Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Terrace View - Wine and Microbes

Did you see Nicholas Wade's recent article in the  November 25 NY Times about wine and microbes?

If you did, you might be as perplexed as I was. The basic idea expressed here is that researchers in the US have scientifically determined that specific fungi and bacteria that grow on the skins of grapes can have a determining factor in terms of how a wine smells and tastes. Furthermore, these characteristics can be specific to region and can help to prove the French concept of terroir.

One of the researchers actually said this, "The reason I love this study is that it starts to walk down a path to something we could actually measure," Dr. Mills said. "There are high-end courses on terroir, which I think are bunk. Someone has to prove that something about terroir makes it to the bottle, and no one has done that yet."
Really? Terroir is bunk? Winemakers, wine lovers, and scientists in California are just coming around to the idea that every little factor involved in the vineyard and the winemaking process counts? That this still has to be proven? Doesn't the fact that Chablis and Meursault taste completely different from each other while also showing regional traits, even down to the specific vineyard, count for anything? What about winemakers who don't manipulate and filter, and use the yeasts, bacteria, and fungi on the grapes to their advantage, making beautiful individual wines by having a natural fermentation? What about the winemakers who have mold on the ceilings of their caves and will not remove it? Do we have to have a definitive study of the mold? Of course not, because these winemakers know that the personalities of the wines living in those caves for years, or even decades, will be shaped in part from that unique environment.
This is what makes wines different, honest, and totally interesting. What's next? Will wine supply companies offer prefabricated wine additive kits where you can order Hermitage or Barolo microbes? I'm always disappointed when some winemakers feel that they have to control everything. Why do we have to measure everything in order to believe it? I can see that works by Picasso and Dali are different, I don't have to put a paint sample under an electron microscope. 
With wine, one can taste it. 


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Terrace View - Thanksgiving 2013

For wine pairings, Thanksgiving is famously challenging. It's not that wine doesn't go with turkey, it's that with such a large meal and with so many different dishes most folks aren't sure which way to go. Add to that the many guests and family members with various tastes and choosing the right wine can be even more confusing. My simple strategy is to serve several wines that are food flexible and non-fatiguing. Here are some ideas that can help to make your holiday meal more successful.

Favorite Thanksgiving Reds - My favorite reds for a Thanksgiving meal are pinot noir and gamay. These wines tend to be lighter in body with good acidity. That means that they will go with a wide range of foods and can have a nice palate cleansing effect, functioning in a similar way as cranberry sauce. If you'd like to have an American wine for this American Holiday consider Atwater Pinot Noir from the Finger Lakes or a nice affordable California pinot like Beau Pere Pinot Noir. For gamay look to France for good Beaujolais.

More Reds - Other reds to consider are medium bodied without too much oak aging. Good choices are barbera, zweigelt, and Bordeaux if it's an a style that not too heavy and extracted.

Whites - For whites I like to go full-bodied. It's a good occasion to try white Rhône varietals either from the US, France, or Australia. An earthy grüner veltliner is also a nice choice as is unoaked chardonnay.

Apple Cider - This is a great choice and nicely historical, hard cider was a significant beverage in colonial America. Try one of the dry ciders from West County like the Pippin or Catamount Hill Orchard or one of our Spanish offerings. 

Wine for the Family Fringes - This holiday meal is one in which you'll likely have some people consuming wine that don't typically drink it. It my family it could be someone like my aunt or grandmother. In these cases I like to offer something that's easy to drink, and a little sweetness doesn't hurt. Try one of our fun sparkling wines like the dry and fruity 50º Sekt Rosé or the sublimely sweet Bartucci Bugey-Cerdon.

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

Happy Thanksgiving,

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Terrace View - My Wine is Bad! What to do?

So you arrive home with your newly purchased bottle of wine, pull the cork or twist off the cap, pour a little in your wine glass (which is completely clean and dry, of course!), swirl, have a whiff and a sip and then... ooh my... you think "something's wrong with this, what do I do?"

Well, you can call us, the number of course is 718-768-2291, and we can give you some info. If you have the energy, you can put your shoes back on and return the bottle. We will pretty much always exchange the bottle for you, excepting some special circumstances. You just need to return the bottle and the wine to us if you think it is off, sorry as we can't do exchanges for empty bottles.

In a practical sense it's also good to know what can go bad with a bottle of wine so here are some of the things that can happen.

The wine is corked - It's true, a small percentage of wines are ruined by a chemical in the cork called TCA. If this happens there will be a smell akin to old, wet, musty cardboard. What to do? Return the wine to us and we'll give you another bottle. Another bottle from the same case is usually works out just fine. You don't even have to return it right away, in the next few days is okay but if you wait awhile it's good to have a receipt with you because we might not remember the original sale.

Reduction - This happens to a wine which has been for a long time in an environment that has an absence of oxygen. The best way I can describe a reductive smell is that it comes off as dirty and excessively sulfurous, like a mineral spring, or burnt rubber. What to do? In many cases the reduction is just in the nose and the problem is solved by oxygen so either decant the wine or pour a decent amount into a few glasses, swirl vigorously, and wait 15 to 20 minutes to see if the smell goes away. If the wine is severely reductive the palate will be affected as well so if the wine doesn't smell and taste better after some time and you are unhappy, return the wine to us. 

Volatile Acidity - Called "VA", it's caused by bacteria in the wine creating acetic acid. This is a normal part of fermentation and we notice VA when it's excessive in a wine. For VA you can think acetone, so the aromas are similar to shoe polish or nail polish remover. What to do? Unlike the two previous conditions, aeration or exchanging one bottle for another won't solve the problem, all the wines from that bottling production will have VA. It's subjective and kind of a personal threshold thing, one person may really dislike the wine and another may think it's interesting. I don't think we consistently sell any wines that have excessive VA so it's not a big problem, although you may encounter one at some other shop or restaurant.

One more thing, remember my joke in the beginning about your wine glass being completely clean and dry? There's truth here. If your glasses have been sitting in your cabinet for a long time they will pick up a "cabinet smell" which will ruin the nose of your wine. You might think those stems are clean but they are not. Before using a glass, give it a quick whiff, it should have no aroma. If it does you can quickly clean the glass with dish soap and rinse with hot water. Remember to let the glasses cool before you use them. Alternately, if the glasses are relatively clean, just leave them out on the counter until there is no odor.

I hope all this helps!


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Terrace View - Good Bordeaux

Bordeaux as a wine region is very large, producing about 700 million bottles of wine a year, and with all that wine in the market, it's hard to generalize. One thing to realize is that Bordeaux works on many different levels and knowing this can help you find good wines to drink.

First off, know that for most of the last 100 years and until only recently, Bordeaux dominated the wine trade here in the US. When I started drinking wine regularly as a college student, and even when I first moved to NYC, Bordeaux was the predominant wine in the stores and on restaurant lists. Things have changed. The top tier wines, like the famous First Growths, have become super luxury items and are so expensive that only very wealthy collectors and investors purchase them. For the others, the small or "petit chateau", their presence in the market has dropped as we have seen an explosion of new choices, especially in the last 20 years. Some of those are wines from other regions in France, like the Loire and the Languedoc, and more importantly there are many more wine choices from other countries like Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and Chile, to name a few. In addition, the prices on a lot of these wines are very friendly so the competition for customers drinking everyday bottles is fierce.

Still, there is a lot of Bordeaux out there that is worthy of purchasing. If you are not familiar with the grape varietals, the red wines are almost always a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot in some form, with cabernet franc playing a supporting role, and you'll find the use of small percentages of malbec and petit verdot in some. The classic style of red Bordeaux is a bit out of fashion right now, so much so that I asked my friend Stuart Randall, a Bordeaux lover who also happens to be one of the owners of Bayfield Importing, why he enjoys drinking Bordeaux frequently:

"Something about the taste, the combination of the earthiness with fruit character that I find particularly attractive. I enjoy the complexity and find myself contemplating the length and aftertaste in my mouth every time I drink them, in a particularly enjoyable way. I appreciate the many subtleties they convey. Because of the climate, Bordeaux wines are rarely overripe or "hot", meaning the alcohol is in check and there is usually great acid balance. The ones I tend to drink do not have excessive tannins yet are dry with ample fruit, but not overly fruity. As with most wines, I look for balance, richness, complexity and character without them being overbearing. The taste of Bordeaux does not become wearisome over the course of the bottle, and in many cases, the wines evolve in the glass as they are being consumed. A huge plus is that they are great food wines and tend to complement dishes rather than overpower them.... Contrary to many people's opinion, there is lots of great value in Bordeaux with plenty of options that sell for between $10-$20 retail. I haven't found any other region yet that can emulate the taste character of these wines which is what gives them their appeal."

I think Stuart's correct. Generally most good value Bordeaux is medium bodied and round on the palate with moderate acidity, the cherry and plum fruit is mellow and subdued, and along with cedar and cigarbox overtones, a subtle earthiness and herbaceousness can emerge. As I said this is a classic style of red wine, known to the British as "claret", but not considered so "exciting" in the present wine world.

If you are an avid cook, good pairings for red Bordeaux are red meats, roast chicken (even better with root vegetables) some fish, and legumes. A simple dish of lentils, with onions, potatoes and carrots works very well. Red Bordeaux is usually not my wine for pizza or pasta with tomato sauce, and likewise I also stay away from it with fairly spicy dishes. In her book "Mastering The Art of French Cooking", Julia Child frequently recommends various Bordeaux and her suggestions are spot on, not just with the food pairings but also in mentioning dishes that work with the specific regional distinctions within Bordeaux.

As for those distinctions, there is a river that splits the area (the Gironde) and in the wine biz we refer to the wines on either side as being "left bank" (usually but not always more cabernet sauvignon) or "right bank" (usually but not always more merlot and cabernet franc). Beyond that it gets more involved so if you'd like more information just ask us.

Don't forget too the white wines from Bordeaux, the grapes for these are sémillon, sauvignon blanc, and muscadelle. These wines are delicious and generally overlooked. We have a small but very nice selection of them. Don't miss out!


Friday, October 4, 2013

Wine Geek 101 - What's Brett?

Remember George Brett? He's the first ballot Hall of Fame third baseman for the Kansas City Royals who almost hit .400 in 1980. Well, he was great but unfortunately this blog post is not about him.

It's about brettanomyces, don't worry about pronouncing it, just say "brett". Brett is a type of yeast occasionally found on grapes and then in a finished wine. We typically will see brett in organic, biodynamic, and the so-called "natural wines". That's because all the bacteria hasn't been killed off by large doses of sulfur and filtration. When brett is present in a wine it gives a certain flavor which can be described as earthy "barnyard". For me one of the giveaways is also a kind of telltale chestnut or hazelnut lingering in the finish.

The real issue with brett is that it can occur in varying degrees in a wine. For me personally, a little bit of brett can enhance earthiness in a wine, add a complex savory note, and give a nice sense of character. I find that preferable to the mass produced, sanitized wines made with laboratory yeasts, filtered, flavored with oak chips, and manipulated with additives to conform to a certain "recipe" for a wine. That being said, if there's too much brett then the wine has gone too far for me in a stinky, feral way. I also find that wines with too much brett don't drink well over a period of a few days, they actually get "brettier", if that's a word. Another argument is that overly "bretted" wines obscure their terroir instead of highlighting it. Nuances from the vineyard site can be overshadowed by the brett flavor.  If you want to have that uber-geek discussion with me then you'll have to mention it in person sometime when your shopping.

So is brett a defect? I think yes, albeit sometimes a good one, and I'm sure you can find differing opinions about this from folks in the wine business. As always, every wine is different and if you have any questions about a specific wine just ask. As a sidenote, brett is also encountered in beer brewing. If you'd like to see more on that click here. Where do you fall in on the brett scale? Try some new wines and find out!


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Terrace View - A Delightful Surprise

I have been drinking wine my entire adult life and have spent a good portion of that as a wine professional. In the course of my work I get to taste a great variety of wines from a wide range of countries and when I have the experience of a new find it's exciting. It's really one of the great pleasures of the job and recently I've tasted some delightful finds and surprises. I'm talking about the wines from Croatia and Slovenia. Don't know them? Well, I didn't either. I'm happy to say that we now offer several wines for sale.

Viticulture in these two countries has a very long history, going back to the ancient Greeks and Phoenicians. What is really exciting about these countries is the variety of wines to try with quality present across the board. You can drink familiar varieties like pinot noir or sauvignon blanc, something less familiar like welschriesling, or indigenous varietals like malvasia istriana, babić, teran, or others. One of our best selling wines this summer has been a Slovenian wine that's a blend of  9 grape varieties, 4 red and 5 white, how's that for unique?

Babić Vines
Interesting also is the story of the red grape plavac mali. For decades there was a debate about the origins of 2 red grapes, California's zinfandel and Italy's primitivo, actually the same grape variety but from two different places and with very different styles and expressions. Forward to the late 1980's and the advent of DNA technology, it turns out that Croatia's plavac mali is related to zinfandel, with the range zinfandel varities being originally from the Caucasus region and existing in Croatia longer than anywhere else. I guess that a handful of Croatian winemakers could have told us that 100 years ago! Plavac mali is a fun wine, from medium to full bodied, and available in styles from casual and fresh to serious and dark.

As I said, there's an overall high level of quality and prices are excellent, all of our current selections sell for under $20.  The wines have a familiarity, a similarity to dry wines in the western European tradition but also show their own personalities. I don't even want to compare them to wines that you know because that would be a disservice, you should discover their flavors and expressions for yourself. These wines are excellent and we love them. Try one! Also be on the lookout for a Croatian and Slovenian wine tasting in the store on October 12!


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Terrace View - Sancerre Alternatives

Sancerre is a well known source for quality sauvignon blanc. There are exceptional soils in the region and excellent wines if you know where to look. The fact that it's well known also leads to a bit of "branding" which in turn leads to some less than thrilling, overpriced wine. Let me explain. Since Sancerre is somewhat famous, consumers will seek out wines labelled Sancerre and most are willing to spend a decent amount for these bottles. This built in market can make it easy for less caring companies and producers to make wines that are decent and acceptable, but lack distinction or expression. They can still sell all of it and there's no incentive to do anything in the vineyards to make a better wine. Wineries can over produce the amount of grapes coming from a vineyard, cut costs by machine harvesting, use less strenuous methods for the sorting and selecting of grapes, and formulaic methods of production like laboratory selected yeast strains that finish fermentations quickly and give prescribed flavors.

My issue isn't necessarily with these high production wines per se, it's with the fact that in this case, a lot of these wines cost over $20 a bottle just because they are coming from a well regarded region. Give me the same wine at $13.99 and I don't have a problem. Also, this not to say that good Sancerre isn't worth it, because it is. As I mentioned, the chalky limestone soils in the area can make excellent wines and if you find one of those, I'm talking about wines with balance, character, mouthfeel, and a unique sense of mineral, the higher price tag is totally justified.

The good news is that Sancerre is just one area of a large region in the Loire Valley that produces sauvignon blanc. The areas near Sancerre make some really nice everyday wines and also have some talented, energetic winemakers striving to make something exceptional. Because these neighboring areas aren't as well known it goes to form that the wines from these places don't cost as much and they are a great place to look for good value in sauvignon blanc.

Good basic alternatives around $15 are wines from near the city of Tours, labelled Touraine Blanc or Val De Loire. Further east, wines from Pouilly-Fumé and Menetou-Salon will have a heftier price tag but can rival the quality of good Sancerre. Producers in Reuilly, Quincy, and the Coteaux de Giennois also make wines worth trying. Another wine to mention is from Saint-Bris, near Chablis and actually part of Burgundy, but designated for sauvignon blanc because of the soils and the geographic proximity to the upper Loire. Finally, if you want to leave the Loire try a white Bordeaux, it's usually sauvignon blanc blended with sémillion and sometimes muscadelle and there are some real deals to be had.

I hope this helps you find some new wines!


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Terrace View - Does Weather Affect Your Glass of Wine?

Did you ever have an outstanding bottle of wine, only to purchase it again and have it be less than thrilling? It happens to all of us, and then we debate if we were crazy, if there was bottle variation, or if we were influenced by some romantic, nostalgic memory of having the bottle in a restaurant or on vacation.

There are many factors that influence how a glass of wine tastes and among the least understood is weather. It may seem weird but meteorological conditions can definitely change the performance of your wine. Let me explain. I was recently discussing this subject with Aldo Sohm, Chef Sommelier at Le Bernardin, who had commented on my misfortune to pick a super hot, humid day for lunch at this great restaurant. He knew, as well as I, that because of the excessive humidity, the wines I was drinking would not show their best that day, no matter how great a job the staff did at presenting the wines at their proper aeration and temperature (and they are fantastic at this). He also went on to relate a story that he had recently hosted a wine event in Aspen in which he had brought several wines with him from New York but they had all tasted differently when he was in Colorado. We discussed what could be at the root of this; altitude, air pressure, humidity, even travel can all have make a difference. I've seen this as well, over the years bringing some stellar bottles to share with my parents for the Christmas holidays, only not to have them taste as good as they tasted at home. It's really deflating to be all excited about showing a wine to someone when it doesn't live up to your expectations.

In addition to the weather, you can even take into consideration the biodynamic calendar, which is a lunar calendar that designates certain days as a fruit day, a root day, a flower day, or a leaf day. Think I'm crazy? We all know that the gravity of the moon affects the ocean tides, so doesn't it go to reason that the moon phase could affect all the liquid on Earth, including the water in our own bodies? The moon could affect all kinds of things here that we can't really feel or are aware of. If I am crazy bringing this up, then at least I'm not alone, see "Fruit Day vs. Root Day".

Following along these lines, the best day to drink wine is on a fruit day. Recently I took an informal poll of some of my friends who sell wine for a living and asked them if they noticed any effect that the weather or the biodynamic calendar had on the performance of their wines. These folks are immersed in wine daily and know the wines they represent intimately. I've even had wine reps call me and say, "I have something in my bag that I'd really like you to taste today because it's showing so well." So I wanted to know what they would have to say. To my surprise there was a consensus that fruit days are indeed good, but that other factors involved such as low barometric pressure, rain and high humidity have the most negative effects, muting the expression of the wine. In my experience, I'd agree with this.

What are the good days? High pressure, dry air is a great time for wines to be expressive and show their stuff. If you combine that with a fruit day then it's the best case scenario.

What does it all mean and how should it affect your wine drinking? My feeling is not to go too crazy, a root day will not stop me from enjoying a glass of wine. Sometimes, however, I might be planning to open a special bottle, maybe something really fine or a bottle I've aged for a long time and in that case that I do take the weather into consideration. For me, I'll hold off if it's a rainy, socked in low pressure day and open another wine. Of course I think this has to be within reason, you can't control the weather on holidays or a special occasion so sometimes you just have to go with it.

If you have had any similar experiences post a comment or let me know. Something to think about.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Terrace View - Why Is Burgundy So Great?

If you took a poll of wine professionals, people like sales reps who work for importers, wine buyers, the sales teams at retail stores, sommeliers, etc. and asked them which wines inspire them and what they like to drink on nice occasions you'd hear a lot of folks say "Burgundy". Realize that these are people who live and work with wine on a daily basis. So what is Burgundy and why is it so special? Let's take a look.

Wines from Burgundy, "Bourgogne" in French, come from the Côte d'Or ("coat door") which is comprised of two main parts, the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune. These are the two areas where you find the vast majority of the really famous and expensive wines. Also included in Burgundy for our purposes would be wines from Chablis, the Côte Chalonnaise (Givry, Rully, Mercurey, and others), the Mâcon (like Pouilly-Fuisse), and Beaujolais. We'll exclude Beaujolais for now because the red grape there is gamay, and we want to focus on the primary grapes for Burgundy which are pinot noir for reds and chardonnay for whites.

What is so thrilling about these grapes? Well, nothing really. You can buy the very popular pinot noir and the much maligned chardonnay from many countries and there's nothing really special about that. The magic is in Burgundy. Because of a variety of factors, the wines from Burgundy display a flavor profile and balance unlike any other wines. Let's take pinot noir. The grape is very fickle climate-wise, it's easy to overripen resulting in a wine with over 14% alcohol and super ripe, jammy berry and cherry flavors. In Burgundy, the reds have nerve, an acidic spine that runs through the wine from start to finish. Even the big silky Grand Crus have it. That acidity helps define the flavors and keep things precise. In addition, those flavors have great complexity, both in fruit and non-fruit flavors and even those change from vineyard to vineyard. This is one of the truly great things about Burgundy, just a slight change in location will yield a different wine that's still Burgundian but also expressing individual personality.

Let us not forget chardonnay. The most emulated style of chardonnay by fine winemakers around the world, is that of the ripe, barrel fermented and full-bodied wines from Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet, two highly esteemed villages in France's Côte de Beaune. What some of these wines can get is the ripe apricot-tinged fruit and some of the toasty character of oak aging. What they don't get is the balance, the creamy mouthfeel, and the finesse and minerality of fine white Burgundy. I know why people say they don't like chardonnay, they've never had a great one. It's undeniable, nobody else has the richness and the lift without being heavy that white Burgundy has. Within that, the wines change from vineyard to vineyard as well, so it's infinitely interesting.

Shopping? What to buy? Honestly if you don't drink a lot of wine, some of the nuances may miss you at first. Especially if you are in a social situation and not paying attention. I've had people say that they "just don't get it." That's okay. Some of these wines are super expensive anyway. Not to fret, there are good places to start. Two excellent options are to try a basic wine labelled Bourgogne Pinot Noir or Bourgogne Blanc from a good grower, or something from a less heralded village. It's a great way to get in the ballpark without paying luxury box prices. Don't worry about the specific wines, just ask us. That's what we're here for and we'd love to show you some bottles. Whatever you choose, the bottles will taste like Burgundy and you can start to see the what the fuss is all about.


Friday, May 24, 2013

How to get the most out of your shopping experience.

We always want our customers to have a great shopping experience at Windsor Wines. Over the years we have had thousands of interactions with customers and we know a lot of things that can help you. You can also help us in that regard. From our experience, here are a few tips:

1. The first one is a big one that goes a long way, simply TRUST US. The staff is very passionate about wine and we love to share our knowledge and experiences with you. When someone asks for specific things, we are trying to turn those words into a great recommendation. From what you say, we typically suggest wines that we know from personal experience that we think you'll love. Nothing makes us happier than giving you a good selection.

2. Be open to wines that you may not be familiar with. If you work in a wine store, you get to taste many more and different types of wines than the average person and we may recommend something that you've never heard of. We don't really sell the big brands anyway. It's from all our tasting experiences that we rely on to help you and we as a staff will frequently talk to each other to try to get it just right. Remember, it's only a bottle of wine and the process should be fun.

3. Don't feel awkward or embarrassed about anything that you know or don't know or what you'd like to spend. If you have a preference or a feeling about a certain wine or style just tell us. Anything that you say can genuinely help, just be honest. As I said, we talk with customers all the time so chances are that we have had some experience with your situation.

4. Be comfortable learning over time how to talk about wine. I know that wine terms can sound crazy... "this wine is full bodied and crisp, but rich with savory edges, a saline minerality, and notes of mint and citrus pith". It can be hard at first. We are always trying to translate what customers ask for in order to make a good recommendation and we like to describe the wine to you. Start to think about the components that make up wine like acidity and tannins, and about flavors, both fruit and non-fruit. It can take a while, it's like learning a new language, but ultimately when we learn your taste we can give you great choices very quickly. Oh, and forget sweet and dry, it doesn't indicate quality and it doesn't really mean anything unless we are talking about wines with residual sugar, like port, dessert wines, and some traditionally sweet rieslings.

5. Give us a price range to work with. If someone says, "Well you know, not too expensive..." It's hard for us to know what that means. Should we be thinking of a wine at $10? $20? $50? Different customers have different comfort zones and that can change every night. Also, we expect different things from wines at various price levels. If you come in and ask for a "dry red wine", we're literally thinking of about 400 bottles. Let us know what you are looking for in the wine, it helps to have a little direction.

That's it. It's pretty easy, we look forward to helping you find some great wines!


Monday, April 22, 2013

Terrace View - The Most Overlooked Great Red Wine

It's interesting, Côtes-Du-Rhône reds are some of the most popular wines in the store. There's a perfectly good reason for this, the wines are full and juicy, spicy, and offer nice complexity and structure for under $20. It's really all you could want in that price range. On the other hand, when customers decide to spend big bucks for a more serious red wine they look away from the Rhône, feeling more comfortable with Burgundy, Bordeaux, and California.

That's a shame, because that same flavor profile in a bigger form with more complexity is available from Châteauneuf-Du-Pape and the prices are excellent. We have bottles of Châteauneuf-Du-Pape on the shelf at anywhere from $25-$85. The wines are ripe and full-bodied, with a core of luxurious fruit, wrapped in overtones of opulent spices, baked herbs, and earth. I think that for as famous as it is, it's perhaps the most overlooked great red wine in the world.

Old vines
Of course, with all wines there is a variability and with Châteauneuf-Du-Pape there are many. First off, it's hard to generalize about style because there are many soil types in Châteauneuf and winemakers are producing wines in a variety of styles. Add to that the fact that there are thirteen permitted grape varieties for Châteauneuf-Du-Pape rouge. The most important by far is grenache although syrah, mourvedre, and cinsault can me major supporting players. A well made Châteauneuf-Du-Pape is arguably the greatest expression on grenache in the world.

It's important to be selective and to let us know what you are expecting from the bottle. Some wines are ready to drink upon release and others require years to show their stuff. As for food partners grilled and roasted red meats are excellent, as are strongly flavored Mediterranean foods like olives, aged cheeses, and spreads like hummus and baba ganoush.

If you have any questions, as always, just ask! I really hope that you get to try one of these great wines.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Terrace View - What Type of Palate Do You Have?

If tasting wine can be compared to other areas of culture and sensory pleasure then perhaps an appreciation of art and music is most apt. Over time one's taste changes, especially as one becomes more interested and more knowledgeable about the subject.

We see this all the time with customers, wine is a journey and different people are at different places along the way. The length and the speed of the journey may differ but frequently the destinations are the same. The simple question for most customers is, "What type of palate do you have?", or more to the point, "Where is your palate?"

At first, many people are into wines that are big and full, delivering an impressive and showy burst of fruit and lingering vanilla oak. Even though people say that they like "nice, dry wines", the truth is that most of the wines in this style aren't that dry. That's okay, it's just a lack of experience in how to describe a wine and furthermore, the dryness of a wine is does not indicate it's quality. Frequently the next step is a total rejection of this style, irregardless of good or poor versions, condemning an entire varietal to the trash heap as in, "I don't like chardonnay."

As we go further along we start to see an exciting and real appreciation for honest wines in a variety of styles, especially wines with some non-fruit complexity and brighter acidity. These wines are made without excessive manipulation in the winery, they strive to express the grape variety and place of origin. They are all different, that's the joy. Chardonnay from Santa Barbara and Chablis don't have the same taste, not even close, and heck, even wines from different vineyards in Chablis don't taste the same. Now that's exciting! When customers reach this point it's a lot of fun because we can recommend so many great things and there is so much variety in the wine world.

So what's the takeaway? Well, the best thing for the staff here at Windsor is to be able to recognize where your palate is, what types of wines you like and what new things would be good for you to try. You might be into full and spicy, crisp and mineral, juicy and aromatic, or medium bodied and herbaceous! If we can determine this it really helps up make solid recommendations and we love to put fun, new wines in our customers' hands. So let us know.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Terrace View - Rosé Report 2013

Every year one of the most welcome and earliest signs of spring is the arrival of rosés from last year's harvest. We are happily at that point now and although high tide for rosé will be in a few months, our first new wines are just starting to come in. If you are curious about rosé and about the 2012 vintage I figured that I would answer some of the most common questions, let's go!

What is Rosé? Rosé is a wine made from red grapes in which the freshly pressed juice is allowed brief contact with the skins, usually just a few hours, then it is separated from the must and allowed to ferment. This is the most common method, although there are others such as vin gris, which is freshly pressed juice with no maceration, or saignée, when some very young wine that has a little color is removed from a tank of red wine and finished on it's own. You may also have some white wine blended in the rosé, not a common practice but we do see it.

What does rosé taste like? Generally, rosés are light to medium in body with fresh berry flavors and crisp, refreshing acidity. They are fun to drink solo and go with a wide range of foods, especially salads, fish, and white meat dishes. I love to drink them at lunch, (especially with leftovers!) or as I'm starting to cook the evening meal. They are also especially great hot weather wines.

What does color tell me about rosé? Honestly not a lot. Many people think that darker color on a rosé means that the wine is sweet, or that it is fuller bodied. That's just not true, there are many factors that contribute to body and perception of sweetness, like alcohol and acidity, and you can't see those so color is not a reliable method to determine the style of the wine. You will see rosés that are pale pink, to a full pink or pale red, and even a coppery, pale salmon color.

Are all the rosés sweet? No! no, no, no.... actually almost all of the rosé we stock is dry. If it's not we'll indicate that on the price label and we'll do our best to tell you at the register if you are buying the wine.

What to expect from 2012 rosés. We see more difference in wines from various regions than specific vintages so let's look. For the most part, rosés from hot climates will give fuller bodied wines with deeper, more forward fruit and those from cooler regions will be light and crisp. Here's a breakdown:

France - From Loire rosé we expect lots of bright acidty, fresh berries and a touch of chalky earth, mineral, and slight herb notes in the back. Very palate cleansing and refreshing. Provence yields some of the most complex rosé,  full bodied,  dry and creamy on the palate. Other rosés from southern France like the Rhône or Languedoc and generally medium to fuller with medium acidity and a rounder fruit character.

Italy - Tends to follow climate wise with crisper, brighter wines from the north and rounder wines from the south. Wines from Abruzzo and Puglia have nice fresh round fruit, especially if there is balanced acidity. There are expections (of course) like full bodied lagrein rosato from Alto Adige. Sicily is an exception as well, the elevation there can produce wines of ligher body and firm acids.

Spain - The majority of Spanish rosatos are darker in color, fuller in fruit with a softer acidity. Although they aren't as pale a some people prefer, they can be great bargains. On the other hand, we also see super steely and crisp rosado from the Basque country.

America - There is such a wide variety of styles in wines from California, Oregon, Washington, and New York (upstate and Long Island) it's hard to make broad statement. Ask us about specific wines, we are happy to answer.

Look for bargains from lesser known countries. That's right, wines from the famous regions are excellent, and there are some deals, but they are not where the cheap wines are. We will have great deals from Austria, Hungary, Portugal, and the Finger Lakes so don't miss them.

What's the best rosé? When we talk about great wines, we talk about complexity, balance, and individuality. Bandol rosé certainly qualifies as do some others from Provence. Sancerre makes some excellent rosé, and I would be remiss not to mention the Spanish rosé, R. Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia, a magical and legendary wine.

Enjoy the rosés!


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Terrace View - Where the Deals Are

We always have customers looking for good, inexpensive wines, and why not? We also love to drink fun, quality wines without spending a fortune. If you look around the store you'll see lots of wines that sell for say less than $12.99 both in he stacks and on the shelves. Some of these wines are deals. What makes them so? Generally we're looking for wines that taste "winelike". Sounds weird but even at $8 a bottle we'd like the wine to have the structural qualities that make wine wine and not jammy grape juice. I'm speaking about things like ripeness, acidity, and tannins and those things should be somewhat in balance. If there's some complexity in the wine, especially in the form of non-fruit aromas and flavors such as herbs, spice, or mineral notes, so much the better.

What if I told you that a majority of these wines come from three places? Would you be happy? If yes, then think Spain, Italy, and southern France. Without question we see the best value in inexpensive wines from these three countries. Other regions produce inexpensive wines too but they can't compete in terms of quality, complexity, and price. From Italy look to Abruzzo, Puglia, the Salento, and Sicily. For Spain it seems that deals are everywhere in places like Alicante, Valencia, Campo De Borja, Bullas, and Bierzo, just look to other areas rather than the famous regions like Rioja, Ribera Del Duero, and Priorat. French wines can be real deals if you look to the Languedoc/Rouissillon, the wine may say Vin De Pays or Pays d'Oc.

Why have I not mentioned malbec? Malbec is fine, and you can certainly fine decent bottles at $10 but generally they are very basic, one note plummy and don't have as much interest going for them. I know there is a level of subjectivity here and it depends where your palate is (I'll leave that subject for another blog), but if you tasted a half dozen Argentine malbecs against a half dozen of the wines I'm talking about you'd see a lot more diversity and interest in the later group.

Let's talk for a second about American wines. Almost everything at $10 per bottle is over-marketed industrial plonk. I'd love to see some honest, genuine wines at that price from California or New York that I could get behind but given the many economic factors involved that's probably not going to happen.

In the meantime I'll just "keep on keepin' on" with the real deals.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Terrace View - Bottle Age

Remember the old Paul Masson commericial where Orson Welles says, "We will sell no wine before it's time."? Have you ever had that amazing, ethereal experience that only comes with a mature bottle of wine? Sometimes in the store you'll hear us describing a wine using the term "bottle age". It can be a truly great thing as time in the bottle is a necessary ingredient needed for some wines to fully express themselves.

What happens with bottle age is that various chemical reactions take place, some of the components in the wine such as acidity, tannins, and color pigments, like anthocyanins, interact with each other. The result of these interactions is a mellowing of the wine and the formation of more complex flavors, aromas, and texture. Some wines, including a lot of famous ones, are downright stingy in their youth only to blossom with years of bottle age. It is important to know which types of wines are candidates for aging, these are mostly wines made in a structured, serious style although there are always exceptions.

Happily, you don't have to worry about putting the wine away for years by yourself to enjoy this experience. One nice thing is that some truly beautiful wines make it to a place where they are drinking very well and we are happy to have some to offer.

Here is a short list of excellent wines currently available that exhibit the excellent qualities of appropriate bottle age:

Lopez de HerediaViña Tondonia, Viña Gravonia 2001
François Cazin Cour-Cheverny 2005
Lopez de HerediaViña Tondonia, Viña Tondonia Rosado 2000
Baccano Rosso Toscano 2004
Fattoria Carpineta Fontalpino "Do Ut Des" Toscana IGT 2004
Vestini Campagnano Pallagrello Nero 2003
Sant' Elena Merlot Venezia Giulia IGT 2000
La Grange Neuve De Figeac, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 2004
Brocard Chablis Premier Cru Mont De Milieu 2007
Jean-Marc Vincent Santenay Premier Cru Les Gravières 2006 
Chateau Des Tours Vacqueyras Réserve 2005
Capitelle De Centeilles Minervois 2003

You are not going to pay $10 for any of these wines. If you shop wisely, most of these bottles are between $20-$50, a fraction of what you'd pay in a restaurant. Considering the quality on this list there are some real deals here. I hope that you will take advantage and experience one of these wines. As always, if you have any questions, just ask.

btw - Monsieur Welles never said making TV commercials was easy.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Terrace View - Shochu, the Next Big Thing

Do you know about Shochu? Shochu is a beverage from Asia, we see them mostly from Japan, South Korea, or Vietnam. It differs from sake in that Shochu is distilled and is made from a variety of source materials; rice, barley, or sweet potato are common. It is stronger than sake but has less alcohol than vodka, brandy, or whiskey usually coming in at around 25% alcohol (50 proof). We love it here at Windsor and it could just be the next big thing.

We currently have two bottlings to sample from:

Tombo Shochu ($14.99) is from Vietnam and is distilled from barley.

Yokaichi Kome Shochu ($16.99) is from Japan, distilled from rice, and is currently a favorite of the store staff. The aroma is reminiscent of sake, you can smell the faint sweetness of the rice, the palate is very dry and smooth.

These are both very smooth and easy to drink and they are super versatile. You can drink it neat, on the rocks, or enjoy a traditional way of drinking Shochu by mixing it with a little hot water, this brings out the fragrance and some of the distinctiveness of the source material. I like to sip small glasses with a meal and Asian foods are a great partner, you know "If it grows with it, it goes with it." Great pairings are tempura, teriyaki, yakitori, soba, grilled fish, stir fried noodle dishes, and dumplings.

Not to be overlooked is the opportunity to experiment with Shochu in cocktails, this is an exciting area and still fairly new ground. Shochu has a mild flavor and on it's own and mixes well with vermouth, bitters, and fruit juices. A good place to start would be with variations of classic vodka and gin based cocktails. Shochu negoni anyone?