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.)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Brief Look At Sake

Sake’ (pronounced sah-kay) is not a wine and, in fact, has more in common with beer than wine. Number one, it’s grain based. It also comes from a double fermentation process. The first fermentation converts the starch in the rice paste into sugar; the second converts the sugar into alcohol. These processes do NOT, however, produce the carbonation found in beer, so Sake’ isn’t a beer either. Most American’s first experience with Sake’ comes from the warmed or heated styles commonly found in Japanese restaurants. These more common, everyday types of sake usually contain significant additions of distilled grain alcohol. They constitute about 80% of the produced sake’ in the world. The best sake’ is tokutei meishoshu constituting the premium categories and accounts for about 20% of world production. Ginjo, sake is made with a good portion of the rice hull ground away and constitutes less than 10% of world production. Ginjo, particularly junmai gingo, (with no added alcohol) offers the best opportunity for exploration by the typical wine drinker.

Sake’ is a unique beverage with nuance, complexity and versatility that’s suitable for food pairing and as an enjoyable aperitif. For the sake (no pun intended) of enjoyment, however, treat it as though it were a wine. You’ll find it to be lighter than most white wines, more delicate in flavor and subtler in fragrance and aroma. It is always best served lightly chilled and occasionally at room temperature. As always, The Wine Guy suggests you let your own palate be your guide. Flavor profiles range from dry to sweet, from fresh to full-bodied and from light and soft to fruity.

For those with sensitivity to sulfites and gluten, sake’ is a blessing and most are kosher, as well.

Here are a few tips and suggestions if you decide to explore Sake’:

1. Look for sake-meter (or nihonshu-do) numbers on the back label or on fact sheets when choosing a sake’. These numbers will relate the relative dryness or sweetness. Zero is generally considered a neutral number or midpoint. Positive numbers indicate relative dryness: the higher the number, the dryer the sake’. Negative number indicate relative sweetness, the greater the negative number, the sweeter the sake’. Do bear in mind that acidity and alcohol content may also affect the perception of sweetness on your palate
2. Try a Nigori. Nigori or unfiltered sake’ has leftover rice residue that softens the feel on the palate, intensifies some of the aroma, and adds a little sweetness. Nigori also pairs well with spicier food. (The Wine Guy almost always chooses a Nigori to have with his favorite Thai dishes.)
3. Taste, taste and taste some more! Just as with wine, enjoy as many tasting opportunities as you can to educate yourself and explore your own palate preferences.
4. Talk to knowledgeable retailers. They are a wealth of information and have a vested interest in helping you to choose the types of sake’ that you will most enjoy.

John Gauntner, an American expert who spends most of his time in Japan, does a wonderful job of providing educational material on sake’. Visit his website: www.sake-world.com.

Here are a few quick recommendations from The Wine Guy as good introductions to your sake’ exploration:

Hatkutsuru Sayuri:
A delightfully aromatic, sweet (-11) Nigori with a smooth finish.
Rihaku Dreamy Clouds:
A nearly neutral (+3) Nigori that is leaner and brighter than most of its class with a light, fruity nuttiness.

Nama: (A Nama or draft sake’ is one that skips one or both of the pasteurization steps that occur in the processing and of sake’. For some, this results in enhanced flavorings)
Sho Chiku Bai Organic Nama:
A lightly dry (+5) Nama with smooth softness on the palate, subtle aromas and light flavor nuances.

Junmai Ginjo:
Rihaku Wandering Poet:
A well balanced sake’ (+3) with light fruit aromas and a clean, crisp light acidity and lightly lingering finish. It has the ability to be a great palate cleanser and refresher.

Go ahead…explore and enjoy some sake’.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Alicante Bouschet: Getting the bootleggers grape right!

Alicante Bouschet, created from a cross with Grenache and Petite Bouschet, is the only red flesh grape in the vitis vinifera family. It is a grape that produces high yields. When made into wine, its red flesh contributes to the production of a deep rich red color.

Both these factors contributed to it being cultivated highly in California during prohibition. California vineyards would sell the grapes and enclose warnings that these grapes could produce alcohol if not handled properly. The warnings would elaborate in detail the horrible steps that could result in alcohol (avoid crushing the grapes as this could result in the release of fermentable juices, etc.) At the same time, bootleggers loved Alicante Bouschet for its deep color because it could be watered down and still appear to be good red wine. After prohibition, acreage under cultivation fell dramatically and it returned to infrequent use as a blending grape to add color.

Alicante Bouschet has been utilized for a long time as a blending grape in Europe, particularly in France where it originated. It has generated some good single varietal wines, particularly in Portugal. Italy and Spain are additional countries where it has had long and sustained, though not prominent, usage.

New life and interest was breathed into this grape last year when Francis Ford Coppola added a magenta label to his diamond series and released his Alicante Bouschet. Coppola’s effort belied the grape’s reputation in this country of being incapable of producing a good wine. Coppola Alicante Bouschet is rich, complex with red and black fruit notes (including a touch of cranberry) and a light spiciness leading to a long lingering finish. It was, and is, a welcome addition to the Coppola portfolio. By sourcing some old vines (in the neighborhood of 85 years) caring attention to horticulture and winemaking the folks at Coppola have paid tribute to a unique grape with unique flavors, not to mention a unique story.

It may well be a tribute to Francis Ford Coppola’s grandfather as well. It is known that Agostino made his own wine from Alicante Bouschet and that Francis’s interest in wine dates back to childhood memories of helping his grandfather bottle the family wine.

Good wines with unique flavors that have great stories offer great opportunities to explore and broaden your wine horizons. If you haven’t yet tried it, sample the Coppola Alicante Bouschet. For the best enjoyment, The Wine Guy recommends you chill this wine lightly and decant for forty minutes or longer.

This is a unique wine, worthy of sharing with wine friends as you also share its storied background.

Learn more about Alicante Boushet on the Foodista site by clicking below:
Alicante Bouschet Grapes on Foodista

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Taste More-Learn More:

As you explore your enjoyment of the world of wine, go to as many “tastings” as you can. It’s a wonderful way to learn about different wines and explore your own taste preferences. Most of all, it’s fun! Sooner or later, this will include visiting tasting rooms at wineries. Once you reach this point in your exploration of the world of wine, it may be time to take a step that will truly enhance the tasting room experience: hire a tour guide.

The advantages of a professional tour guide are many; the three key ones being:
1. You don’t have to drive…. aside from the obvious advantage of not having to “swirl & spit” every wine you sample and concerns about driver impairment, you’ll also benefit from the ability to actively compare notes with your fellow tour participants.
2. Great information…. good tour guides take pride in knowing the history and background of the area, the vineyards and the wineries they take you to. They are a wealth of information and knowledge that will enhance your knowledge and take you beyond the mere tasting of the wines you sample.
3. Winery interaction…a good guide introduces his clients at each visit. Usually he and the winery staff are well acquainted and they understand some one who took the time and expense to work with a guide are passionate about their tasting experience and you will get more than your fair share of attention in the tasting room.

When planning to use a tour guide, do your homework. Most have good websites with description of their standard tours and some even offer “custom” tours. Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, I’ve found it quite helpful to pick up the phone and call your prospective guide…they WANT you to have a great tour and once they know your relative wine knowledge and preferences, they can and will offer suggestions to make your tour as well as the rest of your stay in the wine country more enjoyable. If possible, book your tours away from weekends: the tasting rooms are less crowed then and the odds of your guide being able to modify or customize your tour to your wine preferences are greater.

One of the most memorable tour guides I’ve ever encountered was Gene Warren of Healdsburg Area Winery Tours in Sonoma County. We booked twice with Gene and he was instrumental in helping me plan a custom tour to introduce Mrs. Wine Guy to the wonders of good red wines from the Russian River Valley. We also enjoyed a great picnic lunch (see photo) prepared by Gene’s wife and partner Debbie. (The Wine Guy was a bit stouter back then, wasn’t he?) If you’re headed to Sonoma County, consider Healdsburg Area Winery Tours.

Check out Gene’s services at www.healdsburgareawinerytours.com.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Try A Malbec!

While Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay still dominate the American retail market, everyday wine buyers are exploring new varietals in ever increasing numbers. One varietal getting a lot of new consumer attention this year is Malbec. Malbec has been around a long time and once was commonly found in Bordeaux but, except for the Cahors region, its usage by the French has diminished substantially.

Malbec is a thin-skinned grape that requires a lot of sun and heat to ripen. It produces a dark inky colored wine with deep fruit flavors and robust tannins. It has found a true home in Argentina and is gaining ground in Chile. The South American Malbec is somewhat unique, offering smaller size grapes in tighter clusters than what is found in France. That and the high altitude terroir result in a slightly softer, less tannic wine than the French versions. Despite the fact that Malbec is grown almost everywhere, the South American and the French expressions of this grape are the preferred ones to explore. French Cahors imports to the U.S. are trending up 66% this year and Argentine imports, as a whole, are up 55% largely based largely on Argentine Malbecs and the white Argentine Torrontes.

Here are some Malbec recommendations from The Wine Guy:
Bodega Norton Lo Tengo Malbec:
This is a second label from one of Argentina’s premiere producers; this is a little lighter style Malbec that still manages to maintain good balance and flavor. Once you try Lo Tengo, step up a notch to a consistently good Malbec: Bodega Norton Malbec Reserva.
Don Miguel Gascon Malbec:
This is a full-bodied Argentine Malbec with a little more emphasis on fruit. It has lots of plum up front but winds up with a true Malbec finish.
Terrazzas Malbec:
Here’s a big and bold wine with the signature Malbec tannins right up front and dominant.

As you explore Argentine Malbecs, search for old vine, high altitude wines. They offer the very best you’ll find in South American Malbec. Achaval-Ferrer is one such South American producer and nearly all of their wines are not to be missed. Here are two of the best:
Achaval-Ferrer Los Finca Altamira:
80+-year-old vines at 3400 feet in attitude combined with good winemaking make this single vineyard Malbec a classic.
Achaval-Ferrer Quimera: A Bordeaux-style blend dominated with high altitude, old vine Malbec and one of The Wine Guy’s all time favorites.
Once you’ve explored the South American Malbecs, try the very dark, inky, richness of a French Cahors. Cahors must contain 70% Malbec and can be blended with Merlot and Tannant (a great grape in its own right), but one I enjoy a lot is 100% organic Malbec:
Domaine Cosse Masionneuve Cahors LeFage.

Go for the Malbec and enjoy your exploration!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Decanting wine:

“To decant or not to decant, that is the question…whether ‘tis nobler to air thy wine or to raise arm in immediate toast and seize the tannins.” (My apologies to Mr. Shakespeare) Actually, The Wine Guy is big on decanting, but there has been some debate over the subject, particularly as it applies to well-crafted, well-aged wines. Decanting dates back to early Greece and over the centuries included adding water and flavorings to the wine. Both wine making and wine usage have eliminated the need for those steps, but the art of “airing out” the wine is still practiced. Many feel, that with the state of today’s wine making, truly good and aged wine shouldn’t require decanting. Indeed, there is some risk of losing some of the zest of well-aged wines in the decanting process, but it’s a small risk. Most of us aren’t frequent drinkers from that category. Those that do are usually well enough versed in the art of wine to adjust decanting styles and times to the wine being opened. Wines benefit from decanting mainly due to the fact that the majority of tastes derived from wine are olfactory (aromatic) in nature. Even with 10,000 or so taste buds in your mouth, you can identify only four basic and sixteen unique tastes with these sense organs alone. With possible wine flavors in the thousands, it just makes good sense to air your wine and let those great flavorful aromatics develop. How long? No set rules here. As is so often the case, let your own palate be your guide. Have some fun and try the exercise I apply to all new wines I have at home for the first time. With a new wine, I do first examine and taste direct from the newly opened bottle. I then decant and reexamine the wine at fifteen, thirty minutes, and then an hour, then additional periods dependent upon the wine. A portion is also left in the bottle overnight to taste the next day. For me, it’s a great way to examine and learn about the wine. The practice has also taught me much about my own palate. Try this for yourself. It’s fun, it’s educational and you’ll be amazed at the changes that DO occur in the taste of the wine. If you haven’t yet invested in a good decanter, a good glass beverage pitcher will do for a start. (Avoid plastic due to wine stains and possible tainting of the wine!) After three to four episodes, the odds are, you’ll be shopping for a good decanter!

To learn more about decanting, check out the wine/food section of your local bookstore. A nice table-top book that gives an overview of the art, romance and history of decanting is Sandra Jordan’s (of Jordan Vineyards and Winery in Sonoma) “The Art of Decanting, Bringing Wine To Life”.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A winery treat in North Georgia:

Among the U.S. wineries, I try to keep tabs on is one in the North Georgia mountain region near Dahlonega: Blackstock Vineyards Winery. The owner and winemaker there, David Harris, is a true craftsman with a nice selection of wines and I try to visit there whenever I'm in the area (which isn't often enough). It's also one of my son's favorite wineries. A recent email from BSVW announced food and entertainment every weekend throughout the summer. If you're in the area, I do recommend you go. Here are three of my favorites from David's fine product list:

Named with the initials of his three children, David has created a nice, full-bodied, black fruit-driven red reserve that has plenty of depth, structure and balance. A great food-pairing wine especially if you enjoy some traditional Georgian bar-b-que!.

Touriga Dulce:
BSVW grows more of this traditional Portuguese varietal than anyone in Georgia (or probably on the eastern seaboard). It grows well in north Georgia. Mr. Harris does a great job in creating a great wine for sipping or pairing with fine cheese and desserts. It's not as sweet as a port (also made with Touriga varietals) but I suspect would, like a port, also be a great cigar wine.

Sangiovese Rose':
As a long-time lover of Italian varietals, I wasn't overly impressed with Blackstock's regular Sangiovese (I just can't reconcile the clay in the background with my love of Sangiovese's cherriness). I am absolutely, however, a BIG fan of their Sangiovese Rose. That's unusual, because I don't normally enjoy a Sangiovese as a rose. Whether it's the clay or David's addition of a little Touriga to the blend (perhaps a combination of both), it's simply a must try even if you're not a big rose fan. It's a great summertime wine (especially for us desert rats in Arizona) hitting the right balance of lightness in delivery without unecessarily sacrificing the great flavors of varietals involved.

North Georgia is the home of America's first gold rush, has river tubing, an alpine village, the start of the Appalachian Trail, the largest waterfall in the eastern U.S. and several wineries. These are just a few of the reasons to consider a fun getaway there. If you go, be sure to travel down Town Creek Road in Lumpkin County and pay a visit to Blackstock Vineyard Winery. You'll be glad you did. For a preview, visit their website: www.bsvw.com.