First of all, I want to acknowledge the huge amount of damage to the vineyards of France and much of central Europe by the frosts of the past week, which continue as I write this. It is possible that a majority of the 2021 vintage may be lost. The damage runs from First Growth Bordeaux to Chablis, to Champagne to everyday wines. It is tragic and will be felt for a long time.
I haven’t posted on this blog in quite some time – since November 2019, in fact, during those pre-COVID halcyon days of bliss. The main reason for my absence from these pages, while not from wine, has been that since I have been living in France for 3 years or so now, my experience with wine has changed. It has become more of a relationship with a smaller number of mostly unpretentious and unspectacular wines consumed, for the most part, with meals. If anything, COVID cemented this relationship, as our restaurants are closed and the occasional “special bottle” with a restaurant meal has not been in the mix. When I last wrote about our wine experience living in Lyon (LINK), I was new to the area and just beginning to learn.
While Dorianne and I have extended our pricing for “everyday wines” from an upper limit of about 12€ to about 16€, putting a few second labels from Burgundy in range. Despite this, our average expenditure is likely under 10€ per bottle. This is because I have found a number of labels in the 7€ range that are good enough to drink just about every day. I will list and describe these wines later, but I am not sure that they can be found outside of France. Suffice to say, that for 16€ and under, you can find very drinkable wines from just about any region in France (even Burgundy!). Equivalent wines in the US, in my experience, tend to cost upward of $25.
Another change is that our social circle here is not so wine-centric as the one we left behind in California. The French, with some exceptions of course, view wine as a grocery item. One French friend who loves to drink wine and visit wineries, seldom spends more than 4€ for a bottle. There is a bit more wine talk among the English-speaking expat community here, but not all that much.
Our diets have gotten lighter here and we drink more whites and rosés, especially in spring and summer, but also in winter with fish, salads, and soups.
My purchasing habits here in Lyon are different than they were in the US. I have gradually expanded outward geographically, as each wine shop (cave) here is unique. Each shop has one or two (or more) very good French wines at lower price points; each shop has different wines from the various regions. Most larger supermarkets have some very nice wines on their shelves. Some have more international choices – I get good Spanish, Italian, and Middle Eastern varieties at an Armenian grocery store; Port wines at a Portuguese bodega near the Portuguese consulate; South African wines at a major chain grocery; and even some Penfold’s from my local wine shop.
I have begun to buy more wines online from the producers – wines from Lirac, Tavel, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Pommard, Beaune, and the northern Rhône Valley. When we can, we visit wineries and co-ops nearby in Mâcon, Pouilly-Fuissé, also in Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, and Fleurie in the Beaujolais.
Since we have not been back to the US for over a year, our cave has about 6 bottles of California wines left. But it is fully stocked with other wines, about 90% are French, many purchased at the fall wine festivals (LINK) which I hope return this year.
About half the time, we drink wines which are under 20€ and we consider “everyday wines.” I will do another post featuring those wines soon.
As promised, here are our go-to everyday wines for ten euros or less. Le Versant is a favorite. They make other wines as well, but these are the ones available near us. These are wines that I would share with anyone who visits, as they represent their regions well. They are not of premiere cru quality, but they don’t have to be. I would say that each is worth 2 to 3 times what they sell for.
Le Versant Syrah 6,99 €
Le Versant Cabernet 6,99 €
Château Junayme, Fronsac Bordeaux blend 6,35 €
Château Etang des Colombes, Corbières Red Blend 7,40 €
La Bastide St. Dominic, Côte-du-Rhône Red Blend 7,99 €
Le Versant Chardonnay 6,99 €
Le Versant Sauvignon 6,99 €
Le Versant Viognier 5,60 €
Les Orfèvres du Vin, Mâconnaise Aligoté 7,50 €
So that’s what Dorianne and I are drinking most nights with dinner. France offers a wealth of very drinkable wines at very good prices, once you learn what to look for. As we all hope that the local vignerons manage to survive these frosts, let us be grateful for the French wines that we can enjoy today.
Yes, it is 26 minutes long and very few of you are going to have the dedication for that. And don’t think I am trotting this out as a slam-dunk on the argument. Just an interesting piece about 5 years old which needs to be dredged out occasionally. Nothing ground-shaking here–more about marketing than anything. Anyone who has ever had a 1985 Napa Cab and a 2005 Napa Cab and a 2015 Napa Cab and wondered what happened should watch this. Anyone who enjoyed Sonoma Zinfandel in the 90’s and has tried Paso Robles Zinfandel today should watch this. It is in-depth enough the serious wineNerds will enjoy it and if it just plants the seed of “Why?” in the minds of the not-so-wineDork, then I have done my job. Read your labels, people.
Here is the video:
I think the video does a good job of defining the territory – and, perhaps as was noted, the younger generation (Millennials) and beyond will move to new ways of discovering wine. And remember, the oldest Millennials are nearly 40. That said, if the Parker favored style is not to your taste, there are plenty of options – but you will have to become educated about them.
As I often say in this blog – wine is about enjoyment, and the depth of knowledge of any wine lover only needs to be sufficient to allow the level of enjoyment desired. We don’t need to be experts to enjoy wine, but it is good to have information like this as wine consumers.
REFUSE TO BE INTIMIDATED. The world of wine is populated with a few, well, snobs. There are people whose income depends on you, the consumer, feeling like you don’t know enough to order a wine you will like. There are some whose income depends on getting you to buy a wine whether you like it or not. There are also few who want to make you feel uncomfortable just for their own ego gratification.
That said, there are also lots of folks who can and will help you feel more comfortable. These can include wine stewards or waiters in restaurants, employees in wine shops and at large retailers like Costco, tasting room employees, and, yes, wine bloggers like me. Take advantage of their knowledge and willingness to help. Even with the first group, you will usually find if you ask a couple of clear questions and let them know what you like and what you are willing to pay, you will get what you desire.
2. BE AN EXPLORER. Try some unfamiliar wines. Even if after doing so, you become a drinker of one kind of wine, you will at least know that you aren’t missing something better for you. Again, wine retailers and restaurant employees can be helpful. Like Malbec? Try something close, like a Barbera or a Tempranillo. Traveling? Try the local wines. (LINK to my post WHAT KIND OF WINE DRINKER ARE YOU?)
3. AVOID REALLY CHEAP WINES. The issue here is not so much about price or quality as it is about additives. Most new world (that’s everyplace but Europe) wines under $10 to $15 are laced with additives of various kinds. There are no labeling requirements, so you don’t know which ones or how much of them are in your wine. Some additives are benign, some are not. Many people who eat only organic food buy cheap wines filled with chemical additives – unknowingly, of course. (LINK to my post on ADDITIVES)
There are three main reasons that cheaper wines have more additives than more expensive wines: One, consumers of cheaper wines tend to want their wine to taste the same every time. They are not interested in seasonal variation – the kind based on weather which affect wine grapes from just about everywhere. So, additives can mask changes – and in cheap wines, the issue is not seasonal variations; most are bulk wines, made from whatever grapes or juice are available at that moment from any location. Second – additives can make a rough product taste smoother, smell better, look better. In other words, mask problems. Third – there are economic reasons to use additives in some products, and your health is not one of them.
4. NEW TO WINE? TRY A STARTER CASE. I blogged about this a while back. If you are new to wine or have someone, like in my case, my daughter, who is new to wine, consider a starter case. This is a mixed case of wines for them to try to learn about. Then, when returning to the wine retailer, you or they can say what you liked and would like to get more of, or maybe explore a bit with something like what you enjoyed previously, but different. (LINK to my post on STARTER CASE)
5. LEARN HOW TO SHOP FOR WINE. I often go into wine shops without intending to make a purchase – just to look around, familiarize myself with the kinds of wines available, the labels, the price points. I may engage someone in the shop in a conversation about a specific wine, or a wine region that they feature. And, truth be told, much more often than not, I walk out with a bottle or three.
Many reputable wine writers and bloggers will tell you to ask questions when shopping for wine. Wine shop employees will generally enjoy helping you (with the possible exception of the Holiday rush). For example, you might ask for a wine in the $20 range to go with a lamb roast, or something to take as a special gift to a lover of Argentinian Malbec. (LINK to my post on SHOPPING FOR WINE)
6. LEARN HOW RESTAURANT WINE WORKS. There are a few things to be aware of when ordering wine in a restaurant. One is the pricing structure. The norm is to mark up a bottle two to two-and-a-half times retail cost. Many restaurants are offering wines at a lower mark-up (in Europe it is often the same as in a wine shop). Wine is a significant part of the profit structure at many restaurants. For others, it is an afterthought; the wines may not even go with the food offered.
There are myths about ordering wine in restaurants. Most are false or only partly true. The reality is that if wine is a serious consideration in a restaurant, the wine list will have been chosen with care based on what is important to that restaurant’s management. It might be by region – focusing on Italian wines in an Italian restaurant; or by type of food served – an emphasis on white and rosé wines in a seafood restaurant; or it may be wines selected for the specific items on the menu. Some say that the best buy is the 2nd cheapest wine on the list. This is almost never true. If it is good value you are seeking, a good choice is to order a bottle of one of the wines they are selling by the glass. These wines are usually a good value and they are sold by the glass because they are well-received.
Again, don’t be afraid to ask the waiter, wine steward, or sommelier for guidance – and DON’T forget to give him or her your budget! I have never had a negative experience with wine in a restaurant when I have been given guidance (I don’t always ask for it). (LINK to my post on ORDERING WINE IN A RESTAURANT)
7. REMEMBER CORKAGE. In many places, you can bring your own wine to a restaurant. Normally, a corkage fee will be charged, to cover the cost of using the glasses and having the wine open and served by the restaurant staff. This is a good option if you have a special bottle to share with family or friends that will go well with the restaurant meal. Some etiquette – if you don’t know, check in advance on the corkage policy of the restaurant; don’t bring a wine the restaurant has on its wine list; don’t pay $20 corkage on an $8 bottle of Yellow Tail to save money. And, if the wine is corked or otherwise bad, don’t try to send it back for another bottle! (LINK to my post about corkage)
8. LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO DRINK BAD WINE. I know you have a budget, which, like mine, is limited. And maybe you don’t have an educated palate to justify really expensive wine. However, as I noted above, just about all of the really cheap wines are filled with additives and are bad for you. So, think about how much wine you drink and what it would take to get the average cost per bottle up to $15 or more. At that price point, generally speaking you are drinking wine, not just a mixture of random grapes made in bulk. You will notice qualities like minerality, or terroir – the effect of the soil on the wine. You will begin to tell varietals apart ($7 Cabernet Sauvignon tastes surprisingly like $7 Merlot). And you will be drinking a more healthful beverage.
Also, if you buy a decent bottle and it’s bad (corked or chemical tasting for example), don’t drink it! Pour it down the sink, or if it’s not too bad, save it for cooking. If you get a bad bottle (meaning there is a flaw of some kind) at a restaurant, let the staff know. They should replace it. If they disagree with you, let them know that you may not be an expert, but you find the wine undrinkable. They should replace it with another bottle. If the first one was bad, you will taste the difference in the new bottle. It is bad form to ask for a different wine in this situation. Maybe you will get lucky and that will have been their last bottle of that kind in stock! (LINK to my post on EXPENSIVE WINES)
9. WINE ENJOYMENT IS SUBJECTIVE. No matter what the experts tell you, for 95% of wine consumers – the ones who haven’t trained their palates for years and taken rigorous certification classes – wine enjoyment is subjective. You either like a wine, have a “meh” reaction, or don’t like it at all. Robert Parker can’t tell you if you will like a wine. I try to look at tasting notes only after I have tasted a wine, to see if they got it right for me. There are things to know about specific wines, but, let’s be realistic, most who drink wine will never invest the time and energy to learn more than a few of them.
Wes Hagen, currently of Central California’s J. Wilkes Wines (LINK), shares his way to taste wine for most consumers:
Swirl the wine in the glass and look at the color; put your nose to the glass and sniff the bouquet; if it smells like something you want to put into your mouth, take a sip; if it tastes like something you want to swallow, swallow it; notice the finish.
If you begin from there and add some knowledge as you go, you will never get to a point where Wes’s advice doesn’t hold true.
10. HAVE FUN WITH WINE. Wine is both a beverage and, for some, a lifestyle. I love sharing a good bottle with friends and family, and almost never have an expensive (say over $30) bottle when alone. Dorianne and I used to have wine dinners, where we would ask our guests to bring a special bottle, like the one they’ve been saving for a special occasion for ten years, and a dish to accompany it. At the dinner, each guest will tell the story of their wine as everyone shares it. Or bring a bottle from a trip and share the story of the trip.
Go wine tasting when you travel near wine country – there are hundreds of “wine countries” these days. We have tasted in Mexico, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, England, and in Michigan, Maryland, New York, Virginia, and Texas, to name a few outside of the normal wine destinations. You will meet some great people in the local wine industry, and fellow tasters are often interesting as well.
I am sure that there are other guidelines for enjoying wine. These are my top ten and I hope you find them of value!
I spent the last ten days in Hungary, attending a conference, doing some touring, and tasting quite a few Hungarian wines. As in the past, the experience was uneven – but, like many places, things are looking up. The overall quality of the wines I tasted on this trip indicates a general improvement in the wine making process. As in the past, with the wines of Hungary, whites are a better bet than reds; and rosés are a gamble.
Dorianne and I took one of those touristy wine tasting cruises on the Danube last Friday. Interestingly, the wines we sampled were, overall, the best we had during the entire visit. The cruise was interesting – 90 minutes long and we were alone in wine tasting. We were accompanied by 50 Dutch high schoolers on a trip before graduation (who were not drinking alcohol). The kids were very well-behaved, spoke excellent English, and about a dozen hung with us for conversation and a bit of a lesson in wine.
Benedict was our young tour guide and wine steward, and he had clearly been schooled in the wines we were tasting. Hungary has lots of limestone soils, and grapes are grown all over the country.
As I said, the wines we tasted on the cruise were very good, except the rosé. And Benedict poured us full glasses of each wine! We had to create our own dump bucket using a water glass so we could walk the kilometer or two back to our hotel. Here are the wines:
The first wine, a Tokaji Furmint Grand Selection from the famous Tokaji-Hegyalja region, was dry (most Tokaji wines are sweet): fruit-forward with a soft, rich mouthfeel – reminiscent of an unoaked Chardonnay. We had a number of Furmints on the trip, and all were good. The Bárdos Pinot Grigio had pleasant notes of citrus and would make a great summer wine. The Juház Kékfrankos Rosé had a slight effervescence and herbal notes – I was not a fan of this one.
The selected reds were actually quite good, especially the young Hilltop Premium Merlot, which showed medium tannins, dark fruit, was chewy, and was well-balanced. It should age well over 3-5 years. The Bodri Szekszárdi Civilis Cuvée red blend (Gamay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zweigelt, and Kadarka) had dark fruit flavors, a lighter consistency than the Merlot. It was a bit harsh, but, given time, may even out. Of the two Tokaji sweet wines at the end of the tasting, the Göncöl was rich and balanced; the Megyer was overly sweet for our tastes.
What we expected to be a touristy lark turned out to be a rather serious tasting and a very good experience. If you go, you can’t expect 50 bright, intelligent Dutch teens to be your companions, but you never know . . .
Dorianne and I did our annual visit to California’s Central Coast Wine Regions this past week. In this post, I will cover the three wineries we visited in the Paso Robles area (LINK TO PRIOR POSTS ON PASO). In another post, I will cover two days in the Santa Rita Hills/Lompoc area.
As we always do, we joined two other couples at the Kon Tiki Inn in Pismo Beach (LINK), a beautifully preserved gem from the 1960’s (no online reservations). This gives us a based to roam from Paso Robles in the North to the Santa Rita Hills and Santa Ynez in the south. We usually cover three wineries per day, have wine and cheese at the Kon Tiki, then go to dinner in one of Pismo Beach’s good restaurants.
Ancient Peaks (LINK): Our drive up toward Paso Robles led us first to Ancient Peaks Winery Tasting Room in Santa Margarita. Ancient Peaks has the southernmost vineyard in the Paso Robles Eastern AVA, and the tasting room is just off the 101 Freeway. None of us had been there before; in fact, all three winery visits were firsts for just about all of us (two people had been to Sextant Winery before).
Ancient Peaks has a nicely arranged tasting room with plenty of space and areas to relax with a glass or two of their wines. There is even a café. We arrived just at the 11:00 am opening time. We tasted five wines – all were nicely crafted and well balanced. These are good wines. We tasted five of the ten wines listed for sale on the Ancient Peaks website. Dorianne and I purchased the 2015 White Label Chardonnay, the 2015 Zinfandel, and the 2014 Oyster Ridge Red Blend. I would say that Ancient Peaks represents what we have found in Paso Robles wines for the last three years – consistently well-crafted wines which are true to their fruit and terroirorigins. The staff was professional, friendly, and generally well-informed. One kindly recommended that we visit Clos Solène (and called for the appointment) since we are now living in France – more about them in a bit.
Sextant Winery (LINK): Sextant is located between Templeton and Paso Robles on the west side of the 101 Freeway that divides the area. The vineyards are on rolling hills and the tasting room is elevated on one of these hills. Beautifully appointed, with the nautical theme that runs through all of Sextant’s products, the tasting room and member’s lounge are worth your time to visit. And, happily, the wines (LINK) are very good as well. We were able to taste from their regular and member’s tasting lists during our visit.
The wines are nicely balanced, made to go with food, and easy to drink. I did not have a negative comment about any of them. Of particular note was the 2015 Kamal Cabernet Sauvignon, a beautifully crafted wine with notes of dark fruit, green pepper, and a rich minerality. Definitely a hit. Sextant is worth a visit if you are in Paso Robles, and you can order their wines online.
Clos Solène Winery (LINK): A gem of a small winery, Clos Solène is also on Paso Robles’ West Side, nestled among low hills. Guillaume and Solène Fabre (LINK) are a French couple who grow grapes and make wine here – in the French style. Guillaume stopped by during our tasting for a chat. Production is under 2000 cases total, so these are all limited production (and expensive) wines. We tasted on the outdoor patio (a rare rainfall had just stopped) from their tasting menu (LINK).
The entire list consists of excellent wines. Of particular note is the 2016 Homage Blanc blend of 75%Roussanne and 25% Viognier; the 2015 Harmonie red blend of 56%Grenache, 30% Mouvedre, and 14% Syrah; and the 2015 Homage a nos Pairs red blend of 95%Syrah, 3% Grenache, and 2%Viognier. As the French would say, these wines are Tres Cher (very costly), but they are beautiful wines – as good as anything I have tasted in Paso Robles. Clos Solène Winery is open by appointment.
Paso Robles never fails to please those in search of new and unique wine experiences – and, increasingly, those in search of excellent wines!
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.
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).
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.
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 “pot” is 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.
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.
Rosé wines are very good at 4€ per bottle, excellent at 7 to 10€. We drank rosés almost exclusively during the hot summer months.
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.
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 . . .
Thanks for being a part of this year on the blog.
As always, your comments and suggestions are welcomed!
I was directed to Dirty Laundry Vineyards (LINK)(LINK) by a friend from Southern California who hails from the Okanagan Valley area; her husband, also a transplanted Canadian, does the graphic design for the operation. It is a winery with a story.
Located in Summerland, about an hour south of Kelowna on the southwestern shore of Okanagan Lake, Dirty Laundry stands out, less for its wines (which are very good), than for its marketing and story. The first thing you see as you approach the tasting room and patio area is a life-sized cutout of my friend’s daughter, Skyeler, who has modeled for the winery (she’s also on the website and area billboards).
It seems that the main building that now houses the tasting room and offices was formerly a laundry on the first level and a bordello on the second. The winery has taken that story and run with it – in spades. The extensive gift shop has lots of bordello/saloon-related items along with the usual wine-related gifts. Tasting room staff are women in period clothes who regale customers with the story of the place as they pour complimentary tastings. There is a large patio overlooking the vineyards and the lake with an outdoor tasting counter, a beer bar, and an area for live music.
After our tasting (more about the wines in a bit), we met with co-owner HermanTeichtmeister, who asked if we had 20 minutes and spent two hours showing us around and telling the story of the vineyard and winery operations, the marketing plans, the graphic art that is so important, etc. It was one of the most thorough winery tours I have ever had – and we never entered the vineyards.
As one of nearly 200 wineries (some put the number as high as 285) in the Okanagan Region, Dirty Laundry has had an aggressive growth plan, moving from under 10,000 cases to about 35,000 in eight years. The plans are to get above 50,000 in the near future. The challenge, of course, is to do that while maintaining quality and finding more customers. Winemaker Mason Spink’s focus will be on the quality, while HermanTeichtmeister and fellow owners will focus on expanding the market.
Dirty Laundry produces 17 wines. While that is not all that unusual for a growing Okanagan winery, it offers many challenges in terms of consistent quality. I tasted 6 of the wines, and in my opinion, the quality ranged from average to very good. This makes sense in terms of the size and nature of the operation – they are looking for a wide audience of consumers, not the aficionados.
The 2011 Bordello Blend, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc, brings a Bordeaux blend to their lineup. The clever packaging adds to the experience. The label contains images from the bordello days, and one needs a magnifying glass to see what they are.
The 2014 Woo Woo Vines Gewürztraminer is a complex wine, nicely crafted, and stands up well to the best in the Okanagan, where Gewürztraminer is the king of white wines.
Dirty Laundry Vineyards is a great place to visit to have fun, be entertained and refreshed, and get something to eat. If you see their wines in the store (in Canada for now), you should give them a try.
I just spent a week in the Okanagan Valley, in Kelowna and the areas surrounding the southern half of Lake Okanagan. The lake, a 90-mile long glacial lake, which, at the moment, is at a record high, creating some havoc in the area. I was there for a conference, but had four days to explore some of the wineries and restaurants that make this area so inviting. How many wineries? I was told 235, 250, even 285 by various people. The WineBC website says it’s 172 (LINK).
This was my third trip to the Okanagan since 2007, and the number of wineries has definitely multiplied. Another change from that time is the quality of the wines – there are some truly excellent wines being produced up and down the region. I made return visits to three wineries and two of them had improved their products greatly.
The Okanagan was initially home to white wines from Germany. Rieslings and Gewürztraminers are still prevalent, and used for ice wines and late harvest wines, which have precise definitions in Canada (LINK). There are also drier versions of these varietals being made today, echoing trends across the world.
The growing season has been lengthening here, as in other places. This means that red varietals are being grown across a wider area than in the past. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, and others are very common, joining Pinot Noir which has been widely cultivated for some time. Over the past decade, many wineries are producing excellent reds. As a rule, the wines are in the European style, more elegant than bold.
Kelowna is a beautiful city of about 200,000 on the east side of Lake Okanagan. With a temperate climate and warm summers, the area attracts vacationers and there are many large homes along the lake. Good restaurants, wine bars, brewpubs, and more are readily available. A number of wineries, both urban and rural, have restaurants.
Cactus Club at Kelowna Yacht Club(LINK): A modern restaurant with two bars (patrons must be seated at the bar to be served, a BC law), a view of the lake and downtown, and a very attractive and well-trained wait staff (think little black dresses). I only went here three times during my stay because I moved across the lake to West Kelowna for the last three days. Great food, ranging from casual to fine dining on the same menu, a nice selection of wines by the glass, and a good bottle list as well. Standard pours are either 6oz or 9oz; generous! The prices are a bit expensive, but the exchange rate works in your favor if you are not Canadian (currently about 70% of US dollar).
Oak + Cru, Delta Grand Hotel (LINK): A full-service restaurant and bar in the lobby of the hotel and extending out to a lakeside area. Also a wine tasting room featuring only Okanagan wines. I ate dinner there one night, had glasses of wine in the bar another, and did a tasting at the wine tasting room/wine cellar as well. Each experience was excellent – good food, good wines, a beautiful setting, and well-trained staff. If you want to taste a range of local wines without leaving town, this is the place. There are tastings each evening from 4 to 6 pm, each featuring a different area of the Okanagan region and different varietals, plus food pairings. The tasting room can be reserved for private dinners in the evenings for groups of six or more.
Tasting Room – Oak + Cru
Volcanic Hills Winery/Blue Saffron Bistro (LINK): In West Kelowna, a winery and restaurant. The bistro is outdoors and offers a view of sloping vineyards, with the lake and mountains in the distance. I went for lunch and a tasting (separate days), and enjoyed both. The kitchen does a good job, and their 2016 Gamay/Pinot Noir rosé wine was an excellent pairing with my lunch salad. Volcanic Hillswhites are their strength – especially their Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Chardonnay. The Viognier was a bit thin and not to my taste. Reds were decent, but not outstanding.
In the next post, I’ll talk about the wineries I visited on this trip.
“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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
7. THE YOUNG MILLENNIAL
Think Yellow Tail, Barefoot, 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
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
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!
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.
Earlier this week, Dorianne and I spent a couple of days in the California Central Coast Wine Country with friends. We stayed at the KonTiki Inn, a mid-20th Century gem in Pismo Beach. Don’t try to reserve a room at the KonTiki online – you can’t. They have a website (LINK), but you can’t reserve there or on the other online hotel sites. It’s very retro, very well maintained, very inexpensive, every room has an ocean view, and it’s very comfortable.
On Monday, we drove up to Paso Robles and visited three wineries. The first was Peachy Canyon (LINK)on Paso’s West Side. The tasting room is picturesque – they have been around for a while, since 1988 – and their wines are very drinkable. There is a nice selection of clothing and wine stuff in the tasting room shop. The $10 tasting fee is waived with a two-bottle purchase. Peachy Canyon is known for their Zinfandels, but their whites are also worth a look, as well as their other reds.
Next, we went over to Paso Robles’ East Side, to Sculptera Winery & Sculpture Garden (LINK). This was my first visit to Sculptera, even though I have been to Paso Robles many times. The first thing that you notice about Sculptera, after passing through the vineyards, is the amazing front sculpture garden. Here is a sample of what is there – there is another garden behind the tasting room.
Inside, the tasting room is nicely appointed, with more sculptures, including miniature versions of some of the larger sculptures. At this point, my suspicions were aroused – how often does an impressive winery and tasting room that clearly cost millions of dollars produce mediocre and overpriced wines?
Well, Sculptera is not in that category. The wines were uniformly excellent – so much so, that all three couples – all knowledgeable about wine – ended up joining the wine club. As I write this, two cases of their wines are on the way to our temporary residence, Roam.co (LINK), in Miami. And the tasting room staff was knowledgeable and very good at what they do. Their wines are priced from the low $20’s to $60.
Several of the wines on the tasting list (8 wines) were exceptional, including the first one poured, the newly-released 2015 Viognier, one of those whites that hits your palate and you instantly know that it is exceptional; it has everything you want, a rich bouquet – floral with hints of minerality; a slightly viscous mouthfeel; lots of green fruit and levels of complexity; and a smooth and very pleasing finish. At $26 retail, this wine is a bargain. Other highlights were the 2013 Pinot Noir, which was peppery and earthy, but the fruit held its own (yes, a good Pinot Noir from Paso Robles); the 2014 Primitivo (and the 2013 Primitivo Reserve, which was not on the list, but was poured for us), a big wine that also showed complexity and balance; the 2012 Merlot, also nicely balanced; and the two blends we tried, 2013 Figurine (45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Primitivo, & 13% Merlot), and the 2013 Statuesque (38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Syrah, 28% Petite Syrah). There is also a second label called Héroe Wines, which are also very good as well, and they honor the workers who produced it on the labels, front and back. So many good wines.
Our final stop was at Cass Winery (LINK), where we had lunch from their excellent kitchen. We did not do a tasting here, but had glasses of wine with lunch. Cass produces very good Rhône-style wines, and their whites – Rousanne & Marsanne and the blend they make with them are superior. It is a great lunch spot with indoor and outdoor seating and a very convivial atmosphere in the tasting room.
Paso Robles is one of the most interesting wine regions in California right now. There are some wineries that have been around long enough to develop some great wines, there are some who are very nearly at that point, and there are a lot of very innovative things happening with interesting varietals and new viticulture and wine making techniques. A great place to visit.
The next day, we drove south to the Bien Nacido area and the Santa Rita Hills AVA to visit two very interesting wineries – more about that in the next post.