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, November 14, 2011

Bekaa Valley, Lebanon...they make some good wine there!

One of the pleasures of being back in the U.S. after a few months of foreign living and travel is the opportunity to discover and try new wines from far away by simply just visiting the local wine store and discovering something new.   During a recent "stock up" trip for my six week stay in Arizona,  I stumbled across an unfamiliar Lebanese wine and decided to, as they say, "go for it"

The wine was produced in Lebanon's famed Bekaa Valley.  This region is probably more known to Americans as a site of much contention during Lebanon's many conflicts than as a wine producing region. It does, however, have a very rich and varied wine history.  In fact, records date grape cultivation and vinification there to about 2,000 years before the time of Alexander the Great.  Phoenicians traded wine produced in this area with many other, the Egyptians being among their most avid customers.  Those historic traders protected their cargo from oxidation by covering it with a layer of olive oil and sealing it in jugs with pinewood and resin. Their practice preceded, and perhaps even inspired, the traditions of Greek Retsina.  The Romans revered the area as a wine source enough to build a temple dedicated to the wine god Bacchus.  What is now part of Lebanon was also the site of the story of  a miracle in the Bible of  Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding.  It is an area with much wine history, indeed.  However, it is only recently that its wine has come back into view on the world scene.

Two Lebanese brothers Sami and Goshm were second generation productions in this very historic wine region before being forced to leave the country during the Civil War of 1975.  They returned seventeen years later and revived the production of a traditional Lebanese brandy-like anise liquor called Arak.  With the addition of French partners a few years later, they expanded their portfolio and wine production began in earnest. 
Since conflicts in 2002, the regions volume and number of vineyards and wineries has continued to grow with 50% of its production going to export with France, Great Britian and the US as its principal customers.

The wine I brought home was a 2008 Massaya Classic Rouge and it was a delightful red blend with Cinsault as its dominant, informing grape (60%) Rounding out the Cinsault was an addition of equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, followed by eight month of non wood container ageing before bottling. It was interesting to discover that Cinsault is the dominant grape varietal in Lebanon.  This probably derives from the French influence in that region and, in fact the first Cinsault vines were brought to that country from Algeria in 1857 by Jesuits monks.

As you might suspect from its Cinsault dominance, the Massaya Classic Rouge offered a nice fruity bouquet and a blend of strawberry, raspberry and cherry fruit flavors on the palate with a nice (and somewhat surprising) long finish.  An added light accent of spice on the finish was also a pleasant surprise.  All in all, this was a quite enjoyable wine in a very moderate (under $15) price range.  I will definitely take a good look when encountering any wines from this Lebanese region in the future and will be on lookout, in particular, for the Massaya label.

(Images in this post were obtained from www.massaya.com)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Mourvedre...it's a hit in Arizona!

The Wine Guy sampling good wine
at the Keeling-Schaefer tasting room
in an historic bank building in Willcox, Az.
Before I left Arizona, I was pleased when noted Arizona winemaker Rod Keeling sent me a Facebook friend request after stumbling onto my wine blog.  His has always been one of the Arizona vineyards I had planned to visit during my tenure as an Arizona resident.  Unfortunately I never made it to the eastern part of the state before we departed for Ecuador.  Some five and a half months later, after trips to Ecuador and Thailand and two cross country road trips, I found myself on I-10 approaching Willcox.  Knowing Keeling-Schaefer had a tasting room downtown, I decided a pit stop for a little wine tasting was in order.  I'm glad I took the time to do so!

The Keeling-Schaefer tasting room not only offers a selection of their wines but also samples some wines from Arizona Stronghold and Kokopelli.  I not only enjoy the standard tastings but was offered some earlier vintage samples once the attendant found out I was a member of the International Wine Guild and a blogging wine fool, as well. (Thanks Rosanna for your attentive courtesy to myself and the fetching Mrs. Wine Guy!)

While I enjoyed several wines, the outstanding hit of the visit was the Schaefer Boys Mourvedre.  This limited release (68 total cases for the 2008 vintage) wine is, unfortunately, limited to sales at the winery, at the tasting room and from the Keeling-Schaefer wine club members.  It is, however, well worth the effort to seek it out.  It happens to be one of the best balanced of all the Keeling-Schaefer wines and sips very, very well. It offers all the ripe dark fruit flavors you would expect from a 100% Mourvedre with the typical earthiness of this grape.  These features give Mourvedre a richness not normally found in many fruit forward wines.  Some bold, yet round and smooth, tannins are also characteristic of this varietal when well vintified.

Mourvedre is best known as a blending grape, most notably in Rhone and Rhone style red blends.  It is a favorite partnering grape with Grenache with which it seems to have a natural affinity.  (Grenacha is another of The Wine Guy's favorite grape varietals ( see "Grenache, A Great Wine To Discover" in the Roger's Grapevine archives, 2/2/10).  It is also often found as a single varietal wine in Spain where it goes under the name of Monastrell or Mataro.    However you won't find it often as a single varietal from a US producer.

Congratulations, Rod,  and thank you for producing such a enjoyable wine!

For more information on Keeling-Schaefer Vineyards, log on to www.keelingschaefervineyards.com or better yet, visit them in Willcox or at one of the many Arizona wine functions they regularly attend!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Wine Guy Seeks Out Wine in Thailand!

The Wine Guy in Thailand
I recently returned from a one month stay in Thailand where I got to spend time in seven different provinces.  It was my intention to visit at least two Thai wineries during my stay.  A winery we drove by while motoring from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai and back was not open. Toward the end of my stay, flooding between Bangkok and Hua Hin made a planned drive to Siam Wineries Hua Hin Hills Vineyard impractical and ill-advised.   While my winery visits didn't happen,  rest assured I did manage to sample some wine during my journeys in this country.  This included products from three different Thai producers.   There were also some surprises along the way as I examined wine availability and practices both on and off premise in Thailand.  In this blog I'll be rambling somewhat as I give you an overview of my wine experiences and reactions as I chris-crossed Thailand.

The two largest wine producers in Thailand are Siam Winery and PB Valley Winery.  Both have interesting histories with principals who have history in other segments of the beverage industry:

  Siam Winery, producer of Monsoon Valley Wines and located south of Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand pennisula is Thailand's largest exporter of wine and was founded by the creator of Red Bull energy drink.  His success in the international distribution of that beverage has probably contributed to the winery's success in the export of his products.  The Wine Guy blogged about Monsoon Valley Wines nearly two years ago when my son brought back a bottle from one of his first visits to Thailand (see the Roger's Grapevine archives:  "A New Latitude Shiraz" dated 12/2209).  While I didn't get to visit the winery due to road conditions, I did get to pick up a bottle of their Shiraz Cabernet blend and reconfirm that these folks do a respectable job in growing the shiraz grape in that tropical climate.  I was disappointed, however, I was unable to find a sample of any of their wines utilizing a grape they especially developed for the climate in Thailand: the Podkum.  I'm not even sure it is still being produced.  Hopefully, I'll be able to report more fully on a future trip to Thailand.   Siam Winery is also an importer of St Clair Wines from South Africa and those are commonly found wherever wines are sold at retail in Thailand including the ubiquitous 7-Eleven stores.  They are quite drinkable and affordable.  I also discovered that St. Clair wines are commonly found on many restaurant and wine bar wine lists, frequently available by the glass.  Their Shiraz, Shiraz-Cabernet and their Chardonnay-Chenin Blanc are safe, affordable choices if you're dining out

PB Valley Winery Log (courtesy of winery website)
PB Valley Winery was founded in 1989 by a former President of the brewery that produces Thailand's most renown beer: Singha.  Their vineyards are in the PB Valley northeast of Bangkok adjacent to the Khoo Yai National Park and they probably enjoy the greatest domestic distribution among the five Thai producers I'm familiar with.  They produce three labels  Sawadee, a collection of everyday table wines,  P.B. Khoo Yai Reserve, slightly better and more aged wines and their limited production label, Pirom Khoo Yai Reserve, which includes selected grapes, limited production and extra reserve aging.   They are commonly found at retail especially at the the popular Tops Grocery chain in Thailand.  Their Sawasdee Shiraz is affordable and drinkable but I found I preferred the St. Clair or Monsoon Valley when available.  The PB Khoo Yai Reserve was a definite step up up in quality but was also  a fairly significant step up in price .  Unfortunately, I did not get to sample the Pirom Reserve (again, something to explore on my next Thailand adventure).
One of the few wines The Wine Guy will never consume again.

The Chiang Rai Winery located south of the Northern Thai city of the same name (in the highlands near the famous Golden Triangle border with Burma and Laos) specializes in wines blended with herbal ingredients.  The vineyards and winery were closed as we stopped by on our return to Chiang Mai but a nut factory just a few kilometers down the road carried their wines.  I was  intrigued by a red wine (I believe with Shiraz as the informing grape) laced with black ginger root.  Regular ginger is utilized extensively in Thai cuisine and black ginger root, while less common, is used throughout Thailand in herbal remedies.   I've been a devotee of ginger root/honey tea so it was no surprise to Mrs. Wine Guy when I choose that wine to sample.  What DID surprise her was my total failure to even finish my first glass.  Those familiar with my wine preferences know I have a broad ranging palate for wine and I've often told my customers I could count the wines I would never pour again on my fingers with digits left over.  This very bitter concoction with a quite pungent nose made that list and probably is in prime contention with one western Chinese wine for the worst wine I've ever tasted!  Oh well, less than ten wines out of over 2,000....that's a pretty good track record for the industry.  It's unique taste and its medicinal properties probably give it a specialized following but the Chiang Rai La sante is one The Wine Guy will likely ever sample again.

The Wine Guy makes a surprise discovery!
Among the surprises The Wine Guy encountered while sampling the on and off premise selection of wine in Thailand was the selection I found at one specialty wine store in Chiang Mai, one of Thailand's cultural delights.  This store was where I purchased some PB Valley winery products.  The imported St. Clair distributed by Siam Winery was also in evidence there. However, this retailer also offered a very diverse selection of imports from around the world.  As one might suspect, Australian wines were available as they are throughout Thailand.  The surprise was the outstanding import selection from a number of countries but especially Italy and France.   I saw a vertical selection of Allegrini's Pallazo Della Torre (one of the Wine Guy's all time favorites, well rated Barolos, Chianti, a Brunello and even a Negramaro from Puglia (something you don't expect to find in the northern foothills of Thailand).  The French selections were just as diverse and surprising but the biggest surprise was a few bottles of 1982 Petrus, a hard wine to find anywhere!  I had hoped to return to revisit this unique shop before I left Chiang Mai but rising floodwaters isolated the section of town it was in.  I hope their excellent inventory was not jeopardized by the floodwaters!

Don't be surprised if you order a bottle of red wine in a fine restaurant in Thailand and the waiter shows up with an ice bucket.  It happened to the Wine Guy the first time he ordered a bottle of red wine while dining.  Locals generally prefer their red wine chilled and their beer is standardly served over ice.  If you spend significant time in this tropical clime, you'll understand why.  Actually establishments that encounter tourists regularly will usually ask for your preference in serving both wine and beer.  Overall, I was pleased and even surprised at both the quality and expertise of wine service.  Sommeliers are not in evidence but the level of service in many establishments suggests there must be some level of training in proper wine service.  You will encounter a lot of ignorance regarding wine but far less than what you might expect given the low consumption of wine in this country.

Inside the Writers Club and Wine Bar
Wine bars are not common outside of Bangkok except in resorts but they are there if you look for them...some of them are excellent sources of information and a delight to visit.  One of The Wine Guy's favorites during his one month sojourn in Thailand was The Writer's Club and Wine Bar in the heart of Chiang Mai's old city.  Founded by ex-patriot journalist Robert Tilley along with his Thai wife Thong, this place offers some great food (both authentic Thai and continental), decent wine by the glass and bottle as well as a wonderful spot to meet and socialize with people from all over the world.  In two visits there Mr. and Mrs. Wine Guy met folks from South Africa, Indonesia, Germany and Canada.  You will also find Bob and Thong to be among the most hospitable proprietors of any bar in the city!

Mr. and Mrs. Wine Guy thoroughly enjoyed
dinner and wine on the beach in Koh Samui.
If your travels to Thailand include a visit to any of its wonderful beaches, The Wine Guy heartily suggests you take time to enjoy dinner on the beach with a bottle of wine.  There is no more perfect way to celebrate your experiences in this wonderful country than to enjoy fine food and good wine while enjoying the sounds of the surf (not to mention wiggling your toes in the sand!)  If you're lucky, someone will be setting off fireworks or you'll have have chance to launch a candle-powered lucky balloon and make a wish.  Mr. and Mrs. Wine Guy enjoyed two such dinners on the beach while visiting Koh Samui and it will reign among our most cherished memories of the trip.

My wine experiences in thailand ranged from discovering what was probably the worst wine I've ever encountered to stumbling over one of the best and hardest wines to find in the world.  You don't get much more diversity in your experience than that and I will always cherish my exploration of wine there.

As always, great food, great times and great experiences are enhanced when you pair them with a great wine.  Here's hoping each of you have such an experience of your own soon!


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Florida Fruit makes for some Sweet Wines!

The Wine Guy at Keel and Curley Winery
in Plant City Florida

Between spending two months in Ecuador and a current one month trip to Thailand, The Wine Guy took a sojurn to visit family in Florida. While there, my son and his girlfriend joined and the entire family took a day off from helping my stepmother downsize her home to visit the beach.

Never missing the opportunity to visit a new winery or to sample new wines, we stopped on our return from the Gulf Coast in Plant City and visited Keel and Curley Winery. This is one of
about a dozen viable wineries now in the state of Florida. While not reknown for its wines, Florida is one of two states that lays claim to having the first winery in what is now the
United States. It's a very close call between the Spanish missionaries in southwest Texas and the French Huegenots in St. Augustine, Florida.
In any case, Florida wines are distinctively fruit driven and indeed, many are based on fruits
other than grapes. at Keel and Curley however, the wines are grape fermented but nearly all
have fruit juice added. The winery is very matter of fact and forward on declaring that these are, indeed, fruit driven and fruit "enhanced" wines. They make no apology what-so-ever about the fruitiness of their wines but don't feel like you can call them " fruit bombs" while
you're in the tasting room.
In several cases, the grapes, or at least the juice of the grapes utilized in making their wine is sourced from outside Florida. They have bottled one wine based on adding Florida
fruit juices a fermented Symphony, that unique grape developed by the University of California ag department. The tasting room steward informed me however that due to availability of juice issues, the current vintage inventory would be their last.

Their absolute best effort is a rose of Zinfandel enhanced with strawberry juice from local fields. it's a refreshing killer. They also have a fairly unique Cabernet Sauvignon infused with blackberry juice.

If you occasionally enjoy a fresh, fruit forward and fruit driven wine (and they are somewhat
suited to south Florida's heat and humidity!), you may want to sample Keel & Curley from Plant
city, Florida. You'll find the brand not only at the winery, but at many reailers in central Florida, as well as Publix stores statewide.


The accessory table at the Keel & Curley Tasting Room

Monday, September 12, 2011

Good wine, great tapas in Quito, Ecuador!

Mrs. Wine Guy at the corner of
Regina Victoria and Marshal Foch in Quito,
location of one of our favorite Ecuadorian wine bars.

As we departured Ecuador for our return to the U.S., I spent a couple of days with fetching Mrs. Wine Guy in the capital city of Quito.  It was in the Mariscal sector of new town that we discovered the Latitud Tapas and Wine Bar.  One of the features of this establishment is an assortment of price fixe selections that offer unlimited Spanish tapas accompanied by unlimited glasses of wine.  The variation in the prices resulted from the list of wines that qualified for your selection during your meal.  We opted for a mid range price that featured a number of reserve selections of wine from the Concha y Toro winery in Chile.   This brand is one of the most popular in Ecuador and throughout Latin America mostly due to the affordable quality of the wines they produce.  It is a brand that will be familiar to many consumers in the U.S. as well and for the same reason.  Our wine selection began with a reserve Carmenere and then progressed to a reserve select vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

Concha y Toro is a featured wine brand
at the Latitud Tapas and Wine Bar!

 As for the tapas, I can hardly begin to describe the variety of meat, vegetable and cheese delights that kept crossing our table.  It seemed those delightful little plates of delicious delicacies would continue to impress and amaze us. Only one platter out of the score or more that we tried failed to elicit an audible WOW and it wasn't bad at all...just not something you would normally find in an iron chef competition.  Several of our platters fell into that category. We simply stopped counting when we were well past the dozen mark of different, appetizing selections. They continued to come until our capacity to consume this assortment of Spanish delights had been sorely tested. We pushed that limit slightly higher when we requested a revisit to one or two of our favorites to enjoy with our final glass of wine (we lost count on those as well...don't drive if you visit this place!).   We left wishing we could return for one more evening just to discover if we exhausted the kitchen staff's ability to wow and impress us.  It will definitely be a must stop for us on any return trip to Quito!  We can't wait to try their authentic Spanish paella!

Latitud Tapas and Wine Bar in Quito
If you're in Quito, you'll want to explore this delighful neighborhood of  restaurants, night spots, hostels and shops. Most cab drivers will be familiar with the nearby main traffic arteries of Calle Colon y Avenida Amazonas. 
If you wander into Latitud,  you'll also get to enjoy some good wine with quality food.


Friday, August 19, 2011

A Friend in Need...The Wine Guy To The Rescue!

The Wine Guy enjoying a nice
Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon in Ecuador.
A friend from Arizona recently messaged me on Facebook as follows:

"Question for ya. If I want to enjoy a glass of red wine every evening and can't drink the entire bottle (duh) what is the best way to store it? A certain type of bottle topper? And how long can it sit out? I'm trying to find a red wine that is not expensive that is similar to a chianti or sangiovese flavor that I can enjoy. Any suggestions? Either my tastebuds change from the first night to the second or the wine taste sour. I don't get it. HELP MR. WINE GUY"

Never let it be said that The Wine Guy failed to respond to a cry for help, especially from a friend....so here goes:

One solution for our stressed friend is to start buying wine in splits (half-bottles) or minis (quarter bottles often sold in small  4-pack cartons).   The minis are ideal since they contain roughly the equivalent of one glass of wine. You'll probably pay a slight premium for 4 minis over a a standard botle of the same wine but it's probably worth it to have a fresh glass every night. The challenge for my friend, however, may be in finding a suitable red wine. Commonly found in supermarkets, the offerings in these sizes tend to be softer, more fruit-forward and low cost younger wines.  Those are the kind of wines preferred by the leading consumers of single serving wines, senior citizens. A little hunting, however, might lead to some viable discoveries.    I recently saw splits of Brunello di Montalcino in two different retail establishments in Atlanta. In my friend's locale, World Market stores carry both splits and minis on a regular basis and should have at least a decent Cabernet Sauvignon. I've also seen regular stocks of South American Camenere in minis in a number of chain retailers with wine departments.  It's worth a hunt and probably some taste sampling as well.

Solution number two: boxed wine!  Boxed wine has a reputation for being cheap wine both in terms of price and quality but while that might have had some validity early on in its history, there are some quality wines being offered in the one liter sealed box that might be worth investigating. The one liter box will contain roughly 8 glasses of wine, about a week's worth for my friend's purposes. It will work because the wine is contained in the same type of collapsible airtight bags as those drink boxes we used to send with the kids in their lunch pails(maybe we still do...The Wine Guy is officially in the old, don't keep up with current kids trends anymore status). Most box wines are not exposed to aeration if they have a pop out tap type pour spout. Those with a simple open tab on top, however, won't work as well. Some wineries claim their boxed wine wine will stay fresh up to four weeks. In my humble opinion, under two is probably more realistic and certainly one is doable. However, as with the splits and minis, the problem is in finding the wine suitable to your palate. Simple whites, red blends and Spanish Sangria are the most common finds in boxed wines but a little hunting might produce some suprises. Some ex-patriot friends we had dinner with in a good Italian restaurant in Cuenca, Ecuador remarked at how good and afforable the house wine by the glass was (also available in a full and half carafe). I didn't have the heart to tell them it was a boxed wine, in fact, one that was available at their local supermarket!

O.K. Now let's get down to the real nitty-gritty.  What my friend really wants is to buy a standard bottle of a desirable wine, have a glass or so and try to keep the bottle on hand for future sipping.
Realistically, this can happen but the practical limit without investment in a lot of fancy preservation systems is  only three to four days.  Let's cover the basics so my friend knows how to stretch a favorite bottle for all the time it's worth:

Wine, particularly aged red wine, has three enemies which will attack its ability to deliver all those wonderful flavors to your palate. Those three despicable villans are heat, air and sunlight.  Shut them off after you've opened your bottle of wine and poured your first glass, and you've got a chance of preserving the aromas and flavors for later on.   This involves resealing the wine and keeping it in a cool dark place.   Simply recorking the bottle promptly and placing the bottle in your refrigerator should give you until the next evening.  (Don't worry about chilling your red wine....simply cupping your hands around a glass of red wine for about 60 seconds will bring it right back to around 65 degrees, a good drinking temperature).   If you need more than overnight, invest in a fairly affordable rubber valve stopper and manual vacumn pump to reseal your bottle and extract the air you allowed inside (remember, that air is one of your three critical enemies in terms of preserving the flavor of your wine).  The use of a vacumn pump will probably give you an extra two, possibly three days of storage time.   Your rate of success with a pump and cool storage of your wine will vary with the type and age of the particular  wine.   Also don't expect it to be 100% consistent in taste.  No matter how meticulous you are in storage, there will some aeration of the wine involved and some evolution of the taste.  Also remember that the more complex and older the wine, the more that some aeration will be essential for the most natural and best taste of the wine to develop.

Beyond what The Wine Guy has suggested here, it is possible to extend the life of an opened bottle of wine through a temperature and climate control system that also flushes the interior of the bottle with either nitrogen or one of the inert gases.  These systems are utilized professionally in wine bars that offer ongoing tastings and a large number of wines by the glass.  They are not cheap to purchase nor to maintain and even with those systems, the life expectancy on an open bottle of wine rarely extends beyond two weeks.  Most good purveyors of wine by the glass will have a set policy for recording the opening of their bottles and a time to remove it from inventory suitable for serving customers. 

In closing, my friend also asked for some affordable reccomendations for red wine.  Since Chianti and Sangiovese were specifically mentioned, I'll stay mainly with some other great Italian selections.  These would include a Montepulciano d' Albruzzo, a Bordolino, a "good" Valpolicella or a Sicilian Nero d' Avola.  A reserve Chilean Carmenere, an Argentine Bonarda, a Spanish Borgia (sometimes labeled by its chief varietal Mencia and a Greek Naoussa would round out the list of wines I would suggest seeking out and sampling.  Good representations of each one of these should be found at or under the $15 range.

I hope I was of assistance to my friend and hope my readers benefited from this response as well.
Take time soon to enjoy a glass of good wine.  Sainte!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Little Spot Of Wine In Cuenca, Ecuador

Mr. & Mrs. Wine Guy
The fetching Mrs. Wine Guy and I recently returned from a two month stay in Ecuador.  Ecuador is a beautiful, diverse and delightful country.  It, however, is sometimes a challenge to find a proper venue to enjoy a nice glass of wine.  Fortunately, The Wine Guy is persistant in his persuit and we now have a few regular venues in both Quito and Cuenca that we will enjoy upon our return.   (Ecuador is now our chosen target for retirement living....Grapevine readers wanting to learn more about that venture in our life may want to visit www.togetherontheroadoflife.blogspot.com).

One relaxing venue for us was the Brujas (Witches) Cafe and Bar located along the Rio Tomebamba just adjacent to the historico centro in Ecuador's third largest city, Cuenca.  The high bluff known as the El Barranco insulates the noise of the bustling centro, allowing the rippling water of Rio Tomebamba to provide a backgound of soothing sound in a very scenic setting.  A platform alongside the pathway that accesses the Brujas overlooks the gurling waters and greenbelt and provides a wonderfully staged venue to enjoy appetizers and a glass of wine. We did so on a perfectly beautiful Ecuadorian afternoon and were delighted that we had somewhat impusively decided to try this spot.

It didn't hurt at all that the by the glass or carafe house wine is a little better than the typical Ecuadorian norm.  The house wine here is Concha y Toro and they uniquely will let you choose the varietal.  (Sometimes your house wine choices are simply blanco (white) or tinto (red).  I've often gotten a simple perplexed shrug when I've inquired of a waiter as to whether the house vino tinto is a cabernet, merlot or carmenere  (typically, in Ecuador, it is probably 1 of these 3). I guess it depends on the inventory or perhaps what is open and viable in the back?

In any case, the service and accommodation at Brujas was a step above that.  The fetching Mrs. Wine Guy and I shared appetizer plates of cheese quesadillas and cooked mushrooms along with glasses of Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon.  Perched under shady umbrellas to help protect us from the high UV count (Cuenca's elevation above 8,000 ft makes for intense sunshine) and with a refreshing breeze wafting across the cool waters, we enjoyed a leisurely sojurn and a delightful afternoon.   This will become a regular spot in Cuenca for us to enjoy wine as it's meant to be enjoyed.

We hope you have the opportunity some day to enjoy a glass along the Rio Tomebamba, as well.  Salute!

Update note:   this blog was originally published in August of 2011.  Unfortunately, the Brujas location along the Tomebamba closed in 2012.   While there are other spots to enjoy a glass of wine, we will miss the opportunity to sit in this riverside setting, sipping and watching the world go by!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Cabernet Franc

Regular readers of Roger's Grapevine will be well aware of The Wine Guy's strong preference for Italian wines and cuisine. They might not be as aware of my longtime affection for Cabernet Franc. This sassy, country bumpkin of the cabernet family, to me, offers a special raw, in your face, delight in wine drinking. In most places its role is as a blending grape and usually in a very minor capacity. However small its contribution, such is my love for its subtle but distinct flavorings that I usually seize upon its presence. The more it is utilized, the more I will return to discover what has become for me, a favorite varietal.
It's not often that you find Cabernet Franc as a single varietal or as the dominant informing grape. Part of the reason for that may be the simple fact that it's a challenge for the winemaker not to let some of the sass and rough edges of this grape overtake and dominate the bottle. But when it's done well, that same sassiness and roughness can provide a subtle accent of flavor that makes a Cabernet Franc wine a treasure to enjoy and savor. One might compare it to a blend of spices used as a rub on a superbly aged and tender steak.
The spices can easily overpoer the steak if not properly applied or if the steak is not properly prepared. However, when everything is done properly, there's nothing quite like the flavorful, almost orgasmic sensation that occurs on your palate when you take that first bite.

That's how I feel about the much abused Cabernet Franc. For the many, many examples I found that were a little harsh and overdone, the ones that I've found that have been done well were worth the search for their unique enjoyment. When done right, this is one of the best wines to pair with beef.

One of my recent discoveries was made during my two month sojourn in Ecuador. It was a 70% Cabernet Franc/30% Carmenere blend from Chile. The producer, Vina San Raphael, is located in the diverse Valle de Maule of Chile and is a fairly recent player, having begun wine production in 1998. They are more well know here in Ecuador for their box wines and secondly, for their olive and olive oil production. Among their bottle brands is Oveja Negra (Black Sheep) which includes a couple of unique white blends as well my acclaimed discovery of their hand harvested, estate bottled, reserved, Cabernet Franc/Carmenere blend. This wine offers bright red and black current flavors accented by a mineral nose, a hint of cocoa, spice accents that include clove, cinnamon and white pepper all rolling into an almost leathery, chewy finish. It is a delightful wine for the dyed in the wool Cabernet Franc fan.

Cabernet Franc is not for everyone, but it may be for you. Do some sampling and exploration and be patient. The really good unique wine you've been searching for may be sitting out there waiting for you with a good share of well produced Cabernet Franc in the bottle. Enjoy!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dos Hemisferios Wine Update

Being in Ecuador for two months, my last blog dealt with an Ecuadorian winery named Dos Hemisferios. A reader requested that I follow up on more of their wines after I had the opportunity to sample them. The Wine Guy actually hasn't had the opportunity to try their flagship red called Paradoj nor their 100% Chardonnay called Enigma (more on the reasons why in a moment). What I have found, however, is that the winery is also producing a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend they have labeled Del Morro. This reserva blend is aged in French oak for 6 months and then receives an additional 6 months aging in the bottle before release. The sample I found was a vintage 2008 so there has been some additional shelf/warehouse ageing as well. Although quite drinkable for a near zero latitude wine retailing under $9, I suspect this wine did not benefit from the extra time it spent in the bottle after it left the winery and before it reached my table. That have been due to handling but it may also indicate a little weaker product. It wasn't bad, it was just simply a little bit of letdown after my previous experience with their red blend Bruma. I'll look forward to trying another bottle if I can locate an additional source. It will be interesting to see if the disappointment was due to the handling of the wine before or after its release from the winery.

That might take a little while. Those of you who are here in Ecuador with me are probably aware that the Ministry of Health put a short moratorium on retail liquor sales across the country. It seems some bootleg methyl alcohol has made its way into some branded liquors in Ecuador and has resulted in more than a score of deaths and hospitalizations. Although It appears all of these were a result of hard liquor ingestion, the ban covers all retail establishments and all alcoholic beverages, including beer and wine.

It looks as though the fetching Mrs Wine Guy and I will be heading to one of our favorite cafes for some extra Mochachino fixes over the next few days. Think of us as you enjoy your next glass of wine but never fear, I will get to enjoy some additional wines soon. Salute!

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Unique Ecuadorian Producer

Dos Hemeferios Vineyards got its start in 1999, but its first planting of grapes for wine production didn't occur until 2002. This Ecuadorian producer is not located in Ecuador's mountainous regions as you might expect but rather in the low rolling lands of the Santa Elena Pennisula. A mere 2 degrees south of the equator insures a warm, humid climate but the expected heat is moderated by near constant breezes. Situated near San Miguel del Morro, about 34 miles southwest of Guayquil, the vineyards are nearly equidistant from the broad Gulf of Guayquil and the Pacific Ocean. The water influence allows for wine grape production that in fact yields two harvests per year. It wasn't until 2006 that this vineyard produced its first (and still its flagship) wine, Paradoja, a 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec blend that's aged for 18 months prior to bottling then an additional six months in the bottle. Bruma, A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Syrah followed in 2007. the vinieyard followed with a white mwine named Enigma, from 100% Chardonnay and by 2009 all three wines were being distributed in Ecuador.

The Bruma is the only one of the three that has been sampled by The Wine Guy, but based on that experience, I'm looking forward to experiencing the other two offerings from this truly unique vineyard. The fetching Mrs. Wine Guy also thoroughly enjoyed her first sampling and has requested we do it again! With her endorsement, it looks as though an Ecuadorian wine will be regularly found in The Wine Guy's inventory.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ugni Blanc: a white grape workhorse!

Here's a question you could probably add to your wine trivia quiz that a majority of your quiz takers wouldn't get right: "What's the second most widely planted wine grape in the world and the number one white grape in France?". The answer is not Chardonnay...it's Ugni Blanc, a grape that produces a crisp, acidic wine that is very,very seldom found as a single varietal. It almost always has one or two other white varietals blended in to balance its acidity. In France, it is also heavily utilized as the informing grape in Cognac and Amagnac, two of the world's most popular distilled wine products.

As with most grapes, Ugni Blanc goes by some different names including Thalia in Portugal and Bulgaria and by the more well known name,Trebbiano in Italy. This grape is quite prolific in Italy as well as France and is mentioned as a usable grape in 80 of Italy's D.O.C.s and earns six D.O.C. designations there of its own. It is in Italian Trebbiano that The Wine Guy has been most familiar with this grape, but I've also enjoyed a blend of Ugni Blanc and Columbard in a French Cotes du Gascogne.

Recently, while shopping in Ecuador, I picked up an interesting Argentinean blend that featured Ugni Blanc as an informing grape. The wine was Pampas Del Sur Vino Blanco. It offered Ugni Blanc and Pedro Giminez as equal partners in 60% of the blend followed by contributions from Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Moscatel. The varietal selections were an intriguing combination that worked out very in creating a balanced , refreshing white wine that showed off various characteristics of its individual members when paired with different food items. I particularly enjoyed it recently at a friend's house with marinated and grilled pork tenderloin.

You'll rarely, and perhaps, may never see the name Ugni Blanc in your local wine shoppe. However, if you regularly explore good complex white blends, odds are that you will definately enjoy the effects of this widely grown workhorse of a grape. Ugni Blanc is definately worth some exploration. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A first look at wine in the land south of zero!

After spending two weeks on the road visiting some places we've wanted to see, touching base with some old friends and spending time with family, we boarded a plane in Atlanta bound for Quito, Ecuador. From there, we flew to Ecuador's third largest city, Cuenca. This community of roughly half a million inhabitants is situated in Ecuador's south central Andes mountains at an elevation of about 9,000 feet.

Ecuador is definately not among the world's top wine producers nor among its greatest consumers. To the best of my knowledge, there's only three wineries in the entire country. Imports are dominated, as one might suspect, by brands from Chile and Argentina. However, because of the very import tariff assessed here on imported alcoholic beverages, many of the better known brands can be purchased for less in the U.S. than they can here. This high cost tends to keep wine consumption low even with a growing influx of expat north americans and europeans who tend be bigger wine consumers than the Ecuadorians.

On of the local producers has gotten around the high import tariffs by importing bulk grape juice and grape must from Argentina and Italy. La Tocana Cosmica Cia, located just north of Cuenca then ferments and bottles the juice here under the brand label "Conde de la Cruz". I've only had the opportunity so far to sample their vino tinto reserva especial. This is a fairly fruit forward, soft, only semi-dry, red blend that comes in at 11% alcohol. When you learn that some of their equipment, training and bulk supplies come from Cantina Cooperativa Riunite, you understand why the fruity characteristics of this blend hint of lamrusco without any frizzante. It is a simple, uncomplicated fruity wine but enjoyable and quite affordable at its less than $5.00 shelf price. This is a hot price in a market where most imports are priced 10 to 20% higher than they would be in the states. there are some bulk box wines from Chile that advantage the low cost of packaging along with utilization of second run juice to keep prices low. A little searching, though, and you can find some notable quality, though lesser known South American imports in the $10 to $12 range.

One of the highly positive notices I've made about wine here is that, with a couple of noticable exceptions, restaurant pricing typically stays much closer to retail (about 1.5x) as compared to the 2.5 to 3x pricing commonly experienced in the U.S. If you're visiting Ecuador, you may find yourself saying ouch when selecring a familiar favorite wine at a package store or supermarket, but giving a pleasant sigh of relief when ordering it from a wine list at a restaurant.

During our two month stay, I'm sure the fetching Mrs. Wine Guy and I will enjoy some new wines despite the pricing. I've alrady found and enjoyed a great Chilean carmenere that's simply unavailable back in the states (more about that in a future blog). I'm also sure she'll thank me for remembering to pack and carry a good Brunello for the trip.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

We're taking some time off but will return!

Mr. & Mrs. Wine Guy outside the office of
 Castello Banfi on a previous wine sabbatical.
The ever-fetching Mrs. Wine Guy and I are preparing for some travels.  Our itineraries will take us cross-country to visit friends and family.  It will also take us out of the country to explore some retirement possibilities.  As a result, my computer time will be limited to a portable laptop and wireless access.

This may result in an extended period of sporadic and very brief postings here on Roger’s Grapevine.  But please know that it will be my intent to return to a regular posting schedule as soon as possible.   If you are a feed subscriber, please do not discontinue your subscription due to the lack of regular feeds.  It will be your best way to know when I’ve returned to a regular posting schedule.

Your readership and your support is appreciated.  Please feel free to browse and enjoy the archives during this sabbatical period.  Also, be advised that I will be regularly checking my email  rogerthewineguy@gmail.com.  Your inquires, as always, will be most welcome.  I would also consider posting some of my reader's comments and thoughts on the Grapevine during this sabbatical period in lieu of my wine tales and musings.

Thanks for your support and understanding.  I hope to return to a regular posting schedule by early fall with lots of new wine stories and tales to relate and share.

Until then, be sure to enjoy some good wine.  


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Great Occasion Calls For A Great Wine!

Trade image from
There are a lot of great family names in wine making and when it comes to great Cabernet Sauvignon, one of California’s best is Heitz.   Joe and Alice Heitz began producing great cabernets back in the early 60’s and Heitz Cellar continues to produces great wines today under the leadership of their kids Kathleen and David with a third generation of the family also becoming active.

Heitz Cellar is best known for its Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and it is, indeed, a great treat if you love and respect well-crafted and superbly aged Cabernet Sauvignon.  Its consistency is one of the reasons Wine Spectator named Heitz Cellar Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon one of the top 12 wines of the 20th Century.

Another great Cabernet from this family winery comes from their Trailside Vineyard.  The Heitz family acquired this vineyard in 1984.  With gently sloping land along Conn Creek, the Heitz family applies their same organic practices here as they do on Martha’s Vineyard.  They also apply the same care and skill in ageing their wine.  It spends 3 ½ years on oak and then additional time in the bottle for release.   The wine is capable of continued ageing and development in your cellar.

I discovered just how well when good friend Jared presented, as a gift, a bottle of 1998 Trailside Vineyard.  It was in a single word, superb.  Well aged, well balanced and with all the nuances and complexity you would expect in a great cabernet.    It was a thoughtful and treasured gift that will be long remembered.

The memory will be enhanced by the fact that I shared the bottle with the ever-fetching Mrs. Wine Guy on the occasion of her completing her final day of work and joining me in retirement. 

A good wine always makes a great occasion extra special.  Here’s hoping each of you gets that opportunity soon.   Salute!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Meritage Merits Exploration From Wine Lovers!

   Meritage is neither a varietal nor an appellation.  It has become, however, a wine name that continues to grow in significance.  The name was created by a small group of California vintners in 1988 to solve a problem.  With the U.S. wine labeling laws being oriented toward labeling with a single varietal, these wine growers and winemakers wanted to create a common proprietary name that readily identified a common style of wine resulting from utilizing a blend of varietals, in this case, a blend patterned after French Bordeaux. 
   The Meritage Association was formed in 1988 with less than a dozen members and had only grown to 24 members eleven years later in 1999.  Some of its founding wineries had already gained success with Bordeaux style blends given their own proprietary names.  These included such renowned names as Silver Oak, Opus One and Elu.   However just a scant four years later, their success promoted an explosion in the adoption of the wine style as well as a corresponding need in marketing it.   As a result, the Meritage Association grew to over 100 members in several states.
    Shortly thereafter, the Meritage movement became international in scope, prompting a reorganization and name change to the Meritage Alliance for the licensing organization.  Today, the Meritage Alliance website lists over 270 members.  Well over half are still from California, but alliance members hail from twenty-three U.S. states and seven different countries.
4 affordable and easy to find Meritage reds
   Not all members have used the term “Meritage” in labeling their wines, but most are doing so.  As alliance members, they, of course, follow the licensing requirements in producing the wine.   To be labeled a “Meritage” the licensed wine must result from a blend of two or more of the permitted varietals with no single varietal constituting more than 90% of the blend.  The permitted varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carmenere for red Meritage.  For white Meritage, the varietals are Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle du Bordeolais.  A production limit of 25,000 cases is recommended and it is further suggested, but not contractually required by the Alliance, that the Meritage be positioned as the winery’s premiere wine in label and in price.

a red Meritage
 from New Mexico
A white Meritage
from Canada
   The growth of Meritage association members since 2003 has led to a greater selection, more consistent quality and generally good affordability in Meritage.  If you enjoy a Bordeaux style blend, it may be well worth your effort to seek out and pour a Meritage.  Some of the very affordable Meritage reds The Wine Guy has enjoyed include the ones shown in the blog photograph  above:  Lyeth Sonoma County Meritage Red, Hahn Central Coast Meritage Red, Crandall Brooks Napa Meritage Red and Sterling Vintner’s Collection Central Coast Meritage Red.  A couple of other reds well worth seeking out are Casa Rondena New Mexico Meritage and St. Supery Napa Valley Elu.  White Meritage has been slower to develop but that may also be changing as the Alliance grows.  The largest non-U.S. foreign membership is from Canada, home of  quality white wine producers and the fourth largest state for U.S. membership is New York, also home to quality white wines.  The Wine Guy recommends looking for Jackson Trigg’s Proprietor’s Reserve Meritage White from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. I'm sure there are others worth seeking as well and would encourage readers to post your recommendations in the available comment box.
    Go explore.  Try a Meritage soon and enjoy!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Tips on Selecting A Gift Bottle of Wine

The Wine Guy:
Roger Yazell CWS
   During my tenure in wine retailing, I’ve often been asked to help a customer in selecting a bottle of wine as a gift.  Helping customers select just the right bottle of wine is always a pleasurable duty for any good wine steward but it can often be quite a challenge.  The following conversation occurs more often than you might think in this kind of situation and it represents the challenge that those of who work at retail often face:

Customer:    “I need to buy a bottle as a gift.  Can you recommend something?”
Wine Steward:  “It would be my pleasure to be of assistance, what did you have in mind?”
Customer:   “I don’t know a lot about wine and I’m in a hurry.  Just give me something good that doesn’t cost a lot.  You’re the expert, you choose!”

   The conversation, to this point, has probably placed your friendly, neighborhood Wine Guy in the position of trying to select an important gift for an unknown significant event from at least a few hundred possible choices.  You don’t have to be a mathematician to realize that the odds are very probable that any bottle he pulls forth at this point is probably doomed in terms of being able to satisfy or impress your gift recipient.  What’s needed here is a little more qualifying information to avoid your gift becoming just something you picked up on a whim.

   The subject of today’s blog is a short list of easy tips that will help make your bottle of wine gift selection easier and more meaningful even if you know little or nothing about wine.

Tip number 1: Have a gift budget in mind and let your wine steward know what it is.
Everybody is afraid of this one.  They don’t want to appear cheap (either to the steward or the recipient).  But you also don’t want to overspend.  You need to recognize that a good steward can recommend good wines anywhere from $4 to over $400 per bottle.  Anyone of them could be considered a bargain and a thoughtful gift if they fit the need and the occasion.  I once sold a customer a 92 point Brunello di Montalcino that retailed under $50, well below the typical retail for even a average wine of this type.  The recipient was an aficionado of bold Tuscan wines (and the customer’s boss!) who thought the employee had given him what amounted to a bar of gold.  Impressive wines don’t necessarily come with high price tags, especially in recent years.  It is not uncommon as it once was to find high quality wines retailing well under $20.   A good wine steward will recognize that this is a gift and will direct you to the most appropriate and most impressive bottle of wine within your price range but he needs to know what that range is in order to be able to do so.

Tip number 2:  Let your wine steward know what the occasion is.

Hostess gifts are the most common requests and that’s good to know, but what are they hosting?   If it’s an intimate dinner party, the selection should be personal and perhaps related to the meal being served.  A neighborhood gathering in which everyone is bringing a beverage to share may call for a completely different bottle or style of wine.  Birthdays, anniversaries, housewarmings, engagements, job promotions or just a thank you are all clues to the type or style of wine that could be purchased.   After prompting, one customer advised me that their gift was to be a bon voyage wish for friends who were taking a Greek island cruise.  Needless to say, an affordable bottle of Greek wine turned out to be an appropriate, thoughtful and meaningful choice. I once had a couple who were purchasing wine for friends who were serious wine aficionados with their own cellar and celebrating the adoption of a grandchild.  They were delighted when I recommended (within the budget they had decided to spend) not one, but two bottles of wine. The first was an affordable, quality bubbly for the grandparents and parents to share and toast their family addition. The second wine was capable of ageing under proper storage until the newest family member reached drinking age. Suffice it to say that a brief summary of why the gift is being given and how it will be used is the second most important piece of information in making a meaningful gift selection.  Having that information will help a good wine steward to make a great selection that fits the occasion in a timely and efficient manner.

Tip number 3:  Be prepared to tell something about whom the gift is for and what their known preferences (or dislikes) are:

It can impact your choice if the recipient is a male, female, older, younger, etc.  It obviously helps to know what wine preferences they might have.  Detail helps but isn’t always necessary.  Any general information can be helpful.  Even narrowing the choices down to the broad categories of red, white or sparkling can help expedite the choices and options and help insure a more meaningful gift.  In cases where this is unknown (and this is very common among my customers), a good steward will focus on blends or mid range wines likely to appeal to he broadest possible number of palate preferences and your gift bottle will stand a greater chance of being memorable to the recipient.  It’s almost as important here to also give information on other taste likes and dislikes.   I’ve had multiple customers wanting a gift wine for close friends who “loved” chocolate.  That’s allowed me to offer meaningful choices that ranged from a sparkling raspberry-flavored Italian Brachetto that paired wonderfully with chocolate to a red wine infused with Dutch milk chocolate to a deep, rich aged port with hints of cocoa.  Another customer finally wondered aloud to me what wine would be appropriate for a friend who absolutely had a passion for spicy Thai food.  That led to a gift of an excellent Nigori sake’, a perfect accompaniment to her friend’s favorite meal.  A deep, rich and smooth Zinfandel port turned out to be an excellent gift choice for another customer who didn’t know a friend’s everyday wine preference but knew he often enjoyed a good cigar after dinner.  Again, the more you can share about the recipients likes and dislikes, the better and more meaningful will be the recommendations you receive.  If you don’t know, don’t hesitate to say so.  It will help the steward avoid choices that might be narrowly selective in taste profiles.

Tip number 4: How is the gift to be presented?

  It might seem obvious but the presentation of a gift often says as much about the occasion and your thoughtfulness in giving it as the gift itself.  An appropriate gift bag only costs two to four dollars and can add a lot. So can presenting the wine in a gift basket, with a bow or ribbon attached or with a card message attached to the neck of the bottle.   One person I know who gives a lot of wine as gifts always asks for a sharpie and writes a short “Thank You”, “Happy Birthday”, Best Wishes”, “Congratulations”, etc and then dates and signs the bottle.  It’s a nice simple touch that adds extra meaning to the gift.  Give some thought or ask your steward for suggestions in making the bottle of wine you’ve selected more meaningful and special for the occasion.

Tip number 5:  What else do you need to complete the gift?

This ties in, as well, to the whole mindset of making the giving of a simple bottle of wine meaningful.  Some parents who had selected a bottle of bubbly for a housewarming gift to their daughter moving into the first place of her own were delighted when I suggested adding a pair of champagne flutes, some crackers and soft cheese with the bottle and placing them all in a gift basket with a card expressing their pride as she stepped out on her into the world.

The most important thing to remember is that a good wine professional treats your selection of a bottle of wine as an important event not only for you and the gift recipient but for him, as well.  If he is successful in making this the best possible choice within your budget, you are likely to return as a customer.  You’re also likely to be asked how and where you chose such a thoughtful gift. Thus he has the opportunity to help grow his customer base and volume if he helps you to make that simple gift of a bottle of wine a memorable experience for both you and the gift recipient.

Here's a recap of The Wine Guy's tips for gifting wine:
              1. Set a Budget
              2. Share the Occasion
              3. Identify who It's For
              4. Decide on Presentation
              5. Complete the Gift Experience

   I hope these simple tips are helpful.  The gift of wine can, and should be, a special event and is one of the most delightful ways to share the blessings and bounty of life with someone else.

Go out and share some wine with someone you care about soon!   

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sweet Wine For A Sweet Lady

The Wine Guy and his stepmother Mary
    The lady pictured at the right has been stepmother to The Wine Guy for nearly 40 years.  It should come as no surprise that she now and then enjoys a nice glass of wine.  She regularly gets that opportunity when she comes to visit.   And, of course, she is always receptive to whatever wine we pour.  I have to confess, however, that her preferences and mine do have a degree of difference.  While I enjoy almost every type of wine made, I prefer big bold reds and if they are Italian, that’s even better. 
Mary with a good book and
a good glass of wine before retiring.
      Mary also prefers red but there the similarity probably ends.  She has a definite sweet tooth and also believes you can’t cram too much fruit flavor into her glass of vino.   It’s not that she has a limited palate, she recognizes and identifies the components of many of my older, bolder selections and even enjoys some of the pairings she’s exposed to at dinner in our household.   It is just simply a fact that Mary likes her wine to be very fruit forward and with a fair hint of sweetness.  She’s also a sipper, enjoying a glass of wine pretty much on its own, at most accompanied by a good book or perhaps even a good friend to converse with.  I, on the other hand, generally prefer my wine paired with great food and treat it as a culinary experience.

    Here are a few of the sweeter style red wines that Mary has tried and reported back that she has enjoyed:

  Kokopelli Sweet Lucy:   This is the number one seller from from Arizona's largest winery.  Kokopelli focuses on fruity sweet wines and Sweet Lucy lives up to its name.  No oak aging here in order to let the fruity jamminess come through.  This is Mary's favorite, especially when she's sharing a glass of wine with her good friend Ruth.
  Funf Sweet Red:  A new brand (funf means five in German) from Schmidt Sohne, the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer producer known for their sweet riesling  Full of fruit and generally under 10% alcohol. Mary liked it.
  Wise & Heimer Sweet Red:  Another import using the fruity Dornfelder grape that is a native of Germany and has become its number one red wine grape.   Raspberry, Strawberry and cherry fruit flavors here with just a hint of tartness underlying the sweetness.  After sharing some of this wine Mary's friend Ruth wanted to take the empty bottle home to joke with her husband that there was a wine named after him (perhaps they may have had one glass too many).
  Il Conte D'Alba Stella Rosa:  (At least it's Italian!)  From the Piedmonte region comes this very low alcohol wine that's produced from partially fermented grape must.
Partially fermenting the must leaves some residual sugar, adds a slight yeasty taste and a light spritzing.
  Ca d Medici Lambrusco Dolce:   Lambrusco is referred to by some as the Coca-Cola of Italian red wines.  This brand is one of the better representations. It's more fruity than sweet and it's sparkling effect comes from fermenting the Lambrusca grape with the charmat method.
 Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto d.Acqui:  There's a hint of rose petals in the aromas, a deeper richer fruity flavor full of raspberry and strawberry but some definite sweetness.  This aperitif style wine is one of the best pairings you can make with dark or bitter chocolate.  It's alcohol by volume is in the 7% range.

Mary does enjoy some drier red wines and she is partial to one of The Wine Guy's favorites:  Allegrini's Palazzo Della Torre.  She'll continue to be exposed to those kinds of wines when she comes to visit, but she'll also always continue to get an opportunity to enjoy her favorites:  those wines that are slightly on the sweet side and full of fruit.   As the title of the blog says:  "Il vino dolce per una signora dolce".  Salute!


Monday, April 4, 2011

Putting A Cork In It!

    One of my readers enjoyed The Wine Guy’s departure from the norm when I recently chose to blog about wine barrels (see: “Wine Guy Over A Barrel!” 2/12/11) and suggested I do something on wine corks.  There’s a whole Pandora’s box full of issues on that topic ranging from TCA to the ongoing debate over the merits or demerits of alternative closures.  Most of those issues are probably beyond my experience and expertise in the wine trade and many others are addressing them well,  so please forgive me if I just stick to some basic background information in attempting to fulfill that request.

    Let me say first of all, that strictly as a wine drinker and aficionado and without regard to the technical debates, I love the romance and ambiance of “uncorking” a bottle of my favorite wine with a conventional cork.  It may date back to my first days as a sommelier, serving restaurant customers and my efforts to make having wine with food a special event.  It may relate to the special pleasure in successfully opening a bottle and pouring that first taste.  I just enjoy the ritual afforded with opening a bottle sealed with the conventional cork stopper.  In much the same manner, I enjoy the ritual of formally decanting a bottle in order to aerate the wine more than I do using a good mechanical aerator.

   I don’t find fault with the usage of screw caps on some wines (in fact, at times, I relish the comfort and convenience).  I also appreciate the convenience and the ease of a good aerator.  It’s just that, for me, the traditional rituals do bring something pleasurable and sensual to the occasion.  I can't help it, I'm a hopeless old romantic!

   Having said that, let’s share some background on the use of traditional wine corks.  Wine corks work well because of a combination of some key properties: impermeability, elasticity and semi-porosity.  Being nearly impermeable allows for secure containment of the precious liquid.  Elasticity allows for secure fitting into a glass bottle and also allows for relative ease in removal (that might be debated by some wine drinkers!).  Cork’s ability to contain liquid while allowing the bottle to “breathe” or exchange air with the outside allows for controlled ageing and development of the wine inside (desirable in many but not all wines).  Despite these properties, cork was not the stopper of choice for wine for hundreds of years.  It’s wide commercial usage didn't begin until the late 1600’s in France. It probably first began with Champagne, then with still wines.  Up to that point, oil soaked rags or hemp wrapped wood bungs soaked in paraffin were more commonly utilized in securing wine.  The Greeks sealed their early earthenware amphora with pine resin (today’s Greek Retsina pays homage to the flavoring that process imparted to early Greek wines).

   While it functions beautifully, the usage of cork does present some logistical challenges:   Cork comes from the peeled bark of the tree which must attain about twenty-five years of age before it can be first harvested.  The first and often the second harvest are usually not of the quality required for wine corks and these are generally utilized in construction as insulation or soundproofing.  Nine years transpires between each harvest from an individual tree and then the cork is allowed to oxidize for several months before being boiled twice over several weeks to kill organisms, dissolve tannins and generally prepare the material for punching out the subsequent wine cork.  Waste material is gathered and used in making composite pressed corks.  In short, there's a lot of time and labor involved in producing that tiny little old wine cork that seals your bottle of wine.

  The Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal) accounts for 70 to 80 percent of the world's cork production. An additional 10 to 16 percent comes from Italy, Morocco and southern France.  This narrow geography of this production (unsuccessful attempts to introduce cork trees to Australia probably account for the overwhelming popularity of screw caps from that country’s wineries) have combined with the rapid expansion of wineries and wine production to create a challenge. Demand is quickly outstripping availability and this has resulted in a steadily increasing usage and spread of alternative closures.

   These are among the many economic reasons for the diversity of closures on your favorite bottle of wine.  Don’t assume that it’s an inferior wine just because it has a synthetic or screw cap enclosure.  However, if you’re planning to cellar and age a particular wine for much later use, that bottle should probably be one that has a conventional wine cork closure for best results.  (Some winemakers are currently attempting long term taste testing on aging wine under different closures).

  Lack of a cork enclosure won’t deter The Wine Guy from trying and enjoying a bottle of wine but I’ll certainly reach for a traditionally corked bottle of wine when I want the occasion to be full of the romance and ambiance I associate with serving wine.  I also have gone “green” by saving and collecting my used wine corks for recycling.  Many retailers will now accept wine corks for recycling (often into other cork products but that keeps more of the current year’s harvest available for wine corks).  Check for the places that accept corks in your area (Trader Joe’s is among the nationwide chains currently accepting wine corks for recycling).  I also recommend the saving of wine corks as an easy remembrance of your favorite wines.  The Wine Guy also keeps a collection jar close by the location of my car keys in the kitchen.  With the winery and sometimes the wine name stamped on the cork, it’s easy to drop a cork into my pocket as a quick reminder of the wine I want to look for or repurchase on my next wine-buying trip.

As always, look forward to your next bottle of wine (with or without the traditional cork stopper).  It’s always an adventure and event worth savoring.  Salute!