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Friday, December 28, 2012

Demand Better Quality

Someone once told me that a low price tag does not excuse poor quality.  He was talking about wine, of course.

He also said that when a person finds him/herself excusing poor quality without giving it any thought, perhaps it’s time to stop lowering their standards.

When I see things becoming acceptable, things that were once regarded as subpar or taboo or simply unacceptable for whatever reason, I begin to wonder why.  Culture becomes dumbed down, attention to detail goes by the wayside, quantity outweighs quality.  I once referred to this as the “White Zinfandelization” of our culture.

When I was in college, I majored in politics and minored in European studies (and this was before I knew I’d enter the wine industry someday), and part of my minor was studying a European language - I studied Italian and Latin during my college years.  I had one favorite Italian professor, a lady who made class entertaining and treated us with respect, and I learned a lot.  What she pointed out to us, interestingly enough, was that she spent more time correcting her students’ use of the English language than she did correcting improper Italian grammar.  This was odd because all of us in the class were native English speakers, and she’s a native Italian speaker.  She couldn’t understand why she had better command of our language than some of the American students did.

When I look at things I read and I hear people speaking, proper use of grammar sounds wonderful to me.  Several years back, I think it would have been the case that poor use of grammar would have disturbed me.  It still does, but it’s become much more normal these days, to see the language perverted.  The dumbing down of other things disturbs me, too.  I think one thing that surprises me is when someone is rewarded for doing a good thing.  Shouldn’t someone always be doing the good thing, and should bear the consequences when he/she does the wrong thing?  Shouldn’t “good,” “right,” “well done” be the standard?

I once knew a music professional, and one day he was conflicted with whether to tell one of his students how poorly she had performed on a particular occasion.  I explained to him that as a professional in his field, it’s his obligation to ensure good quality.  I think people in any profession have an obligation to ensure good quality.

People seem to settle for poor quality products, services, etc., regularly.  I don’t understand that.  Why should we accept less than what we bargain for?  I don’t care if a wine is inexpensive - that’s not an excuse for it to taste or smell bad, or have an unpleasant feel, or give the drinker absolutely no pleasure.  I don’t care if it only cost a dollar.  It would be a dollar wasted.  I’m amazed literally all of the time by how many people think they can’t afford good wine.  Most everyone can afford good wine, because good wine doesn’t have to be expensive wine.  There are good wines across the price ranges.  But whether it’s expensive or inexpensive, it’s got to be good quality.  Lots of producers realize now that people will settle for poor quality products, so they can turn out products that are subpar and still know with reasonable certainty that the product will fly off the shelves of wine shops and out of the cellars of restaurants.  Why?  People people have lowered their standards.  And it’s often quite difficult to raise standards once they’ve been lowered.

I drink wine every night.  Not alone - I don’t think I could handle that.  But I do drink wine every night, and each night, it’s something different.  And nearly every night, it’s a wine that retails between $10 and $15, and almost never over $20.  Nearly all the time, I’m satisfied with the wine.  A while back, I used to drink wines made by larger producers.  I didn’t know what was out there, available to all of us, if only we look for them.  That has changed completely for me.  Wines made by small producers show more attention to detail and better quality, and the wines are often inexpensive.  Those small independent producers are driven by quality over quantity, and that’s the best way to ensure satisfaction.  And here’s another reason why I find good wines - I shop in places where the owner or buyer has high standards and will only stock his/her shelves with wines of good quality.

So it’s not necessary to spend loads of money to ensure good quality in a wine.  And this tells me that price should not determine quality.  Like I said, just because something may be inexpensive, that doesn’t excuse poor quality.

I also mentioned something about how absurd it is to reward a job well done.  A job should always be well done.  Wine should always be good quality.  A job poorly done should be “punished” in some way, and in my opinion, the best way to punish someone for making a poor quality product is to leave the product on the shelves.  For the same price (or perhaps even less) we can find a much better product.  Show the producers that you demand good quality, and that you won’t settle for anything less.  If we keep on buying lousy products, we’re encouraging them to keep on making bad wine.  If we refuse to settle, and instead channel our money toward people who ensure good quality, we’re doing everyone a favor, including ourselves, by purchasing good quality wine, as well as forcing others to strive to make a better product.  If we keep on settling, we will never be satisfied.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Celebrating the Holidays

If you’re reading this blog post, it means the world did not end as “predicted” - you didn’t really believe that, did you?  I didn’t!  And I certainly hope you didn’t deplete your best bottles you’ve been saving in your wine cellar just to make sure you drank them all before the world ends.

Let’s just assume you did not drink all those great bottles.  I think I know what we should be doing with our favorite bottles, or some bottles we’ve been holding on to for a while - we can enjoy them over Christmas and New Year’s with the people we care about the most.  I think a lot of us get caught up in the rush of the season, the material things, most of which don’t amount to a whole lot in the end.  What matters most is that we remember what we’re celebrating and we take the time to enjoy the presence of those dearest to us.  Hurricane Sandy, the tragedy at the elementary school in Connecticut, and other very unfortunate events remind us that while the end of the world may not have happened, the fact is that sometimes tomorrow never comes, and we’re left without the special people in our lives.  This is probably the best time of the year to realize just how important our friends and families are, to spend quality time together, and not just focus on the material things.

This is how I suggest we enjoy those special bottles we have - share them with family and friends.

For me, in our Italian-American household we have the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve.  Last year I reviewed the off-beat Italian whites we had (Petite Arvine and Erbaluce di Caluso).  This year I’ve picked some interesting Italian whites for the feast.  For Christmas Day, I’ve picked a few Italian reds and a Prosecco.  I look forward to posting my tasting notes next week.  And as for New Year’s Eve - it’s time for bubbles.

Many of us realize that times are difficult these days.  The economy has suffered a great deal, rough weather and tragedies have affected lots of people, and often, things don’t turn out the way we had hoped they would.  If you’re like me, you’ve probably been disappointed by some of these things.  But I also know that there’s a lot to celebrate, a lot to be very happy about, and to me, New Year’s Eve is a great way to mark the completion of another year that’s hopefully brought blessings and good times, and also to begin another year with great hope and excitement.  I think that’s an excellent reason to celebrate, so bring on the bubbles!

Last year, my New Year’s resolution was (believe it or not) to drink more wine from small producers, vignerons independants, etc., and to leave the mass produced products on the shelves as often as possible.  And interestingly enough, this is the first time I’ve been so successful in keeping my resolution throughout the year - nearly every night, I open a bottle of wine from a small producer, usually made from unique grapes from a lesser known region.  It’s taught me more than I thought possible in just 365 days.

Cheers to a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Call it what it Is

Champagne and Sekt

What’s in a name?

I like my name.  Do you like your name?  How would you feel if someone (or many people) kept referring to you by a name other than your own?  I know I’d rather stick with being called by my own name and no one else’s.

Many people use the term “Champagne” liberally.  What do I mean?  Well, true sparkling wine from Champagne is “Champagne” - all the others are a different kind of sparkling wine; they’re not “Champagne.”  We hear the term “Champagne” used a lot at this time of year, with Christmas and New Year’s Eve coming up, and all kinds of holiday parties happening.

Sparkling Gaillac

I ask you - how often is real Champagne being served?  And please understand, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with serving or sipping other sparkling wines that aren’t from Champagne - in fact, there’s something wrong with snubbing the other sparklers, just because they’re not “true Champagne.”

How about Prosecco?  Or Cava?  Or Sekt?  Or New World sparkling wines?  Or those other cool sparkling wines from other parts of France, generally known as Cremant (from Alsace, Loire, Bourgogne, Limoux, Jura, etc.) - those can be some pretty awesome wines.  And most times, they’re far less expensive than true Champagne.

But calling a Prosecco or a Cava “Champagne” is doing a disservice to both true Champagne (since the real thing has to be from that specific region of France), and it’s also wrong to call those other sparklers anything other than what they are.  A good Prosecco, a good Cava, a good Sekt, a good Cremant - they deserve to be called by their proper names.

And it’s a good idea to know what it is you’re serving or sipping, too.  There are technically 7 different grapes permitted in the Champagne region, but those most commonly used are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.  In lots of other regions where sparkling wine is produced, those aren’t necessarily the same grapes they’re using.  Take Sekt for example - I’ve had a cool one from Mosel, called Deinhard Lila, and it’s made of Riesling.  Another exciting sparkling wine I’ve tried recently is from Sud-Ouest  (there’s a BIG surprise - not really) from Gaillac, Domaine du Moulin, and it’s made from Mauzac.  That’s quite different from true Champagne, isn’t it?  But it’s fun to try all kinds of sparkling wine, especially when we’re in a festive mood.  They tend to pair well with lots of foods and leave the palate feeling extra clean (but just because it’s trendy to pair sparkling wines with dessert doesn’t mean it’s a good idea - in fact I strongly advise against it).  And it’s fun also to know where each of the wines comes from.

So yes, Champagne is sparkling, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne.  And a story for another day - not all wine from Champagne is sparkling.  Some of it is “still” wine with no bubbles.  How about that?!

Friday, December 7, 2012

2010 Herri Mina Irouleguy

Like I’ve said before, there’s no secret about my fascination with Sud-Ouest wines.  I think I’ve also mentioned a few times that I generally don’t care much for Cabernet Franc.  But there are always exceptions, and I’ve found a few Cab Francs in the past year or so that I really liked.

Here’s a cool Cab Franc - from an awesome wine region that Americans don’t hear about very often - the 2010 Herri Mina from Irouleguy.  I’ve written up one other red from Irouleguy, the Ohitza.  If I remember correctly, the Ohitza is a bit more rustic in style than the Herri Mina.

Irouleguy is a wine region in Sud-Ouest.  It’s very near to Spain, by the Pyrenees (Basque wine, really), and the wines are so unique.  (I’m still currently looking for a white Irouleguy - presumably made from Courbu and Manseng and the like - that should be interesting!)

The Herri Mina, for my palate, is a nice example of a smooth Cab Franc without the excess bell pepper characteristics.  Instead, it’s got nice fruit notes, a bit of pepper, and expressive mineral, with a very clean feel.  The wine is nicely balanced and while it’s unique because of where it comes from, it’s not as bizarre or off-beat as some of the other wines I tend toward, particularly from Sud-Ouest.  I think it’s quite food friendly and it’s a nice wine for sipping alone as well.

There are some days when I honestly wonder how wines like this haven’t become more popular, and that places like Irouleguy are pretty much unheard of.  The wines aren’t strange, they’re not priced out of the market, they’re just a little different and they’re worth noticing.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Scaling Back

I’ve been hearing for some time now that wine blogs are, as a whole, losing energy and becoming less popular.  I think that can be for any number of reasons, but whatever the reasons are, it seems to be true.

I’ve had some interesting observations regarding my own blog - most of my posts with the highest number of hits are among the most off-beat wine topics I’ve come up with, including Vranac from Montenegro, and a few Croatian wines.  To me, that’s a little peculiar.  I do understand that perhaps readers are led to those particular blog posts from Google because no one else has covered some of the topics I’ve covered, or at least not recently.

Then there have been other blog posts that have garnered a lot of attention, but not for the tasting notes or the seriousness of wine topics - no, especially in the case of one of my most popular posts this year, on what some of my wine friends began calling the “Nebbiolo man” - this was a blog post about the allure of men who age gracefully and comparing them to Nebbiolo based wines.  That post was meant just for fun, and the vast majority of my other posts were meant to be taken more seriously.  And instead, I drew some attention (and made some mischief) with a blog post centered more on men than on wine.

The somewhat broad topic that I’ve chosen to focus on is off-beat wines and the benefits of experimenting with them.  Many of the off-beat wines I’ve focused on are from Sud-Ouest, or South West France.  As I’ve explained in the blog on numerous occasions, I fell in love with the mysterious, terroir-driven, unique wines of Sud-Ouest after attending a master class with the Guild of Sommeliers last year, and being exposed to wines that would change the way I viewed wine ever since.  Other off-beat wines I’ve given attention to include wines from Savoie, Burgenland, Montenegro, Croatia, Campagna, and Valle d’Aosta, to name a few.  I’ve received a lot of questions as to why I prefer those wines.  Truth be told, I still have an affinity for good Bordeaux, like so many other wine drinkers.  And I love a good Rhone or Burgundy.  And I really love the wines of Piemonte.  My taste isn’t quite so strange as some may think.  But like I’ve explained before, it would be ridiculous to expect some of the native grapes in places like Irouleguy, Sicily, Wagram, Priorat, etc., to be produced here in the United States.  I prefer hunting down these wines and experiencing their uniqueness and expression of identity when they’re produced in their place of origin.  It’s a great way to learn, it’s fun, and it serves as a constant reminder what a tremendous place the wine world really is, and that the more we learn, the more we realize we still have yet to learn.  If I thought there was anything finite about wine, I’d lose some interest in it.  But knowing how much is left to explore, how much history there is to uncover, and how many new developments there will be - well, that makes it all the more irresistible to me.

Anyone who has been reading my blog since the beginning might recall why I started the wine blog.  I once had a friend that I met through a wine discussion on the internet.  He and I began our friendship and over time, and exchanged a lot of wine notes and observations.  When our friendship came to an abrupt end, it felt strange to me that I had no one to share my wine observations with, so I thought about simply posting it all to Facebook.  But then I decided to share them with whomever cared to read them, so that’s why I started my blog.  This January will mark 2 years since I started the blog.  I’ve learned so much in that amount of time.  In fact, I can hardly believe how much I’ve learned, and how quickly, and the changes it’s brought to my life.  I’ve since entered the wine industry, met some fascinating people, and interestingly enough, learned a great deal about myself.  If that sounds crazy, think of this - I started a wine blog to share my observations with like-minded people who love wine.  Since then, I changed careers, developed new friendships, and I’m learning what it is that I love.  Yes, I’ve been learning a great deal about myself.  5 or 10 years ago, I never would have predicted that this would be my current path.

Since entering the industry and meeting so many people who share my views and also having the chance to learn from each other, my real life interactions have replaced what was at one point exclusively online interaction regarding wine.  I’ve also noticed that while I’ve helped some people find new favorites in the wine world, and shed some light on different things to consider, I’ve realized that some minds are too shuttered or narrow and closed off from new ideas (or old ideas that never crossed that threshold of a person’s mind), and I’ve learned that it’s nearly impossible to have any effect whatsoever on a mind or palate so immovable.  And it’s exasperating to try and convince someone that it’s probably worth it to spend less on better quality wines than on mass produced wines that command prices higher than they should, only to be told that they think I’m wrong, or just looking for off-beat wines for the sake of being different.  And it’s also frustrating to have to explain very basic, fundamental things over and over, knowing that it’s not being heard and digested.  It’s also frustrating and annoying to have to defend my strong preference for wines produced as they were intended and have been grown, harvested, and produced for centuries - simply because my preference lies with tiny vineyards and producers in Europe, instead of Long Island, New York, United States, etc.  I like a lot of the people involved with the Long Island wine industry and in fact I have some favorite wines from Long Island (you can find them in this blog), and so I tend to keep most of my opinions to myself about what I really think of a lot of the wines produced here on the Island.  Meanwhile, I go along spending a lot less for wines that tell me a great deal about themselves, and transport me to a new place every evening when I open a bottle.  For me to feel the need to defend this concept, day in and day out, is more than just annoying and frustrating.  I’m proud to pour regular tastings in a wine boutique that focuses on both traditional and off-beat wines that are focused more on quality than on name but are predominantly from Europe, and I’m proud to represent a book that is 100% European and 100% quality driven.  Every time I go into another wine shop or restaurant with the book and the wines I represent, I’m enthusiastic and confident in them.

What I’m trying to say is, I think my blog has served to teach me a great deal over the past 2 years, but I’m not so sure I got through to anyone about a whole lot.  I’m beginning to feel that a lot of it falls on deaf ears, and the rest is just repetition to those who already agree and share my beliefs.  For those reasons, I’ve decided to scale back on the blog posts, and after the new year begins, marking 2 years of blogging, I’ll be writing only when I feel so inspired.

Friday, November 23, 2012

My Case for European Wine - Revisited (Again and Again)

“What’s with you and all these European wines?  Why no American wines?”

I hear this all too often.  Each time I answer, I come up with more reasons why I drink European wines at a ratio of probably 50 European wines to every 1 American wine I choose.  I think my reasons are logical.

I prefer lower alcohol wines.  I prefer leaner, brighter, terroir-driven wines.  I’m not saying that all European wines are in that category and no American wines fit in.  But generally, I find more expression of identity in European wines, and that the wines are truer to the grape and the region from which the grape originates.

It’s no secret that I also prefer esoteric wines that are made from grapes that grow exclusively in those tiny regions and appellations in Europe.  It would be impractical to expect American producers to experiment with Coda di Volpe, Negroamaro, Jacquere, Roter Veltliner, Negrette, etc.  American producers are a lot less familiar with those grapes and it would be risky to experiment excessively with them, especially since American consumers usually wouldn’t pay for off-beat wines and prefer to spend money on Chardonnay, Cabernet, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel.  And it’s completely ok that American consumers generally prefer safe bets.  But when I look at quality/price ratio, I find that European wines are by far the more efficient way to go.

Certainly, there are exceptions.  But here’s an example.

A month or two ago, I was pouring at one of the regular Friday tastings.  A couple approached me and was completely unfamiliar with the wines.  The couple claimed they don’t drink any French wines (already a massive red flag in my mind), and that they prefer Italian and California.  I was curious to hear which Italian wines they like.  The man told me he likes Amarone and “the one that starts with a B, it’s really expensive” - Brunello, I asked him - yes.  And then he proceeded to tell me he could barely afford to drink them.  I asked him if he was at all familiar with Primitivo or Aglianico, and he had no idea what those are.  I explained, and hopefully he’s tasted a few since then.  I also asked him which are among his favorite American producers.  He told me he and his wife like Kendall-Jackson and Robert Mondavi.  (My thought process probably looked something like, “Aha!  I thought so!”  But obviously I wasn’t going to say that.)  I suggested he try some others.  He wanted to know why.  I told him he’d surely find more exciting wines of better quality elsewhere, and undoubtedly at a better price.  “Where?” he asked me - I responded, “Right here.  In this wine shop.  From France, and Italy, and Germany, and Austria, and Spain, and Portugal.”  He wanted to know if I was confident those wines in the $12-$20 price range would be better than the Mondavi wines.  I told him I was absolutely certain they’d be better, and I hope he and his wife took my suggestions.

It’s nearly always the case that I find much better deals with European wines.  Sure, there are some really expensive wines coming from Europe.  But in comparison to their American counterparts, I find that European wines are less expensive and tell their own stories through their grapes and terroirs.  Basically, my point is that I’d rather pay less and get more.  Wouldn’t anyone?  And yet I find that so many American consumers refuse to believe that a French or Italian wine would be less expensive than its American counterpart.  Seeing (or tasting) is believing, I suppose.

I’m completely open minded about it and I do have some favorite American producers.  Most are small producers who pay attention to detail and therefore create a unique wine.  But in all honesty, I don’t remember the last time I spent $15 or less on an American bottle and was completely satisfied with it.

So there’s some of my answer as to why I strongly prefer European wines.

Bergerac - 100% Merlot, Sud-Ouest.  Very dependable and expressive.  $13.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Keeping it Fun - Blind Tasting

Yes, wine should be taken seriously, for so many reasons.  But I think a lot of people who take it seriously tend to forget to have fun with it too.  I take it seriously but I make it a point to remind myself regularly to keep it fun.  How do I keep it fun?

Well, I aim to learn something new about wine every day.  I love researching things that might not have occurred to me previously, I enjoy trying new wines all the time from regions that often go forgotten, made of grapes that most Americans have never heard of, and I love attending tastings.  But one of the most fun things I can think of is blind tasting.  I do realize blind tasting is often done so that the person scoring the wine is not biased (or at least that’s what people claim), but I like doing it to keep my mind completely open, and to teach myself more about the characteristics of the grapes and terroirs.

Sure, it can be a humbling experience - sometimes a wine we hold in high regard comes up short, or sometimes our palates come up short and we have no idea what we’re tasting - but overall it’s lots of fun and a great way to keep it interesting.  And it’s also a great way to get others to try wines they might not have considered.  (All summer I suggested it to people to try, when their guests only drink white Zinfandel and they wanted to pour dry rose - I suggested covering the label or decanting.)

Want to try blind tasting at home?  Brown bagging is the way to go.  Open the bottle, remove the foil from the top, and try to cover as much of the bottle as possible with the brown paper bag (as oftentimes, the shape of the bottle gives away some clues).  Pour away and watch the other person/people observe the color, viscosity, aromas, flavors, and textures of the wine.  If it sounds like a challenge, it is.  If it sounds like fun, it is!

Friday, November 9, 2012

I’m Back

It feels so strange; I haven’t written any blog posts in almost 2 weeks.  Why?  We had a hurricane.


And we had no power for quite a while.

And we also had a nor’easter.

It was a rough couple of weeks - a bit stressful and challenging, but I’m feeling pretty lucky after hearing horror stories from communities not too far from here.  I’ve placed a link to the Red Cross Hurricane Sandy Relief efforts at the top right corner of the blog - please consider donating whatever you can to the recovery efforts in our area (Long Island, metro New York, and New Jersey).  Every little bit counts.

One of the things that got me through the past couple of weeks was wine.  No, I didn’t overdrink - that’s not what I meant.  Wine is that thing that makes my mind wander from where I am, it makes me think, it makes me happy, and it makes others around me happy, too.  Opening a couple of bottles every night with the family while we waited for our road to be cleared of the trees and debris, waited for our power to be restored, and waited for gasoline, food, and supplies to reach our area again, we had our wine together and it provided fun, comfort, and something to share and talk about and think about together.  This is no surprise to me, as we did the very same thing last year during the hurricane.

I hope we won’t have another experience like this for a long time.  But for now, I appreciate the stash of red wines that got us through the past couple of weeks, and I’m happy to welcome whites back into the mix, now that our refrigerator is up and running again and we’re able to chill the whites properly.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Preparing for a Hurricane

The hurricane is on its way.  Most of my accounts are in evacuation zones, the roads are flooding, and the best thing to do right now is probably stay indoors, be prepared to light candles, and light the fireplaces...and drink red wine.  Remember - red wine.  Not white.  Why?  Because if the power goes out, chances are we won’t be able to chill the whites properly.

Last year I wrote a blog post right after the hurricane, called “Riedels in the Dark,” yes, it’s a reference to the chapter “Riddles in the Dark” from The Hobbit, but it’s exactly what happened in our family - we lost power for a week, so we played poker, listened to baseball on the radio, and drank plenty of fun red wines every night - Riedels in the dark.  I got exposed to some interesting Rhones, Cahors, and other Old World wines, as well as some delicious New World wines, particularly Argentinean Malbecs.

But let’s face it - big storms can be pretty scary and intimidating, especially if we listen to weather forecasts where they’ll try and convince us that the world might just be coming to an end, or something along those lines.  Yes, it’s scary.  And inconvenient due to damage and power outages.

There’s plenty of red wine in the house and hopefully it won’t be consumed in the dark.  Hopefully the storm doesn’t hit us as hard as it’s predicted to hit Long Island.  But if it does, at least we have our wine.  I poured two tastings this weekend, and got to talk to a lot of people.  They were all out buying as much wine as they could, for the impending storm.  I’m happy to hear people have their priorities in order - a supply of wine translates to staying indoors during the storm, spending time with family and friends, and keeping satisfied and entertained.

So let’s try and stay safe and hopefully by the time I write my Friday post, we’ll all be ok and we’ll have enjoyed some fun red wines.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Tastings are Fun!

I love pouring tastings.  Of course it’s important to be able to sell the wines at the tastings, but what I really love is having the opportunity to talk to people about wine, and share the experience of what it is that I happen to be pouring that day.

What makes it most fun for me is when people attending a tasting are open minded and willing to try anything on the table, and are interested in the wines and want to hear more about the grapes, the regions, the producers, etc.  It’s also a learning experience for me - it’s important to me to learn from the people what they like and what they don’t like, and why.  Do they prefer dry or sweet?  Lighter or full bodied?  Fruity, or spicy, or earthy?  Do they want to pair the wines with food, or are the wines intended for sipping?

If somebody’s really interested in what they’re tasting, I feel more comfortable going into a deeper explanation of the wine - how Petite Sirah is actually Durif and not Syrah, or how Malbec is originally from Cahors and not Mendoza and what makes them different, or why someone may think they don’t like Chardonnay, until they taste a Chardonnay has that little or no oak.  The better the reception, the more enthusiastic I get, and the more enthusiastic I get, the better the wines show, and consequently the better they sell.  If I failed to get behind the products and lacked inspiration, I don’t think the wines would appear so exciting.  And if I’ve got some fun recipes in mind to suggest with the wines I’m pouring, it makes them even more appealing.

Pouring tastings is probably my favorite part of being in the wine industry.  After deciding I no longer wanted to be an attorney and instead wanted to be in the wine industry, I thought about why I felt this way.  I thought back to my first day in court, working alongside another attorney, and I looked at the people waiting their turn.  One man was so stressed from his appearance in court, that he actually collapsed right there in the courtroom.  I realized that a lot of people aren’t happy when they go to their attorney.  The most entertaining thing I was doing was researching and writing on tax exemptions.  Most times, the law isn’t bringing people together.  But being in the wine industry, things are just different.  And the people coming to tastings remind me of that, when I see how happy they are when they find a wine that’s right for them, or they realize that they actually do like Chardonnay, or that they share my love of offbeat wines - the wine helps me connect with people, and that’s one of the reasons why I love pouring tastings.

Monday, October 22, 2012

“Don’t Be That Guy"

I’ve read many, many times that a man absolutely must know how to order wine in a restaurant, whether he’s at a business dinner or on a date.  I agree.  But why just men?  I’m a lady who knows her way around a wine list (for obvious reasons), but I think the average person should have basic command of wines so as not to panic when the wine list arrives.  It’s good to feel some degree of comfort when ordering wine, either by the glass or by the bottle, and it’s fairly basic to know how to pair to most dishes.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Merlot are pretty basic - steak and hearty dishes.  Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc (and perhaps Riesling as well) with lighter dishes, fish, etc.  Pinot Noir is generally what I consider a safe “crossover” wine - it’s lighter than the other reds, usually has nice bright acidity, and tends to pair well with lots of dishes.  I’d also generally place Chianti and other Sangiovese based wines in that category as well, for its food friendly characteristics and texture.

Yes, anyone can ask the sommelier or whomever is available to assist at a restaurant, for help with the wine list and making a selection.  But I think it’s a good idea to have basic knowledge enough to be able to select a reasonably safe wine to have with dinner.  And if it’s just for sipping, feeling confident enough to experiment with the wines available can be quite fun!

The other thing I think is at least as important as knowing how to choose a wine is knowing how to use a corkscrew.  I think this is particularly important for men, and based on my own personal experiences, I think it’s safe to say it’s essential that a man know how to open a bottle of wine.  (Yes, I was once involved with someone who couldn’t master the corkscrew - good thing I know how.)  Any corkscrew will do, and since new corkscrew models are available that make opening the bottle even easier, there’s hardly an excuse for not being able to use one.  But mastering the waiter’s corkscrew is worth it.

Me - I’m impressed when someone knows how to order wine correctly.  I’m left scratching my head when a guy can’t open the bottle on his own.  As they say, “don’t be that guy” - it’s pretty easy to learn to order correctly, and it’s very easy to open a bottle.  

Friday, October 19, 2012

2010 Domaine Mouthes Le Bihan “Le Pie Colette” Cotes de Duras

And my little obsession with Sud-Ouest continues.  Last night I opened one of the two Cotes de Duras that I recently purchased.  This one was the 2010 Domaine Mouthes Le Bihan “Le Pie Colette,” a blend of mostly Merlot with some Malbec.  The wine is a lovely dark red color with characteristics of both fresh and stewed red fruit, berry, red plum skin with a bit of tartness, a bit of a floral note, some subtle spice and pepper, and an interesting indication of pine nut, sunkissed earth, and mineral heading toward the finish.  The wine is bright and clean, making it very food friendly, and it showed surprisingly good length.  At under $20 I’d say it’s a good value.

I’ve got another Cotes de Duras waiting, and this week I found a sparkling wine from Sud-Ouest, produced by a winery whose red I’ve already written up earlier this year.  When I spotted that sparkler, there was no resisting it.  Soon I’m sure I’ll have an excuse to open it!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Recap from Last Week: Cassis and Menetou-Salon

I’m always pushing others to educate their palates and try off-beat wines, and often suggest staying in the $10-$20 range.  Lots of off-beat wines are around that price range because not very many people know about them, so there isn’t a big demand for them.  I have so many favorites under $20 - hidden gems from places most people haven’t heard of, at least in terms of wine production - Bergerac, Irouleguy, Basilicata, Franconia, Burgenland, Istria, Coonawarra, Salta - the list goes on.

But how about taking a bigger risk - how about spending a bit more on an off-beat wine?  It could be off-beat because it’s made from a grape we’re familiar with, but produced in a place with which we’re unfamiliar, or a well known wine region but a strange grape, or a strange grape or blend from an area we’d like to know more about.  After enjoying lots of wines under $20 that are considered off-beat, perhaps it’s time to take a chance on a slightly more expensive bottle.

This past week I got to try two very awesome off-beat wines.  One is a well known grape from a lesser known region, and the other is a blend of lesser known grapes from a lesser known region.  Both were very satisfying and perfectly food friendly, and the dishes I paired to the wines (yes, I choose the wines first, then the dishes - I know that’s not proper but my priority is accommodating the wine I choose).

The white, 2009 Domaine du Bagnol, is a blend of Marsanne, Clairette, and Ugni Blanc, from Cassis.  I’m not talking about Creme de Cassis from Burgundy - I mean Cassis, the small region in Provence right on the coast.  The packaging is beautiful and I had my eyes on that bottle for a while, and of course the wine didn’t disappoint.  It’s straw colored with characteristics of citrus, barely ripened white orchard fruits including peach and crisp apple, lots of cool mineral toward the finish, and a very clean texture, lighter than I expected, considering that it’s about half Marsanne (which is usually on the oily side).  It’s bright and lovely and elegant and it paired perfectly with the wine and lemon marinated Chilean sea bass and herb roasted onions and fennel.

2009 Domaine du Bagnol Cassis

Marinated Chilean sea bass and herb roasted onion and fennel

The red was the 2008 Domaine Philippe Gilbert, a Pinot Noir from Menetou-Salon.  Menetou-Salon is a region in Loire.  We usually think of Sauvignon Blanc from Loire, but also found in Loire are Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Gamay, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir.  The wine is a lovely clear red color with a clear colorless rim, with characteristics of tart cherry, cranberry, pomegranate, cinnamon spice, and lots of mineral and expression of its terroir.  There’s plenty of bright acidity and the wine is very dry, making it very food friendly and easy to find a match (this one absolutely must be served at cellar temperature, or it will taste too acidic).  The red fruit and spice make it an ideal autumn wine, and I paired it with my “deconstructed French onion soup” - I made the traditional soup, but instead dipped slices of crusty bread into a sauce of cave aged gruyere, butter, and parmigiano reggiano.  That was a perfect pairing, as the earthiness of the wine matched the earthiness of the cheese as well as the onion, and the perfectly clean feel of the wine cut right through the richness of the melted cheese.

2008 Domaine Philippe Gilbert Menetou-Salon

Deconstructed French onion soup

Bread in gruyere sauce - divine and so rich, needs a very clean wine!

Both wines were in the $20-$30 range, and both were well worth it.  So keep on hunting down the under $20 hidden gems, but sometimes it’s great to take a risk on something slightly more expensive!

Friday, October 12, 2012

2007 Chateau Bellevue la Foret Fronton

I had yet another wine from Sud-Ouest, it’s a Fronton I found online and I wanted to compare it to other Frontons I’ve tasted in the past year.  This was the 2007 Chateau Bellevue la Foret Fronton, which is almost all Negrette (the grape most commonly associated with Fronton), with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Gamay blended in.  It’s a dark purple color with medium viscosity, and characteristics of mostly dark fruit including plum, lovely spice, coffee, and some funky earthiness which we’d generally expect from a South West France wine.  The texture is very clean and smooth and the finish is respectable.  It’s a good value wine under $15.

That was the last Sud-Ouest wine I had left in my wine racks.  The good news - I bought some more!  Some are bottles I’ve had before, and some are new selections.  All are under $20 and I look forward to tasting through them and posting my notes.

Monday, October 8, 2012

How Gamay Taught Me to Keep on Believing

Have you ever been let down by someone?  I think we all have, at some point.  We give that individual a chance, and another chance, and another chance - countless chances, and nothing improves, year in and year out.  We then move on to someone else - and we’re let down again and again.  And we move on to someone else, and again we’re let down.

I’ve had this happen.  We all have.  We think, “What went wrong?  Is it me?  Are my expectations too high?  Or are they really all the same - equally as disappointing as the next?”

It’s generally at that time, we vow never to return to anyone like that.  Anyone with traits similar to those individuals raises a red flag in our minds.  We turn away from it and avoid it like the plague.  And we move in the direction of someone or something completely different and begin to embrace it.  We won’t return to anyone like those earlier examples, will we?

I’ve said it before - wines can be very much like people sometimes.  The wines have their own identities, tendencies, potential, etc.  What I’ve described above accurately reflects some of my experiences with some people.  It also accurately describes my history with some wines.

So which grape is it that let me down so many times that I began to avoid it like the plague?  Gamay.  I tasted so many poor quality Gamay based wines, particularly from Beaujolais, and after giving it what I felt were enough chances, I stopped trying Gamay wines.  I was tired of the watery, off-balance, and borderline disgusting wines I had tasted.  I felt other things deserved my attention - wines that were more satisfying and consistent.

The difference here is that this past year, I was forced to give Gamay another chance.  The book I represent consists mostly of French wines, and some are Beaujolais.  So when I had to taste through them, I didn’t know what to expect, since the wines in the book I represent have been exciting, good quality, and worthwhile.

The wines that I represent from Beaujolais are from Maison Kuhnel.  Upon tasting the Villages wine - “Tera Rosa” - I was already surprised by the good quality.  When I tasted the Cru - Moulin-a-Vent (probably best known Beaujolais Cru) “Reine de Nuit,” I was impressed.  But the Kuhnel wine that was most exciting to me was the other Cru - Chenas (smallest Cru In Beaujolais) “Cuvee P’Tit Co.”  I loved this wine.  These wines didn’t taste anything at all like the examples of Beaujolais wines I had tasted (and disliked) over the years.  They were lovely, satisfying, even complex (particularly the two Cru wines).  Their fruit, floral, and earth characteristics began to make a believer out of me, especially after tasting the Chenas.  I thought to myself, “Is it just the Kuhnel wines that are so delicious?  Or are there other Beaujolais wines that I need to try?”

The answer was the latter.

I tasted the Domaine la Prebende Beaujolais - relatively inexpensive but the packaging and curiosity/quest to find good quality Beaujolais drew me in.  And I enjoyed it!  It’s brighter and leaner than the Kuhnel wines.  The red fruit and mineral shine through and the wine is almost a perfectly clear red, it’s so light and food-friendly with its clean acidity, and I was pleased.

And then I was out to dinner with someone.  We decided on our dinners, and he suggested a Beaujolais.  I didn’t want to appear narrow minded so I agreed to the Domaine Les Cotes de la Roche Moulin-a-Vent.  And that was great!  Red fruit, floral notes, and earthiness made for a lovely and delicious Cru Beaujolais.  The structure of the wine was so impressive that for a moment, I forgot I was this enthusiastic over a Beaujolais.

The word “Gamay” and the word “Beaujolais” still tend to raise a little red flag in my mind, but after tasting those wines over the past year, I’m a lot less suspicious of Gamay and tend to give it a try at least.  I usually prefer to stick with Cru or Villages.  Apparently the Beaujolais I had been tasting before this past year were not the same quality and were not good examples of what a Beaujolais could and should be.  It was just a matter of being open and willing enough to hunt down good quality Beaujolais.  The problem was, I didn’t know just how good the quality of a Beaujolais could be, and so I didn’t know there were so many worth looking for and trying.  I’m not saying Gamay will ever be one of my favorites, but at least there are some examples that I can enjoy very much and recommend to others.  And it feels good to be enthusiastic about the Beaujolais in the book that I represent - it makes it easy and fun to show them to customers and potential customers.

There have been so many times when a person, no matter who they were, disappointed me.  And there were lots of times when I was convinced that lots of people are the same  as the next one.  I’d tell my mom, “I’m not even going to bother this time, because they’re all the same.”  (And my mom still raises an eyebrow when I mention Gamay, after the number of times it let me down.)  Well, wine teaches me something new every day.  But on the days when I tasted those Beaujolais and they proved that no two wines are the same and to keep on believing that there are some, if not many, that truly are worthwhile, I decided perhaps that same thought can be applied to things other than wine, including people.  Generalizations can be dangerous, and instead of forming a generalization to keep us safe from disappointment, it can actually keep us from something good, exciting, and fun.  The “something good, exciting, and fun” may be the diamond in the rough, but it’s certainly worth the risk.

Friday, October 5, 2012

When It’s Worth Investing Some Money

Perhaps you know by now that I’m a HUGE Yankee fan.  I love baseball.  I like watching sports but baseball is my favorite, and for me, it’s all about the Yankees.  I know lots of people who hate the Yankees, too.  I love the Yankees for lots of reasons - one is that they play hard and they make their fans happy.  Year in and year out, they’re consistently a great team.  They’re also a team rich in baseball history - most baseball legends you hear about, at some point, were Yankees.  I also admire the charity work that the Yankee organization does.

So what’s there to hate about them?  If you’re from Boston, I completely understand.  Red Sox fans are supposed to hate the Yankees.  I also understand some resentment toward them if you’re a Mets fan, since they’re cross-town rivals.  But what I do know, because so many Yankee haters have told me - the reason a lot of people hate the Yankees is because they’re an enormously wealthy team with lots of money to invest (actually that’s reinvest, because they’ve been spending decades accumulating said wealth), and they invest that money in great ballplayers.  When a team has ballplayers of that caliber, they tend to win.

Yankees win the World Series

Well, there are lots of teams going into the postseason - 10 in total.  Of course the Yankees are in.  The Yankees are the team with the highest payroll.  Is that why they win?  Partly.  But there are always factors to consider.  Injuries happen.  Players get sidelined, sometimes for almost the entire season.  Sometimes the team just doesn’t perform well, for any number of reasons.  Take the Red Sox for example.  I’ll admit that the Red Sox usually have a good team, and by “good,” I mean they usually finish the season over .500 and often make the playoffs.  This year, they finished in last, by far.  There were some injuries, and the team didn’t quite take to their new manager, and there were probably some other factors as well, that led to a very bad season for the Sox.  Bear in mind - the Red Sox have the third highest payroll in the major leagues.  So yes, the Yankees finished in first, and they spent the most money on their ballplayers.  The Red Sox finished 26 games behind the Yankees, with the third highest payroll, out of 30 teams.

Here’s a list of the 10 teams that made the 2012 playoffs (and wild card games), and their rank regarding payroll:
New York Yankees - 1st highest
Baltimore Orioles - 19th 
Texas Rangers - 6th 
Oakland Athletics - 29th
Detroit Tigers - 5th
Atlanta Braves - 16th
St. Louis Cardinals - 9th
Cincinnati Reds - 17th
San Francisco Giants - 8th
Washington Nationals - 20th

For the full list and all spending figures, here’s the link: 

So my next question is, how often do each of those teams make the playoffs each season?  Well, the Yankees make it pretty much every year.  Texas and Detroit make it often, Atlanta makes it somewhat often, and the Cardinals and Giants make it in pretty often as well.  The others don’t make it in quite so often.  And those teams that make it in often are in the top half of spenders on payroll.

My point is, a team like Oakland can make the playoffs, but it doesn’t happen all that often.  Same with the Nationals or Orioles.  Sometimes, it’s worth spending a lot to increase the chances of good results.  Good ballplayers, good coaches, good management, good front office, good scouts, good trainers, the list goes on - it all costs money.  And the teams willing to spend a lot, often see good results.  Not always (e.g., Red Sox and Phillies this season), but often.

To me, teams like the Yankees spend a lot of money on their roster  and the fans should appreciate it.  It demonstrates just how important it is to the organization to win, and that’s why people buy tickets and apparel and attend games.  In fact, George Steinbrenner did everything in his power to build the team up, reinvest capital, and field the best possible team, because every year, he wanted to win the World Series.  And oftentimes, his Yankees did win it.

What does this have to do with wine?

Mitjavile wines from Bordeaux - pricey but not outrageous at all - great quality

Well, often I push for bargain hunting, but not the kind where people are encouraged to buy cheap, mass produced, poorly made products, for the sake of saving some money.  I encourage hunting down well-made products that are hidden gems, and you’ve got to be a good scout to do that.  But for those special occasions, when we want to be sure we’ve got a good bottle, we usually spend some more money on it.  We all know the kind of wines I’m talking about - the ones we read about, the ones in the “other room” at the wine shop, the ones on the special section of the restaurant’s wine list.  No, I’m not saying we’ve got to spend a thousand dollars on the wine.  But a willingness to invest some money into a reputable bottle often translates to a satisfying bottle, and that’s what we want.  Can a significantly less expensive bottle be satisfying?  Absolutely.  But sometimes we’ve got to do some serious hunting to find very good bottles that are inexpensive.  (That’s why I tend toward wines from Sud-Ouest, Campagna, Languedoc, Sicily, etc.)  But it’s easy to see just how many great bottles come from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Tuscany, Piemonte, Napa, and Sonoma (and others, too).  But when we want some of those wines from those regions, we’ve got to spend some money.  And how often will they show well and be satisfying?  Most times.

Just like the Yankees.

But for a wine to be great, it can’t just be thrown together.  The winery spends a lot of money - on good land, on a good winemaker, on good barrels, on proper storage, and good equipment, and countless other things - and those are the reasons that particular winery makes a great wine.  Quality is their priority.  But it all takes money - lots of money.  And aside from scores from critics and the history of the region, those factors are what drive up the cost of these products.  Still, we’re usually pretty confident that what’s in one of those expensive bottles will be fantastic.

Perhaps a bit extreme, but can’t go wrong with this.

Love them or hate them, to me, the Yankees are the Classified Bordeaux of baseball - rich in history, consistently great, and expensive.  And 2009 was a spectacular year in Bordeaux.  And the Yankees won the World Series during that 2009 harvest season.

So while I push for being a good scout and educating ourselves so that we’re able to hunt down good deals on awesome wines, sometimes it’s absolutely worth it to ensure something special, great quality, and a wine with a great story - invest some money sometimes, it can really pay off.

Yankees win!  (as usual)