Category Archives: Restaurant

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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Filed under Restaurant, Sommelier, Wine Cellar, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel

Changing U.S. Wine Landscape: Will producers, distributors & retailers pivot?

Big-Data_-cartoon

2015 wine consumer data is revealing new pressures on the U.S. wine industry. These trends will create business opportunities and confuse brand strategy for years to come. We are already seeing several of these changes beginning and I believe the others are inevitable:

The strong dollar is affecting currency exchange and making it easier for European producers to compete in the U.S.

Climate change is altering micro-climates in many regions around the U.S.

Demand is slowly migrating from table towards premium wines.

Major growth in the sale of sparkling wines for every day consumption.

Changing state wine distribution laws are making it easier for Direct-to-Consumer (DtC) business models to reach the consumer… and consumers are showing a DtC preference.

The Millenial Generation (born 1977-1995) has become the largest wine consuming age group, just surpassing Baby Boomers and bringing with it changes in demand and buying behavior.

U.S. off-site wine purchases are continuing to grow, driving greater sophistication in the wine buying community and increasing demand for wine education.

On-site beverage revenue growth is likely to follow and bring a more demanding clientele with it.

The expected growth in on-site beverage revenue (as a percentage) will increase the need for improved business skill-sets at smaller venues and individual outlets.

Sources:

Ship Compliant ™ & Wines & Vines ™ – 2016 Direct to Consumer Wine Shipping Report

USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, Global Agricultural Information Report – EU27 Wine Annual Report and Statistics 2015, February 24, 2015, GAIN Report Number: IT1512

Rampant Misconceptions

Premium wine sellers are focusing on the Baby Boomer age group, mistakenly thinking it is still the largest wine consuming demographic. This oversight will generate a window for new business opportunities with producers, distributors, off-site and on-site marketers who understand the changing demographic within the wine drinking community. In the next decade, the dominance of Millenials in the wine consuming public will grow (demographic data has shown – as we age, per capita wine consumption rises). In order to understand these changes. it is important to understand how Millenials buying habits differ from Baby Boomers.

Millenials tend to:

Be more adventurous in trying: unfamiliar grape varieties, labels and experiment with imports.

Drink sparkling wines daily, rather than just on special occasions.

Be less single varietal focused and prefer blends.

Be willing to spend more per bottle of wine when they drink, but prefer craft beer and cider.

More per bottle spending, means likely more discerning palates.

Sources:

  1. U.S. Wine Marketing Council – October 19, 2015, “MEDIA ADVISORY –
    Wine Market Council Releases Latest Research on the Online Wine Shopping
    Behaviors of Wine Consumers”
  2. U.S. Wine Market Council – March 24, 2016, “U.S. Wine Marketing Council stands by their 2016 Consumer Research on Millennial Wine Consumption Habits”

Crystal Ball?

So what to make of all this data? I believe:

  1. Distributors will have to make choices: add more value than simple logistics (education, more direct marketing, etc.), spend more money on lobbying to influence state beverage laws, or downsize.
  2. Producers will be able to dramatically improve profitability through establishing and growing the DtC channel. Producers will need to change focus to blended wines (similar to Europe). This should enhance AVA focused labeling and marketing.
  3. Current small volume markets will grow. Over 50% of DtC wine shipments are to 5 states. Huge opportunity for producers to develop new markets.
  4. Off-site re-sellers like grocery stores and on-site re-sellers like restaurants will become EVEN MORE focused on beverage as a percentage of their revenue.
  5. Demand for wine educators and trained wait staff will continue to grow.
  6. Growth in the premium segment will increase economic pressure on the largest wine producers… bringing EVEN MORE consolidation.
  7. Increasingly educated buyers will be more willing to shop at warehouse stores with larger selections and less personalized service.
  8. Changing climates will drive big swings from vintage to vintage in production. Examples:
  • 2015 Sonoma County: 36% drop in pinot noir crop.
  • 2015 Washington State: 8% drop in cool-climate Riesling crop, with 12% increase in warm-climate Cab Sauv… causing a net 2% growth in Washington State wine fruit production.

These vintage to vintage changes in available fruit will add volatility to pricing and may make it difficult to capture year-to-year fluctuations in fruit costs. Source: Wines and Vines, 02.10.2016 – “California Wine Grape Tonnage Falls” at: http://www.winesandvines.com/template.cfm?section=news&content=164654

May You Live in Interesting Times!

The ancient Chinese curse may be very apropos here. Growth in both successes and failures are on the horizon for the wine business. No, it will not be overnight, but the next 5-10 years could drastically change the landscape.  I am quite curious to see where all this change will take us…

Many of these ideas represent my personal conclusions drawn from a wealth of new marketing data released this year. I hope you enjoy my crystal ball!

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Italian Wine Tasting

venice pic

Wine Tasting

Alessia’s Italian Ristorante with Vinifera Imports

Mesa, AZ

I enjoy Alessia’s and it had been several months since I had visited last. So, with my wife busy and a free evening on the horizon, I decided to grab a bite and enjoy a wine tasting event. John Carr (Owner) has a good palate and a pretty fair depth of Italian wine knowledge and his wife Shari is a killer chef. If you’re in the East Valley of the Phoenix Metro, definitely make it a point to stop by. The experience won’t disappoint.

Vinifera is not my favorite Italian Wine Importer, but they have several labels I enjoy. I didn’t know the wines being tasted that night in advance, so I was hoping to be surprised.

Wine Tasting Notes

Barberani Ovieto Castagnolo 2014 (white blend)

Most enjoyable wine of the evening. Nose of lemon curd and herbs. Palate was of rich lemon meringue and a touch of spice. Tremendous coating mouth-feel – this wine had spent a substantial amount of time on the lees. High acidity, but balanced enough not to make it over-bearing without food. Well done white wine, that could be drunk on its own, or paired well with fish and pasta in white cream sauce. At $16/btl retail, a good value.

Cascina Chicco Barbera d’Alba Granera Alta 2013

Most disappointing wine of the evening. It was very much a rustic Old World style Barbera and not my favorite approach with this varietal. This was a food wine only. Barbera is capable of so much more, when in deft hands such as Vajra. Black cherry and alcohol on the nose. Completely over-oaked. Palate is not fruit-forward. In front, you get brown butter and smoke transitioning to sour black cherry. Poor, watery mouth-feel and medium-high tannins. Long finish of brown butter, if you like that sort of thing. At $22/btl retail, I wouldn’t rush out and grab this wine.

Fontodi Chianti Classico 2010

Fontodi is an old Italian producer with a long history… and that traditional approach shows. 2010 was a great year in Tuscany for wine and I was hoping for something exceptional. Instead, it was very average. A quality Chianti, but traditional and unexceptional. Nose of red cherry, mushrooms, bramble and rubbing alcohol. Slightly sour red cherry and menthol on the palate. Very high tannins. Medium mouth-feel and high acidity. Short to medium finish. Would be a great pairing with red meat and pasta with red sauce. At $40/btl retail a decent value.

Fontodi Chianti Classico Vigna del Sorbo Riserva 2008

Best red wine of the evening. Very weak nose and definitely needed a little time to open. The palate was more complex than the other wines that evening. Fruit forward with black cherry and a touch of black currant, mushroom, leather and bramble on the mid-palate, with a weak bitter chocolate finish. Medium high tannins and high acidity. Well-balanced and the best mouth-feel of the reds that night. I enjoyed this wine and it is just entering its drinking window, 2016-2021. At $70/btl retail, I would pick a well-priced quality Brunello first.

Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino 2010

Unless you have a nice cellar and ten more years to wait, stay away from this wine. Black fruit and menthol on the nose. Very high acidity and very, very high rustic tannins. Maybe a touch fruit forward, but the acidity and tannins overwhelm everything. Impossible to assess much else. This is an Old World Chianti-style Brunello. All the things I love about Brunello are missing: good mouth-feel, balance, elegance… This wine should not have been bottled as Brunello. The grapes may have originated in a vineyard there, but the style has Chianti written all over it and at $135/btl retail, forget it.

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

Predicting the Future of Wine Programs and the Restaurant Trade?

outdated

Why is a cartoon commenting on the impact of changing technology showing up on a wine blog… I selected it, because a changing landscape is all too familiar where technology is concerned. Wine consumption is changing in the U.S.. Can the industry adapt?

Predicting the Future of Wine Service

I have been meaning to write this post for a couple of weeks now, since Shanken News Daily published some interesting data. It appears a changing U.S. consumer profile is transforming the wine industry. Shanken recently published information from the U.S. Wine Market Council. It holds some fascinating insights into the challenges coming for wine marketing in the very near future…

  • Frequent drinkers (>1/week) are now 13% of all U.S. wine drinkers and 35% of all wine sales.
  • Millennials now comprise 36% of all U.S. wine drinkers nationwide compared with Baby Boomers at 34%.
  • High-end wine buyers (defined as those regularly purchasing bottles above $20 retail) now account for 36% of frequent drinkers, compared with just 21% five years ago.
  • Frequent drinkers are consuming 18% more wine now than they were two years ago, while occasional drinkers are consuming 8% less.

These are trends to note and they carry a clear message ( I believe):

  • Millennial consumer data shows them to be more adventurous and willing to explore wine more thoroughly (previous Shanken News data).
  • Frequent drinkers now comprise more than 1/3 of the market.
  • Frequent drinkers are spending more per per bottle.

Looks like a recipe for major change…

Can On-Premise Food & Beverage Adapt?

Mark Norman (industry consultant)  recently wrote a nice piece (link: Sales at Restaurants Plummeting?) regarding this and it had me thinking. Restaurants will definitely be hurt. Per site beverage revenue must increase to support lower margins and increased inventory. There will be no other choice, if they wish to maintain a successful beverage service. This changing consumer demographic is a clear indication: wine distribution’s typical approach to restaurant sales will need to change AND restaurateurs will need more training and knowledge to cater to this new group of consumers. The pressure will be on and it won’t just be about improving wine knowledge and acquiring a broader cellar with a more diverse price offering. The more important differentiator is likely to be business skills. Better marketing, inventory management, ROI and cash flow analysis will be key indicators of quality restaurant wine programs. Interesting times are coming!

Future of the Certified Sommelier

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I don’t think it is too far-fetched to think we will be seeing CS, MBA on biz cards in the coming decade. Somm exams should start including more business related content. As this new group of consumers starts driving larger restaurant wine inventories, more sales volume and lower profit margins, it will justify the need for improving business operations and accounting skill-sets. I like where this is going…

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Filed under Business, Restaurant, Sommelier, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting

2014 Italian Wine Tasting Event

Location: Allesia’s Ristorante Italiano – Mesa, AZ

Tasted Saturday, November 22, 2014

INTRODUCTION

This is really a great little Italian Restaurant that could hold its own if you dropped it almost anywhere in the country. Jon is the friendliest of proprietors and is quite knowledgeable regarding Italian wines. He has a ridiculously good wine selection for such a small location.

For this event, he partnered with a wine distributor (Young’s Market) to offer a really fabulous Italian wine tasting event. Young’s brought two of their sales reps and the importer was present too. I was able to ask questions and take notes, but it was more for the public, than the trade… so, I couldn’t stay seated and evaluate the wines and record my impressions fully.

If you live in the area, enjoy Italian food and wine and haven’t stopped in, you are definitely missing an experience.

WINE FLIGHT 1 – DAILY DRINKERS (9 NOTES)

Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT

Galloni gave this a 91… He must really enjoy big, rich Chardonnay. I enjoyed the nice acidic backbone and the opulent mouth-feel. The aging on the lees added serious texture and body. This wine had a strong red apple nose and palate. The style of winemaking muted the freshness of the fruit. I enjoyed this for what it was, a nice expression of a chardonnay meant to stand on its own. The richness would make food pairings a bit more challenging.

Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT

Easy drinking red table wine. Nice balance and mouth-feel for an inexpensive wine. This red is made with a minimum of oak influence and the freshness of the fruit shines through as a result. The structure is just barely enough with medium tannins and medium-high acidity, but for $12 retail, this wine will accompany most all Italian fare without a hitch. The palate is dominated by a fruit-forward presentation of black and red cherry with a relatively short finish.

Italy, Piedmont, Asti, Barbera d’Asti Superiore

This wine continued to reinforce Alba as the premier Barbera producer. Barberas like this from Asti are much simpler and less complex. In Alba, Barbera transcends table wine. In Asti, Barbera table wine is what you get. Even the several Asti DOCG producers I have tasted, just aren’t in the same league. This is a very light and simple wine… to the point of uninteresting. Medium-low tannins and medium acidity for a weak backbone. Drink this now, it won’t last in the bottle more than a year, or two. Black and red cherry flavors on the palate, with a touch of plum. No finish. Works best as a medium quality table wine for pairing with lighter fare…

Italy, Umbria, Lago di Corbara

Slightly sweet, very simple wine, with poor structure. Not acidic enough for a table wine to accompany food. Not tannic enough to bottle-age and not interesting enough to drink on its own…

Italy, Tuscany, Chianti, Chianti Classico DOCG

Actually, a very typical chianti profile with sour red cherry, high tannins and high acidity… but I believe the bottle was flawed. Poor storage, or a leak in the cork. Either way, it was definitely oxidized. I certainly hope the wine was not intended to have that character…

Italy, Tuscany, Chianti, Chianti Rùfina

Nice, but unremarkable traditional Chianti. Slightly sour bright red cherry with black cherry overtones on the palate. High acidity and tannins for good structure, but very rustic. A bit thin. This could handle some bottle-age. Would be a good food wine for pairing with rich red sauces and red meat. If I was a bigger Chianti fan, I would give it another point for being very true to the regional profile.

Italy, Tuscany, Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino

Every Italian wine tasting reinforces the impression… the best Italian Sangiovese is Brunello. I know purists will argue that Brunello is a sibling to Sangiovese, but genetic testing has shown otherwise. It IS Sangiovese. This area must be the perfect terroir for the grape, for the wines are just spectacular, if rather expensive. Fresh red and black cherry palate with a fantastic full mouth-feel. High acidity and high tannins make for a great backbone. The bigger mouth-feel makes the wine more approachable. This is a good example of a quality Brunello.

Italy, Tuscany, Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino

Brooding black cherry palate, with strong bitter dark chocolate character. The big mouth-feel and more refined tannins of most Brunellos is missing here. The high acidity and rustic tannins do not make the wine very approachable now. Perhaps, this is just made in a more ageable style. I have tasted several similar Brunellos, but this is not my preferred profile.

Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo

Maybe I am just a Barolo purist and should have scored this a little higher. The character is very typical, with a red cherry and leather palate, but the wine is simple, lacking the complexity of higher priced Barolos. Decent QPR for a representative Barolo, but missing the good things I try to find that make it special, namely: a strong floral nose & palate and an herbal mint character. This wine had the typical unique Barolo tannins with high acidity, in keeping with this wine’s fantastic ageability.

WINE FLIGHT 2 – SUPER TUSCANS (7 NOTES)

Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT

Nose of black cherry and brown butter. The palate is fruit-forward and a touch sweet and the Petit Verdot in the blend adds some mouth-feel. The structure is a little weak, with only medium tannins and acidity. Definitely, a wine to drink within the next year, or two. It was a decent everyday drinker, but the touch of sweetness would not be my preference with food.

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri

One of those wines that for me, is difficult to score. The flavors were right up my alley, but the structure was missing a tannin backbone. Weak nose with some spice. A fruit forward palate with a mild dark chocolate that starts from the attack and is present through the finish. A lighter wine style with a beautiful cinnamon and clove character to the spice. Good high acidity, but only medium tannins and a nice long finish.

Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT

Young’s Market is the distributor in our area and was selling this through Allesia’s at $22/btl retail. For that price, an ageable wine like this is a pretty good deal. Had a typical Super Tuscan profile, with good structure and mouth-feel. High tannins and high acidity with a really nice apple pie spice character. Give this 3-5 years in the bottle and it will make an even bigger impression…

Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT

I was told Suckling gave this a 95! Ooops! Where did that come from? Yes, definitely speaks Super Tuscan. Just because it is representative, doesn’t make it a best in class wine. This is fruit-forward with good structure and decent balance. Will age well and improve in a 3-5 year time frame. Black cherry, dark chocolate, a bit thin, but a good finish… all the components of a solid Super Tuscan.

Italy, Tuscany, Maremma, Maremma Toscana

A very nice example of a Super Tuscan with some age on it already. Very similar profile to the Crognolo label from the same producer and vintage year (see my previous tasting note)… but this added a big, elegant mouth-feel. I am sure the five years of bottle age has contributed to the elegance of the wine. This is fruit-forward with good structure and decent balance. Will age well and improve. Has a black cherry and dark chocolate palate with a good finish… all the components of a solid Super Tuscan. Decent QPR for a bottle-aged Super Tuscan for people who aren’t willing to hold and wait.

Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT

Past vintages of this wine have been consistently good. This may be a slightly better year than average. Spicy, fruity nose. Fruit-forward palate of black cherry and plum. Medium-high acidity and the tannins were high, but accessible, with a character that fills the mouth. Perhaps a touch too fruity for a top notch food wine, but the great structure and balance will provide a nice experience on its own. This is wine is one of my faves for the price.

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri, Bolgheri Sassicaia

One of my absolute favorite wines in the world. This vintage does not disappoint again. A young wine, but it is a touch more accessible than others in the past. I must extol its virtues now… again. Beautiful nose of fruit and spice. The palate is fruit-forward but the fruit is not over-whelming. This has the perfect balance of acidity, tannins, alcohol and texture. A food wine AND excellent on its own. Just a classically elegant wine that can be drunk now, or bottle-aged to add nuance and approachability. Is your mouth watering? Mine is. The retail is listed at $200/btl at the local shop… is the QPR right? Well, what can you compare this to? I am not a fan of spending $200 on a bottle of wine. Although in this case, how do you even put that question in context?

WINE FLIGHT 3 – SICILIAN WINES (5 NOTES)

Italy, Sardinia, Isola dei Nuraghi IGT

Another wine that was difficult for me to score. I love Carignan when it is done well. This particular wine is to be experienced, not tasted. The silky mouth-feel is way past its price point. Though, the structure is missing balance. Decent acidity and only medium tannins leave a hole… that I could get past, others may not. I am a sucker for this kind of profile. Fruit forward spicy palate with black cherry, blackberry and plum. A medium long finish of mild dark chocolate. This is definitely better on its own, than with food.

Italy, Sicily, Sicilia IGT

Not your typical Nero d’Avola. I am familiar with this varietal as a dependable, low-cost, straight-forward table wine that consistently delivers good QPR. This wine has complex fruit flavors, with red, blue and black fruits. The backbone was decent, but the wine doesn’t fill your mouth like other examples of this varietal. A lightly spicy, chocolate character complements the entire palate. This wine has both more than I expected… and less. Sorry, I know this does not convey the tasting well. I would like to try this wine again, when I have more time to evaluate it, rather than at a tasting event.

Italy, Sicily, Noto

I was told Suckling gave this a 93. Apparently, his palate and mine are not close on Italian wines. There was significant complexity on the nose and palate, but the wine was too rich. The nose had a beautiful herbal mint undertone that I enjoyed. Either this wine had been oaked too long, or an extended maceration imparted a strong brown butter flavor. The wine has high acidity and only medium tannins. With more structure, it may have stood-up to the richness better. This may be one of those personal preference wines. Either a love it, or hate it kind of experience.

Italy, Sicily, Sicilia IGT

This Syrah is all wrong. No mouth-feel, poor structure, very light and the fruit is all red. It doesn’t work as a cool-climate Syrah either. This doesn’t fit into any category of Syrah I have tasted. I am told Wine Enthusiast gave this a 90. Whoa there, this is so NOT varietally correct for a 100% Syrah.

Italy, Sicily, Sicilia IGT

Probably another year, or two left in the drinking window for this one. This has a touch too much oak for my taste, but nevertheless a very good wine.  A big black cherry palate with lots of spicy character. Nice structure with medium-high acidity & tannins and is well balanced. This flavor profile leans toward cherry too much for this kind of blend, but still an enjoyable wine.

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Filed under Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Italian Wine, Nebbiolo, Piedmonte, Restaurant, Restaurant Review, Sangiovese, Super Tuscan Blend, Syrah/Shiraz, Toscana, Wine Education, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Wine Bars in Albuquerque, New Mexico?

I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, there ARE wine bars worth visiting in New Mexico!

I travel on business from Southern Nevada to West Texas… as you can imagine, this is not exactly the wine mecca of the United States. I always search out wine destinations where I travel. So, I thought I would throw these exploits on the blog. If you are ever traveling in the area, consider stopping in. They were both good, but Farina was special.

  1. Farina Pizzeria

    510 Central Ave SE, Albuquerque, NM 87102

    Wow! I come here most trips into the area. Fantastic brick oven Napolitano style pizza. I enjoyed the “Meatball Pizza”. It was delish! As you can see, reasonable prices too! They have Antipasto and Pasta dishes, but here is the pizza menu:

    I always enjoy their wine list. Often, less well known producers and usually pretty fair quality at a decent price. Have you ever heard of Malbec blended with Corvina? What a strange mash-up – it works, but the other wines were better. They change their selection frequently, bringing in new wines to keep things fresh. The stand-outs for me, were the Nero D’Avola  and Negroamaro Blend. I tasted these wines:

    IMG_0048 Nero D'Avola IMG_0049 Malbec-Corvina

    IMG_0050 Super Tuscan IMG_0051Negroamaro Blend

    Nice atmosphere and busy even on weekday nights. Could transplant this in San Francisco and it would work. Sit at the bar and Tasha will take care of you. Great service!

    2. Slate Street Cafe

    515 Slate Ave NW, Albuquerque, NM 87102

    Tried this restaurant for the first time this trip. Fusion of New Mexico and traditional flavors. Tried the chicken fried steak with green chili on a bed of smashed potatoes and broccoli – all surrounded by a red chili sauce. This was very good, but then again, I am a sucker for southwest fusion. Atmosphere was very blah and stuffy. See photo below:

    IMG_0054

    Dinner menu below:

    Nothing special about the wine selection. I tasted the wines separately from the meal. I was in the mood for red wine. Weather was chilly and it had been snowing up in Taos earlier in the day in mid-May – crazy weather. In any case, the reds would not go well with the moderately spicy food, so I drank before and after dinner. The merlot was very average, but I really enjoyed the Petite Sirah. Photos below:

    IMG_0059 IMG_0055

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Filed under Restaurant, Restaurant Review, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

A Wine-O Walks into a Bar, and…

Wine Bar in Italy

One day last year, my wife and I walked into a wine bar in Castello di Bolgheri, Italy (OMG, this sounds like the beginning of a joke!). They had 20 wines in a commercial dispensing system… Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Le Macchiole, Sapaio, Grattamacco, Ca’ Marcanda and more (pardon mixing my wines/producers) and I blew a boatload of cash sampling higher priced, older vintage, hard to get wines in 2 oz. pours. Never saw such an impressive selection of wines BTG in my life! I will remember the fun we had that night for many years!

Wine Bars and the U.S.

Could this wine bar concept be successful in the U.S.? Let me throw this out there… could providing wine education and then exposure to these kind of exquisite wines from all over the world be successful? Obviously, the demographics of the area would be a huge factor, but assuming you were located in a high-income area… could it make business sense, or would it be a disaster? Definitely – paired tapas and the right atmosphere would be a must.

A Passion for Wine and Curiosity

In my case, I am always curious about ultra-premium wines. Frankly, it is fun trying to determine if the value makes sense, or the price point is bogus. In the process, you always run across an amazing gem, like we did that night. Although generally, I am not up for spending big money on a full night of it. In this case, my wife and I were on vacation and we decided it would be fun to treat ourselves to the experience. Are we the only couple with disposable income that feels that way? Would the location have to be a tourist wine destination like downtown Napa, CA? Will the new Coravin wine preservation system provide the method for making this concept work?

Which Wine Experience Are You Looking For?

Being of entrepeneurial spirit, I try to guess at the different kinds of consumers that make up the marketplace. When you choose to drink wine at a bar, or restaurant, what most influences your selection?

1) pair with food 2) price 3) value 4) broad appeal for the entire party 5) explore new wines 6) the old dependable 7) hunt for exceptional quality 8) try multiple wines and a diverse experience

Is seeking out an exceptional wine value on your radar, or like many believe… are you just looking for a passable wine at the right price? Many in the industry have the view that people are just happy to be out enjoying a good time with friends…

$700 USD/btl for Harlan Estate Cab? Really?

Here are a few lines from a recent wine auction. Sorry, vintage dates are missing, but you get the point. $75+ for a 2 oz. taste of wine? I don’t think many would be curious enough, although I have watched people pay that for a shot of utra-premium tequila…

Harlan Estate, Napa Valley, USA – $709
Schrader Cellars Old Sparky Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA – $624
Caymus Vineyards Grace Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA – $617

How about $25+ for a taste of these wines?

Paul Hobbs Beckstoffer Las Piedras Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, St Helena, USA – $182
Dominus Estate Christian Moueix, Napa Valley, USA – $180
Bevan Cellars ‘Oscar’ Sugarloaf Mountain Proprietary Red, Napa Valley, USA – $180

Or these?

Chateau Montrose, Saint-Estephe, France – $192
Chateau Haut-Brion Le Clarence de Haut-Brion, Pessac-Leognan, France – $192
Chateau Lynch-Bages, Pauillac, France – $188

At some point, you become saturated with high-priced offerings beyond your budget. Occasionally, I stop and think about all the buyers out there spending this kind of money on wine. Sometimes… I just can’t get my head around the wealth that must be out there.

Wine Bars in My Area

Don’t know about you, but I look for decent food and ambiance with great value wines in the low, mid and higher priced categories. Sometimes, you are out on a special occasion and want to splurge. Having craft beer on tap too is a plus, for the times when a beer just sounds right. Unfortunately, this ideal place does not exist within 20 miles of my home and has me wishing… and hoping, the next new entrepeneur will take the risk and get it right.

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Coravin Product Review

The Wifey purchased a Coravin as a gift for Christmas. Wow… gadget and wine, all in one. For those of you who are not sure of what this is, here is a photo:

coravin

Here is the link to the manufacturer’s website: http://www.coravin.com/.

Why Use a Coravin?

Well frankly, I was initially struggling with this idea and did not open the box right away. After a few days, I popped the box open to assemble it and make sure it worked properly. All good… assembles easily, few moving parts. Reminded me a little of those argon gas pumps they came out with several years ago to preserve open wine.

Gave it a try initially on an inexpensive bottle. Didn’t require instructions and very simple to use. The cork self-seals tight, right behind removing the needle. So, the question became: what situation would be right to break-out the device? You hard-core wine-o’s will appreciate my first official use…

New Year’s Eve party at our house. One of my wife’s friends was going on and on about how she hated merlot. Finally, I couldn’t handle it any longer and told her: she just hadn’t tried good merlot yet. Now, you have to understand, here in the USA, 75% of the merlot we produce is some of the worst plonk on the planet. It kills me to think of all the U.S. consumers that think this is what merlot should be (personal campaign of mine)… so, I pulled a 2001 Pride Mountain Merlot out of my cellar and dragged out my Coravin. I challenged her to try it. I served her up a 2 oz. pour of the Pride and rocked her world! Pow! Another merlot hater converted again! AND, I didn’t have to trash an entire $75 bottle of wine in the process!

Science Behind Coravin

Once you pierce the cork (can only be used on cork closures), the lever introduces argon gas under pressure. Then via a two-way valve of some sort, the pressure is maintained, while the wine is forced out of the hollow needle into the glass. Works pretty slick… So, only two potential drawbacks I can envision:

1. If the cork is too dry on an older bottle, either the seal may be lost due to loss of integrity of the cork, or the cork may not show enough resilience to self-seal upon removal. IMO, this possibility does not seem to be very worrisome.

2. My other concern is not serious, but rather more interesting. Once the device replaces the air in the capsule with argon gas, the wine is served and then the bottle is returned to the cellar. Without further oxygen to draw from, the typical wine aging process would have to be significantly slowed, if not stopped. Since argon is heavier than air, the wine may be sealed off from air for the balance of the life of the wine. How does wine age in such an environment? I don’t think there is any research on this??

Coravin Conclusion

A very cool device! If you would like to pour a glass while alone, knowing you will be unable to polish off a bottle… PERFECT! The balance of the bottle will be perfectly stored, for the next time you decide to draw a glass, or pop the bottle. I may start drinking more expensive wine, when alone – with no concern for wasting the bottle. If you have a $100 bottle of 20 year old Bordeaux and intend to pour a glass and put it back in the cellar, you may want to think twice. I have no idea how an argon environment will effect the continued natural aging process of high-quality wines in storage.

Science again solves a challenging problem facing our world, preventing the waste of good wine! Next up: reliable hangover relief!

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Can Wine Education be Fun and Interesting?

I hold consumer wine education programs, typically at wine bars and restaurants. The classes are intended to draw additional traffic to the venues to build a clientele and drive paired food revenue… but ultimately, consumers are drawn by the desire for wine knowledge.

What Consumers Want to Know

Through a few years of experience I have found what works and what doesn’t.  You can put people to sleep with the information that interested me in my formal training… history of wine production and regions, impact of terroir on flavors, impact of wine making techniques on the wine, etc.  What do people enjoy learning about?

Wine – Food Flavor Pairings

Learning how different food flavors impact the perception of the white, red, sweet wines, etc.  Setting up paired tastings to reinforce the concept.  Most are very surprised how food impacts wine.  It is rare to find casual wine drinkers that have explored this.

What are Those Flavors I am Tasting in Cabernet, or Merlot?

People want help learning standard varietal profiles.  Take them through the blind tasting process and how to create wine tasting notes.  They want to know how to talk about wine with others.  Blind taste a few for the wow factor.

How Do I Describe What I Enjoy to Wine Attendants?

Teach them how to describe their wine preferences to assist in wine selection at restaurants and wine bars.

How Do I Select Wines to Purchase Based on My Preferences?

Walk through a wine selection process based on that description, without tasting the wine.

Would I Enjoy Exploring the Diversity in Wine?

Introduce people to the diversity of flavors in wine and provide specific examples.

Would I Enjoy Wine Travel?

Discuss wine travel and destinations – relate stories of individual wineries, their beauty and ambiance.

ULTIMATELY, MOST PEOPLE WANT WINE TO BE FUN!

When I first began presenting these programs, I was disappointed people were not interested in the academic side.  Took a few to understand, they don’t want to talk about bottle aging, cellaring strategies, AOC & DOC labeling laws…  People just want to learn how to facilitate buying wine they enjoy and how to enhance their shared wine experience with friends.

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The 100 Point Wine Rating Scale has Become…

As wine media has begun reaching the consumer and wine critics are becoming rock stars… You have to ask yourself, just exactly how does this rating system work? On many websites, you will find an attempt at an explanation that reflects how the major critics SEEM to interpret it, but… does anyone really know definitively? There are no hard and fast rules. So hear is a quick look under the hood from the perspective of using the ratings as a method of selecting wines for your cellar.

As you walk through wine websites, you begin to notice there are virtually no ratings under 80, or over 95. I think the worst rating I have ever given a wine is 82. Of course this seems absurd, but regardless, if this is the standard… what do the ratings really mean? If you are the type that needs to make sense of this mess, follow me on my journey.

Criteria for the System

What exactly do the ratings evaluate: drinkability, age-worthiness, structure, balance? How do you compare entirely different styles using the scale: red, white, old-world, new world, sweet, fortified, etc. I am sure you get my drift here. Every critic’s wine notes and evaluation process is based on a different standard, therefore there is no frame of reference for the consumer. So, do the ratings have any real value, or are they just marketing ploys? Well, perhaps the intent is entirely marketing-focused, but I believe I have found ways the ratings can assist me in my wine purchasing decisions:

Assumptions

The majority of wine critics (AND fine wines collectors) have developed an educated palate. This assumption is important and I think largely true. I know for myself, I may not like a wine that others view as enjoyable, but that does not mean I cannot appreciate its quality. If the winemaker has produced a quality wine in its structure, balance and extracted flavors/aromas… I will not give it a poor score, even when I do not care for the wine personally. Again, I think this to be largely the case with the most (but not all) professional/semi-professional critics. the breaking point here for me is at 90. If the wine is rated 90, or over from several sources, odds are – it is a quality wine… but that does not guarantee that YOU will enjoy it. It is simply a place to start weeding out bottles not worth the investment. In my case, I know, I am missing many wines I might enjoy in the 85-89 range, but I try to visit wineries to sample what I can of those.

Callibrating Your Palate

Calibrate a particular critic’s palate to yours. Take a few minutes to taste wine and compare your impressions to the critics ratings and find one that generally matches your impressions. In my case, of the major critics, I think Stephen Tanzer is the closest to my palate. It is worth the time to find your match. I place a little more weight on an evaluation, when ST writes the note. Again that is just me personally.

Should the System be Changed?

I have read and many have explained to me that winemaking technology has improved tremendously over the last two decades and therefore there truly is no more “bad” wine… which is the reason why ratings do not drop below 80 any longer. I am willing to accept that, but if that is the case, then we MUST move to another system. I also believe a criteria for a new ratings system needs to be established. When I choose to purchase wines I have not tasted, here is my criteria:

  • Structure and balance: acidity, tannins, all the parts work together? Fuller, rounder wine with a mid-palate?
  • Fruit: fruit-forward, or not
  • Texture: wine coats your mouth, or crisp and clean
  • Terroir: the wine includes an expression of the local terroir?
  • Finish: flavors linger?

IMHO, if we rated each of these categories 1-10, that would provide a useful wine rating and evaluation!

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