Tag Archives: Merlot

DIRTY LAUNDRY VINEYARDS – A UNIQUE OKANAGAN WINERY

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).

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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 Herman Teichtmeister, 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 Herman Teichtmeister 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.

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Find the women in this graphic logo.

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

 

A WEEK IN THE OKANAGAN WINE COUNTRY – OVERVIEW

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).

Wine - Okanagan wine-map

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.

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Downtown Kelowna – Delta Grand Hotel in foreground

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.

SOME HIGHLIGHTS

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).

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Pinot Gris at the Cactus Club

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.

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 Hills whites 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.

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Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

WHAT KIND OF WINE DRINKER ARE YOU?

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

~ Ernest Hemingway

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

“All generalizations are false, including this one.”

~ Mark Twain

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

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1. THE CREATURE OF HABIT DRINKER

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

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

“his lips drink water but his heart drinks wine”

~ e.e. cummings

 

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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

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3. THE COLLECTOR

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

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

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

~ Lily Bollinger

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4. THE WINE SLUT

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

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

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

~ Julia Child

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5. THE WINE SNOB

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

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

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

~ Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises  

 

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6. THE SOCCER MOM/DAD

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

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

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

~ Benjamin Franklin

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7. THE YOUNG MILLENNIAL

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

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

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

~ Dean Martin

 

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8. THE OLDER MILLENNIAL

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

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

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

~ Eduardo Galeano  

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

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

~ Ernest Hemingway

 Your comments are welcomed!

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

THE KRAKÒW WINE SCENE

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 LaReyne Prestige Malbec 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.

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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.

 

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

 

SPANISH WINE IN ANDALUCIA’S RONDA

Dorianne and I are staying in Málaga and Granada for six weeks. The other day, we took a tour of the beautiful white town, Ronda. We were going to go there anyway, but found a local tour company that combines your tour of the town with stops at two local wineries. All in all, a very nice day.

Southern Spain’s Andalucía region is an expansive area the borders the Mediterranean Sea on the south and east, Portugal on the west, and central Spain on the north. It includes cities like Seville, Granada, Málaga, Cordoba, Cadiz, and a host of other smaller towns and villages. The topography and climate are very much like southern California – warm and dry inland, slightly cooler and more humid near the sea. It is the home of millions of olive trees – and, where you can grow olives, you can usually grow grapes.

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Andalucian Valley

The wines of Andalucia are often sweet and/or fortified, such as the famous Sherry wines of the area around Jerez (LINK). Málaga is also known for sweet red wines (vino tinto dulce). But elsewhere, small producers are making dry wines out of unexpected varietals in the midst of olive country.

Our first stop was at Bodega Joaquín Fernández (LINK), just 3km north of Ronda. The bodega is located on a sloped property, and there are five hectares under cultivation, with an additional hectare about a mile away. They produce about 5,000 cases per year. Also, there is a rental unit where you can stay right at the vineyard.

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Moises Fernandez

Our tour was led by Moises Fernández, the son of the owner. He gave a very thorough tour of the vineyard and winemaking operation, with great detail on their organic processes. Only red varietals are grown at the bodega – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot (pronounced Mer-LOT here), Syrah (pronounced SEE-rak), and Garnacha.  A white wine and a rosé (Rosado) made from Merlot are signature wines here along with some red blends.

All wines are fermented in large stainless steel tanks – a fermentation for alcohol, and then a malolactic fermentation. The wines are then stored in oak barrelsFrench and American, for periods from 3 months to two years. This is regulated by the local D.O. Malaga Hills/Mountain. Another regulation is that Tempranillo, the most popular red wine grape of Spain, cannot be grown here. That is why local wine makers rely on Bordeaux and Rhône varietals. In keeping with their organic philosophy, then do not use foils on their wine bottles. Instead, they seal them with a thin coating of beeswax.

Of interest, they have been experimenting with storing bottled wine under water. Here is a sample.

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After the tour, we had a tasting and tapas in the bodega’s outdoor tasting room that overlooks the vines. We tasted all of the wines produced – six in total. Dorianne and I were both impressed with the craftsmanship here – the wines were uniformly well-balanced, and all were very enjoyable. Two favorites were the 2015 Blanco de Uva Tinta – a white Merlot, and the 2014 Garnacha, a blend of 90% Garnacha & 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Their wines sell in the 11€ to 15€ range – great values.

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The line up – note the beeswax seals.

Next, we had a couple of hours to tour Ronda – a beautiful city bisected by a river canyon that runs about 300 feet deep or more. If you visit Andalucía, Ronda should be on your list of places to visit. But back to the wine.

Our second stop would include lunch. We were driven a few kilometers out of town to a small bodega called Bodega Garcia Hildago, a small producer – about 1,000 cases annually. Here, we received a tour by Miguel Hildago, the owner and then a four-course lunch with some of his wines. His wife is an amazing cook, but she was away for the day, so he served the food that she had prepared earlier at a table on the patio of their beautiful home.

Miguel grows the same varietals as Bodega Joaquín Fernández, on about 2 hectares on his property. A few of his wines are in local restaurants, but otherwise, you have to visit the bodega to enjoy them. He makes four wines using organic techniques in his vineyard.

We particularly enjoyed his 2014 Zabel de Alcobazin, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. It was rich, full bodied, and had a nice hint of minerality to it. There was a good tannin structure, so it should age well. It sells for 14€.

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Our tour company, Tannin Trail (LINK), offered a great experience. The van was comfortable (only two couples on the tour, which may have been a factor), the guide, Kelly, who originates from South Africa and has lived in Spain for eight years, was very knowledgeable about the local viniculture and the wines of the region, and the two bodega stops were interesting and fun. The tour company is in the process of expanding their operations to the Rioja Region as well, and have been re-branding from Trippy Vines to Tannin Trail during that time. Their Tripadvisor.com ratings are also excellent (LINK).

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It was good to get out and visit some of the wine makers who are making dry wines in this area of mostly sweet wine production. To be sure, Andalucía has a lot to offer.

 

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

CREATING A STARTER CASE OF WINE

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

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

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

Here is the list:

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

Starter case -USQ
Union Square Wines and Spirits Shop

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

OREGON’S UMPQUA VALLEY – TWO WINERIES

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.

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Abacela Vineyards

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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.

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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.

Jim at Reustle Wines
Enjoying a Good Day
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Tasting Room at Reustle Winery

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

AN ITALIAN OASIS IN OAXACA

Dorianne and I are spending a month in Oaxaca, Mexico. We knew coming in that this culinary capital, known for molè sauces, chocolate, and coffee was not wine country. The drinks here are mescal and cerveza. Indeed, we have had some wonderful meals, both in the city and out in the pueblos, where indigenous people make amazing foods.  But wine – not so much.

There is a large supermercado near our Colonial Reforma AirBnB.com house that has a wine section featuring a few South American and Mexican wines, plus a smattering of French, Italian, and Spanish bottles – all at the lower end of the spectrum.  The U.S. is represented here by Gallo. You don’t really find fine wines here, but some decent bottles are available if you know where to look. Better restaurants feature Mexican wines, but the local cuisine, driven by spicy molès, salsas, etc., does not pair well with wine for the most part. Beer (cerveza) is just fine for most cocina oaxaqueña meals.

And, I was, truth be told, growing a bit weary of the local cuisine after two weeks of nothing  but . . .

T2015-11-27 18.56.15hat is why we were so happy to discover Ristorante Italiano Epicuro (no website, LINK to FB page), an oasis of fine Italian dining with a small, but welcome list of Italian wines – a regular list and an artisanal list with a total of about 30 wines. Stepping in off of Calle Guerro into number 319 one is transported, if not to Italy, to a sophisticated setting that could  be in any major city. The decor consists of light green walls, very high ceilings, with a portion that has a retractable roof for this climate, scenes of things Italian on the walls, and nicely appointed tables. There are not a lot of restaurants in Oaxaca that are not oaxaqueña, so there are really few guidelines for how to handle the mix of cultures in terms of food and decor. Ristorante Italiano Epicuro goes purely Italian on the food and a more general upscale look on the decor.

Our good friends Richard Clark and Mary Stec were in town visiting for a few days. They used to own a gourmet chocolate business and sourced their chocolate and molès from Oaxaca. It was their last night with us in Oaxaca, so we went for dinner early – before 7:00 pm, so the place was nearly empty.

Our waiter, Juan Carlos, a veteran of the high-end Los Angeles restaurant scene (Valentino and others), greeted us warmly and masterfully guided us through the evening. Chef Valter Epifania is from Genoa, and knows his way around the kitchen. He came to our table near the end of the meal. We also met Eder, the owner, who came to Mexico from Italy six years ago and opened the restaurant a year later.

We ordered two bottles of wine from the smaller “artisanal wine list.” All were under 600 pesos, or about $35 U.S. at the current exchange rate of 16.8 pesos to the dollar. The most expensive bottle on either list was an Italian Cabernet Sauvignon on the main wine list for 820 pesos, or about $48 U.S.

Our first bottle was a 2010 Il Gargaiolo Chianti, 85% Sangiovese & 15% Merlot. It was very dry and tight at first, but it opened up after a while. I would say that the Merlot added a richness to the Sangiovese. A decent, but not a great wine.

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Next we opted for a 2013 Francesco Cirelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, and organic wine. Aged in stainless steel, the wine had a sense of terroir and a decent balance of dark fruit, with leather and chocolate overtones. Dorianne was the only one of us who preferred the Chianti to this wine.

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The menu is purely Italian, with first courses, pastas, and secondi (not the terms on the menu). A complimentary eggplant appetizer (deliciously rich) is provided. We also received a sampling of their ice cream dessert after not ordering dessert. When Dorianne could not eat that due to allergies, a pear poached in red wine was substituted by the chef for her. Very nice!

We shared a pulpo carpaccio appetizer that was delicious and reminiscent of the pulpo in Spain. The octopus for this dish was sourced in the Gulf of Mexico we were told.

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Pulpo Carpaccio – Delicious!

Then, Dorianne opted for a seafood pasta for her main dish. Mary and I ordered the rib-eye steak made with Ecuadorian beef; Richard had the special of the evening – rack of lamb.

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Ecuadorian Beef Rib-Eye Steak
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Seafood Pasta
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Pear Poached in Red Wine

All of the main courses were excellently prepared and delicious. We remarked that this quality of Italian dining in the US would command a much greater price. The bill, with tip, was just over 2440 pesos, or under $150 U.S. for four of us, including two bottles of wine!

Richard and Mary have left, leaving Dorianne and I to return to this Italian Oasis a few times in our two remaining weeks in Oaxaca.

 

 

 

THE LUCERNE, SWITZERLAND WINE SCENE

The wine scene is Lucerne, Switzerland (LINK) is varied, diverse, and generally speaking, fairly expensive. We recently spent a few days visiting this postcard-worthy city and visited a number of restaurants and wine shops.

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Let’s begin with Opus (LINK), a wine-themed restaurant along the riverfront next to the huge Jesuit Church. We sat outdoors, where there were seats for a couple of hundred guests. The menu is Swiss and Italian with a fairly extensive wine list that is international in scope. We opted for a bottle of Swiss Rosé to go with our dinner selection, the antipasto bar, which had a nice selection of salads, meats, and vegetables. The wines here are priced for on and off-site consumption, and there were some good bargains on the list, like an Amarone for under 30 Swiss Francs (about par with the US dollar when we visited). Opus was very enjoyable and we sent some friends there on ensuing evenings.

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Another end of the spectrum is The Old Swiss House Restaurant (LINK), a revered tourist restaurant near the famous Lion Sculpture in Lucerne (LINK), just a couple of blocks off of the lake. Six of us tried to get a table one evening after visiting the sculpture and were told that they were full and referred to another very nice restaurant. So we made a reservation for the next night on the spot. So don’t go here for dinner without a reservation.

The building is historic and very picturesque, inside and out. The service is formal and competent. Eating here is like going back in time to a more formal era. There is a specials menu and a regular menu. Entrees run 40 to 55 Swiss Francs; appetizers from 14 to 25 Swiss francs – $$$$ level.

The wine list is deep, rich, and amazingly varied (and a bit disorganized). Along with the local wines of Switzerland, they have a wonderful selection of the finest French Burgundies and Bordeauxs (with about 15 Chateau Mouton-Rothchild First Growths on the list), plus some great Italians and even an Australian Penfold’s Grange (1996). These high-end wines are very reasonably priced, mostly at or below what I have seen them at retail, but still hundreds or thousands of Swiss francs per bottle. We opted for a Swiss Chardonnay that complimented my lobster over pasta dish perfectly – light, high in acidity, with notes of pear and grass on the nose, and almost no oak.

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Restaurant Lapin (LINK) is a French/Swiss place with excellent service and a warm atmosphere. It is family run (the same family that runs the small hotel of which the restaurant is a part). The wine list is Swiss and French, with some nice selections, but not very adventurous. We opted for an old friend, a 2010 La Haute-Smith Burgundy Red Blend (LINK). We visited the chateau in Pessac-Leognan (LINK) in 2013 and enjoyed their wines very much. This one did not disappoint – the Merlot/Cabernet blend was rich, lively, and laced with dark fruit. Very nice.

The Globus Department Store’s basement is a gourmet food and wine market that is simply amazing. The wine department has a very good selection of wines and spirits, with an emphasis on Swiss and Italian wines, but with selections from all over Europe. There were wines for tasting as well, and Dorianne and I tasted nice wines from Portugal and Spain, and bought a bottle of the excellent Spanish tinto from Ribero del Duoro for our upcoming Rhine River cruise.

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I am sure that we just scratched the surface of the wine scene in beautiful Lucerne during our three-night visit. As a wine lover, it is a good place to visit.

A GEM IN ST. EMILION – CHATEAU GUILBEAU

We arranged a visit to Chateau Guibeau (LINK) through a friend who is doing academic research on the vineyard and winery. After some pleasant email exchanges with Brigitte Destouet Bourlon and her husband, Eric, the co-owners, we visited last Thursday. Eric focuses on the vineyards, Brigitte on the marketing, and they collaborate on the wine making. The vineyard is actually the combination of properties of two families united in marriage a couple of generations ago, Chateau Guibeau and Guibot The Fourvieille. Wines are made under both labels today.

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Located in the St. Emilion (LINK), area, the property and its chateau overlook a beautiful valley and Puisseguin, the village below.

The vineyard of 41 hectares (101 acres), planted with Merlot (75%), Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon is located in the town of Puisseguin (LINK), in the Bordeaux Region.

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We walked around the beautiful grounds, toured the barrel room and the wine making areas, with the vast fermentation vats, did some tasting, then got a tour of the vineyard with Eric. They have been converting to a fully-organic vineyard over the past five years, and have their first vintages under that regimen produced. This required quite a bit more work for them in the vineyards, but they feel that it is worth it for environmental and health reasons.

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A special barrel design to aid in-barrel fermentation. This one is Merlot.

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The wines that they produce at the Chateau are all reds – mostly Merlot, as it the case with most Right Bank producers in Bordeaux. The blends vary from year to year, but normally have at least 70% Merlot with lesser amounts of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Their 2012 Chateau Guibeau (LINK) blend is 80-10-10.

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The Chateau Gibeau that we tasted, the 2012, shows great promise – it has a good balance, moderate tannins, a nice sense of dark fruit and a hint of minerality. It should improve with age. The 2008 Chateau Guibot La Fourvielle Puisseguin Saint-Emilion (LINK) was a revelation. This 85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc beauty is rich with dark fruit, moderate tannins and acidity, and an underlying minerality that strikes both the nose and the palate in a very nice way. This wine should age well, but is ready to drink now. We bought several bottles to bring to the states, but two have disappeared so far on our journey home.

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Jim and Brigitte Destouet Bourlon in the Chateau Guilbeau tasting room.

There is also a guest house to rent on the Chateau property – here is the (LINK).

This is a very good house, doing very good things – look for their wines and visit when you are in Bordeaux.