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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)

Monday, October 1, 2012

2008 Baron d’Ardeuil Buzet

My fascination with South West France, or Sud-Ouest, is no secret by now - it’s been over a year since that Guild of Sommeliers master class that opened my eyes regarding the uniqueness and mysteriousness of wines from Sud-Ouest, and I’ve been tasting as many from that area of France as I’ve been able.  The thing I love most about wines from Sud-Ouest is that they’re very terroir-expressive and while some parts of Sud-Ouest use grapes similar to those of other wine regions, the wines taste nothing like those from elsewhere.

A lot of people aren’t familiar with Sud-Ouest wines, but the ones that seem to be mentioned a bit more often than the others are Cahors (mostly Malbec) and Madiran (mostly Tannat).  I do love those wines.  And I also enjoy trying wines from other parts of Sud-Ouest.  I make it a point to include each Sud-Ouest wine in the blog, so perhaps you’ve read about the Irouleguy, Jurancon, Saint-Mont, Marcillac, Pacherenc, Bergerac, Gaillac, Fronton, etc., that I’ve written up.  This time it’s a Buzet.

Over the weekend I opened the 2008 Baron d’Ardeuil from Buzet.  It’s a blend of 50% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25% Cabernet Franc.  That sounds like a Bordeaux style blend - except it smells, tastes, and feels completely different from a Bordeaux blend.  The wine is a dark red color and the rim is beginning to show some brickish coloring, and it shows characteristics of more red than dark fruit, including some stewed berry and red plum, very soft spice, and (as I had expected from a Sud-Ouest wine) an interesting mineral characteristic heading toward the finish, almost reminiscent of dry dirt, and not quite stone.  The texture is very soft and smooth and the wine is clean, with a respectable finish.  At around $15, I think it’s a very good value, as it’s a delicious, satisfying, versatile wine, and it’s unique.

I’ve only got one wine from Sud-Ouest left in my wine racks - a Fronton (Negrette) that I haven’t tried yet.  So this weekend I ordered some more off-beat wines, and a few of them are Sud-Ouest.  I look forward to tasting them soon!