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.)

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!