Category Archives: Wine Opinion

EVERYDAY WINES AND EVERYDAY LIFE IN LYON – BOTH ARE EXTRAORDINARY

Since moving to Lyon, France this past summer (LINK to Post About Moving to France), much of our time has been spent attempting to learn French (definitely a work in progress), finding our way around town (easy as Lyon is a very walkable city with great public transportation), and traveling back and forth to the US (which will become increasingly less frequent).

Lyon - Saone
View toward Vieux (Old) Lyon across the Saône River.

I will do another post as a sequel to the one about moving to France soon. For now, let’s talk wine.

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Auvergene-Rhône-Alps Department in Red

Lyon is located in the Rhône-Alps Department (there are 100 departments, or states in France), in the upper part of southeastern France. We are just north of the Rhône Valley at the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône Rivers. A few kilometers to the north, Burgundy begins with the Mâcon region; to the west, Beaujolais is a few kilometers outside the city; to the east, the underappreciated Jura region is a short drive away. Wines from all these regions and more pour into Lyon, a city of about 500K with 2.2 million in the metropolitan area.

There are only two large supermarkets in the city limits, both at malls. Big box stores are restricted to outlying areas, meaning that mom & pop businesses thrive. Every neighborhood has multiple small boulangeries, boucheries, fromageries, green grocers, and wine caves. Small grocery stores have wine departments featuring representative wines from the surrounding regions, mostly from larger producers. The caves (wine shops) have more wines from smaller producers and a few higher-end bottles, but almost all the wines are reasonably priced and would qualify as “everyday wines.” (LINK to @EricAsimov column on Everyday Wines from the NYTimes). We are drinking these wines for the most part with our lunches and dinners at home – spending an average of 10 to 12€ per bottle (top shelf at these stores) – sometimes much less – and enjoying most of them very much. This is why I have not been blogging and Tweeting as much about the wines I am drinking – they are, for the most part, not stand-out wines, but they are good!

Wine - Lyon Everyday
Some of My Everyday Wines in Lyon

My admittedly limited personal research thus far has revealed an interesting fact: THE FRENCH DON’T LIKE TO SPEND A LOT OF MONEY ON WINE.

I don’t know why this surprised me – but I just have not encountered the kind of wine conversations that I had with friends in California. It is more likely to encounter a boxed wine at a dinner party than a higher-end Burgundy or Châteauneuf du Pape. And, by the way, I have had some very drinkable boxed wines here. But I was a bit surprised that the Mecca of fine wine is largely populated with folks who prefer to spend under 10€ a bottle (and 3€ can get you a very nice rosè from Provence). Even when higher-end wines are served at dinner, the conversation is not about the wine. Perhaps a quick recognition of whoever provided it (usually the host), but that’s about it.

Dorianne and I eat at restaurants once or twice a week. Lyon is a gastronomique capital – many of the great Parisian (and New York) chefs train in the many cooking schools here. Lyon has more Michelin Star restaurants per capita than any other city, so food is a big thing here. And this extends downward from the Michelin restaurants all the way to the Bouchons (think bistro but serving Lyonnaise cuisine) and comptoirs. It is difficult to find a bad meal here, and some very nondescript looking places are working magic in their tiny kitchens. And as for wine, once you get out of the Michelin range, the wine lists tend to be fairly modest, featuring value-priced bottles and vins de la maison, usually from a tap or box. The wine list prices are usually at regular retail or just a bit above.

So, my everyday wine experience here in Lyon has been mostly with everyday wines from the wine regions surrounding the city. I will say that French wine producers seem to understand that the French don’t like to pay a lot for wine. The 13€ Burgundy Pinot Noir I get at the local wine cave tastes equivalent to a $30 or $40 bottle of Burgundy purchased in the US. We are enjoying very good wines for very reasonable prices – and feeling very grateful in the process!

Don’t believe me? Come visit and see!

As always, your comments are appreciated.

 

Copyright 2018 – Jim Lockard

MY YEAR IN WINE – 2017

This has been a very unique year for me in terms of wine exploration and enjoyment. After traveling full time between North America and Europe for 2 ½ years, Dorianne and I have settled in Lyon, France. Although we continue to travel for various reasons (I’m writing this in Southern California), we have been exploring the local wine scene in and around Lyon since July – and have discovered that there is a lot to learn, and even more to enjoy.

Lyon France

The year began with our annual few days in Pismo Beach, CA with our friends to explore wineries from Paso Robles, the Edna Valley, Santa Maria, and the Santa Rita Hills AVAs. The highlights of that trip were Sculptera Vineyards in Paso Robles (we all joined the wine club and bought two cases), Presqu’ile Vineyards in Santa Maria, and Pence Winery in the Santa Rita Hills. (LINK to Post about the last two)

The cases from Sculptera (mixed cases) were sent to Roam Miami (LINK), where Dorianne and I stayed last winter. A co-living/co-working space, Roam offered a haven of tropical peace and calm right next to downtown Miami and the Brickell area. We were surrounded mostly by Millennial digital nomads, and we conducted a few wine tastings and seminars to help educate them about wine enjoyment. (LINK to Post about Millennials and Wine).

In late March, we headed back to southern Oregon, Medford and Ashland, to see friends and explore more of the Rogue Valley wine scene. A month there took us to several wonderful wineries (LINK to Post) and some great restaurants.

The next highlight was two weeks in New York, staying in my daughter’s Harlem apartment, where we got to explore the burgeoning Harlem French wine and restaurant scene (LINK to Post about Harlem). Lots of good experiences there.

In June I traveled solo to Kelowna, British Columbia, the heart of the rich Okanagan Wine Region in western Canada (Link to Post about the Okanagan). Here I explored a variety of wineries and wines, as global warming has opened the region to growing red grapes, from Cabernet Sauvignon, to Tempranillo, to Syrah. Kelowna is a boomtown for vacation homes and recreation on its 90-mile-long glacial lake. The wine scene is growing more sophisticated with over 200 wineries in the area. Dirty Laundry Winery showcases much of what is fun in the Okanagan (LINK to Post).

After Kelowna, we spend some time in London (LINK to Post) it was off to Ireland’s Connemara area, where we drank Guinness for the most part. Then, in July, we made the move to Lyon (LINK to Post on Living in France).

Lyon has been a revelation in terms of wine. Centered between Burgundy to the north, the Rhône Valley to the south, Beaujolais to the west, and Jura to the east, there is an embarrassment of riches. And some surprises.

  1. The French don’t like to spend a lot of money on wine. I’m sure that there are exceptions, but you rarely see a bottle above 20€ in a grocery store or over 40€ in the local wine cave (shop). Restaurants generally sell wine bottles at or just above retail. And winemakers sell wines for half to 2/3’s what they would cost in the US. A potis a 460ML bottle – a bit more than a half-bottle – of house wine which will cost 8 to 12€ in a Bouchon (Lyonnaise for bistro). There are also demi-pots and rare 500ML bottles.
  2. Box wines are better quality than I expected. For about 25€ you can get a 5-liter box of a very drinkable Luberon Valley red wine; 18€ for the rosé.
  3. Rosé wines are very good at 4€ per bottle, excellent at 7 to 10€. We drank rosés almost exclusively during the hot summer months.
  4. Maconnais Chardonnays are wonderful wines. Just north of Lyon, the vineyards of Macon produce some wonderfully approachable wines which sell for ½ or 1/3 of what their Burgundian cousins to the north fetch. Another nice surprise was Aligoté, the other Burgundy white – crisp, with a mineral/floral nose, it is a great value choice from the same winemakers who make the expensive stuff.
  5. In France, Cabernet Sauvignon is just Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc is just Sauvignon. Cases in France are 6 bottles. Just FYI.

As I noted in the Moving to France Post (LINK), we tend to shop every day for fresh items at the open-air marchés and the mom-and-pop bakeries, butchers, etc. This may also include a stop at the wine cave to pick up a bottle or two and have a conversation with the proprietor about what is new and interesting.

We have not yet begun to explore the wineries and vineyards in the area – our focus has been on learning French, getting to know the city, and finding a flat to purchase – however, we expect to do a lot of that in 2018.

We are winding up 2017 in Southern California with friends and family. Our New Year’s Eve dinner with friends will feature a cold lobster appetizer that I am making and a Ken Brown Chardonnay to accompany it; then roast leg of lamb with a 2005 Opus One and a 1994 Harlan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon to see the year out with something wonderful.

Next week, we return to Pismo Beach to explore the Central Coast some more, then . . .

Who knows?

Thanks for being a part of this year on the blog.

As always, your comments and suggestions are welcomed!

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

WHAT KIND OF WINE DRINKER ARE YOU?

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans”

~ Ernest Hemingway

There are a lot of ways to categorize oneself (or, for more fun, someone else) as a wine drinker. Let’s look at a few . I will provide some recommendations for those in each category to enhance the wine experience based on personal habits and preferences. It is important to have some balance, I think. I realize that all of us may cross categories from time to time, or as part of our evolution as wine drinkers. But, just for fun, let’s explore this idea a bit.

“All generalizations are false, including this one.”

~ Mark Twain

So as a caveat to any categorization scheme, I will acknowledge that this is in no way representative of anything approaching ultimate truth. It’s just for fun, and it may contain just enough truth to make it humorous.

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1. THE CREATURE OF HABIT DRINKER

This kind of wine drinker is predictable to a fault. She may always drink the same varietal, even label, just about every time she has wine. She always drinks at the same time of day, for example, only with dinner. She may be a bit expansive and drink the same varietal from more than one region, but probably not. The wine shop employee knows just what to have on the counter when she comes in to purchase.

RECOMMENDATION: Break out of the box, at least a little. Add a varietal to your routine, such as Merlot if you drink only Cabernet Sauvignon. Or, create a day of the week or of the month when you explore other wines.

“his lips drink water but his heart drinks wine”

~ e.e. cummings

 

Travel - Suitcase

2. THE EXPLORER

This kind of wine drinker seeks variety in all ways. He may drink a different wine every time, exploring different varietals, regions, decanting techniques, glasses, etc. While he may have a few favorites, he returns to from time to time, he is on the prowl for something new and interesting. He badgers the wine shop employees to get in some more interesting wines, and likely explores the shelves of every wine shop in town.

RECOMMENDATION: Find a couple of favorite wines or, better yet, varietals. Then explore them in greater depth to get a deeper knowledge and appreciation of the variety within them. You might try Sauvignon Blancs from a number of producers, regions, and countries to get a sense of how that varietal differs across the range of viticulture and wine making techniques.

“I rather like bad wine. One gets so bored with good wine.”

~ Benjamin Disraeli

Wine - Old Bottles in Storage

3. THE COLLECTOR

This wine drinker is primarily focused on developing a wine cellar that will be the envy of some target audience, or that will appreciate as an investment. He drinks around the edges of his collection, waiting until wines are “ready to drink,” or are on the downside of their life-cycle and no longer as valuable. He is driven more by the labels and the calendar than by his palate. The wine store employee never sees this wine drinker, as he purchases mainly via auction and directly from high-end wineries.

RECOMMENDATION: Have a little fun. Set your concerns for increasing the value of your cellar aside for a bit, let the urge to wheel and deal go and settle in with a couple of bottles that you really enjoy and have some friends over. Wine is a social lubricant and good wine is best enjoyed with friends. Do this occasionally and see how it feels.

“I drink Champagne when I am happy and when I am sad.  Sometimes I drink it when alone.  In company I find it compulsory.  I sip a little if I’m hungry.  Otherwise I don’t touch it — unless I’m thirsty of course.”

~ Lily Bollinger

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4. THE WINE SLUT

This wine drinker will drink whatever wine is being offered. He has no sense of appreciation of wine. His desire is to be sociable and get buzzed. If his host is serving Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw or Screaming Eagle, he will drink it all the same. The wine store employee points him to the sale bin and the bulk wine shelf in the wine shop.

RECOMMENDATION: Take a course on wine. Your wine shop or store may offer one, or the local community college. Increase your knowledge and learn to cultivate a better palate. Realize that a lot of the cheap wine you guzzle is full of additives (LINK) that you may not want in your system.

“As you get older, you shouldn’t waste time drinking bad wine.”

~ Julia Child

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5. THE WINE SNOB

This drinker is all about image – being seen as an authority on fine wines. She may also be a collector, but that is not the driver of her wine consumption. The Wine Snob is about seeming to be the authority in the room. She will spout grandiose tasting notes (including characteristics that no one else seems to taste or smell), turn up her nose at “everyday wines,” and let others know when their wine choices or opinions don’t make the grade (her grade, of course). See will name-drop wine makers, labels, authorities, and distant vineyards that she has experienced. The wine store employee has a happy/sad relationship – she will be a pain to wait on, but will buy expensive wine.

RECOMMENDATION: It may be hopeless. But if you can, try saying NOTHING about wine in a social setting. No, really. A winemaker friend of mine once attended a dinner at one of the premier Burgundy wine estates. Wines worth thousands of dollars a bottle as old as 100 years were served. He said that the amazing thing was not there was no mention of the wine at all during the dinner. The conversation was about other things. Try that sometime.

“This wine is too good for toast-drinking, my dear. You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that. You lose the taste.”

~ Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises  

 

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6. THE SOCCER MOM/DAD

This drinker is looking for a reliable wine that meets three criteria: consistent, inexpensive, and gives a buzz with minimal hangover. The primary reason that this person drinks wine is as a reminder that there is more to living than the stresses and routines of everyday life. Wine is to relax and forget. The wine store employee sends cases of the same everyday wine home with this drinker a few times a month.

RECOMMENDATION: Learn to manage your life without self-medicating. You may be using wine in a non-beneficial manner. And you are missing most of the joy of the beverage. Read a self-help book, maybe see a therapist. Then, drink wine for enjoyment.

“Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”

~ Benjamin Franklin

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7. THE YOUNG MILLENNIAL

Think Yellow TailBarefoot, and box wines. That’s pretty much all you need to know.

RECOMMENDATION: You will likely grow up anyway, but you can hasten the process. See the recommendation for The Wine Slut above.

“I went to the hospital for a blood transfusion and they gave me a wine list.”

~ Dean Martin

 

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8. THE OLDER MILLENNIAL

On the path of The Explorer, but not in a traditional sense – seeks out wines from obscure or emerging regions as long as they are organic or biodynamic. A wine gets extra credit if it comes from a third-world country. Enjoys paring wines with trendy and ethnic foods. Talks more about the “vibrations” of the wine than fruit vs. minerality. The wine shop employee needs to be up on the ecology of the wines in the shop.

RECOMMENDATION: You are driving the wine market. Keep seeking out wines produced sustainably with little or no additives. Keep expanding your pairings and urging winemakers and restaurateurs to be more creative. If anything, take yourself a little less seriously, but you are on the right track. Oh, and find ways to honor the great traditions of wine making while you create a new future.

“We are all mortal until the first kiss and the second glass of wine.”

~ Eduardo Galeano  

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Wherever you fall in or beyond any of these categories, may your wine drinking bring you great pleasure and add to the overall quality of your life. That, after all, is what it’s all about.

“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”

~ Ernest Hemingway

 Your comments are welcomed!

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Text Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard;  some images are re-posted. If your image is here and you do not want it here, please let me know and I will remove it.

EXPENSIVE WINE IS NOT A RIP OFF

I was going to let 2016 end without a new post, but then I came across and excellent article at VinePair.com (LINK to Article).

The article by Keith Beavers, is entitled “The People Calling Expensive Wine a Rip-Off Are Lying to You.” It is a thoughtful look at a recent trend in the wine media world – the trend of attacking wine experts, the folks who are highly trained in all aspects of wine  and who often recommend expensive wines to their readers. This would include people such as Robert ParkerJanis Robinson, and Eric Asimov.

Here is a sample from the article (I highly recommend that you read the entire article via the link above):

“The pleasure of “taking down” the wine industry is certainly understandable. There’s something devastating about knowing that other people are able to appreciate something that we can’t. It’s especially unsettling to know this about something we imbibe regularly, yet know we are not fully experiencing. There’s something mystical about wine – all those mouthfeels and blueberries and leather. What could be more delicious than to find out that those shamans, those mavens with their alienating knowledge, were nothing but charlatans, snake-oil peddlers whose knowledge was all a hoax?”

Now this blog is, if anything, a voice urging greater appreciation of wine without all the pretense. I have tried to simplify purchasing and enjoying wine, and generally removing the intimidation factor that many feel when confronted with a complex wine, a point system they do not understand, ridiculously mellifluous tasting notes, or a price tag in the hundreds of dollars.

But I have never said not to read the experts. I am self-taught in all things wine (meaning that I have never taken a wine course for certification; I have taken a few seminars) as is Keith Beavers, the author of the VinePair article. Like him, I learned, in part, by reading the experts. Unlike the experts, I am not doing regular tastings of dozens of Bordeaux or Burgundy wines. I have not tasted wines from dozens of other vintages to compare with what I am tasting now (although that is changing over time). So I count on the experts to be guides, although I am not a slave to their guidance.

A good point in the article is the difference between the typical European and American wine consumer:

“Then there’s the fact that there is just so much wine out there. It makes choosing and understanding each bottle that much more difficult. This is especially true here in the United States, because we are not a culture that grew up with wine. Wine in the U.S. is a relatively young culture, and though we want to understand wine, we’re very new at it.

“Compare us to Europe, where drinking wine is such an integral part of the lifestyle,  a part of the attitude. In the rural wine regions of Europe, you don’t go to a wine store and choose a bottle from a selection of 10,000. You live in a specific region that grows one kind of grape best, and the wine that comes from that grape is what you drink, probably every night with dinner. The soil itself determines what wine people drink, and they grow up with a specific varietal like mother’s milk.”

Americans face a huge variety of regions, varietals, wine growing techniques, wine making styles, terroirs, additives, and more when deciding which wines to purchase. The advice of experts is one pathway to take toward greater understanding, but they are never a substitute for trying things yourself and discovering what you like and enjoying yourself along the way.

 

As to expensive versus inexpensive wines, there are reasons why some wines cost more. And there are reasons why many people prefer cheaper wines, even in taste tests with more expensive wines. Again from the article:

“. . . people with less experience drinking wine tend to enjoy cheaper wines. It’s not because wine is one big hoax. It’s rather because their first experiences with wine were probably with cheaper wines, and cheap wine is manipulated to taste the same every year. There’s no inconsistency, no terroir. It’s homogenized, for a very simple reason: We are a culture that likes sweet things. When you’re drinking a really cheap wine like Yellowtail or Trader Joe’s Two Buck Chuck, you’re drinking a wine that has added sugars and added coloring so it tastes the same every time you buy it. And it’s wine experts who teach us how to move past these wines, and how to enjoy the more expensive stuff.”

In my experience with expensive wines, which is somewhat limited I admit, once you get to about $50 per bottle, you can expect an excellent wine and will often get it. I have drunk and tasted wines that cost $250, $500, even $1000 or more. At those price points, if the wine is old, every bottle is unique, and the more refined your palate (LINK), the greater your experience. There is also a certain mystique in knowing that you are drinking say, a 1982 Chateau Lafitte-Rothschild, which I have had the pleasure of drinking. What is that mystique like? Think of driving a Rolls Royce versus a Nissan – both will get you there, but the experience of the Rolls will be different. In fact, just knowing it’s a Rolls makes a difference.

For me, wine appreciation has been a slow but certain road toward wines that are well-crafted and which have different characteristics from year-to-year. I drink or taste from at least 500 bottles per year (considering that a day of wine tasting can mean 20 or so different wines). Maybe 40% of those are wines I have had before – at least the label is the same, although the vintage may not be. I would say that the average price per bottle of the wines I drink has gone from $10-$12 a dozen years ago to $25-$28 now. Over that time, my tastes have changed, my palate has improved (intentionally), I have read and learned more about wine in general and have experienced a greater variety of wines.

So I recommend that you read Eric Asimov’s Wine Columns in the New York Times (LINK), especially his wine school columns. Get yourself a copy of Janis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine (LINK) or borrow it from the library. Read Hugh Johnson’s A Life Uncorked (LINK) or A Pocket Guide to Wine (LINK). Or, go through the Amazon listings of wine books (LINK) and find something that appeals to you. Read Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast Magazines. And, this blog!

If you are a wine lover, or aspire to be, my suggestion would be to enter 2017 with the intention of deepening your knowledge and expanding your experience with wine. Your life will be richer for it.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

MY YEAR IN WINE – 2016

2016 was a year of travel for Dorianne and me. Since we sold our home in early 2015, we have been on the road. 2016 found us in the U.S. and Europe, on a Mediterranean cruise, and in the Middle East. We traveled in 8 states and in Spain, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Poland, England, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, and Malta. There were wine experiences everywhere. Here are some highlights and “bests” of a very interesting year:

MOST INTERESTING WINERY VISITS:

In July, we went for a day of wine tasting in Rhonda, Spain (LINK). I blogged about it at the time. What made it special was the beauty of the countryside and the fact that it is such a small wine region. You can read about it at the link.

 

Merecouri Estate, Korakohori, Greece (LINK). We visited during a cruise at the port of Katakolo. This is a very interesting winery and vineyard, where the 4th generation of the family is making some good wine. The tour is fun, lots of history, even a museum. The tasting is good – 4 wines and cheese and other snacks. One of the better cruise-related winery tours I have been on. I had a chance to speak to the current patriarch of the family, Christos Kanellakopoulo about wine making techniques. Some of their wines are exported to the U.S.

BEST WINE EXPERIENCES IN A RESTAURANT:

Osteria Barberini, Rome, Italy (LINK). This gem of a restaurant on a very narrow side street near the Spanish Steps and the Piazza Barberini, was both a revelation and a great find for Dorianne and me. We were arriving in Rome from Lyon at about 8:00 pm, and I looked at Trip Advisor for something near our hotel off the Via Veneto. I made a reservation via email for 9:15 pm, as that was the only time available; a good thing, as our flight was late. When we arrived, they were turning people away from what turned out to be a very small restaurant seating about 36 people in three small dining rooms.

And the food! They specialize in truffles, black and white, and we had three wonderful meals there (we went back two more times). A small but well-selected wine list of mostly Italian wines was also a highlight. Here are the wines we had there:

 

‘l’Institut’ Paul Bocuse Restaurant-école at Bellecour Lyon-Centre, Lyon, France (LINK). This restaurant is part of the Bocuse culinary school. It is beautifully designed and everyone there is a student or a teacher. The food is exquisite, the atmosphere is modern and very classy, and there is a very nice wine list with relatively low markups. We had a fabulous meal there, which I blogged about (LINK).

 

TOP FIVE WINES ENJOYED:

I’m limiting this list to just five, but there were many more – hundreds actually. These sort of separated from the herd for one reason or another.

  1. 1994 Harlan Estates, Napa Valley, CA, enjoyed in Agoura Hills, CA
  2. 2012 Jean-Luc & Eric Burguet, Gevery-Chambertin Symphonie, Burgundy, France, enjoyed in Macon, France
  3. 2009 Firriato Quater Rosso, Sicily, Italy, enjoyed in Rome, Italy
  4. 2005 Diamond Creek, Gravely Meadow, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA, enjoyed in Pismo Beach, CA
  5. 2003 Gruppo Matarromera Bodega, Cyan Prestigio, Castilla y León, Spain, enjoyed in Granada, Spain

 

BEST OVERALL WINE EXPERIENCES of 2016:

Sharing wine with good friends – or new acquaintances – is, to me, the best part about enjoying wine. This year we had many chances to do just that, and a few of them stand out as very special.

We opened the year with two nights in Pismo Beach, CA, at the mid-century gem, the Kon Tiki Inn with two other couples. Wine tasting ensued, both in terms of bottles brought and a tour of some of the Edna Valley wineries, just west of Pismo Beach. Great meals, and a wonderful two days. We will be repeating the experience again this January 1-4.

Sharing a very special case of wine with my good friend Richard Clark in the early part of the year was very special. Richard received a gift case of selected top-of-the-line wines from California, France, and Italy from his employer for Christmas. One of my top five wines, the Harlan Estates was in that case, along with many other gems that could also have qualified.

Wine dinners in Cambridge, England and in Macon, France with friends that we made through Dorianne’s interest in chamber music were also very special. Wonderful wine, wonderful food, wonderful conversation, and wonderful music ensued.

Two meals with good friends in Rome – one at a great wine bar, another at their beautiful apartment – featured wonderful Italian wines and, again, great food and conversation. You can see Francesco perusing the red wine list at the legendary Rome Wine Bar – Enoteca Ferrara (LINK).

Just this week at Roam-Miami, where we are staying for most of the winter, Dorianne and I hosted a wine tasting and presentation for other guests and their friends. We sampled four varietals/blends – one of each from the Old World and the New World. There was some very nice French and Spanish cheese and dark chocolate; and a glass of Cava to get things rolling. It was a great evening of fun and some of the young people attending learned something about wine.

While there is still some time left in 2016, I am also looking forward to 2017. Our plans include visits to Mexico, Canada, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, California, Oregon and possibly, Washington state. Summer will take us back to EuropeIreland, Scotland, then to France, where we intend to find an apartment in Lyon to be our new home base. Of course, we never know where serendipity will intervene. I will keep you informed.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

DEMYSTIFYING YOUR WINE ENJOYMENT

The wine world is filled with possibilities. There are dozens of nations, hundreds of regions, thousands of appellations, tens of thousands of vignerons and wine makers, and probably hundreds of thousands of wine outlets if you count restaurants. You can add to that all of the wine knowledge, science, literature, publications, websites, bloggers, and well, it’s a lot. Can you imagine walking into a restaurant, asking for a wine from a specific label which you happen to like, and them actually having it?

How is one to make choices about what to drink and when?

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Dorianne at Gallerie Lafayette’s Chateau d’Yquem Display – Paris

And there are price points to consider, wine rating points (should I order a 91 or an 88?), sometimes snooty sommeliers and wine shop employees, various vintages of differing quality, and labels, labels, labels. And those labels are on bottles with corks, bottles with screwcaps, boxes, cans, casks, and more. And by the way, how should you store that wine?

Wine Angst
Too many options can be frustrating.

Oh, and what wines to serve with which foods? Which wines to sip alone? What kind of wine opener should I use? What other wine accessories should I buy? What temperature at which to serve the wine? In what kind of glass (or slipper)? Bubbly, sweet, dry, demi-sec? Port or late harvest? And ice wine!

wine-redness
Many “experts” are just guessing.

All of this can be seen as a huge obstacle to wine enjoyment, or it can be seen as a vast array of opportunities to enjoy wine. Like much of life, it all depends on your attitude.

Entry into the world of wine is really quite easy. Wine is practically ubiquitous – it’s pretty much everywhere. I was just in eastern Ukraine and had local wine, some of which was delicious (LINK).

One way to view the many options in the wine world and all of the different types of knowledge and skill that goes into the whole process of bringing wine to your table, is to see an opportunity for almost endless exploration. You can have a different wine every day and never repeat yourself (assuming varied wine retail options in your area and online).

Another way to approach the wine world is to find a few wines that you like and stop there. I have a friend who rarely drinks anything beyond Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay; another who will only drink oaky chardonnays. Some may only drink Port wines; others Napa Cabernets.

wine-pouring-gig

You can study broadly or do a deep dive into a narrow range of wine knowledge and experience. Most will be somewhere in between the extremes, but there is a niche for everyone. The key is not to pay too much attention to what the “experts” or the marketing forces tell you as they try to steer you toward their own preferences. Find your own way – if it isn’t interesting or fun for you, you’re not doing it right.

Me, I have some favorite wines, some favorite producers, some favorite growing areas, and some favorite countries. I also like to experiment with wines I have not tried yet, but I tend to favor a known quantity with a good meal. For example, we were in Kraków, Poland recently (LINK), dining at Padre, a local Polish restaurant. I was having lamb and noted that there was a very nice French Malbec from Cahors on the list. Knowing how a rich, inky Cahors Malbec would go with lamb made my decision easy – so I passed on some Polish wines. I picked a favorite over the chance to explore – that time. At other times, I will make a different decision. But that is me. You may well do something different.

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Visiting Wineries can be both Fun and Educational.

My point is that the bulk of the effort in learning about wine should go into learning what YOU like about it. Then go from there. You may become an expert in Cabernet Sauvignons from the east side of Paso Robles; or you may be the go-to person for advice on Hungarian reds. Or, you may be that person who always drinks Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay.

So, if you are new to wine, consider building yourself a starter case (LINK) to see what you like. Let your local wine retailer know your preferences, including if you like to try new things or stick close to what you already know. If you travel, check out the local wine scene, either in town – wine bars, urban wineries and restaurants; or head out into the local wine country to taste and explore. In an airport? Stop at Vino Volo and try a wine that you’ve never had before. Sign up for an online service like WTSO.com (LINK) and opt for something new to you.

Starter Case Slide
A Starter Case is a great way to find out what wines you like.

Maybe you are a long-time wine consumer who is ready to spread your wings a bit. You might begin with your local wine shop – tell them what you like and ask them how you can explore some new wines that have a similar profile. Go to a Greek restaurant with good Greek wines on the wine list, and try some if that is new to you. See if there are some small producers of wines in your local area and give them a try. There are lots of possibilities. Try not to be intimidated by the experts or by too many choices. Take your time and stick to what you like – and maybe explore around the edges.

The world of wine is literally at your feet. Enjoy!

wine-young-lover

Text Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

 

CREATING A STARTER CASE OF WINE

On a recent visit to New York to visit our daughter, Grace, we decided to purchase a starter case of wine for her and to set up an account at a wine shop. There are a number of very good wine shops in Manhattan, as you might imagine. We chose Union Square Wine Starter case -USQLogo_WBShop (LINK) after some online and in-person research, because of proximity to Grace’s school, a good selection of value-priced wines, and free delivery in the city when you purchase $95 or more worth of wine.

Grace, at 22, has developed a pretty good palate. She has been to France a few times and enjoys French wines very much, especially Bordeaux blends. My thoughts in filling the starter case were to take that preference into account and expand her experience a bit with reds, plus add some whites and rosès since summer is just around the corner. I also wanted to keep the prices under $25, being mindful of the budget of a starving aspiring Broadway star.

After discussing our goals with some of the sales staff, we (Dorianne, Grace and I) began to fill the case. I wanted to find some French wines that she would like first, which we did – one Bordeaux red blend, a Pomerol, two Sancerres, a Burgundian Chardonnay, and a wonderful rosè from Tavel, the only French A.O.P. that produces Au Bon Climat only rosès. To this, we added a reliable California Pinot Noir from, a favorite of ours; a nice Oregon Pinot Noir to  compare to the Au Bon Climat; a wonderful Rhône-style blend from Tablas Creek in Paso Robles; a Spanish Tempranillo blend; an Italian Barbara d’Asti and a Nebbiolo from Langhe; and an Australian Shiraz.

Here is the list:

Starter Case Chart
There is nothing here from Germany or eastern Europe, no New Zealand or South America, etc. Fortunately, Grace has a long future to explore these and other options as she chooses.
Now, you can argue with any or all of these selections, but this starter case was built with some preferences in mind. That is the idea – you decide the parameters of the selections and then you find the best representatives of those parameters based on availability, price, and certain intangibles. Our bias was toward France, with an additional parameter of expanding outward from there and focusing on the Old World with some New World representation as well. That is a lot to cover in twelve bottles.

Starter case -USQ
Union Square Wines and Spirits Shop

My suggestion to her was to make tasting notes of each wine as she drinks it and then replace bottles with a balance of things she likes and things she would like to try. Having a set of preferences helps when she is at a restaurant or a party and there are a variety of options. She already knows to steer clear of the bulk wines and the cheap “critter wines” that populate lots of party bars among people her age (and, unfortunately, people my age as well).

To create your own starter case, for yourself or for your children, my suggestion is to begin where you, or they, are. Start with what you already like and populate part of the case with those wines, then expand outward from there. The value of a good wine shop is that they will have staff who can make good recommendations – something you will not get at most supermarkets or places like Target and Costco (with some exceptions).

I can’t overemphasize the importance of finding a wine store employee or owner who you feel comfortable with. I was recently in an independent wine shop in Baltimore that stocked many wines with which I was unfamiliar. When I asked for recommendations from the owner/manager, he told me that he could only help me with Kosher wines; “That’s all I taste,” he said. No one else in the shop had tasted any of the non-Kosher wines! Interesting business model.

A good wine shop staff member will be of great assistance, especially when deciding what to add to your own preferences. He/she will have the experience needed to make recommendations that are very similar to those, or that are different enough to give you a new tasting experience. Good wine shops will also have tastings that you can attend to expand your wine experience.

It is important that you be clear about what you want. Don’t let the sales staff give you a wine that you are not interested in, or one that is too expensive for your budget.

Keeping these things in mind, creating a starter case can be a really great experience. Your comments, as always, are appreciated.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

SO MANY WINES, SO LITTLE TIME

Please pardon the lack of originality in the title of this post. It was the best I could do under the circumstances. You see, I am trying to experience as many aspects of the world of wine as I can, and there just isn’t time for creative blog title development.

In fact, there isn’t time to write this blog post – but I am devoted to you, my dear readers, and that devotion shall not wane. But communicating with you like this is eating into my wine exploration and experiencing time. Just so you know.

The reason for this post is the fact that there is just too much.

Too much wine, too many varietals, too many producers, too many pairings, too many restaurant wine lists with too many wines listed, too many wine blogs, too many wine books, too many tasting rooms, too many regions, AVAs, AOPs, appellations, districts, domains, too many wine terms, tasting notes, words in those tasting notes, too much chemistry, too many vineyards with too many terroirs, too many wine apps.

How is a wine lover to keep up?

Wine - Poster - Tonights Forcast

One answer, the one that I like the best out of the options that I have thought about, is that one cannot and should not even try to experience it all. Can’t be done anyway, so give up that ambition, my friend. Let that sphere of wine experience shrink down to a manageable size. Perhaps you give up on the nether regions of Eastern Europe, the vineyards to Thailand, maybe even China. Take a pass on the wines of Malibu, Michigan, Maryland, and definitely, Florida. You aren’t going to taste them all, travel to them all, anyway. And even if you could, how much enjoyment or appreciation could there be in tasting five hundred wines in a weekend?

Wine - Cartfull

Now I say this as a wine lover who has a preference for exploration. There are many other kinds of wine lovers. I know one who drinks only one wine 95% of the time – Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay (LINK). That’s it. As for me, looking back over the photos I have taken over the past year, I have probably had 250 to 300 different wines, not counting wine tastings; you have seen many of them here and more on my Twitter feed (@JimLockardWine). And in that, I have had a few dozen wines more than once. So I get that there is a range of behavior in the wine lovers’ universe. My Kendall-Jackson loving friend probably does not care too much about this post. But she is an anomaly, isn’t she?

Take last night. We are staying with friends in Cleveland for a week. Last night was to be a birthday celebration for family friends of our host. One of the guest is a former wine columnist (yes, Ohio has wine columnists), and a another, their daughter, is currently taking the Certified Specialist of Wine course (LINK) in New York, where she lives. In preparation, our host, a wine lover himself, took Dorianne and I to the best local wine storeWhole Foods – where we purchased a mixed case, Italians for last night, and some others for the rest of the week.

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Part of Last Night’s Line-up

I had a great conversation with the other wine lovers (and a heightened level of wine lover they were to be sure). And I found that while we shared some common experiences and areas of knowledge, that for the most part, our experience and knowledge were different. This is, of course, to be expected. And, it tells me that there is no such thing as someone who knows even close to everything about wine. So we all have to operate within a chosen personal sphere of knowledge and experience that we create ourselves, either on purpose or by default.

So what does this mean for you, treasured reader? Simply that you have dominion over your domain of wine knowledge and experience. So choose what you love, follow your nature (an explorer or a few wines that you return to over and over); include travel or stay at home; talk about the wine at a meal or talk about other things; download half a dozen wine apps or none at all; explore those small wine regions or stick with Napa and Bordeaux; opt for the top shelf at your wine retailer or the bottom shelf, or stay resolutely in the middle.

Wine is, after all, about the enjoyment of life. It is best when shared with friends and family, and it is best when sipped alone with a good book or a beautiful sunset. It is a social lubricant and a solitary muse. It can be the reason for travel, or a small part of a larger purpose. It is a living, breathing thing that can add to the quality of your life, as long as you do not overindulge.

Wine - Wineyard last night
Enjoying Wine with Friends

So do not feel pressured to go beyond your own comfort zone in your experience of wine. (Well, maybe a little bit from time to time.) You are not going to know or experience everything anyway. And no matter how broad and deep your knowledge and experience is, you will meet people who know things that you do not, and who have tasted wines that you have not.

My advice is to find your wine sweet spot, explore that thoroughly, and then branch out from there in a way that suits you best. And have fun in the process.

What are your thoughts?

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

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SOMETHING NEW IN WINE GEAR

The D-vine Gravity Machine by 10-Vins is a recently developed wine dispenser for the home. The idea is really two-fold. One, to serve wines-by-the-glass to give you options that you do not get by opening a single bottle, and two, to serve the wine aerated and at an ideal temperature without need for refrigeration. Here is an image of the machine:

Wine - 10-vins-d-vine

Of course, the real idea is to get you to subscribe to home delivery of the tubes of wine, which retail in France for from 2€ to 16€. This device is apparently not yet available in the US. So we shall see. I don’t think I’ll be buying one. What do you think?

Wine - 10 D-vine-2015-selection

GOOD ARTICLE – THOSE DARN WINE RATINGS

A very well written article from The Globe and Mail (LINK TO ARTICLE) across the Pond on the difficulties with the 100 point scale. It speaks to several of the points I’ve made here before, but it’s well written, as I said, and as a bonus, has some interesting reviews of some little-known (in the US) wines.

Of course, one of the main concepts behind this blog (LINK) is that wine should be both accessible and enjoyable to everyone. Anything, even a rating system that is intended to be helpful, that gets in the way of either of those ideals is problematic. The enjoyment of wine is a subjective experience for everyone, and becomes something close to an objective experience, that is, one that can be quantified generally, for only a very few. So I come down on the side of the many, without denying the few the bounty that results from their training and expertise (and maybe their God-given naturally discerning palettes).

Robert Parker may have started the whole 100 point thing, but don’t blame him – someone else would have done it. And personally, I find his ratings helpful. I trust his Bordeaux ratings and distrust most of his California ratings. So, like I said, subjective.

Enjoy the article!

Wine - Parker 100 pts

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard