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, 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.