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.