Saturday, November 27, 2010

Special Wines and Gift Ideas

Now that it's holiday season, a time for gathering with friends and family and occasions for gift giving, there's no better time than now to consider purchasing a special wine. If you want to WOW! the crowd at a party or dinner, impress your boss, or want to give something unique and thoughtful to that special person consider giving a special wine.

What is a special wine? A truly special wine is a wine of superb quality that has a totally unique flavor profile, it not only expresses the characteristics of the grape from which it was made but also has an extra, sometimes indefinable element that distinguishes it from other wines. Typically this element is a sense of place, not just showcasing the region it's from but also the specific vineyard in which the grapes were grown. That's why most fine wines in the world carry the name of the place on the label.

Consider this list of wines that meet the criteria:

Heitz Cabernet Trailside Vineyard Napa Valley 1999
Corison Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2002
Calera Pinot Noir Ryan Vnyd 2006
Bergstrom Cumberland Reserve Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2008
Produttori Del Barbaresco Pora 2005
Cordero Di Montezemolo Barolo Monfalletto 2008
Argiano Brunello Di Montalcino 2005
La Torre Brunello Di Montalcino 2001
Roddolo Bricco Appiani 2003
Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny 2005
Chezeaux Clos De Vougeot 2004
A.F. Gros Richebourg 2001
Solar De Randez Rioja Reserva 1996
Gaston Chiquet Special Club Brut 2000

I hope that you are able to try one of these wines, they are all super and very expressive of place. Everyone who loves wine should have the experience of drinking a wine like this at some point. Are they expensive? You bet, if you want to dance you have to pay the fiddler. Happy Holidays!


Friday, November 5, 2010


Some of the most challenging wine questions we get every year have to do with Thanksgiving, here are some strategies that can make your holiday meal more successful.

1. Drink American. Many folks think that this classic American holiday deserves a homegrown wine and that's a great idea! Excellent choices are Pinot Noir, Gamay, Oregon Pinot Gris, or something unique like the Heitz Grignolino. One tip to mention, although Zinfandel is considered the quintessential American grape, I find that heavily extracted and alcoholic Zins are not the best match for the gobbler on Turkey Day so I usually go in another direction.

2. Match your side dishes. Thanksgiving is a big meal with lots of different flavors and rather than matching the bird, one way to play it is to pick wines that match your various side dishes. If you are doing sausage/cornbread or giblet stuffing you may want a medium bodied red, if it's oyster stuffing you might want to think about a rich white wine.

3. Cranberry sauce? Tart and refreshing, the acidity in cranberry sauce is a palate cleansing foil to all the different foods on the table and wine can play the same role. Try flexible and food friendly reds with good acidity like Gamay (Beaujolais), Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc in the Loire style, and Merlot/Cab Franc blends like Petit Chateau Bordeaux.

4. White wine, really? Emphatically yes! Poultry and a full-bodied white is a classic match so it's an excellent opportunity to have something like a big Pinot Gris or a white Rhone varietal on the table.

5. Don't worry, serve several wines. Thanksgiving is a big meal and if you have several guests it's enjoyable to have some different wines on the table. Experiment, relax, and have fun!

6. Don't forget the dessert wine. Pumpkin pie, earthy and sweet with baking spices, is awesome with a little glass of unctuous dessert wine, vin doux natural, or sweet sherry.

7. A sample domestic wine menu for Thanksgiving. Mine would look something like this:

Appetizer: Gruet Brut or Rose Sparkling wine.
First Course (at my house it's pumpkin soup): Heitz Grignolino
Main Course (Turkey and sides): Lineshack Roussanne, Coleman Pinot Gris, A domestic Pinot Noir like Ravines, Brooks, Clos Julien, Bergstrom, Taft Street.
Dessert wine (not domestic): Schloss Muhlenhof Siegerrebe Beerenauslese, Domaine Rectorie Banyuls, Gran Barquero Sherry

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Beautiful Beaujolais

Beaujolais doesn't get enough credit as a real wine, it should. I'm not talking about the Beaujolais Nouveau. Sure, the 2010 Nouveau will be here soon, it's fun, fruity stuff and it's the first wine we'll see from this year's harvest in Europe. As is our custom we will only carry a few and they will be of good quality, hand-harvested, and made with their natural yeasts. There won't be any of the candied, manipulated, industrial variety.

What I want to talk about are the regular bottlings of Beaujolais; the real wine, light, delicious, and totally functional at the table. Just try to clash the stuff, you can't. It's a wine that you want to drink, not ponder over. What better thing could ever be said about a bottle of wine? Realize that all Beaujolais is made from the gamay grape and that the Beaujolais is actually a region in France, in the southern end of Burgundy and north of the Rhone. Much like those other regions, the villages in which the wine is made are classified and ranked. The basic wines are called "Beaujolais", better wines are "Beaujolais-Villages" (38 villages are allowed to use this designation), and the best wines are called the Beaujolais Crus. There are 10 of them and the Crus are allowed to just use the name of the village on the label. Regnie, Fluerie, Moulin-A-Vent, and Morgon are common ones to see. Some of the Beaujolais-Villages wines that we stock come from excellent growers in areas just outside of the Crus, they are an excellent value.

The facts that we have never had a better selection of good wines to choose from and that the 2009 vintage is considered to be one of the best of the last half-century make this is a great time to drink Beaujolais. There are solid wines in a variety of styles, some forward with fresh, primary fruit, and some more classy, silky, and understated. What they have in common is a lightness and an appealing, undeniable drinkability. Gamay can, in fact, be an excellent alternative to pinot noir. Although the fruit profile and complexity are a little different, the wines tend to be about the same weight and good Beaujolais is considerably less expensive than fine pinot. Ironically older Cru Beaujolais becomes quite like pinot noir as it ages, you can even try one of those. Drink up!


Friday, October 8, 2010

The State of Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is the most elusive wine grape. Given the fact that it's been so popular in recent years that seems like an odd statement to make. What I mean is that there is a certain "correctness" in the profile of Pinot Noir that's hard to come by. When you find it, the wine can be stunning; beautiful aromatics, light yet structured, elegant and powerful. These descriptors are all part of the package. Also part of the situation is that inexpensive Pinot Noir rarely possesses the varietal character which sets the grape apart. Although we find occasional exceptions, wines under $15 tend to be soft and jammy, and lacking in any structure and identity. In fact these wines taste like they could be made from any grape; malbec, merlot, tempranillo, whatever.

Simultaneously, on the other end of the spectrum, Pinot Noir has one of the weakest quality/price ratios and many poorly conceived wines exist in the marketplace that also lack identity and finesse, and are just too expensive. The result is that we all have to be picky, picky, picky.

Another result is that real "values" in Pinot Noir honestly start at about $18-$20, which means that Red Burgundy can be a real value. Now I'm talking about a wine which has the desired traits and characteristics I mentioned earlier. Basic Red Burgundies have nice clean berry fruit and the acidity and tannins to support it in order to keep it balanced. Better ones have more complexity, spice, and forest-like, earthy tones. Other good places to look for basic pinot in this category are some wines from the Savoy in eastern France and some surprising areas like New Zealand, Austria, Hungary, and Germany. Nothing is going to taste like "Bourgogne", but some of these wines have the right profile and enough acidity to hold things together. These are good values too.

As for domestic wines, this is where the slope is most slippery. I wish I could say that I find some decent wines here under $20 but it's rarely the case. Again you have to be very picky and you have to spend a little more, but there are some very good and beautiful wines from the US in the $25-$40 range. They are typically softer and darker in fruit than their European counterparts. Cooler regions give the best wine, look for wines from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, the Russian River Valley and Santa Barbara areas in California, and the Finger Lakes here in New York State.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful

Chardonnay is really good, honestly! For a dry table wine there are more successful styles of chardonnay than any other grape varietal, yet because of it's success there's been a backlash of skepticism against it.

Don't get me wrong, there's so much of it that a lot of bad chardonnay is out there lurking and
giving you a bad opinion of it's brethren. Typically the bad ones are really bad too, overripe, over-oaked, mass produced and manipulated (who wants a wine that's had oak staves or chips soaking in it?).

On the other hand because it's grown in every wine country and just about in every wine region, it's easy to find a good chardonnay at a reasonable price that fits almost any drinking or dining situation. A crisp, steely, mineral-laden Chablis and shellfish, White Burgundy with roasted chicken, super full California chardonnay can be wonderful to have on it's own or with rich seafood like lobster and scallops.

Simple, quaffable chardonnays are available from all over the globe, you can sip them with appetizers or just when you feel like having a glass of wine. Don't forget too that the really awesome Blanc de Blancs Champagne that you had was comprised of.... you guessed it... chardonnay. Some of these wines work with everything. I've had great fun pairing oaked chardonnay with pasta carbonara. Of course, as always, the key is buying something well made. A real wine grown and produced honestly and genuinely.

So I'm listening right now to a glass of chardonnay,
I think it's saying... "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful".

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Riesling to Live!

I need a riesling to live! Yeah that's pretty corny, I know. Something else I know is that riesling is one of the greatest wine grapes, capable of making stunningly complex wines in a variety of styles. That's a strength that you can use to your advantage, few wines go as well with food across the entire spectrum. I love fresh corn on the cob, but unfortunately it's a difficult match for wines and yet one of my favorite things to drink with it is a riesling with some sweetness. Please don't think that partly sweet, off-dry wines are of lesser quality than dry wines. I'm not going to entertain such a silly notion, I'll only say that just because you ferment all the sugar out of something doesn't mean it's better than something else.

The thing to understand about riesling is how the balance works between acidity and sugar, and the obvious analogy is lemonade. Lemon juice by itself is extremely tart and unpalatable, you add sweetness in the form of sugar (and water) to balance the acidity and hence, lemonade! The thing is, everybody's different in how they like their lemonade. Some people want it really sweet while others like it really tart. Riesling is a grape that has a high level of acidity which is balanced by the natural fruity sweetness of the grapes. When a winemaker makes the wine, the fermentation starts to convert the sugar into alcohol and depending on how far it goes, the wine can end up with varying degrees of sweetness. If the wine ends up really dry (trocken), riesling tends to be very crisp and bright. If you have a wine that says feinherb, then the wine will most likely walk a playful line between actual dryness/sweetness. Remember too that the character of the acids comes into play as to how the wine actually feels on the palate.

Riesling can be light-bodied, or full, viscous, and rich in all it's delicious sweet or dry permutations, you can always ask us about the style of a specific wine in the store.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Vins de soif

As the hot summer weather quickly approaches I'd like to introduce you to a style of wine called "vins de soif." This roughly means a wine for thirst or a wine to quench thirst.We think of roses and some whites like vinho verde as refreshing choices in the summer but there are some reds that work as well. They are light in body and alcohol, have crisp refreshing acidity, and are best drunk cool. I frequently keep the wine in a wine bucket or pail of cold tap water to achieve this effect. Unfortunately it's a style we don't make too much of in the USA, which is a shame because it would be perfect for the hot climate in most of the country over the summer. Most of the wines we carry in this style happen to be French and they represent unpretentious wine culture at it's best. If you are thinking Beaujolais and gamay you are correct, along with some other wines made from cabernet franc, malbec, and grolleau. This is a beverage for drinking and it goes well with cold cuts, burgers, barbeque, salads, even grilled fish. Need a wine for hot dogs and potato salad? In fact it could be the new iced tea! Try one.



Thursday, May 27, 2010

Farmstand Mentality

Bigger is not better. At least in wine production it's not and that's one reason why you don't see as many familiar labels here as you do in other stores. A lot of experience tasting and selling wine has shown us that smaller production is most often better. You could call this a "farmstand mentality". It's the idea that a homegrown tomato is better than one from the supermarket. Especially if the person farming the produce has a connection to his land and does the work in the field to ensure health and ripeness. Better product, better flavor, fresher, more identity and personality. Grapes, like any fruit or vegetable, have variations in quality and ripeness when they are grown. Attention to these details is not what you'll find with enormous wineries. Winemakers need to do some sorting to get rid of the inferior bunches. This is more work but also more readily accomplished when the grapes are picked by hand from vines behind the house. Will you pay more for these products? Yes, but not always that much more, the wines in this photo all sell for between $10 and $15 a bottle.
You could pay less for a large scale bottling but you'd be making compromises to save a few dollars. You would be supporting industrial farming and all of it's cost cutting measures like aerial spraying of pesticides and fungicides. You would be supporting purchasing grapes from multiple growers whose incentive is to sell the most grapes they can to the winery rather than the best quality grapes. And those sources are going to change from year to year so that you don't really know what's in the bottle. What you wouldn't be supporting are small farmers and winemakers who make a carefully tended product as naturally as possible, who have pride in their work and place their family name on the label. Is that worth a few extra dollars? You bet.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Rosés are here!

Yes they are! and we will have lots of them. We love dry rosé, not only does it confirm the arrival of Spring (yeah!) but the wines are for drinking not thinking. Less cereberal, more quaffable. Roses do come in many different styles so you can definitely pick what you're in the mood for. Look at this short list or ask us!

Actually off-dry and sweet - Bacaro Pinot Grigio, Beringer White Zinfandel
Soft and Easy - Jelu Malbec
Crisp and refreshing - Bastide Côtes du Rhône, Fleur Vin Gris, La Ghersa Piage
Crisp and mineral - Raffault Chinon, Gurrutxaga Txakoli
Full Bodied - Shinn, Muri-Gries
Dry and tinged with herbs - Chateau Revelette, Fenouillet, Peyrassol, Ojai
Serious & Complex - La Vida En Rosa, Chateau Simone, Chateau Vignelaure


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Ferret Pouilly-Fuisse

Domaine Ferret doesn't exist anymore. The Ferret family began the domaine in the late 1700's and started bottling under the family name in 1942. They were owners of some of the finest parcels of vineyard in Pouilly-Fuisse and also produced some of the best wines. Traditionally made wine, hand-harvested and raised entirely in barrel as with the custom of Burgundy. That all ended in 2006 when Colette Ferret passed on and there was no family heir to take her place. The domaine was put up for sale and eventually sold to a large wine company, I won't mention them but it's a name you would know. Rosenthal Wine Merchant brought the wines into the US for years and the remaining supply is tiny. We have a little. Both from 2005 we have the single parcel bottling "Les Moulins" at $32.99 and a "cru" bottling "Les Menetrieres" $48.99. I urge you to try them. They are full, racy, supremely complex chardonnay and available at a very fair price. A piece of history.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Tastings, Tastings, Tastings

We have a lot of tastings here at Windsor and you should come to them. Why? Well, they are a great way to learn about wine and they are FREE. The person pouring is an expert on the wines. It could be an importer, a sales rep who works with the wines on a daily basis, or even a winemaker. They are always a great source of knowledge and you can ask lots of questions.

Wine tastings are EVERY Friday night from 6-8 PM so please come and try the wines, we even offer a discount on the wines during the tasting. We also occasionally have tastings on other nights, often when there's a special guest, so please check the events page on our website:

Windsor Wine Events

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Food Pairings

I thought I'd mention a few thoughts on wine and food. One thing I've noticed many times is how similar flavors between wine and food can blend together, putting things in the background on your palate only to reveal other flavors in the wine. For example, I had a Valpolicella Ripasso the other day with some slices of chicken breast that were dusted in various spice rubs and, in essence, sauteed and blackened in a cast iron pan. I thought the heat of the spices, chiles, etc., would marry well with the richness and sweetness in the wine. Valpolicella Ripasso is raised in a barrel with the dried and concentrated skins of grapes used for Amarone and this gives extra body to the wine. It also adds a dimension of glyceral sweetness and I was thinking about the classic match of sweet with spicy flavors. I was wrong. I have to say the pairing was okay but not as integrated as I was hoping for, the fullness of the wine dominated the chicken a little too much for me. Fortunately, I had sauteed slices of red bell pepper to go with the chicken. They were nicely carmelized and sweet. This was fantastic with the vino. Sweet with sweet. The peppers and wine together melded in a nice little melange which then revealed a wonderful earthy bitterness in the Ripasso that I hadn't noticed previously. I really like when this happens and I've seen it a lot when similar flavors in wine and food mingle. Fresh summer tomatoes and riesling can be great together to the same effect. Other nice matches are Cotes Du Rhone with baba ganoush and gruner veltliner with earthy, creamy cheeses or mushrooms. A dialogue starts and flavors are revealed, great fun.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Where The Values Are

I was thinking about some of the wines we have which are downright deals in today's market. What makes a wine a deal? Well, a wine of good quality with some interest that sells for a reasonable price. So what is a wine with interest? Sometimes it's easier to define something by what it isn't. For example, we sell a lot of malbec to a lot of customers. The price is very good on malbec, mostly under $15 with a few better wines around $20 or perhaps a little over. Malbec is an easy wine to drink and enjoy, it's full and round and soft with plush fruit flavors. I have to confess that I don't take many bottles of malbec home to drink. For me it just doesn't have a lot of "interest". By that I mean that the flavors in the mix for malbec are about fruit and toasty, buttery, vanilla flavor aspects from an oak barrel. They don't generally have non-fruit flavors that are from the grapes and soil. Think, spicy, earthy, herbaceous and you know what I mean.

What I see with a lot of people is as they drink different wines, and drink wine more frequently they start to gravitate toward wines with more complexity and interest. That doesn't mean the wines are more expensive or that folks are getting snooty, it's just a move toward a different style. Cotes Du Rhone is a good example. We sell a lot of it and the wines are some of the best on the market for full-bodied, moderately priced wines with good complexity and interest. They also tend not to be over-oaked, which is a good thing. However, over the years prices have creeped up and it's been harder and harder to find good Cotes Du Rhone under $15.

The good news, however, is a place in France that uses many of the same grapes and has been a source of real value and quality improvement. I'm speaking of the Languedoc. It's west of the
Cotes Du Rhone, along the Mediterranean Sea, and it's become a place of real value for several reasons. Many skilled winemakers have bought land there because it's more affordable than say, Burgundy, Bordeaux, or the Rhone, and the soils and climate are very good for fine wine production, going back to Roman times. In fact, we have found many wines of real honesty, character, and interest at great prices. The grapes are similar to many that you would see in the Rhone, grenache, syrah, carignan, and mourvedre, but there are also many exceptions. Think of these wines as wilder, spicier, and more eccentric friends of other southern French wines you know. I have a photo of some of the wines here. The names unfamiliar to some. You may see a town name like Minervois, or a more regional name like Coteaux du Languedoc, or even a generic Vin de Pays d'Oc designation. Don't be shy, there are some real values here, as always ASK US! We love to sell wines we like and we want you to be really happy.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

French Chardonnay Under $20!!

I want to talk about 4 nice white wines from the Macon. Not the US State but that part of France just south of Burgundy where the whites are chardonnay. You don't like chardonnay, you say? Well there are more styles of chardonnay out there than anyone can keep track of and there are many great ones across all price points so that makes no sense to me. What's nice about the Macon is that you don't have to pay the higher prices for quality wines that you'd have to pay a little further north around Beaune. All of the wines in this post are $20 or less. Also, it seems that Spring is just around the corner, the days are longer and even a little warmer and it's making me think of some nice crisp white wines so let's go!

VRAC Macon 2008 ($10.99) has been a deal for years, no oak, it's a totally "drink me" wine with clean and crisp apple fruit. Typical style and a good value for a good basic chard from the Macon.

Domaine Fichet Macon-Villages "Terroir de Burgy" 2008 ($15.99) is also an oak-free wine, with telltale fresh apples but with a tad brighter acids, great freshness and a little more interest.

The next two wines have a few things in common. Although their styles are different, they both see some time in oak barrels, they're both organic, they're made from old vines, and they have great length and complexity.

Domaine Guillot-Broux Macon-Villages 2008 ($18.99) is harvested by hand from 40-year-old vines in Cruzille. Fermented on it's indigenous yeasts, the wine has a great deal of finesse, lemony and stony.

Dominique Cornin's Macon-Chanes "Serreudieres" 2006 ($19.99) is biodynamically raised from a 100-year-old single parcel of vines in Chanes. This is a fat wine, full with broad, round pears and a terrific underlying minerality.

These are really great wines to drink and they go with a lot of different foods. A favorite pairing for me is a ham sandwich on a baguette with either brie or gruyere and some spicy dijon mustard! Salads, roast chicken (especially leftovers) would be great as well. We love these Macons and I hope you have a chance to try them too.


Friday, February 5, 2010


So I wanted to write about Austria for this post. We've always carried some Austrian wines in the store and I was happily able to take a trip there at the end of January so I'd like to talk about 4 wineries whose wines we already carry and some of my impressions from the trip.

First off, Austria's wine regions are in the eastern part of the country, if you want to see a map look here:

Wine map of Austria

The size of the country is pretty small by our standards here in the US and I was surprised by the amount of diversity and quality of the wines I tasted. In Burgenland in the town of Jois (pronounced "yoice") is the Leo Hillinger winery. Some of you may know the name because we have carried the welschriesling for a while and it has lots of fans. Hillinger (they say it like "hilling-er") has a very modern winery that was built in 2004 and like a lot of what I witnessed in Austria there is a great respect for the long winemaking tradition they have blended with modern ideas and architecture. One old school thing Hillinger does at their modern winery is they hand harvest, like all the winemakers in this post. This gives them great quality control in the selection of their grapes and the ability to take care of that quality in the winery. The wine I'd like to feature here is the Small Hill Red.

This part of Austria has a great climate for reds, which was a bit of a surprise to me, and the Small Hill Red is a blend of Merlot, Pinot Noir, and St. Laurent (an indigenous Austrian variety). The wine sees no barrels, all stainless steel tanks, and is full with blue fruit, dark berries, smooth with a little bit of nice dusty tannin. The price to quality ratio is very good at $16.99.

We also sell a sparkling wine from Hillinger called "Secco", which is a rose pinot noir made with the prosecco method. It's bubbly pink fun also at $16.99.

Our next wines are from the Michlits Family, further east in Burgenland right on the border with Hungary. Werner Michlits works a biodynamic farm with his family where they grow grain, fruit, raise animals, and make wine. Here is a pic of the "Graupert" vineyard.

Graupert means "uncombed" and it's a vineyard of old vines that they don't prune. To the consternation of their neighbors the vines have absolute freedom. This is very uncommon in the wine industry, Werner feels that the vineyard regulates itself with canopy management and doesn't produce too much fruit. We sell the pinot gris from this vineyard and it's got great depth and minerality. We also sell his pinot noir which is made from the oldest planted vines of pinot noir in Austria. Both wines sell for $19.99.

One of the great surprises from the trip was very high quality Sekt, which is sparkling wine. In the Kamptal, Karl Steininger (again careful with the "g", he says "stein-ing-er") makes a Sekt from 10 different varieties. Each wine sees it's secondary fermentation in the bottle (like Champagne) and all bottles are hand-riddled (unlike most Champagne). We have already been selling the Steininger "Young" and some of his gruner veltliner so we decided to also carry the Gruner Veltliner Sekt at $27.99

Gruner Veltliner in the Kamptal can be very full-bodied, broad, and earthy and that's what you have here. The Sekt is also a tremendous food partner, I've had it with sushi where it was great, and also with a cheese course in Vienna where it was eye opening and revelatory with some washed rind and blue cheeses. It seems to really bring out the earthier, umami flavors in food.

The quality at this last winery to mention was not a surprise to me at all. Tegernseerhof is in the Wachau where it was once an abbey and documented wine production in the vineyards there goes back to 1427. The vineyards are right along the side of the Danube and are terraced hillsides of primary rock and sand with some pockets of loess. Here's a pic:

In the wine biz we've known for a long time how fine the rieslings and gruner veltliners from the region can be. Martin Mittlebach's family has been running Tegernseerhof since the 1970's and the wines tend to be very mineral and elegant, very long and the complexity will reveal itself if you pay attention. He's not going to bash your palate with gushy fruit. We currently have the "T-26 Gruner Veltliner" which is from a single vineyard in the flat sandy land behind the town of Loiben. The wine was in tank number 26 and they named it so because it's easier to remember than Frauenweingarten Gruner Veltliner Federspiel! I love the wine, it's fresh and penetrating with a long subtle waxiness. Fantastic complexity for $16.99

That's it for now, time to try some new wines and enjoy some culture from Austria. Also, I'm happy to share some pictures of my trip and if you'd like to see them you can click here:

Austria Pics


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Rose for Winter?

I know this is not the season for rose. I actually have to confess that I took a bottle of this wine home last November, planning to have it as part of my Thanksgiving Day and just never got around to it. Last weekend I was poking around in my stash for a bottle to have with lunch and it just seemed to point itself out to me. It's possibly the best rose ever! Well maybe that's a little much but it's certainly a serious and delightfully unpretentious wine. Actually the label on the back says, "Red Wine, Produce of Spain" but I'd have to call it a rose. A big-boned rose with weight and a center that says "you could just quaff me but please pay attention as I have something to say." It's floral in a rosebud, geranium way with herbs in the background, very honest. We've had it in stock since October and really believed it was a great turkey day wine, I still have no doubt, but it sells at $19.99 and that's a little more than most people usually fork over for rose so we still have some. The wine is drinking great and deserves attention. A rose for winter? Why not?

"La vida en Rosa" Rioja 2008 from Olivier Riviere. Kudos to the folks at Louis/Dressner for bringing this to the States.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Natural Wines

So I just grabbed a sample selection off the shelves of what we consider to be "natural wines". These wines are different than most conventional, organic, and sustainably produced wines in that they are made with minimal intervention. What I mean is that the methods used by larger, industrial wine companies to make their wines are not used here. Things like selected yeast strains, artificially concentrating the must, taking out some of the alcohol, adding sweeteners, etc. You are more likely to see unfiltered wines made with indigenous yeasts. Great care is observed, mostly in the vineyard and not just a lack of pesticides but the actual work done in the vineyard raising the grapes is done as naturally as possible. The grapes are almost always hand-harvested and the idea is to let nature express itself. Some growers also follow planting and harvesting schedules based on a lunar cycle. Really what's here is natural farming and winemaking.

There is a great respect for the land and the idea is to have the place be the flavor of the wine rather than the grape variety. Growing the right type of grape for your climate is essential, as is working with what nature gives you rather than trying to manipulate the style of what wine you are producing. The flavors can be very exciting and different from what a lot of people are used to. Sometimes things are straightforward and sometimes things are really outside of the box! I think it's great and who would want all the wines to taste the same anyway?

In the store we mark all wines produced by some type of natural agriculture with a green star. Some are certified organic, some are practicing organic without certification, some are sustainable, some are biodynamic, and others say they just do what their ancestors did. The point is that the wines are all unique and different and you can always ask us for notes and details.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Merlot is delicious (really!)

Merlot is getting a bad rap. I have a lot of customers tell me that they "don't like merlot." They glare at me with suspicion when I recommend one, even when they are asking for an affordable wine just to drink. They want something that isn't too big, has nice soft fruit and maybe they even want to drink it without food too (that's merlot folks). I don't know if it's partly the "Sideways" effect, seems like we're far enough away from Miles' tirades to blame a lot of mediocre wine on one grape variety, or maybe it's still a backlash against the marketing and the ocean of trendy merlot that was popular in the 1990's. Well let me tell you that merlot is delicious, really!

At least well made, honest examples are. Of course there is a lot of poorly made, manipulated, and just plain bad wine out there across the varietal spectrum and that's not what we're going to talk about here. When merlot is well made there is a nice, soft, plummy fruitiness, a little tannin and acid to hold it together, and a little earthiness behind the fruit too. That's very appealing. I actually think that for wines in the $12-$15 range merlot has more interest than malbec, scandalous maybe, but that's a topic for another blog.

One of the wines that we sell that I really like is Domaine de la Patience Merlot 2008 ($11.99). It comes from southern France near Nimes. This is a lovely quaffer, just a solid everyday style of wine that you want to drink. I don't ponder over it, I would just want a cheeseburger and a couple glasses of this for lunch. By the way, the winemaker is in the process of converting the vineyard to organic agriculture.

Another wine like this is from a Spanish winemaker named Esther Pinuaga. It's called La Senda 2008($13.99) and it's about 80% merlot with the rest being tempranillo. This wine is a little bigger than the aforementioned and it's got more tannin to frame it as well. The wine is raised in stainless steel tanks, no barrels. She works sustainably so that means that the price tag gets a little green star in the shop.

Code Noir Merlot 2007 ($16.99) is from Washington State and is a deeper expression with very forward pure berry flavors and some oak in the finish. It's definitely more American in style and nicely balanced, there's some firm tannin that works nicely with the oak and the wine is unpretentious and fun to drink.

Now for three very nice wines that cost a little more and are worth it, something to drink with a nice dinner. All three are American and offer balance and finesse rather than power. Clos Du Val Merlot 2005 ($21.99) is a classy wine with silky cherry/plum flavors and a judicious touch of spicy oak. Longboard Dakine Merlot 2007 ( $21.99) is a wonderfully atypical domestic wine. Unfiltered, with fresh bright acidity and personality. Wines from this vineyard always give some earthy complexity and interest behind the fruit. My last wine has been a bit of a surprise at the store and it's origin stumped the staff when tasting blind. Lieb Family Cellars Reserve Merlot 2004 ($20.99) from the North Fork of Long Island comes across as an Old World wine at first. Everything is subtle here, sweet fruit, caressing tannins, and a hint of dill and herbs. The wine is a deal.

These wines are yummy. I think a great game would be to get a nice bottle of merlot, rent "Sideways", and have a sip every time Miles knocks it.