Tuesday, December 11, 2012

All I want for Christmas is.....

The twelve days of Christmas, twelve bottles of wine in a case.... pure coincidence? I think, not! Whether it's Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or a New Year's Eve celebration, it's certainly a special time of year. What's on our holiday shopping list? Well, here are twelve special bottles that are certain to please your family and friends, impress your boss, or add something great to a holiday party.

1. Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon "Trailside Vineyard" Napa Valley 2004 - $80.99 Legendary California cabernet, not a fruit bomb, a complex, balanced, grown up style of wine for adults. If you are under 40 years of age we will not sell it to you, and we card everybody! :o)

2. Flavio Roddolo Langhe Rosso "Bricco Apiano" 2003 - $66.99 The words "Langhe Rosso" should give you a clue, yes this is from Monforte D'Alba in Barolo but it's not nebbiolo, it's cabernet sauvignon. This wine has a beautiful combination of variety and place. It's a big, rich cabernet with a muscular, balanced structure, notes of mint leaf and menthol, also with the unmistakable floral and tarry, earthy aromatics of Barolo. Just a fantastic, unique, and interesting wine.

3. Hanzell Chardonnay "Sebella" Sonoma 2011 - $38.99 World-class chardonnay from California, this bottling from a legendary producer is a great deal. A very elegant classy style, limes, pineapple with secondary notes of honey and a faint lemon. Super expressive on the palate with beautiful acidity and a long finish.

4. Philippe Chavy Meursault-Blagny Premier Cru "Sous le Dos d'Ane" 2009 - $66.99 I love white Burgundy when it's not heavy-handed, yet ripe and complex and showing the soil profile of it's origin. Here's a great example. The vines are from 1931, you get ripe lemon and orange, notes of anise and peony, a thick and creamy palate with svelte acids. No other place in the world can produce chardonnay like this.

5. CVNE Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja 2001 - $61.99  A serious bottle of aged Rioja from a famed vintage. If you don't believe us, hey, even Robert Parker liked it, "...greater harmony and tension. This is a fabulous Gran Reserva with enormous weight and dimension. 94 points."

6. Domaine Chandon De Brailles Corton Grand Cru "Maréchaudes" 2009 - $85.99 It's Grand Cru red Burgundy from an excellent producer whose hallmark is purity and elegance, what do you want for the holidays?

7. La Grange Neuve De Figeac, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 2004 - $54.99 This is the second wine from Chateau Figeac, superb Bordeaux from a sleeper (i.e affordable) vintage. Ripe and classy, it has notes of leather woven into the finish with nicely integrated oak.

8. Chateau Gombaude Guillot, Pomerol 2005 - $71.99 Another fantastic Bordeaux, this time from the historic 2005 vintage. This Pomerol has even more ripeness than the previous wine yet still retains remarkable minerality.

9. Cordero Di Montezemolo, Barolo "Bricco Gattera" 2008 - $81.99 An aristocratic and age-worthy wine, it's aromatic elegance is matched by complexity and a relaxed sense of power on the palate. Cherry, camphor, leather, a beautiful expression of Barolo.

10. Karthäuserhof Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg Riesling Spätlese Trocken 2011 - $47.99 An incredible dry riesling, crisp and balanced with limeskin and long mineral. From a site in the Ruwer valley that's been making wine since 1335. It's a big mouthful to say, but worth it.

11. Villa Rinaldi Première "La Prima Cuvée" Brut - $29.99 What's a holiday without bubbles? This Italian sparking wine is beautifully handcrafted in the Champagne method, 100% chardonnay that sees ageing in both barrel and bottle before release. Dry tropical pineapple in a creamy elegant mousse.

12. Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Champagne Extra Brut "Oenophile" 2005 - $71.99 This is vintage Champagne from the Côte des Blancs, the real deal. All chardonnay of course, there's no dosage here so it's super dry with laser-like acidity and great length.

From all of us at Windsor Wine Merchants we wish you Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Terrace View: Is Chenin Blanc The Greatest White Wine?

I'm going to make the case that chenin blanc produces the world's greatest white wines. We can talk about White Burgundies from Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault, Grand Cru Chablis, Champagne, German Riesling, and wines from Austria's Wachau. We can even mention the "orange wines" from some Italian producers or some tiny production iconoclastic winemakers pushing the boundaries in places like California, Liguria, Provence, and the Alps. Chenin blanc does everything these wines do and more.

What qualities do they all have? Well, not only are they delicious, but the greatest white wines have balance and complexity and an individual personality that expresses the wine's place of origin. In addition to possessing an unmistakable identity as far as variety, they still are able to translate specific variations in climate, soil, and vineyard into unique sensations of taste.

Chenin blanc from the Loire Valley in France easily meets all of these qualifications. Well known to the connoisseurs and geeks, it is yet still under-appreciated by most of the public. Loire chenin blanc is a fascinating wine that can be hard to describe, fruit tones can go from apple, pear, and quince to nectarine, to deep lemony citrus and pineapple. There's a full body and richness, sometimes honysuckle, always riding an edge of bright acidity which can deliver great length on the palate, and in the best examples you'll find a minerality that is on a qualitative par with any of the great wines of the world. Not only this, but chenin retains this superb level of quality through a variety of styles from dry and off-dry to sweet and sticky. Riesling is the only other grape that can claim such a comparison.

We love chenin blanc here at Windsor and we carry a nice range of selections. For dry, minerally chenin Savennières is the apex of expression and we currently have two superb wines, Domaine du Closel "La Jalousie" and Chateau d'Epiré "Cuvée Spéciale". If you want to walk the line between a little sweetness upfront and a dry finish try the Vouvray "Les Caburoches" from Domaine De La Taille Aux Loups or the "Ammonite" Vouvray Sec from Alexandre Monmousseau. Also worth mentioning are two outstanding whites from the Anjou, Château Soucherie "Cuvée Les Rangs De Long" and "Le P'tit Blanc" from Les Sablonnettes as well as a nice, racy wine from Vendôme,  the "Cocagne" from the Cave Coopérative du Vendômois.

Because of the high level of acidity, chenin blanc ages fantastically well and if you see older bottles on the shelf or on a restaurant wine list they can be a real find. As a food partner the grape excels and goes with a wide range of dishes, the drier styles are excellent with sushi, fish or chicken in cream sauces, and with hard to pair foods like asparagus and artichoke. The off-dry style is nice with spicy Asian dishes while the truly rich and sweet wines are great with foie gras and desserts. So don't miss out, try chenin blanc, possible the world's greatest wine!


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Terrace View - Thanksgiving 2012

In a certain sense, Thanksgiving is one of the more challenging meals to pair wines with. A Thanksgiving meal is a usually a large affair with a lot of different dishes being served and trying for the perfect match for specific dishes can be stressful. I like to take the easy route and serve several wines that are food flexible and non-fatiguing. Here are some strategies that can make your holiday meal more successful.

Food Friendly Reds - Think of wines that are lighter in body, with good acidity and lower alcohol content. Great candidates are Pinot Noir, Gamay from Beaujolais or the Loire Valley, reds from cooler climates like the Finger Lakes, and basic unoaked versions of Barbera and Tempranillo. Some of my favorites are Heitz Grignolino, Anthony Road Devonian Red, Danjean-Berthoux Bourgogne Rouge, and Lechthaler Pinot Noir.

Full Bodied Whites - Turkey is a bird after all and white wines go with poultry. It's an excellent opportunity to drink a full white that's unencumbered by excessive oak. Good choices are King's Ridge Pinot Gris, Pélaquié Laudun Blanc, Cuilleron Viognier, and Minutolo Polvanera. An added benefit, this style of  wine goes very well with traditional sides like sweet potatoes.

Dessert Wines - Sweet wines are special and a great idea with pumpkin pie and other desserts. First choices would be Chateau Simon Sauternes, Celsius Ice Wine, Colosi Malvasia Delle Lipari, Eden Ice Cider.

To make thinks easy, we'll have some of our favorite choices stacked on the floor during Thanksgiving week so don't worry about remembering all this stuff.  As always, if you have any questions just ask!

Happy Thanksgiving,

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Terrace View - Apple Cider

October makes me think about a trip to the Hudson Valley to go apple picking, or at least buying a nice selection of fresh apples from the farmer's market. It also makes me think of cider, both fresh and fermented. Hard apple ciders are an under appreciated beverage and this is the perfect time to enjoy one.

In regions where the climate is too cold for wine production, fermented ciders have a long tradition. Normandy in France and Asturias in northern Spain are most notable and we have ciders from both regions as well as an American cider from Massachusetts.

West County Cider "Redfield" $16.99 - This is from a farm in the Berkshires and made with the scarlet fleshed Redfield apple. Natural fermentation, fresh and super dry, touch of tannin, a delicious cider with interest.

Eric Bordelet Sidre Tendre $13.99 - Light, sweet, yummy with just a little earthiness. It's great as an apertif or with dessert.

Asturias, Spain
Castañón Natural Cider $8.99 - This is a natural cider, dry and tangy, earthy not fruity. It reminds me of Geuze from Belgium and probably unlike anything else you've ever tasted.

Valverán Sparkling Cider $18.99 - A brut cider produced using the Champagne method, with a second fermentation in the bottle. This sees 9 months on the lees, aromas of hay and dried flowers abound in the nose leading to a dry sophistication on the palate.

For food pairing and function these ciders shine as an apertif, the low alcohol content is perfect for early party sipping, and they make great partners with cheese. If the cider is light and not too dry, like the Bordelet Tendre, it will show well with a fruit dessert like a tart or pie. Not as well known is that cider does very well with spicy food and I like it with barbeque too. Any situation that works with "sweet tea" will work with cider. Try one!


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Terrace View - Sparkling Sparklers!

There are some great choices available for sparkling wines. If you consider that Champagne can empty your wallet and that Prosecco doesn't always provide the interest or complexity you'd like then try a well made Crémant, Pétillant, or Spumante Brut from Italy. These wines are great values, occupying the space price wise between the cheap bubbles and true Champagne, and they have wonderful personality and flavors due to the secondary bottle fermentation, the same method used for Champagne. It's more labor for the winemaker and requires more time at the winery before being released, but it pays dividends with a better mouthfeel and more complexity. Here are four of my favorites that fit the bill:

From France
Peillot Bugey Montagnieu Brut $21.99 - Dry, light and crisp, nice complexity with aromas of yeasty baked bread, it's made from altesse, mondeuse, and chardonnay. This is just the type of small producer wine that we like. Click to see a profile of winemaker Franck Peillot.

Les Champs Libres Saint-Peray Pétillant $26.99 - Big, broad and savory, this is marsanne from the northern Rhone. It's a full bodied white, open-throttled with long hair blowing in the wind.

From Italy
Balter Trento Brut $29.99 - From the great Nicola Balter in Rovereto comes this beautiful Brut Spumante, all chardonnay and made with great care, aged for 3 years before release. Delicious.

Ronco Calino Franciacorta Brut $29.99 -  A dry, crisp wine with minerality that's very Champagne-like and nice length. From a 10 acre farm in Lombardy, the varietal recipe here is pinot noir, chardonnay,and pinot bianco.

By The Glass - Would you like to have a glass or two of sparkling wine each day and make a bottle last for most of the week? Here's the secret to success. Purchase a clamshell and keep the bottle in the fridge. It's $5.99.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Julia Child's Wine Suggestions

In remembrance of Julia Child's 100th Birthday I thought it would be fun to take a look at the wine pairing suggestions in "Mastering The Art Of French Cooking". Early in the book in a chapter about wine, Julia discusses various styles of wine with food. In the context of this book on French cooking, the wine suggestions are of course almost entirely French. These pairings are solid and work perfectly well. At the same time, one has to remember that the first edition of this book was published in 1961, that's over a half century ago! Perusing a wine list at a restaurant or shopping in a store today yields a much wider range of opportunities as we live in a completely different world of wine. Let's first look at some of Julia's suggestions:

Fish fillet poached in white wine - white Burgundy, Graves
Fish fillet with cream or butter sauce - she kicks it up a notch and says "chilled white Burgundy, excellent white Graves"
Fish fillet with cream and egg yolk sauce, heavily buttered - finest white Burgundy
Tuna or Swordfish steaks, wine, tomatoes, and herbs -  rosé, dry white Côtes de Provence, riesling
Scallops - rosé, dry white Côtes de Provence
Mussels - Muscadet (a rare Loire mention), dry Graves
Bouillabaisse - rosé, light strong red, Côtes de Provence, Beaujolais, strong dry white like Côtes de Provence, riesling
Roast chicken - Bordeaux Médoc or rosé
Chicken with cream sauce - full bodied white Burgundy, Côtes du Rhône, red Graves
Coq Au Vin - young red Burgundy, Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhône
Roast Duck - full red, Burgundy, Côtes du Rhône, Châteauneuf du Pape, St. Émilion, Alsatian Traminer
Beef Steak, for all but filet mignon - young red Côtes du Rhône, St. Émilion, Beaujolais
Filet, steaks from the Tenderloin - Médoc
Beef Bourguignon - Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhône, St Émilion, Burgundy
Braised beef in red wine - Burgundy, Châteauneuf du Pape, Côte Rôtie, Hermitage
Lamb - young with Médoc, mature with St Émilion, with stuffing or herbs a Côtes du Rhône or Burgundy

Julia's choices fall along classic lines that match the weight and richness of the dish to the weight of the wine. When a dish has richness and a sense of grandeur, so does the wine choice. An example would be for fish fillet with cream and egg yolk sauce that's heavily buttered, she says "serve your finest white Burgundy", obviously matching a rich sauce with a full-bodied, rich and grand white wine.

Where you might be surprised is with how she treats Bordeaux. Red Bordeaux is mentioned continuously throughout the book especially with all type of meats and dark fleshed poultry; beef, pork, lamb, duck, game birds, etc. In this time period Bordeaux dominated the wine trade so this is logical. Interesting is that in recommending a light or medium-bodied red wine, Julia would specify "Bordeaux Médoc", and while calling for something fuller she would state "Bordeaux St. Émilion". This is a distinction which is indeed accurate because the cabernet sauvignon based wines from the left bank in Bordeaux (the Médoc) tend to be lighter and more elegant than the plummy, merlot based wines from the right bank (St. Émilion). In our current era and with our experience with big, jammy New World cabernet, we don't have this conception. In fact we think just the opposite, super ripe California or Australian cabernet sauvignon are some of the fullest bodied red wines you can find and usually bigger and more structured in every way than merlot.

Another thing to notice is the frequent choice of Beaujolais, just in the condensed list above she recommends it with Bouillabaisse, Coq au Vin, beef steaks, and Beef Bouriguignon. For those in the know it's not news that Beaujolais is a reliable match for a wide range of dishes but it is still interesting to see it here. Additionally, Julia has no problem crossing the line between red, white, and rosé. She easily recommends rosé or a full-bodied white with dishes we'd associate with red wines. How about a traminer from Alsace with roast duck or a rosé with a veal dish? Chicken with cream sauce? She likes red Bordeaux, Côtes du Rhône, or white Burgundy. You especially see a white wine in the recommendation with a meat dish if a cream sauce is in the preparation.

To me, one surprise is the rare reference to a Loire wine, the only one I could find was for Muscadet with mussels. To my knowledge there is no mention of Savennières, (a wine I love with lobster) or any red Loire wines, no Chinon, no Bourgueil, no Anjou Rouge. I can only speculate at the reason, perhaps they just weren't in Julia's rotation at the time? At any rate, these wines are are certainly more well known to us now than they were in the 1960's. The same could be said for wines from the Languedoc.

So the next time you're making Bouillabaisse, or any fish stew for that matter, put on your best Julia Child voice and think about having a "light, strong red"!


Monday, August 6, 2012

Terrace View - What's The Story With Pinot Grigio?

Did you know that pinot gris and pinot grigio are the same grape? It is a mutation of pinot noir, a cousin of chardonnay, and it's most expressive style is produced in Alsace where the wine can be full and creamy, with a smokiness belying it's soft acidity. In Italy, known as pinot grigio, it is made into a different style, and although there are good wines, there are also millions upon millions of bottles of flavorless and vapid examples put into the market by large scale wine companies.

Yet, the grape is immensely popular with consumers. Why? Well, the variety has been branded in the US market for a long time so it has been well known to people prior to the diversity and quality we have seen in the last 20 years. It's what your mother and grandmother drank (and still drink). This Italian style of pinot grigio, which is different from the fuller bodied French versions, is picked earlier which retains a higher level of tart acidity and keeps the wine a clear white or pale yellow color rather than the deep, coppery gold associated with a wine labelled pinot gris. As I mentioned before, there is plenty of poor quality wine made in this style, mostly because of overcropping and overproducing in the vineyard in order to make a cheap and profitable industrial crop. Ironically, a lot of people buy pinot grigio instead of chardonnay when in fact the wines (in unoaked versions) can taste remarkably similar.

It's not the grape's fault, and there are really very beautiful examples of pinot grigio on the shelves. These are wines with flavor, character, and a little of the richer, creamy mouthfeel that represents the grape at it's best. You just have to know what to look for. Here are a few tips:

1. Producer - The most important factor. What we like to see are wines made by thoughtful, quality winemakers who have vines in prime areas and bottle on the property. Ask your salesperson to help you.

2. Region - The most expressive pinot grigio in Italy comes from Alto Adige, Trentino, Friuli, and sometimes the Veneto.

3. Price - It's the same as buying an heirloom tomato from a local farmstand, you are going to pay a little more for it. If a bottle is around $10 or less (or $13 for a magnum) be skeptical, nice wines in the NYC market start at around $12, the better ones start at $15 and they are worth it.

4. Oregon - The Beaver State makes some great examples, labelled pinot gris and in a slightly rounder version than the Italian style. Again, the better wines start at $15.

5. The Santa Margherita Myth - It's exactly that, ubiquitous, over-marketed, not even 100% pinot grigio, and perhaps the most over-priced wine on the market. The average price in stores is about $20, which is just an incredibly bad buy. How did we come to this conclusion? We did a blind taste test, click here to see The Great Santa Margarita Experiment.

I hope this inspires you to try a quality pinot grigio!


The Great Santa Margherita Experiment

Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio is one of the most well known wines in the US and we get requests for it all the time. We don't carry it. We have, in fact, seen customers roll their eyes or even gasp when informed of this fact. Although we never really thought of it as a particularly good wine, especially given the price, I hadn't tasted it in a long time so I decided to see what our staff would think if I brought a bottle in and tasted it with them.

Summarily, I purchased a bottle from another retailer for about $20 and poured samples for the staff, some but not all were able to taste blind, not knowing at all what the wine was. After the initial tasting, we also were able to try two other pinot grigios which we sell, Castelfeder at $17.99 and then Giacomo, which is $11.99. Here are some staff comments:

Bob - "I definitely thought it had an unpleasant after taste.  I thought it shouldn't retail for more than $11."

Evan - "Biting acidity overpowers the wine (Santa Margherita), Giacomo has flavor and I get fruit that balances the acidity and the wine."

Gerald - "It has a bitter herb finish, in a bad way". Comparing to Giacomo, "the nose is so much better on this (Giacomo), has the herby thing too but everything is balanced, sooo much better than the Santa Margherita".

John - "When it warms up it really reveals itself, which is not much, it just doesn't have any flavor, which is why I guess that people like it, it's inoffensive".

Michael  - "It's not that it's a terrible wine, given what I remember about it I was actually expecting it to be worse. The acidity to me is disjointed and there's an odd piney resin bitterness. It's certainly not worth the money and doesn't have the character of something we'd expect for $20. Castelfeder is way more polished and balanced and the Giacomo has better freshness, even at almost half the price."

The results are hardly surprising. Santa Margherita has all the marks of industrial production; they sell about 15 million bottles a year, own almost 3000 acres of vineyard, and the company behind it all is described as a "mini-conglomerate" with production in glass and textiles in addition to wine.

In my experience, better wines are almost always made by small producers doing hard work in the vineyards and in the winery. As with most agricultural products, smaller is most often better.

What does all this mean? Why don't we sell Santa Margherita? Well, our goal here at Windsor Wine Merchants is to offer a wide selection of quality wines at fair prices based on our own judgement by tasting and knowing what's available in the market. We want to feel happy that we gave you a great wine at $20, not something that we think is a rip off. We are not against inexpensive wines (in fact we love them!) and we're not snobby. We just want quality across the board. We are passionate about wines and we care, we really do. Unfortunately, some retailers don't and just put familiar brands on the shelf, making no effort to have a decent selection or to give customers better choices. We won't do that and we are very honest with our customers about the wines. We know that many people appreciate that and that's what makes us feel good.

I hope that you go out and try a quality pinot grigio!


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Terrace View - Summer Whites

Summer temperatures are heating up and the humidity is climbing. By now we're used to seeing customers with sweat drenched brows and reddened faces. The question... what to drink? As much as I love sipping and thinking, this is not the occasion for such relaxed pleasantries. I think we need something tall and chilled that one can drink in respectable quantities. With refreshment paramount, the order of the day is carried by crisp, light-bodied, unoaked wines with lower alcohol, snappy acidity and clean flavors. Fortunately there are several at excellent prices. Who are some of the players you ask?

Arca Nova Vinho Verde $9.99 - 11% alc, light and zingy, perfect for quaffing.

Blanc De Morgex Et De La Salle $11.99 - from one of the highest vineyards in Europe near Mont Blanc, the grape is Prie Blanc, it's super refreshing, like slightly salty mineral water.

Gertie & Max $10.99 - want to take a break from pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc? try this dry version of the Gutedel grape from Baden, Germany, delightful!

Domaine De Quatre "Papolle" $9.99 - crisp citrus from Gascony, a favorite at the June 22 tasting!

Berganze Vespaiola Frizzante $12.99 - lightly sparkling wine from the Veneto region of Italy, dry, floral, and super fun.

Medici Ermete Reggiano Lambrusco Secco $11.99 - sparkling red, deliciously fresh, 11% alcohol, if you like it you should put a chill on it!

These are just some of our favorites to try, there are many others this time of year. Don't forget that dry rosé is a great choice as well and we currently have over 20 different rosé choices for you. As always if you have any questions just ask!


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Hard Charging Austrians!

If you around my age then you can remember Austrian skier Franz Klammer's hard charging downhill run to win gold at the 1976 Innsbruck Olympics, if you didn't see it click here.

What does Franz Klammer have to do with a blog post on Austrian wine? Well, nothing really except that for most of us all we knew of Austria was that they had world class downhill skiers. That has certainly changed, in fact the Austrians have a long tradition of fine wine production, it's just that we weren't really in touch with it here in New York City until the last decade or so. A couple of years ago I went to Austria and sampled some great wines which we were happy to carry in the store. Perhaps you remember some of the producers, Bauer, Hillinger, Steininger, Tegernseerhof?

Unfortunately, due to a variety of factors in the market, we were unable to stock some of these wines for a while. Happily I am able to report that because of a new dedicated distributor a lot of our favorites are back! Here's a short list of some of these wines, and a few other Austrian selections as well. Please try them, they are great.

Steininger "Young" $13.99 - delightful blend of grüner veltliner, sauvignon blanc, and muskateller, light and fun
Artner Rosé $13.99 - one of our favorite rosés this year, zweigelt and blaufränkisch, juicy, full, and dry
Bauer Gmörk Grüner Veltliner $13.99 - earthy savory with crisp citrus
Berger Zweigelt $15.99 - one liter bottle with a cap, cherry/plum, earthy, delicious 
Hillinger Small Hill Red $18.99 - merlot, pinot noir, st. laurent, smooth and plush blue fruits
Bauer Riesling "Berg" $19.99 - dry, limey citrus, oyster mushroom
Tegernseerhof Riesling Terrassen $22.99 - superb dry riesling, floral, mineral
Nikolaihof Grüner Veltliner "Im Weingebirge" $33.99 - serious and complex dry white wine, citrus, mushroom, white pepper, mineral
Tegernseerhof Grüner Veltliner "Höhereck" $48.99 - rich and complex, from hand worked terraced vineyard in the Wachau


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

5 Reasons Why French Wine is Better Than American

Okay, granted this is an overview and a generalization. This is not to say that there aren't good American wines, but there is truth here in that France has the edge in some big ways. Let's look.

 1. Non-fruit complexity. The majority of American wines, especially those from California, are about fruit. It's the norm to find wines with big, ripe, jammy fruit that's indicative of the warm climate and long growing season on the west coast. Paired with some toasty, buttery, oaky notes it's become a "style" so that even winemakers in other states emulate this fashion in their wines as well. I expect wines to be made with ripe fruit and I also really enjoy wines that have some earth, spice, floral, and herbaceous qualities in the background. It's much more common to find this type of complexity in French wines at all price points. It's definitely about winemakers with an Old World sensibility and I also think it comes from climates giving a more balanced fruit/acid relationship.

2. Quality, variety, and diversity. Think about all the wine from Alsace, Beaujolais, Burgundy, Champagne, Bordeaux, the Rhône, the Loire, and the Languedoc, not even to mention all the country wines. Wine is an inherent part of the culture in France, not just a luxury item, and there's quality across the board from simple everyday wines to the really famous ones. All this and France is slightly smaller than Texas, think about it!

3. The right grapes in the right places. The French have a big advantage here, since Roman times they've had the opportunity to see which grape varieties would express character and identity in different climates. You don't see pinot noir and syrah growing in the same vineyard, like in California, and the French are happy to specialize. If an area is mostly suitable for white wine, like Alsace, you don't find a lot of red wine and they're not trying to market cabernet.

4. Oak is not a flavoring agent. Wine has traditionally been aged in oak barrels of various ages and sizes. This does impart a certain character, the slow oxygenation in barrel helps to soften tannins in red wines and can give a nice silky texture to the wine. Barrels can also give some flavor to the wine depending on several factors, typically it comes across as toasty or vanilla/buttery. Well made wines find a balance where the oak is nondescript or compliments the wine rather than overwhelming it. Unfortunately, many American wines use oak as a flavoring agent, frequently using too many new barrels or, especially in the case of inexpensive wines, putting oak chips or staves in the tank to flavor the wine. I think some wineries do this to cover for the lack of balance or structure in over-ripe fruit. If the ripeness in the grapes is balanced there's no need to do this, we even find delicious French reds that see no oak at all.

5. Better value. We see honestly produced estate bottled wines from France with character, balance, and good flavor in the shop consistently for under $15, some of them are even $9.99. Very few of my personal choices for domestic wines sell for under $15. Try something from the Rhône or Languedoc (like Les Hérétiques) against a domestic wine at $10 or $11.99 and you'll see what I mean.

6. Better food partners (okay, 6 reasons). The crisper acidity and the more moderate alcohol levels pair better with all types of food. With a wine at 12.5% alcohol it's much easier to find combinations where you can taste the wine and  the food without either one taking away from the other.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

For the geeks

Here's a shout out to our wine geeks. You know who you are, you drink a lot of wines and you like things to be interesting. You love the classics, but also like to find new discoveries from unheralded places and wines that are not typical for their grape varieties. I thought it would be fun to mention a few wines that fit the criteria.

Les Sablonettes "Le P'tit Blanc 2010 ($17.99) - Lovely chenin blanc from the Loire Valley. Grown on schist, produced biodynamically, hand harvested and fermented in stainless steel tanks. This has raciness and weight, subtle citrus and pear with notes of white flowers and honey.

Coturri "Sandocino" NV ($21.99)
- Yes, there's geeky wine from California too, of course! An organic and natural wine, it's a non-vintage blend of cabernet, syrah, merlot, and zinfandel from vines in both Sonoma and Mendocino. The wine is full and tangy, with nicely complex savory notes; soy sauce, mint, tobacco leaf, artichoke, and cocoa powder are just a few of the descriptions the staff has used.

Reynald Héaulé, "Eclat De Silice" 2006 ($24.99) - One of my favorite whites in the store right now. This is a naturally made wine from sauvignon blanc, menu pineau, and chardonnay. The wine is just full of complexity and interest, with 6 years in the bottle there's a beautiful mouthfeel, waxy and viscous, and a slight oxidative edge that's totally enjoyable.

La Stoppa Gutturnio Rosso Colli Picentini 2009 ($17.99) - From near Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna, this is a biodynamic barbera and bonarda blend that sees a long fermentation on native yeasts. The result is fairly full cherry and plum fruit with nice acidity and a wondrous earthy, funky edge.

Valli Unite, "Bianchino" Colli Tortonesi ($14.99) - An organic wine from Tuscany, it's a revelation for the cortese grape. There's a crisp, refreshing quality here but also a minty sensation and a sense of aliveness.

Angiolino Maule, "Rosso Maseiri" Rosso Del Veneto 2010 ($16.99) - How about a wine from northern Italy that's a blend of merlot (mostly), with cabernet franc, and lagrein (sometimes) fermented in open top wooden vats then aged in a combo of stainless steel tanks and old barrels without intervention. It's sappy, resinous, and delicious and if you guessed merlot in a blind tasting you'd be the only one.

Hope that you get to try a few of these.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Drinking Wine With An Open Mind

Gerald, the newest addition to our staff, is on a passionate wine journey (have you noticed?), in fact so much so that for this post I asked him to share some of his recent wine experiences with us.

So, I’ve only been working here at Windsor Wines for about six months now. While major world events have taken place in the course of six months, what doesn’t usually happen in that short a period of time is for our tastes and opinions to change dramatically. In my case this is exactly what has happened. Had you asked me six months ago what my favorite wine was I would have responded, “Well, I really like the big, full flavored, California and South Australian reds. And maybe a crisp, dry white in the summer but I like dry red wine.” Now, there’s almost no style of wine that I don’t like or at least see a value in.

Dry reds... First of all, horrible descriptor. Of the hundreds of reds we carry, only two of them are actually sweet. So the term “dry” is almost useless. I was ignorant of this small but useful fact six months ago. Along those same lines I always said I didn’t care for “fruity” wines. Wrong...sort of. Wine is made from fruit after all! It would be kind of silly to say I like my wine to taste otherwise. But there is a caveat, fruit is fine as long as there is balance. Too much fruit with nothing to back it up leaves me wanting...just as a red with big tannic structure or loads of acid needs the fruit to balance it out. What I learned is that there is way too much variety in red wine to use one word to describe what I like and, phrases like, “I don’t like Pinot Noir” are way too broad to be true in every case.

Along those lines, I fell in love with wine because of California cabs so, in my mind, wines I liked should always be big and full flavored. Well, wrong...again. It turns out, as I branched out to try other things, I found that lighter styles (Burgundy, Piedmont) have so much complexity that I couldn’t help but love everything about them. Sure, I’m not hit in the face with concentrated flavors of each wine, but instead I get elegance, and secondary and tertiary notes that I wasn’t even aware wine could provide. I still love a big, full flavored red but, I’m no longer closed to the idea of trying a wine simply because of the color, or depth of color or, for that matter, a little sweetness.

Sweet wines....Like most of the people who come through the door, I would have been adamant that I did not like sweet wines. In this, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Riesling has quickly become one of my favorite varietals. Sure, the sugar hits and freaks me out a bit at first, but then the lift and acidity shoot in and leave such an amazing sensation that I can’t help but ask for more!

To be fair, I have been drinking and enjoying wine for some eight years now and it is only with my recent time at Windsor Wines that I have really started to open up to new types and flavors in wine. Part of this is because I am surrounded by wine, but it is mostly because I wanted to try different things so that I could convey what they were like to our customers. So really, I have all of you to thank for broadening my palate and enjoyment of all varietals of wine!

So how much have my tastes changed? Well, I have a couple of wine fridges to store bottles. The first had about 48 bottles with a 11:1 ratio of red to white. My current fridge holds 28 bottles and has a 3:1 ratio white to red. But more than just a new found love for whites, what has changed most is that I try everything because every wine is different, perhaps even unique and it would be a shame to miss out on something delicious just because the last Pinot Noir or Chardonnay I had wasn’t pleasant. So please, join me in an open-minded excursion into wine, you may find things that you don't like, but you will probably find a lot more that you do.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

One Liter Bottles are a Deal

We love the one liter bottles, they are a deal. Here is a list of several great things about them.

1. More wine, more fun.

2. As they frequently come with a screw cap or bottle cap, there's a refreshing casual attitude and lack of pretense. Most producers don't put their more "serious" wines in this format, just good, drinkable, everyday quality stuff.

3. The math is simple, you get 25% more wine than a standard bottle so if, for instance, you are buying the Mille Sauvignon Blanc at $12.99, that's the same as paying $9.75 for a750ml bottle.

4. We have a good and interesting selection of wines in 1L. Available for sale and consumption are fantastic lesser known grape varieties like torrontes, dornfelder, zweigelt and teroldego!

5. Here's a list of some available items in the 1L format:

Mille Sauvignon Blanc $12.99
Loca Linda Torrontes $17.99
Martinshof Sepp Gruner Veltliner $14.99
Mille Bardolino $13.99
Endrizzi Teroldego $16.99
Gaspare Vinci Nero D'Avola $16.99
Villa Travignoli Chianti Rufina $16.99
Schloss Muhlenhof Dornfelder 2010 $12.99
Berger Zweigelt $15.99



Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Love of the Rhône

I must confess a personal love of Rhône wines. Some of the first wines I got into drinking were Côtes-du-Rhône. I drank them mostly because there were good and solid and I could afford them. They've been in my rotation ever since. I just love the generosity without pretension that the wines have, the full, ripe flavors combined with an earthy, peppery quality that makes for totally enjoyable consumption.

Another thing that I love about these wines is that you find just about the best quality/price ratio on the planet. What I'm talking about is that there are delicious and serious wines to be had for under $20! No other region in the world can lay claim to so many interesting wines of quality in that range. Rhône wines are bargains and they can make a lot of mass produced wines seem overpriced and one-dimensional. Furthermore, if you go up to $30 or $40, you can find wines equal to those from other regions costing twice that price.

For this article I'm referring to red wines that are from what is called the southern
Rhône. As for grape varieties, grenache dominates the blend with syrah, mourvedre, cinsault, and carignan also playing a role. The categorization is pretty easy. It goes like this. Basic wines from anywhere in the area are called simply Côtes-du-Rhône, they have to be made from at least 40% grenache. The next step up in quality is labelled as Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages and their grenache component has to be at least 50%. If there is a village name added to that moniker (i.e. "Cairanne Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages") then you're in the next tier, less than 20 villages are permitted to do so. The top of the pyramid are the Rhône Crus (or "growths") and they have their own A.O.C. which means that only the name of the village appears on the label. The notable ones for red wine here in the southern Rhône are Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueryas, Beaumes de Venise, and Vinsobres.

Although you can find exceptions, these wines are full bodied with loads of personality and flavor. The best wines have power and opulence while also showing some refinement along with a silky elegance. They are great wines for hearty stews and braises, and grilled or roasted meats. The wines are nicely food flexible and I find them wonderful partners with Middle Eastern cuisine. In fact one of my favorite combinations in the Terrace is a leg of lamb or lamb shawarma platter from Bedawi Cafe or Shawarma Flame House and a hearty glass of Côtes-du-Rhône.

Try it! This is a great region to explore