."
But they are only "simple" at this stage of development!

Should a restaurant critic review a dining establishment after the appetizers?  

Would a movie critic be able to write a critique if they walked out after the first 30 minutes? 

Is an apple pie ready to eat 30 minutes after it's been in the oven?  

No!  It's half-baked, much like the Wall Street Journal's assessment of the 2004 vintage of Barolo!

 

MORE QUALITY WINE WRITING

Few people are skilled writers.  Fewer are capable of writing about the world of wine.

The March 2009 issue of a locally-produced wine journal, Vine Times, has an article regarding the Livermore Valley.

Here's an amusing quotation from the article entitled "Destination Livermore Valley" (there's no authorship noted):

"Wood Family Vineyards is a family run winery located in the eastern foothills of Livermore Valley.  Specializing in limited production handcrafted wines, Rhonda Wood is one of the sole female winemakers in Livermore..."

We wonder: Who are the other sole female winemakers?

Meanwhile our associate Kareasa Wilkins signed up for a wine class through San Francisco's City College.  
The class was not actually taught by Fred McMillin, though this fellow does have a column published in Vine Times and on an internet web site called Global Gourmet.  Results of his City College class tastings are often posted.

Mr. McMillin "...was voted one of the U.S.A's 22 Best wine writers by the Academy of Wine Communications."  Impressive!

His current column on the Global Gourmet site reports on the quality of Northern California wines versus their "Southern" counterparts.

McMillin writes:
"However, we got to wondering if the rise of Santa Barbara wines means the SOUTH has caught up at least with the far NORTH's Mendocino County? So, we matched a number of Mendocino reds with their southern counterparts, such as two 2004 Syrahs of about the same price."
Then there's a list of the wines tasted, from 7th place to first place.  (Look for the two Syrahs, won't you?)

7th Place: Pinot Noir, Steele Wines, Santa Barbara-Bien Nacido, 2005, $35
6th Place: Zinfandel, Blockheadia, Mendocino County, 2001, $24
5th Place: Syrah, Bianchi Wine, Paso Robles, 2004, $21
4th Place: Zinfandel, Bianchi Winery, Paso Robles, 2005, $24
3rd Place: Pinot Noir, Navarro Vineyards, Mendocino County, 2003, $16
2nd Place: Carignane, Frick Winery, Mendocino County, 2002, $16
1st Place: Pinot Noir, Handley Cellars, Mendocino County, 2004, $20


Did you find both Syrahs? 
Neither did I.  I didn't find that much "Santa Barbara" wine in the line-up, either, come to think of it.
I'm uncertain how tasting Pinot Noir alongside Carignane alongside Zinfandel alongside a Syrah can actually illustrate much.

Meanwhile, a column posted by One of The 22 Best Wine Writers in the US of A had me, once again, scratching our head...

Our Best Bottles In Recent Years

 "O-M has tabulated my City College (Ft. Mason campus) classes' wine rankings for years. So I asked her to list the highest scorers of recent years. Here they are, with the highest listed last. The order doesn't mean much however, since they all were bunched together with scores well above 90!

bulletIcaria Cabernet Sauvignon
bulletKenwood Zinfandel
bulletKing Estate Pinot Gris
bulletAdelaida Cabernet Sauvignon
bulletBonny Doon Syrah
bulletSilver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon
bulletKahana Royale Macadamia Nut Liqueur
bulletBargetto La Vita
bulletTrinchero Cabernet Sauvignon
bulletSimi Cabernet Sauvignon
bulletJarvis Cabernet Sauvignon
bulletJarvis Lake William (blend)
bulletGary Farrell Pinot Noir

And the highest scorer:

bulletSilkwood Petite Sirah
 
I wonder if they tasted the Macadamia Nut Liqueur in a flight of Chardonnays or do you think they compared it to something with even higher "octane," like, say,  Pennzoil?

Amusing on one hand, dismal on the other.

 

NICE SHOE!


What with the economy in a tailspin, some people are looking to economize, but I think this is taking things a bit too far...

 

 

 

TERMINOLOGY
We're often amused by the creative use of language, as well as its inadvertent misuse.

A Sonoma winery sent out an e-mail blast inviting recipients to register for a Valentine's Day "Wine Blending Party."
The winery owner/winemaker will be there and they've invited a "celebrity" wine server and part-time wine writer to join in the festivities.  A wine steward sometimes has the French job title of "sommelier."

But in this instance, the e-mail blast misspelled the word and he's been dubbed a "Sommeliar."

We've dined in restaurants where the wine server was full of bull-bleep and so we now fully appreciate the newly-coined term "
Sommeliar."

Another commonly-used term in the world of wine is "palate".
 

 

This is spelled "palate."  You can taste wine if you have a palate.

 

This is a palette...an artist's palette.  

 

And this is a pallet.  Very convenient in a warehouse.

Our friend Henry! Moore received an e-mail with the subject being "DELIGHT YOUR PALLET WITH REDS AND WHITES.
Mr. Moore hit the reply button and typed:

Sirs,

My pallet doesn't drink, it just lies in the warehouse with a dozen cases of wine on it.
No response yet from the company offering the Delightful reds and whites.


THE NAPA VALLEY PERSPECTIVE

We've felt many people in the Napa Valley have been a bit "out of touch" with the realities of the rest of the world.

The journal published an article by L. Pierce Carson which is headlined "Tasty holiday cabs that won't break the bank."

As we're always looking for a bargain in a reasonable price range, we had a gander at Mr. Carson's budget-priced suggestions.  One of the recommended wines carries a $20 price tag and another goes for a "mere" $29.  Fair enough.

But the other (four) wines go for $50 to $65 a bottle.  

In a world where triple-digit price tags are fairly common, it's little wonder L. Pierce writes of one of the $60 bottles: "Just goes to show you, Napa Valley cab doesn’t have to be expensive to be this good."

In the world I live in, sixty bucks is a bit of a stretch for most people.  We sell a lot of ten-buck bottles to people who love wine and who drink it regularly.  Most of these folks consider $20 to $30 a lot of money for a bottle of wine.

As long as we're picking on the Napa Valley Register, let's continue doing so by having a look at an article headlined "Out of the Ashes" and written by Sasha Paulsen.  It's about the rebuilding of Silver Oak's Napa facility following a fire in 2006.

In chronicling the history of Silver Oak, the December 19, 2008 article has a major blunder:
"They became one of the first California wineries to age their wines in American oak rather than the traditional French oak barrels, then the industry standard."

From the post-Prohibition era until the 1970s, very few wines made in California were matured in small French oak barrels.  Most cooperage was either redwood or American oak, both of which were less costly storage containers than 60 gallon French oak barrels.

Sixty bucks for a wine which "won't break the bank"???

Only in Washington, DC and the Napa Valley is cash viewed as such a spendable commodity!

 

WINE & PREJUDICE
The January 2009 edition of Decanter magazine has an article entitled "Fallen Oak" by Italian wine guru Tom Maresca.

"In the late 1990s, Alba was infatuated with new French barriques.  A decade on, TOM MARESCA looks at whether time has changed not only these Barolos and Barbarescos, but also the mindset of producers."

The article begins with Signor Maresca claiming "I've never been persuaded by either the arguments for barriques or by the wines made with them."

Maresca quotes another author in describing the features of Nebbiolo wines, including the adjectives blackcurrants, black cherries, mushrooms, truffles, leather, tar, etc.  

"In my experience, many of those wonderful characteristics of the Nebbiolo grape can be obscured, and in the most extreme cases, totally blotted out, by the use of new barriques."

Yes, there are wines which are extremely oaky and heavily wooded.  A friend of ours, barrel salesman Mel Knox, claims there's no such thing as wine that's "over oaked."  Mel will tell you it's "under-wined."

Maresca continues his rant against the use of French oak:  "Many people--producers, consumers, and wine critics alike--believed or hoped that time would mellow those strong oak flavours and integrate them into a more traditionally maturing Barolo or Barbaresco.  Well, it doesn't and they don't.  I've never been persuaded by either the arguments for barriques or by the wines made with them."

Fine.  We enjoy traditionally-made wines of Barolo and Barbaresco.  We also appreciate some of the modernistas, who do use French oak but who use it appropriately.

The article gives praise to a number of wines from the rather over-looked 1998 vintage, a year overshadowed by the grand wines of 1996, the flashy and over-hyped 1997s and the well-structured, classic 1999s.

The wines of the traditionalist, Cavallotto winery, get top praise, along with a single-vineyard wine from Fontanafredda (these days matured in small, new French oak along with larger cooperage of French origins).

Also highly praised is the wine of E. Pira & Figli, a Cannubi vineyard Barolo.
"Leather, dried roses, tar, a touch of truffle -- everything just as it should be.  Drink 2009-2020."

We're big fans of the E. Pira wines and we're delighted Mr. Maresca found the wine to be so enjoyable and praiseworthy.  Our tasting notes, in fact, echo those of Signor Maresca.

The winery website notes the 1998 was matured in "new French oak which was lightly toasted."


The cellar at E. Pira in Barolo.


So much for Signor Maresca's argument against the use of French oak! 

Several other wines on his list of worthy 1998s also saw the inside of a French oak barrel.

Perhaps wine critics ought to simply pay attention to what's in the glass and not give so much advice in winemaking?


CRIME OF THE CENTURY
An upstate New York wine and liquor emporium has been cited by the state's alcoholic beverage control squad for "running a secondary business."  You might say the State Liquor Authority has "bagged" a major criminal and residents in the Rochester area will certainly sleep better as a result.

The proprietor of the store has been fined $10,000 for his misconduct and totally blatant  disregard for the law.

Given the headlines and the fine, one might expect the fellow was involved with money laundering, drug sales or prostitution, but then one would be incorrect.

It seems the "crime" Mike Palmeri, owner of Marketview Liquor, is charged with stems from selling gift bags and drip collars for wine bottles!

New York state does not permit grocery stores to sell wine and "liquor stores" are not allowed to sell items unrelated to wine.  Wine racks and corkscrews are allowed to be sold, apparently, in New York liquor stores, but selling gift bags and drip rings constitutes criminal behavior.

Had Marketview Liquor not "sold" gift bags, but given them away, they would have been within the bounds of decency and good taste.  Since they were getting filthy rich by charging a couple of bucks for a gift bag, state law enforcement authorities have come down hard on the scofflaw.

Palmeri, quoted in news articles, says he did not know the law and he admits "ignorance is no excuse."  

As we've posted at the top of this page: The World is going to hell in a hand-basket, ain't it?

 

THE THIRD THURSDAY IN NOVEMBER


We've not been big fans of Nouveau Beaujolais and 2008 is the first year since the 1980s where we have not had the new crop of Beaujolais Nouveau in the shop.

Importers of good Beaujolais wines, faced with a weak dollar this past summer and increasing prices for air freight (remember, gasoline was $4 a gallon at the pump and price quotes for shipping were astronomical), were hesitant to take orders for a wine which would need to retail for $15 to $20 a bottle.  The price of a good bottle of well-made Beaujolais-Villages is $12 in our shop, with 'cru' Beaujolais being available for $14-$18 a bottle.  

Having the inferior 2008 Nouveau for a higher price didn't make sense to us, so we passed on offering the wine this year.

Sorry to disappoint, but we have trouble asking people to pay $15 to $18 for what is, in reality, a ten-buck bottle of wine.  And, in years past, when the wine has not sold out immediately, we reduce the price to less than we paid for the wine, essentially, "taking a bath."

So, we're amused to see some folks in Japan found an interesting, and perhaps appropriate, way to put the 2008 Nouveau Beaujolais to good use.

 

I THOUGHT SO...

Most wine distributor and importer catalogues feature photos of idyllic vineyard scenes, wine glasses, barrels and other enological or viticultural images.

So we're amused to see the cover of a catalogue of an importer which has a wonderfully eclectic array of wines...

They offer:
$100 per bottle (at retail) Austrian Rotgipfler

$90 Côte de Beaune white wine (not some famous appellation, but simply Côte de Beaune)

$75 Ribolla Gialla and Tocai from Friuli.

$54 Primitivo from Puglia

$75 Vernaccia di Oristano, an oxidized, well-aged 'white'

$63 bottles of Albariño (two different bottlings)

$60 500ml bottles of Tuscan olive oil...the Abruzzo producer of $140-a-bottle Trebbiano offers a $75 half-liter of olive oil.

 

So, it's easy to understand the message they're sending with the cover of their current catalogue...

Apparently someone has lost their marbles.

 

 

OPINIONATED WINEMAKER
The British wine publication "Decanter" has a lovely interview with South African winemaker André Van Rensburg.

He presently works for the Vergelegen winery and makes a showy bunch of wines, particularly his wine labeled simply "V."

Van Rensburg claims to make wines which respect their origins.  He says, in the November 2008 issue of Decanter, that he has no problem using technology, but that he treats his wines and the terroir they come from "with respect."

As for vintners in California, Van Rensburg observes "Californians don't really believe in terroir. They believe in the taste of wine critics."

Of some of his competitors in South Africa, Mr. V-R says "Those producing blockbuster wines here are trying to impress American critics. I won't sell my soul; I'm not going out there to wine-and-dine influential journalists. If you don't appreciate what I do, then f*** you"

Apparently Van Rensburg has a very discerning palate.  When queried about other "New World" wines he told Decanter, "Chile? I don't even need to taste the wine. You can just stick a bottle up my arse and I can tell you where the wine's from."

We wonder if Van Rensburg is "vintage sensitive" with respect to Chilean wines?

Frankly, we'd prefer to open the bottle, pour some wine into a glass and determine its qualities and features in a more conventional fashion!

 

TASTING THE WINE IN A RESTAURANT

Here's a nice little clip of a fellow impressing his date with his impeccable wine acumen while dining out.  It's from Germany, so while you might not quite fully comprehend the dialogue, you'll surely get the point by its conclusion.

 



WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?

Back in the Dark Ages, wine marketing people thought they were being clever by using proprietary names for various wines.

Most wines were sold using generic names.  If your wine was red it was sold as "Burgundy" and whites were typically "Chablis" or "Sauternes."  If the wine was made of Sylvaner or Riesling, it was often labeled as "Rhine Wine."


The clever folks at Beringer made a blend of Pinot Noir and Grignolino and this was sold as "Barenblut" or Bear's Blood.  


Paul Masson sold a Ruby Cabernet-based red under the name "Rubion."  They had an Emerald Riesling as "Emerald Dry" and a nice little red was labeled as "Baroque."


Christian Brothers winery made a proprietary sweet wine called "Chateau LaSalle."



Ernest & Julio Gallo made a fortune (and then some) with their little red blend sold as "Hearty Burgundy."  This was, by the way, dubbed "Hardly Burgundy" by some people.

Taylor California Cellars offered a lemon-flavored white wine called "Chablis With a Twist."  I made up a label for a red wine with a Banana on it called "Burgundy with A Peel."

Those were tame times and tame wines.

The folks at Napa
's Frog's Leap Winery have a good sense of humor and they came up with an off-dry white wine along the lines of a German wine called "Liebfraumilch."
  Leapfrögmilch!

Some crafty people in Lodi make a cutely named Zinfandel...
7 Deadly Zins.

Too much "truth in labeling" is probably not wise in some cases.







California is the home of many a "big ass" wine.









 

A Sonoma winery produces a Zinfandel which confirms the suspicions of some Francophiles we know...

It's called "Poizin."







And finally...
Now, if you were going to blend Zinfandel and Barbera, what, pray tell, might you call this red wine?

Zinera?  Zinbera?  How about....



...BARFANDEL !!!!

What an appetizing name for a wine! 
"Waiter, we'll have a bottle of Barfandel with our filet mignon."



I wonder, do you think the winemaker is named "Ralph"???

 

HOW CALIFORNIA VINTNERS "VALUE" POTENTIAL ACCOUNTS

We're disappointed to learn from some new winery marketing "executive" that we are not "worthy" of purchasing a particular wine, as their precious nectar is being "reserved" for more valuable customers, those which come under the heading of "restaurant."

A couple of months ago we wished to re-stock Chateau Whoop-Tee-Doux Chardonnay, having sold out the 2005 vintage.  The 2006 is available from their distributor, but it's "restricted" by a maniacal marketing genius.  
We were this estate's first (or second) sale EVER back in 1973, 30+ years before the marketing genius was hired by Whoop-Tee-Doux and we've purchased wine from this producer EVERY year since the release of their 1972 Riesling.

Contacting the winery manager, we received a lovely note indicating they had actually "allocated" us some wine and this allocation was held until May.
"May has come and gone and so has the wine.  We'll come see you in the Spring of 2009."  The distributor was, sadly, unaware of the allocation.

We sent a note to the winemaker whose family owns Whoop-Tee-Doux and didn't hear back.  Three weeks later we crossed paths with this fellow who indicated he received our missive and passed it along to the marketing geniuses.  "I'm just in production." he confessed.

Meanwhile, the distributor had more than 100 cases of the Chardonnay available, but it's being held for their more important customers, accounts which were not knocking on the winery door in the 1970s, but places which have just opened (and may likely close in the next 12 to 24 months).

The whole situation confounds most normal, rational and sane individuals (none of whom are in the wine "bidness").

The way these savvy marketing people determine who's "worthy" of buying their nectar is a modern day bible called the Zagat Guide.  If you're listed in Zagat, you're eligible to buy wine.  If you're not listed there...too bad.

One wine broker received a call insisting they show a $40 (retail) bottle of Pinot Noir to a particular, highly-rated Zagat Guide restaurant.
"I'll show it to them, if you insist." the broker told the wine owner.  "But keep in mind the place does most of its business at breakfast and they probably won't sell much Pinot Noir with their waffles."

Another sales rep, when I explained the notion of Zagat Guide Marketing Mania exclaimed "Ohhhh!  That's why I had 'orders' to show certain wines to a list of restaurants, three of which have closed their doors since being given good ratings in the current Zagat Guide!"

Meanwhile, an area manager for Whoop-Tee-Doux's distributor indicated sales are sluggish on most of the other wines.  They apparently have such high standards in choosing customers, they've choked off sales to a trickle and will blame the distributor (of course) for poor sales.   Few wine marketing folks read the newspapers and all the economic turmoil across the country, so it will be news to them when they do hear about the economy.

Thirty five years of buying Chateau Whoop-Tee-Doux.  Shameful.

 

The Joys of Retail
One thing when you open the doors of a retail establishment, you never know what's going to roll through the front door.

Every day there's a new challenge.



Ellen helped a customer who brought back the bottle of Pinot Grigio pictured to the left.

The bottle was returned in the plastic bag with a cork from some other wine bottle jammed into it to keep the wine from spilling on the car ride from The City.

The customer was concerned because when she removed the "foil" capsule from the bottle, she noticed there was no cork to seal the bottle.

Now, I've come across this sort of situation on two occasions.  One time we had a case of a Napa Cabernet back in the 1970s and the corking machine 'missed' one of the bottles, the capsule was put on the bottle and it was packed into its case.  As the capsule didn't have a hole in it, the bottle arrived relatively intact.  The wine wasn't very good, of course, since it had been 'aged' for several years without a more secure closure.  

So, this dear lady had managed to remove the top part of the closure and was stunned to not find a cork underneath what she thought was the capsule.

But there's a good reason there was no cork below the 'capsule.'

The reason for the "snafu" is because the poor dear, in removing what she thought was merely the foil capsule, had actually removed the top part of the screw cap closure that sealed this bottle of wine.

Of course there was no cork in the bottle!

***********************

We had a phone call from a woman who was quite concerned since the wine we had sold to her had turned to vinegar.  Of course, we do our best to taste and select good quality wines for the shop, but it is possible that a wine 'turns' for some reason or another.  A prominent Burgundy domaine had such an issue a few years ago when its Nuits-St.-Georges turned to salad dressing.

The customer had bought a bottle of some nice little red table wine.  She spent about $5.
She opened the wine and the first glass was nice, she said.
But when she opened the wine again, it was undrinkable and she thought we should know since we should not sell such a wine.

It seems this gal had left her partially-filled wine bottle on the kitchen counter for nearly two months and she was "shocked and dismayed" to find that the wine had spoiled.

I'd be afraid to see what "vintages" of milk she might have in her refrigerator that go back to the Nixon administration.


THE PRICE OF FAME
When we've asked people if they'd trust a restaurant reviewer who was paid by the dining establishment for a review, they say they'd not put much faith in the critic.

Then, we inquire, why do you put any stock in a journal which accepts payment from the wineries whose wines it claims to evaluate objectively?

Though most wine critics will profess to be "independent" and objective, as consumers, how can we put our trust with so-called journalists who have their hand out, so-to-speak?

We've seen The Wine Spectator attempt to liken itself to the Consumer Reports periodical, but Consumer Reports does not accept advertising money from the washing machine manufacturers whose appliances they're testing.  

Most wine publications accept samples from vintners, rather than going out and actually buying wine.   This, of course, much like the restaurant critic who's known to the dining room staff, opens the door for shenanigans such as sending the reserve wine to the critic, but labeling it as the regular bottling.



The Wine Spectator, in addition to accepting advertising dollars from wineries and wine importing companies, also asks stores and restaurants to pay them for recognition.

Stores selling The Wine Spectator are eligible to be listed on their internet web site directory of wine shops.  You'll notice we are not listed, since we do not handle the publication and don't even have a subscription.

Restaurateurs are asked to send in wine lists and a check for $250.  In exchange, The Wine Spectator will send an "Award of Excellence" to a dining establishment.  If your list has multiple vintages of various wines or you have a wide range of wines, you might get a "Best Award of Excellence."  (Any self-respecting San Francisco sommelier, it seems, is required to have at least one Grüner Veltliner on their wine list and a bunch of Pinot Noirs, even if these wines don't pair well with the cuisine.)  
If your restaurant has a telephone-book-of-a-wine-list, you'll probably  garner their Grand Award.  

Why, I wonder, does the wine list need to be such an imposing tome for it to have merit?  How about a wine list featuring wines most people can afford to put on the table without having to engage the services of a mortgage broker?

An enterprising fellow named Robin Goldstein has authored a book called "The Wine Trials." One of the points of the book is that paying more money for a bottle of wine doesn't necessarily mean the wine will be of better quality or more to your taste.  Another issue is the credibility of various reviews and, even more so, those in the business of passing judgment.

Goldstein participated in a panel presentation at a recent conference of economists specializing in the wine industry.  He dropped a bombshell that's sending shockwaves around the planet.
As part of his presentation, he explained how he phonied up a wine list and sent The Wine Spectator their $250 "fee."  In return, despite his not even having a real, bona-fide restaurant, he received a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.

What makes the scam even more delicious is Goldstein put together a list of "reserve" wines for his Osteria
L'Intrepido (supposedly located in Italy) which features a number of wines garnering low scores from The Wine Spectator.  Imagine winning an "Award of Excellence" from the Spectator for a list featuring some 64 point Barolos, a 65 point Sassicaia and a 58 point Piemontese Cabernet!  But Goldstein, it seems, is not totally honest in his reporting the story.  He makes note of the low-scoring wines, but these, we understand, accounted for but a small percentage of the reserve list.

The ruse was rather elaborate.  There's a telephone number connected to an answering machine.  If you dial it (011-39-024-074-6174), you'll hear a recorded message (in Italian) saying the restaurant is currently closed for 'vacation', but will reopen shortly.  You can either leave a message or send a fax.  
I left a message asking for a table for one under the name "Marvin Shanken."

On the foodies web site called Chowhound, there were even a few postings extolling the virtues of Milan's Osteria L'Intrepido, adding a further measure of credibility to the ruse. 


The Chowhound folks, however, alerted to this scam, have since deleted the posts touting the non-existent restaurant.


"Signore Shanken!  Signore Shanken!!  Your table is ready."

 

 

Talk about having egg on your face...

 

 

 

Using our patent-pending Beffatameter, this ruse rates 100 Wine Spectator Points!  Okay, maybe only 98.

 

DIRECTING THE BLAME FOR SLOW SALES
A sales rep recently offered us a Napa Valley wine which we'd been told was "sold out."  This is not unusual...wineries often don't like selling wine to just anybody.  They like to "script" sales.  Customers who actually want to buy a wine are often shunned in favor of potential customers who are perceived as more "sexy" or desirable (and who often times, don't want the wine).  

We were told sales of this particular wine were sluggish in the Southern California market and the wine was simply not in the limelight.  It was shipped back to the Northern California winery.

The reason for this farce?

"Sales are slow due to the strike by the Screen Actors Guild."

I don't know whether to laugh or cry...
Oh, yes:  The Screen Actors have yet to declare whether or not they're actually going to strike.  

 

WILL 2008 VINTAGE CALIFORNIA WINES BE "SMOKE-TAINTED"???
An Australian company is offering its "wine doctor" services to California vintners to deal with this year's possibly 'smoke-tainted' wines.

Australia experienced tremendous wildfires a few years ago, resulting in wines which had profoundly different character due to the fruit having been exposed to smoky conditions.

In June and July, California has experienced some horrific fire storms and we've had extremely hazy conditions.  

Memstar, a company specializing in "wine membrane technology," offers this:

"It has been established that lignins in burning wood break down into small phenols which are then taken up by grapevines and other plants. 

Unfortunately, smoke taint character is derived from a whole host of these small phenols, and the smoke taint character differs dramatically from that of barrel aging and toasted oak. 

Smoke tainted wine has flavors and aromas that are variously described as wet ashtray, charred meat, burnt coffee, beetroot, salami, smoked salmon, or bacon.  It also is often described as producing a drying, ashy backpalate in wines. This is more readily noticeable in white wines, but young red wines should be carefully screened for this, because it can be mistaken for young tannins, but does not resolve with aging. 

Sensory thresholds are higher in red wines than whites, but are relatively low for both. "

They will bring a contraption such as the one diagrammed above to the winery to remove the "taint" from a particular wine.

Call me crazy (and many people do, so you won't be the first), but it seems to me, with so many wineries offering wines worth $10 or $20 for $50-$200 a bottle, there's long been a lot of smoke in California.
And mirrors, too.

 

PIEMONTESE REVELATIONS
I can recall, some years ago, a prominent California winery executive bitching about dealing with some wine writers.
"You give them the story, basically already written for them, with all the facts and figures and still they screw it up!"

A good example of that is the posting on a journalist's blog about a recent tasting featuring a half-a-dozen wines from a prominent Piemontese winery.  The writer is the "Northern California Editor" of a wine industry publication, so one might expect a greater degree of precision in blogging the facts correctly.

"Presented by third generation winemaker Luca Currado, these wines are characterised by extremely low-yields, "one bottle per vine" and embody the tar and roses descriptor so often applied to fine Barolo. Known for its Arneis and the single-handed revival of Barbera, Vietti will harvest its 40th vintage of Pinot Grigio this year."

As I've been a good friend of the Currado family at Vietti, this posting was most interesting.

We're led to believe Barbera was, somehow, dying out and the Vietti winery was instrumental in its revival.  In fact, it was Luca Currado's father, Alfredo, who is often credited with resuscitating interest in a white grape variety called Arneis.  

Barbera has long been a mainstay in Piemonte and in recent years it's become a wine often fetching a premium price.  Vietti is a member of a group of producers (5 wineries and a grappa distiller) which makes a hugely expensive Barbera.  The Barbera grape, however, had not been on the verge of extinction.

Even more amazing is the notation that 2008 marks Vietti's 40th vintage of Pinot Grigio.  I've been visiting these people (and they visit me) for nearly 3 decades and I've never SEEN a bottle of Vietti Pinot Grigio.  
Of course, there's a reason for this:  they do not grow, nor do they make Pinot Grigio.  

The Pinot Grigio grape plays a very minor role in Piemonte.  It's far more commonly cultivated in the Alto Adige, the Veneto and Friuli where you'll find its most interesting renditions.   

We shared this remarkable article with a Italo-phile friend who sent this giornalista and inquiry, asking what vintage or vintages of Vietti Pinot Grigio were recommended.  He was most amused by the reply...

"Thanks for reading my blog, I'm surprised that you found it!  These wines are the polar opposites of Barolo. They are 'make and drink' wine for everyday consumption - typically within the vintage year they are made  -  and are not intended to be cellared or to improve with bottle age though I am certain that Vietti's pinot grigio would hold up reasonably well for at least a few years under proper conditions. 
 
Hope this answers your question."

I teased our friends at Vietti with a note saying how disappointed I am in not ever having tasted their Pinot Grigio. 
Co-owner Mario Cordero wrote an amusing response:
"This is fantastic!  That journalist is VERY competent and professional!  In any case, I promise you next time you visit, I'll be sure to open a bottle of this wine...but don't tell anyone, because it's a surprise."

Luckily this individual covers only the Northern California wine scene...can you imagine if their 'beat' was, for example, The White House or Congress?

 

ADVANCING WINE CONSUMPTION

The Food Editor at the Staten Island Advance asks, in an article published May 28, 2008, "Why are Americans drinking more wine?"

Geez...have you seen the price of a gallon of gasoline?  The credit crunch? The housing crisis?  The war in Iraq?  Washington politics?  Any of those might drive some people to drink.

Journalist Jane Milza writes
"Experience has convinced consumers that many relatively inexpensive wines are high in quality."

Her article claims "Sales of wine in the United States are ready to outstrip Italy in per capita consumption, and in less than a decade, Americans may leave French wine drinkers behind as well."

I could not believe the good news!  If sales of wine in our country are, as Ms. Milza's article claims, on the heels of such enological paradises as France and Italy, that means the wine business is going to experience a real "boom."

I visit Europe once in a while and see wine on the table at every meal.  Here at home, many people only drink wine for celebratory purposes.  Heck, many people who live in "Middle America" view us Left Coast wine drinkers with suspicion.  Fans of NFL Football, for example, are a Budweiser-loving bunch and view San Francisco 49er fans as a bunch of "Chablis-drinking, brie-eating snobs."   Is wine especially popular amongst NASCAR fans?  I suspect World Wrestling Federation fans drink Budweiser or chocolate milk.

But back to the bombshell news out of Staten Island that the U.S. will soon surpass Italy as a wine drinking nation...

I was in some good dining establishments in Italy over the past several months and it's possible to buy a good bottle of wine for $12 to $25 and have it served in nice, elegant stemware.  Here it's difficult to find a restaurant with a decent, drinkable bottle for $30.

I looked to the California Wine Institute for some statistics to see just how close to France, Italy and Spain we are in terms of wine drinking.

 

 

There's the chart...Liters-Per-Capita-Per-Year.

Americans drink less than 9 liters per year (a case of 12 regular sized bottles is 9 liters), while our Italian amici consume more than 48 liters annually.  The French drink approximately 55 liters annually.

So, as you can see, we're this close to over-taking our European friends.

The article tells us there are several reasons for the boom in wine sales in America.  "
Experts offer several reasons," we read, but no "experts" are cited or quoted in the article.

Ms. Milza tells us "Distributors and vintners also have learned to market wine in a way that will attract a broader audience. She opines that "Flashy names and eye-catching labels" are two major reasons for market growth.


"Wineries also are putting more effort into producing higher quality wine that they can sell at lower prices."
More "effort" or oak chips, alcohol and residual sugar, I wonder???

I wonder if Ms. Milza is soon to be buying the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge?
Good thing she's not a baseball umpire, NBA referee or NFL line judge...

 

SEEING A BRAVE NEW WORLD THROUGH ROS COLORED GLASSES
I've tasted a few newly-released California ros wines this Spring and can't say many are especially impressive.

Most are saignes, a method where a winemaker drains juice from their tank of red grapes.  This means the skins-to-juice ratio is higher in the tank and can lead to a bigger, more powerful red wine.   Saigne, by the way, is a French term for "bleeding" off juice from the tank.

As California winemakers often harvest fruit at a potential alcohol level of 15-17%, the pink wines made by these vintners is often rather potent.

One young fellow was curious to hear my thoughts on their 2007 vintage ros and I told him they missed the boat by making 14.5% alcohol pink wine and that $25 a bottle is out of line for such a wine.
"Why don't you devote a parcel of vineyards to making ros?" I asked.  "You can have a higher crop level and pick at an appropriate time to make  12 or 13% alcohol wine."

Though the kid is too young to know black & white TV, a time when there were no fax machines, rotary-dial telephones or an era when wineries here DID make lower-alcohol wines, he told me "It simply cannot be done.  We can't do that in California."

Really?  Hard to believe.

And as for the notion of "Saigne," at $20-$28 a bottle for California ros, it's not merely just the fermentation tank that's being "bled."

 

PLEASE BUY, THEN TRY TO SELL OUR WINE
A new Napa brand has released its first wine.  The people behind this label have a long history in Napa Valley winemaking, but like many California vintners, they seek to micro-manage sales of their lovely wine.

The wholesale price of their wine is $90 a bottle, meaning it would appear on a wine list for $250-$300 and in a shop for $125-$140, or so.

The lucky souls  who have been allocated a few bottles are asked to not post availability of the wine to potential customers.  Stores are being asked to not mention the wine in newsletters, ads or web sites, while sommeliers are told to NOT list this nectar on their wine list.  We have been asked, further, to NOT display the wine in the shop.

Of course, we are expected to pay this artist for the wine in 30 days, even though we're handcuffed in selling it.

What's especially amusing is the brokerage representing this little enterprise has the wine profiled on its very own web site with a link to the winery "tech sheet."

 

NAPA GRAPE PRICES


It used to be said that you could divide the price of a ton of grapes by 100 and that would give you an indication of the retail bottle price of a bottle of wine made of that particular variety.

We've seen tremendous inflation in the price of a bottle of premium California wine (increases which might make even oil industry executives blush!)...

Here are some stats from the 2007 harvest in Napa (center of the universe for California wines in the minds of many people)...

Keep in mind the 'average' prices are just that...average.  I read where some grower got paid $14,000 per ton for a particular grape variety, while other growers were 'rewarded' with a mere $600 per ton...yikes!

GRAPE VARIETY AVERAGE PRICE PER TON
Percentage Differential from 2006 if known
Cabernet Sauvignon $4,306
+4%
Pinot Noir $2,418
+6%
Chardonnay $2,287
+5%
Merlot $2,418
+1%
Sauvignon Blanc $1,836
Pinot Gris $2,080
Semillon $2,352
Viognier $2,269
Petite Sirah $2,988
Syrah $2,842
Zinfandel $2,538
Petit Verdot $5,057
Cabernet Franc $4,299
Roussanne $7,790 !!!

 

PUTTING A CORK IN IT
With the weakening dollar (it took $1.26 to buy one Euro in April of 2006...today it takes $1.56 to buy that same Euro), some importers are being forced to raise prices.

Many European vintners, conscious of this dangerous situation, have reduced their pricing in Euros to allow them to maintain consistent sales in the American market.  When (if) the dollar becomes stronger, they will adjust their pricing accordingly.

Producers of Champagne are finding the demand strong for their sparkling wines and prices are increasing in every currency.

We were amused and shocked, however, with the price increases of one Champagne house.  The wholesale price of their deluxe cuvee will increase from $534 for 6 bottles to $972.  Magnums of this Champagne will escalate from $621 for three bottles to $1094.

Even more astounding is the price increase of a pink Champagne...it's going from $570 per six-pack to a mere $1842.

The Benedictine monk who was experimenting with closures for wine bottles employed a cork to stopper a bottle of wine which was still fermenting.  When he uncorked the bottle, he found the wine to be bubbly.

We're not certain if it was merely the taste of the wine or the price which caused Brother Perignon to exclaim "Come quickly, I'm drinking the stars!"



In France, a commonly used credit card is the "Carte Bleu."
Better make that "Black & Bleu" if you're buying Champagne.

 

"SCANDAL" IN MONTALCINO!

At VinItaly in April of 2008, many people were shaking their heads over the "scandal" regarding wines from a tiny percentage of estates in Tuscany's Montalcino region.

The "scandal" centers on a rather small number of high-profile estates which had been "fortifying" their Sangiovese Grosso-based wines with perhaps 7-20% of "illegal" grapes.  Varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah or Petit Verdot had perhaps been incorporated into "Brunello di Montalcino" wines.  

The grower's consortium has long been rather proud of the fact that for the denominazione of "Brunello di Montalcino," wines must meet strict standards for vineyard sources, aging requirements and, of course, the wines are made purely from the Sangiovese Grosso (known locally as the Brunello clone).

Posting this piece nearly two weeks after this hit the newspapers (or the fan, if you will), I've even seen articles in the Italian media laying the blame for this embarrassment at the feet of certain American wine critics.  The dots to this puzzle get connected by blaming American tasters for giving high marks to wines of greater intensity and concentration.  The notion is Montalcino winemakers were merely pandering to American preferences for wines bigger and deeper than Sangiovese Grosso can actually produce.  And, frankly, let's not include solely American palates as being guilty of this.  Numerous European publications also seem to prize "big and bold" as hallmarks of good red wine.

In thinking about the notion of this being a "scandal," let's put it into some sort of perspective, shall we?

Firstly, the accused are not being charged with adulterating their products with wines from, say, Puglia or Sicily.  One might hear rumblings, sottovoce, about certain sorts of Italian vini being "ameliorated" with bigger, deeper wines from sunnier climes.  In this instance, the wineries being investigated are said to have grown the "illegal" grapes themselves on their properties within the delimited Montalcino area.

Secondly, numerous Italian wines are made with the help of a concentratore.  Many vintners have these machines which will concentrate the mosto, or grape juice.  If people think certain athletes have become unnaturally powerful thanks to "better chemistry," then have a look at some of the supposedly "natural" Sangiovese wines being made in various parts of central Italy.  We've been told by vintners that the hugely inky, purple wine they've vinified is simply a result of small yields in the vineyard and careful vinification.  
Who's the enologo for these, Barry Bonds?

A few years ago we asked the winemaker at an estate whose Brunello seemed unusually intense if they incorporated any Cabernet Sauvignon into the wine.  Of course, the fellow couldn't possibly admit to any shenanigans and we were told, politely, "No."  

Naturalmente, when prices escalate to spine-tingling levels, there is always the temptation to cheat, if only a little.

Some producers may have been caught doing something dishonest.  The jury is still out, so time will tell.  In the interim, it's a difficult situation for those under investigation and for those honest, hard-working vintners who abide by the rules and regs.

During the course of tasting at the VinItaly fiera, some winemakers would proclaim their wine to be "100% Sangiovese."  To tease them I would ask, "One-hundred percent as they make in Montalcino?"  
Some producers of modestly-priced, blended table wines would volunteer their wine was "Eighty percent Sangiovese and 20 percent Cabernet."  "Oh," I would rib them, "your wine is just like a Brunello di Montalcino!"

Well, the whole "scandal" is more a major source of humiliation for the producers in Montalcino, since they've steadfastly insisted on their wines being "100%" Sangiovese Grosso" and now some have been accused of, perhaps, not playing by the rules.  (Growers in the Chianti region changed their regulations to allow "improving" their wines by not mandating the inclusion of white grapes, which watered down the Sangiovese.  Secondly, they now allow non-traditional varieties to be blended into Chianti.)

I had thought which may be just the thing to help ease the embarrassment.
It would involve hiring a spokesperson for the Montalcino estates to carry the flag, so-to-speak.  I think there's more "taint" to the reputations of the estates accused than there is, in reality, to the wines.

I happen to know of a prominent American who's currently unemployed.  This out-of-work fellow surely would have the time to make a whistle-stop tour of the U.S. market and conduct tastings of Montalcino's wines.

Yes!

Why not hire former New York Governor Elliott Spitzer to promote the wines from Montalcino?  
It would possibly help the poor growers there who are having trouble now to sell their $50 to $100 bottles of Brunello wine.
And it would take an out-of-work American off the unemployment roll.

It's clearly a wine/win solution.

 

CHAMPAGNE ARTICLE FIZZLES
Towards the end of December, journals, newspapers and websites seem obliged to print or post articles dealing with Champagne.  We often see articles written by people who have little gras
p of the subject matter.

The "poster child" for this syndrome is a series authored by Jennifer van der Kleut, a writer in Silicon Valley.

Her article "South Bay Folks Toasting to a Great 2008" is a doozy.  This was posted on the MercuryNews.com web site and Ms. V-d-K is listed as a writer for the "Los Gatos Weekly Times."  I wonder if "weekly" is spelled incorrectly given the quality of this article!

The "experts" she finds might lack a measure of credibility, for one thing.  Interviewed for the article is the assistant general manager of a San Jose restaurant who described a "lower-priced" French Champagne (when did $24 for a quarter bottle/half of a half bottle qualify as "lower priced"??) as
"It doesn't go through malolactic acid fermentation, so it's very smooth and silky on the palate. It has a much sweeter texture," she says. "I absolutely adore it. It has a really nice, fruity flavor."

If the wine retains its crisp 'edge' of acidity by not undergoing what's called a "malolactic fermentation," this would not contribute "smoothness" or "silkiness" to the wine.  As a Brut Champagne, too, describing it as having a "sweeter texture" just seems totally wacky.

The article reads like a high school student's attempt at writing an essay on Champagne.  
"Vintage wines are only made during periods of optimal weather, yielding the best grape selection possible. This makes vintage wines rare because supply is much lower, and companies that make it do not produce a guaranteed amount each year...Vintage wines are more unique than non-vintage due to the fact that no two batches are alike. This is because each batch is tied to the particular crop of grapes and is only made from that crop..."

Here's a particularly lame statement:
"Also, vintage wines are often left to ferment for decades at a time..."
Difficult to imagine a fermentation of Champagne routinely taking decades!  ((They may be matured on the spent yeast for a decade, or so, if it's a deluxe cuve, but the fermentation process is typically a month or two...))

"Rose champagnes and sparkling wines are named for their pink color...After the grapes have been pressed, the skins are left to soak in the juice, causing the juice to acquire some color...Ros can sometimes be more expensive, due to the fact that it is more rare and often has a more robust flavor."
If the grapes have been "pressed," then the juice has been separated from the skins. 

So the price of the wine is tied to its "more robust flavor"???  (This may explain why so many California wines are insanely expensive!!)

Yikes!
No wonder my San Jose pals describe this journal as the "San Jose Murky News."


CRYSTAL BALL PREDICTIONS

A Northern California wine writer asked me to look into my crystal ball and make some predictions about the local wine industry from the perspective of a retailer.

She was hoping to have some insightful comments from me for an article in a British wine magazine.  

I'm not sure I was of much assistance.  Here's what I came up with:

**********************************************************
California wines will all be 18% alcohol on the low end. 

"Dry" wines will have 10 to 20 grams of residual sugar per liter.

The average price of a bottle of Napa Cabernet will be $200.

Gasoline will be expensive, too.  It will be $30 a gallon, just a bit higher than the Ever-Popular "Seven Buck Chuck" from the "Bucking Bronco Wine Company, A Division of Fosters-Constellation-LVMH Wine Galaxy."

All Napa Valley Vintners will be required to drive Mercedes or BMWs.  No VWs or Hondas will even be allowed within the "EnClave du Napa", a walled, gated community extending from Calistoga Springs in the North to Carneros-By-The-Sea to the South (oh, I forgot to mention the earthquake...Don't worry, they still make nice wines on Sonoma Island and virtually the entire county is now "coastal.").

Robert Parker resides in the Yountville Veteran's Home, spending his dotage alongside Danny Duckhorn, Mikey Mondavi and "Farmer Andy" Beckstoffer.  They formed a barbershop quartet, except none of them can remember the words to the tunes, let alone when a good bottle of Cabernet cost less than fifty bucks.

The average price for a "wine tasting" at a winery is $25 and you can taste both the regular bottling and the reserve, but not any of the 15, or so, single vineyard, limited production, must-write-a-500-word-essay-to-even-be-considered-to-eligible-to-buy-a-bottle wines.


The former California wine critic for The Wine Spectator, James Laube, retired a few years ago and now raises bomb-sniffing dogs for airport security which he also 'rents' out to wineries wishing to check for TCA. 

Tim Mondavi managed to buy back his father's old winery in Oakville thanks to a loan from a small brewing company in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Clydesdales furnish a certain amount of fertilizer used in the biodynamic farming practices employed by Mr. Mondavi.


Al Gore is the California Wine Commissioner, having moved to the Golden State when Governor Schwarzenegger left for Washington DC as California's junior senator.  Gore is especially pleased with the results of "The Paris Tasting, Part 4" where California Cabernets from the "cool" Santa Rita Hills appellation bested their Cabernet-based counterparts from the Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune.

McDonald's, Jack-in-the-Box and Burger King all have "Wines-by-the-Cup" programs, but you still can't buy a beer at any of these places.

Having tapped out on the internet with wines-direct-to-consumers programs, many wineries now employ door-to-door sales reps in hopes of signing up more households for direct shipments of wine.  Sales were particularly strong in Alabama and Arkansas until folks started receiving the boxes of Zinfandel they'd ordered only to uncork the wines and find out they're "red"!!

Most California vintners still view wine shops as "competition" instead of as "ambassadors," as wineries seek to sell 110% of their production to collectors. 

Now that grapes are planted from the Oregon border south to San Diego, Exxon opened "alternative fueling stations" where you can fill up on 89-Octane Chardonnay and 91 Octane Zinfandel.  Steve Tanzer reported he got 30 miles to the magnum on a 93-point, high octane Pinot Noir "which smelled great at the pump and I was able to buy a lotto ticket, too."

Bonny Doon Vineyards is selling Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and Santa Barbara Chardonnay.  President-for-Life Randall "I'm Okay-You're Okay" Grahm was quoted as saying "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."  His latest attempt at a Rhone blend got high marks from The Wine Enthusiast which gave the wine 95 points for what's in the bottle and "an extra 10 for the cute label and name, "Chateau de No-Castel."

Motion Picture Academy President Sofia Coppola runs a chain of 30 wine bar/restaurants and has 5 wineries up and down the West Coast.  Rubicon now has Roman numerals for its vintage date on the label and her Sofia sparkling wine now comes in 6-packs of cans instead of merely just 4.

Now that so many wineries make moderately sweet Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs, it's ironic that California's legislature banned the production and sale of foie gras in the state.  The Food Network's Grande Dame de Cuisine, Rachael Ray was quoted back in 2015 as saying "These are simply yummo with a slice of foie gras quickly sauted in E-V-O-O."  The British Rachael Ray, Lady Nigella, is signed to an advertising campaign promoting this combination of California wine and French liver (both duck and goose) in the UK where they still know how to eat and drink, even if few people can cook.

 

DOES WINE NEED TO BREATHE?
Yes.  To Air is Human.
So is a lot of wine writing.

Once upon a time a wine writer was queried as to "what it takes" to be an eno-scribe.
"A sharp pencil" was the response.


And so, the The London Times, which features some wonderful dining critiques from a marvelous writer, A.A. Gill (go have a look...his writing is deliciously entertaining!), has an on-line wine section.  In November of 2007 there was a quiz entitled "Wine Buff or Bluff?" featuring a set of multiple choice questions.  I took the plunge and was stumped (imagine that!) by Question #7.
#7 WHAT IS THE SCIENCE OF WINEMAKING KNOWN AS?
There were three options, including
A) Viticulture
B) Wineology  (Not "Enology", but "wineology"!)
C) Something else.
The Times' had "viticulture" programmed as the correct answer.
But "viticulture" is about the cultivation of vines, not the science of winemaking.
I sent the Times' wine editor, Jane MacQuitty, a note asking about this.
She responded...
Dear Gerald,
(Do you know I didn't even know there was a times wine quiz?)
You're absolutely right -well done!...
I apologise for that slip, if they're going to do a quiz then they should at
least have the correct answers lined up, especially as it seems we have very
on-the-ball readers following it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Warm wishes.
Yours sincerely

Jane MacQuitty

Oops!
I checked the web site and they've "pulled" their on-line quiz.

****************************************************************************************

This year's "Nouveau Beaujolais" day fell on November 15th.  It used to always be the 15th, until a few years ago when someone changed it to the third Thursday in November.

The Philadelphia Inquirer posted an article on November 21st, the day before Thanksgiving (a prime time to drink Nouveau for many people).
Writer Bryan Miller claims to be a fan of Nouveau Beaujolais, saying every year he brings home a couple of cases.  

"A

Okay...so "two weeks" before would have been November 7th, well before the sale of this year's Nouveaux wines...

Oops!!

In the same article, Mr. Miller suggests some  alternatives to Beaujolais...he picks a couple of Piemontese Barbera wines, along with a Sicilian red from the Planeta winery.  The wine is a proprietary blend called "La Segreta" and, since it's a red wine, "Rosso."  
"This is here where I came across a classic example in the lush but well-balanced 2006 Planeta La Segreta Rosso vinified from the indigenous rosso grape."
I'm not sure where "here" is, but we learn it's made from the indigenous "rosso" grape.

"One charming surprise comes from the Languedoc/Roussillon region of France, for long a source of cheap table plonk but now one of the most vibrant and exciting wine regions in the country. A boutique outfit called Domaine La Garrigue - it refers to the dry limestone soil and wild herbs that characterize the area - produces a fresh and juicy wine that tickles the palate with faint spiciness, the 2005 Domaine La Garrigue, Cuve Romaine."

Don't let Mr. Miller drive the bus on a wine tour of France!
His "Languedoc/Roussillon" selection actually comes from the Southern Rhne Valley.

 

Mr. Miller should make a few more "Vinquiries" before sending his article off for publication.

It makes you wonder if some wine writers simply don't spit as often as they should.

 

A MARKETING PERSON'S VIEW OF SENSUALITY
 
Here's yet another one of those "Rorschach Test"-of-a-wine-label.

Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder.  Although, in this instance, it seems as though the eye of the physical contortionist on the label may be in one very dark place.
I have said, and heard others in the wine trade, use the expression of "having one's head up one's ass," but I never thought I'd see this sentiment expressed on a wine label!
Perhaps the brand name should be slightly altered to "UnuSual"???

 

CALIFORNIA'S P.T. BARNUM...THE MOUTH THAT ROARED
There's a lovely article on the CNNMoney.com web site featuring much-despised vintner Fred "Mister Two-Buck Chuck" Franzia.

In a lovely article written by Stanford graduate and LA Times reporter Joel Stein, the P.T. Barnum of California Wine asserts "only a sucker would pay more than $10 for a bottle of wine."

The article is a treasure-trove of enological and philosophical nuggets, as Franzia puts in his "two cents' worth."

Many winemakers credit particular vineyard sites (called "terroir") with the high quality of their wines.
Franzia claims
"We can grow on asphalt. Terroir don't mean sh*t."
Franzia's Bronco Wine Company owns something like 35,000 acres of vineyards...quite a serious amount of asphalt.

The article gives us a bit of insight into the world of Fred Franzia and his appreciation for fine wine:
"After relieving himself by the side of his Jeep, Franzia recounts a trip to Burgundy where, after an elaborate tasting, he told the winemaker at Chteau Haut-Brion, "You can bottle gasoline if you can sell that."
Chteau Haut-Brion is, of course, not located in France's Burgundy region, but in a little area called "Bordeaux."  And the wines bearing Haut-Brion's label sell for $200 a bottle on the low end and hundreds more for prized, rare vintages.  If Mr. Franzia equated the fragrance and flavor of Haut-Brion with something from ExxonMobil, perhaps he needs to have his palate and sniffer adjusted.

Franzia, it seems, has an opinion on all sorts of subjects.  

On wine critic Robert Parker, Franzia says he likes
"tannic wines that make people gag."  (Okay, so maybe Franzia's right on this one...)

When he discovers the university attended by the CNN-Money reporter, Franzia says
"We buy wineries from guys from Stanford who go bankrupt. Some real dumb-asses from there."

Mr. Franzia had been nailed by the federal government in the early 1990s when he misrepresented the grapes he was selling to various wine companies as more costly Zinfandel.  The Bronco Wine Company reportedly paid a fine of $2.5 million and Franzia himself paid a $500,000 fine, as well as being sentenced to community service.  The article quotes Franzia, ever the comedian, as saying
"of the mentoring of single mothers he was ordered to do: "I picked up on young girls." 
Charming.

Reporter Stein incorporates a few thoughts from New Jersey wine retailer Gary Vaynerchuk.

The "star" of the on-line, video "sip & spit", Wine Library TV, Vaynerchuk is quoted as saying:
"What Franzia is doing, more than creating outrageous quality, is exposing a lot of mediocre people. There are so many fools in the wine industry who are overpriced. Look at Franciscan, Simi, Kendall Jackson. Those guys are jokers."
We perused the on-line web site of Gary Vaynerchuk's store and found he features many wines from the so-called "jokers."
There are 14 offerings from Kendall-Jackson (starting at $8.99 a bottle), while only 5 Franciscan items are available and half-a-dozen from the Simi winery.  We could find but 6 Bronco offerings.

While we appreciate Mr. Franzia's sentiments in the pricing of many wines, we find it difficult to support various brands of wines sold under the guise of coming from prestigious terroirs (such as the Napa Valley), when the wines are from high-yielding vines out in the Central Valley.  If Mr. Franzia's Bronco Wine Company is so confident of the quality and quality/price ratio of their wines, why (we wonder) does he need to build a bottling plant in Napa?  

The answer lies in the ability, then, to utilize the Napa name as the bottling address.  The average consumer is not educated in the intricacies of wine labeling protocol, so they will be misled into thinking the "vinted and bottled by," California appellation wine in the bottle is actually a product of the Napa Valley.  

Obviously Mr. Franzia is a believer in "Caveat emptor," let the buyer beware.

Even if you're spending a mere two bucks for a bottle, you still might be over-paying.

 

WANNA BUY A LEMONADE, MISTER?
Several thousand people attended the August 2007 tastings in San Francisco of the Family Winemakers of California. 

The event has grown since its inception.  I think the first year I attended, it was at a San Francisco hotel ballroom and featured a few less than 50 wineries.  Today the event sees about 400 wine "brands" on display and thousands of people come to taste.  There's a four hour Sunday tasting open to the trade and public, while Monday features an even longer time frame and is limited to "trade only."

The California wine scene has changed dramatically over the years.  "Wineries" come in all shapes and sizes.  Custom crush winemaking facilities are available and thanks to the medium of the internet, every Tom, Dick and Harriett seems to be "in the wine business."  For a few thousand bucks, you, too, can be a "vintner," just like the Antinoris, Gajas, Rothschilds, Chappellets, Seghesios, Kistlers, etc.

In traipsing up and down the aisles at the tasting this year, it seemed as though I was visiting lemonade stand after lemonade stand.

The "romance" of wine must be even more intoxicating than some of the 16% alcohol Zinfandels I tasted, as table after table featured some "new" fledgling brand of wine.   Clearly, some people have really good, interesting wine.  But many have dull, boring, "a-face-only-a-mother-could-love" sorts of plonk in the bottle.

The average price of a bottle of wine at this tasting is shockingly high if you have any clue as to what good wines cost from various 'corners' of the planet.  

The words "Napa" and "Cabernet" seem to automatically equate to $50 or $60.  When combined with the phrase "We only made _______ (fill in the blank) cases," you can add another $20-$50 for the typical "scarcity tax."  

Certainly many great wines are produced in rather small quantities.  

But producing a minuscule amount of wine does not assure quality.  

Keep in mind, Chteau Lafite Rothschild makes, typically, 15,000 to 25,000 CASES of their famous, fine, hundreds-of-vintages-of-a-track-record, known-around-the-world, little Cabernet-based blend.

My guess is that a significant percentage of those "wineries" in attendance in 2007, will not be in existence come 2017.

Not many people realize how difficult it is to "sell" wine.  It doesn't "drink" itself and disappear easily.  Few vintners understand that their first year or two are only a phase of "solving the mystery" of a brand new label.  You're only new once and after people have had a taste of your first vintage, the quality and price/value ratio has to convince customers to buy the next year's wine.  Mystery solved!

Kudos to "old time" California wineries who've managed to stay in business for a decade or two.  Double kudos to those who've lasted a quarter of a century (or more) with the same family or families at the helm.

That's a lot of "lemonade."

 

NOW HERE'S A WAY TO DESCRIBE AN "EXCELLENT" WINE
British eno-scribe Tom "Call Me Ralph" Cannavan posted some  notes following a blind-tasting of originally-disgorged and recently-disgorged bottlings of vintage-dated Veuve Clicquot Champagnes.   I wonder if the organizers of the tasting were throwing up their hands after seeing this fellow's notes.

Please read Cannavan's enthusiastic spewings on the recently-disgorged 1988 Gold Label and see if you're going to hurl over a hundred dollars to acquire a bottle which answers to this description:

Veuve-Clicquot Vintage Reserve 1988
"Pale gold. This was the recently disgorged wine, disgorged April 2004. Quite an old Champagne nose - a touch of vomit (sorry) and it seems much more oxidised.  Much fresher on the palate, with a real streak of lemony fruit. This is quite poised on the palate, with floral and lime nuances, and lots of freshness. Excellent length, with tingling acidity. Excellent."

I can't say that I've ever described a wine as having "a touch of vomit," though I have tasted wines which came close to eliciting such a reaction.  I'm gagging over the notion of popping the cork on such a bottle, frankly.   It's difficult to believe that I'm reading a description of a wine as being reminiscent of "vomit" which is ultimately pegged as being of "excellent quality."

 

PAIRING WINE WITH SOMETHING, UH, SUITABLE

Apparently the stars and planets are, once again, a bit out of alignment and customers are finding it difficult to enjoy a good bottle of wine with which it was intended to pair well.

Just today someone returned a few bottles of an absolutely splendid red Burgundy.  They had opened it the night before and it "just wasn't what the expected."  ((Bob remembers this customer as having previously purchased a bottle, liking it and returning to buy a half a dozen more!))  The wine was delightful and clearly not "corked" or tainted in any way.  We offered to exchange the returned bottles for other wines.    
It seems they'd dined out last night and the restaurant had difficulty in differentiating between "red wine" and "white wine."  So the customer went home and decided to open a nice bottle of wine.  So far, so good.

But then they paired this French red Burgundy with chocolate.
The wine tasted awful ("Quel surprise!" ), so they returned it.  I forgot to ask if they brought the chocolate back to the store, too.

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Then someone brought back a handful of bottles of Chardonnays.  
All were described, and this is a technical term enology school students learn in Wine-Tasting 101, "Yucko!"

It seems a group of people was having a cocktail party and enjoying numerous dry martinis.  Maybe they ran out of vermouth?   Maybe they ran out of olives??  It was at this point the host and hostess got the brilliant idea of changing the tipple of the day to Chardonnay.  Having had several martoonies by this point, the first bottle of Chardonnay-ski was opened and, whoopski!  It didn't "taste good" to them.  ((Probably not enough olives?))  So they opened a bottle of another Chardonnay and, "Holy Battonage, Batman!," that one didn't "taste good," either!  About five bottles were opened and not a single one of these was worth drinking.  

I wonder if these people were on the wine judging panel at the California State Fair recently?

**************************

I'm reminded of a fellow who brought back a full bottle and a half-consumed bottle of Chianti.

The wine sold for all of $6.99 at the time (it's up to $9.99 these days) and he wanted credit for not only the unopened bottle, but also for the opened bottle since it was such a "loser."

I was surprised by this, since that little wine had been extremely popular and people routinely came back for more bottles after trying a first one with their "spaghetti and meat-bawls" dinner.

I asked the fellow what sort of food he'd paired with the wine.  

"Oh, we didn't have it with food.  We were watching a video and eating popcorn."

I should have exchanged the Chianti for a fine vintage of Budweiser, no?

**************************

A fellow once returned a bottle of Malmsey Madeira.  We had not suggested the wine, he had simply seen the bottle on the shelf and brought it to the counter without comment.  
But he wanted to return the wine the following day, since it "didn't taste good with the grilled steaks we were having."

**************************

So all of these curious instances in "the-customer-is-always-right" has me wondering if other businesses deal with these sorts of issues?


"We'd like to return this mustard as it didn't taste good with our Rocky Road ice cream last night."

 

 

 

"Say, this didn't taste good on my hair or my sandwich."

 

 

 


"I tried using this Coca-Cola to remove the rust stains in the toilet and it didn't, so can I please return the rest of the six pack?"

 

 



"My neighbor told me to smear Cool-Whip on my shoes and that in the process of licking it off, the cat would end up shining my Size Tens.  But they're dull-looking now.  Can you please refund my money?"

 



"I was told this would help curl my hair, but all that happened was a swarm of bees followed me around all day and stung the hell out of me."

 

 



"I bought this salad dressing to relieve the itch of poison oak and it didn't.  Give me my money back!"

 


"This throat spray didn't work very well in stopping my foot odor problem.  I want my money back!"

 

 

 

**************************

The point is, consumers of any product, be it a bottle of wine or a bottle of salad dressing (and hopefully you can differentiate between the two), should consider using the product in a manner in which it's intended.  
Expecting stores, vintners or manufacturers of products to give a consumer a refund for the consumer's ignorance (or worse, stupidity), seems unreasonable. 

What a wacky world!

 

SLOSHING & SIPPING AT TRADE TASTINGS

I attended a large trade tasting organized (if you want to use that terminology) by a large distribution company.

While standing at the table of a producer of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, a fellow approaches the proprietor of the winery and thrusts his glass out, saying "Give me a pour of your Cabernet!"

The owner of the vineyard explains "We make only Chardonnay and Pinot Noir."

The taster leans over to eye-ball the various bottles in front of him.

"Okay then," he announces, "I'll have a taste of your Sangiovese."

I could sense the winery owner, having worked this gig for more than 20 years, was beginning to contemplate retirement.

**************************

A few moments later, I was standing in front of another table when a sales rep comes over to say 'hello'.   Her family name is "Katz."
A genius on the other side of the table sees the name tag and asks the rep, who's in her 40s, "Has anyone ever told you that your name means 'cats' in German?"

**************************

At another tasting, a fellow inquires with the representative of Sebastopol Vineyards where they are located.
"Uh, we're in Sebastopol." she politely responds.
"Oh." replies the inquisitive taster.
Yeah, imagine that.

**************************

A man is tasting through the Italian wines being poured by a nationally-distributed importer at an event sponsored by a large, statewide distribution company.  Attendees are all tagged with a name badge with the distributor's name on it, as well as having a tasting book with the company name and logo prominently emblazoned on the front cover.  Each page also has the firm's name on it, along with the wines being poured.
"So, these are pretty good." says the taster.  "Who distributes your wines, anyway?"

**************************

It's not brain surgery, but at times it may seem as complicated.

 

 

MORE BRILLIANCE IN WINE MARKETING

A customer phoned the other day wanting to purchase a bottle of wine from a particular estate in Napa.  The wine retails for $375 a bottle.  I phoned the distributor and learned they had more than 30 bottles available for sale, if you can get the "okay" from someone, as cash is not solely sufficient.
The wine is produced by a winery from whom we've been buying wine (with regularity) since the 1969 vintage.  
The distributor's sales rep told me "No way!" in response to our chances of making this customer happy.
I sent the winery a terse e-mail and a week later the California "winery representative" call to "reach out to us" (my bullshit detector goes off immediately when I hear this sort of babble) to apologize for what happened.
She said the distributor should have simply told me "There is no wine available" and this would have solved the problem.  I was further told the bottles in the warehouse were "being held for customers" who apparently have little in the way of storage capacity and no room for a three pack of this rare wine.
Once we hung up the phone, I immediately dialed the order desk of the distributor to inquire about the availability of this rare nectar.
"We have bottles available, but you'll need your sales rep to get the okay for us to ship you this wine."
I inquired if these were in the "sold" or "committed" column.
"No, they're available with an okay."
We lost a sale, sadly.

The next day we, by happenstance, had a conversation with someone who, unbeknownst to us, represents this same winery in an out-of-state market. "That wine sells very slowly!" we were told.  "We only keep a couple of three-packs in our warehouse."
I inquired as to whether or not the wine required a letter from The Pope for a customer in their market to be "allowed" to purchase this wine.
"No.  We're happy to sell it to them.  Are you kidding!?!?  It's nearly $300 a bottle wholesale!"

Lovely.  Better to put forth the notion of scarcity than actually sell a bottle of wine to a customer who wants it.  
And you think it's easy being a wine shop proprietor???

********************


Meanwhile, I attended a tasting of wines from an importer of French wines.  A domaine in Burgundy offers a Bourgogne Rouge wine for $75 a bottle wholesale. 
Yes...the "simple" Bourgogne Rouge appellation would cost a consumer $100-$115 a bottle at retail or $200+ in a restaurant.
The wine was delightful and certainly extraordinary.

But even more amazing was the requirement that stores or restaurants must purchase 12 additional bottles from this domaine if they wish to spend $900 on a case of "Bourgogne Rouge."

The additional bottles one must buy wholesale for a mere $210 each.
Ouch!
And you think it's easy being a wine shop proprietor???

********************

A winery representative just sent out a lovely little missive with tasting notes from the winemaker and a couple of critics.  It seems the crop level of one variety was rather meager and so, according to the letter,  "Unfortunately, we have only half the quantity we had in 2003; hence, retailers have been essentially shut out of this wine for the very first time."

Wouldn't it make more "sense" (I know it's difficult to be sensible when we're dealing with marketing geniuses) to evaluate customers with a bit more scrutiny and care than to simply kiss off selling the wine to stores?  (It demonstrates how little wine shops are valued by your average marketing person.)

A shop such as ours has been buying wine from this estate since they opened their doors in the early 1970s.  Few of their restaurant accounts have been buying wine from this place for as long, yet, quite obviously, their patronage is more highly valued by the winery.

A few days after this missive arrived, the winemaker (whose family owns the place) sent out a letter of "heartfelt thanks" for our support with notes on his Cabernet and saying perhaps we're interested in three other wines they make including the one not available to "retail."

And you think it's easy being a wine shop proprietor???

 

SAY WHAT?
This fellow's column appears with regularity in a free publication called "Vine Times."  

There's routinely a laundry list of wines tasted by Mr. McMillin (one of America's 22 best wine writers we're told at the bottom of the list...awarded by the Academy of Wine Communications, whose membership is largely comprised of Public Relations agencies and wine companies).  

The column entitled "Quick!  Take a Pick" has this curious notation:
"These wines tasted better than more than rivals."

I'm not certain as to the tasting protocol, but perhaps the customary spit bucket is not used with sufficient frequency?

 

WHAT'S THE POINT?
We've been rather outspoken about the silliness of assigning wines a numerical score, since we believe one's enjoyment of a wine cannot be quantified.  

Our colleague here at the shop, Bob Gorman, who authored a wonderful book in the 1970s called "Gorman on California Premium Wines," describes the 100-point 'system' as a "dumb rating system for dumb people."

I don't want to be quite that harsh.  But we're amused by a new web site called "just wine points," an off-shoot of the now defunct magazine, Wine X.  This was a publication aimed at Generation X wine drinkers.  Publisher Darryl Roberts was an outspoken critic of the "100 point" rating system, so he or his colleagues, apparently, have taken the attitude of "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

All wine-marketing folks will tell you a 90-point rating is a 'must' for selling "product."  An 89 point score, or less, is the kiss-of-death.

Former Wine X Magazine Associate Editor Jenna Corwin and her partner John Thomas have a new business : assigning 90+ point scores to virtually any wine which manages to not break the glass it's poured into (that is, if they actually 'judge' the wines by pouring them into some sort of tasting vessel).  Corwin contends that only 25% of the wines submitted to justwinepoints receive a 90 point score or better.

The justwinepoints web site explains :

Dont let your lifestyle be compromised!

You never settle for less, and youd prefer never to drink another wine that has scored less than 90 points. But who has time to filter through hundreds of pages of excess information during their ultra-busy day to try to find the right wine? justwinepoints to the rescue!

This is great!  It perpetuates, on one level, the mindless notion of buying (or selling) wine on the basis of a flimsy number.  Who on god's green earth, after all, has the time or the intelligence to digest descriptions of wines?  Don't tell me if the wine has a lot of oak, tons of tannins or elevated alcohol!  Let's not bother with descriptions of black fruit, low acidity or high residual sugar.  

We suspect Corwin and her associate judges have a "Three dart" system, sending three darts onto this board, adding up the numbers and, voila!, we have a numerical score!

More from the justwinepoints web site:

Savvy wine consumers also know that pairing wine with food is a subjective preference; therefore someone elses opinion is absolutely irrelevant. Thus, wine descriptors and any other verbiage lashed onto rating points is wasted time and effort by both reviewer and reader.

For an extra fee, wineries can have a small reproduction of their label.  The site even has a "testimonial" from a Sonoma vintner:

"After our initial sales presentation, Beverages & More asked if we had any 90-point-plus scores for our wines. justwinepoints provided the clout that we needed." - Michael De Loach, Hook & Ladder Winery

Isn't that impressive?!?!

And if you're wondering who's desperate for a 90 point rating, we can include Schramsberg, Chalone, Handley, Sebastiani, Chappellet, Cosentino, Guenoc, Oakville Ranch, Grgich Hills, Hess, Amizetta, Robert Hall, Pedroncelli, Ironstone, Zaca Mesa, Cinnabar, Franciscan, Sterling, Raymond, Brassfield, Tangent and Paraiso, amongst other labels.

What a deliciously devious and potentially profitable way to illustrate that the "numbers" are merely "cheerleading" methods to promoting and selling wine.

Here's a nice little "scoreboard" for you to ponder:


In Latin the phrase is "Caveat emptor."

 

VARIETAL CONFUSION
We tasted a rather nice little, fruity red wine which is labeled "Gamay Beaujolais."  Vintners have until April 7, 2007 to use this designation for their wine, which must be at least 75% Pinot Noir and/or Valdigui (the grape thought to be "Napa Gamay" or "Gamay Noir" once upon a time).  
We were 'surfing' the 'Net for information about "Gamay Beaujolais" and found a winery in Texas which makes one.

Their description is intriguing:
"Our Gamay Beaujolais is an excellent blend of Pinot Noir, Gewrztraminer and Muscat Canelli. The subtle elements of the Muscat and Gewrztraminer produce a fresh and floral portrayal of Pinot Noir. Its aged in European oak for six months and finished off dry. It is the perfect red wine for white wine palates. Fruity and floral, this Gamay is soft, light, and contains just a hint of sweetness. It's delicious with hamburgers, BBQ or pork chops. Serve at 60 degrees F."

Gewurz and Muscat are considered "subtle."    
The wine is "finished off dry" yet has just a "hint of sweetness."  Did they mean "finished off dry" or "off-dry"???

Meanwhile, a California winery sent us a sample of their product with this information:
"100% from 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown at our vineyards with touches of Merlot."
Got that?  
It's 100% Cabernet but has "touches" of Merlot.  

Is the White House "press secretary" now moonlighting as a flak for wineries, or what?

 

NOBODY KNOWS THE TRUFFLE I'VE SEEN

 

We're big fans of white truffles from Alba and a friend who works for a local food company takes great pains to import the real thing.
He sells them, primarily, to San Francisco Bay Area restaurants for their special late fall/early winter menus.

A nearby restaurant sent out the menu  in the neighboring right frame with a special menu of a
"Piemonte, Italy Wine Lover's Truffle Dinner" and so we were interested in not only the menu featuring all sorts of truffled courses, but in the selections of Italian wines, particularly Piemontese, to be paired with each dish.

As you can see, the Lobster soup is paired with a Piemontese wine from the sub-region of "Alsazia," as is the first course.
The Risotto is matched with a Pinot Nero from the Santa Croce region, while the main plate, veal, is partnered with your choice of Kistlerini Chardonnay or Legno d'Argento Cabernet, both excellent Italian selections.
They did manage to find a wine from about 300 kilometers east of Piemonte to pair with the Truffled Pecorino cheese.

We know the Roman Empire extended over much of Europe and the Middle East, but have just come to realize that California's North Coast as well as the island of Madeira must also have been in this confederation.

*****
Here's an opportunity for a lovely dining establishment to broaden the horizons of Bay Area diners.  Instead, they've chosen to bait the hook with "safe" choices in Kistler and Silver Oak, even if these aren't especially good matches with truffles.
It's revealing if they've chosen this route because they are, after all, catering to their customers.  What does that say about the mundane taste of those spending $185 a person for a special menu?

But more sad is that winery marketing people would rather sell their precious wines in a restaurant such as this one than in a shop such as Weimax.

I shared the menu with a number of wine industry folks and received some interesting responses.
One person wrote
"At least they spelled "Piemonte" correctly."
Another wrote: "The menu you sent me is quite a kick indeed....I wish them luck trying to find people willing slap down $185 for dinner with those wine pairings....are they kidding??
"
Someone else wrote: "
Love the menu. And XXX Restaurant actually has Italian wines on their list. Talk about unclear on the concept... I guess they figured they had better have Kistler and Silver Oak to get people to show up. But the Cremant d'Alsace, while I'm sure perfectly good, is a molto divertendo "amuse bouche".
One Italian wine importer saw the menu and  neglected to comment on the wine pairings.  I asked if he'd taken a look at these, since none of the wines being poured were his and he wrote "I missed that!  Cabernet and Chardonnay. How creative."
The producer of one of the wines in this line-up cried out "You're joking!" when I read them the menu and wine pairings.  

Greetings from  XXXX Bistro and Cafe!  Don't forget to join us for our special Piemonte, Italy Wine Lover's  Truffle Dinner....

White truffles, grown in Alba , Italy , are considered a rare delicacy.  We are celebrating the truffle season with a special dinner prepared by Executive Chef  L-R  perfectly paired with exquisite wines selected by Sommelier C-B.  Truffles are included in each delicious course:

 

Amuse
Maine Lobster Veloute
Clerostein Cremant d'Alsace

 

First Course
Wild Mushroom and Buffalo Tartare
Montasio Frico ~ Tiny Arugula
2004 JB Adam Pinot Blanc Reserve, Alsace

Second Course
Risotto with a Lightly Smoked Poached Egg
Parmigiano Reggiano Brodo
2004 Varner Pinot Noir, Spring Ridge Vineyard - Hidden Block, Santa Cruz Mountains

 

Entree
Vitello Tonato (sic)
Grilled Veal and Hawaiian Big Eye Tuna
Jerusalem Artichokes
2004 Kistler Vineyards Chardonnay "Les Noisetiers," Sonoma Coast
or
2002 Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley


Cheese
Truffle Pecorino
Green Apple and Walnut Salad
2003 Zenato Ripassa Superiore, Valpolicella  

Dessert
Hazelnut Cake with Chocolate Truffles
Miles 10-year-old Malmsey Madeira

   

Join us to enjoy the incredible aroma and flavor of these special white truffles.  The cost is $185 per person (plus tax and gratuity), and begins at 6:30 with appetizers, and 7:00 for dinner.  Seating is limited. 


WHAT, EXACTLY, ARE THEY SELLING?

A new company in Sonoma is hoping to pimp a line of locally-produced wines via their internet web site and hook customers by soliciting them on the phone.

The outfit is "Call Girls for Wine" and the company web site notes
"We all want what we can't have" and "Our girls are knowledgeable and passionate about our wines. We are eager to place our wines in your homes so that you too, can be passionate."

The firm's mission is "full service" as the girls have "Day to day responsibilities including soliciting consumers via phone sales, packing and shipping wine and occasional vineyard tours."  Wow!  An enological escort service!

Most of their portfolio comes from Sonoma County (not the Valley of the Dolls) and they've gotten the green-light to sell wines from hard-to-get estates.   The line-up includes Trecini, Dobbin Lane, Meola and the Central Coast's Castoro Cellars (not surprisingly*).  No word as to which wineries have given the firm the red light on representation of their brands.  
(I'm surprised they're not offering Cleavage Creek wines, Alexander Valley Vineyards' Sin Zin, Heron's "Sexto" or the "Pin Up" line from a small Sonoma vintner.)

Wine marketing guru Lori DeMello is the "madam" at Call Girls for Wine.  One of its portfolio's web sites shows a wine at $180 a case while the Call Girls' site asks a seductive $156 a box for the same wine, so customers are not exactly getting screwed, especially those keeping abreast of pricing.

* Castoro, by the way, is the Italian word for the the furry little animal known as a "beaver."
(I don't make up this stuff.)

 

BURGUNDY FROM WHERE?
A little bit of wine knowledge can be dangerous. Quite clearly, the "human resources" department at the Cost Plus stores have but a "little bit" of wine of wine-manship.
A "help wanted" posting on a wine employment site hopes to entice future staff members with this:

Job Description:
Cost Plus brings the world's markets under one roof. Our goal is simple; to bring our consumers one of a kind merchandise from the far corners of the world. Coffee from Sri Lanka, burgundy from the south of France, hand carved furniture from Indonesia, Cost Plus is where you will find them and reasonably priced too!

As wine drinkers know, "burgundy" (sic) does not come from the "south of France."  It comes from the region of Burgundy, loosely depicted in the black little blob on this map of France.

Coffee, by the way, is produced in Sri Lanka, but it's not exactly on the radar screen of coffee connoisseurs in this century (though it was a major exporter up until a few years ago...like around 1870, actually, when the industry was destroyed by a leaf virus.  Coffee exports from Sri Lanka are microscopic compared to the country's tea production).

The job posting does note
"Wine knowledge a plus."

I'll say!

 

BEHIND THE SCENES:  WINE MARKETING
If you've been a periodic visitor to these pages, you'll note that we have mentioned, from time to time, that many California vintners view "retail wine" shops as "competitors," rather than as :"Ambassadors."  This is a short-sighted view, in our opinion (keep in mind our perspective as wine merchants).

The world's finest wines are typically sold in "distribution channels" as there are but a few wineries who sell everything they make at the cellar door.  Top estates such as Lafite-Rothschild, Haut Brion, Domaine de la Romane-Conti, Gaja, d'Yquem, Leflaive, etc., don't have "wine clubs," nor do they sell wine directly to consumers.


The dream of many California winery marketing directors, though, is to sell all their wines at full retail prices to throngs of enthusiastic, eager, wealthy consumers.  In our view, though, the wine industry will not grow with the limitation of direct sales.  If you were "building" a salad and had to contact every farmer to assemble this, you might grow weary after calling the tomato farmer, the lettuce guy, the cucumber grower, etc.  You might find it easier and more convenient (and perhaps less costly) to visit your nearby grocery emporium to find all the ingredients.  Obliged to buy directly from each and every farmer, some parts of the salad would be left out due to time constraints, money limitations or the simple fact that you don't need 36 heads of lettuce for one simple salad.  Other farmers might oblige you to buy Brussels Sprouts to be able to acquire a bunch of their prized arugula.  Another agricultural paradise might require customers buy a dozen parsnips to be "rewarded" with the opportunity to buy a few precious heirloom tomatoes.

We were saddened when we learned that a winery, from whom we've been able to buy a small allocation of wine each year, has decided to stop making its wines available in shops.  Instead the winery will sell only to "premier restaurants" and those fortunate enough to be able to get on the mailing list and pay $70 a bottle for Chardonnay and $150+ for a bottle of Cabernet.  

We sent the winery a letter, thanking them for allowing us to sell their wines for the past 15, or so years.  We do skewer them (a bit) at the conclusion of our missive. 
Our letter has not met with a response as of this writing.  My letter was sent on June 30, 2006.  I write this in mid-August of 2006, sufficient time, one would think, for someone to compose some sort of response.  ((As of November 2006...not a peep out of Sir Peter and his minions.))

This "world class" winery drafted a letter and asked its distributors to make photocopies to hand out to the retailers who had been privileged to buy its wines.   They did not have the courtesy to dignify these customers with the letter, sent directly by and from the winery!
Of course, the distributors who represent this winery still have to deal with these "cootie-laden" (and probably angry) retail accounts if they want to stay in business.  

If you click down below, you will be shown a copy of the rather impersonal winery letter, my letter to the winery and a most interesting from a "head hunter" agency looking for a marketing person for this winery.

Especially priceless are these "highlights":
bulletThe winery letter states "While we love everyone who has played their part in our story over the years it is with great regret that we have taken the decision to limit distribution such that off-premise wine shops will be unable to obtain their historic supplies, at least for the present time."

bulletA head-hunter agency's letter, sent to potential "candidates" for the position of "Director of Sales and Marketing" for the winery.
One of the key "challenges" facing this person is "Maintain the image of scarcity while increasing the customer base."

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE VARIOUS LETTERS

 

BLIND-TASTING
There were numerous accounts of the British "bad boy" chef Gordon Ramsay offering singer (and "good boy" winery owner) Cliff Richard three rounds of "blind tasting" on "The F Word" TV program in the United Kingdom.

The controversy swirling around this little 4 minute episode of wine tasting concerns whether or note Mr. Richard actually uses the "f-word" after the third round of wine tasting where he dismisses his own wine as not worthy of purchase unless it's cheap.  The TV show seems to feature the foul-mouthed chef attempting to bait "guests" into using equally bad language.  That's entertainment?

Decanter magazine reports Richard describing his own wine as "tainted and insipid" on the TV program.  In fact, he does criticize the wine as being "harsh" and says of the pair of wines "I wouldn't buy either one."  We are to presume, of course, that all the wines are legit and that the wine inside the Vida Nova (and others, for that matter) is the wine which was bottled by the respective wineries.

Adam Lechmere's June 9, 2006 article reads:
"Of the second, his own wine Vida Nova from his estate in the Algarve, southern Portugal, he said, 'That's rubbish. I wouldn't pay for that, it's tainted, it's insipid. It tastes like vinaigrette. I'd never buy that.' "

 

Click on the Decanter Magazine Logo to read the account of this prank...


You can click on The F Word Logo to have a look at about 4 minutes of this little game of blind-tasting and see if the actual TV show bears much resemblance to the news account.


The Decanter article quotes Chef Ramsay as declaring the 1990 Vieux Chteau Certan as costing 400 British pounds.  If you listen carefully, you'll see he clearly states it's a "300 pound" wine.  Here in the US retail market, this wine currently goes for about $200 a bottle.  I, for one, never heard Richard use the words "tainted," "insipid" or "vinaigrette."  

While it's a good "story" in tricking a winemaker into making derogatory comments about his or her own wine, I think you'll find the "news" accounts of this little event to really exaggerate the singer's few words about the wine from his own vineyards.

I'm sure Cliff Richard will think twice now before "blindly" commenting on a wine being offered for "blind-tasting" purposes.  Apparently, deleted from the video shown on TV was Richard asking Chef Ramsay
"Do you wash your hands before you cook? Wash your mouth out as well next time!"

 

BATHING IN WINE
We know some consumers feel like they're being "soaked" when paying so much for today's attempts at premium (have you noticed some wineries claim they make "super premium" or "ultra deluxe quality?) wine.

Now we've come to understand there are spas where one can actually be totally submerged in a red wine bath.  

Vino Fino tasting group member John McGlothlin alerted me to this spa in Japan where they have a red wine pool, complete with a humungous, Godzilla-sized wine bottle.


We've read reports of tremendous over-production of wine in Australia and we know many French companies are awash in wine, but the idea of doing the back-stroke in a pool of Pinot Noir gives new meaning to the movie "Sideways."

A South African spa offers "Vinotherapy," which features a Shiraz Grape Seed Scrub (ouch!), a Chardonnay Cocoon Wrap (so that's where typical South African Chardonnay is best, uh, served) and the Cabernet Sauvignon Wine Casket Bath with colour, liquid sound and magnetic field therapy.  Interestingly, no Pinotage treatments are offered!  You can go for a "wellness" meal in their restaurant and have a dessert called "Hanepoot Grape Fool," some sort of Muscat and cream concoction which you take internally, unlike these other treatments.

There are places which will massage your body with grapes and grape seeds.

I'm already rubbed the wrong way when asked to pay such huge sums for a bottle of wine, I'm not sure I need further massaging.  I figure they're already sufficiently massaging my wallet.

I wonder if the staff members at these spas have trouble stifling a cackle of laughter at their well-heeled guests subjecting themselves to having slices of grapes scattered on one's face
Makes me think of the Dave Frishberg tune, "Peel Me a Grape." 

Apparently you don't have to venture far from the San Francisco Bay Area for some of these treatments.  The Kenwood Inn offers a Wine Barrel Bath, Sauvignon Massage, a Merlot Wrap or a Crushed Cabernet Scrub if you're looking to being more fully immersed in wine.

It sure gives new meaning to the term winemaking term "skin contact," doesn't it?

 

OY GEVALT!
The USA Today newspaper had a bit of meshugass when its wine maivin inadvertently combined a most curious wine pairing suggestion with his April 7th article on Kosher wines.

Wine writer Jerry Shriver highlights some interesting wines which are Kosher for the annual Passover seder(s).  The article features a number of wine suggestions, from an Israeli Chardonnay to a Spanish red from Montsant to an Edna Valley Syrah.

But the poor schlimazel combined this article with a most untimely segment called "Who's Drinking What?"  This features a wine suggestion from a restaurateur and a food recommendation for that particular bottling.

Shriver's Passover article queried the general manager of a Louisville, Kentucky restaurant called "Proof On Main," a dining establishment featuring American cuisine with a hint of Tuscan seasonings.   Ms. Cassandra Hobbic is meshuganeh for Mariah Zinfandel from Mendocino.

The perfect food accompaniment?


"Our slowly braised pork shank that's served with Weisenberger grits -- they're from a traditional mill here in Kentucky -- and green tomato marmalade. The herbal notes in the Zin are really lovely with the shank."

Well, bubeleh, I've got news for you...that pork shank ain't likely to be very Kosher.

Oy!

 

RE-WRITING HISTORY
We first met Richard Sanford and his partner Michael Benedict back in the mid-1970s.  We had tasted some really interesting Pinot Noir made by an old lady (Mary Vigoroso was the sweetheart's name) at the Los Alamos Winery and we were optimistic about the future for wine in the Santa Barbara region.

The 1976 Pinot Noir of the Sanford & Benedict Winery was really amazingly good.  

 

Benedict eventually departed and the winery name became simply "Sanford."  

A few years ago, the Terlato family (owners of Paterno Imports and dealers in the hugely over-priced Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio) bought a few shares of the Sanford enterprise.  Things were rosy.  Or were they?  Eventually Richard Sanford and his wife Thekla, minority shareholders,  were tendered a "pink slip" (or, in this instance, was it a "Vin Gris" slip???).

Some months later, winemaker Bruno D'Alfonso was also asked to pack up his refractometer and take his barrel bungs elsewhere.

We can't comment on the various personalities involved, nor the reasons for changing the winery personnel.  
But isn't it sad that the current winery web site does not mention Richard Sanford by his full name?

On its "about" web page dealing with "History and People,"  it seems as though Richard Sanford never existed.  The text refers only to "Sanford Winery" and "Sanford" planting Pinot Noir in "its Sanford & Benedict vineyard."  Not "his."  Seems rather impersonal for such a personal enterprise, doesn't it?

It would be as though the web site of Napa Valley's "Robert Mondavi Winery" neglected to mention its founding father.  Interestingly, in Mondavi's case, the "history page" neglects to mention who currently owns the Robert Mondavi winery...Constellation Brands.  

This recalls the Raymond Chandler quotation about ego:  "The creative artist seems to be almost the only kind of man that you could never meet on neutral ground. You can only meet him as an artist. He sees nothing objectively because his own ego is always in the foreground of every picture."  

Chandler could have been writing about winemakers and wine marketers, too.

 

HEIRLOOM VARIETIES
We enjoy a nice, ripe tomato from time to time.    Some friends of ours grow wonderful, old varieties of tomatoes which have incredible aromas and flavors.

The Kendall Jackson winery hosts an annual Heirloom Tomato Festival each September and the monies raised go towards a good cause: they promote garden cultivation at about 50 schools in the North Bay Area.

Promoting such an event takes some time and resources.   Visitors pay more than fifty bucks to attend this festival, which features garden tours and some 50 food purveyors.  

We were amused, in receiving the press release for this event, as it contained a small package of Soldacki tomato seeds.

We know these are old heirloom seeds, you see.  Though the press release promotes the 10th annual festival taking place later this year, 2006, the seed package is clearly marked:  PACKED FOR 2004  

 

DON'T ASK THESE GUYS!
"Travel Specialist" Daniel Harrison has compiled a list of the "Top Ten" wine regions.  The headline declares these as "Famous Wine Regions," while Mr. Harrison's opening paragraph describes them as the "best wine regions."

Number Ten is the Baden area of Germany.  Although any fan of German wine will cite Riesling as that country's best grape and the regions of the Mosel and Rheingau as the most prestigious wine places, Herr Harrison pegs the Badenland as Germany's leading wine region.  His "must see" winery:  "The Carl Schmidt-Wagner winery, which sells dry, half-dry and classic Riesling wine."

We've tasted some good wines from a Mosel estate called Carl Schmitt-Wagner and couldn't locate the "Carl Schmidt Wagner" estate in the Baden region.  
We contacted the  Carl Schmitt-Wagner winery in the Mosel and received this response:
"I agree with you that this is a mistake because our winery is located on the Mosel and there is no one with the same name in Germany.

I should let them now that they spelled my name wrong and that I am not located in Baden."

Alsace and La Rioja are on the list.  Nice.

So is Southeastern Australia, which we learn:
"Near Sydney, you'll find amazing Pinot Noirs, while vineyards in the Yarra Valley (Victoria's oldest vineyard region) offer numerous sparkling wines. In fact, wherever you go in this fertile land, you'll stumble on over 50 great wineries to sample from. Some even stray from the traditional and produce concoctions like kiwifruit wine, which is definitely worth a try."

We asked Australian eno-curmudgeon Ric Einstein for his reaction and he wrote back:
"What a big load of diarrhea. There are a few Pinots grown in the Hunter and exactly one of them is well regarded. There are NO well known Pinot areas near Sydney, they are all in Mexico; i.e. south of the border in Victoria, in Tasmania or in the Adelaide Hills.

They refer to South East Australian wines. Thats code for one of two things. Riverland industrial crap; or blends of industrial crap from anywhere in the bottom right half of the continent.

If people are silly enough to produce KIWI fruit wines, most are not stupid enough to talk about it in polite company."

Italy's Veneto is Number 5 on the list and we learn that northeast of Venice "...Merlot and Cabernet grapes generate some great reds..."  We wonder who's making these?

Portugal's Douro Valley is Number 4 with California's Napa at Number 3.  

"Must see" in Napa is "The Fife Vineyard" which, we are informed, "
offers a great Zinfandel."  The Fifes do own some vines within the Napa Valley, but the Fife winery is actually located 10 minutes' drive north of Ukiah in Mendocino County! This is more than an hour and a half by car from St. Helena or Calistoga in the Napa Valley.

Number Two on the list is Tuscany, while the Number One Top Wine Region is Bordeaux.  
We learn from Monsieur Harrison that:
"the red wines produced here are synonymous with high quality and orgasmic flavors.  Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes produce incredible Pomerol, Graves and Malbec wines..."
Wow...there's an amazing tidbit...We knew Merlot, Cabernet and Cab Franc produce various wines such as St. Emilion and Margaux (as well as the noted  Pomerol and Graves), but now it seems they also produce the grape variety known as Malbec, too!


There's a book written by Richard C. Francis with the title "Why Men Won't Ask for Directions."  Maybe that can explain how AskMen.com's Daniel Harrison got so lost!

 

BARREL BROKER MEL KNOX ON "SELLING WINE IN THE USA"
Mel Knox shares his ideas for tailoring your wine sale's technique to various markets around the United States.

PEOPLES' REPUBLIC OF BERKELEY
Your wine is made by a cooperative of indigenous peoples from the rain forest.  The wine is aged in recyclable barrels made of special grasses and bamboos that replenish the soil, repair the hole in the ozone layer and eliminate Republicans, Democrats and the petite Bourgeoisie.

MONTANA, WYOMING, IDAHO and parts of EASTERN WASHINGTON
Your winery has seceded from the United States and formed its own posse comitatus.  No federal employee from the United States of Satan is allowed on your free land.


TEXAS
Your winery shows the brilliance of supply side economics.  Instead of growing grapes, you are growing a prosperous new America, thanks to recent tax cuts.  None of your wine goes with vegetarian cuisine, which is un-American.  Ten percent of your profits go to George W. Bush and it's just a coincidence that you received a special wine depletion allowance in the latest budget bill.



UTAH
Your wine is really carefully flavored Hawaiian Punch.

 

 

 



LOS ANGELES
Your wine was thanked at the latest Oscar awards by Stephen Spielberg, Robert Evans, Michael Douglas, Angelina Jolie and Lindsay Lohan.


 


NEW YORK
Your wine can be retailed for less than replacement wholesale.  Also, its combined score from Tanzer, Parker and The Wine Spectator is over 400.

 

 

 

STAGS LEAP DISTRICT
Have you seen the brochure and map of the wineries in the Stags Leap District?

See if you notice...

Apparently Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, one of the pioneers in the appellation, is not a member!

Owned and founded by Warren and Barbara Winiarski, you'll have trouble finding the Winiarski name anywhere on the Stags Leap District Winegrowers' web site.  Though the site does note Stag's Leap Wine Cellars winning the Cabernet flight of the famous "Paris Tasting" in 1976, the Winiarski name is not mentioned.
Pity for all parties.

 

PUFFERY
British writer and politician Benjamin Disraeli is quoted as saying "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."    Wine marketing folks are often prone to "puff" up their awards, medals and ratings.  

The Aspen Times, not The New York Times, ran a story about the two silver medals won by a local Colorado winemaker.  It seems Woody Creek Cellars won a couple of citations at the Denver International Wine Competition!   Wow!!

Journalist Stewart Oksenhorn writes:
"But Woody Creek Cellars' 2002 Merlot took a silver medal, beating out Sonoma's Lambert Bridge - "a legendary Merlot powerhouse," according to Doyle. Edging Doyle out for gold in Merlot was Pedroncelli, a 75-year-old winery located in an area of California's Sonoma Valley known as "the Merlot Bench." Proving he was not a one-wine wonder, (winemaker Kevin) Doyle likewise earned silver for his Cabernet Franc, besting the likes of California giant Robert Mondavi."

I'm not sure anybody but staffers at Lambert Bridge would categorize that winery as a Merlot "powerhouse."   Pedroncelli is not, of course, in the Sonoma Valley.  They're in Dry Creek Valley.  And Dry Creek is the appellation of their "Bench Vineyards" Merlot, though you probably won't find the locals referring to the site as "The Merlot Bench."  

Even more amusing is the assertion that Mr. Doyle's Cabernet Franc "bested" the likes of Robert Mondavi.  We've never seen a varietal bottling of Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Franc, so we called the winery to inquire.  In fact, Mondavi does not bottle this particular wine on its own, so it's no wonder Woody Creek's wine won a medal and Robert Mondavi did not.  

If you want to take this even farther, Woody Creek's proprietor might have pointed out Chateau Lafite-Rothschild Chardonnay, Chateau Margaux's White Zinfandel and the Domaine de la Romane-Conti Tawny Port won no medals.  None of those wines are made, either.

Mr. Doyle is quoted as giving his "recipe" for winemaking:
"You crush the grapes, you put 'em in a barrel, put 'em in a bottle," said Doyle, "...New school, they put a lot of chemicals in, they use pumps to create heat and friction. To me, God is perfect, and I'm just the shepherd, getting the grapes in the bottle."
Later in the article:
Doyle said his competitors were less than gracious about getting beat by a trailer-park resident with all of five years experience in winemaking.
"Not a word," was the response Doyle said he received. "Because I'm the wrong guy to be winning medals. Not one person said congratulations."

What a surprise that Robert Mondavi himself hasn't picked up the phone and dialed Mr. Doyle.  I'm sure he'd ask him about all the chemicals, pumps and friction, especially since Mondavi promotes "sustainable farming" and has one "gravity flow" facility presently.

We finally learn:
"I'm an old-school Aspenite. My desire is to sell all my wine in Aspen. Because it's a drinking town. I'm like the village winemaker."

I, for one, was thinking Mr. Doyle was, indeed, "like the village..."  Oh, never mind.

 

PIEMONTESE DINNER FEATURING 
"FOOD, WINE & TRUFFLES FROM PIEMONTE"

One of the Bay Area's top dining spots recently hosted a special event dinner which attracted our attention.  The fall and winter months are "truffle season" in Piemonte and we've enjoyed some wonderful meals in the Langhe region featuring fresh local tartufi.  
Half Moon Bay's Cetrella offered this on its web site:

Wine Lover's
TRUFFLE Dinner
Featuring the food, wines, and truffles from Piedmont, Italy

$185. per person (plus tax and gratuity)

White truffles, known for their powerful but extraordinary delicate aroma, are grown in Alba, Italy, where they are considered "king". They are harvested from September through December, by special "truffle-hunters" who use dogs to "sniff" out the unusual mushroom from its underground habitat. Sold for prices that have ranged from $1,500. to $2,000. a pound, they are typically eaten raw and shaved paper-thin over egg dishes, pastas and other light foods, or incorporated into products such as white truffle oil or paste.

Experience it yourself -- this limited-seating exclusive dinner will be held in the private Wine Cellar Dining Room. Enjoy the incredible aroma and flavor of shaved white truffles with some of the chef's finest cuisine.

Sounds impressive.
What Piemontese wines will the sommelier select for such an event?  
What Piemontese recipes will the chef employ to show off truffles???


Here's the wine and food line-up:

Amuse
 Sformato of Hudson Valley Foie Gras
First Course
Carpaccio of Veal Tenderloin
Baby Arugula and Celery Salad with Smoked Caciocavallo Cheese
2004 Terlano Pinot Bianco from Alto Adige

Second Course
Duck Egg Fettuccine Pasta alla Gallinella
2004 Barbera d'Alba Andrea Oberto from Piedmont  

Entre

 Poussin Roasted with Truffle under the Skin
 Local Red Kuri Pumpkin Mousseline and Black Trumpet Mushrooms
2000 Antinori Guado al Tasso from Bolgheri

Cheese

Fonduta Fontina Val DAosta
Golden Delicious Apple Crisps

Dessert

Sweet Polenta Souffl with Fresh Grated Citrus
2003 Ben Rye Passito di Pantelleria

I've had "Fegato GrassoFegato Grasso" in Piemonte.  

The Veal Carpaccio sounds good... though the cheese comes from someplace in Southern Italia, as regions such as Campania, Basilicata, Puglia, Molise and Calabria produce Caciocavallo.  I guess they couldn't find any white wines from Piemonte, so they chose something from the Sud-Tirol.

Next we have a pasta that's paired with a young, zesty Piemontese Barbera...good...a wine from Piemonte!

The main plate features a tiny chicken with truffles under the skin...the Piemontese wine chosen to accompany this dish is an Antinori wine from, uh, Tuscany.  It's an unusual blend for Piemonte:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.

The cheese course features a selection from nearby Aosta.  No wine.

And for dessert, a Polenta Souffl.  Apparently no Piemontese sweet wines were available, so they chose a lovely Moscato from Sicilia.

Or am I confused?

 

ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH

We think wine writers out to help clarify the murky world of wine for readers.  So many consumers avoid exploring the wonders of wine because you have to know special lingo, have a degree in geography and be able to navigate a restaurant wine list with ease.

Eno-scribe Jennifer Rosen writes about wine in the Rocky Mountains and so, perhaps the elevation and thin air has taken a toll.

Her November 2, 2005 column in the Rocky Mountain News offers readers tips on what's currently "cool" or "cutting edge" in wine:

*************************

Spain: Especially the areas of Monsanto, Priorato and Valencia. Hippest grapes include albario, monastrell, garnacha and anything else you've never heard of and don't quite know how to pronounce.

Portugal: Once-trashy vinho verde, as well as dry reds from Douro.

Italy: Friuli, Veneto and all of Sicily. Hippest grapes: lagrein, fiano, nero d'avola, aglianico and anything starting with a "v."

Also on the bus: Austrian gruner veltliner, German and Alsatian sylvaner, South African sauvignon blanc and Argentine malbec and torronts.

It seems to me that chardonnay, long derided by the in crowd as nothing but buttered-up Wonder Bread, is due for a comeback. It'll be the same hip-to-be-square gestalt that compels your well-pierced teenager to exhume your old mint-green ruffled tuxedo shirt and start wearing it around. Yes, the same one you were wearing, you in the perm and wide sideburns, in those wedding photos that you had shredded. Cool. It's the new hot. 

*************************

We appreciate "Chotzi's" suggesting all sorts of wonderful grape varieties, but wonder if you're going to cite Albario as a "cool" grape, shouldn't its home region of Galicia be on the list?

Being big fans of Lagrein, Fiano and Aglianico, Chotzi gets applause for suggesting those grapes, but the home regions for those varieties are not on the "list."  Lagrein is found in the Alto Adige and Trentino regions, while Fiano and Aglianico are making a name for themselves in Campania.  

We suspect Chotzi meant "Montsant" instead of Monsanto when referring to Spanish wine regions.  

Anyway, we're on the "bus" filled with all those "cool" wines.  Some may tell you we're periodically behind the wheel of that vehicle.

 

B-S PROTECTORS
I might have to pick up these handy devices to wear on my ears next time I'm at a trade tasting...


I saw a photo of some old "feller" wearing these at a political speech given by Mr. Bush.  Wearing these when we're tasting wine would probably be very helpful.  I could block out the numerical score from some wine critic when it's told to me by the sales rep (because if I don't like the wine that received 91 points, there must be something wrong with me!).  I won't be hearing the words "fruit forward," "hand-crafted," "wine begins in the vineyard" and other blather which some sales hacks employ in the course of their singing and dancing to sell a bottle of wine.  And I won't have to hear which "is my favorite wine" when standing at a table full of dreck being poured by someone who barely knows which of the wines on the table is red.


Why, here's a sales pitch for a wine that would have been worth "protecting" myself from: 

 
This Chehalem Willamette Valley Inox Chardonnay is 100% tank fermented, without malolactic fermentation or lees contact, which means it retains a high amount of natural acidity and does not display undue richness  It is NEVER put into oak barrels, and is bottled in the springtime (April) following harvest.  This brightly colored and flavored Chardonnay is pure fruit and personality.  It will accompany a wide range of food ranging from elegant dinners to casual, late summer barbecues.  Find out what true Chardonnay tastes like when it isnt over-extracted, overly alcoholic and over-oaked.  This wine is Burgundian in style, but not in price; its $19.99 per bottle.

Okay, so let's see...we have a wine that's fermented in stainless steel tanks and never sees a barrel.  It spends no time on its lees and, therefore, not a moment of battonage.  It's bottled months after the harvest instead of being matured, in wood, in a cold, underground cellar where it will develop complexity and blossom.
Yes...that sounds JUST like a Montrachet to me!
Very "Burgundian," indeed.


Please.

If you'd like to make your own, click on this link:

BULLSHIT PROTECTOR
and knock yourself out.


THE ABC'S OF WINE
An article on the website of Suite101.com, posted in 2004, concerns pairing wines with food and features some "wine country recipes."  Writer Michael Vyskocil interviews one of Beaulieu Vineyards' winemakers, Robert Masyczek for some tips on pairing wine with food.

Vyskocil writes Masyczek "has an ABCs rule of thumb for choosing the right California wine"Anything But Chardonnay or Cabernet."


The article quotes Masyczek as suggesting people drink Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Viognier wines.

I'm sure this pleases the top brass at BV and its parent company, Diageo.  

After all, Beaulieu is regarded by most wine industry folks as a "Cabernet winery" and a BV tasting room staffer we queried guesstimated that about half of BV's production is Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines!

The article will probably have wine-savvy folk scratching their head, as we learn that Pinot Gris is "created from the same grapes as Pinot Noir."  

Here's a curious statement about Viognier: "At one time, only 5 acres of the grapes needed to make this wine existed in the world; today 600 acres are grown in California."  
Huh?
(Had Mr. Vyskocil done his homework, he'd have found the California Farm Bureau report from 2004 which indicates California currently has 2091 acres of Viognier.)

Post Script:  Mr. Vyskocil sent me a note in April of 2006, taking me to task for criticizing his article.  
"I would like to address several issues with the posting you made. First,
while Robert Masyczek recommends tasting Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and
Viognier, there is no explicit endorsement for those wines over Cabernet.
Take another look at how the statement is written: "He recommends the
following for a satisfying wine experience." Masyczek merely suggested
people sample these wines; it was not a specific endorsement. Secondly, in
the research my editorial team did for this story, we discovered that Pinot
Gris is created from a pink-colored grape and Pinot Gris from a similarly
colored grape. Yes, the way the statement is worded could be interpreted as
the exact same grape variety; we, however, were thinking more about the
color of the skin that was similar, not the variety. The statement could
have been further clarified to mean color. Third, the editorial team had
researched the fact that the acerage  (sic) devoted to growing Viognier had
increased from 5 acres to over 600 acres. At the time we did our research
for this piece, California did have 600 acres of Viognier under cultivation.
In the publishing world, pieces are assembled and put together well ahead of
deadline. At the time the story was submitted to Suite101, the figure was
accurate."

Well, that clears up that mystery, doesn't it?

 

THROWN FOR A LOSS
The National Football League is doing its part in assuring homeland security.

Attending the game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys at Candlestick Park, I was surprised to see a Homeland Security Advisory poster at the entry gate.  Even more surprising was a fellow on a bullhorn advising men to file through gates 7, 8 and 11, while women needed to enter through gates 9 and 10.

It seems there's a potential threat at football stadiums and so security "guards" (if you want to call them that) are there to do more than peek into your bag to see if you're bringing in a bottle of Cabernet (illegally), a Budweiser or a football.  

Security at the stadiums around the country has been ratcheted up.   Of course, we think the notion of looking for a suicide bomber is probably a good idea in these terrorist-influenced times.  (Some may say fans of the 49ers are probably suicidal anyway, but that's not the point.)

Imagine my surprise when I saw a security "guard" tossing a plastic bag full of nail-clippers into a trash container!  During the course of my "pat down," I was found to be attempting to smuggle in a corkscrew!!!

I wondered precisely what airline "flight" I was getting on...was someone thinking of "hijacking" Candlestick Park?  Or was I suddenly on the real life "set" of "The Longest Yard" and entering someplace such as San Quentin?  It was eerie!

"Sir, you can't bring in a corkscrew to a football stadium!" I was informed by Colonel Klink.  I always have a corkscrew in my pocket.  You never know when a bottle of wine needs opening.  

He graciously offered to allow me to return to the car out in the parking lot so I could return "clean" and then get back in line so I could spend another 30 minutes of "Homeland Security" protecting America from itself.

Unfortunately, though, parking at Candlestick is at such a premium, we've been encouraged to take public transit.  I had no place to stash my weapon of potential mass destruction, so I was asked to please surrender it for the good of America.

I did.

An older couple was told its 49ers blanket would be allowed in to the stadium, but not the zippered container they keep it in.  "We're at war!" exclaimed the security guard. (No zippered bags larger than a certain, specified size are permitted, though a shopping bag -no zipper-, is allowed!)

The people who sit behind us said the security folks would not allow them to enter the stadium with their two nectarines.  (Did the security folks KNOW the 49ers' performance would be worthy of tossing fruit on to the field?)  I sure felt much more secure knowing this couple didn't have their nectarines!  They said they felt more secure, too, knowing I was missing a corkscrew.  (Well, I was only missing one of the two I happened to have in my possession.  Security, you see, isn't perfect.)

You are, however, allowed to buy a 20 ounce plastic bottle of Coca-Cola at stadium concession stands.  They also sell 16 ounce plastic bottles of beer.  Tossing these from the second deck onto the field is, apparently, less of a danger than a ripe nectarine, though I can't quite imagine any of these items is quite a threat to "Homeland Security."

Now I appreciate the NFL wanting to be sure nobody brings in a pistol, machine gun, machete, dynamite or nuclear weapon, but it seems to me someone is a wee bit confused on this issue.  Box cutter knives may have turned into a "weapon of mass destruction" in an airplane, but is someone likely to "hijack" Candlestick Park, in the first place?  And in the second place, would small nail clippers, the kind that attach to your key ring, be able to be an implement of great destructive capabilities?  

Someone must have patted-down 49er Quarterback Tim Rattay, since he was so ineffective in the 2nd half, especially the fourth quarter.  When he needed to "throw the bomb" in the final minutes, it should have surprised no one who'd gone through security that the 49ers' play-caller didn't have one.  Dallas won the game, 34-31.  

 

DO YOU WANT FRIES WITH THAT?
Many California vintners are enamored with the notion of selling their wines in restaurants and dictate to their distributor or broker that they want half (or more) of their wine sold in "on sale" accounts.  (Retail shops such as ours are "off sale" accounts.)

The model for this sort of marketing was designed in the 1970s, pre-internet.  There were but 20 wineries in Napa.  Restaurants would print their plastic laminated list every other year, or so.  Being on the wine list would guarantee some continuity of sales. 

The world has changed since then.  Today many dining establishments have several hundred selections, maintained on a computer.  The list is re-printed as needed and a wine might be on the wine list at lunch and off it by dinner.  There are hundreds of wineries in Napa and many more wine brands as everyone seems to have their own label.  Many restaurant buyers like to change their lists on a frequent basis, too.

We appreciate the notion of consumers discovering a wine while having a fine dining experience, but not every restaurant is a paragon of haute cuisine.  Not that every restaurant needs to be...we appreciate "good eats" with  good wines.  But many dining establishments totally hose consumers with awful wines bought at close-out prices and then charge ridiculously high prices for this garbage.   So let's agree, please, that only a small percentage of restaurants "get it" with respect to offering good food and good wine service.

Sadly, the marketing guru at many wineries don't "get it," either.

Many view shops such as ours as "competition" instead of as an "ambassador."  Many wineries today view their tasting rooms as a "profit center" instead of as a place to "plant seeds" for future sales.  

We are fans of Joel Gott's (yes, winemaker Joel Gott owns Taylor's Refreshers) lovely "fast food" emporiums (one in St. Helena in the Napa Valley, the other in San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Building).  The place always has some nice, sensible wines available for by-the-glass purchase to go with their Patty Melt, Ahi Tuna Burger or Chinese Chicken Salad.  

You can imagine our shock when we saw Shafer's "Hillside Select" Cabernet, Caymus' "Special Selection," Dalla Valle Cabernet and Joseph Phelps' "Insignia" available by the bottle at Taylor's Refresher in San Francisco.  We are certain a bottle of Phelps fantastic "Insignia" wine will add much pleasure to your Wisconsin Sourdough Burger or the Texas Burger, but are not sure this is quite the venue the marketing folks had in mind when demanding their wines be sold in "restaurants."  Do you think tourists (or locals) are going to pop for a $200 bottle of wine to go with their $5.49 Classic American Hamburger? 

The sad fact is an increasing number of wineries look to sell their wines only in "restaurants" and directly to consumers.  Some people might say this "rant" is merely "sour grapes" since we're being shut out and excluded from making a buck on a sale, but there is no shortage of good wines for us to have in the shop and the place is over-flowing with wine.

The wine business will not "grow" if consumers have to "work" to buy wine.  Imagine if you want to prepare a salad.  Think how difficult this would be were you to have to buy the lettuce directly from one farmer, a cucumber from another source and tomatoes from someplace else.  Let's not even include arugula, Belgian endive or an avocado, since now it's too laborious to economically source all these ingredients and get them in a timely (not to mention, cost-effective) manner.  People would stop enjoying a salad if it became that much of an effort to obtain all the ingredients.  

Yet many California vintners, looking at the successful sales models of Mendocino's Navarro Vineyards and Napa's V. Sattui, think they can sell their nectars "only at the winery," too.  That elevator is getting mighty crowded!

We think it's great that Caymus and Shafer make sufficient quantities of these special wines to be able to sell them to Taylor's Refresher just in case someone pops for a $200 bottle of Napa Cabernet to go with their $2.99 Grilled Cheese Sandwich.

McChardonnay might give new meaning to the term "Happy Meal."    Burger King Cabernet might be offered with additions of oak flavoring so you could really "have it your way."   
We believe it's a pity America's fast food giants don't offer some sort of wine-by-the-cup program, too.  

 

THE TRUTH ABOUT WINE
A column on this Restaurant Row web site offers some tips from famed restaurateur Julian Niccolini of New York's "Four Seasons."

We appreciate his suggestion to "Question Authority."  Niccolini suggests ignoring the advice of The Wine Advocate publisher, Robert Parker, since
"...he is not concerned with regular people enjoying wine."  Okay, sure.  Maybe.
Then Niccolini adds "If you want to learn more about wine, I would recommend you read Wine Spectator magazine. Because it is consumer-oriented..."  
Keep in mind The Wine Spectator offers an "award" to restaurants for outstanding wine lists, but does not visit each and every award "winner" to verify if the wine list is, indeed, outstanding.  Further, restaurants must PAY the publication to "win" such a distinction!  
The Wine Spectator also accepts advertising dollars from wineries whose wines it claims to objectively critique.
That's "consumer-oriented"?

Readers are further advised:
"Aside from in the vineyard where the grapes are grown, there is no better place to enjoy good wine than in a restaurant...It's also a place where you can order any bottle with utter confidence that it will be good. No one is going to put an awful bottle on their wine list. So you have nothing to fear about ordering one. So, be adventurous."
Apparently Mr. Niccolini does not dine out very frequently...We often see appallingly bad wine selections in restaurants.  Some restaurateurs only buy distressed, close-out wines for their buy-the-glass or bottle lists.  Please!

The article is not without some measure of merit.  Readers are urged to
"keep an open mind"  but then he adds "Try a glass of Chardonnay," though, "Personally this is not my favorite wine. It tends to have a strong taste that can overpower most foods."  We're also told to "Toss out the Rule Book" and "Trust your own Taste buds."

"If You Like White Zinfandell (sic), Raise Your Glass
There are terrific snobs in every profession. Please don't let a few insecure, wine kooks throw you off. In the world of wine, white zinfandel is considered to be the musak (sic), the fluff, the "lite" version. But the truth is that if you like it, you should enjoy it. And don't let a snob try to tell you anything different."

We agree that consumers ought to drink what they like and like what they drink.  

I was curious, then, to know which White Zinfandels might be offered by the bottle at Mr. Niccolini's Four Seasons, so I called the restaurant to inquire.
I was told by a gentleman "We don't have ANY White Zinfandels on our wine list!"

The corkage fee for your bottle of White Zinfandel, by the way, is a mere $40.

 

HEADY SALES?   Not!

           
      
   

There are a couple of tell-tale (as opposed to Yellow Tail) signs there's a glut of wine.  
1.  Producers of Cabernet suggest their wine can be paired with chocolate.  
Listen...there are wonderful sweet wines which pair handsomely with chocolate.  Think of Port and Banyuls, for example.  Those wines are INTENDED to match nicely with a chocolate dessert. 
If some winery's Cabernet can be successfully paired with chocolate, it probably won't taste very good with a grilled steak, a rack of lamb or a prime rib roast.

2.  There's a proliferation of goofy wine brands.
Check the shelves at your favorite grocery emporium and you'll undoubtedly see a most curious array of wine brands.  You might wonder if you're at the zoo or in the wine aisle.
Enough already!  Put a leash on it.
Do we need "Thirsty Lizard" wine?  What's next, Drunken Weasel White Zinfandel?  Whistling Wombat Gewurztraminer?  Frisky Ferret Folle Blanche?  

And then there's Gnarly Head...Jar Head...Toasted Head.  
The marketing whizzes might as well have "Pin Head" Pinot and "Knuckle Head" wines while they're at it.

Another brand is called "Gravity Hills" and they sent out postcards showing a pick-up truck stuck in a tree.  "Obey Gravity" they write.  "It's the law."  
Apparently they're not good drivers.  I tasted their wines and found the winemaking to be about as competent as their driving ability.

Fish Eye and Twin Fin brands are, apparently, being aimed at surfing wine drinkers.  "Hey, Dude!  Try this Syrah!"

There's a "Jest Red" and "Jest White".  We tasted these.  Surely they jest.  

You know they forgot to put wine in their bottles when the salient selling point is the screw cap closure for their bottles.  

One firm is marketing Mad Housewife wines.

Another has "Working Girl" wines such as "Ros The Riveter," "Go Girl Red" and "Working Girl White."

While we appreciate these interesting attempts at marketing wines, sometimes the various brands and types of wines can be too cute.

Knowing how much inventory remains unsold at various wineries and knowing many sales reps have amazing quotas to meet, we're surprised not to have been offered "Desperate House Wines."

Yet.

 

MILANESE PROTEST HIGH PRICE OF ITALIAN WINES?

One of our friends in Europe sent along this photo of a display which they claimed was a concerted effort on the part of Milanese wine collectors protesting the high price of certain Italian wines.

I'm not so sure their interpretation of this photo is accurate, but it does make for a chuckle.

 

CHEESY U.C. DAVIS "RESEARCH"
A graduate student at U.C. Davis studied the supposedly symbiotic relationship between wine and cheese and found that when consumed together, each alters the other's taste!

Boy, there's a news flash!!!

Imagine the months of agony for the tasting panel...having to slog their way through tasting various combinations of wines and cheeses to discover that certain cheeses lessen the tannic "bite" of some wines!   The tasting panel found that drinking wines with various cheeses made the wines taste less woody and less "sour."  

There is an old saying in the wine business:  Buy on apples, sell on cheese.

Apples are acidic and cleanse the palate.  Cheese coats the palate and makes certain features of a wine (fine points, flaws, etc.) less detectable.  

Isn't it great that "science" seeks to define precisely what combinations of wine and food make the best matches?  
In a field where matters of "taste" are so subjective, it's remarkable that a "scientist" seeks to quantify what should be a hedonistically pleasurable experience.

The next thing you know, some fool is going to claim to be able to numerically define the quality of a wine using some mythical hundred point "scale."

 

WINE DELIVERY SERVICE ??

There was an armored car parked across the street from the shop the other day, taking up a couple of parking spaces, much like the trucks that bring our shipments to the store.

A customer, keenly aware of the price tags on many California wines these days, piped up, "Hey Gerald!  I think you're getting a delivery of some Napa Valley Cabernet!"

 

AN OLD JOKE (But still funny)



MORE RANTINGS & RAVINGS

 

 

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