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, September 30, 2009

Que sera, Syrah?

Whether you call it Syrah or Shiraz, this dark, thick-skinned grape is one of the most versatile and prolific wine grapes. The grape is generally referred to as Syrah in Old World countries and Shiraz in the New World but both terms are common among U.S. producers. While it was once thought to of Mideast origin (the usage of the term Shiraz refers to the village of the same name where the grape is still cultivated), it has been determined that origins were in southern France where it remains a principal grape in some great wines.

Syrah generally produces bold dark-red wines that are rich, chewy and sometimes spicy in nature. It is highly reflective of the terroir which makes it capable of producing a wide diversity of flavors and nuances. It blends well with a number of red as well as white varietals and that increases the opportunities to enjoy the bounties of this black beauty. By itself, the grape makes wonderful bold reds with a residual chewiness. It is a go-to wine for pairing with game and with lamb dishes. While the principal producers of Syrah (Shiraz) are France and Australia, the grape is found throughout the wine growing regions of the world with significant usage in California and in Spain. If Cabernet Sauvignon, the most widely utilized varietal, can be called the King of red wine grapes, then Syrah easily deserves recognition as the Grand Duke.

Syrah rivals the great Italian Sangiovese in the number and variety of fine wines that can be produced from the grape. A great deal of its diversity comes from its expression of terroir but even more comes from its capability to be blended with a large number of other varietals. Adding Viognier, the white varietal most often blended with Syrah, introduces some apricot tones and will soften the characteristic cracked pepper spiciness into a smooth clean finish. The use of Viognier in Syrah can be frequently found in French wines and is also becoming more common for some Australia Shiraz producers led by Yalumba. In Spain can be found some great Syrah-Grenacha combinations. The French, of course, do their own style of blending Syrah and Grenache in a number of great Rhone wines. Some of the silkiest Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre (GSM) combinations come from California but also find good expression from French and Australian producers. Combining Shiraz (Syrah) with Cabernet Sauvignon is a great combination for grilled meats and few do it better than the Australians.

One of the more interesting Syrah combinations recently enjoyed by The Wine Guy was Jade Mountain’s highly acclaimed Mt Veeder Syrah. This Californian beauty blends in light touches of Grenache and Teroldago. Teroldago is an obscure Italian varietal that sent me scrambling to my reference library. It is, oddly enough, an ancestral relative (call it a great-uncle) of Syrah but exhibits characteristics that have more in common with Zinfandel and Primativo. As this wine opened up, the smooth fruitiness of the underlying blending grapes became more recognizable and made this a unique and enjoyable Syrah.

There are endless examples of good Syrah expressions you can enjoy but here are a few recommendations from The Wine Guy of some value-priced Syrah-based wines you might want to hunt for at your favorite retailer:

Penfold’s Koonunga Hills Shiraz-Cabernet:
A consistently good value-priced example of the power of combining these two varietals.

Yalumba “Y” Series Shiraz-Viognier:
This wine classically illustrates the effects of blending Viognier on the Shiraz finish.

Almira Los Dos:
A great expression of old vine grapes from Spain combing Grenacha and Syrah.

Rosenblum Hillside Vineyards Syrah:
Renown for his Zinfandels the Californian veterinarian/winemaker scores big with this Syrah.

Cline Cashmere:
The name aptly describes the palate feel of this California GSM.

Meffree LaChasse Du Pape:
An affordable, yet well made expression from Southern France.

Layer Cake Cotes du Rhone and Layer Cake Barossa Valley Shiraz:
These negociants from California traveled to two different regions and brought back some great examples to explore, each with their own good characteristics.

The ubiquitous Syrah or Shiraz offers a great diversity of wines to sample. No matter what your taste preference, you’re sure to find something you enjoy. Have fun in your exploration!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Restaurant Wine Pricing Part II - BYOB

In the last blog, The Wine Guy discussed restaurant wine pricing. Before I move on to other subjects, I would remiss if I did not devote some space to BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle) restaurant dining. While most consider BYOB as a way to counter restaurant wine pricing, it’s more suitably applicable to the confident diner who wants to enjoy his favorite wine selection and welcomes the assurance of pairing his choice of wine with the meal.
Although it’s always been around, BYOB dining is generally believed to have taken popular hold in the 60’s and 70’s. There is a lot of debate over whether the practice originated in the US or overseas but it can be found in most locales today. Chicago has a guide that lists over 250 such facilities with little or no corkage fees. BYOB is popular in many eastern seaboard cities (New Jersey has a special BYOB license) and its popularity extends to Australia and New Zealand where some claim the boom in BYOB restaurant dining began in the 60’s.

BYOB can a thoroughly enjoyable wine dining experience for both you and your favorite BYOB restaurant but it IS important that you develop some understanding of the common sense “rules of the road” in BYOB dining.

Let’s discuss first, BYOB as it applies to restaurants that have a wine list and sell wine as part of their dining service. Some of these do and some do NOT permit BYOB beverage service. Most will charge a “corkage fee” in connection with the opportunity to be served your own wine. Here are some suggestions and recommendations when considering this type of restaurant.

1. Always call ahead and ask the restaurant to explain their BYOB policy: Remember, allowing BYOB is a service. The purpose of your call is not to debate the restaurant’s policy… you’re gathering information to simply determine, as a consumer. if this is a reasonable service you want to avail yourself of.
2. Determine the corkage fee, if any. Corkage fees will vary greatly. Recognize that a high corkage fee is sometimes the restaurant’s way of discouraging BYOB without having to entirely prohibit it. A corkage fee is generally considered reasonable if it does not exceed the lowest priced standard wine on the restaurant’s list.
3. Be sure to determine if there are limitations. Some restaurants with lists will only allow BYOB if it is a wine they do not provide. Here, you may inquire about policy exceptions if it makes sense. As an example, a special anniversary may require, for sentimental reasons, a particular vintage of a wine that’s carried by the restaurant but not in the vintage required. Explain the reasons for your request and ask politely. Most good restaurateurs will try to accommodate you.
4. If your waiter provides wine service for your BYOB wine, be sure to always include the cost of that wine when calculating his tip.

Some restaurants do not sell wine but allow BYOB service. Many of the same protocols as discussed above apply but there are also some special considerations.

1. These restaurants may or may not charge a corkage fee. As with the facilities discussed
above, it is suggested you acquaint yourself with the restaurant’s policies prior to arriving
with bottle in hand.
2. It is generally customary in these types of BYOB facilities to offer your waiter and host a
complimentary “taste” of your BYOB wine, if permitted by law and by the restaurant. This is particularly true in restaurants that are strictly BYOB and do not charge any corkage fee. As with facilities above, always include the wine cost in calculating your service tip.

An important and special precaution when doing BYOB restaurant dining: It is incumbent upon you, as the diner, to be sure that your BYOB consumption on premise is in compliance with your state and local liquor ordinances. As an example, it was mentioned above that New Jersey has special BYOB liquor licensing. The New Jersey law allows consumers to bring in and be served liquor bought off premise in these facilities. Some enterprising owners have printed “wine lists” showing prices from a nearby package store that is then phoned and delivered to your table. Not only does the owner violate state law by engaging in this practice but so do YOU.

The one serious disadvantage of BYOB dining is that responsibility and liability for on-premise alcohol consumption shifts almost entirely to YOU. When you chose to BYOB, the Wine Guy urges you to be conversant, not only in your wine selection, but in the applicable laws and regulations covering on-premise alcohol consumption and in the transportation of alcoholic beverages. Do your homework and be safe.

BYOB dining for the wine enthusiast is fun and delightful. It allows for the enjoyment of your very favorite wines, the ones you enjoy at home. Properly done, It also opens the door to greater camaraderie and fellowship in dining. Additionally, you may discover that many BYOB restaurants focus on the food and atmosphere and can be great dining experiences in their own right.

If you live in or visit Arizona, The Wine Guy happily recommends one of his favorite BYOB facilities: Giusseppe’s Italian Restaurant in Scottsdale. Strictly BYOB, this restaurant has no corkage fee and requires you open your own. It’s a modest, family style bistro with limited seating but offers good service and, more importantly, some great pasta dishes. They do a better job with cheesecake than their tiramisu but other than that, nearly everything on the menu is delicioso. Come early, the kitchen closes at 8:30pm but the food is good, the service is good and the owner appreciates and enjoys wine. It’s a delightful place to dine with your favorite Chianti, Montepulciano or Ripassa.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Restaurant Wine Pricing Part 1

Since I joined the wine business I’ve been asked about or commented to about the price of wine in restaurants constantly. Today, the Wine Guy offers some short background on the cost of wine on-premise (at your favorite wine-bar or restaurant) and some tips on how to know if those higher prices are somewhat fair or just simply “too” high.

Let’s begin by qualifying the subject of this blog to restaurants whose lists are largely confined to wines normally available to the consumer at retail (including both everyday and fine wines). Restaurants who offer very rare and uncommon wines are unique and have endured exceptional effort and expense in developing those special offerings to their diners. At least part of the reason you’re there should be the opportunity to taste rare and eclectic wines. DO recognize that the cost for having those wines available will be borne by ALL the wines on their list. If you choose to have wine at one of these establishments, forget the cost and go for the good stuff…it’s why you’re there!

Back to conventional dining with wines you would normally buy for yourself. Yes, you ARE paying more for your selection than you would at your favorite wine emporium. Here’s a short summary of the most significant reasons why:
1. The restaurant’s wholesale and inventory costs are significantly higher:
Because of volume and turnover, retailers often qualify for volume, quantity and promotional discounts that restaurants cannot often advantage. In many instances, a single case may represent an inventory investment of six months or longer for the restaurateur but only a month or less for the retailer. This also translates to higher expense in terms of inventory cash investment and higher product maintenance cost due to longer storage.
2. Licensing costs & liability are higher:
While licensing does vary by state, most states are similar to Arizona (The Wine Guy’s home) with higher fees for on-premise than off-premise licensing. The retailer has select employees who have wine knowledge and have met state alcohol awareness training while the restaurant may have endured that expense for all who are involved in handling your wine. Additionally, the cost of liability insurance is ALWAYS significantly higher for an establishment where alcohol is poured and consumed on site than for one where the consumer purchases for later consumption.
3. There is a higher cost of sales in a restaurant:
In terms of glassware, utensils and even labor, the restaurant has significantly higher cost in delivering the product to you than does the retailer. Virtually none of the retailer’s transactions involve serving accessories that have to be cleaned and maintained. Up to 80% or more of his transactions involve no significant customer-staff interaction beyond paying of the tab. The restaurant, however, endures these kind of extra expenses in virtually everyone of his transactions involving wine.
O.K., we’ve established that a higher cost can be expected. When is that higher price too much? Below are some general guidelines The Wine Guy uses in evaluating restaurant wine pricing. Note that when I mention average retail bottle prices, I DON’T refer to the cost of discounted wine, cost after volume discounts nor sales promotion items. This would the average normal retail price at your typical wine merchant. This retail can vary up to thirty percent in the typical marketplace so we’re looking for an overall market representation of what the typical consumer pays everyday to take his bottle home.

Wines by the glass:
Well-run restaurants that serve wines by the glass will average just a little over three glasses served per bottle. Yes, a bottle contains more, but, operationally, some allowance needs to made for shrinkage due to operations and loss of freshness. A good restaurateur needs to recover his wholesale bottle cost in the first glass poured if he hopes to realize a reasonable profit. Your cost for the wine-by-the-glass you order should fall somewhere between 70% and 90% of the average retail cost per bottle in the market where the restaurant is located. Any more should make you start to feel a pinch in your pocketbook. The by-the-glass cost would be considered extremely high if it exceeds the average retail bottle price.
When buying wine-by-the-glass, The Wine Guy usually only orders the most frequently sold varietals. This means Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and, with caution, Pinot Noir in general restaurants. I’ll consider another varietal if it ties into the restaurant’s specialty, A Chianti or Sangiovese in an Italian or a Naoussa in a Greek restaurant would be classic examples. This rule offers some assurance of volume turnover and freshness. Remember: you pay a premium for wine by the glass…if two or more in your party drink the same wine or if one of you intends to have a minimum of two glasses, your best buy is by the bottle!

Wines by the bottle:
1.5x to 2.5 x Average Retail:
Affordable values come from restaurants that offer wine by the bottle at one and a half to two and a half times the average retail market price. These are good values and offer you a fair opportunity to pair your favorite wine with your favorite meal. The Wine Guy cautions that you should avoid unknown labels, particularly house wines, in most value restaurants. Stick with labels and varietals that you are familiar with or ones that have been recommended by a source you have confidence in.
2.5x to 3x Average Retail:
This is pricier but still can be a reasonable range for restaurant wine. However, at this point, The Wine Guy is beginning to look for something beyond just average restaurant wine service. I want to see some variety and opportunity in the wine selection, some knowledge of the wines from my wait staff and some very good fundamentals in presenting and serving of the wine.
3x to 3.5x Average Retail:
Your wine selection has begun to overshadow your entrĂ©e selection so there should definitely be “something extra” going on if you are to consider these wines as reasonably priced. Wine selection and wine service should be much more formal at this point. The Wine Guy will also look for a wine list that offers descriptions, pairing suggestions as well as a selection of better quality wines. During prime dining hours, I would expect a knowledgeable wine steward or sommelier to be available if my waiter was not thoroughly versed in the wine list.
3.5x Average Retail and above:
At this point and higher, there really needs to be something very exceptional in terms of offering and service that simply isn’t available at other restaurants. If not, The Wine Guy opts for iced tea or water with dinner, followed by a promise to Mrs. Wine Guy to uncork one of our favorite cellar selections to enjoy on the patio when we get home. Hopefully, the food was awesome, or there’s an opportunity to BYOB the next time with a reasonable corkage, otherwise a return trip is highly unlikely.

Good wine and good wine service in restaurants comes at a higher cost but doesn’t always have to be overly expensive. With a little effort, you’ll find great restaurants offering great wine with great food at fair prices. Remember to vote “with your pocketbook” for those that do and don’t hestitate to vote against those that don’t by denying your business. I hope you found The Wine Guy’s restaurant pricing guidelines helpful in that quest.

On my next blog, Restaurant Wine Part 2 covers BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle) and some do’s & don’ts to enjoying this particular and highly fun form of dining out with wine.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Santa Ema Great Wines From Chile

Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon are still the mainstays of American wine consumption and there are innumerable quality producers of each of these varietals but it’s always a special treat to find a single winery that excels in the production of all three. Such is the case with Santa Ema Winery from Chile.

The Wine Guy has been a fan of the Santa Ema Reserve Merlot for a number of years and now also regularly recommends their Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and Reserve Chardonnay.

Santa Ema Reserve Chardonnay:
This is a great mid-range Chardonnay, falling between the often lighter, citrusy fare of the southern hemisphere, the mineral crispiness of some European chards and the heavy-oak or heavily buttered fare from California. Aged three months on oak and four months in the bottle before release, Santa Ema Reserve Chardonnay offers mature fruit, great balance and some vanilla, soft toast and light honey notes on the finish. It has all the value-priced ingredients for a great sipping as well as a great food pairing white wine.

Santa Ema Reserve Merlot:
A medium to full bodied merlot with great aromatics that beg you to reach for your decanter. Look for notes of currant, plum and prune with a light touch of cocoa and charcoal balanced with soft textured tannins. Un-grafted vines, quality fruit and ten months aging on oak contribute to this wine being one of the most consistently enjoyable Merlots available at an affordable price!

Santa Ema Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon:
It keeps getting better each year, recently earning a 90-point rating in Wine Spectator! Look for definitive black fruit, roasted coffee as well as light accents of fig and tobacco leading to a long finish. Aged for ten months on oak and an additional six months in the bottle, this could become one of your favorite everyday cabernets!

Wine Guy Footnote:

Regular readers of Roger’s Grapevine are familiar with my proclivity to Italian wines and Italian cuisine. While I’ve been a fan of Santa Ema for some time, it was only in preparing for this blog that I discovered the Italian background of the winery. Here’s the story:

Back in 1917, a son of an Italian winemaker, Pedro Pavonne Voglino, emigrated from the Italian Piedmont to Chile. Eighteen years later, he harvested his first grapes and became a regular supplier to wineries in the area. He went on to establish his own winery with his son Felix. It became Santa Ema in 1955. Two other sons joined the business and today, the Pavonne family continues to manage a winery that is now renown for its cutting edge technology balanced with adherence to strict winegrowing standards. Santa Ema wines are now exported to over thirty countries.

Perhaps it’s being fortunate enough to have visited Italy with Mrs. Wine Guy or having one of my first wine jobs with an Italian wholesaler that has prejudiced me. However I prefer to think it’s because the Italians show some of the greatest diversity in winemaking coupled with respectful adherence to winegrowing and winemaking traditions. They also seem to be able to add creativity and exploration without sacrificing their passion, love and dedication to those traditions. From the Seghesio family in Sonoma, California to the Cetto family in Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico to the Pavonne family in Chile and countless others, there always seems to be a cutting edge Italian presence and positive influence in New World winemaking. Bless those Italians for their passion and dedication to good wine.