A Lyonnaise friend took me for some wine tasting and purchasing to northern Beaujolais, first to Fleurie to visit the Co-op there and then to Romanèche-Thorins to visit the Georges DeBoeuf négociant wine cave. We drove north from Lyon on a beautiful sunny afternoon and through some beautiful Beaujolais countryside after getting of the A6 Motorway at Villefranche-sur-Saône.
A French Wine Cooperative (LINK)“produces and sells wine made from the grapes grown by its members. It mutualizes such tasks as winemaking, storage, selling, and, in some cases, the bottling process.” It is a community of vignerons coming together for mutual support. So, you won’t find single-vineyard production, it is more of a collective effort to produce wines under the name of the appellation where the cooperative is located.
A French wine négociant (LINK) is “a merchant who buy grapes, juice, or finished wine from growers, then bottle and sell them on the market wholesale.”
In general, you’ll encounter three types of wine négociants (LINK): those who buy pre-made wine and bottle it, those who make some improvements on the wine before bottling it, and those who take whole grapes or unfermented juice to make the wine virtually from scratch. This last type of négociant is called a “négociant-éleveur,” and they are the négociants with the most prestigious reputations.
Like all Beaujolais wines, the Fleurie reds are made from Gamay (they also produce a tiny bit of Pino Noir), the whites from Chardonnay. The famous Noveau Beaujolais, a soda-pop like wine bottled just after fermentation will be released in early November. I would have avoided it even if it had been available. It can be a fun way to celebrate the recent harvest, but it isn’t good wine.
The cooperative offers about 20 wines for sale, including a rosé made from Gamay and three créments (sparkling wines).
I tasted several whites and reds before purchasing a few bottles to take home to Lyon. The wines are well-crafted, not premier crus, but very good, drinkable wines. Most cost under 10 euros per bottle. The cooperative offers a couple of “Burgundian” wines, as parts of the area are on the southern side of Burgundy.
Then we drove a few kilometers west to the village of Romanèche-Thorins to visit the Georges DeBoeuf négociant wine cave (LINK). This is a huge operation, and many of my American friends will be very familiar with Georges DeBoeuf wines.
As a négociant, DeBoeuf operates across all three types listed above. Labels will indicate what the relationship between the négociant and winemaker are for each bottle.
The cave is expansive, featuring the DeBoeuf wines as well as a selection of other premium world wines (even a couple from the US – I won’t name them, but they were not premium wines. One seldom finds really good US wines in France), and a large area of gift items, wine accessories, glasses, etc.
The tasting room is an old-time bar connected to a large area where food is served and there are entertainments (a calliope) for those who have just exited the adjacent wine museum and Hameau park (LINK) (which we did not visit this time). It was a quiet afternoon, so we got some personal attention. You can taste as many wines as you want, and the tasting is complimentary. I was interested in comparing wines made from the fermentation through bottling and wines only bottled by DeBoeuf. The Brouilly samples were representative of this. In this case, I found the wine processed by the vigneron superior to the DeBoeuf-made Brouilly (reds); DeBoeuf sells both for just about the same price.
I purchased a few bottles of the Brouilly I preferred, plus a few others to take home, including a very special Cahors Malbec from their premium wine room. I passed on the Château Haute Lafitte-Rothchild this trip. By the way, the premium wine room has an excellent selection from all over France and the world at very good prices.
If you are in the area, for a day trip or longer – southwest of Mâcon and northwest of Lyon, Beaujolais offers beautiful countryside, picturesque villages, good restaurants, and wine at very reasonable prices. At home, check your local wine shops for Beaujolais wines – see what they recommend. Despite the reputation of Nouveau Beaujolais, there are some very nice wines coming from the area at very reasonable prices.
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!
Dorianne and I are spending three weeks in Southwest Oregon, and wine tasting will be part of the experience (of course!). We were here just about a year ago (LINK).
Our first two winery visits were to 2Hawk Winery (LINK) in Medford and Ledger David (LINK) Wine TastingRoom in Central Point. Both are part of the Rogue Valley AVA (LINK).
2Hawk was within walking distance of where we were staying for the weekend in Medford. The tasting room, winery, and the family home are all on the 23.5 acre estate, where many of the grapes are grown – others are sourced from other vineyards in the area. The tasting room, completed in 2012, is very nice, following historic California architectural styling and using a variety of rustic building materials, both local and imported.
When we arrived, the two “flagship” estate wines were sold out. We tasted their 2015 Viognier and Chardonnay – the Chardonnay is estate grown. Both showed good balance and nice fruit from the nose through the finish. The Viognier was especially nice – in the French style. The reds, a Malbec and a blend, were less impressive, and made us wish those flagship reds had been available, especially their Tempranillo. We also tried their rosé, made from Grenache. A very nice wine. We purchased bottles of the Viognier and Grenache Rosé.
Later in the week, I visited Ledger David Cellars tasting room without Dorianne, but with three friends. The tasting room is a small, but nicely appointed space in Central Point, a small town north of Medford that does not appear the be the central point of anything.
At Ledger David I had one of those amazing experiences where pretty much everything turns out beautifully. A good group of friends, a nice atmosphere, a very high caliber staff, and some amazing wines constellated in that couple of hours – along with some very nice chocolates!
Let’s cut to the chase – the wines. At worst, the Ledger David wines I tasted were better than average. At best, they were superb; all are estate grown just north of Ashland. Production is just 3500 cases, 11 varietals, on about 40 acres of vineyard (some fruit is sold).
White varietals: Chenin Blanc, Malvasia Bianca, Viognier, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc
Red varietals: Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Malbec, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Petit Verdot
We explored beyond the basic tasting list and were ably guided by Scott Oakley, something of a tasting room legend in the Rogue Valley, and a relative newcomer to Ledger David. Scott is one of those people who was born to work in the hospitality business, and would be equally at home in a Michelin Star Restaurant. Our experience was made more amazing because of his efforts to ensure that we had the best possible experience. But I digress.
The wines, whether white or red, were superbly crafted, well-balanced, and each had its own character. The 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, as an example, fell somewhere between French and New Zealand Sauv Blancs. It was grassy, but neither heavy on citrus nor on green fruit. There was a hint of minerality and a generous mouthfeel. A nice wine for summer and it will be excellent with oysters. The 2016 Viognier was very nicely crafted, with hints of pear and apricot and a floral nose. This is a very impressive white wine – the winemakers of this area are doing very nice things with Viognier.
The reds at Ledger David were varied. We tasted six reds, and each was unique – to me a good sign of a relatively light touch indicating the winemaker lets the fruit speak for itself. If I were a 100-point scale person (which, as a rule, I am not), I would place all of these wines in the 89-95-point range. I have not checked to see if anyone has done this. One of the wines, a 100% Petite Verdot, was nearly gone, down to 6 bottles (4 when we left), so I won’t critique it other than to say it was unique, full bodied, and cried out for a rack of lamb.
The other reds, mostly blends, were excellent. I purchased a few bottles of a wine called Epitome of Three – Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Syrah – an Old World tour, that was very nice. It’s only available at the tasting room.
Reds that are available via the website include a 2014 Dark Night blend, a 2014100% Tempranillo, a 2014 100% Cabernet Franc, a 2013 Orion’s Nebula blend (did not taste this one), a 2013 Sangiovese, and a 2014 Sublimus blend. Of these, the Cabernet Franc and the Sublimus blend stood out for me.
We left with a number of bottles and will enjoy these wines over the next few weeks (I can’t take more than a couple with me to our next stop!).
The Rogue Valley area wines are showing some maturity, a very good sign that the wines produced here will take their place among Oregon’s best over the next few years.
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?
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?
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!
All of this can be seen as a huge obstacleto 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.
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.
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.
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!
I was invited to an industry-only tasting in London yesterday. Titled “Artisans of Australian Wines,” it featured 43 labels being introduced by 15 British distributors. Held during the day at Cargo, a trendy nightclub in the Shoreditch area of London, the event was both fun and very interesting.
I had heard of exactly none of the 43 labels before the tasting. Indeed, most are smaller producers who do not export to the U.S., and who are just trying to break into the British market. I spent about 3 hours exploring, tasting, speaking to the people pouring (sometimes someone from the winery/vineyard, but most frequently someone from one of the distributors). I did not taste everything (there were at least 200 wines), not even close. But I will give you my impressions of what I did taste and who I did meet. And I will list all of the labels at the end of the blog post, in case you happen across any of them.
General impressions: there were some very nice wines here; in fact, most were very good or better. That would make sense, as they had been vetted by the distributors. Australia has no restrictions on who can grow what grapes where, and no blending rules, like there are in France and Spain, therefore, there is a great variety of both the varietals grown and the blends that are produced. There were a couple of wines that did knock my socks off, but only a couple. That said, pretty much all of these wines could have a place in my cellar or on my table or both.
So with my apologies to those labels that I did not get to taste (mostly in that really crowded section in the front room), let’s see what I did taste.
Adelina and VineMind Wines: The winemaker, Col McBryde was here pouring wines from his two labels. He produces about 2,000 cases/year and has been exporting to the UK for 6 years. Of most interest to me are his Rieslings, one from each label – both nicely balanced with minimal residual sugar.
Yangarra Estate: Nicely polished, well-crafted wines from a producer owned by Jackson Family Wines of California. Winemaker Peter Fraser (Australian Winemaker of the Year for 2016), has crafted two wonderful McLaren ValeGrenache wines from single vineyards. The 2013 High Sands Grenache is of particular note.
Chalmers Wines:Kim Chalmers, daughter of the owner, was pouring the Chalmers Wines at the tasting. I tasted four of the ten Italian varietal wines (3 labels) on hand – a 2014 Vermentino, which was one of the best whites I tasted all day – smooth, velvety, with green fruit and a hint of minerality on the finish – simply excellent. The 2013 Fiano, a varietal I had not previously encountered, was like a younger sister to the Vermentino in character – which makes me think that the winemaker has a large influence on the wines. The red, I tasted, a 2015 Nero d’Avila, was well-structured but young – it needs some time. The 2016 Schioppettino, under the Chalmers Project label, was tannic and bold, with red fruit and a strong finish. Another varietal that is new to me.
Castagna Wines: The father and son team of Julian and Adam Castagna were presiding over their table with aplomb. Their Rhône-focusedvineyard & winery deliver the goods. Their wines were consistently well made and nicely balanced. I tasted 8 of 9 wines available (choosing not to taste their Shiraz Vermouth). Standouts were the 2016 Rousanne, bottled a week ago, and already moving toward becoming a great white wine. The highlight, however, is their 2008 Sparkling Genesis Shiraz-Viognier, a dark red sparkler that delivers great taste and can be paired with just about anything, including meat. This is an amazing wine.
Bill Downie Wine: Apparently, Bill Downie is fairly well-known in Australia as a producer of small quantity, high quality wines. The lone representation of his work, sitting at the end of a table where about 5 other labels were being poured by distributor reps, would have been easy to overlook – in fact, I did on my first pass. Only after reading about it in the catalog did I return to try the 2015 Riverland Biodynamic Petit Verdot. This was my favorite wine of the day. I liked everything about it – the nose was beautifully balanced, inviting you to taste, the mouthfeel was like velvet, with red and black fruit, some leathery tones, and a smoothness that carried into the finish. If I could have purchased a case, I would have. Be on the lookout for this wine.
L.A.S. Vino: Aside from good marketing and design (something that was in abundance here – no doubt a reflection of the assistance that a good distributor can provide) this winery makes some good wine. I only tasted the 2013 ‘Portuguese Pirate’ Margaret River Blend made with Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cao, and Souzao grapes. I cannot honestly attest as to whether this blend is on a par in style or quality to a similar blend in Portugal, but I can say that this wine is of very high quality and would be an excellent companion to a leg of lamb, a steak, or a good cigar. Think smooth, a bit jammy (but not too much), and rich in black fruit. Very nice.
Vinteloper Wines: This Adelaide Hills winery is operated by winemaker David Bowley, who was present and pouring. I tasted three of his excellent wines, two Pinot Noirs – which were nicely crafted and very good, especially his 2012 OPN Lenswood Pinot Noir, a single vineyard beauty. We had a good discussion about Pinot Noir, and I told him about some of the great Burgundian style wines coming out of the Santa Rita Hills AVA in California.
Bowley’s other wine, the 2015 ‘Urban Winery Project #3’ Shiraz/Malbec comes with a story. This nice table wine is the result of a project that Bowley undertakes every year at harvest time. He moves parts of his winemaking operation to a city and, for one month, opens the operation to the locals, who can do everything from stomping grapes to blending wines. It is a great marketing idea – and a great way to invite people into the winemaking process. Kudos to David Bowley.
Sami Odi Wines: Two wines from this small producer were available for tasting – both are a bit unusual in packaging and presentation. The distributor rep, a very nice young woman, spoke so fast that I did not get a lot of information from her (my issue, being an American – she was speaking The King’s English after all). But the wines were very good – a ‘Little Wine #5’ Syrah and a 2014 Syrah ‘XIV’. The former comes from a vineyard with vines planted in different years. Both bring out the best aspects of Syrah.
Chaffey Bros Wines: Producing in the Barossa and Eden Valleys, Chaffey Bros make a number of wines. I would say that their strength is in their whites. I tasted 5 of 7 wines available. Their Rieslings were very good, the best being a 2015 Tripelpunkt Riesling, with fruit from three vineyards – dry with a hint of sweetness, floral notes, and smooth finish – what I like to see in a Riesling. Of interest is a true field blend, called 2015 ‘Düfte Punkt’ with Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Weißer Herold (Kerner). The field blend was nicely balanced – not a great wine, but of interest because of the willingness to experiment.
S.C. Pannell/The Other Wine Co.: Side-by-side on the tasting table, these wineries bring good tasting wines at value price-points. I tasted the 2014 S.C Pannell Adelaide Hills Syrah (McLaren Vale) – very rich, even for a Syrah, almost jammy; but nice red and black fruit notes with chocolate and slate later on. Long finish. I tasted the 2015 The Other Wine Co. Adelaide Hills Pinot Gris (before the Syrah) – a decent table wine with notes of lemon grass and pear.
Again, I did not taste them all – my bad – but suffice to say that there were a range of good quality wines on display. Aside from a growing tendency to call Syrah by its original name, instead of Shiraz, the most remarkable thing about this group was the wines – good quality and individual character. The UK wine market will be looking up thanks to these Aussie newcomers.
As promised, a list of all of the producers present:
Lethbridge Wines Deviation Road Adelina VineMind Yangarra Estate Mac Forbes Chalmers Gembrook Hill Teusner Eden Road Ruggabellus Eperosa Strenua Ochota Barrels Jamseed Wines Luke Lambert Wines Timo Mayer Delinquente Wine Co. Si Vintners Patrick Sullivan Wines Xavier Gentle Folk Wines Castagna Jauma Bill Downie La Línea L.A.S. Vino S.C. Pannell The Other Wine Co. Chaffey Bros Bellwether Vinteloper Bremerton Wines The Pawn Wine Co. smallfry BK Wines Massena Sami Odi Byrne CRFT David Franz La Violetta Ministry of Clouds
You may be seeing some of these labels in your area soon.
After spending twelve days in Ukraine, the ten days we spend in Kraków, Poland (pronounced crak-of), were a real lift. I am thoroughly enchanted with this charming city and I found the wine scene to be a bit enigmatic. We ate in about 15 restaurants and had wine about ten times. We also had some beer (Piwa) and some vodka. This is a vodka town.
Oh, the wine is there alright – there are wine bars, wine cellars and a decent range of wine lists at various kinds and levels of restaurants, from a few basic bottles to something resembling a full list (the most I saw outside of one enoteka was about 3 dozen selections). So we had a range of wine experiences, from pretty awful to drinkable to very nice. I will hit the highlights below.
Poland is a part of the European Union, so wines from other EU countries can be accessed pretty easily (meaning without excessive duty fees). So there were French, Spanish, Italian, Hungarian and even some German wines here and there. There was also a smattering of New World wines – mostly mass producers from South Africa, Australia and South America. The few U.S. wines were, well, sort of an embarrassment (think Suter Home). We did see a Blackstone Zinfandel as the lone U.S. representative on a wine bar wine list.
The Polish wines we tried ranged from drinkable to very good. There is a relatively small number of mostly small producers in Poland (LINK), and their growing season is a bit shorter than Hungary’s, so white wines are generally the best bet, with a couple of exceptions.
A RESTAURANT WITH A NICE WINE SELECTION
Restaurant Padrè(LINK) a the fringe of the Old Town is a classic Polish restaurant. Located in the 16th century basement of a Greek Orthodox Church (but not connected to the church), this is one of the better restaurants in Kraków. The kitchen is excellent, the ambiance is first-rate, the service is great, and they have a well-constructed, if small, wine list. We had an excellent 2013 Chateau LaReynePrestigeMalbec from Cahors, France (which my photo of has disappeared) that was the biggest surprise on any wine list we saw in Kraków. It was the usual, dark, inky, rich and delicious Cahors (LINK).
A RESTAURANT WITH VERY GOOD ITALIAN WINES
Bianca Restauracja (LINK), next to the Cathedral on the main Old Town Square, is a wonderful restaurant with a great all-Italian wine list (LINK). We had a lunch and a dinner here and there was nothing amiss with either experience. We had wines by the glass with lunch. But with the amazing dinner, we had a 2013 Pojega Ripasso – Guerrieri Rizzardi Valpolicella (LINK) made from 45% Corvinone, 45% Corvina, and 10% Rondinella, Molinara, and Merlot, that was simple wonderful. It was the highlight wine of the week. Rich, fruity, beautifully crafted with hints of the earth, it was a perfect accompaniment to our dinner. If you are going to be in Kraków, plan to visit Bianca Restauracja.
A WINE BAR WITH LOTS TO OFFER
Just two blocks from our Kraków hotel, The Hotel Maltański (LINK), was the wonderful wine bar/café, Enoteka Pergamin (LINK), a great spot that we visited four times during our ten-day stay.
The first level features outdoor seating on a pedestrian street with immaculate horse-drawn carriages coming by every few minutes. Inside is a front kitchen for charcuterie, cheeses, soups and salads, with large display cases for the wares. Farther back is a dining room with a second kitchen behind that. Downstairs is a special events room, a cigar lounge, and a special tasting room.
The food here is very well prepared and presented – everything from international cheese platters to pizzas to main dishes like duck – it was all very good. The wine list is the most extensive we saw in Kraków, with lots of international wines and a good number of Polish wines. On one of our visits, we tasted a number of Polish wines with Polish cheeses and ham. The white wines were generally very good to excellent. The same with rosès. The reds were a bit more of a challenge, although we found a couple of good ones.
One winemaker stood out – Winnica Płochockich (LINK), from Glinek Polski – we liked a red (Remare), a white (Lumini XV) and a rosè from them. We bought a bottle of the Remare and the Lumini XV to take to England to share with friends.
Our regular server, Magdalena, is young, but gaining knowledge about wine. She guided us through the menu and the Polish wine world. At one point, on our final visit, the owner send us some Veuve Clicquot Champagne. The Enoteka is a must-stop for wine enthusiasts in Kraków.
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 Shop (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 BurgundianChardonnay, 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:
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.
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 ownstarter 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.
Dorianne and I went to visit our daughter, Grace, who attends CAP21 (LINK), a musical theater conservatory in Manhattan. During our four night stay, we sampled a few restaurants and had some wine experiences, including setting Grace up with a starter case of wine. The restaurants we chose were generally under the radar – not the high-end, but places that interested us and fit our budget. They were generally reasonably priced, actually a bargain, for New York City, but a couple would be considered expensive in other places. Wine was of course on our minds in making our selections. Here is a brief overview of our experiences.
We arrived on Saturday and went to see Grace’s end of the year performance at CAP 21 in the Village. I had made reservations for the three of us and her boyfriend, Kyle, at ŌTTŌ, Mario Batali’s Enoteca and Pizzeria (LINK) on 5th Avenue near Washington Square Park. It was a “meet the parents” dinner, so we wanted something special. While not really expensive, ŌTTŌ is a great experience and has the largest list of Italian Wines that I have ever seen – well over three hundred choices. The three of us arrived before Kyle and we had a glass of wine in the Enoteca in front. We were poured tastes of any by-the-glass wines we wanted before we chose by a very knowledgeable barman. The food was very good in this noisy bustling place. We were seated next to a group of 36 (at two long tables), so that may have affected the noise level. Our wine was a 2011 Soleado Nero d’Avila from Sicily; very tasty – spicy and full-bodied. The service was excellent. I would definitely return.
On Sunday, Dorianne was at a workshop at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, so after Grace’s Sunday performance, we took the subway over to Park Slope and met her at Cafe Dada (LINK), a funky wine bar with Hungarian ownership. We had dinner reservations later on a few blocks away. Cafe Dada features a number of wines, several from Hungary, so we had a 2014 Peter Benedek CserszegiFűszeres, a crisp and refreshing white, with some appetizers. CserszegiFűszeres is the varietal (LINK), which was dry with hints of fruit and minerality. It was a bit unusual, but very refreshing.
Then it was on to dinner at Rose Water (LINK), on Union Avenue nearby. Our party of 6 included some friends who live in Brooklyn. Rose Wateris a tiny little place with a small kitchen just off the entryway. They offer a seasonal menu of locally sourced foods and everything was delicious. The wine list is one of those that is carefully chosen due to minimal storage space – but with a nice selection of wines that fit the menu well. We opted for a 2015 Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare Rosé, since people were getting a variety of dishes. It was a perfect choice (and there were five other rosés on the list). If you are in or near Park Slope, make arrangements to eat at Rose Water.
On Monday, we met Grace when classes ended and headed over to Union Square Wines and Spirits (LINK), from the top-ten list of New York Wine Shops in the Village Voice (LINK). As readers of this blog may know, we took Grace to France to taste wines when she graduated from high school. The idea was to educate her palate so that she was not tempted by the cheap, crappy stuff at college parties. It largely worked, and she gets wine as well as any 22-year-old I know. So a mixed case of mid-level wines was selected at this excellent wine shop, she opened an account, and the wine was delivered two days later. I will blog about the idea of a “starter case” and the contents of this one in a future post.
Monday’s dinner was just the three of us and we chose Maison Harlem (LINK), just a couple of blocks from Grace’s apartment. The Harlem food scene is really taking off, and this place is near the front of that procession. A funky, laid-back place with definite French accents (including the owners, Samuel Thiam and Romain Bonnans and some of the staff). The food is excellent and the vibe is very friendly. There is a bar in the front that gets very lively, and the dining room in the back with live music on this night – a very competent jazzy trio. The wine list is short but interesting. We had a wonderful meal. The owners were sitting at the next table, so it was a nice experience interacting with them (like one of them showing me his smart phone with my minutes-old Tweet about the place). They also own a wine shop across the street.
Except for one thing. Our server brought the wrong wine. I have been on a bit of a Cahors Malbec kick for a few weeks, and they had one on the menu. I ordered it, pointing to the listing as I did so. The wine was brought, but not shown to me, and when given a taste, it tasted very good and looked like a Cahors – dark and inky. But when the bottle was put on the table (I was not shown the label first), it had an all black label, which seemed strange. When I examined it, it was an Argentinian Malbec. By this time the server had gone and the wine tasted fine. When told about it later, he apologized and offered to change the wine, but we decided to keep the wine we were served. Otherwise a great experience; and I could have asked to see the label (but I should not have to).
Our final wine-related meal was Tuesday’s lunch. We went to the Amelie Wine Bar (LINK) on West 8th Street, literally a block from ŌTTŌ closing the circle as it were. This little gem of a place offers really tasty food and an eclectic wine list in a mid-Century modern decor. It is very lively at night, there were only a few people there at lunch. There are dozens of wines by the glass, mostly French, but many others as well. We all opted for French wines. The servers are knowledgeable (here, too, most have French accents), and the food was exceptional. I opted for the burger and it was the best I have had in years. There is also a San Francisco branch of Amelie Wine Bar.
We closed our visit with a Broadway Show – School of Rock on Tuesday evening, and jsut snacked before the theater. As always, New York is an amazing place with a dazzlingly large array of possibilities. We chose well, I think, and I know that we missed so much.
C’est la Vie!
As always, your comments are welcomed. And, if you would follow this blog and share it with others, I would be most appreciative. You can also follow me on Twitter at @JimLockardWine.
The Umpqua Valley AVA (LINK) in south-central Oregon does not yet have a signature varietal, and it may not have one in the future. This rambling AVA contains many micro-climates and a range of soils, so it may well remain home to dozens of varietals over time, which is not a bad thing at all.
Visiting friends near Roseburg, we head out to the wineries, which are about a 30 minute drive to the southwest. A stop at the Lighthouse Center Bakery and Café (LINK), for a vegetarian lunch of huge proportions, fortifies us for an afternoon of wine tasting. Two wineries are on the schedule for this first day, Ruestle Prayer Rock Vineyards (LINK), and Abacela Winery and Vineyard (LINK). Our hosts, Andy and Bonnie Anderson, assure us that these are representative of the wines of the area.
Ruestle Prayer Rock Vineyards is set in rolling hills and has been developed, built and planted by someone with an eye for beauty. Everything about this 200 acre patch of Oregon is lovely to behold. Stephen and Gloria Reustle made their money in marketing in New York and moved west to explore entry into the wine business. After a few false starts in California, they discovered this part of Oregon and fell in love with it. The first vines went into the ground in 2003 and now they produce about 8000 cases annually. The Reustles are devout Christians, and there are quotes form the Bible on the winery floors and elsewhere on the property. There is also a Men’s Bible Study group that meets at the winery and studies The Bible while they taste wine. Not a bad idea.
All of the wines produced here are estate grown. There are currently 6 red varietals – Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Syrah, Malbec, Merlot, and Grenache; and 6 whites – Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Muscat, and Semillon. There are reserves of most of these and several blends, and both a red and a white port. There is also an amphitheater nearby for events.
We were shown around by Kevin Kline, Wine Educator and Events Coordinator for the winery, and escorted to one of the private tasting rooms and served appetizers with each wine tasting. The tasting rooms, production area, and the wine cave (which includes tasting rooms and event space), are located in a lovely building that has been designed to look like old stone caves by a designer/architect who does a lot of work for Disney. In the cave are the barrels of French and American oak, where the reds are stored; the whites are in aluminum tanks in the production area.
Okay, let’s cut to the chase. The tasting was of four wines – the 2013 Grüner Veltliner, the 2013 Pinot Noir, the 2013 Syrah, and the 2013 Tempranillo. The Grüner Veltliner, with 1% residual sugar, was a bit sweet for me, but others may like it; the reds were all young with good tannins and acidity, indicating that they will age well. Nothing outstanding, but all well-crafted wines and good values at their respective price points.
I requested a taste of the 2013 Blanco Dulce, the white port. Mr. Kline was kind enough to open a bottle, and it was a revelation. This wine was aged in Acacia wood barrels for nearly two years, adding to the wine’s complexity and depth. It is a 50/50 blend of Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. Smooth, with just the right amount of sugar, fortified with brandy (sourced elsewhere) to 19% alcohol content, this is everything a white port should be. We bought 2 half-bottles, as did one of the other couples with us. I love making a find like this.
Our next stop was Abacela Winery and Vineyard, again featuring a nicely designed and appointed tasting room area set atop a hill overlooking 40 acres of vines. In 1995, Earl and Hilda Jones planted the first vines here. The focus here is Tempranillo, and they make several of them, most for wine club members only (although available for tasting). They also make small amounts of Albarino, Viognier, and Muscat, plus a Grenache Rosè; and in addition to the Tempranillo, Garnacha(Grenache), Malbec, Dolcetto, Graciano, Syrah, Tinta Amarela (a very nice wine), and a Tannat is coming soon.
For the tasting, you get to pick any 8 of 17 wines, so Dorianne and I each did a tasting and alternated and shared – so we tasted 16 of the 17 available on the general tasting. You can also taste their reserve wines for an additional $5 per taste.
The highlights were the Tempranillos and, a bit surprisingly, the 2015 Muscat, a semi-sweet white wine, that is a great light sweet wine; and the 2013 Blanco Dulce, a late-harvest Albarino that is made into a faux ice-wine by freezing the grapes at the local creamery before fermenting. The wine was not too sweet and very elegant on the nose and the palate.
Back to the Tempranillos – the “Barrel Select” versions, and especially the 2009 Paramour ($100), which we tasted were all very well-crafted and balanced wines; they are not the same as you find in Spain, even though this part of Oregon is at about the same latitude as Ribero del Duero and Rioja. Nevertheless, good wines and all of them should age well or a decade or two. I really like what Abacela is doing with this amazing Spanish varietal. Given more time, they will likely become known for the Tempranillos they are producing.
The Umpqua Valley AVA is shaping up nicely and should mature well in the future. It is worth a visit.
The Garagistè Festival(LINK), for the uninitiated, is a gathering that promotes and celebrates small production winemakers from Paso Robles and elsewhere in California. These are folks who produce under 1500 cases per year. Some are new and plan to grow into the future Mondavis or Kendall-Jacksons of the world; others are doing it as a labor of love and have no plans to expand; still others are winemakers for larger concerns and this is their hobby-like “side venture.” There are also now Garagistè Festivals in Solvang and in Los Angeles each year.
This is the fifth annual Paso Robles event, and I have attended all of them. Dorianne and I drove up from LA County where we are staying with friends for last night’s Winemakers’ Mixer and today’s workshops and Grand Tasting (which I will blog about later).
The mixer was added a few years ago, and has been held in different places. This year, it was in the barrel room at Broken Earth Winery (LINK). There were about 35 wineries represented (and one local hard cider maker), including about 1/2 dozen who had been at all five festivals. There were some snacks provided and the Pairing Knife Food Truck(LINK) was also on hand with some great food.
The focus of the evening was new releases and tastings of wines that had not yet been released. You might say that this concept is loosely observed. There were some new releases, and some yet-to-be-released wines (one, just pressed and served from a 5 gallon plastic container), but there were also some 2007 Cabernets and other regular production wines, but really, who cares?
The fun of this evening was meeting young (and not-so-young) winemakers who are following their dream and doing what they love. They are eager to talk about their wines and really enjoy it when someone with some knowledge shows up. There were over 70 wines to taste, so spitting was in order. The general quality of the wines at the Garagistè Festival has improved significantly over the past five years. But, there is still a pretty wide range of quality, which is also part of the fun.
Here are a few highlights from the evening for us – we did not taste every single wine (you can get wines from most of these small producers via their website):
Ascension Cellars (LINK), Paso Robles. Currently produces 8 wines in the Rhône style. We tasted their GSM called Trinity and a Syrah – both were very well-crafted and balanced.
Deno Wines (LINK), Templeton, CA. The last wine we tasted before departing, the wine was a pre-release of the blend of 50% Zinfandel and a 50% GSM blend. This surprising combination produced a very spicy and well-balanced wine. Dennis Sharpe will have some other GSM’s out today for the Grand Tasting.
Incendium Wines (LINK), Napa Valley, CA. Winemaker Vince Kalny is a firefighter for Cal Fire. His wines reflect his primary calling, with beautifully designed labels. A portion of the proceeds from sales go to The National Fallen Fire Fighters Foundation. That said, his wines are very well made. There were 3 Chardonnays, 2 Cabernet Sauvignons and a Syrah to taste. The Cabs (2012 & 2013 – pre-release) stood out as very well-crafted and were smooth and ready to drink.
Stanger Vineyards (LINK), Paso Robles, CA. Last year, when we entered the mixer, the first person we saw was J.P. French holding a 5 gallon plastic water jug that was filled with Malbec that had just been pressed. He sloshed some of the juice into our glasses and moved on. Later, we returned to his table and discovered some amazing wines. J.P. was back this year, with the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon in the plastic jug – again, just pressed. He also had a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon that was spicy, earthy, but with nice red fruit on the nose and palate. If you are into wine, Stanger Vineyards is a good bet.
Theopolis Vineyards (LINK), Anderson Valley, CA. Theopolis, run by Theodora Lee, a Texan and an attorney by trade, had 7 or 8 wines (we were well into the tasting) on display. Theopolis has a focus on Petite Syrah on the red side, and the Symphony Grape – a California crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris developed in 1948 (but not commercially released until 1982) by the late Harold Olmo, professor of viticulture at the University of California, Davis. As its pedigree suggests, it is a seductively aromatic wine with delightfully captivating aromas that are markedly floral with slightly spicy flavors (from their website). She also produces a very seductive Petite Syrah Rosè. The wines were among the best of the evening and I look forward to visiting her again today at the Grand Tasting.
Turiya Wines (LINK), Lompoc, CA. Turiya means “pure consciousness” in Sanskrit. Winemaker Angela Soleno brings a consciousness to winemaking that produces some exceptional wines. We tasted a Sangiovese and a Bordeaux Blends, and both were excellent. A one-woman operation, Angela produces about 200 cases annually, all reds, featuring a number of varietals – Red Blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese. Wine prices begin at about $100/bottle and you have to be on the allocation list to receive wine. Visit the website for more information.
Vinemark Cellars (LINK), Paso Robles, CA. Mark Wasserman, who runs Vinemark with his wife, Julie, was present with two wines, a 2013 Reserve Pinto Noir and a 2012 Mezzanote, a blend of 75% Primitivo and 25% Petite Syrah. Mark is the classic Garagistè, in it for the love of winemaking. He loves to talk about his wines, and they are wonderful.
So that is a taste of the tasting mixer. There were a number of other quality wines present and, again, try as we might, Dorianne and I did not get to taste everything. Today – the Classic Tasting with about 70 producers and a couple of hundred wines. We will do our best.