About The Author:

"Roger, The Wine Guy" is Roger Yazell, CWS. He is a member of the International Wine Guild and has had a long time admiration of wine. After careers in broadcasting, advertising and marketing account management, he explored his love of wine in hospitality, wholesale and retail sales. The intent of Roger's Grapevine is to share stories, history and information that will add to the reader's love, enjoyment and appreciation of wine and sake'.

Questions, requests for topics and comments are always welcome via email: rogerthewineguy@gmail.com.

(Note: The Wine Guy is currently undergoing chemotherapy and this blog will be on hiatus for the duration and into a recovery period. The Wine Guy is planning to celebrate his recovery with a trip to the two wine producing regions in Argentina and that should provide for some interesting new blogs. Meanwhile please enjoy the archives and feel free to email in the interim.)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A visit to an Ecuadorian Winery!

The gate to Chaupi Estancia
Mr & Mrs Wine Guy
enjoying a Palomino Fino!
After more than a year as residents of this beautiful country, the fetching Mrs. Wine Guy and I recently made our first visit to an Ecuadorian vineyard and winery.   Located in the Yaruqui Valley northeast of Quito,  Chaupi Estancia (Little Ranch) has an interesting history, ripe with potential, but with a future that currently looks uncertain.

Chaupi Estancia was the vision of wine lover Dick Handal who first came to Ecuador and the Quito area with a textile firm.  He bought the property which now lies near to the new Quito International aiport in the 90's and achieved his first success with a white wine made from Palomino Fino.  Palomino Fino is best know as one of the principal grapes in the production of both dry and sweet sherry.   Chaupi Estancia's Palomino Fino is not fortified nor does it utilize the solera production techniques of sherry wine from Spain so to call it similar to sherry would be misleading.  It is, however, a very refreshing dry, very crisp, and light white wine.  It was the first successful bottling sold from the winery. It has won some recognition internationally, including from Decanter Magazine, and has been regularly produced thoroughout Chaupi's 15+ year history.  It is the most consistent wine produced by the winery and remains the backbone of its production.  It is rarely found in Ecuador outside of the Quito area.  This is partially due to limited volume and the perception that Ecuadorian wholesalers have attached to Chaupi Estancia as being overpriced inferior Ecuadorian wines.  Having your most successful product as a dry white wine in a land where what little wine preference there is among locals is usually red and fruit forward has not helped the winery's effort to become commercially viable.  Unfortunately, while they have some recognition internationally, they have neither the volume nor the price point for commercially viable exportation.   Their ultimate success may well lie in their ability to forge a niche and loyal following as a quality on-premise wine in finer restaurants.  This is a formidable challenge and daunting task anywhere, much less in a developing Latin American country!
The wineroom at Chaupi Estancia

Shortly after 2004 when red wine production began, Chaupi Estancia became one of the first international members of the California based Meritage Association and it was a version of their Meritage, "Alyce",  (named for Dick's wife Alyce Denier) that actually first caught The Wine Guy's attention.  As a bold red blend priced in the mid 20's, it wasn't appealing to Ecuadorians.  However, when I first tried it in Quito during a visit to Ecuador more than two years ago,  I was honestly a little stunned!   I admired the quality of this red blend produced from grapes grown less than a thirty minute slow drive to the Equator!   This winery also went on to produce what others have told me was a very pleasant and smooth Chardonnay-Viognier blend.   Unfortunately, consistently growing grapes this close to the Equator sometimes proves to be somewhat of a challenge.   The Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon formerly utilized for the Meritage blend are nowhere to be found today on the vineyard.   As a result, "Alyce" has become a conglomeration of red grapes that have managed to survive and is a shadow of its former self.  The touted Chardonnay-Viognier blend became history when the otherwise healthy chardonnay vines suddenly just ceased bearing fruit.  

Pinot Noir just south of the Equator!
While dining this past month at one of Quito's better restaurants in the historico centro ("Teatrum"), I was nearly blown away by a Pinot Noir from Chaupi Estancia that compared very favorably with moderately priced pinots from California and the northeast.   With only a few comparable pinots even available at all in Ecuador and usually priced 2-3 times their cost in the US, this was a welcome surprise!  I was not astonished that the winery price for this wine retailed in the 20's.  I noted increased planting of Pinot Noir as we walked the vineyards in our tour.  Knowing the fickleness of Pinot Noir, however, it remains to be seen if the winery can continue to produce as nice a wine as I enjoyed in the restaurant.   Their next vintage is not yet ready for release.  It could become a potential factor for the winery's continued acceptance, especially with the rapidly growing influx of tourists and expatriates who miss affordable Pinot Noir! 

While they remain owners, Dick and Alyce have now returned to their old stomping grounds in California.  They also have ownership in Handal-Denier vineyards in Sonoma's Dry Creek appelation just outside Healdsburg.  There, their winery produces grapes for a highly touted Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah as well as supplying grapes for an old vine Zinfandel.  Their age, their absence from Ecuador,  as well as the inconsistent availability of good grapes at the Ecuadorian vineyard  may be signalling that time has become of the essence for Chaupi Estancia Winery.  It may not have a lot of time left to rise above the few isolated bright flashes in their history and become a fully established winery and beacon for Ecuadorian wine production.  They are presently in strong need of some more successes, more consistency and being able to gain better acceptance from the small but growing wine community and wine trade within Ecuador itself.

The Wine Guy with Antoinette Cook
of Chaupi Estancia Winery.
  As a wine lover and and as a new resident and admirer of this country, I do hope for the day when what I feel is  Ecuador's unique potential as a wine production area might be realized.  Common conventional thinking says temperate climates should be necessary for quality wine production.  Counterpoint to that thinking is the increasing number of great wines now being produced in some very unique locales throughout the world.  It may take unconventional thinking... perhaps some unconventional techniques and maybe even, the use of unconventional varietals but Ecuador does, I feel, have the potential to become a world recognized producer of quality wines.   Despite their limited success and current struggles, Chaupi Estancia, at the very least,  has proven it is possible to produce quality wine within a stone's throw of the Equator.

Viable wine production first occurred in Ecuador over 540 years ago.  Hopefully,  it won't take that long for someone to pick up Dick Handel's torch and carry it through to a new future for Ecuadorian wine.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A nice French Vin de Pays available in Ecuador!

Vin de pays or "wine of the country" from France is a step above table wine in the French classification system.  It stands apart from the AOC classification.  It allows French wine producers to do single varietals and custom blends but still carry a geographic designation without meeting the stricter requirements proscribed for an AOC or higher designation.

There are are still some regulatory requirements including limitations on yields, a minimum alcohol content, limitations on acidity and a requirement that the wines be produced and kept separately from other wines.  However the requirements are generally less restrictive than those of an AOC.  The Vin de pays designation was first proposed in the the late 60's and was fully and formally adopted nationwide by 1979.  The geographic designations can be regional, geographic or local  with six different regions and 50 different French departments among the designations.

Since the European Union adopted the PGI (Indication Geographique Protegee) in 2009, all the French vin de pays designations have been registered as PGI's with the European Union.  French producers may now choose to label as a vin de pays, PGI or PGI/vin de pays.   These wines are similar to the IGT designation in Italy, Vino de Tierra in Spain, Vinho Regional in Portugal and Landwein in Germany.  The variation in quality is wide ranging and can include some wines that rival the best of higher classifications in quality and price.  It may also include some of the country's cheaper, lesser made wines.  It is also an area where the wine drinker on a budget can find some his best bargains and where, with some due diligence,  he can purchase his best "bang for the buck".

Such seems to be the case with a recent discovery The Wine Guy made here in Ecuador.  The wine was a Montrouge Vin de Pays de Mediterranee Syrah-Grenache Blend.  Montrouge is a brand owned by the well known Caymus Wine and Spirits Group of Cognac, France.  This fifth generation wine family is best known for high end, high quality brandies. However, they also handle a number of AOC and vin de pays wines including the Montrouge brand.   This wine is imported into Ecuador by the family consortium that owns the Coral retail chain. It is carried in their retail stores as the equivalent of a private brand.  It currently sells at just a few dollars above the U.S. market price.  Considering the high import taxes on alcohol imposed by the Ecuadorian government, that's a bargain.   It's drinkability and its affordable price (under $15) makes it an attractive alternative to the usual $40-$50 range here for a GSM or Chateauneuf du Pape from France.

It was enjoyable enough that The Wine Guy is planning a return excursion to Coral Centro in Cuenca to sample more of the Montrouge line.  If any fellow Cuencanos sample more of these nice vin de pays, let me know your reactions.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Another Good Latin American Wine with Italian Heritage!

Mr. & Mrs. Wine Guy
  The fetching Mrs. Wine Guy and I recently hosted our very first holiday open house in our new home in Cuenca Ecuador.    We ended up with somewhere between 40 and 50 guests despite a recent virus wave that caused cancellation of their affirmative RSVPs by six different couples.   Whenever you are expecting a large crowd, it's always tough selecting the wine.  You can't buy that really nice wine you would like to serve and impress your guests with because the wine budget alone (never mine the food) could wreck your budget.   Since everybody knows me as "The Wine Guy" there is, however, the expectation that I'm going to serve something besides the normal party box wine.  (Actually, I enjoy going to someone else's party and drinking that stuff!)   Well in our case, I was fortunate to score a case or two of Canepa Cabernet Sauvignon Classico at 35% off its normal price. This wine normally retails in the $9 to $10 range in the USA and runs about $11 to $12 here in Ecuador.  No more party wine problem!

Early Canepa Winery Truck
photo from www.canepawines.cl
   Those of you who are regular readers know my penchant for both Italian food and Italian wine.  You also know I'm fond of touting the Italian connection many fine Latin American wineries have with Italy.  Scratch a fine winery down here and in nearly 8 out of 10 cases you'll discover a founder or winemaker of Italian descent.. So it is with Canepa, a solid Chilean producer founded by an Italian immigre from Genoa Italy in 1930.   Canepa is still family owned today but affiliated with Chile's well known Concha y Toro.  That winery as I have mentioned in this blog before also has Italian roots.
     Canepa has a reputation for quality carmenere which you would expect from a good Chilean producer.  They are also appreciated for the number of different quality Cabernet Sauvignons they produce including the aforementioned  Classico.   Canepa utilizes the addition of single digit percentages of carmenere to smooth out their cabs and they were also pioneers in Chile in utilizing stainless steel tank aging.  As a result, these are not the big bold muscular cabernets you might find in Napa or Sonoma.  They are, however, well crafted with typical caberernet dark fruit aromas and flavors. While the wood is absent, there are plenty of full grape tannins and these wines are, indeed enjoyable.  The classico makes for an exceptional party wine at an affordable price.  

   I knew I had done well when two of my guests emailed me after the event to make sure they knew what I had served and where to obtain it.  It's always a great experience with enjoy good wine with good friends.  That, to me, is what good wine is all about.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A blind wine tasting party!

Six wines were tasted and a seventh was enjoyed by The Wine Guy's guests
during the blind tasting of affordable wines available in Cuenca Ecuador.
The Wine Guy finally got to properly inaugurate his new wine bar.  The fetching Mrs. Wine Guy and I hosted a wine tasting party for some friends who had expressed an interest in wine.  Each couple and/or single guest was asked to select a bottle to bring that fit the theme for the tasting.  Our theme was "Affordable and Available Wine".  The wine could be either red or white but no dessert or sparkling wines were permitted.  The theme criteria asked that the wine be available at retail here in Cuenca, Ecuador and be priced under $15.  That's actually no mean feat because of the very high import tariffs on alcohol here in Ecuador....wine is one the things that is generally much more affordable in the USA than it is here!

We ended up with six bottles of wine (two white, four red) for the tasting and each had its label covered to conceal its identity.  The wines were marked with letters "A" through "F".   Scoring sheets were handed out to the tasters to use in scoring the wines.  Each wine got 50 basis points (just for being a wine!)  The host would later enter label and seal points (worth a maximum of 5 points each) and the guests were to give from 0 to 10 points each in four categories:  visual examination of the wine,  aroma of the wine, initial wine taste and finishing taste.   That made for a maximum possible 100 points for each wine. Each scoring sheet had suggestions on the positives and negatives to look for in each category.  A general discussion of scoring occurred before the tasting began, but each guest was left to his own intuition as to how to assign or deduct points.  Here were the six wines subject to scoring in the tasting in order of their presentation to the guests (although they were not identifiable at the time of tasting):

A.  Trapiche Sauvignon Blanc
B.  Santa Julia Fuzion Blanco (Chenin Blanc/Chardonnay blend)
C.  Cremashi Furlotti Barrel Select Carmenere  (this wine slightly exceeded the retail price requirement)
D.  Trapiche Astica Malbec
E.  Carta Vieja Reserva Limited Cabernet Sauvignon
F.  Vina Maria Cabernet Sauvignon

Each tasting consisted of a single one ounce pour and a spit container was provided.  After the scoring was complete, the tasters handed their score sheets to the host for tabulation.  Each scorer was provided later with a print out of their scores and a listing of the wines ranked in order of the group's overall average scores. This was all handled by having excel spreadsheets prepared onto which the host could enter the scores.  Tabulation and ranking then proceed automatically.   While the host was entering the scores, guests enjoyed snacks and discussed their scoring observations.  They also had the opportunity to revisit the uncovered wines if they chose to do so.  They were additionally treated to a seventh wine that fitted the criteria for the tasting theme.  This wine was provided by the host and came from Uruguay.  (The Wine Guy reviewed this wine, Pisano C/S Platino Tannat/Merlot, in an earlier September 12, 2012 posting on Roger's Grapevine).

When the scores were averaged, there was a tie for first and second place in the rankings between a white and a red.  In fact, only 5 points separated the top ranked from the lowest ranked wine.  (Rankings ranged from 72 to 77 points in overall average scores).  Here are the rankings based on average scores:

1. (tie)Santa Julia Fuzion Blanco                                                 77 pts
1. (tie)Carta Vieja Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon                         77 pts
3. Cremashi Furlotti Carmenere                                                  76 pts
4. Vina Maria Cabernet Sauvignon                                             74 pts
5. Trapiche Sauvignon Blanc                                                      73 pts
6. Trapiche Astica Malbec                                                          72 pts

I later did an alternative ranking based on assigning 5 points to each taster's number one rated wine, 4 points to the second ranked wine and so on down to 0 points for the bottom ranked wine and then tabulating the total points from all tasters.  This method yielded a slightly different overall ranking:

1. Cremashi Furlotti Carmenere
2. Santa Julia Fuzion Blanco
3. Carta Vieja Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon
4. Trapiche Sauvignon Blanc
5. Vina Maria Cabernet Sauvignon
6. Trapiche Astica Malbec

One of the interesting note from this method was the Carta Vieja Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon which received number one rankings from four different tasters. That was the most 1st place ranking of any of the wines.  It also received a last place ranking from four different tasters and that was the most last place finishes of any of the wines. Those in attendance either really liked or didn't like this wine!

The guests may not have noticed
but the tasted was presided over by
Rusty, the host's official Wine Bar Bear!
It was an interesting experience to examine the tasting sheets of couples in attendance.  One couple was in almost total agreement all the way through, only differing on the order of the last two place wines.  It was also noteworthy that the wine they brought finished in the bottom two for both of them.  Another couple who professed a strong prejudice for red wines both scored a white in their top two rankings.  Yet another couple who stated a preference for whites both scored a red (although a different one for each of them) as their number one wine choice.   Results like this are not really all that uncommon in blind wine tastings and it can be a great way to learn and discover that your wine tastes can sometimes take you to new and unexpected places.

All in all it was an enjoyable evening and perhaps some of these wines will make it to your table for a trial.   Our Cuencano friends may especially appreciate having reference to some affordable wines to try.   Enjoy!

(Note:  because the subject content covers both wine and our adventures in Ecuador,  this blog is being entered on two different blog sites:  1. Roger's Grapevine,   www.rogersgrapevine.blogspot.com and
2. Juntos en el Camino de la Vida,  www.togetherontheroadoflife.blogspot.com)

My Turn to Tackle the Sulfite Myth

Note to readers.....this is an old blog first published in 2010 that disappeared from the archives, I went searching for it so I could reference it in response to a reader's email about sulfites.  I decided to republish.  Be advised that some of the information may be dated because of this.

It’s almost a rite of passage for wine bloggers to tackle the subject of sulfites in wine and having published “Roger’s Grapevine” for over a year, I’m probably overdue. Today, I’ll attempt to tackle the subject with a recap of what I’ve learned from numerous sources over the past 4-5 years of reading and learning about wine.

The necessity for tackling the subject is the seemingly unending stream of people I talk to that ask me how to avoid sulfites in wine because it gives them headaches. If it’s not an issue of interest for you or a close friend that shares your love of wine, today’s blog might be worth skipping over. Otherwise, here goes my two cents worth on the subject:

Wine headaches, particularly red wine headaches, are of concern to a significant number of wine drinkers I talk to on a regular basis. Most of them are very quick to blame sulfites as the culprit. The truth is that there is more than a 99% chance that sulfites in the wine are NOT the problem. Here’s the skinny on sulfites:

All wine sold in the U.S. (regardless of where it’s produced) must contain a warning “contains sulfites” if the wine contains more than 10 mg per liter (1.25 standard bottles). It must contain less than 1 mg per liter to be labeled “no sulfites” (Note: this is much different than the often seen “No Sulfites Added” label.) While sometimes, sulfites are added to wine or absorbed into grapes from the soil, you should be aware that sulfites occur naturally within wine as part of the fermentation process. ALL wine, unless means are employed to extract them, WILL contain sulfites. Adding hydrogen peroxide to your wine can chemically alter and remove sulfites. I would guess, however, that it probably wouldn’t be very appealing to your dinner guests.

The “contains sulfites” requirement came into being after government health officials estimated that 1% of the U.S. population may suffer from sensitivity to sulfites. However, sulfite reactions are almost always either dermatological or respiratory in nature. You’re more likely to get a rash or shortness of breath than a headache. If you’re asthmatic or C.O.P.D. and you utilize steroids in treating your condition, and also happen to be among the 1% who of the population who have sulfite sensitivity, you could possibly suffer headaches after ingesting wine with concentrated sulfites. A 2001 study by H. Valley & P.J. Thompson showed that an asthmatic response in sulfite sensitive subjects first appeared at extremely high sulfite levels in the vicinity of 300 mg per liter.

The average sulfite content for all measured bottles of wine is 80 mg per liter and that drops to about 40 mg per liter for organic wines. In terms of the standard 750 ml bottle we’re talking 60 mg/30 mg per bottle or about 10 mg/5mg per glass. Keep in mind that the human body itself produces about 1000 mg of sulfites per day! It’s with a high degree of confidence that I tell you that sulfites are probably NOT the villain if you get wine headaches!

Need more convincing….try munching on about six dried apricots, drinking a couple of back-to-back glasses of processed orange juice or having a huge fresh salad from a restaurant salad bar for lunch. If you don’t get a headache from any of these, then quit blaming sulfites for your wine headache! Dried packaged fruits and processed orange juice have preservative sulfites and nearly all restaurants utilize a keep fresh spray on fresh salad bar items that contains sulfites, all in concentrations comparable to, or higher than those found in the average bottle of wine.

O.K. That bursts your bubble….you thought you knew where to place the blame for your wine headache and now you’re back at square one. So what’s the answer? Unfortunately, that’s very hard to determine and the answer is probably different for different people. Tannins, histamines and seratonins are among many compounds that occur in wine that could possibly cause headaches. And, of course, let’s not forget that the alcohol content itself can play a role. The percentage of the population sensitive to alcohol is many times that sensitive to sulfites and headaches are not an uncommon reaction to alcohol sensitivity.

If your headaches are mainly due to red wine, histamine may be the likely suspect. If they occur mostly with white wine, it might be seratonin. The fact is that you have to do a little intensive detective work to discover the cause of YOUR wine headache. Note the kinds, types, even the origins of wines that cause your headaches and also the ones that don’t. Keep a log and build a database. Once you established a number of wines that do and don’t, it should be possible to establish a pattern of what’s present and what’s absent in the various wines in order to narrow down what you’re reacting to cause the headaches.

When the headaches are strong and severe, I always suggest to my inquirers that they discuss and share their reactions with their doctor. Wines are complex beverages with many compounds that mimic other compounds. It’s part of the reason we get so many different wonderful aromas and flavors in wine. It can also, however, be a source of reactions for all the hundreds of compounds people develop allergies and sensitivities to or have interactions with because of regular medications.

Remember, there are hundreds, even thousands, of possible choices for you in the world of wine. Don’t waste time with the ones you don’t enjoy or which have side effects and discover the ones that give you pleasure and satisfaction.

Here’s hoping you get to discover and enjoy a glass of wine that’s just right for you!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Glass Can Make a Difference!

The Wine Guy prefers glass
stemware for his favorite wines.
People getting together and learning about wine don't always heavily discuss the importance of glassware.  It was a question, I would sometimes be asked about when I was in retail but not very often.  Perhaps that is why I've never blogged about wine glassware.  Not until today anyway.   The other day, when I was at a loss for something to blog about, I so mentioned my "writer's block" on Facebook and one of my old friends suggested the topic of glassware.  It occurred to me that his suggestion was something worth talking about.  Proper glassware CAN make a difference but most wine drinkers don't understand why.  So here goes:

First things first....yes, the proper glassware can often make a difference in taste!   Here's a little test you can conduct yourself (in fact, it makes a great tasting theme if you like to hold such an event with your friends).    Assemble a collection of different drinking vessels.  Include a plastic glass, styrofoam cup, coffee mug, juice or water glass, traditional wine glass (maybe even a couple of different wine glasses).  Proceed to open a bottle of one your regular favorite wines and then sample a taste in each different container.  98% of you will  notice a difference in the taste of the wine as you progress through the various samples.  A significant number of you, after doing this kind of taste test, will be tempted to scream "unholy heathens!" the next time you attend a high priced fundraiser and are served wine in a plastic cup.  If you try the test and don't happen to notice any difference in taste, then the rest of the material contained in this blog is probably worthless and irrelevant, (with the exception of my cautionary note below about plastic).....just go enjoy your wine!

The first thing to remember is that wine has a lot of different chemical compounds that may react with the lining or base material of your vessel.  As an example, many types of plastic may interact chemically with wine, particularly red wines.  I suggest avoiding, whenever possible, drinking wine from plastic glasses. For the same reason, I try to avoid red wines that use artificial corks made with plastic and I never store them or keep them on the shelf for any length of time at all.   

Key elements of a basic wineglass
The preferred material for wine drinking, of course, is glass and leaded crystal is preferred because it is the most transparent, refracts ambient light well and allows the best visual examination of the wine, as well as enhanced aeration.   Traditionally, most wine glassware is also stemmed.  Allowing unimpaired visual examination of the wine is actually one of the main reasons stemware is preferred.  It eliminates smudges and fingerprints around the glass.  Additionally the stem allows for longer maintenance of the correct wine temperature after the glass is filled.  The bowl is also an important feature of wine glassware.  In most still wines, the bowl is larger in the base region (near the stem) than at the mouth.  This allows for easy swirling and aeration of the wine to release flavors and aromas and it directs those toward the nose and palate through the size and shape of the  mouth opening.

Typically, red wine bowls are wider, allowing for more surface area in the wine.  This enhances visual color analysis, allows for more aeration and fuller olfactory examination of aromas.  Openings vary somewhat in size and shape for different varieties of red wines.  This has a tendency to direct the wine toward that part of the plate where the wine's features register the best.  (Example: toward the back of the mouth for richer, fuller bodied and higher alcohol content wines).    White wine glasses typically have smaller, more u-shaped bowls.  This reduction in size and surface area helps maintain the cooler temperatures white wine is served at and offers a more conservative, yet more direct route for appreciation of the more subtle aromas often associated with white wines.   In the case of sparkling wines, the bowl disappears into an elongated flute which aids in the conservation of those decadent bubbles while directing them to an narrow but enjoyable exit at the mouth of the glass.

Many of you have observed professionals tasting wine on TV or at wine shows.  The noisy sloshing they do is literally to move the wine to different parts of their palate to examine the different taste characteristics.  The heavy sucking of air is aeration of the wine within their own mouth.  These tasters will sample many different kinds of wines in a singular glass.  They typically use an ISO wineglass for all tastings.  ISO is the acronym for International Standards Organization.  Since the size and shape and even the density of the glass can affect the taste of wine, their standard tasting glass  provides a baseline  for professionals to compare the tastes of different wines.

"The tasting glass consists of a cup (an "elongated egg") supported by a stem resting on a base. The opening of the cup is narrower than the convex part so as to concentrate the bouquet."
 ISO page on Wine Tasting Glasses

There can be many different kinds of stemmed wineglasses.
For the wine drinker wanting to maximize the drinking experience, wine glass makers such as Riedel have created many different glasses for the different varieties of wine.  They all operate on the basic principles above with some variations in design that enhance the special characteristics of each type of wine.   If you want to learn more about the different shapes of varietal wineglasses, you can visit the website of a quality manufacturer (such as Riedel) or use the following link to FSW: www.foodservicewarehouse.com/education/fundamentals-of-wine-glassware/c27439.aspx

For the average wine drinker, a red, a white, a sparkling and a dessert wine glass should offer all the variety you will ever need.  However, if you have a particular varietal or blend that is your standard favorite, there can be something truly special about having a glass specifically designed to insure that you get the maximum enjoyment of your favorite wine.

The Riedel "O" wine tumbler
There is one type of glass we haven't discussed.  Many of the top manufacturers of wine glasses have, in recent years heavily promoted stemless wine glasses.   Riedel initially introduced theirs (the "O" series) as a basic white and red wine glass and has gone on to develop a number of styles with different mouth openings and shapes specific to varietal recommendations.  Riedel describes the glasses as being for "casual wine drinking".  The basic advantage to the stemless glasses that I see is that they are heavier with a lower center of gravity and less like to tip over and less likely to be broken in a party situation.  In that regard, they are a viable contribution to the world of wine glasses providing a better alternative to styrofoam or plastic cups. Otherwise they function very well for your glass of juice at breakfast. (That's a subtle hint as to the Wine Guy's preference in a wineglass.)

Are fancy wine glasses essential to enjoying your favorite glass of wine?   Not neccessarily.   Can the style of the wine glass make a difference in the taste experience?   Yes, it can make a difference, sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically, depending upon the wine and glassware involved.  My recommendation for most wine drinkers is having the four basic types of glasses:  white, red, sparkling, dessert.  If you don't drink dessert of sparkling wine, one could even get by with a basic burgundy glass or better yet, find a supply of the standard ISO tasting glasses.  

I didn't go into great detail but I hoped this blog provided some basic information that was helpful as you continue to explore the wonderful word of wine.  As always, whatever type of glass you pour into, keep on sampling and let your taste buds guide you to a wonderful wine experience.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Teaching The Wine Guy a Lesson About Wine:

While wandering the internet seeing what I could find being said about wine on the blogosphere, I stumbled onto an English wine writer's website.  It had about 20 wine trivia quizes...boy do I love those things!  I proceeded to sit down and take all that he had.  Oh boy, was that ever a humbling experience!  I actually didn't do badly but there a LOT of stuff I had to guess at.   It was just a little overwhelming to discover that after years of reading, tasting, studying and even writing about wine, how much there was still yet to learn.  

The Wine Guy,
still learning and still in love with wine!
Actually, it got me to thinking and reminded me that that's one of the most wonderful things about wine.  No matter how devoted you become to wine, no matter how much you think you know, there is always...I say again, always...something new to learn and experience.   The converse is also true,  you don't have to know everything (it's impossible, anyway) and you don't have to be a superb authority on wine to enjoy all the wonders and nuances it has to offer.  You simply have to have operational olfactory glands and taste buds and some sense of curiosity about what's behind that cork and you are off on a marvelous journey of exploration, discovery and adventure.

When I was in retail management selling wine, I was often asked by customers to explain what "constitutes" a truly great wine.   I always paused significantly and said, in a quite serious tone:  " Well, as a devoted fan of wine, someone who has worked in the trade for a number of years and as a certified sommelier, let me just tell you that there's a simple definition and then there is the really technical definition of what constitutes a truly great wine.  Fortunately for you, I believe the two definitions are identical.  I define a truly great great wine as one I think tastes truly great to me.  I see no reason why, as a consumer of wine, you need bother with any other definition for yourself.  Just recognize that, as you try and explore wines, the wine that satisfies that definition will likely change many, many times over and in many different ways.  There are possibly thousands of truly great wines out there awaiting your own personal discovery.  Don't worry about whether or not not a wine you are currently enjoying matches someone else's definition of a truly great wine, just focus on the fact that you enjoy it.  What makes wine truly great, overall, is that there is a great wine made for just about any taste preference imaginable.  Such is the diversity of wine and such is the opportunity for you to go explore and discover.

It was good to get humbled by my quiz taking.  It reminded me that the never ending opportunity for exploring and learning about wine is the main reason I fell in love with it in the first place.  I think I'll go learn something new about wine today and then pour a glass of something I never had before and, hopefully, rekindle an old flame!

How about you?  Go discover a truly great wine of your own.  


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tannat...another French grape that found a home in South America!

Roger, The Wine Guy

Tannat is a late ripening, warm climate grape that has been cultivated since the 1700's in southern France.  It is particularly popular in the Pyrennes mountain regions near the border with Spain and it is believed that it was transported to South American by French Basques during the late 1800's.  Today Tannat is an important varietal in Uruguayan viniculture and comprises nearly 1/3rd of all the vineyard plantings there.   It is popular both as a single varietal and as a blended partner with one or more of the noble red grapes, usually Merlot.

Not unlike two other red grapes of French origin (Carmenere and Malbec), Tannat found its new home in South American to be an opportunity for new expression in flavor and new popularity.   Just as Carmenere has become a signature wine for Chile and Malbec has become a signature wine for Argentina, Tannat has become a signature red wine for Uruguay.  It prospers in the warm climate offered in the Uruguayan delta country and benefits from the sea breezes and cool nights.  The Uruguayan grape offers many of the characteristics of its French ancestor but with   
A recent Wine Guy find in Cuenca:
Pisano CIS Platino Tannat Merlot
more expression of fruit and less peppery spice notes.   Tannat wines of both origins (especially when not blended) have shown a tendency to be lighter in color when first poured and then darken as they air.  Before retiring and moving to Ecuador, the Wine Guy used to utilize Tannat in discussing the benefits of decanting and aerating wines before groups. Seeing it deepen and darken in the decanter helped visualize what happens to good wine that is allowed to breathe.

Another characteristic of Tannat is the presence of a greater number of pips (seeds) than in most of the common red grape varietals.   As a result, Tannat wines generally have higher levels of flavoids, polycanidins, polyphenols and reservatrol.  These are the four primary antioxidants found in wine.  
For those seeking the health benefits of a daily glass of wine, Tannat offers some excellent possibilities!

My fellow Ecuadorians might enjoy one of Tannat offerings from Pisano.  This winery is one of Uruguay's export leaders and they offer several Tannat and Tannat blends. The bottle pictured at the right is an enjoyable, affordable tannat-merlot blend that can be readily found at retail in Cuenca.

Go explore the possibilities of Tannat soon.  Here's hoping you find it as enjoyable as I do!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Discovering Vino Vilcabamba.. a mixed review.

During an August getaway, the ever fetching Mrs. Wine Guy and I decided to spend a few days in Vilcabamba in Loja province.  This quiet area in nestled in a high valley in the southern Andes roughly 150 or so miles south of my current resident city of Cuenca, Ecuador. It is a gorgeously scenic area and is known as the "Valley of Longevity".  It makes for a great quiet and relaxing getaway.

The Wine Guy in Loja Province, Ecuador outside Vinos y Licores Vilcabamba.
Always on the lookout for something new to try in the world of wine, we stumbled upon a tienda just off the main square called "Vinos y Licores Vilcabamba". What I had expected to be a typical Ecuadorian licoria turned out to be something entirely different.  Typically, the average liquor store in Ecuador offers a modest selection of wines and lots of beer.  You will also find the ever present Zuhmir plus a variety of other hard liquor, mostly rum and tequila.   This was different,  however, a boutique shop offering only one single brand "Vinos y Licores Vilcabamba".  Within the single brand was a plethora of choices.  There were dozens of wines made from many of the fruits grown in Ecuador, ranging from uvas (grapes) to mora (blackberry).  There were also several varieties of flavored liquors.  
The Wine Guy and Pilar
with three selections!

The label
Everything had an identical bottle and label with the only difference being a descriptive line of simple identification of the contents (vino de uva, vino de mora, licor de cafe, etc).  There was no information as to fruit varietals utilized nor date of production, methods of aging, etc. No tastings were offered either and with my limited Espanol (the personable proprietress, Pilar, spoke virtually no English), there wasn't much opportunity to inquire as to flavor profiles, so we decided to guess and gamble on a few selections.  Everything was identically priced at a very reasonable seven dollars a bottle so we settled on three choices:  a grape wine (vino de uva), a blackberry wine (vino de mora) and a coffee liquor (licore de cafe).  Suspecting that we may have purchased a pair of fruit bombs and some alcohol infused coffee beverage, we thanked our hostess, paid for our purchases and went on our way.

Back at our hosteria, Mrs. Wine Guy and I elected to open and sample the Licore de Cafe, figuring that, as a liquor,  it could probably best stand being opened for the couple of days before our return home to Cuenca.  It turned out to be more than just alcohol infused coffee so it somewhat exceeded our expectations.  It did fall short of being a full-fledged Kaluha and certainly wasn't Mrs. Wine Guy's favorite liquor, a Tia Maria.  However, since both of those, in Ecuador, cost at least six times our purchase, we congratulated ourselves on discovering a "poor man's Kaluha".     

Regular wine cork along side the
suspect Vino Vilcabamba cork
It was after our return home that we got the opportunity to sample the wines.   The vino de mora was first and it turned out to a real disappointment because it had turned bad.  A distinctive odor that I often describe as highly overcooked raisins and a very dark amber color strongly suggested the contents had been oxidized.  That indeed was the case.  Despite some vague lingering hints of fruit, and a ton of residual sugar, it hard to tell that this was made from mora and the entire bottle was undrinkable.  I had briefly noted that the cork seemed unusually short on opening but the soured contents prompted a closer examination.  I discovered a rough edge to one surface suggesting a whole cork had been cut in two.  The cork was very cracked along its length and that (along with some possible lack of rotation in inventory) had led to aging and oxidation of what may very well have a nice sweet fruity wine in its beginning.

After declaring the vino de mora a loss, we proceeded to the vino de uva.   The cork was similar to the previous bottle with the same tell tale rough edged, half cork size, somewhat supporting my hypothesis that the bottler was cutting regular corks in half  in order to seal more bottles at a lower cost.  The vino de uva was better but also showed some signs of early oxidation particularly on the finish.   It had not, however, progressed to the point of making the wine undrinkable.  With a little additional chilling, we utilized it as an after dinner dessert, still enjoying some of its apparent sweetness and fruitiness.

A possible vineyard and winery site?

While Mrs. Wine Guy and I will likely return to this beautiful area, but it is probably unlikely we will gamble again on a selection from Vinos y Licores Vilcabamba.  That's a shame, because what was detectable underneath the oxidation and as well as the acceptable taste of the liquor de cafe suggests that at the time of bottling, these may have been very viable products but short cuts in corkage and perhaps lack of care in storage have made the entire product line suspect.  We can only hope that might change.   The Wine Guy thinks Ecuador can and should have some potential in wine production, especially in the lower Andes ranges such as Vilcabamba.  In fact we spotted what we thought was a great site for a vineyard and winery there.    
The Wine Guy 

Here's hoping you have great results and make some exciting discoveries as you do your own explorations in the wonderful world of wine.  Sainte!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Vino de Consagrar fron the Monasterio del Carmen de la Asuncion:

A recent Wine Guy purchase
in Cuenca, Ecuador
An order of Discalced Carmelite Nuns has existed in Cuenca, Ecuador since 1682.  By 1730, the order's monastery was part of a complex that included the Sanctuario Mariano, a beautiful white baroque church nearly adjacent to the Nuevo Catedral in Cuenca and home of a very popular flower market on the plaza in front.  In the corner is a lobby where the cloistered nuns have non visual interaction with the public via a turnstile where they vend among other things, soap, dulce de leche and wine.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel
The wine is a traditional vino de consagrar and has been approved for use as a sacramental wine by the archbishop of Cuenca.  Vino de Consegrar by traditional and church regulation utilizes concentrated must of white grapes and then is aged in large oak barrels.  Concentrated grape must is the unfiltered squeezings that comes from the crushing of grapes to produce juice.  Being produced from must insures a high concentration of sugars so it is a very sweet wine.  This aging imparts a golden bronze coloration and concentration of flavors giving most of these wines a rich fig and raisin aroma and flavor.  While many must-produced wines are often in single digits for alcohol content,  Vina Florida offered by the Carmelite Sisters of Cuenca comes in at 11%.  That's not particularly high for wine, but the combination of double digit alcohol content with a good deal of residual sugar can lead to a pretty rapid "buzz" if consumed too quickly.  Because your body burns sugar first, then later metabolizes alcohol, the combination of the two together will simply lead to a quicker concentration of blood alcohol content.
Santuario Mariano in Cuenca
Photo courtesy of Rich and Nancy's blog:

Recently Vina Florida has become available at retail here in the Wine Guy's new hometown of Cuenca. (I secured my bottle at a local co-op market).  It's at a higher price than what you will pay through the vendor turnstile at the Monasterio del Carmen de la Ascuncion but it is still affordable, particularly by Ecuadorian standards.   If you are looking for a sweet treat to sip at sunset or to share with your dinner guests,  you may want to try a bottle of Vina Florida. It may satisfy those who have moved here and miss their former availability of late harvest wines.

While Mrs. Wine Guy and I normally prefer bold, dry red wine wines, we did enjoy straying over to the sweeter side in trying this locally available wine. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Montes...A Good Choice in Wine!

The Wine Guy in Montanita, Ecuador

For a number of years now, The Wine Guy has been a fan of Montes Wine from Chile.   One of the first really good moderately priced Cabernet Sauvignons I truly enjoyed was a Montes Alpha Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon.  Priced in the low $20's back in the US, it was a thoroughly enjoyable wine with a delightful lingering finish.  It was this wine that first garnered the world's attention to the quality of Montes wines and it has consistently scored ratings near or above the 90 point mark on a regular basis.

The fact is that I have yet to open a bottle of Montes wine that hasn't been enjoyable so it has become a go-to-brand for me.  I'll let you if they ever fail to please...so far they haven't.   It is little wonder that the partnership that formed Montes in the late 80's has expanded to locations in three countries and is currently distributed to over 75 countries on five continents. Three of the five partners have been named emeritus members of the Chilean Wine Guild.  They make and distribute good wine on a very consistent basis! 
Montes winery images borrowed from www.monteswines.com

Aurelio Montes, the chief winemaker and chairman who lends his name to the flagship brands is an accomplished winemaker and is at his best in creating red blends.  The Montes Alpha M rivals many a good Bordeaux with its classic blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. Star Angel by Montes is produced at the company's Paso Robles winery and it has a great combination of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre.  The 2007 vintage earned kudos and a 92 point rating late last year from Wine Spectator.  The company has three vineyards now in Napa Valley and you can look for some good Cabernet Sauvignons under the Napa Angel label.   Of course, Aurelio also excels in creating some classic South American wines.The Kaiken Malbec brand is fairly well known in the US and helped lead the explosion in Malbec popularity that occurred a few years ago.  Kaiken sources high altitude Malbec grapes from both the Argentine and Chilean sides of the Andes.  Kaiken Corte offers a very special blend of Malbec, Bonarda and Petit Verdot.

A current Wine Guy choice in red wine:
Montes Limited Selection
Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenere blend
A little judicious usage of Petit Verdot can add a
lot to a wine and that certainly shows in Montes Purple Angel, which adds the complexity of the Petit Verdot with the deliciously smooth Camenere.

The Wine Guy currently has been enjoying (and sharing with friends) another Montes blend, the Montes Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenere.  It has been fairly available here in my hometown of Cuenca, Ecuador and is a great multi-purpose red blend that doesn't break the wine budget (that's hard not to do in a country whose import duties on alcohol are extremely high!).

In short, if you're wanting to explore some new wine choices, look for a Montes produced wine...your chances of making an enjoyable discovery are probably fairly good!  


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Very Nice Cabernet From Chile

The Torres:  one of the world's premier wine families.
Photo from www.migueltorreschile.com
      For just under 145 years, the Torres family has been involved in the production, distribution and promotion of wine.  They are not only the first family of wine in their native Espana but you readily argue that they have become the world's first family of wine.  Their wines are available in 140 countries and they have been the subject on this blog before (see the Grapevine archives).

Santa Digna
  The Wine Guy has long been a fan of Torres wine from the bold yet creamy Chardonnay produced at the Miramar Torres estate in Sonoma, California to the wonderfully bold Tempranillo called Celeste produced at their Ribera del Duero holdings in Spain.

   Today The Wine Guy would like to add a wine from the family's Chilean properties:  Santa Digna Cabernet Sauvignon.  It is a very classic cabernet with characteristic ruby red coloring and black fruit aromas.  There is a notable hint of licorice and the moderately bold tannins slowly fade on the lingering finish.  It is one of the nicer cabernet sauvignons  I've sampled here in my new home of Ecuador.  I was fortunate enough to uncover a couple of bottles of some older vintages and particularly enjoyed the 2003 I had purchased.  It appears this wine is well made for developing in the bottle when properly cellared.  I'm looking forward to trying out the other of the older vintages, a 2002, in the not too distant future.

  The name Santa Digna comes from crosses used as district land boundary markers in the Central Valley region of Chile.  These crosses were meant to signify not only territorial limits but were also taken as a sign of good fortune for travelers.    If, in your travels, you have the good fortune to encounter a bottle of Miguel Torres Chile Santa Digna Cabernet Sauvignon, I would suggest pausing your journey long enough to enjoy this delightful wine!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Good Wine, Good Food, Good Friends...An Unbeatable Combination!

If you are a regular reader or if you also venture over to our travel blog, Juntos En El Camino De La Vida (www.togetherontheroadoflife.blogspot.com), you know that The Wine Guy has moved to Ecuador and that has presented challenges to enjoying good wine. Over the past few weeks, however, I've experienced three very nice wines and each came about because of a friend with whom each wine was shared. These three incidents served to remind me that any good wine is enhanced when it shared in the good company of a friend. Just as wine is truly meant to be paired with food, it is also the beverage that is meant to be shared with friends.

Here's the stories associated with those recent and enjoyable wine experiences:

Wine #1: Herencia de Prado 2001 Mencia Reserva

Friend Chuck Watson and his bride Nancy were traveling across Spain when he stopped and emailed me, "What kind of wine can I bring you back from Espana.". I wrote back that I would delight in almost anything he brought back but mentioned my fondness for red Bierzo, a distinct little region near where he was headed. I was first introduced to Bierzo by a fellow sommelier in Phoenix in 2009 (see the archives for that full story) and had sampled a couple of others since but was sure I would never find one on the shelves here in Ecuador. We had to wait for bottle shock to settle after Chuck and Nancy's return. But about two weeks after their return, we enjoyed it with some fine appetizers followed by an excellent meal. This wine was well aged, aromatic, smooth on the palate with a deep lingering finish. It was a delightful evening and Chuck, knowing my propensity for tasting a new wine over many hours wisely retained an amount for me to sample the next day. It was the best Bierzo I've had to date and it was made even more memorable by my friend's thoughfulness in bringing this treasure all the way back from Spain in his luggage.

Wine #2: Chateau Lynch-Bages 2000 Grand Cru Classe Pauillac:

Bea and Bob Wetmore became our friends because we share a love of wine. After sharing a meal with wine at their house, we invited them to one of our favorite wine bars for appetizers and wine. We ended up having dinner with the Yazells enjoying a nice Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon and the Wetmores enjoying a very nice Argentinean Malbec. Our evening's conversation centered a lot around wine, something I had gotten away from after retiring from being fully active in the trade. Just a few days later came Bob's email explaining he had found a nice Bordeaux in his storage that was left from the wine cellar inventory he had shipped down when he moved here. He wondered if we might like to stop by for a tasting. If you are at all familiar with Bordeauxs, you can guess how fast I responded. This Chateau has a history of classic vintages trailing back to the late 18th century and the particular vintage Bob was proposing to pour was rated 95 at bottling and had been re-reviewed and rated 96 last year in Wine Spectator and 97 earlier this year by Robert Parker. We spent a enjoyable time savoring over this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. It was a great tasting especially when paired with Bea's Bleu cheese pate and with friends who loved exploring the nuances of a good wine. It was a wonderful memorable evening, mostly made so by the company we kept.

Wine #3: Montes 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenere Blend D.O. Valle de Colchagua:

Bob Barnett and his wife Toni are like us, fairly new arrivals, camping out in their new home with minimal fixtures and furnishings, adding some stuff but mostly waiting on the arrival of a container. We had tipped a couple of glasses of wine together at their apartment or at our house with some snacks mostly standing up because neither of us had enough spaces for 4 to sit! Anyhow, with empty houses in common, it was just a matter of time before our wives went shopping together to find stuff to put in some of that emptiness. I told Bob my new wine bar still had some empty slots so, of course, we decided to go wine shopping! While perusing the shelves my eyes came across the wine above. I had become quite familiar with Montes as I had handled the brand in my retail facility in Arizona. In fact I'm a fan of Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon, a consistently good reserve cabernet. This blend, however, I had not seen nor tried. Among our purchases, Bob and I each got a bottle and headed back to his apartment determined not to waste time in examining its taste. Today only a few acres of Carmenere exist in France and less than a handful of estates utilize the grape in their Bordeaux although it remains one of the authorized varietals. This wine made you realize why Carmenere was once commonly utilized in France's flagship red blend and works so well today for this Chilean producer. It partnered wonderfully with the cabernet sauvignon. Our discovery of that fact led to a second excursion to buy out the remaining stock but we have since found it at two other locations so we hope to continue enjoying it for some time to come. Discovering a good new wine to enjoy was fun and made even more so by sharing the experience with my friend.

There you have it....three simple stories of three wonderful wine experiences. Good wine, good food, good friends, is a truly unbeatable combination that makes you grateful for the blessings of life. I hope you get the opportunity to feel that kind of gratitude soon!


Friday, April 13, 2012

A nice Meritage from Ecuador!

The fetching Mrs. Wine Guy and I have recently been in Quito, primarily to obtain certificados de censo and cedullas. We were partially succesful (Suzanne yes...Roger ooopsie) on that score.

If you're ever headed to Quito and looking for quality accommodations in the new town area, we heartily endorse the Hotel Sebastian! It's a quality facility at a more affordable (although not cheap) price than the Hilton a short distance away. Even if you don't stay there, take the time to dine out in their restaurant. The house wine at $4 per glass is Concha y Toro and the food quality, presentation and service was well, well above their price range!

On the wine front, The Wine Guy finally got to sample some wine from Chaupi Estancia, one of Ecuador's most established and successful wineries. I had heard about them well before my first visit to this country and had been anxious to sample some of their wine. They are located at a higher elevation in the Andes north of Quito. They are mostly renown for their white wines including a palomino fino type sherry which has earned accolades in international wine competition. THe Wine Guy, however, was impressed with their their red wine "Alyce" a meritage blend. Chaupi Estancia happens to be an international member of the Meritage Association which was found by California vintners to create a branded red wine blend somewhat comparable to French Bordeaux. The Alyce Meritage, in my opinion, ranks as the best red wine being produced in Ecuador and is retail priced in the $20-$25 range in Quito. We will be hunting for it in Cuenca and hope any of our friends will let us know if they spot it in our area. It is worth seeking out.

As always, Mrs. Wine Guy and I remain "juntos en el camino de la vida"! That's the name of our blog about our travels and decision to retire in another country. If you have interest, log onto www.togetherontheroadoflife.blogspot.com.

Take a little time out to enjoy life...sip one of your favorites today. Salute!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Tokaji: "Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum"

"Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum" translates from the Latin as "The Wine of Kings, the King of Wines". These words refer to Hungarian Tokaji and were first spoken by French King Louis XIV as he offered a glass of Tokaji to Madame Pompadour. Louis had first received his Tokaji as a gift from the Prince of Transylvania in 1703.

Louis XIV wasn't the only royal recipient of this delicatcy of a wine. Emperor Franz Joseph of Hungary made a tradition of sending Tokaji Aszu to Queen Victoria of England every year on her birthday. He sent a bottle for every month of life she was celebrating (12 per year). Since the Queen lived past her 81st birthday, her final gift from the Emperor was an amazing 972 bottles of one of the world's most prized wines!

Six different grape varietals are approved for Tokaji production. However Furmint is the most commonly used and most important varietal in the production of Tokaji Aszu wines. The white Furmint grape has a thick skin when it first develops. The skin thins as it ripens, allowing bright sun to evaporate some of its juices and concentrate its sugars. Whereas some similar grapes may burst when overripened, Furmint will often develop a second skin allowing grapes to remain on the wine well past ripening. Furmint for Tokaji is often not harvested until December or January. This kind of late harvest makes it no wonder that Tokaji has become one of world's most sought after dessert wines. While the sweeter, very late harvest version of Furmint is the basis for its greatest renown, Furmint can be harvested earlier and utilized in producing a somewhat drier wine as well. While not as common this wine offers a delicate nose and bouquet as well as taste with distinct notes of apricot.

The Chateau Megyer pictured here utilized 100% Furmint grapes, was mediumly sweet in character and came from a vineyard first classified as gand cru by a royal decree in 1737. It was thoroughly enjoyable.

If you are a white wine afficianado, trying a Hungarian Tokaji should be on your list of important things to do. As with all good wines, it has great food pairing possiblilities, especially with cheeses. However, it is also a sensory delight to enjoy on its own. Plan an afternoon of enjoyment soon! Salute!

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Wine Guy Is Back! ...... Back In Ecuador.

The Wine Guy owes a bit of an apology to regular readers. Usually, I will post an advisory when I plan to be absent for an extended period. This last time, I failed to do so.

Lo lamento!

Since my last posting, I've enjoyed a cross-country road trip that included a stop to see one of my oldest friends on the planet. I've spent time with family and friends in Georgia and Florida, celebrated the holidays. I marked another fabulous anniversary with the fetching Mrs. Wine Guy. I also returned to Ecuador, bought a home and was approved for residency. It has been an adventurous and hectic three months!

Those of you who are regulars are aware of my travels earlier this year and also at my elation at being able to shop a broad selection of wines upon my return to the US. In my travels to Asia and South America, It turns out I mostly missed having a good selection of Italian wines. French wines seem to be ubiquitous (although sometimes quite pricey!). Good California and Northwestern US wines were also pricey and more often absent but there always seemed to be alternatives. It wasn't impossible, either, to find a fair Australian, South American, Spanish or even South African wine or their comparable equivalent where ever I was at.

My favorite Italians, however, were a different story. They were simply almost always impossible to find and almost impossible to afford when you did. I sorely missed them in my travels. The closest I came was somewhat enjoying a bottle of Argentinian Bonarda that came from a third generation family of Italian descent that I found on a liquor store shelf in Ecuador. I said somewhat enjoyed beacause it hadn't faired well on the shelf and had spent some time within striking distance of the very bright Andean sun streaming through a window.

Needles to say, I was in serious Italian withdrawal upon my return to the US. Thank goodness for stores with varietal selections in the hundreds. You really can't imagine what it's like being emotionally overcome by a chance encounter with a simple bottle of good Sicilian Nero d'Avola. It's a good thing that first encounter wasn't a favorite Barolo or Brunello d' Montalcino. Otherwise, there would have been a pathetic public display of a grown, normally distinguished, man joyfully and uncontrollably weeping in the aisles.

Needless to say, a couple of my Italian favorites did accompany me upon my return to Cuenca and my family and friends have now all been advised that the welcome mat will always be out at El Casa del Hombre de Vino if you come bearing a bottle with an Italian label.

Take a moment soon to visit one of your Italian favorites and while you're sipping, reflect on how much you might miss that experience if it were absent for a while.

Viva el vino Italiano!