Thursday, March 31, 2005

This is Real "Sick"

Fox Creek, Vixen NV10 ($16) -- McLaren Vale, Australia. I am weak on the latest lingo here, but "bomb" is old and I'm not sure what "random" means, but this stuff is unbelievable. It is a Sparkling wine from Australia made from 54% Shiraz, 32% Cabernet Franc and 14% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is blood-red and foams up with pale rouge colored bubbles when first poured. The nose has light fruit aromas, and the initial attack on the mouth is softened by the tiny bubbles. (So many cheap Sparklers are all about large bubbles and no fruit or flavor, and I feel the headache coming on with the first glass.) The finish here is lingering with fruit and a touch of sweetness, but very dry. (If that is a contradiction, please try this wine.) First off, this is a good drinking red wine, with the emphasis on red wine. Second, it's a fizzy! And it's definitely not a Blush or Rose, so from a distance it looks like a red wine. If you are Pink intolerant, then the coast is clear to walk around a crowded ballroom without embarrassment!

I just opened a bottle for lunch when the case was delivered off the truck, and I immediately called the sales rep to grab the last three bottles in the warehouse. This case is going home. Good luck finding it in Cincinnati! And as the Chef said the other day to the Manager of the resaurant at the mid-day tasting, where I first encountered this treat, after a case was ordered for the wine list, "Hey, you better lock this stuff up, this is sick!"

Party Red

Santa Ema, Carmenere 2003 ($6) -- Cachapoal Valley, Chile. This is marked down from $9 so that they can clear the warehouse for the new vintage. The Carmenere in Chile was long thought to be Merlot, until they did some DNA research. This wine has a good fruit nose, smooth (Merlot-like) flavors and a finish. I think this is an outstanding value as a party wine when you don't want to serve Crane Lake or Woodbridge! If your guests ask what Carmenere is, just tell them it's Chilean Merlot! This wine would also make a good mid-week table wine with anything from pizza to spahgetti. At $65 a case with the 10% discount, it's a no brainer!

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Michael Broadbent MW

I am half way through this blog, but it is a must read. Click on the title to link to Neal's article. Here is a snippet:

"What was the first chateau you ever visited?"

MB: "It would have been Chateau Palmer with Peter Sichel in 1955 and I remember Daphne walked across the roof afterwards. My first visit to Germany was in 1956 and we went drove all the way there from London on a Vespa with the luggage and Daphne on the back. It rained every day."

From London to Germany on a Vespa, with luggage and a wife! To taste wines! And fifty years later we talk about progress! Take me back there! F**k the rain!

Got to go. I need to finish the article!

Monday, March 28, 2005

$16 Bordeaux

Chateau Beaulieu, Comtes de Tastes, Grand Vin de Bordeaux 2001 ($16) -- France. Estate bottled. Classy front label, and a very informative back label with production notes: (15 year vines on 25 acres; 55%Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon; high density vines with low yields; 60% new oak barrels; 12 months on the lees; hand harvested -- no snakes!) It's all there. I give it an A+ on packaging.

As for the wine, there was a pleasant fruit nose; tannins were present; but in the mouth it was jumbled and confused with a short finish. Another taster got vinegar. Ouch! I didn't think it was that bad, but compared to the very good wines coming out of Spain, Chile and Argentina for under $12 that have big aromas and full fruit balanced flavors, this little Bordeaux with the good looking bottle will remain a one-time sample not to be repeated.

Final note: this one may have been partially cooked as the cork showed signs of leakage. I will retest if someone else buys the next sample.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

1999 RunRig

I saw this on the list at Pigalls and thought it was a bargain at $280. Internet pricing is about $200 (if it were legal in Ohio), plus shipping plus being at risk for a bad bottle, I recollected, so I plunged in. (Sometimes there are gems on the wine lists in town!) Oh yeah, the meal and service were superb, really the best in the city and hanging out with Jean-Robert in the kitchen after dinner is the perfect ending to a fine meal. Back to the wine. The bottle was presented by Gary, the sommelier, dust and all. I suggested a good decant and we were off after a little glass of Cotes-du-Rhone Village. Richard, the Maitre D', and Gary were offered tastes. Gary enjoyed his and ran back to the kitchen to offer Chef a taste. Later during my dessert of seven cheeses, Gary said that he would normally suggest a Port, but the RunRig was big enough to suffice.

I had gone to the Torbreck tasting last fall in Cincinnati and had enjoyed all the wines in the portfolio, in particular, the Juveniles, which are great for the price. And David Powell is just a nice guy as we chatted about the bad weather and where he was headed off to next, and not some pretentious wine God, which he is, a wine God that is, given his talents. But sadly, there was no RunRig that day, and I didn't pony up and order cases of the other wines to get a few bottles of RunRig. Next year, I may.

I got a big nose of ripe, dark fruits (and I got a whiff of cedar, almost Cab-like; Richard found a subdued pepper), then a full mouth of more dark fruits and a long finish. It is 97% Shiraz and 3% Viognier, but on a blind taste I would guess old California Cab, but big! Amazing stuff and over the next hour and a half I enjoyed this beauty. One of the best wines to date, right up there with the '97 Margaux and the '68 BV Georges de Latour, but where they were subtle and elegant and, in the case of the BV, ephemeral, the RunRig is real big, but elegant and has years, decades left. If I had to pick one, I would go for a case of the RunRig and enjoy a bottle every two years for the next twenty years. So at $200 every two years, that's only about $10 per month, right! That's a cheap price to drink greatness over the next twenty years!

Saturday, March 26, 2005

How Not To Open A Bottle of Wine

I thought we didn't need to go over this, but I guess there are some basic wine drinking skills that need to be reviewed in light of the new technology. We had covered proper serving temperatures and decanting, and a little bit on storage, but it seems we need to discuss the topic of opening up the new screw caps in light of some unfortunate stories, all true I am told. I know, as a certain in-law confessed to his recent confusion on opening a screw cap, but he is 85 and can be forgiven. The other story I heard from a reputable wine rep.

  • Don't try to open the screw cap with a wine opener by driving the sharp screw of the opener through the metal cap and then leveraging the top off. You will end up with a jagged mess that may cause more harm than good.
  • Also, don't try to use a "foil" cutter to cut off the top of the "capsule" to get at the "cork", and then take the wine bottle to the store and complain that there was no cork in the bottle. You will be wasting about 5 to 10 minutes cutting through the metal cap, you will probably be ruining a perfectly good foil cutter, and I will guarantee you that the clerks at your favorite wine store will be smirking everytime you go back to buy some wine.
  • The proper way, or if you want to impress your date, is to rotate the lower section of the screw cap enclosure in the opposite direction to break the seal (in a flourish similar to the preparation of opening a Champagne bottle), and then roll the top off the bottle by rolling it down your sleeve. The cap will fall into your hand to be whisked away. Do not present it to the host. Be sure to practice this a few times before going public!

Friday, March 25, 2005

Pho Paris Winemakers Dinner

I just came from a planning session/lunch at Pho Paris where I introduced the wines to Jeff, the Manager, and Jared, the Chef, to begin the process of creating a menu for the Winemakers Dinner with Greg Graziano on May 9th. I had selected the “Enotria” Moscat and Arneis, the “Monte Volpe” Pinot Grigio and Peppolino, the “Graziano” Zinfandel and the “Saint Gregory” Pinot Noir. No final decisions were made, but Jared riffed about Blue Tuna, Rabbit, Buffalo, Lamb, Crab, Salmon, and Tuna, and made me dizzy with details on reduction sauces and compotes and flavorings. Paige, the Pastry Chef, then popped out and tasted the “Enotria” Moscat to begin matching the dessert. She threw out some ideas about melon and berries, then asked if she could keep the sample, “I don’t often like sweet wines, but this is good!” She then disappeared back into the kitchen. The scene is like watching artists at work, stretching their imagination, particularly when we are matching Italian wines grown in California with foods from a fusion French Vietnamese restaurant. I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

To find out more about Graziano's wines, check here:

The Jean Robert Restaurant website is here:

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Two Wines from Billington Imports

Chris, the Regional Manager, dropped off six wines to taste. I liked these two, althought the 2003 Catena Chardonnay was very good, but I am backed up on $18 buttery Chards right now. At $12 I would be all over it.

  • Cousino-Macul, Cabernet Sauvignon "Antiguas Reservas" 2002 ($15) -- Valle del Maipo, Chile. 100% Cab; 35,000 cases. Not a big nose, nor much taste evolution after being open for several hours, but a good, pleasant, smooth Red for the price with structure and integrated tannins. Very drinkable right now. I heard from Chris that there are back vintages available, and I look forward to tasting some older verticals at this price point.
  • Catena Zapata, "Alamos" Malbec 2003 ($11) -- Mendoza, Argentina. Big smokey nose with heavy fruit flavors and a smooth finish. It has been a long day of tasting, and I may be off, but I get an almost Pinot like cherry flavor and nose, but much stronger. This wine has lots of depth for $11 and was my favorite.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

La Legua

Bodega Emeterio Fernandez, La Legua 2003 ($10) -- Cigales, Spain. Another wine blogger, Christian from "Turn the Screw", raved about this as the next Las Rocas and said all his customers loved it. (He has a wine shop in Savannah, Georgia.) As it turned out the wine was not in the Cincinnati marketplace because the wine buyer for the local distributor had passed on it after tasting through the Eric Solomon current releases. I requested a sample bottle with the promise to place a large order if I liked it. Before I had a chance to taste yesterday, the wine buyer had re-tasted, and a container shipment is on the way and should be here in a month. I guess he liked it. I liked it also, as did the wine rep and a local restaurateur.

This blend of 96% Tempranillo and 4% Garnacha has a big dark fruit nose, with a well rounded, tannic finish. It is a bit rough at first, but after 30 minutes, settles down. This is a big wine for $10. Not a good food wine as it would overpower most dishes, but a great wine to sip over several hours while you enjoy the taste evolutions. This is a buy-by-the-case wine as it will last for years, if you have the self-discipline. Hell, buy two cases!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Murphin Ridge Inn

Last weekend, I was dragged out of town to this wonderful spot in Adams County about an hour and a half from Cincinnati. I would have got there sooner except for all the Amish buggies in the way the last 10 miles! I had no idea what to expect as this was a surprise gift from Polly, so I was prepared for typical B&B American cuisine and a bad wine list (Red or White?). I brought a few wines just in case! They weren't needed as the wine list is short (20+) but packed with great selections (Qupe, Talbott, Kali-Hart, Cinnabar, Bonny Doon, etc) marked-up about $5 to $10 over retail. Thank You! I did enjoy sharing my wines with the owner, Darryl, however. He reciprocated and brought out a Mathews (sp?) Claret from Washington State. And the food is as good as any fine dining in town, and included freshly made soups, salads and breads, and entrees that fill you up after a day of roaming around the country-side, either on foot or by car. If you have any doubts about the cuisine, go to the web-site and order the cookbook.

Our room was one of the nine modern cabins that have king-sized beds, gas fireplaces, walk-in-showers and two person jacuzzi baths. The open floor plan and cathedral ceilings let in lots of light and are more than comfortable. This is NOT camping, but luxury, yet there are no TVs and your cell phones won't work. There are also rooms available in the large Guest House, but I would suggest the cabins.

I have not visited many Inns or B&B's in Ohio, but this one is top-shelf, and is highly recommended because of the setting on 125 acres of farm land, the food and wine, and the warm hospitality of the hosts. We will be back!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Telegramme Redux

Telegramme, Chateauneuf du Pape 2002 ($25) -- France. H Brunier & Fils, imported by Kermit Lynch. This wine has been panned by some, in particular, Wine Lovers Page. Mr. Garr thinks the wine should not have been made due to the terrible weather conditions, and has compared it to a $10 Cotes-du-Rhone. I disagree. I cannot compare to the original Vieux-Telegraphe, but I think it is better than a $10 table wine. If it's not I would love to get some names from Mr. Garr for $10 wines that taste this good. I will buy 10 cases.

I had tasted this wine last fall at a distributor function, had liked it and ordered a case. When I saw the bad reviews I opened a bottle today to see what the fuss was about. I got very smooth slightly sweet Grenache flavors with slight tannins and a good finish. It may be simple but it is elegant and I would serve and sell anyday. I wish I had bought more!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

St. Paddy's Day Wine

Gracia, de Chile, "Porqueno" Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 ($ xx) -- Colunquen Estate, Aconcagua Vally, Chile. "Reserva Lo Mejor". This wine was thrown at me after happy hour at Hap's by the winery's US Sales Manager (yes, I was Irish today and had a few Guinesses). I don't know if it is in the market yet, or what the price is, but I am gathering from the website, that "Reserva Lo Mejor" is one level down from the top shelf. I am guessing $25. It has a big fruit/berry nose with a burst of blueberry, chocolate and vanilla flavors. Tannins are there but integrated. This is a big, drinkable Cab with structure and a medium finish.

Now, the label. I think a classier label would really help here. (Although the Australians have done well with animals and cute names!) This wine deserves better packaging. "Porqueno"? Por que no! I don't get it. No entiendo. Si quieren vender muchas cases de vino in los Estados Unidos, necesitan, como se dice, "better packaging". Este vino esta muy bueno. Me gusta mucho! Muchas gracias. De nada.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

This is Wrong

I don't rant much, but tell me what you think. I stop at a local restaurant on the way home (a recently rated top #5, maybe even higher) to have a glass of wine and an appetizer. I don't want to mention names here to embarrass anybody, but I think the following is not right. I order a certain Pinot Noir to taste and an appetizer. The wine is delivered and I announce to the bartender that I am in the business and start taking notes. This place is very cool/hip/not friendly as I sip and write my notes. Twenty minutes later the sommelier arrives to ask how I like the wine and informs me the wine served is not the Pinot on the menu but something else. Oh? "She served you something else." Oh? When he leaves, after gathering up the wine menu which I had been studying, I ask the bartender why she didn't tell me that she served me the X when I ordered the Y. "I was told by the sommelier to serve X when someone asks for any Pinot Noir."

Let's just stop here. That is totally wrong.

Now, the second wrong. If I owned the restaurant, or was the "sommelier", in this situation, I would have comped for goodwill purposes the first glass (I am now on my second glass of "Barbera"?) if it happened to a customer. Stuff happens. The customer would be happy. If the customer were in the business and talking with 10 wine reps a week and knows who is paying their bills and who is not and what restaurants are hot and what restaurants have HUGE inflated egos, I would send over a glass of the good stuff and apologize for the screw up. Cincinnati is a small town. Nothing was done or said. My bad for showing up. That is the second wrong.

By the way, the appetizer sucked and was for some unexplained reason served in two shifts!

Tell me I'm wrong!

Tramonte & Sons Wine Tasting

I recently tried 14 wines in the warehouse. The following were my favorite picks:

  1. Cloverly Estate, Queensland Semillon Chardonnay 2002 ($10) -- Australia. 70/30%. Slight Semillon nose but not overpowering. Good balance. Cute fish on the label. After all, it's Australian.
  2. Enotria, Moscato 2003 ($13 for 37.5cl) -- Mendocino, California. 7% alcohol. Slightly sweet dessert wine with very low alcohol. Delicious. Be sure to hide from the women in the house!
  3. Robert Hall, Syrah 2000 ($17) -- Paso Robles, California. Elegant fruit flavors with a medium finish. Not a complex sipping wine, but great with food.
  4. Monte Volpe, Peppolino 2001 ($22) -- Mendocino, California. A proprietary blend of 3 Italian varietals: Sangiovese (34%), Montepulciano (33%), Negroamaro (33%). Winemaker is Greg Graziano, who makes wine under Saint Gregory, Enotria, Graziano and Monte Volpe, and is from a third generation Italian family who produces only Italian varietals. Not a big nose, but wonderfully balanced flavors, makes a great food wine with acid backbone and just a touch of sweetness.
  5. Sabatucci, Primitivo di Manduria Emozione 2000 ($24) -- Italy. Vincola Savese SNC. 16% alcohol. A slight wiff of dried cork on opening, but not flawed. Full-bodied flavors. Integrated tannins, good finish. Did I mention that it was full-bodied! This is related to the Zinfandel varietal and would be another good food wine with roasted meats, chili, or hand grenades!
  6. Enotria, Barbera 2001 ($14) -- Mendocino, California. Good fruit nose and flavors. Another good food wine.

Greg Graziano will be in town in May to host some wine dinners. I will let you know the details as soon as I know. Tentatively I will be hosting a dinner with Greg at Pho Paris on May 9th. Reservations are limited to 40. It should be fun pairing the French Vietnamese cuisine with Greg's great food wines. One of the chefs told me to bring in the wines and he will work on a special menu to match the wines.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Erie Avenue Blind Tuesday Tasting (#2)

This month's "theme" was Pinot Noir under $50 (well, almost under $50). Tonight all 11 of us met in Yajan's main dining room at Cumin to review 8 Pinots. There were 3 from Oregon, 2 from California, 2 from France and 1 from Spain. Spain! Yes, Spain does make Pinot although I think this is the only one. The results are a little different than the ones announced tonight at the tasting due to some math errors, but the results have been triple checked now. If the total number of points is divisible by 36, then the results are good. Next month, the 3rd Tuesday in April, we will review Syrah's under $30. Thank you Yaj for the space, the Nan and the Chilean Sea Bass appetizers. Thank you Mike for the lovely Champagne, although I only got a small taste. Ta Dum!

  • 8th -- 63 points -- 2001 Domaine Lorenzon, Mercurey Champ Martin ($35) -- This one got 5 votes for 8th place (ouch!). Two comments guessed the French origin, but two commented with the adjective "glue". I don't think this is a positive adjective with wines althought I have heard "petrol" being used for German wines.
  • 7th -- 60 points -- 2000 Calera, Jensen Vineyard ($51) -- 1 vote for 2nd, but 3 votes for 8th or 7th.
  • 6th -- 60 points -- 2001 Torres, Mas Borras ($36) -- 2 votes for 1st and 2nd, 4 votes for 7th and 1 vote for 8th. A tie with the Calera on points but 1 more top vote, but more bottom votes. OK, I voted it #1 on the big bacon nose and over the top fruit. One judge called it an "animal"! I like that in a wine! A Pinot from Spain!
  • 5th -- 55 points -- 2002 Louis Jadot, Beaune Boucherottes -- 1 vote for 1st, 1 vote for 7th, but 7 votes for 5th or 6th. Several judges commented on the alcohol here.
  • 4th -- 49 points -- 2001 Domaine Drouhin, Laurene ($53) -- 3 votes for 1st or 2nd, and 3 votes for 7th or 8th. I am surprised at this result as this producer is well regarded and has done well in previous international blind tastings. It is also the highest price at $53. I would like to try the 2002 vintage.
  • 3rd -- 39 points -- 2001 Archery Summit, Premiere Cuvee ($38) -- From Oregon, the 2002 just got a Gold at the Cincinnati Wine Festival. 3 votes for 1st and 2nd and only 1 vote for 7th. Comments included "elegant" and "exotic nose, rich with nice finesse".
  • 2nd -- 39 points -- 2002 JK Carriere, Willamette Valley ($36) -- A tie with the Archery on points, but had 4 votes for 1st and 3 votes for 7th and 8th. If not for the 7th and 8th votes might have ranked #1. Comments included " style and balance", "complex nose", "balanced", "smooth", "fruit on finish".
  • 1st -- 31 points -- 2002 Ceja ($40) -- California. Sometimes nice guys finish first. 6 votes for 1st or 2nd and only 1 vote for 8th. (Sorry Armando, I am not a big fan of cherry! Can I still come out to visit in June?) Beside my 8th place vote, the lowest vote was for 4th. This wine just got a Silver at the Cincinnati Wine Festival. Comments included "great balance", "long finish", "smooth with finesse", "lush fruit, well rounded".

If I were looking for a Pinot for this weekend, I would suggest either the #1 or #2 or #3, although all the judges had difficulty tonight in ranking these wines as they were all very good wines. Many commented that the wines seemed to change and evolve with time and votes changed frequently. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it!

Top Ten Under $10 Red

Kit Fox, Foxy 2002 ($10) -- California. I believe it is a 60/40 Cabernet/Syrah blend. Classy label, great fruit nose, full of fruit, long finish, has stuff! I guessed $35 after tasting. I was off by $25. A wine for everyday, but will fool your weekend dinner guests. Load up!

Food/Wine Pairings (Believe It!)

With the sauteed shrimp and capellini pasta with a little garlic and olive oil, I tried three wines:

  • Columbia-Crest Merlot 2001 -- Great before dinner, but really overpowered the delicate meal. You go Merlot!
  • Strewn Pinot Blanc 2001 -- Perfect match with clean toasty flavors, but subtle enough to let the shrimp and pasta to emerge. We have a winner!
  • Kings Ridge Pinot Gris 2002 -- Better than the Merlot, but the heavy fruit and residual sugar were too strong for this dish. If I had prepared the dish with a heavier or spicier sauce, then it would work well. I liked this wine earlier before dinner (actually with a lunch of Yajan's Murgh Dhaniwal at Cumin). It is a second label of Rex Hill.

Monday, March 14, 2005


I met Armando and tasted his wines. Read the story of his family and then buy their wines.

Good F***ing Merlot

Columbia-Crest, "Grand Estates" Columbia Valley Merlot 2001 ($14) -- Washington State. This is a Top 100 wine this year by the Wine Spectator and won a Gold Medal at the recent Cincinnati Wine Festival. I'm not sure of the impact of the Cincy Gold, but the WS score has pulled all the available cases out of the fine wine stores, but you can still find some at some super markets. (Don't expect me to tell you which ones, but it could be a wild place to buy organic foods.)

First off, I know Merlot has gotten a bad rap recently, but it is actually a great food wine as it doesn't overpower the food and is often a simple, pleasant sipping wine due to its smooth, balanced flavors. My complaint against it is that it is too often a "safe" choice for those who should be exploring all the other hundreds of varietals. Life is too short to drink the same wines all the time. Next time you are at a restaurant, instead of asking for a Merlot, ask for a Malbec from Argentina or a Grenache (Garnacha, if you are really hip!) from Spain. I would stay away from inquiring about the Hungarian Zweigelt's yet!

I power decanted this bottle for about 20 minutes by turning the bottle upside down into a carafe with maximum velocity. The nose is low key, but the flavors are a delicious balance of fruit and soft vanilla with maybe a hint of residual sugar. The mid-palate is solid and the finish is long. I am guessing that this wine saw a liberal use of new Oak. It is very tasty and smooth. I can see why it is so popular.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Oh Canada

Strewn, Pinot Blanc 2001 ($10) -- Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada. A wine rep dropped this one off last week while I was out of the shop, and Saturday I managed to taste during a break in the action (after the Honda Classic and before the Wine Festival). I was skeptical when first opening: Canada and Pinot Blanc? I expected a thin steely un-complex wine. I got a toasty nose with soft buttery flavors. If tasted blind I would guess California Chardonnay with new Oak but not overdone. Until I talk with the rep I can't offer much more about production notes as the website offers limited information, but this one is going on the Wine List! Also, as Strewn is only an hour from Buffalo I plan to stop by the winery on our annual trek back east along Interstate 90. The drive along Lake Erie and Ontario is lined with miles and miles of vineyards and small wineries. This year I vow to take a few days more and pull off the highway and explore.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

1968 BV Georges de Latour

BV Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1968 ($475) -- Estate Bottled, Rutherford, CA. After the Trade Wine Tasting we stumbled into Ruby's Steakhouse downtown last night. I had seen this wine on the list before and had considered getting it. I have seen the wine on some internet cellar sites for $250 plus, what, $20 shipping, but I am at complete risk for a corked or flat bottle. By buying at the restaurant I am insured that if the bottle is bad, it goes back, right. So for an extra $200 I am guaranteed a good bottle. Yeh, that's the ticket, wine insurance! So I forged ahead on this brillant plan.

The other aspect of buying this particular bottle (which I had not calculated) was the buzz from the servers when I ordered a $500 bottle while sitting at the bar with some wine rep friends. I think no less than 4 restaurant staff were used to get the bottle over to the bar. Even the manager came over to "help". (They were all rewarded with a sip!) The wine was presented and it looked like a 35 year old bottle might, a little worn around the edges. (I will try later to attach a picture. Of course, I kept the bottle!) Then the staff properly decanted the wine slowly, brought out the Reidels and ditched the Libby stemware, and the show was on! But first, let me tell you why I selected this particular wine and vintage.

Back in 1969 we moved to Los Angeles when my Dad went to work at Childrens Hospital. I was 15 years old. Sometime later when I was 16 or 17 my parents would serve wine at dinner, and on special occassions, they would offer, you guessed it, BV Georges de Latour (and also Charles Krug and Ingelnook Estate, when it used to be a fine wine.) I am guessing they paid about $10 or so. So this wine, the 1968 Georges de Latour is the first fine wine I remember drinking. I was eager to try the '68 BV again. (I also remember breaking into my friend's Dad's wine cellar that year and liberating a bottle of Port which we consumed in little over an hour. Why would you put the hinges on the outside of a cellar door, unless you wanted someone to remove the whole door! I don't remember the wine producer, but I do remember the hangover.)

The aromas had an ephemeral cedar wisp like walking in an old growth forest in the early morning, followed by delicate fragile flavors of fully integrated fruit and tannins. I am at a loss for adjectives, but the experience was other worldly. The wine reps in attendence agreed that it was a beautiful wine but had probably seen better days as it was on its decline. For the next 30 or 40 minutes the fruit emerged and was still beautifully balanced, then as we approached the end of the bottle, it faded away and the wine was gone. For 35 or so years it had held on to its promise to deliver a taste sensation, and then it had expired. Truly remarkable!

Hand Picked versus Machine

This topic came up recently in my rant about Crane Lake with a winemaker from Sonoma who offered a story about a friend who worked for one of the big industrial wine "factories". (I am not suggesting it was Crane Lake or Two Buck Chuck.) The friend's job was to inspect the truck loads of grapes coming into the "factory" er, winery, after machine harvesting and pull out any unwanted items from the mix, like branches, insects, bird nests, snakes. Snakes! As he could only root through the top layer of the trucks, we can only guess at what got through the "inspection" at the bottom of the truck bed. I guess the picture in my mind of immaculate small bins of grape berries being gently crushed to make the wine we drink, isn't always the case. (I am told that if you like sausage, you shouldn't ever watch it being made!)

"The massive Central Valley facility where Two Buck Chuck is made feels more like an auto plant than a winery. Three hundred refrigerated storage tanks tower four stories high next to Bronco Wine Co.'s parking lot. The adjacent crush pad is equipped with traffic lights at each of seven stations to direct the trucks that work all day and all night during harvest, fetching machine-harvested grapes from around the state and dropping them off for processing. "

Now, I am not saying that Crane Lake is made in part from the snakes that didn't get discovered in the truck beds before crushing, but it adds a whole new line of questioning for the winery reps when they discuss how their wines are made. "You mentioned that you de-stemmed the grapes before crushing, but are you sure that they were de-snaked?"

Friday, March 11, 2005

Cincinnati Wine Festival

The Cincinnati Wine Festival starts today and I urge all in town to come down for either the Friday or Saturday night sessions. You may see me there. I am on my way to the Friday "trade" tasting this afternoon. After that who knows!

One thought for the organizers: Why don't you release the results of the judging today so that the wineries can make the most of it in front of the "trade"? I think the wineries that have spent a lot of money and time and wine would appreciate the goodwill in front of the front line buyers. The judging was wrapped up last week! Come on!

Spanish Rose

Vega Sindoa, Rose 2003 ($8) -- Navarra, Spain (foothills of the Pyrennes). Bodegas Nekeas. 50% Garnacha, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. I thought I would get a jump on Spring by tasting a Rose. (The current conditions outside are 28% with a dusting of snow!) I have had this wine several times and think that there is no better accompaniment to a civilized lunch than a glass of slightly chilled dry rose. This wine has a pale strawberry color, slight flowery nose, delicate fruit flavors with a medium finish and full mouth feel. Delightfully refreshing! Simple and satisfying!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Two Quick Tastes

  • Di Majo Norante, Sangiovese 2003 ($9) -- Italy, Terra Degli Osci (IGT), Campormario, "Dry Red Wine of Molise". Bright fruit nose, simple balanced flavors, but a great spaghetti wine for mid-week. (Actually, served with leftover roasted-chicken warmed up in a cast iron skillet with olive oil and carrots.) So far, the best example of Sangiovese under $10.
  • Archery Summit, Pinot Noir "Premier Cuvee" 2001 ($37) -- Oregon, Red Hills of Dundee?; Mild earthy/bacon-fat nose, balanced flavors with acid backbone and medium finish. Subtle, not overpowering. I would prefer with dinner than by itself. A bit thin for my tastes. More Burgundian than Oregonian. I would like to try the 2002 to see if there is more fruit due to the vintage.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Obscure Varietals From A to Z

In this post I will cover two obscure varietals from A to Z. I began my research by ordering De Long's Wine Grape Varietal Table, which lays out 184 varietals in a grid by acidity and weight. This is a must buy for any serious wino. ( )

The wines I selected were actually not that obscure unless you buy all your wines at Krogers. If you find these wines, remember them for their novelty and great tastes, but also for their bonus points in any Scrabble game!

The food portion was a simple chicken salad sandwich on toasted wheat bread from Coffee Please in Madeira. They offer carrots as a side instead of chips. Very healthy!

  • Aglianico di Taurasi -- Rubrato dei Feudi di San Gregorio 2002 ($17) -- This is an Italian wine made in the commune of Taurasi in Campania. Their website is One of the wine reps had tasted several recently and said that these wines are usually very tannic and need to age a long time. This wine had a dark purple color with a dense heavy fruit nose, smooth, long finish and well integrated tannins. This is a big, alluring wine. It is drinking very well now but will age well also. It is going on the shelves. Other food pairing ideas (beside chicken salad sandwiches!) would be any roasted meats.
  • Zweigelt -- This one popped up on the radar at the last Erie Avenue Blind Tasting after the California Cabs. (What the hell is that!) I have now tried two Zweigelt's and am starting to feel a little like a wine aficionado. How many out there have had two Zweigelt's this year? Ever? I prefer the Austrian Zweigelt Reserve 2001 from Huber ($30) than the Hungarian Zweigelt 2001 from Monarchia ($17), but that is probably due to the price difference than the county/region difference. The Zweigelt is a hybrid that is a cross of Blaufrankisch and St. Laurent, and is, I am told, like a Pinot on steroids. (This isn't baseball, so that's a good thing!) Also, De Long's states that this is the most widely planted black grape in Austria. So much for being obscure. The Monarchia Zweigelt has a dark ruby color, light smokey/earthy nose, elegant, but not complex, flavors. It was smooth with good acidity but the finish was a little short as it dropped off quickly at the end. This wine was interesting, but not compelling enough to re-order. This wine would match well with many different dishes when one serves red wine.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Crane Lake

I attended a school fundraiser tonight ($100 per person) where they served Crane Lake ($4 retail). What a drag! For a $100 per person, I think that they could bump it up a bit and get some $10 wines that taste good, or offer some $20 and $30 wines which I would gladly pay for as this night has already set me back $1,000 ($200 for tickets, $100 for raffle, $100 for sitter and pizza for the kids back home, $200 on the silent auction, and $400 on a donated case of wine). Having dug around a little on the internet I found an article on Crane Lake. For some reason Crane Lake doesn't have their own site extolling the talented winemakers and lovely vineyards. Now I know why. Crane Lake is made by Bronco Wines, the same people who make Charles Shaw, aka Two Buck Chuck. Next time I'm bringing my own bottle! I am not drinking any F#&*ing Crane Lake from Bronco Wines!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Vinicola Falesco Montefiascone

Falesco, Vitiano Umbria 2003 ($11) -- Italy. Imported by Winebow, Inc. A very pleasant red table wine that opens up over time. Would be great with a week day dinner. Not complex, but tastey. Here are the winemaking notes:

"VITIANO I.G.T. A blend of 33% Merlot, 33% Cabernet and 34% Sangiovese grapes grown in the region of Umbria. Vitiano is vinified in stainless steel tanks and aged in Nevers barrels for 3 months before being bottled. This is a young red wine with explosive, luscious aromas. The wine has a wonderful deep, ruby red color with a wide range of organoleptic qualities. It is rich in polyphenols and balanced acidity. This versatile red is at it's best in its youth when the fresh fruit character is most evident. Vitiano is a perennial value."

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

San Vicente Rioja

Senorio de San Vicente, Rioja Tempranillo 1997 ($36) -- Canoca, Spain. Imported by Cutting Edge Selections. Aged in American and French oak barrel for 20 months and then bottled aged for 12 months. I have tasted this wine before, but today the cork crumbled out and appeared saturated. The vanilla nose was there but the color looked a touch like sherry so I was wary. I think this bottle was partially oxidized, but still had tannins and some structure but the elegant finish was gone. I remember this wine to be transcendent as it opened up over several hours, but not today. Oh well, I will have to try another bottle later!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

South Beach Wine and Food Festival

Where to start. First, I returned yesterday from Miami, where it was about 75 degrees and partly sunny, to Cincinnati where it was a bit colder. I hadn't looked at the weather reports when I was down south but as we were taxiing into the gate at CVG I noticed that they were de-icing the outgoing planes. Not a good sign as I had not brought a coat for the 30 degree weather and snow.

The Wine and Food festival is a 3 day extravaganza held primarily in a huge tent village on the beach in front of Ocean Drive. There were many side events at many restaurants, but I heard the Moet Bubble BBQ on Friday for 1,200 next to the Delano was "the" event. Friday was "trade" day and we managed to crash the party after some persistence and had a chance to sample all the wines and many specialty liquors hosted by Southern Wine and Spirits. Saturday and Sunday was for the public and included about 50/50 food and wine. The high-end wines had left except for the BV Georges de Latour and a smattering of other good wines. My tasting notes are somewhat suspect as I took none. When you go, you will understand. I find it very difficult to take notes standing on the beach, swirling wine while gazing out over the sunbathers and the turquoise waters. And with the addition of the other distractions, I was amazed that I even remembered to spit. Beside the servers, many of whom had been selected for qualities other than their wine knowledge, and the party atmosphere, the event was not conducive to serious wine tasting. Not that I was complaining.

We stayed at the Wave Hotel at 3rd and Ocean which is a small hip spot with small rooms but was very comfortable and very convenient. The beach is half a block away and the heart of Ocean Drive is 4 blocks away. The Astor Hotel still makes a great martini, China Grill has a great selection of appetizers and entrees at 11:30pm when you really need them and the Deuce is still a popular dive bar at 3am. Crowbar was packed with pounding music, if you can get in, and Nikki Beach was still hot in a cool, laid back South Beach way on Sunday afternoon although we did not opt for the Roman-style beds. The Cleavlander was still the best happy-hour spot (open til 4am!) for outdoor fun and scenery and the Delano was as always the place to be at night and is a transforming spot by the pool for all us mid-westerners in February. It has to have the best lobby bar in the country.

So if you want to nibble on delectable treats washed down by good wines on the beach in February in the middle of the hottest entertainment spot in the country (actually we are still checking to see if Miami is part of the USA. My friend from Mexico City used to say, "The great thing about Miami is that it is so close to the United States!"), then this is the event to attend. Just leave your tasting notes at home. See you next year!