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.)

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Good Time to Explore Cabernet Sauvignon

Despite being retired, The Wine Guy continues to work part-time in wine retail.  Doing so keeps me connected with the wine consuming public and with the trade as well.  The better distributors who supply the retail trade will regularly host wine tastings for key wine selling personnel to acquaint them with products.  Recently, I had the opportunity to taste and sample a broad selection of wines being featured for the holiday season by one of my employer’s better suppliers:  Republic National Distributing Company.   (Event photo at left is The Wine Guy with Terry Faunce, Accounts Manager for RNDC/Arizona)

While enjoying a couple of very good cabernet sauvignons at that tasting, I was struck by how seldom I’ve blogged about this great grape on Roger’s grapevine.  Cabernet Sauvignon is of course, one of most ubiquitous varietals in the wine world.  While Merlot has recently surpassed it in total worldwide plantings and while Syrah is grown in a greater number of wine producing areas, Cabernet Sauvignon remains the king of red grape varietals.     It is the most utilized singular red varietal and finds favor in a great number of the world’s most recognized and popular red blends.

Cabernet Sauvignon’s thick skin makes it adaptable to a number of growing conditions, provides ample and bold tannins that are conducive to good aging and flavor development.  On the vine, it is somewhat resistant to rot and frost.  It buds and ripens somewhat later than its frequent blending partners, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  It gives rise to a great variety of fruit flavors that can vary with the terroir in which it is grown and also change in expression with the degree of ripening employed by the vintner.  It responds well to wood aging, primarily with oak, but also responds favorably to the chestnut and redwood aging that is practiced with it by some Portuguese and Italian producers.  Fruit flavors from a good cabernet sauvignon cover a wide range from cranberry to raspberry, from blueberry to dark cherry to black current.  The wine from this grape can evoke herbal elements that range from green pepper to mint and eucalyptus and even tobacco.  In varying cabernets you find hints of coffee, cedar, leather, vanilla mocha, and much, much more.  No wonder it has become a favorite of winemakers and wine sippers alike.   It is a versatile and flexible varietal that can be the source for great wines to fit almost any type of wine preference.

Here are few recent Wine Guy samplings that are recommended as cabernet sauvignons that you might want to sample:

Alder Ridge Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon:  
From one of the newer AVA’s in the U.S. northeast (established 2005) that is rapidly developing a reputation for great reds.  This is a rich expressive wine with notes of black cherry and cedar and a lingering finish.  The winemaker added small amounts of Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc to create a lot of nuances that you will thoroughly enjoy if you properly decant this wine.

Rutherford Ranch Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon:
This organic producer is located along Napa’s famed Silverado trail, the home of some fabulous California Cabernets.  Initial notes of boysenberry and cranberry meld and blend into a toasty smooth caramel finish.  This is the wine in our glasses in the featured photo at the left.

Chateau St. Michele Indian Wells Cabernet Sauvignon:
Another great northeastern treasure, this comes from the Columbia Valley’s Wahale Slope area.  It benefits from some complimentary blending which includes Syrah, Malbec and Merlot. Look for some great dark fruit flavors with hints of vanilla and a caressing finish.

Santa Ema Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley Cabernet Sauvignon:
This is a consistently good Chilean wine.  It offers blueberry, coffee and mocha.  It was described by a California wine merchant as having the smoothness of Barry White performing in a sequin suit and that smoothness makes it a favorite of the fetching Mrs. Wine Guy.

There are always great Cabernets to explore.   And recently, there has been a higher frequency of finding great cabs that rank in the high 80’s to low 90’s for under $25 (all the wines cited above fell in that category recently).   Thanks Terry, for helping to remind me that good cabernets are worth seeking out!  I hope each of you readers takes the opportunity to enjoy a cabernet sauvignon soon.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Wine Guy samples a 40-year old Vintage Port!

Behind nearly every bottle of wine, there is a story. It may include the story of the producer, the wine-maker or even how and why that particular wine came to be made.  Sometimes the saga of a select bottle becomes a great story unto itself and such is the case of the bottle of 1970 J.W. Burmester Vintage Oporto you see pictured at the left.  When sharing a particular wine with special guests or friends, there’s often nearly as much enjoyment in sharing the story behind the wine as there is in the tasting of the wine itself.  Allow me to share the special story of this bottle with you and you’ll discover how The Wine Guy came to enjoy a 40-year old bottle of port from the third oldest wine appellation in the world.

A charming and gracious co-worker named Donna came to me one day and announced that in preparation for a visit from family from New Zealand, she had discovered this unopened bottle of wine amongst her “stash” of tucked away family treasures.  She wanted to know a little bit about the wine and whether or not, it would still be good to serve.

First the wine itself: 
In 1730 German immigrants Henry Burmester and John Nash founded Burmester & Nash in   London to import popular port wine from Portugal.  By 1750, their success led to a move to become producers in Via Nova de Gaia on the south shore of the Douro River near its mouth and in close proximity to the city of Porto, which gave its name to the third oldest wine appellation in the world.  This was also the site of the ancient Roman Empire city of Cale.  By the 18th century another Burmester immigrated to Portugal from Germany to assume the presidency of the company which was renamed J.W. Burmester in 1880. Throughout the rest of the century, the company earned numerous accolades for its port products including recognition at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.  Toward the end of the millennia, the firm was acquired by a banking/investment consortium and continues operation today as part of the Sogivinus Group.

Vintage Port is declared in select years and many Portuguese producers only declare vintages a few times a decade.  It is required that the vintage must be aged at least 2 ½ years in barrels and it often takes a decade or more of aging in bottles to achieve what is considered proper drinking age.  Foot treading in traditional stone vessels called lagares produces typical Portuguese Vintage Port.  Fermentation is halted by fortifying with distilled grape spirits called aguardente, which adds alcohol while retaining some residual sugar content thus giving port its sweet, yet full body taste.  Much of the complex character of vintage ports comes from the slow decomposition of grape solids during the years of bottle ageing. As a result, settling, careful decanting and even filtering needs to take place in order to enjoy the wine.  In the case of our bottle in question, we’re talking 37 years from its bottling date of 1973.

The story behind this particular bottle:

My friend, Donna is a New Zealand native, lived in Australia and now resides in Arizona.  She believes the wine in question was given to her in Australia in the early to mid 70’s to commemorate the birth of one of her children.  Not knowing the conditions under which the bottle was transported or stored, I advised her the wine would either be superbly aged or terribly broken down.  In other words, she either had a very, very good port or a very, very bad one.  Opening and sampling would be the ultimate way to discover which she had.  In either case, sharing with visiting family from down under sounded like the perfect opportunity for just such a discovery.  She was kind enough to invite my attendance at the planned opening of the bottle. Unfortunately my schedule didn’t permit me to seize that opportunity.  Donna, however, did save a portion and presented it to me the next day as a thank-you for my efforts in researching her wine (As I told you, she IS a charming and gracious lady in the truest sense!)

The ever-fetching Mrs. Wine Guy and I lit a fire that very evening and proceeded to decant, filter and savor the remainder of Donna’s family treasure.   While just slightly past its prime, it was, indeed, a superb, complex and rich wine with all the wonderful aromas and flavors you would expect to find in a good, well-aged vintage port!  It made for a most enjoyable evening by the fire. I hope Donna and her family enjoyed the taste and the saga of this particular bottle of wine as much as The Wine Guy did.  It created a great wine memory and we will be forever grateful for her thoughtfulness in sharing.  I hope, as well, that you, as a reader, enjoyed the story of this particular bottle of wine.

As I said at the outset of this tale, nearly every bottle of wine has a story behind it. In selecting your next bottle to share with family or friends, ask your merchant to share that story so you can share it with your company.  Remember, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a rare or unique wine to create a memory you’ll cherish for a long time.  Sharing a good story over a glass of good wine with good company will always increase your enjoyment of wine

Have a great experience of your own soon…. enjoy some wine!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Wine Guy is Back!

    My apologies for such a long absence.   I should have posted an advisory but I never thought my absence from this site would extend so long.  In preparation for our upcoming retirements, the ever charming Mrs. Wine Guy and I decided to list our home of the past decade for sale. It showed well and sold much faster than we had anticipated.  Finding storage for our decades of accumulation of personal property, as well as relocating to a downsized residence was complicated by the approach of the holidays.  Needless to say, time flies by when you're having fun!

    Topping off everything else was the discovery that the DSL lines at our new domestic digs had reached capacity and a delay was incurred in getting re hooked to the internet.  (Attempting to do a wine blog utilizing free wifi at Dunkin Donuts turned out to be impractical as well as totally uninspiring, despite the great coffee and donuts!)

    In any case, I'm back on line and hopefully haven't lost too many of you.  I hope to be back on schedule and have some stories to share including the saga of how a 40- year old vintage port made its way to my table during the hectic transition.

  Look for the beginnings of these postings in a few days and please help me spread the word that regular postings on The Grapevine will commence shortly.

Thank you for your patience and readership.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Chateauneuf du Pape

Chateauneuf du Pape is a wine worth exploring for its history as well as what it has to offer in taste.
This French AOC, comprising almost 7,500 acres of vineyards, is located in the southern Rhone Valley.  It is probably one of the best know and most highly regarded Rhone appellations today.   That, however, was not the case for much of its long and storied history.

The area is the site of a decisive historic battle between the Romans and the Gauls in 121 BC and later, it was the Romans who initiated viniculture here.  After the fall of the Roman Empire, the church became the principal instrument of winemaking throughout southern France.  The Templars settled there in the mid twelfth century and gave the area the name Castrum Novum  (New Camp or New Fort).  The village name later became Chateauneuf-Calcernier, which paid tribute to its earlier name as well as the area’s sandy and rocky soil.  It wasn’t until 1893 that the village formally adopted the name of its wine, “Chateauneuf du Pape” as its own name.   After Pope Clement moved the papacy to Avignon in 1308, the area began to be utilized as a summer papal residence.   The castle that subsequently became synonymous with the wine and the village was built by Pope John XXII in 1320.  This Avignon Pope was a promoter of the wines produced there and it was he who first called the wines  “Vin du Pape”, which much later evolved to Chateauneuf du Pape.   

The wines from this region have widely varied in presentation due to the variations in soil conditions, a range of winemaking styles and the wide number of grapes historically utilized.  The AOC regulations in effect today were not established until the late 1930’s and still permit up to 13 red and white varietals to be utilized in the red Chateauneuf du Pape.  Grenache is always dominant and must be 50% of the final product, which must be aged at least one year on oak.  This allows a wide range of expression in the wine.  The Chateauneuf du Pape most often imported to the U.S. is generally a Grenache Syrah and Mourvedre blend.  You may also encounter some utilization of Counoise and Cinsault in these.  The growth in popularity of Chateauneuf du Pape as a French export is largely due to exposure given by two prominent wine critics, Janis Robison and Robert Parker, Jr.  Parker’s promotion of the wine, in particular, gave impetus to a fourfold increase in the average price of Chateauneuf du Pape in this country in a single decade.  (No wonder the Chateauneuf Winemakers Union lobbied to have Parker made an honorary citizen of their village!)

In The Wine Guy's humble opinion, it is the GSM and similar blends in which this wine finds its best expressions.  Complex fruit characteristics, smooth tannins and superb, subtle, lingering finishes abound in the better selections.  Chateauneuf du Pape is a wine well worth exploring!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My Turn to Tackle the Sulfite Myth

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!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Worldwide Trends in Wine

The gentleman pictured at the right is Claude Robbins, M.W.A. and Director of the International Wine Guild. The International Wine Guild is the organization through which I received my CWS and offers a plethora of courses for the wine professional, as well as the general public. As a Guild member, I receive regular newsletters and their most recent one included Claude’s recap of recent data released on wine growing, production and consumption. For today’s blog, I’ve decided to borrow and pass along some items of interest from that recap.

The data is from five year rolling averages and covers the period 2004-2008:

Wine Production:
The biggest news arising from the data was Italy moving past France into the number one ranking among wine producing countries. France remains in first place in total wine consumption.
Italy, France and Spain are the top three wine producing nations in the world and represent 48% of the world’s total wine production. The United States, Argentina, Australia, China, Germany, South Africa and Chile round out the top ten producers of wine (Only 60 countries are currently being tracked as wine producing countries).
Chile and China showed the largest percentage increases in wine production at 32.7% and 23.9% respectively.

Total Wine Consumption:
As previously mentioned France ranks number one in total consumption, followed by Italy and the United States in almost a tie for second. (Italy nudges out the U.S. by about 7 million gallons). Rounding out the top ten in total consumption are Germany, China, Spain, United Kingdom, Argentina, Russia and Romania. Together, these 10 countries account for 72% of the world’s total wine consumption. China’s advancement on both the total production and total consumption lists is significantly notable. The wine world’s interest in China is growing by leaps and bounds with some of the world’s top producers establishing footholds there. The aforementioned director of the International Wine Guild just returned from China after establishing and training a staff that provide wine education in that country. It’s also interesting to note the United Kingdom’s number seven rank in total consumption especially when you consider they rank #58 out of 60 countries in total production. This means the U.K imports 99.5% of the wine it consumes. That makes them pretty keen observers on the overall world of wine and is one reason I always try to glean regular commentary and observations from the British wine blogs and wine trade publications, particularly Decanter magazine.

Per Capita Wine Consumption:
Most people would probably guess France as the leader in this category and while they do rank high (#3 at 14.1 gallons per person annually), they are surpassed by folks from the Vatican (#1 @ 17.6 gallons) and Norfolk Island (#2 @ 15.2 gallons). Luxembourg, Andorra, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Falkland Islands and Croatia round out the top ten all at 10 gallons and more per person annually. The United States has moved up four positions in this category to #57 with a consumption of 2.56 gallons per person, a 14.5% increase since the previous report two years ago. The world wide average for 223 countries is 1.2 gallons per capita.

Total Wine Exports:
Italy France and Spain top the list, each exporting slightly more 30% of their total production (all are on the top ten list in total production, as well). Australia, another top ten country is total production comes in at number four in wine export volume. Its exports are a stunning 56.1% of total wine production. Chile, South Africa, United State, Argentina, Germany and Portugal round out the top ten exporters with both Chile and Portugal joining Australia as major producers who export over half the wine they produce. Moldavia ranks #12 exporting 29.6% of its production; but of even more interest is the fact that the taxes on exported wine provides 15% of the country’s total income!

Wine Imports:
As previously mentioned the United Kingdom is tops in percentage of wine consumption that is imported. Their total imports amount to over 300 million gallons. France and the United States join them in as huge importers. France imports almost 517 million gallons or about 38% of its consumption. The U.S. imports a little over 222 million gallons, or 29.2% of its total consumption. Together these three import over a billion gallons of wine!

The wonderful thing about exploring the world of wine is that there’s always growth, development and something new being added to a diversity of choices that is already seemingly unlimited. In short, there’s always something new and exciting to enjoy. Go ahead and do some exploration today!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pairing Wine with Food Isn't Hard!

Most neophyte wine consumers believe that pairing wine with food is difficult, requires intensive training, and needs to be handled by experts. Let me assure you that this simply isn’t the case. Pairing wine with food is adventuresome, fun, often exciting and can be successfully done by anyone with functioning taste buds, sense of smell and everyday common sense.

We professionals in the trade talk a lot about “organoleptics”. That’s the art of analyzing the tastes of things through the use of all the sensory organs (sight, smell, feel and taste). As professionals, it helps us to understand and learn about each wine we study. It applies, as well, to food and is an area of study and skill development for any serious chef. Applied to both wine and food together, it provides a basis for understanding the technical aspects of pairing food and wine.
For those of us who constantly want to learn and explore more in our beloved fields, it’s an important area.

Organoleptics isn’t required, however, to successfully pair wine with food. Those that believe that are the same ones who propagate the myth that for every food item, there is a “perfect” or “ideal” wine pairing. There should be many great wine pairings for each food item. Remember that wine IS food and has been the natural accompaniment to meals for over 4,000 years. It developed out of the need to have a safe beverage that would complement the food and make it safer and easier to consume.

The first hard and fast rule to remember is: Never pair food with a wine that you wouldn’t enjoy by itself. While it might be a terrific pairing for someone else, if you don’t enjoy the wine, you won’t enjoy the pairing. Always pair food with a wine you enjoy!

To complement food, wine doesn’t have to match perfectly in flavors. In fact sometimes, a contrast works very well. What the wine and food must do to one another is to enhance and highlight the key positive flavor characteristics of each other. They should not enhance or highlight any negative flavor characteristics nor should the key characteristics of one overpower and totally overshadow the other. How do you know when that has happened? Your taste buds will tell you! Trust them to be your guide just as you’ve trusted them to choose your favorite foods and beverages all your life.

The second rule to remember is: to know if a new experience is suitable for you, you have to try something new. Since it’s your taste buds involved, it really is mostly a trial and error process and pairing suggestions should be considered as guideposts or starting points to discovering the wine pairings that work for you.

Asking for advice and help is fine, but always make sure the wine professional you seek advice from does the following:
1) Gets a sense of the kind of wines you normally like to drink.
(This helps insure his recommendations are more based on your taste preferences than his.)
2) Asks how the item to be paired is being prepared.
(Additional flavors from preparation, spices and sauces may impact the choice of wine.)
3) Offers multiple pairing options for you to choose from.
(I personally love restaurants that will list more than one suggestion for each item when they do suggested wine pairings on the menu and generally mistrust them if they only list one.)
4) Advises what you should avoid in selecting a wine to pair and gives the reasons why.
(You’ll probably learn more about good wine pairing and develop more of your own pairing common sense from this advice than anything else.)

The final rule to remember is: YOU are the best judge. The purpose of pairing wine with food is to enhance the enjoyment of both. If it doesn’t work for you, then it simply doesn’t work! Seek another pairing that will.

O.K. it’s time to go forth and try some pairings. Make it fun by inviting friends over to sample 3-4 different wines. Try pairing each one with several different food appetizers and rating each combination on a 1 to 5 point scale. With each wine, try the same appetizers. Have your guests see which appetizer scored highest (and/or lowest) with each wine and discuss why. It’s fun and you’ll learn a lot.

If you would like to have some examples to use as guideposts, here’s some wine pairings that The Wine Guy has enjoyed:

Pasta with meat or mushrooms and red sauce:
Almost any good Italian red is worth trying but my favorite is a good Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo. The earthiness of this wine serves it well in pairing with red sauce pastas.

Shrimp stir-fry:
Good crisp, dry white wines with subtle fruit flavors work well. My most frequent choice is a Chenin Blanc, preferably from South Africa.

Mexican Bean Dip:
The Wine Guy makes his own with refried beans, cheese, green onions, cilantro and salsa. I’ve tried a lot of combinations that were so-so but had my socks knocked off when I paired the dip and good quality tortilla chips with a Spanish Cava.

Baked Halibut:
This light and delicate fish can be easily overpowered but still needs a wine that will bring some flavor accent. On someone else’s suggestion, I tried my halibut with a Spanish Albarino and it’s been my first wine of choice for this dish ever since.

Grilled Hamburgers:
Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot come to most people’s mind (unless you’ve got a good Trappist Tripel Ale in hand). While they work, given the choice, I’ll pour a good Carmenere from Chile.

French Onion Soup:
We tend to think of entrees for wine pairings but certain soups are regular meals for Mrs. Wine Guy and myself. With this one, we enjoy having a good French Viognier especially if it’s been lightly aged in oak.

Sweet & Sour Chicken (or Pork):
With sweet teriyaki, sour pineapples, meat green peppers, etc, there’s a lot going on for a wine to stumble over. Some of the traditional Asian food whites (Riesling, gewürztraminer, et al) have a tendency for me to over accent the sweet side. My trial and error led me to try a rose’ of pinot noir and it was a delightful pairing with both the wine and the dish becoming more enjoyable than they would have been on their own!

The above example is what you’re hoping to find as you explore pairing wine with food. Lots of wines will go with almost any dish you choose but when you discover a pairing where both the dish and the wine taste significantly better together than they would on their own, you’ve hit the bulls eye!

Happy exploring and good luck with your pairings!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Little Wine Math from The Wine Guy

The next time you hold a glass of your favorite wine in your hand, you may want to do a little math.
That glass of wine represents about 75 grapes, which is approximately the number of grapes contained on the average grape cluster. The typical vine will contain about forty clusters of grapes so each vine will produce slightly less than a case of wine.

There are about 400 vines to the acre. Those 400 vines typically produce 5 tons of grapes which will fill just over 13 wine barrels, the equivalent of slightly less than 4,000 bottles of wine or just over 330 cases. That means the acre of grapes that produced the glass of wine you’re holding probably produced over 17,000 additional glasses of wine.

Each of the above barrels required about 1200 clusters of grapes or roughly about 90,000 single grapes. That represents less than 10% of the yield from the average vineyard acre.

Oh, did we mention the barrel is probably oak. Out of the hundreds of species of oak, less than 2 dozen are suitable for barrel making and less than 10% of those are utilized for high-end wine barrels. The average age of a French oak tree utilized for wine barrels is 175 years old.

That’s a lot to think about as you sip!

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Good Wine Adds To The Occaission

Good enjoyable wine becomes even more enjoyable when you discover something new to enjoy it with. It’s one of the fun things about good wine: it never ceases to offer you something new to learn or something new to taste and experience.

A recent family visit by my son and his girlfriend during the celebration of my wife’s birthday offered just such an opportunity. The cuisine was Thai with an assortment of chicken, seafood and vegetable dishes. I’ve long been a fan of enjoying a good sake’ with Thai food, nigori in particular. However, since the meal was in honor of the fetching Mrs. Wine Guy, who is no fan of sake’, I reached into the cellar for a 2003 Grant Burge Barossa The Holy Trinity.

Grant Burge is a fifth generation vigneron in Australia’s famed Barossa Valley, renown for great Shiraz. The Holy Trinity is a Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvedre blend. All grapes are sourced from Burge’s Barossa vineyards and are all old-vine sourced. The vines range in age from well over 50 to 120+ years. That and some careful winemaking in the Southern Rhone tradition produces a wonderful blend that has drawn critical acclaim for a number of years. My 2003 vintage had received a 91-point rating from Robert Parker at release five years ago and also scored a 91 at the recent 2010 Australian Wine Competition. This silky wine offered complex aromas and tastes with a smoothness that balanced and complimented the myriad flavors in the Thai dishes on our table. While I have long been a fan of Grant Burge Wines in general and The Holy Trinity in particular, I truly enjoyed the discovery of a pairing that, somewhat to my surprise, worked extremely well.

It was at the conclusion of the meal that the significance of this enjoyable experience really hit me. We had enjoyed a traditional Thai family dinner preceded by a Mexican appetizer served with an Australian wine that was produced in a traditional French manner and aged in a combination of French and American oak.

Isn’t the exploration of the versatility of wine a wonderful thing?

Go and enjoy some exploration of your own.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Beaujolais and The Grape It Comes From

Most consumers are not familiar with Gamay but are familiar with Beaujolais wine. This French A.O.C. utilizes the Gamy grape as the component of its red wine, noted for softness and fruit forward characteristics.

Gamay has been grown in the Beaujolais region of France since the middle 1300’s and derives its name from a French Village. It is a thin skinned, low tannin grape that produces high yields, ripens early and has a tendency to be highly acidic. That tendency is modified, however, when grown in highly acidic soil and the characteristic fruitiness of the wine that comes from the Gamay grape is further enhanced by carbonic maceration.

Gamay is hybrid cross of Pinot Noir and the white varietal Gouais. Gouais is believed to have originated in south central Europe and was thought to have been brought to France by the Romans. It was known as “the grape of the peasants” but now is almost extinct. It is noted today because it led to the development of many of the white varietals utilized today in France and Germany. It also has highly influenced the genetic tree of the Gamay grape. Karen Mac Neil, authoress of “The Wine Bible” called Beaujolais “the only white wine that happens to be red”.

Gamay can also be found in very limited quantities and usage in the Loire Valley of France, in Canada, in Australia and in Oregon. There has been, in the past, many wines labeled “Napa Gamay” out of California but with some rare exceptions, nearly all of those were based on Valdigue, a grape with similar characteristics that once was thought to be a Gamay clone. It originated in the Languedoc Roussillon where it is mostly utilized in producing industrial alcohol. In California, wine-makers have copied the Beaujolais vintner’s usage of carbonic maceration and have produced a Valdigue wine that is, indeed, quite similar to many of the Beaujolais wines being produced.

One place you will probably not find Gamay is in Burgundy. In 1395, Phillipe The Bold, Duke of Burgundy, outlawed Gamay as a grape inferior to the preferred Pinot Noir. His ban was reaffirmed later by another Duke of Burgundy named Phillipe and since then Pinot Noir has been the basis of French Burgundy.

Most U.S. consumer’s early experience with Beaujolais has come with the introduction each year of Beaujolais Nouveau on the third Thursday in November. This quickly produced, young version of Beaujolais is rushed to market each year and accounts for nearly half of the region’s annual production of Beaujolais. There are many stories about the origin of the tradition but it comes back to basically being a marketing scheme to increase sales by Georges Dubouef. This Burgundian negociant is one of the leading producers of Beaujolais.

If you’ve never tried Beaujolais, The Wine Guy recommends trying both Beaujolais Nouveau and the regular vintage Beaujolais, particularly those with the Beaujolais Villages appellation. Both Georges Dubouef and Louis Jadot are widely available in the U.S. Some of the estate vineyard bottlings of Beaujolais can be quite unique but are limited and much harder to find. To experience Californian Valdigue, try, in particular, J. Lohr Wildflower Valdigue.

Exploring wine is always a fun adventure. Treat yourself soon!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Tribute To Mrs. Wine Guy!

We normally think of the New Year as a time of renewal, but for The Wine Guy, this month is a significant milestone. It marks my first anniversary as a wine blogger, my fourth anniversary as a Wine Sommelier and the sixth anniversary of my first major winery exploration trip.
It even marks my first anniversary as a cancer survivor. It also marks a beginning. This month, Mrs. Wine Guy and I have begun planning our retirement together. Readers have often read my references to the fetching Mrs. Wine Guy. She has been a constant source of motivation and encouragement over the years (now numbering close to 40). It is she who first encouraged me to take a passing interest in wine and explore it more fully. It is she who has supported and encouraged me in all my most significant endeavors and has shared in the exploration of life's most enjoyable adventures.

In celebration of this time of renewal and in honor of an outstanding partner in life, as well as the exploration of wine, this week’s post is a pictorial tribute to her. She is the lady who has shared glasses of wine with me across continents and in a variety of countries and settings. Not unlike a favorite well-crafted wine, she is always a pleasure to be with.

In case you are curious. Mrs. Wine Guy’s favorite wines are:

Red: Santa Ema Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon or L.A. Cetto Nebbiolo Riserva Privada

White: Jean Luc Colombo Viognier La Violette

I think a toast to the Lady of My Life with one of those would be an appropriate way to say “thank you” for all her support and encouragement.

Here’s to Mrs. Wine Guy!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Last Winery in Los Angeles!

Regular readers know by now that I am fond of exploring wine history and am fascinated by the influence of the Italians on the development of good winemaking here in the Americas. In my blog of 1/14/10, “Two American Wine Pioneers” I talked about the Guasti Family who built the Italian Vineyard Company of Southern California into the world’s largest vineyard and winery prior to prohibition. Southern California was THE area for wine production back then and the Los Angeles River basin was home to over 100 wineries. Then came prohibition, which most wineries didn’t survive. Some turned to sacramental wine production to carry them through. The J. Fillipi Winery in Rancho Cucamonga, another example of the Italian influence, still bottles the Guasti sacramental wine. The subject of my blog today, however, is yet another great southern California Italian winemaking family, the Ribolis, and their San Antonio Winery . It is the only winery still operating today within the city limits of Los Angeles.

San Antonio Winery was one of the most successful survivors of prohibition utilizing the sacramental wine strategy. They remain dedicated to that segment of their customer base today, producing over 60,000 cases of sacramental wine per year. But they also do a whole lot more.

The winery, named for Saint Anthony, was actually founded by a native Lombardian, Santo Cambianica in the Lincoln Heights district of L.A. (northeast of downtown) in 1917. He later brought over his Italian nephew Stefano Riboli and Stefano's wife, Maddalena, to assist in the operation of the facility. Together Santo and Stefano made a conscious decision to remain in Los Angeles when the California wine industry migrated. They did, however, invest in vineyards. They were early purchasers of vineyard land in Napa County’s Rutherford appellation. They also have vineyards in such prestigious wine areas as Alexander Valley in Sonoma, the Santa Maria Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, Arroyo Secco, Soledad and in Paso Robles. A secondary production facility (and tasting center) has since developed in the L.A. metro area in the suburban city of Ontario. In addition to the San Antonio label, they produce wines under 8 different labels. They also serve as importers for about 200 brands of wine from Italy, France, Chile, Austria and Spain. They appear to be involved in, and dedicated to all types of wine.

Two of their most popular choices with consumers reflect that diversity. One is San Antonio Cardinale American, a classic non-vintage concord grape based table wine. Another is San Antonio Hermitage, a classic aged Rhone blend of Syrah, Petit Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache. There’s a good two dozen and more choices in between, not counting the other wines they import and/or offer. All this occurs at their well appointed tasting room and retail center that operates alongside the Maddalena Cuccina restaurant at the winery’s home on Lamar street in L.A. (see photos above). It all makes for an enjoyable visit, though sometimes it can become quite crowed. It’s history, touring opportunities, tasting options, as well as the good food in Maddalena's has made San Antonio Winery a popular tourist destination. It hosts nearly 200,000 visitors a year.

The fetching Mrs. Wine Guy and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit (and lunch) there. We hope to enjoy a return visit the next time we’re in the area. A tip from the Wine Guy if you plan to visit as well: the tasting selections available in the tasting room will vary. If some of the wines aren’t being poured, they may be available by the glass in Maddalena’s if you plan on eating there.

My favorite of the red wine selections was the aforementioned San Antonio Heritage which I thought was much superior to the also prestigious San Antonio Cask 520, A Bordeaux style blend aged in both French and American oak.

One of the better choices in the whites is the Maddalena Pinot Grigio, produced on the premises with juice sourced from Monterey. This crisp white with green apple overtones got a Double Gold and best of class at the California State Fair.

When you're at San Antonio Winery, don’t forget a visit to the trophy case. It's worth taking time to absorb some of the great historical significance of this unique winery, the last one standing in the City of Angels. It’s a fun visit and a slightly different kind of winery experience. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Try a Rose'

It’s summer and by all accounts, it’s going to be a hot one across the country. (It’s always a hot one in The Wine Guy’s Arizona home….we think we’ve cooled off when the daily high gets below 105!)
Summer is a time when many wine drinkers switch to rose’.

Rose’ refers to wines which are not fully red but have enough of a color tinge to them to make them clearly not a white either. The color in a rose’ can range from a very pale orange to nearly purple dependent on the grapes utilized and how the rose is produced.

There are three principal methods of producing rose’:


Here simply blending red and white varietals creates the effect. It is a practice now less accepted by most, but not all, major producers. It is most commonly utilized in the production of some sparkling rose’ wines.

Saignee (or “bleeding the vat”):

Here the rose’ is produced by removing some of the pink juice from the must in the early stages of maceration. This early juice is then fermented into a rose wine. It is believed this practice may have been developed by some wine makers principally to enrich and enhance the color and concentration of the later red wine. Regardless of intent, it also results in the production of some good rose’ wine.

Limited Contact:

This method focuses on the intentional limitation of skin contact time in maceration in order to produce a lighter color and tannin content in wine produced from red grapes. This is the preferred method for producing most fine dry roses and the most common rose’ method utilized.

Overall, rose’s are noted for their lightness and crispness and are generally simpler than their heavier-weight counterparts made from the same grapes. This has led to their popularity as summer wines. They are generally very affordable, as well. However, you can find rose’s in nearly all price ranges, including some knockout sparkling rose’s from the Champagne region of France that hit the market at $500 per bottle or more.

One of America’s old favorites is Lancer’s Rose from Portugal (it dates back to 1944). Many boomers will attest to Lancer’s as having been one of their first wines. It is produced with red grapes that are totally separated from their skins. Fresh red grape juice and yeast is later added and additional fermentation takes place. A final round of adding grape juice occurs just before bottling to adjust sweetness.

One of America’s current favorites, White Zinfandel, is actually a relative newcomer to the world of rose’s and occurred by accident in the 70’s at a winery in California. In the process of creating a rose’ of Zinfandel, the fermentation of the wine became “stuck” due to the yeast dying off before all the sugar was fermented into alcohol. The resultant wine was bottled anyway and the rest, as they say, is history. The term “blush” came into popularity a short time later when a Mill Creek Vineyards winemaker created a Cabernet Sauvignon that was pink in color and slightly sweet. Not wanting to call the wine “white Cabernet Sauvignon, the winery took seriously a joking suggestion from wine writer Jerry Mead and called the wine a “Blush” for its blushing pink color.

Since that time, domestic rose’s from the U.S. have tended to be softer, fruitier and sweeter, especially those referred to as a “white” red varietal or as a “blush”. European rose’s, on the other hand, have a greater tendency to fuller in flavor characteristics and drier. If you’re approaching rose’s for the first time it may serve you well to consider what style of red or white you most frequently enjoy. If you tend to the sweeter whites such as riesling, gewürztraminer or moscato, or the lighter softer, un-oaked reds, then a white zinfandel, white merlot, many of the blush wines and/or a rose’ of pinot noir would probably be a good starting point for your exploration. If you enjoy heavier weight, oaked whites or full-bodied reds, I’d suggest looking towards the drier, more traditional rose’s such as those produced in Southern France, Spain and one of my favorite sources for dry rose’s: South Africa.

Here are a few recommendations from The Wine Guy to consider as you explore the world of rose’ wine:

Sutter Home White Zinfandel or Sutter Home White Merlot:
Two sweeter-style rose’s that come from the people who first created White Zinfandel by accident. (White Merlot is made the same way as White Zinfandel and first became popular in the 90’s). If you enjoy fruity, sweeter wines, this is your rose’ of choice. Just be prepared to shrug off snide comments from wine-snobs who will accuse you of drinking alcoholic kool-aid.

Francis Coppola Sofia California Rose’:
This rose’ of Pinot Noir offers mostly strawberry and cherry flavors with a hint of raspberries and rose petals on the nose. It has uniquely been offered in cans which boaters in my home state of Arizona (and elsewhere) love. Rose of Pinot Noir is a great intermediate bridge between the fruity and sweet California blushes and the drier, fuller old-world rose’s.

(Note from The Wine Guy: A favorite Pinot Noir Rose comes from the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara and is made by winemaker David Carr but unfortunately less than 100 cases at a time. Try it and pick up some if you ever visit his winery on the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail).

Tapena Rose:
This Castilian producer offers a nice Spanish rose’ that blends Grenacha and Monastrell with a light touch of Shiraz. Look for cherry and strawberry laced with light citrus acidity followed by a soft smooth, somewhat mineral finish.

Casal Garcia Vinho Verde Rose’:
Better known for their white Vinho Verde wines, this Portuguese producer makes an effervescent, low alcohol (about 10%) rose with bright berry fruit flavors. The wine is made from three Portuguese red varietals: Azal Tinto, Barracao and Vinhao.

Falset-Marca Etim Roset Monsant:
Grenacha and Syrah from the Priorat region of Spain form the basis for this rose. It offers strawberry and raspberry with a hint of peach that lingers on the nice finish. A very well balanced wine.

Les Deux Rives Corbieres Rose:
The French love their rose’ and they produce some of the best dry rose made. This one hails from the Languedoc-Roussillon and combines the varietals of Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah. Look for raspberry and strawberry flavors and a light tanginess with the finish.

Chateau Campuget Costieres de Nimes Rose’:
Syrah and Grenache are the basis for this wine. The producer’s family has a 370-year history of winemaking in France’s Rhone valley. Look for some cherry and currant notes with the typical raspberry found in most roses. You’ll enjoy this wine’s long fruity finish.

Mulderbosch Stellenbosch Rose’:
Out of one of South Africa’s premier regions comes this Rose’ of Cabernet Sauvignon. Look for berry flavors accented by a hint of pomegranate and light spice followed by a nice long and lingering finish.

Juno Cape Maidens Pinotage Rose’:
South Africa’s signature grape, Pinotage, forms the basis for this rose’. Plum and cherry fruit flavors abound and some find a hint of banana. There are more tannins than in the typical rose but they are soft and smooth. This is a unique and well-made dry rose from the Paarl region of South Africa.

These are just a few examples. Rose’ wines offer a wealth of possibilities for your enjoyment. Go ahead and explore them for yourself. Just remember, a good rose’ is enjoyable anytime, not just in summer!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Italian IGT's Are Worth Exploring

Italy is the world’s largest wine producing country and is the number one supplier of wine imports to the U.S. (Italian wines count for about 1/3rd of all U.S. wine imports). It is the home of The Wine Guy’s favorite wines and you’ll almost always find about a dozen different Italian selections in my wine stocks. The range of Italian wines I keep on hand will range anywhere from a highly rated Brunello di Montalcino (always at least one of those!) to an everyday affordable Pinot Grigio. The selections always include a fair number of IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) wines.

As a case in point, the photograph above is of the current IGT wines that were in my on-hand stock as I wrote this blog. The Indicazione Geografica Tipica classification for Italian wines was introduced in 1992 as a supplement to the established D.O.C. (Denomiazone di Origine Controllata) and D.O.C.G. (Denomiazone di Originine Controllata e Garantita) classifications. Prior to that time, non DOC or DOCG wines from Italy were Vino Da Tavola, a generic description given to wines made without any controls or quality requirements other than the simple fact that they are produced in Italy. The DOC and DOCG classifications were begun in the 60’s and were patterned after the French appellation system. Wines in those classifications must be made in specified government defined zones and in accordance to particular regulations (inclusive of varietals permitted) that strive to preserve each individual region’s wine characteristics.

The impetus for creating the IGT classification principally came from quality producers who were utilizing foreign grape varietals to broaden the export appeal of their local wines. The region most associated with that effort was Tuscany, where the utilization of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as blended additions to Sangiovese wines gave rise to the consumer-marketing term “Super-Tuscans”.
It should be noted, however, that some DOC,s in Italy (the Sant Antimo DOC, for one) DO permit international varietals but have very specific restrictions on what can be utilized, on permitted yields and specific controls on production and bottling). It is more accurate to characterize IGT wines as wines that reflect the character of an Italian wine region but for various reasons , do not fully meet the stricter requirements of the D.O.C. or D.O.C.G.s in the that region. Wines included in an IGT wine must be from an approved list (currently more than 3 dozen international varietals are on the list in addition to the varietals already approved for established DOC or DOCG). IGT wine labels may contain the name of the region, grape varieties and vintage year. In a couple of area’s toward Italy’s northern border regions, the terms Vin de Pays and Landwein (corresponding to the regional wine terms utilized in France and Germany) are permitted to be substituted for the IGT designation.

The original intent of the IGT classification was to create a higher quality classification that would segregate these wines from the often common and lesser desirability of the vast number of vino de tavola wines produced in Italy. However, there are now so many that the classification covers wines that range from being barely marketable to classically-rated and collectible wines. Much as with our U.S. wines, the classification itself does not insure a satisfactory nor satisfying purchase. Here, you will either have to rely upon reliable recommendations from trusted sources or your own due diligence and exploration. Don’t let that deter you, however, from trying wines with the IGT designation. There are numerous excellent, even superb wines to be found and many are excellent bargains.

Here’s a recap of the ones pictured above in The Wine Guy’s current inventory:

Allegrini Palazzo della Torre Veronese IGT:

Allegrini’s use of Sangiovese instead of Molinara in the region’s traditional blend of Corvina, Rodinella and Molinara as well as his 70/30 blending of conventionally fermented grapes with “late harvested grapes for refermentation “Ripassa” style makes this an IGT wine but doesn’t halt its critical accolades which include having been named to Wine Spectators Annual Top 100 list five times in the past eleven years. It’s ability to pair wonderfully with food and to develop a plethora of nuances, as well as its under $25 affordability has made it among The Wine Guy’s top ten favorite Italian wines for a long time (see “An Old Friend Comes To Dinner” in the blog archives, 8/4/09).

Selvagrossa Muschen Marche IGT:

Relative newcomers Alberto and Alesandro Taddei began their Selvagrossa vineyards and winery in 2002 on an estate inherited from their grandfather and it was the grandfather’s nickname for Alberto, Muschen (“Little Fly”), that gave the name to this blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Nice fruit flavors with soft round tannins that come stainless steel aging are highlights of this wine that pair beautiful with almost any red pasta sauce.

Antinori Tormaresca Neprica Puglia Russo IGT:

From the world’s sixth largest but one of its most overlooked wine regions comes this bold and beautiful blend of Negramaro, Primitivo and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Antinori family has been producing wine for 26 generations. You usually find this proud example of their efforts priced under $15.

Tenimente Angelini Tutto Bene Toscana Russo IGT:

Tutto Bene translates as either “Everything is Good” or “”All is Well” from the Italian and that comes pretty close to describing this under $10 bargain. You’re likely to find some unfiltered sediment in this Merlot, Caniolo and Sangiovese blend and it’s not a strong candidate for developing in the cellar but it’s an affordable, fair, everyday Russo that you can easily enjoy with your favorite pizza. The Angelini’s also bottle a Tutto Bene Toscana Bianco IGT which blends Chardonnay, Trebbiano and Vermentino.

Banfi CentineToscana IGT:

A conventional “Super-Tuscan” from Montalcino blending Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and then aging the blend in oak barrels for six months. A great wine for your next grill-out that’s affordably priced under $15. Mrs. Wine and I were fortunate enough to first enjoy this wine several years in our visit to Castello Banfi.

These are just a few of the hundreds of IGT wines from Italy awaiting your inspection and approval. Let me know if you would like to see more featured on Roger’s Grapevine or feel free to add a comment with some of your recommended favorites. Enjoy your search.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

An Anniversary for Roger's Grapevine

Roger's Grapevine is one year old today. In honor of the occasion, The Wine Guy is re-posting the very first blog I published. (It appears to missing from the archives so, hopefully, I'm not being overly redundant in doing so).

Over the past year year, readership has ebbed and flowed, but I've enjoyed the attempt to pass along my thoughts and reflections and have learned a lot in the process. I hope you, as a reader, have found something relevant and enjoyable among my random selection of musings. If so, drop me a line (rogerthewineguy@gmail.com) and let me know. It will help me to do a better job as I continue to move forward with this blog. Remember, any of your comments, your questions and your topic suggestions are always welcome. Thanks for stopping by and I hope your visit(s) has (have) been worthwhile. It's time to go pop a cork in celebration and get ready for the next posting. Thanks again for your readership!


Great Ialian Food & Wine Just South of The Border:

My wife and I have traveled repeatedly to Mexico, mostly to the central highlands, but we also enjoy the Guadalupe Valley in Baja Norte. I'm always pleased at the quality of Italian food I find in restaurants south of the border and, more importantly, at the quality of Italian varietals I find from Mexican winemakers.

L.A. Cetto is one label probably well known to cruise ship passengers that dock at Ensenada as well as anyone who looked for Mexican wines on either side of the frontera (border region). While they produce some inexpensive fruity reds and whites, it pays to dig a little deeper. This Mexican winery produces one of the best Nebbiolos I 've ever had outside of Italy! ( I was also fairly pleased with their Don Luis Seleccion Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon.) Another Guadalupe Valley producer, Chateau Domecq, does a quite suitable Cabernet Sauvignon-Nebbiolo blend. Among the other Mexican vintners whose Italian varietals you may want to seek out are Monte Xanic, Casa Madero (America's oldest continuous winemaker) and Freixenet-Mexico. Dig into the history of most Mexican wineries and you'll discover an Italian connection, either in founding ownership or in the winemakers who put them on the map (As an exception, Freixienet, of course, is a branch of Spain's largest cava producer).

The old adage about good wine follows good food appears to be alive and well in old Mexico, as well. With little exception, all the reputable Italian restaurants we tried in Mexico were ventures well worth taking and that's no small compliment from The Wine Guy who gained ten pounds cruising through Tuscany in his Smart Car rental! If you plan to travel through central Mexico, here's a few recommendations: El Nahal in Tlaquepaque, L'Invito and Bella Italia in San Miguel and the restaurant at the Hotel San Diego in Guanajuato(Mr & Mrs Wine Guy pictured at same). If you love Italian wine and food as I do, don't despair if your travel plans take you south of the border. It appears our Mexican neighbors revere Italian cuisine as much as we do!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Exploring Restaurant Wine Lists Is A Good Idea!

There are a number of sources through which the average consumer tastes a new wine. Wine tasting events at a winery operated tasting room or sponsored by a seller of wine are always a great source because they usually involve someone with good (although probably biased) knowledge and information regarding the wines being poured. Social events, particularly with friends and acquaintances, are also a common exposure to new wines. Year in and year, however, the most frequently mentioned source by regular wine consumers for experiencing new wines is while dining in a restaurant.

While restaurant wine lists and the thought of seeking wine advice might intimidate some, it’s often one of the best places for the average consumer to seek out and try new wines. The key qualifier is, of course, selecting a restaurant that chooses its wine lists carefully and spends time educating and exposing its staff to the offerings available. Most good establishments do just that.
In addition, the average server’s income is directly dependent on seeing that you enjoy your dining experience. A good server is going to be candid and cautious in guiding you to a wine selection if you are as equally candid about your desires, expectations and, of course, budget.

Summertime is a particularly good time to exercise your sense of exploration while dining out. During the warmer summer months, especially in off-peak dining nights, many restaurants offer incentives and discounts on both wine-by-the-glass and by the bottle to address the natural decline in volume. One of my regular sources for pizza, Grimaldi’s, offers one night each week in June where bottles are discounted 50% and the prices approach regular retail. (For a discussion of restaurant wine pricing, visit the archives and review my blog on wine pricing from 9/10/09). This promotion never fails to get me exploring the wine list or seeking a recommendation from my server.

Tasting events, trade shows, winery visits and industry samples remain the top sources for The Wine Guy for most of the new wines I sample and write about. However, I regularly take advantage of the opportunity to sample a new wine in the restaurants I visit. Here are just a few of the recent wines I’ve tried during a restaurant outing:

Jean Luc Colombo La Violette Viognier @ The Stonehouse, San Ysidro Ranch, Ca.
(See recent blog, Good Friends, Good Food & Good Wine Make for a Great Evening 6/8/10)

Stolpman Estate Syrah @ Emilio’s Restaurante, Santa Barbara, Ca.

Skouras St. George Nemea @ The Greek At The Harbor, Ventura, Ca.

Yves Breussin Val De Loire Vouvrey Sec @ Petit Valentein, Santa Barbara, Ca.
(See photo with server Justin above)

Margerum Santa Ynez Valley M5 @ Los Olivos Café, Los Olivos, Ca.

San Antonio Heritage Paso Robles Red Rhone Blend @ Magddaelena, Los Angeles

I wouldn’t have missed the experience of any one of the above wines and a few have since been added to my on-hand collection at home. The moral of my story: don’t be afraid to venture forth and enjoy something new when you’re dining out. With a little help, the odds are, you’ll be adding some new wines to your list of enjoyable favorites.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Carr Winery, One to Watch in Santa Barbara!

During our recent visit to Santa Barbara, Mrs. Wine Guy and I did a portion of the Urban Wine Trail in the city of Santa Barbara, revisiting some familiar tasting rooms and seeking some new discoveries. Of those discoveries, the most enjoyable was in a converted Quonset hut on Salsipuedes Street (see photos), the home of Carr Winery.

Owned by Ryan Carr, this winery sources its grapes from a number of Santa Barbara vineyards. All are clients of a vineyard management company founded by Ryan in partnership with Andy Kahn. Ryan learned viniculture and wine making “hands-on” after returning to California from the University of Arizona where he degreed in graphic design. His first wine totaled 10 cases and was made in a garage but today he produces in excess of 3,000 cases annually. In addition to the Santa Barbara’s favorite, Pinot Noir, Carr also produces Pinot Gris, Grenache, Cabernet Franc and Syrah.

His Pinot Noir is flavorfully competitive in a land full of good Pinot Noir and his Paredon Vineyards Grenache was viable, as well, with smooth, supple round tannins and a hint of tobacco on the nose. It was, however his Syrah and his Cabernet Franc which captured most of The Wine Guy’s attention.

The 2007 Carr Vineyards and Winery Cabernet Franc utilizes grapes from two vineyards in the Santa Ynez valley and has a light but appealing nose with good blueberry and herbal flavors. There was a slight acidity to the wine and the somewhat crisp edge to the finish hinted of a wine that was still young in its presentation. The fullness of the tannins suggested there was both room and potential for improvement with ageing. For that reason it was one of the wines I choose to bring home.

Both the Carr Santa Barbara Syrah and the Paredon Syrah offered black fruit flavors accented with spice and distinctive moist leather palpability on the palate. The 18-months of oak aging and slightly higher (15%) alcohol content of the Carr label offered a little more accent on the spice. The Paredon Syrah was very smooth, well balanced and had a pleasant lingering finish. It too made the list for wine to bring home

I learned much of Ryan’s story and history after returning home and researching his background. His dedication to beginning the development of the wine in the vineyard and his work with other growers and winemakers in learning his craft while having his sense of style and purpose remind me a great deal of Eric Glomski of Paige Spring Cellars in Arizona. Both these young developing winemakers deserve to be watched as trailblazers and both have the potential to produce some outstanding wines in the future.

If you elect to the Urban Wine Trail on a future visit to Santa Barbara, make the Carr Vineyards and Winery a must stop on your tasting tour!

A supplemental note from The Wine Guy:

The two Syrah from Ryan Carr were among a group of five enjoyable and very well made Syrah that I tasted during my stay in Santa Barbara. All five had some unique and common flavor characteristics that lead me to believe Santa Barbara has the opportunity to produce a signature style in this varietal.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Discovering some sweet whites in Santa Barbara

It’s been at least five years since The Wine Guy visited Santa Barbara Wine country. When I recently took some friends there for an exploration getaway, I discovered a lot of things haven’t changed, but a few have.

The hype over the movie “Sideways” has abated a bit but Santa Barbara still remains a consummate tourist destination, sometimes stopping just short of “kitchsy”. However, even in the highly tourist oriented village of Solvang, there is always abundant things worth exploring and fun to be had. Our entourage, armed with a quick breakfast that included the requisite (and delicious) homemade Danish pastry headed out to explore shopping and wine tasting in a community that offers both in abundance. We made an obligatory stop in one of the great Christmas shops that operates here year around. (Mrs. Wine Guy decorates five trees every holiday season and is always on the lookout for something new!). With well over 100 wineries now listed as members of the Santa Barbara Vintner’s Association and nearly two dozen wine bars and tasting rooms in the tiny village of Solvang alone, there’s much to choose from. Santa Barbara wines are far from limited to the Pinot Noir made famous by the movie. In fact, the variety of wines being offered by Santa Barbara winemakers is very reflective of the wide diversity of microclimates in the region.

At the Mandolina tasting room, the Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards offer a wide sampling of Italian varietals. Co-owner Louis Lucas has a thirty-five year history in the area. His vineyards utilize cuttings brought from Italy and bottled under the Mandolina brand. Mandolina’s bolder Italian reds (Nebbiolo and Barbera), while quite drinkable, offered a little imbalance with a slight tendency to bite or burn on the finish. The best red offering was a nicely balanced, bright cherry Sangiovese with a moderate finish. The room’s standout offering was a Malvasia Bianco, a refreshing, gently sweet and aromatic offering that smacked of apricot and white peach. It’s an unusual varietal for not only Santa Barbara County, but also California as a whole, and, sadly, only four acres of their Los Alamos vineyard are dedicated to this grape.

Whites held the day, as well, at the co-owned Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards tasting room just a couple of blocks away. Lemon and orange aromas and flavors were accented with a touch of clover honey in a very respectable late harvest Viognier. We also discovered a pair of excellent aperitifs in two Late Harvest Sauvignon Blancs, both containing a stout 14% residual sugar. The latter, labeled “Sommeil en Barrique” (French for “slept in barrel”) benefited from 12 months aging in French oak barrels. Friend Kent (pictured above with The Wine Guy and our tasting steward) preferred the un-oaked variety while Mrs. Wine Guy and I opted for the greater depth offered by the oaked style. Both went home with us for later enjoyment.

Tasting room visitors may also want to sample the Lucas & Lewellen Silver King Port. It’s an unusual fortified late harvest merlot. It’s fruit forward sweetness makes it nice for serving with chocolate (in fact, the tasting room offers the taste in a chocolate tasting cup). It was a nice dessert offering but probably not the body style that true port aficionados would rave about.

There are a lot of excellent Santa Barbara wines to be found in an area that abounds with great food, good accommodations and great fun but all priced slightly on the high side. Here are a few wines, I’d recommend you sample when you’re in the area:

LaFond Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir
Stolpman Vineyards Estate Syrah
Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir
Sanford Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir
Zaca Mesa Vineyards Estate Z-Blanc
Carr Winery Paredon Syrah

There are a number of excellent Syrahs coming out of Santa Barbara County and they have an expression that is somewhat unique to that area. In a blog entitled “Que Sera, Syrah?” (see Roger’s Grapevine archive for blog of 9/30/09), I discussed the ability of this grape to grown in diverse regions and offer great representation of the environment in which it’s grown. There may be a potential for Santa Barbara winemakers to create a signature Syrah for their region.

I have a few more stories to tell in upcoming blogs about our Santa Barbara Wine country visit, including a look at the wines of one of the area’s up and coming young winemakers, David Carr. Please stop back for those and, in the interim, enjoy a great glass of wine.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Good Friends, Good Food & Good Wine Make for a Great Evening!

Over the Memorial Day week, Mr. & Mrs. Wine Guy shared an exploration of Santa Barbara wine country with our good friends, Kent and Kara. (pictured above on the left with Mr. & Mrs. Wine Guy to the right) We were both honored and delighted when we were asked to share an anniversary celebration dinner at the acclaimed Stonehouse at the San Ysidro Ranch in nearby Montecito. What an enjoyable evening it turned out to be.

The Stonehouse is a former fruit-packing house now converted to house a pair of restaurants in the ranch’s resort hotel setting. San Ysidro Ranch served as the site for the Lawrence Olivier-Vivian Leigh wedding and for John and Jackie Kennedy’s honeymoon. Its restaurants have won James Beard culinary awards and the wine list has earned a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. For our friends, for us, as well as countless other couples seeking an ambiance suited to a special romantic occasion, it proved to be a great choice.

While our friends enjoyed steak and seafood, the fetching Mrs. Wine Guy and I enjoyed a delightfully smooth, rich and creamy spaghetti al limone. Best of all was our paired wine, a Jean Luc Colombo Viognier La Viollette. This very well balanced white offered scents of lemon and honeysuckle on the nose with bright pear, honeydew and peach flavors that blended into the a palate caressing finish. The Wine Guy has long been a fan of Viognier and this wine ranks not only among the most enjoyable but also among as the most unique Viogniers I’ve had.

Uniqueness is an attribute that is often applied to many of Jean Luc Colombo’s wines. This versatile oenologist, vigneron, negociant and consultant has made quite an impact over the past couple of decades in France. Raised in a culinary family (both his mother and grandmother were chefs) he has served as a consultant to scores of French wine growers and winemakers and has been innovative in his own wine growing and wine making methods. He believes in 100% de-stemming and utilization of older vines and lower yields. He also places importance on longer maceration periods, often involving both stainless still and oak vessels for that part of the winemaking process as well as for aging. The result is wines that achieve fruit forwardness without sacrificing elegance and expression of terroir. His wines are usually characterized with great acid balance and drinkability both in their youth and after periods of ageing. I’ve previously enjoyed many of his reds, particularly his Syrah and Cotes du Rhone. This was my first experience with one of his whites and I clearly wasn’t disappointed.

This Viognier is sourced from grapes grown on 20-year old in the Languedoc-Roussillon (Colombo was responsible for introducing the varietal there and not being a traditional varietal accounts for the wine’s Vin de Pays d’Oc designation). 80% of the wine was macerated in stainless steel and 20% in oak barrels. Six months of ageing on the lees followed with 70% occurring in tanks and 30% in barrels ranging in age from one to three years. The resultant depth of fruit expression and creaminess contributes to the uniqueness of this Viognier. It also makes it quite suitable as an aperitif and it may be in that regard that my readers would most enjoy this wine.

For red wine drinkers who want to experience the uniqueness of Jean Luc Colombo’s wines, I would recommend his Les Abielles Cotes du Rhone. If you’re willing to spend a little more, a must try Syrah recommendation would be his Les Means Cornas

To good friends, Kent & Kara, thank you for a wonderful evening and for allowing us the honor of sharing your special occasion. May you be blessed with many more years of happiness together

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Montepulciano d'Abruzzo: Everyman's Everyday Italian Red Wine

Regular readers of Roger’s Grapevine are well acquainted with The Wine Guy’s affinity for both Italian food and Italian wines. While Sangiovese Grosso (Brunello di Montalcino) and Nebbiolo (especially in a good Barolo) will always top my list when asked about my favorite Italian varietals, those are my luxury choices. When it comes to everyday wine, good for pairing with just about any Italian food dish you can name, a must-be-included on the favorites list has to be Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo.

Montepulciano is a high yielding, late harvest grape and the dominant red varietal in the central east coast region of Abruzzo. It produces plump, juicy grapes which somewhat modifies the need for yield reduction in producing good wine. The resultant wines are of deep color with herbal aromas and dark red fruit tastes often touched with a hint of licorice. The tannins are generally softer and suppler and that makes this a very approachable wine for many consumers. While traditionally produced as a wine designed to be drunk quite young, there are many current Montepulciano wines being produced with good age capabilities and characteristics.

The first recorded history of wine made from Montepulciano dates back to 1793 referencing a red wine found near the Abruzzo village of Sulmona. Sulmona is probably better known as the hometown of the Roman poet, Ovid. Commercially cultivated for over 200 years, Montepulciano received its DOC designation as Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo from the Italian authorities in1968. In 1995 an additional designation was granted for Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo Colline Teamano (a sub-region in the northern part of Abruzzo) . That wine was gained DOCG status in 2003. The principal differences lie in blending requirements which permit up to 15% Sangiovese in the Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo but only 10% for the latter DOCG. Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo Colline Teamano also requires some aging on wood (notably, it can be either oak or chestnut) as well as an additional year of aging in order to be designated as riserva.

Montepulciano can also be found as a less dominant, but still principal varietal ingredient in wines from the Marches region, just north of Abruzzo. Those wines are Rosso Conero and Rosso Piceno. The more renown Vino Nobile d’Montepulciano wine is NOT from this area and is NOT based on the Montepulciano grape. It is rather, a sangiovese-based wine that hails from Montepulciano in Tuscany.

Here are a couple of representations of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo that The Wine Guy has enjoyed in the past and that I feel confident in recommending to readers:

Capestrano Montepulciano d’Abruzzo:
This very affordably priced wine is aged in stainless steel and offers a great first entry into the tradition of this grape. It makes a great pasta wine and its soft tannins combine with high reservatrol and antioxidant levels to make it a great sipper for those whose doctors have recommended a regular glass of red wine as part of their cardiac health regimen.

Terra d’ Aligi Tolos Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo:
Produced strictly from old vine Montepulciano grapes, this beauty is typically aged in small French Oak casks for 18 months and then an additional year in the bottle. Here you’ll discover more body and slightly fuller tannins with a lingering finish.

Terra d’Aligi Tatone Montepulciano d’ Abbruzzo:
This wine did 24 months on Slavonic oak with additional bottle aging and has good cellar aging capabilities. The notes of licorice and tobacco sometimes found in Montepulciano become much more pronounced in this wine.

Abruzzo also produces a rose’ (Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo Cerasuolo) which has a very characteristic cherry color and strong red fruit flavors that have warranted some critical acclaim. I’ve yet to encounter this rose’ but have it on my hit list of wines to watch for and try. I would encourage each of you who enjoy Italian cuisine and wines to explore and sample a variety of the offerings of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. It’s has a great potential to be everyman’s everyday Italian wine.