50 Wines in 90 Minutes

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Ultimate Speed Tasting

I joined a small group of wine enthusiasts this weekend at an unusual tasting event at a Fleming’s Restaurant in Chandler, AZ. The restaurant had three attendants pouring 50 wines for a group of 20-25 customers. The original email invitation offered 120 minutes for the tasting: roughly 2.5 minutes per bottle. I came prepared to give this a shot with full tasting notes… but on arrival, I learned we would have only 90 minutes to complete the task, or less than 2 minutes per bottle. OK, I am game :-\

The tasting started with an introduction by the restaurant’s wine director and these instructions: “You have 90 minutes to taste 50 wines. Each will be a measured 1 oz. pour. 50 oz. of wine is near two full bottles. Be careful. There are spit buckets at the corner of each table. Go!” I thought this might descend into disaster, but amazingly everyone remained responsible and were evaluating the wines, rather than drinking them. Kudos to the Phoenix wine community… this was a serious consumer event.

Observations & Comments

This event was a major journey into masochism. I have been to wine tasting events with this number of wines before, but always with near twice the time per bottle and while seated at a table. This wine tasting was characterized by service upon request and no place to sit. I would find it difficult to suggest attending one of these Fleming’s 100 Tasting Events, unless you are either a wine journalist, or just ignore the challenge of sampling the entire list. I tasted a large number of wines in a very short time and if you have no experience with preventing palate fatigue, the sheer quantity can make everything taste the same half-way through. The wine list was quite diverse representing many different varietals, countries and styles. In my opinion, a large percentage on this list were not premium category wines, but six were worthy of taking note as either a step above, or a great value. Navigating lengthy restaurant wine lists can be daunting and this is only HALF of this Fleming’s offering. It is a shame, I only found 12% that I would go out of my way to order. I hope my readers will find this lengthy article helpful, especially those who enjoy Fleming’s Restaurants as my wife and I do.

Event Wine List

(full names shortened in the interest of brevity)

Sparkling – White/Rose/Red

  • Mionetto Prosecco Extra Dry NV – Italy
  • Jean-Charles Boisset JCB Brut #21 NV  – France
  • Distinguished Vineyards Sophora NV – New Zealand
  • Banfi Rosa Regale Acqui NV – Italy

Still Whites

  • 2014 Loosen Brothers Mosel Riesling – Germany
  • 2014 Jean Baptiste Gunderloch Riesling Kabinett – Germany

From here, I realized I was already in trouble on time and stopped asking for the vintage information…

  • Vinedos Santa Lucia Sauvignon Blanc – Chile
  • Hess Family Bodega Colome Torrontes – Chile
  • Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc – New Zealand
  • Maso Canali Pinot Grigio – Italy
  • Coppola Virginia Dare Two Arrowhead Viognier-Roussanne – Paso Robles, CA
  • Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay – Canada
  • Taken Complicated Chardonnay – Sonoma County, CA
  • Meiomi Chardonnay Santa Barbara-Monterrey Counties Blend – Sonoma Coast, CA
  • Kendall Jackson Chardonnay Vintner’s Selection – CA
  • De Loach Chardonnay La Reine – Sonoma Coast, CA
  • Glen Carlou Chardonnay – South Africa
  • Franciscan Estate Chardonnay – Napa Valley, CA

Still Reds

  • Wine by Joe Pinot Noir – Willamette Valley, OR
  • Mark West Pinot Noir – CA
  • Jean-Claude Boisset Bourgogne Rouge – Burgundy, France
  • Rodney Strong Russian River Pinot Noir – Sonoma Valley, CA
  • Cambria Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Clone 4 – Santa Barbara County, CA
  • Calista Edna Valley Pinot Noir – San Luis Obispo County, CA
  • Bertoldi Gran Passione Rosso – Italy
  • Bodegas Bagordi Navardia Red Blend – Spain
  • Pascual Toso Malbec – Argentina
  • Ziobaffa Toscano Rosso Organic – Italy
  • Michel Gassier Cercius Rhone Red Blend – France

If you have had it with this wine listing just skip to the bottom for my ABBREVIATED notes

  • Prats & Symington Post Scriptum de Chryseia Red Blend – Portugal
  • Saldo Zinfandel – CA
  • Red Diamond Merlot – Washngton State
  • Chateau Haut-Colombier Bordeaux Style Blend – France
  • Duckhorn Merlot – Napa Valley, CA
  • Lidio Carraro Serra Caucha Agnus Red Blend – Brazil
  • Greg Norman Cabernet -Merlot – Australia
  • Trefethen Double T Bordeaux Style Blend – Napa Valley, CA
  • Gundlach-Bundschu Mountain Cuvee Red Blend – Sonoma County, CA
  • Paraduxx Propietary Red Blend – Napa Valley, CA
  • Treana Red – Paso Robles, CA
  • 14 Hands Cabernet Sauvignon – Washington State
  • Liberated Cabernet Sauvignon – Sonoma County, CA
  • Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon – Argentina
  • Chateau St. Michelle Indian Wells Cabernet Sauvignon – Washington State
  • Oberon Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley, CA
  • Round Pond Kith & Kin Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley, CA
  • Hall Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley, CA
  • Justin Cabernet Sauvignon – Paso Robles, CA
  • Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley – Sonoma County, CA
  • Yardstick Cabernet Sauvignon Ruth’s Reach – Napa Valley, CA

Highlights of the Tasting Notes

Notable Wines

Top Three Whites

Jean Baptiste Gunderloch Riesling – Acceptable German Riesling. More red apple on the palate, than stone fruit (peach, apricot, etc.), but crisp and refreshing. At around $17/btl market price, decent value too. For the same price though, I would recommend the U.S. made Chateau St. Michelle Eroica Riesling first.

Maso Canali Pinot Grigio – Second best white of the evening. A crisp mouth-feel with high acidity. Lemon citrus palate with a lingering finish. Nice balanced profile. Would be great as a before dinner sipper, or with white cream sauces.

Coppola Virginia Dare Two Arrowhead Viognier-Roussanne – Best white wine of the night! Beautiful soft mouth-feel with high acidity. The wine was fruit forward, without being sweet, or overpowering. Citrus palate with a beautiful floral lingering finish. Missing the bitterness of some Roussanne wines. Great for food and on its own.

Top Three Reds

Justin Cabernet Sauvignon – This is my go-to restaurant wine, when there is a weak wine list. It is distributed almost everywhere and usually easy to find. Not like a traditional big Napa Cab, but fruit forward, balanced and with high acidity. Nice food wine that can accompany most fine dining dishes.

Hall Cabernet Sauvignon – Medium priced Napa Cab at around $45/btl. market price. Gives you most of what you are looking for from Napa, at an easier to manage price-point.

Round Pond Kith & Kin Cabernet Sauvignon – I enjoy most Round Pond wines, but being exposed to only their ultra-premium wines, I had not seen a sub-$50/btl. of wine from this producer. This was the best Cab Sauv of the night and has a market price of only $30/btl.! Tremendous value! Round Pond’s focus on mouth-feel, is a primary method I use for differentiating top wines. This was a fruit-forward, balanced wine, with high acidity and great mouth-feel. Look for this wine. I will be running out and grabbing some myself.

The majority of the reds were easy drinking. With a few exceptions, these were average wines that could accompany a steak capably. Although, I will have to say, this growing movement toward red blends WITH residual sugar (i.e. Apothic style) is hard for me to handle.

There was a group of better than average red wines: Duckhorn Merlot, Susana Balbo Cab Sauv, Chateau St. Michelle Indian Wells Cab Sauv. Here are two wines worth considering that may not be on your radar:

Michel Gassier Cercius – Nice Rhone red blend. Fruit forward with good acidity and a reasonable price. If you enjoy Southern Rhone style red wines, this represents the region capably.

Prats & Symington Post Scriptum de Chryseia – Wow, I like Touriga Nacional based Portuguese wines! Unfortunately, this is the premier varietal in Portugal and can be pricey. This was a nice find. For under $20/btl market, you get much of what makes this varietal great at a reasonable price. If you haven’t tried wines from Portugal yet, this would be a quality entry level option.

Bottom of the Barrel

All of the sparkling was barely drinkable.

Mionetto Prosecco – Mionetto is a well respected Valdobbiadene producer and my wife and I had tried to visit the winery when we were in Italy a few years ago… but our schedule did not allow. If this wine is any indication, I did not miss anything. I read about the “Prosecco Revolution” everywhere on the wine scene these days, but have yet to try one that approaches quality Champagne, or even quality California sparkling. Another bust.

Banfi Rosa Regale Acqui – Thought a sparkling red might be interesting, like a decent Lambrusco. Wow, this was horrible. Sweet beyond belief, with cotton candy and strawberry hard candy flavors. Don’t be tempted, you will toss it in the planter next to your table.

Loosen Brothers Mosel Riesling – I have tried many Loosen Brothers Rieslings that have been excellent. This was a real disappointment. It was missing the crisp acidity that defines a quality Mosel Riesling. It wasn’t horrible, but I guess it made the list as a let-down from a quality producer.

The Sauvgnon Blancs and Torrontes were unpleasant. The Sauv Blancs were particularly grassy.

There was not a single Chardonnay that stood out on this list, in either the stainless steel, or oaked styles. The oaked Chardonnays were so woody, they could have been used as fuel for a fire.

The Pinot Noirs were not notable. The best of the bunch was the Rodney Strong: very drinkable, with some complexity at $18/btl market – a reasonable value. It is difficult to find good Pinot Noir anywhere in the world under $20USD/btl.

Several red wines were favorites of the group, but with enough residual sugar to make it to the bottom of my list: Gran Passione Rosso, Treana Red and Oberon Cab Sauv. Not my thing.

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2008 Antinori Guado al Tasso Bolgheri Superiore

Guado Pic

2008 Antinori Guado al Tasso Bolgheri Superiore

Bolgheri Superiore DOC, Tuscany, Italy

Wine Tasting Note:

Deep, dense purple color with brownish hue around the rim. Would have guessed older than 8 years in the bottle. Closed and limited nose on open. Not much coming through yet except alcohol, bitter chocolate and watery texture. Sampling until ready… about 45 mins. hitting its stride. Still ample freshness and has become fruit forward as opening. Plum, boysenberry, blackberry in front. Minimum mid-palate, with a medium length finish of subtle dark chocolate. Tannins are grippy and high, with high acidity. The texture has improved, adding a bit of mouth-feel and volume. Great structure, but the fruit has become subtler than an earlier bottle. Fruity enough to be drunk on its own still, but perfect for a pairing with red sauce and meat dishes. Antinori has delivered another quality Tuscan blend with versatility and some aging potential. I enjoyed a few glasses prior to dinner, but this would be even better with food. If you enjoy aged wine flavor profiles, this should be best drunk 2017-2018. If you aren’t concerned whether your wine is fruit-forward, the tannins should resolve somewhat in another 3-4 yrs. If you’re like me and you prefer some noticeable drying tannins, this wine is perfect now. A nice middle-ground between old and new world flavor profiles.

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Filed under Bolgheri, Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, International Wines by Region, Italian Wine, Toscana, Wine by Varietal, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Watching a California AVA Change its Identity

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There is a small group of pioneering winemakers taking the leap of faith (with some encouragement) to embrace a different approach to Lodi winemaking. They offer limited production premium wines and are fashioning a new identity for the region.

The brilliance of the vision is in the marketing. Wine collectors and enthusiasts follow winemakers and vineyards… it is the dirty secret most wineries would rather not acknowledge. Strong distribution, labels, shelf-talkers, shelf space and displays draw the average consumer. So, when you talk premium wine, what describes successful marketing? …Rock Star winemakers and masterfully managed vineyards. Examples on the vineyard side: I am always looking for single vineyard designate wines from Beckstoffer, Bien Nacido and Stolpman vineyard sites at below market prices. Same applies to winemakers like: Foley, Hobbs, Grahm, Lindquist, Smith, Ramey, Petroski, etc. (too many favorites to list). I am always looking…

The Lodi Native Project

This project was the original brain-child of Randy Caparoso (see bio here: Randy Caparoso), but it’s success depended on the execution of a group of winemakers who embraced the challenge. At its core, the project represents a winemaking philosophy, but the goal is much broader and ambitious. It includes a group of winemakers (Layne Montgomery-M2, Stuart Spencer-St. Amant, Ryan Sherman-Fields Family, Mike McCay-McCay Cellars, Tim Holdener-Macchia and Chad Joseph-Maley Brothers) that individually agreed to release 100-250 cases per vintage of Lodi AVA vineyard designate wines under a set of rules that require non-interventionist winemaking. The parameters include: all natural wild yeast (no inoculation), no additives (i.e. acidification), no filtering, all neutral oak in aging, etc. The heritage vineyard sites (see historic vineyards here: Heritage Vineyard Society) include: Marian’s Vineyard, Schmiedt Ranch Vineyard, Soucie Vineyard, Stampede Vineyard, TruLux Vineyard and Wegat Vineyard. These are all “Old Vine” vineyard sites (see Lodi Native vineyard info here: Lodi Native About).

Why is this Special?

This project represents the re-making of an AVA. There will always be bulk fruit and wine produced out of Lodi AVA, but this effort is showcasing why/how Lodi can be different and have at least a small footprint on the premium wine scene. What does Lodi Native bring to the wine world we do not already have? These are quality, terroir-driven, food friendly Zinfandel based wines at reasonable prices. I have not tasted other Zins quite like these. The previously recognized quality Zin producers, like Seghesio and Ridge are very different. Go Lodi Native! Your team has added diversity to the world of wine…

The Impact

Lodi has a large number of Heritage designate Old Vine Vineyard sites. Many were planted with their own root system (not spliced onto alternative root stock). Lodi is fortunate to have sandy-loam soils at some sites where phyloxera cannot survive. The native root systems on these 90-120 year old vines do seem to have an effect on the character of the wine. Many of these vineyards yield only 2-3 tons of fruit per acre, without intervention. These self-regulating vines seem to have “learned” how to contribute to yield management on their own.

These sites represent a valuable asset to the local wine community, having as much to do with quality winemaking, as the historical significance they hold. The importance of these vineyards was not recognized until roughly ten years ago, but it was Randy’s vision that made them commercially viable, and it was the winemakers’ commitment to showcasing the uniqueness that brought the project together.

Lodi Native has given a voice to the different nature of this AVA. Maybe Randy guessed at what could happen if the winemakers pulled it off, but I don’t think any of them understood what it would mean to building a local wine identity… beyond bulk wine grape production. These wines are very good in a serious classic sense and are terroir driven. They offer structure and balance, something missing from much of the rest of the AVA and they definitely belong in the category of premium wines. They offer a delicate finesse, focusing on soft mouth-feel, floral nose/palate and age-ability.

Value

If you are a wine enthusiast, you owe it to yourself to seek out these wines. They are the beginning of the emergence of the classic Lodi AVA and the value is solid.

More on Lodi Native Wines to come…

 

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Filed under Lodi, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Winemaker Interview

Winery Profits, Vineyard Management and Winemaking

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Future of Lodi AVA

This has been an illuminating couple of days at #WBC16. I think I have an initial feel for a few of the major issues facing the Lodi AVA. First, the wine industry potential here has no limit. The terroir is capable of producing interesting enough wines to support a solid run at the premium wines category, but the local farming culture is actively impeding progress.

Multi-generational wine growing families dominate large swathes of the region, bringing a focus on farming science to the local wine industry identity. I spoke with a large sampling of wineries here and almost all ownership either originally started as growers, still have a fruit supply contract, or have a family history in farming. This is an AVA where large production wineries dominate the local economy with bulk wine and large production labels in the $10-20/btl price range. There is a clear local perception of Lodi’s current market position, but a few have a vision for the future and entry into the premium and ultra-premium categories… where double digit growth in the industry lies. The cost per ton of bulk wine grapes sold for volume production has been stagnant here, whereas the cost of quality fruit for small production labels has been rising. Some here with a head for business and a marketing sensibility, see the profit potential in a change of approach.

These factors are just the background for the Lodi discussion. The real issue is the identity crisis being caused by conflict between farming science and premium winemaking philosophies. Fruit production concerns here, not the winemakers approach, are driving the final product. Napa, Sonoma and parts of the Central Coast have already moved past this barrier. These other regions have developed production environments where the winemaker’s vision is effectively incorporated into the vineyard management strategy. This evolution has not reached Lodi yet and the battle for the identity of Lodi AVA is solidly underway.

Winemaking Strategies and Vineyard Management

I attended a short panel discussion during the conference that was focused on viticulture in the area. The ideas expressed… were hard to believe. In a world where Lodi is striving to be relevant in the premium wine category, this one discussion put the region back a decade. The panel asserted that quality wine could be produced from vineyards managed to deliver 10-12 tons of fruit per acre. One of the individuals on the panel was adamant! I wrote an article last year related to a similar topic that applies: Is a Trained Palate Necessary to Produce Fine Wine? I was referring to winemakers in the piece, but it can also apply to vineyard managers as well. I have tasted wines comparatively from fruit harvested at 2 tons, 4 tons and 6 tons/acre. There is a very noticeable difference. As a common theme across all Napa/Sonoma winemakers I have interviewed – none of these wineries sourced fruit from vineyards producing over 5 tons/acre. So, this panel is telling me Lodi vineyards can produce quality fruit at 10-12 tons/acre… AND dropping fruit does not increase concentration of flavors?

Team Commitment to Quality

In the premium and ultra-premium categories today there are many techniques in use that have an impact on vineyard management strategy. The goal is to enhance structure, balance and complexity in the final product. Here are a few:

  • Multi-Pass and Small Block Harvesting
  • Small Lot Fermentation and Blending
  • Extended COLD – Soak, Maceration and Fermentation.

I explained some of these techniques in a previous blog post at: Why Do Wines Taste So Different? These represent winemaker driven strategies and are the hallmark of an ultra-premium mindset. Very few of these techniques are in use currently in Lodi. The changes required in vineyard operations to adopt these methods is not consistent with a farming driven approach to wine growing. If winery operations teams can’t move thinking in this direction, bulk wine growing will continue to dominate the region.

Profitability and Perceptions of Success

How do Lodi wine professionals measure success in the wine industry? Does that vision conflict with profitability?

It is clear to me, many of these Lodi wine growers measure their success by their ability to produce reasonable quality at the highest yields. Profitably producing fruit under a 10 year contract with Gallo at $600-800/ton is the picture of that success. My imagination is just not captured by what it takes to be profitable producing 500,000 cases of wine. There is definitely more than one approach to running a profitable winery, but from the wine service perspective, achieving high quality and acclaim is the definition. That quality has typically come from single vineyard designate, estate wine production. I think there are many students of winery operations that could deliver quality at 3-5,000 cases… and struggle to make a profit. What is truly impressive is a 10-25,000 case winery developing demand at a premium price point and driving healthy profits! Notable success in the Wine Industry should be measured by producing highly acclaimed premium and ultra-premium wines, while delivering a serious return on investment.

Is Change Necessary in Lodi?

Is the agricultural flavor of the local area what defines Lodi? Yes. Can the local industry be profitable with offering fruit by the ton, bulk wine and $10-20/btl wines? Yes. Will the area draw attention from the wine trade around the world and move producers here into the premium and ultra-premium categories? Resoundingly – no. What is the future of Lodi wine production? I guess, we will all wait and see…

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Lodi AVA Wine Tasting – WBC16

WBC16 Logo

Beginning with a few impressions from this year’s Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi… It appears Lodi isn’t just old vine Zin anymore…

The first tasting of the event started my immersion in the region. Here is an overview of several producers and a few initial thoughts:

 

Oak Farm

Oak Farm Vineyards – Tasting a competent and very typical middle of the road Cab Sauv, but the real star here (and of the night) was a Loire style Sauv Blanc aged on the lees to add complexity and mouth-feel. In speaking with the winemaker, he definitely had a Loire sensibility and was specifically looking for that identity. If you enjoy Sancerre wines and would like to explore a similar approach produced in the U.S., give this wine a try.

Heritage Logo

Heritage Oak Winery – The impact of these wines was the good acidity across the board. I came to Lodi expecting not to see much structure, due to the very warm climate. The Sangiovese and Tempranillo in particular are fruit forward, with high acidity and a medium tannic structure. Nice food wines and across the board above average wines.

prie

Prie Vineyard & Winery – The reds were very thin and weak, but the Vermentino was exceptional. This varietal typically has citrus notes that usually leans toward lemon. The wine had good acidity and a beautiful rich lemon curd taste and texture…think lemon meringue pie. Great example of what Vermentino can be.

M2 Logo

M2 Wines – Traditional fruity Zins, easy drinking with mild acidity.

Mettler logo

Mettler Family Vineyards – Average red catalog. Again, the white wine was the notable offering. It was nice to see the Spanish varietal Albariño represented. This was a soft, easy drinking wine with nice mouth-feel.

Uvaggio

Uvaggio – The collection included a few average white wines. Atypically, the best wine was the Italian varietal Barbera. I thought, the best Lodi red wine of the night. This was a medium bodied, fruit forward wine with good acidity and chewy tannins. It had a bit in common with the Italian GD Vajra Barberas I have tasted (my favorite).

Scotto

Scotto Cellars, Masthead – Interesting story behind how this wine was developed with wine critic input. Check their website for the story. 100% Sangiovese with a bright red cherry fruit-forward palate and a mild dark chocolate mid-palate that moves into the finish. The wine had medium acidity and a reasonable mouth-feel that tended toward the watery side. It showed a balanced approach with good structure. It was approachable now, but had just enough structure to add some complexity.

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Fields Family Wines – Think food wines. Excellent structure across all wines tasted. Great wines to accompany food, or to age in your cellar – Syrahs, Petite Sirah and Tempranillo. The first producer I have tasted in Lodi to consistently offer food-friendly wines. Using mostly neutral oak for aging, lets the fruit shine through. All wines had medium-high acidity and medium-high tannins with good balance. Would be great restaurant wines.

Stay tuned for more impressions from the 2016 conference…

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2009 Clos Du Val Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Clos

2009 Clos Du Val Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Napa Valley AVA, CA

Tasting Note:

Still fresh on the nose with plum, blackberry, graphite and a touch of alcohol. First pour, closed with a minimum of fruit. You can tell this wine needs time to open. After 30 mins, fruit-forward with subdued plum, black currant and blackberry and a mid-palate of subtle dark chocolate with a very short finish. The acidity is medium-high, but it is the tannin that is interesting. Softer than when young, although chewy and strangely mouth-filling without being very drying. Not unpleasant, but past its prime drinking window. Great value Napa Cab Blend when young. Losing a couple of rating points with age. Drink-up!

As I continue to drink more aged Napa Cab/Cab Blends at all price points, I am able to fine-tune a feel for drinkability and age-worthiness. Hind-sight is always 20/20, but this was a wine meant to drink in a 2012 – 2015 window (3-6 years of age). Looking back, there was not enough balance in the structure to go 10… I am finding the lower cost Napa Cab blends tapping out at around 5 years. The more recent higher quality releases have been hitting a wall at around 10-12 years of age. I have only tasted early 90’s wines that have lasted well, in a 15-20 year window.

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The Legacy of Fine Wine Culture

Is there a “Right” Atmosphere to Enjoy Wine?

I received my Somm training from a mentor that still firmly believed a profession in wine was a “calling”. I have worked hard to train my palate and learn the wine regions of the world to pass that crazy test. After all the work though, I still can’t agree with the formal atmosphere surrounding much of the fine dining wine service industry. Is the defining U.S. wine experience a stuffy, formal affair? Why is there social stigma, or a nervousness regarding wine selection in restaurants? Wine knowledge in the trade should be a tool that facilitates the comfort and enjoyment of clients… instead of a blunt instrument that adds to the discomfort.

julia-louis-dreyfus-wine

Seen the Mollydooker Shake?

I was having dinner with business associates at an Italian restaurant last month and I was asked to order a bottle for the table with a budget of around $60. Unfortunately, the restaurant had a poor Italian wine selection, so I chose the 2014 Beringer Knight’s Valley Cabernet, usually a pretty solid selection (quality vineyard and a track record for value). This vintage was not as easy drinking as past releases, so I asked everyone to bear with me and I put my thumb over the top of the bottle and proceeded to give it a vigorous shake! Everyone got a kick out of it and we proceeded to drink a moderately softer wine. WARNING I am about to suggest a completely inappropriate wine faux pas… (if this will torture your sensibilities, please skip to the next paragraph) …say you run up against a tightly wound Chianti, or young red Bordeaux, or maybe a 100% Petit Verdot… picture pouring the bottle into a blender. I suggested this approach at the restaurant and everyone immediately started laughing and vowed to do this the next time they had guests over. (Disclaimer here: this is NOT meant for fine wine. It would be better to age these wines for another few years, rather than throw them in the blender). Check out this link: Mollydooker Shake. Young Mollydooker wines can be very high in tannin. A nice stiff shake can do wonders to soften any highly structured wine.

Is Wine Fun?

Several years ago, my wife and I were invited to a wine enthusiast’s home for a wine dinner with four other couples. Very expensive, quality aged wines were being served. Out of the blue, one guest suggests we go around the table and have each person share an impromptu personal tasting note for each wine being served. Really? Afterwards, I overhear comments about a previous wine party my wife and I hosted and the numerous wine-ignorant guests in attendance. That day I made myself a promise, I would always try to help others relax around wine and make the experience comfortable and unpretentious. I have become a reverse wine snob.

I am thoroughly embarrassed by trained professionals in the industry who feel it is necessary to overwhelm a client with their wine knowledge and lecture on the importance of selecting… just the right wine. When an attendant at a winery tasting room, or a Somm at a fine dining restaurant approaches me, I am usually faced with one of two types:

  • An under-trained wine steward who has not tasted their own wine inventory
  • A pretentious jerk, who wants to tell me which wines I should prefer

I am not sure which is worse? I hate to tell people I am formally trained… then, they either get defensive, or are intimidated and clam-up. When I am dining out at an establishment with a large cellar, I always search the lesser known “nooks-and-crannies” for the best value. Most of the time, I get annoyed looks, but all with me have a great time. I was at Cowboy Ciao (Scottsdale, AZ) dining with an associate last year (GREAT wine cellar, by the way). From previous discussions, I knew he preferred big, highly structured Napa Cabs. I asked him if he had ever tried Aglianico? I suggested to him, I could find a really enjoyable bottle of Aglianico there for under $40/btl. I got a serious look of disbelief. We proceeded to run the waitress ragged… I selected three different bottles that had spent time in their cellar – one was a 2006, I believe. It took our server 20 minutes working with the wine steward to track down one of these bottles (she was a good sport)! I had them decant the wine… AND he thoroughly enjoyed it! Fine wine doesn’t have to cost $125/btl and be called Caymus, or Silver Oak. Servers should encourage more discovery. Their clients would enjoy the broader wine experience.

Who decided that wine was not supposed to be fun?

Next Wine Vacation

I hope at least some of you have tried a wine vacation. If you haven’t, you should. Very few experiences provide better food and drink, more inviting scenery, or more romantic atmosphere… but they can be fun too! Napa is always the ultimate U.S. wine experience, but it is expensive and can be a bit stuffy. For something on the more fun side, try the Central California Coast, Oregon, or East Washington state. Ask around once you arrive and seek out the less pretentious, relaxed tasting venues. If you want an interesting experience, try Tobin James Cellars in Paso Robles, CA. Hit them during one of their events in particular and be prepared to have a rockin’ good time!

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Why Holding a Bottle of Wine is Worth the Wait…

Wait

How Long Does the Average Person Hold a Bottle of Wine?

There is a significant amount of conflicting survey data on this topic, but erring on the side of caution… well over 90% of all wine in the U.S. is drunk within a week of purchase. Since more red wine is drunk than white in the U.S. and Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular varietal, it is a shame more wine enthusiasts don’t experiment with aging at least a few bottles.

I have seen other figures thrown around that affect this thinking, i.e. 95% of all wine is made to drink within a year of purchase. As a percentage of all wine produced, this may be close to the truth, but as a percentage of all wine labels, it is significantly off the mark. As usual, the 80/20 rule roughly applies here… much less than 20% of the companies producing wine in the U.S. produce over 80% of the wine by volume, but this still leaves plenty of room for the many thousands of wineries producing under 10,000 cases per year that comprise a large percentage of the selection we see at the local wine shop, or grocery store.

So, many of the red wine labels you see at your local wine retailer over (let’s say) $15 USD/btl are likely to be candidates for at least 3-5 years of bottle age.

The Dividing Line

Why should wine consumers care? Who should be holding wine? Think of it these ways:

  • If you are a foodie, drink wine with meals and prefer wine that accompanies a dish well…
  • If you pay attention to different varietals, vintages and/or wine regions, you obviously recognize and appreciate different wine profiles…
  • If you recognize structure in wine (tannin, acidity, phenolics)…
  • If poorly balanced, bad wine gives you a headache and you try to be aware…
  • If texture (mouth-feel) in wine (silky, soft, plush, velvetty characteristics) is something you seek out…

You should own at least a 30 bottle wine fridge!

What Makes Aged Wines More Enjoyable

When the appropriate wines are chosen, age improves wine. Which wines are appropriate for aging? Any wine with multiple structural components… enough tannin (cotton feeling on gums), acidity (stimulates saliva) , phenolics (depth of flavor), fruit and/or sweetness (sugar) is a potential candidate. Most of us can usually identify these general categories. Though, the additional analysis that can make a significant difference is the balance between these components. Here is a brief look at how each of these components may evolve in an aged wine:

Sweetness (sugar)

  • Can add a nutty character to aged whites such as Sauternes, or Sparkling and an apricot character to German Riesling
  • Improve viscosity (richness/thickness) in all sweet wines

Alcohol

Percentage of alcohol never changes in the life of a bottle of wine, but it can become more integrated and less noticeable. Although, I have rarely seen it.

Phenolics (depth of flavor)

Working with wines that are heavily extracted, or made from over-ripe fruit is hit, or miss for a winemaker. This is an area where age can have a dramatic effect, sometimes adding layers of textures or flavors. A higher level of phenolics often accompanies over-ripe fruit, which can be lower in acidity. This lower level can effect the “vibrancy” of the wine, in other words – eliminating freshness, allowing candied flavors and eliminating “bite”.

Fruit

In reasonably balanced wines (get into that later), fruit flavors almost always diminish over time. Most of the exceptions to this rule have come from California in my experience, but in general, this rule does apply. I drank a 1993 Beringer Reserve Cab Sauv last year that was wonderfully fruit-forward after 22 years in the bottle!

Acidity

High acidity in a wine is critical to successful aging, but winemakers walk a fine line with this component:

  • Too much acidity and the wine is sharp, unpleasant and feels like it is burning a hole in your stomach
  • Too little and wine tastes “flabby”, grape-juice-like and will not pair with food

Tannin

This is the astringent character found in red wines and the primary change agent. Tannin can be harsh, grainy, fine, mouth-filling, etc. The character of tannin in wine can be affected by varietal type, terroir, vintage variation, the amount of stems and skins used in the maceration stage and more. Red wines with no tannin rarely age well and the maturing of this component is the key to enjoying soft, silky, round, or velvetty red wines when aged.

“Balance”

Determining balance is one of the KEY evaluations made by a wine professional. Evaluating young, fine wines upon release for potential ageability requires experience to determine whether to expect greatness, or just another so-so vintage… but that shouldn’t stop the average wine enthusiast. The average consumer rarely has the opportunity to evaluate $100 – $1,000 USD/btl wine. The decision should be simply: do you think this wine will taste better in five years? Often, when faced with this simpler evaluation, my answer is YES!

The most common, but misguided statement in the wine industry is: “Give this wine time in the bottle. It will come together!” This is rarely the case.  A wine may “close”, or “open” over time (release, or hide its character), but if it is too sweet, or has too much acidity upon release, time in the bottle is unlikely to change that. The one exception is tannin, which will always soften over time. This is due to a chemical reaction that creates a sediment in the bottle that can be filtered out when poured. Always filter, when pouring a red wine older than five years. The sediment resulting from resolved tannin is not pleasant to drink.

My Wine Cellar and Yours

I store over 500 bottles of wine in environmentally controlled cellars. I rarely drink wine younger than five years, unless I am dining out. I now find it difficult to drink both:

  • Harsh, young wines
  • Easy drinking – flabby, no tannin, no acid wines

Try setting aside a few better bottles for special occasions. Use the information above to choose the right wines and enjoy unique, amazing wines. As you gain experience, you will find age can improve wine you never considered for aging, like Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauternes and many sparkling wines (especially Champagne).

I wish you much good wine shared with many good friends!

“Age appears best in four things: old wood to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust and old authors to read.” ― Francis Bacon

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Capezzana Barco Reale di Carmignano

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2014 Capezzana Barco Reale di Carmignano DOC

Sangiovese Blend (80% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon)

Carmignano, Italy

Tasting Note:

Walking through the store today and saw this wine. Have not tasted a wine from the Carmignano region in Italy and was curious. The area has an interesting winemaking history dating back centuries. I had success with the same selection process years ago, when I tried my first Anglianico from the Vulture region. Unfortunately, this was not as pleasant a surprise. The wine is a very good table wine meant to accompany food. At the $14.99 USD/btl price, it was priced just about right… The nose is weak with red & black fruits, leather and alcohol. The palate is barely fruit forward, the red fruit being sour raspberry and the black is blackberry and black currant. The mid-palate has some leather and there is a medium length bitter chocolate finish. The wine is a bit thin & watery, with medium acidity and medium tannins. This is fairly well balanced for table wine quality, potentially pairing well with pork chops. Would not go out of my way to find this, but would not turn it down if served with a meal.

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Filed under Italian Wine, Toscana, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2009 Tobin James Zinfandel Blue Moon Reserve

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2009 Tobin James Zinfandel Blue Moon Reserve

Paso Robles AVA, California

Tasting Note:

This wine is improving with age. You don’t often find a zinfandel that can hold up to much bottle age, maybe Seghesio, Ridge… This was a surprise. Before we start, this is not an Old World influenced red wine. It is a California bomb! Completely fruit forward nose of dried red and blue fruits with alcohol and mineral notes. The fruit explodes on the palate. After seven years in the bottle, this zinfandel is very uncommon. The palate is all dried fruit: raisin, prune, boysenberry, blueberry… not as much sweet, as intensely fruity. Touch of dark chocolate on the mid-palate and a very long fruity finish. Silky, medium-low tannins still, with a beautiful mouth-filling texture. The high alcohol is evident, but not overpowering. Not a wine for food. Enjoy as an apertif, or digestiv. One of the most well-made California fruit-bomb style wines I have ever tasted!

We purchased this wine during a Tobin James special event at the winery. Their reserve wines are not easy to find, but worth searching out. The general release wine reflects broader market ambitions and is just average for quality and value, so don’t judge the reserve wines by what you may find on the shelf at your wine retailer!

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Filed under Paso Robles, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes, Zinfandel