About The Author:

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

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

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

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Wine Bars in Mexico

While rare in occurrence, it’s always a thrill for The Wine Guy to hear from a reader. A recent email commented on my frequency of blogs about wine and food in central Mexico. Noting that I had never mentioned Wine Bars, they were curious as to whether that was due to their scarcity or if I just had not frequented any in Mexico.

The Wine Guy has to confess that wine, for me, finds its best expression when paired with food. My favorite wines are those that continue to offer new nuances and discoveries each time I pair them with a different meal. A classic example is Allegrini’s Palazzo Della Torre (see my blog of 8/24/09 entitled “An Old Friend Comes to Dinner”). This wine offers something new each and every time I try it with a different meal! I also enjoy the romance and ambiance of having wine with food. Thus, over 90% of the wine I regularly consume is either with a meal at home or in a restaurant. Other than that, my exploration and trial of new wines usually occurs at trade shows, wineries, at tasting events or with trial samples given to me by importers or distributors. As a result, I’m not a frequent “Wine Bar” patron.

It is also true that wine bars are a little scarcer in Mexico…Mexican annual per capita wine consumption is quite low and consumption for locals is most often with meals and at home. As a result, most quality wine is found at retail or at wineries. The wine bar concept is generally limited to restaurants, resorts and hotels in tourist areas. When found separately, they are usually only found in metropolitan areas frequented by tourists or in communities with significant ex-patriot populations. Having said that, there are still some good ones to be found. By community of location, here are a few I’m familiar with enough to comment on or recommend:

Cabo San Lucas, Baja:
Try the D.O.C. Wine Bar & Restaurant near the Plaza Amelia Wilkes: It has a good selection and is a favorite among locals as well as tourists. The wine list changes frequently due to the logistics of getting product to the tip of the Baja peninsula, but it always has a good selection of domestic Mexican wines as well as a nice selection of imports.

Puerto Vallarta:
Habanero's, Benito Juarez & Constitucion in the Centro Historico, offers a good selection. The food at the co-owned Fernando’s Restaurant earns good reviews as well. More popular due to its rooftop deck view, but not having as great a wine selection, is the Skyview Bar at the Posada Freeman in the Olas district.


There are three possible choices here in this delightful, often overlooked (by Americans) tourist community in the heart of the state of Queretaro. All are just off the central plaza and jardin. The Freixenet Wine Bar offers over 50 selections but a better bet is to actually go the Frexienet Sala Vie Winery located just 20 minutes up the road. (See Roger’s Grapevine on 12/06/09 for more details on this winery) Service is also slow at the touristy Wine & Cheese Museum site, just off Carrizal and Independencia. It offers a nice exhibit in the patio courtyard with the additional benefit of buying local chesses to pair with your wine. Best bet is the nicely operated Todos A Beber on Manuel Mateus. It’s principally a retail shop with a nice but modest selection and the owner does know his wine. Also, they have some high top tables and offer snack trays if you want to enjoy your selection on premise.

San Miguel de Allende:

The wine bar & bistro in the Fabrica de Aurora attracts most tourists but has changed hands a couple of times and in two visits there, The Wine Guy was very disappointed with the level of both service and wine knowledge from the staff. Try enjoying the wine bars at Dos Casa Resort on Quebrada or at the popular Harry’s New Orleans Cafe on Hidalgo. For a great view, a fair selection, good service (not to mention two for one early afternoon specials) enjoy the rooftop La Azotea Wine Bar on Umaran just off the Jardin. It’s upstairs from the equally enjoyable Campo Viejo Restaurant. Both are among Mrs. Wine Guy’s favorite places to relax after shopping in SMA’s centro (she took the attached photo of The Wine Guy at La Azotea).


This beautiful and always lively university city has great restaurants, bars, nightspots and some good wine bars as well! El Abue is often recommended by local B&B’s and was recommended a few years back in the New York Times travel section. It can be hard to spot as it is located at the top of a flight of stairs on a hilly side street just off the Plaza Baratillo (see photo of The Wine Guy in front). It has slipped under its new owners but still offers a nice but ever changing carta de vini (wine list). The list is written on a pair of chalkboards on the wall (see photo…note prices are in pesos NOT U.S. dollars). One of your best wine bar bets in this city is El Chorcho de Baco (the cork of Bacchus) on Plaza San Fernando. While somewhat pricey for Mexico, they have a nice selection including some quality Mexican wines. During the day, their very upscale salads are best enjoyed in the courtyard below the bar that is shared with artisan retailers. On the weekend, come back in the evening and enjoy some live jazz with your wine and food.

If traveling to Mexico (or anywhere else for that matter) and you want to know about wine bars, do a little homework. Fodor’s and Frommer’s are always good sources but keep in mind that they are only accurate for a short period after their last visit. Wine bars and nightspots do seem to change hands frequently in tourist areas, especially Mexico. The Wine Guy likes to review traveler’s reviews on sites such Trip Advisor and I will deliberately review the most recent postings. Compare the most praising and most critical knowing the truth generally lies somewhere in between. If you travel mid week and off-season, be careful (and critical) when ordering wine-by-the-glass. Control over open bottles of wine is not always practiced well in Mexico. Due to high import tariffs, you will find the best wine values in Mexico are generally the better-made Mexican wines or Chilean wines which are imported tariff-free under a trade agreement between the two countries. Spanish, French and Italian selections round out the top of Mexico’s most imported wines. U.S. wines rank a distant fifth and are generally costlier than back home.

I hope this answers my reader's inquiry. Reader’s comments, questions and topic suggestions are always welcome either in the Grapevine comment feature or by email. Just send your emails to thewineguy@gmail.com.

Enjoy your next glass of wine. I always do!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Two American Wine Pioneers

This week, The Wine Guy has decided to regale Grapevine readers with a little bit of American wine history. Let’s begin with a short summary of some important milestones then move on to the background of two important figures in the American wine industry.

Compared to the old world origins of winemaking, we are comparative newcomers. Wine making in what is now the United States dates back less than 450 years ago. The earliest record of wine making occurred near Jacksonville, Florida in the early 1560’s. The grape utilized was a native varietal called Scuppernog, which would later become the informing grape in America’s first major brand name table wine (more on that later in the blog). While Texas often challenges Florida’s claim to being home of the first U.S. produced wine, it appears Texas wine was first produced in the 1650’s by Franciscan missionaries near what is now El Paso. An Italian immigrant established Texas’s first commercially viable winery in 1833 at Del Rio. The first wine production in California occurred in 1796 near San Diego at a Father Junipero Serra mission. The first commercial winery in the U.S. was established in Kentucky late in 1799 by a Swiss colonist, John James Dufour. He utilized an American-European grape hybrid called the Alexander. Crop failures resulted in a movement of the winery to Indiana where first sales to the public occurred in 1806. Today, the oldest still-operating winery in the U.S. is the Brotherhood Winery (founded 1839) in Washingtonville, N.Y. By the middle 1800’s, the states of Ohio and Missouri dominated U.S. wine production and by Prohibition, the U.S. Winery industry grew to over 700 wineries. At the turn of the millennium, the United States ranked 5th in the world for total vineyard acreage (surprise…Turkey ranked 4th...remember, not all vineyards are dedicated to wine!). The United States now has viable wineries in all 50 states. The top 4 states, California, Oregon, Washington and New York account for more than 90% of U.S. produced wine. In 2008, New Hampshire and North Carolina were the states with the most new wineries. The U.S. consumes roughly 30 billion dollars of wine a year with just over 80% coming from domestic sources. Despite importing less than 20% of what it consumes, it is the largest importer of wine in the world. Italian wines count for over 40% of our imports, by far the largest share. In 2005, red wine edged past white as America’s top wine choice and wine edged past beer as the number 1 alcoholic beverage in the U.S..
The U.S.A. is also now the world’s 4th largest wine producer.

It may come as a surprise to readers that the two family names I want to cover in this blog are not Gallo or Mondavi. These two families DID have a substantial and pivotal impact on the U.S. wine industry. However, the family names The Wine Guy regards as legendary pioneers of American wine, are Guasti and Garrett.

Secundo Guasti was an Italian immigrant who came to California via Mexico. (see photo) He started his first vineyards near Cucamonga, California in 1883. He built and opened his first winery in the same area by the turn of century. His Italian Vineyard Company readily became California’s largest. In addition to the vineyard and winery facilities, the growth of Guasti’s enterprise resulted in his building a complete town for his workers including homes, church, schoolhouse, inn and more. It even included a small gauge railroad to handle movement of his products. Under the leadership of Secundo Guasti, Jr. and his son-in-law, Nicola Giulli, the Italian Vineyard Company because the world’s largest vineyard and winery. By 1915, it had over 4,000 planted acres and its on-site cooperage was producing over 200 new wine barrels per day. During Prohibition, to stay viable, I.V.C. combined resources with several other large California vineyards to form Fruit Industries, Ltd. This group later became the California Wine Association. After prohibition I.V.C. returned to independent production until its acquisition in 1945 by Garrett & Company. It remains to this day, the forefather and early model for large-scale vineyard and winery development in California. One of its early signature brand lines, Guasti sacramental wine, is still produced today by the Joseph Fillipi Winery in Cucamonga.

Meanwhile, back on the eastern seaboard, Medoc Vineyards had become North Carolina’s first commercial winery in 1835 and came under the ownership of brothers Charles and Marion Garrett in 1865. Marion’s son, Paul joined the firm as a salesman, became the winery’s sales manager and stayed with the firm after his father and uncle sold out. In 1877, a commission dispute caused him to leave and form his own venture and it was then that the Virginia Dare wine brand was born. Taking the name of the first English child born in America at North Carolina’s Roanoke colony and utilizing wines primarily based on North Carolina’s native Scuppernong grape, Virginia Dare wines rapidly became the first national wine brand in America. In 1904, Virginia Dare Sparkling White won the Grand Prize at the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition. In 1908, North Carolina became the first Southern state to undergo prohibition and as a result Garrett & Company moved to Norfolk, Virginia. Garrett & Company added facilities in Missouri and in 1911, bought their first Pacific coast vineyards in Cucamonga California. Vineyards followed in the Finger Lakes district of New York and with Prohibition advancing to Virginia in 1917, a move of the company’s headquarters to New York followed. With the advent of National Prohibition, Garret & Company turned to alcohol extracted beverages and the pure alcohol by-product became the basis for food flavoring extracts and a new company, the Virginia Dare Extract Company was formed with a Boston chemist as its head. (That company still exists in New York today!) Upon the repeal of prohibition Garrett & Company was best poised for a return to wine production and Virginia Dare again became the prominent wine brand in America.

Over the years, Paul Garrett’s company proved to be an innovator in wine marketing. It can be credited with innovations in labeling, point of sale, promotion, print advertising and even creating the first radio jingle for wine. (see samples) “Captain” Paul Garrett’s death in 1940 resulted in stewardship of the company’s many wine resources being divided among three sons-in-law and other company executives. These assets included the 1945 acquisition of the aforementioned Italian Vineyard Company, then the world’s single largest vineyard and winery. By the early 60’s, internal disputes led to dissolution of assets and brand rights being sold off to other companies. In 1965, Canandaigua Wine Company of New York acquired the flagship Virginia Dare brand with royalty rights. This company grew through acquisition and with the many changes in wine products, Virginia Dare, as a product, faded and disappeared. Canandaigua Wine Company was later to become Constellation Brands. Today, it is the largest producer of wine and one of the largest distributors of alcoholic beverages in the world. Included among its vast stable of product names are Mondavi in California, Inniskillin in Canada and Kim Crawford in New Zealand.

Today, you can take almost every major trend development in U.S. wine production or marketing and trace it back to some connection, interaction with, or impact from, one of these two family names in American wine history. They truly are among our greatest wine pioneers and worthy of reflection as you enjoy the next glass of your favorite American wine!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Look at Chianti

Ask the most neophyte wine drinker to name an Italian wine and “Chianti” is most likely to be his first response. No wonder! Chianti probably dates back to the time of the early Etruscans. In its famous “fiasco” straw basket, it became one of Italy’s largest exports in wine in the post war era.

The earliest records of “Chianti” dates to the 13th century in the Chianti hills region between Florence and Sienna. This area is now the base for the Chianti region (see map) and a wine which now must contain 75% to 80% Sangiovese. That wasn’t always the case. Early versions of Chianti were dominated by Canaiolo and included, in addition to the always present Sangiovese, other red varietals and significant portions of two white varietals: Malvasia Bianco and Trebbiano. In the mid 1800’s Baron Ricasoli began the tradition of having Sangiovese as the dominant varietal. His formula called for 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, 5% other reds and 10% Malvasia Bianco. There remained, however, a great variance in how Chianti was blended and as late as the 1950’s Chianti could be found that contained up to 50% white grapes: either Malvasia or Trebbiano.

Chianti as a wine-producing region was established by decree in 1932 with seven sub-zones. In the 50’s Chianti Classico was added as a DOCG based on the “original” or “first” Chianti wine region. A consortium of Chianti Classico producers adopted the “gallo nero” or black rooster emblem (see logo) as a marketing indicators of their wines. The 50’s also marked the adoption of the standard that Chianti must dominantly contain Sangiovese and must be aged at least 3 months in the bottle before release. In 1995, it became legal to produce Chianti that was 100% Sangiovese. Chianti Classico requirements include a minimum of 7 months ageing plus a prohibition against the blending of any white varietals. Any Chianti that is labeled Riserva must be aged a total of 38 months before release.

A unique DOCG for Chianti is Chianti Superiore. It’s requirements cover lower yields, higher alcohol content and dry extract. It is the only DOCG with yield reduction requirements in the growing of the grapes and the basic ageing requirement is extended to 9 months plus 3 in the bottle. The wine can be sourced from any of the Chianti regions. Additional requirements require a minimum of 75% Sangiovese, a maximum of 10% Canaiolo with a total maximum of 20% other red grapes and a maximum of 10% of the white varietals Malvasia Bianco and Trebbiano. Chianti Superiore may not be labeled as Chianti Classico (due to the possible inclusion of white varietals), although it can be sourced from the Classico area. It is a uniquely smooth style of Chianti that may be harder to find as it accounts for less 3% of the Chianti produced in Italy.

Younger Chianti’s have a signature floral and spicy bouquet that is dominated by cinnamon that broadens into aromas of tobacco and leather with ageing. Signature fruit characteristics include cherry, plum and raspberry flavors with other hints of black fruits dependent upon the blending. Look for medium to high acidity and medium to full tannins in wines that are capable of further development as they age from five up to twenty years.

The past decade has seen a marked overall improvement in the quality and presence of Chianti as a great wine for pairing not only with its traditional food partners but with a variety of meats and game dishes, as well. It has become common for Chianti to be included in most of the prominent “Top 100 Wines of the year” lists and it has been hailed in recent years by respectable wine journalists as the Italian Bordeaux. If you enjoy good food-pairing red wine, Chianti should be on your list of wines to explore and there are an abundance of great Chiantis available to sample.

Here are a few exploratory recommendations from The Wine Guy for you to try:

Bell’Agio Chianti:

This is a one-liter good-value basic Chianti in the traditional “fiasco” or straw basket. It is owned by Banfi, a good name in Tuscan wines who also produces a good Chianti Classico, some nice Super Tuscans and a respectable Brunello di Montalcino.

Piccini Chianti:

This basic Chianti comes from Italy’s largest producer of DOCG Chianti.

Nippozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva:

This is a fruit-driven representative of the Chianti from the Ruffina sub region and comes from Frescolbaldi, one of Italy’s famed winemaking families.

Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva:

Querceto means “little forest of oak” in Italian and the oak comes through in this wine very well. This winery’s Classico Riserva consistently scores well in popular wine ratings.

Villa Puccini Chianti Superiore:

A smooth finish highlights this family-produced Chianti Superiore. It, or any other Superiore, is worth hunting for and sampling for the experience.

While usually ranked second or third in wine production, Italy has more wineries and more wines than any other wine-producing nation. Chianti is a good place to start but should be just the first of the Italian wines you explore. Enjoy!