April 02, 2010
Searching the world for bargain wines
All the surveys say Americans are drinking no less wine in these hard economic times, but we're looking for cheaper ones. Cheaper, but just as good. OK, so we want it all.
One proven strategy is to look to lesser-known winemaking regions: the Loire Valley instead of Burgundy; Croatia instead of Germany; South Africa instead of California.
South Africa, for example, has for centuries made white chenin blanc. They
call it "steen.'' It's grown very little in the rest of the world, and when well-made it can be crisp and fruity. Since it's not a hot commodity, it can be cheap, too. Like South Africa's other popular white, sauvignon blanc, it benefits from cool weather and fog blowing up from Antarctica.
Also emerging is an even lesser-known red wine called pinotage. Created in South Africa in 1925 as a cross between pinot noir and cinsault, it had a rocky debut on the world stage because when poorly made it smelled of acetone. “Spray paint wine,'' it was called.
Now, however, South Africans have discovered its secret: Pick it a little less ripe and it loses the acetone and takes on a nice flavor of black raspberries and mulberries.
Americans are becoming increasingly familiar with Latin American value wines. In fact, U.S. wine imports from Argentina grew 35 percent between 2008 and 2009.
Many wine fans say we should snap up these bargains before Argentine winemakers realize what they have and jack up the prices. That's especially true of malbec. In France, it's a hard-as-nails grape added to Bordeaux blends to give them tannic backbone and deeper color. In Argentina's warm sun, malbec softens into pretty blends of sweet cherries and milk chocolate.
Argentina's Finca La Linda line is by Bodega Luigi Bosca, owned by a family that moved from Spain to Mendoza in the 1890s. It makes wine in several price ranges. When times are better, we will write about their pricier wares.
Ø 2008 Sebeka Sauvignon Blanc, South Africa: crisp and fruity, with lemon-lime and mineral aromas and flavors; $8.
Ø 2008 Sebeka Shiraz/Pinotage “Cape Blend'' Red Wine, South Africa: black cherry and black pepper aromas and flavors; rich and soft; $8.
Ø 2008 Sebeka Cabernet/Pinotage Red Wine, South Africa: black raspberry and bitter chocolate aromas and flavors; rich and soft; $8.
Ø 2009 Finca La Linda Unoaked Chardonnay, Lujan de Cuyo, Argentina: crisp and dry, with green apple and mineral aromas and flavors; $11.
Ø 2008 Finca La Linda Malbec, Lujan de Cuyo, Argentina: black cherry and clove aromas and flavors; soft, rich and ripe; $11.
March 29, 2010
Sake: something different to sip with food
In wine, you can find flavors from pink grapefruit to black raspberries. You won’t find those in sake. Why would you? It’s made of rice. Still, they use 87 types of rice making sake, a dozen different kinds of water and subtle brewing techniques going back 55 generations.
So what you can find in sake is startling. Earth, sandalwood, fennel, smoke, minerals -- even hard-to-define but much desired sense called umami.
A recent tasting of a dozen premium sakes was a learning experience.
My guide was Morgan Hartman, local sales manager for Vine Connections, which imports sake. She’s just back from a week-long, second-level sake class in Tokyo that included lectures, brewery visits, even blind tastings. Here are some things I learned:
Sake has its own vocabulary. Expert tasters find melon, banana, pineapple, vanilla and such. But they also describe it as explosivity, presence, persistence.
Some of the aromas and flavors are easily discernable even to beginners; others are not.
“Some of them are beyond what we can comprehend,” says Hartman.
Sake goes OK with sushi, but it’s not a brilliant match because both are made of rice, and so can be redundant. Sakes are brewed in various regions of Japan, in some of which people are more likely to eat pork and pickled vegetables than sushi.
The sake called “Bride of the Fox” is dry, spicy and explosive, so it’s a perfect match for a charcoaled New York strip. The light minerality of the sake called “Devine Droplets” pairs nicely with oysters, caviar and foie gras.
Sake pairs well with cheese. It even goes with those two vegetables that no grape wine can match – artichokes and asparagus. And since sake is low in acid, it goes with dishes that can be jarring with grape wine – ceviche, vinegar-based salad dressings and such.
Ironically, sake is gaining popularity in the United States just as it’s losing it in Japan. In Japan, 30-year-olds looking for something new are turning to western wines; they see sake as what their grandfathers drink. In the U.S., 30-year-olds who have learned the difference between chardonnay and chablis and also are seeking something new are turning to sake.
A major selling point for sake in America is that it is gluten-free and sulfite free; some is even kosher. Imagine sake at your seder.
Tasting sakes, while extremely pleasurable, takes a whole different mind set. Long-time wine fans are apt to approach it like wine, which doesn’t work. It makes us feel like amateurs again, which is humbling, but probably good for us.
In the tasting notes below, I’ve mixed my impressions with those of Hartman to show you the range of possibilities. Try some of these and see what you think. Let me know.
· Rihaku “Wandering Poet” Junmai Ginjo: earth, smoke, mushrooms, truffles, bananas, powerful; $16 per 300 milliliter bottle.
· Kanbara “Bride of the Fox” Junmai Ginjo: grilled nuts, white chocolate, citrus, intense; $17 per 300 milliliter bottle.
· Takasago “Divine Droplets” Junmai Daiginjo: minerals and spice, bananas, vanilla, peaches; $32 per 300-milliliter bottle.
· Nanbu Bijin “Southern Beauty” Junmai Ginjo: earthy, spicy, nutty, green apple and honeydew flavors; $18 per 300 milliliter bottle.
· Fukucho “Moon on the Water” Junmai Ginjo: vanilla, melon, licorice, fennel, allspice; $19 per 300 milliliter bottle.
· Ama No To “Heaven’s Door” Tokubetsu Junmai: earth, chocolate, herbs, apples, raisins; $17 per 300-milliliter bottle.
· Sato No Homare “Pride of the Village” Junmai Ginjo: strawberries, white chocolate, licorice, mint, pears; $24 per 300-milliliter bottle.
· Konteki “Tears of Dawn” Daiginjo: bananas, licorice, melons, minerals; $20 per 300 milliliter bottle.
· Tentaka Kuni “Silent Stream” Junmai Daiginjo: kiwi, limes, mint, fresh-cut hay, dust; $50 per 300-milliliter bottle.
· Ama No To “Time of Reflection” Junmai Daiginjo: camphor, pears, cacao, rich and mellow; $100 per 720-milliliter bottle.
· Nanbu Bijin “Ancient Pillars” Junmai Daiginjo: tangerines, limes, white chocolate, citrus, chocolate; $75 per 300-milliliter bottle.
· Mukune “Shadows of Katano” Junmai Ginjo Nigori: mushrooms, earth, sandalwood, licorice; $40 per 300-milliliter bottle
· Tozai “Snow Maiden” Jummai Nigori: pears, coconuts, pineapples, peaches; $10 per 300-milliliter bottle.
March 22, 2010
Is that vintage a fake? Now you can find out.
It that bottle of Bordeaux your friend is trying to sell you really from a fine vintage like 2000? Or is it a relabeled fake, actually from the mediocre 1991 vintage?
Now you can find out. Scientists have come up with a way to detect wine vintages. It's based on carbon dating -- similar to the way they estimate the age of prehistoric fossils.
Basically -- and this is the eww! factor -- they measure how much radioactivity there was in the grapes left over from the atomic bomb testing of the 1940s. I'm not sure I'm glad to know that.
March 18, 2010
Good wines, interesting poster from Hahn Estates
Hahn Estates of California is a nice family winery story. In the late 1970s, Nicolaus
and Gaby Hahn established their first few small vineyards in California's cool Monterey
County. By 1988, they had persuaded authorities to create an official wine appellation
status for the lands around them … today called the Santa Lucia Highlands.
Today they own 650 acres there ranging up to 1,200 feet in elevation for cool weather.
Their Hahn Estates wines are made entirely from those acres. They also have created other wine brands with grapes from other areas. Cycles Gladiator Wines come from the Central Coast and elsewhere in California.
They make wines for the times. Their most expensive one is $16.
Trying to come up with a label for their Cycles Gladiator line of wines, the couple
settled on a 1895 bicycle theme, celebrating the golden age of biking and bike racing in
France. At the time, biking was seen as liberating to women, who donned bloomers or even slacks and pedaled off away from home.
They chose a Parisian art poster created by the French artist G. Massias for the label.
It depicts a nymph, nude, soaring on one of the new bicycles, called the Cycles Gladiator.
The label was deemed pornographic and banned by the state of Alabama, although they didn't have trouble elsewhere.
* 2008 Hahn Estates Syrah, Central Coast (syrah, petite sirah): deep purple color,
aromas and flavors of black raspberries, mocha and cloves, ripe tannins; $14.
* 2007 Hahn Estates Meritage, Central Coast (merlot, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot,
malbec, cabernet franc): big, ripe black cherry and black coffee aromas and flavors, soft
and hearty; $16.
* 2008 Cycles Gladiator Pinot Grigio, Central Coast: white flower aromas, flavors of
ripe apricots and golden apples; $10.
* 2008 Hahn Estates Chardonnay, Monterey: big and ripe, with pineapple and mango aromas and flavors; $12.
* 2007 Hahn Estates Merlot, Monterey: aromas and flavors of black plums and black
pepper, soft tannins; $14.
* 2007 Hahn Estates Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Coast (cabernet sauvignon, merlot):
black raspberry and bittersweet chocolate aromas and flavors, smooth, full-bodied; $14.
* 2008 Cycles Gladiator Pinot Noir, California: tart cherry and cinnamon aromas and
flavors, crisp, soft tannins; $11.
* 2007 Cycles Gladiator Merlot, California: (merlot, cabernet sauvignon): soft and
sweet, black cherry and black pepper aromas and flavors; $10.
* 2008 Cycles Gladiator Syrah, Central Coast: soft and rich, with mulberry and black
coffee aromas and flavors; $10.
* 2007 Cycles Gladiator Cabernet Sauvignon, California (cabernet sauvignon, petite
sirah): aromas and flavors of black raspberries and chocolate, rich and soft; $10.
March 12, 2010
Wine: the best of the best of the best
My favorite tasting at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival is always the “Best of the Best,'' in which some of the world's top wineries show off their...well...best stuff.
There's always something new, something exotic, something fabulous. Here are some of my favorites from this year and the stories behind them:
* 2006 Maison Alex Gambal Clos Vougeot Grand Cru, Appellation Clos Vougeot Controllée, Burgundy, France (pinot noir): pale red hue, aromas of smoke and violets, flavors of tart cherries, cloves and minerals, very smooth, long finish; $170.
Alex Gambal is living every wine fan's dream. A real estate executive in Washington, D.C., he started poking through a local wine shop and got interested.
“In 1992 my wife and I took a vacation to France. We had dreamed of taking a sabbatical year and perhaps working in the wine industry. On vacation we met Becky Wasserman [a wine exporter in Burgundy]. During an evening of good food and wine at Becky's we discussed the idea of an apprenticeship at 36 years old, and by the evening's end we had agreed to move to France."
Today he's a respected Burgundy vineyard owner and exporter. So, keep dreaming.
· 2007 Chateau d'Esclans “Whispering Angel'' Rosé, Cotes de Provence, France (grenache, rolle, cinsault, syrah, mourvedre): light and dry and lively, with intense tart strawberry and cinnamon flavors; $19.
Sacha Lichine, owner of Chateau D'Esclans, runs in lofty social circles. At a dinner party on the Riviera, he met Denise Rich, a socialite who was setting up a foundation to fight cancer in memory of her daughter, Gabrielle Rich Aouad, who had died of leukemia.
Rich talked Lichine into donating wine for a charity dinner on her yacht in St. Tropez, and he sent his “Whispering Angel,'' feeling it appropriate.
How did it get its name?
“We have a chapel at our chateau with two angels at the altar. One time I heard them whispering to me.”
· Multivintage Krug Grande Cuvée Brut Champagne, Reims: long-lasting pinpoint bubbles, toasty, nutty aroma, fresh citrus flavors with an oxidative quality that reminds one of baked apples, even beer; creamy, lingering finish; $170.
Krugistes, as its cult followers call themselves, use all the dark and brooding adjectives to describe it … nutty, toasty, oaky, spicy, dense, rich, powerful, oxidative, with flavors
of minerals, ginger, marzipan, almonds, pears, smoke, even beer. Yet it always retains a certain creamy freshness.
* 2007 Planeta Burdese, Sicily IGT (70 percent cabernet sauvignon, 30 percent cabernet franc): inky hue, rich and powerful with aromas and flavors of black plums, mocha and tar, muscular tannins, good steak wine; $32.
What's the biggest wine-producing region of Italy? Sicily, of course … more than Tuscany or Piemonte. To be sure, 80 percent of Sicily's wines are bulk stuff, but the other 20 percent is led by the Planeta family, which in just 13 years has established four vineyards and two wineries. This wine will put Sicily on the world map of wine.
March 03, 2010
Good, cheap wines from South Beach Festival
What a day for a beach party. Blue Atlantic. Sunny sky. Crisp, cool air. White sand. Smiling people offering to fill your glass at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami Beach.
Among all the fancy wines, there also was was a stunning array of inexpensive wines on display … wines $15 and under poured by merchants who understand that we love good wine even when times are tough.
In the Celebrate France tent, Stephen Hauser of Pasternak Wine Imports was grousing about how expensive wines have lost their “sales velocity'' these days, with cheaper wines to the fore.
“People who were buying $35 wines are now buying $20 wines,'' he said. “People who were spending $20 are now spending $15.''
Here are two dozen wines from nine countries at $15 and under that I tasted at last weekend's festival.
ø‚2008 Barons de
Rothschild White Bor
deaux, France: crisp and
rich, with ripe pear fla
Fombrauge Grand Cru,
St. Emilion, France: black
cherries and black pepper;
rich and hearty; $15.
ø‚2007 Twin Vines
Vinho Verde by Jose
Maria de Fonseca, Portu
gal: very dry, with lime
and kiwi flavors; $9.
Albrecht Reserve Ries
ling, Alsace; aromas and
flavors of ripe peaches;
lightly sweet; $15.
ø‚2009 San Telmo
Argentina: crisp, lightly
sweet, intense lychee fla
Muscadet Sevre et Main,
France: light and dry, with
crisp white grapefruit fla
cat de Saint Jean de
Minervois, dessert wine,
Languedoc, France: very
sweet, flavors of oranges
and hazelnuts; $12 per half
ø‚2008 Patch Block
Pinot Noir, Vin de Pays
d'Oc, France: tart cherry
and cinnamon flavors,
full-bodied, very rich; $10.
dei Feudi di San Grego
rio White Wine, Italy:
light and crisp, tart apple
and mineral flavors; $14.
Bougrier Vouvray, Loire
Valley, France (chenin
blanc): tangy, sweet-tart
white grapefruit flavors;
Aglianico dei Feudi di
San Gregorio Red Wine,
Italy: inky black color, hint
of oak, black plum flavors,
firm tannins; $10.
ø‚2005 Folie a Deux
Menage ÞaTrois, Calif.
(chardonnay, muscat and
chenin blanc): lightly
sweet, flavors of pears and
ø‚2007 Antigal Mal
bec, Mendoza, Argentina:
black raspberry and dark
cocoa flavors; $15.
ø‚2009 Sanama Sau
vignon Blanc, Valle de
Rapel, Chile: soft, with
aromas and flavors of
white peaches; $8.
Chianti Classico, Italy:
tart and crisp; flavors of
red raspberries and cinna
Savatiano, regional white
wine of Spata, Greece:
very crisp, very tart white
grapefruit flavors; $15.
ø‚2009 Miolo Family
Vale dos Vinhedos, Brazil:
simple, tart green apple
ø‚2008 Miolo Family
Vineyards Pinot Noir,
Vale dos Vinhedos, Brazil:
earthy black cherry fla
vors, tart finish; $13.
ø‚2008 Marquis de
Rueda Verdejo, Spain:
intensely fruity with fla
vors of ripe peaches and
ø‚2008 Voga Pinot
Grigio delle Venezie,
Italy: smoky, earthy, full-
flavored with hints of
green apples; $10.
ø‚2008 Bodega Sep
tima Malbec, Mendoza,
Argentina: black cherries
and milk chocolate; $10.
Schnebly Winery Pas
sion Fruit Wine, Home
stead: sweet-tart, with
pomegranate and red
apple flavors; $14.
ø‚2007 Cotes du
Rhone Parallele 45 Red,
Paul Jaboulet Aine, Rhone
Valley, France: muscular
red plum and cinnamon
flavors, big tannins; $11.
February 24, 2010
We're ready for our close-up, Mr. Director
Hey, wine fans. Check out the new wine videos I've just done with Dinkinish O'Connor, the wine columnist for Miami.Com.
That's her sig, to the right.
We tell what we think of some of the wines that will be poured at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival.
February 22, 2010
Sonoma: A tale of two wineries
Tales of two very different Sonoma County wineries:
La Crema: Head west out of Santa Rosa, Calif., through acres of grape vines, passing tractors and wagons on the road, and soon you're in a dark forest of 100-foot redwood trees alongside a fast-moving river. It's the Russian River Valley.
Here, in one of the coolest parts of Sonoma County, sisters Laura Jackson Giron and Jennifer Jackson, with winemaker Melissa Stackhouse, produce cool-weather varieties of chardonnay and pinot noir.
La Crema is a small family winery with vineyards spread around northern California's coolest areas, including Anderson Valley to the north and Los Carneros to the south.
Stackhouse specializes in the winemaking style of France's cool Burgundy
area, fermenting the grapes in oak barrels, using secondary malolactic fermentation to soften the wines and make them more complex.
Frei Brothers: This winery dates to 1890, when Swiss immigrant Andrew Frei purchased 334 acres in Sonoma County from a gold miner, and, by 1895, was making 20,000 cases of wine a year. In 1903 he turned the vineyard over to his sons, Walter and Louis.
After Prohibition ended, the Frei brothers signed an agreement to sell all of their grapes to Julio Gallo, and, in 1978 the E‚&‚J Gallo Winery bought the vineyard outright, keeping the Frei Brothers name. Today it's part of Gallo's high-end Sonoma operations.
ø‚2007 La Crema
îîNine Barrel'' Chardon
nay, Russian River Valley:
a big wine, with 14 percent
alcohol; ripe and rich and
creamy, with powerful
baked fruit flavors; $70.
ø‚2008 La Crema
Pinot Noir, Russian River
Valley: black cherry and
bittersweet chocolate aro
mas and flavors; lush and
ø‚2007 Frei Brothers
Blanc, Russian River Val
ley: aromas and flavors of
cut grass, minerals and cit
rus; crisp and lively; $20.
ø‚2007 La Crema
Chardonnay, Los Carne
ros: lively citrus aromas,
with flavors of toasty oak
and caramel; rich and
ø‚2007 La Crema
Pinot Noir, Los Carneros:
black raspberry and
mocha aromas and flavors;
rich and ripe; $38.
ø‚2007 La Crema
Nine Barrel Pinot Noir,
Russian River Valley: big
and rich, with black plum
and cinnamon flavors,
creamy, with ripe tannins;
ø‚2006 Frei Broth
ers Reserve Cabernet
Valley: full-bodied, with
aromas and flavors of
black cherries, licorice
and mint; $24.
ø‚2007 Frei Brothers
Reserve Merlot, Dry
Creek Valley: medium
body, black cherry and
black pepper aromas and
flavors, soft tannins; $20.
ø‚2007 Frei Brothers
Reserve Syrah, Russian
River Valley: black rasp
berry and black pepper
aromas and flavors, soft
ø‚2007 Frei Brothers
Russian River Valley: aro
mas and flavors of lemons,
pears, peaches; rich and
February 11, 2010
Reader seeks info on two new wines
Reader Doe Stern wants to know about a couple of new wines: Kupelweiser Pinot Grigio and Los Boldos Cabernet from Chile.
I haven't tried them.
If you have, message me at email@example.com and tell Doe and me about them.
Toast your valentine with rosé-colored glasses
What's the proper role of wine at Valentine's Day? The Gaylords described it
nicely back in the '50s:
From the vine came the grape,
From the grape came the wine,
From the wine came a dream to a lover.
What’s the proper wine for that lover’s dream? proper wine for that lover's dream?
It's pretty. It can smell like roses. When well-made, it tastes of red fruits from
strawberries to raspberries to cranberries. Like romantic relationships, it ranges
from soft and sweet to crisp and tart.
Rosé’s reputation was down for a while, as too many California winemakers made sickly sweet “blush” wines and “white zinfandels,” and some Spanish winemakers made their rosé sweeter for the U.S.
Those days are gone.
Today's rosés tend to be crisp, tart and intensely fruity. They're made of red
grapes … zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, gamay … with skins removed hours after crushing for that pink hue.
Rrosés fall somewhere between white and red wines in style, so they go with many foods. They're great picnic wines, with sandwiches, chicken, tuna or fruit salads. In Provence, they're drunk with bouillabaisse; in Spain, they're popular with paella. They go
with ham … pink meat, pink wine. Makes sense.
And they're made as sparkling as well as still wines. So what could be more romantic than toasting your Valentine with rosé?
derer Estate Brut Rosé
sparkling wine, Anderson
Valley, Calif.: lots of lively
bubbles; floral aromas, tart
cranberry flavors; $27.
ø‚2008 Bonterra Rosé, Mendocino County,
Calif. (organic sangiovese,
zinfandel and grenache
grapes): aromas of red
roses; intense, tart red
raspberry and cinnamon
flavors; long finish; $13.
White Zinfandel, Calif.:
lightly sweet; ripe straw
berry aromas and flavors;
ø‚2007 Remy Pan
nier Rosé d'Anjou, Loire
Valley, France (caber
net franc): tart cherry
aromas and flavors; full-
ø‚2008 Mas de la
Dame Rosé du Mas, Les
Baux de Provence,
syrah, cinsault): red
berry aromas; dry black
cherry flavors; full-bodied;
Cadet Bordeaux Rosé,
France (merlot, cabernet
franc, cabernet sauvi
gnon): aromas and flavors
of cranberries and miner
als; very dry; $12.50.[PARA]
ø‚2008 Marques de
Caceres Dry Rosé, Rioja,
Spain (tempranillo, garna
cha): dry, rich and crisp,
with intense tart cherry
aromas and flavors; $13.50.[PARA]
ø‚2008 Marques de
Riscal Rosé, Rioja, Spain
crisp and dry with intense
red raspberry and
cinnamon aromas and
ø‚2008 Louis Jadot
(gamay): tart cranberry
and mineral aromas and
flavors; crisp and dry;
Bicyclette Rosé, Vin de
Pays d'Oc, France (syrah,
grenache): light, tart,
crisp, with cherry and