Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Stelvin Closures and the Spirit of Approachability

There is probably nothing more off-putting to a wine connoisseur than to see an expensive, hard-to-come-by wine sporting a screw cap. And back in 2001, even most wine professionals were shocked when they heard that Plumpjack Winery, a Napa Valley producer of decadent Cabernet Sauvignons had decided to bottle half of their Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon production under Stelvin closures, the most respected and highest quality screw cap in the industry. The uproar was significant considering the fact that most wine buyers associated screw caps with cheap wine. Still, to this day, consumers are reluctant to accept them despite over three decades of research and testing that has shown them to consistently deliver wines in perfect condition.

Cork, a natural and increasingly limited resource unfortunately, continues to decline 
in its ability to guarantee a quality wine every time. Corks fail on a consistent basis by either allowing too much oxidation or by tainting the wine with a contaminant called Trichloroanisole. Corks are not perfect 100% of the time and they will typically fail when you least want them to – at an important dinner party when you’ve finally decided to open a prized bottle.  Cork is still the preferred closure for those wines that require considerable aging, but with very convincing research that shows that approximately 95% of all wine gets consumed within a week of its purchase, it just makes good sense to look for wines that feature a Stelvin closure.

And this is why an increasing number of the more progressive wine producing 
regions are moving away from cork and adopting Stelvin closures. The more wine consumers know about this technology, the more confident they will become; knowing that winemakers are so determined to deliver their wines in the best possible condition – that they’re bottling with “screw caps”.  And then there’s Plumpjack’s rationale …that Stelvin closures convey a “spirit of approachability” 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Montecucco, Napa Valley and Lake Seneca - Wine Country

Poggio Anima "Belial", Montecucco

Tuscany is covered in vines and you will find dozens of DOC wine regions, but for me, the rarest and one of the newer sources of great Tuscan wine is Montecucco. Just northeast of Grosseto, directly south of Siena and most importantly right up against the vineyards of Montalcino, this is where you'll find very sturdy, deeply flavored sangiovese wines that are WAY under the radar. I recommend looking for Poggio Anima "Belial" to experience for yourself just how full flavored Tuscan sangiovese can get. 
More info: click here

Having spent so much time in Napa Valley
Seqouia Grove Chardonnay, Napa Valley
back in the late 1980's, witnessing the birth of what would become "Classic Napa Chardonnay", I periodically have flashbacks
. And it was just that kind of jolt when I tasted the current release of Sequoia Grove's Chardonnay - I was transported back to the days when chardonnay was richly textured with silky layers of buttercream, vanilla and a sweet, sweet purity. Well, if your feeling a bit nostalgic,  I would recommend seeking out this Chardonnay - and pair it up with several of the biggest richest flavored crabcakes you can find.
More info: click here

Standing Stone Dry Vidal
From way out in left field, and a complete shocker for me was this New York State wine produced on the eastern banks of Lake Seneca. Vidal is a hybrid grape variety planted mostly because it tolerates very cold climates and can produce exquisite ice wines. But it can also be fermented dry...and this is one of the most extraordinary bottlings I've tasted. The Standing Stone Vineyard Dry Vidal has a lushness, an incredible rich array of pear-like fruit flavors and a balancing tangy acidity that will make you swear you've been treated to an Alsace Grand Cru Pinot Gris.
More info: click here

Monday, September 16, 2013

Alsace - Where purity of expression reigns.

If there is a French wine region that Americans can feel comfortable exploring - it's Alsace! You'll find this narrow stretch of vineyards in the far eastern part of the country, snug up against Germany. The proximity to Germany has influenced the wines quite a bit. The Germanic names of the vintners and the tall slender shaped bottles, resembling Mosel wines, both work to make the wine consumer think that these wines are more like German wines with a slight sweetness.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Most Alsace wine is fermented dry. The natural sugars are reduced through fermentation to a level where the average palate will not be able to detect any sweetness. But - the real beauty of these wines is that there is a very pronounced fruit component. In fact, vintners here seem to put almost all the emphasis on this aspect of wine production: fruit identity of their grape varieties.

Of all the French wine regions only in Alsace will you see the grape variety clearly displayed on the label. There is very little blending going on here. Typically wines are 100% of the grape variety stated on the label. And this is exactly why it is so easy for Americans to understand these wines. Americans are trained to buy wines by grape variety and have been slow to learn the European system of buying by region.

Each grape variety has it's own set of fruit aromas and flavors and in Alsace this is nurtured, amplified and emphasized. It seems like every aspect of winemaking is done to protect this precious part of the wine. Fermentations take place in stainless steel tanks where the temperatures can be kept cool; a technique that preserves the freshness of the fruit flavors. You won't see oak barrels stacked to the ceilings here. Oak barrels whether used for fermentation or aging diminish and/or distract from the pure fruit expression of the grape variety.

I recently tasted my way through the wines of Trimbach and Gustave Lorentz, both great wine producers with a long history of making some of Alsace's best wines. Their wines would be a great place to start exploring the beauty and purity of the wines from this region
Wines to seek out:

Trimbach Pinot Blanc
Gustave Lorentz Pinot Blanc

Trimbach Riesling

Trimbach Pinot Gris
Gustave Lorentz Pinot Gris

Gustave Lorentz Gewurztraminer

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Top Twelve Wines for Under $10

I had a fellow call me from France a couple of days ago. He wanted to have a case of wine delivered to an old friend who lives nearby. I asked him what his budget was and he said that he wanted to spend $100. I started to ask him some general questions about what this person's taste in wine was, trying to get a feel for what types of wine to include in the case and was then handed over to "The Wife" who, he mumbled, knows more about wine. After asking just a few basic questions of her she sighed and said  "you seem to know quite a bit about this" and "why don't you just pick out something nice". The quick math on this is that twelve bottles of wine costing $8.99 a bottle would yield a case of wine costing just over $97.

After selecting four red wines, putting in three bottles of each, I began to see this as something that people all over, at least Massachusetts, would do. Especially those folks packing up their car for a Cape Cod getaway. The problem is that I think most folks would think the task of finding really good tasting, more than just palatable wines for under $10 would be impossible. It's not. The fact is that there have always been great wines to be discovered in this "price-challenged" category. For the past 32 years, as long as I have been tasting, buying and helping customers select wines, I have been able to find very nice, if not damn tasty,  wines in this price category:

So for the current, up-to-date recommendations on
the very best wines that you can find for well under $10:

Some Whites!

Castillo de Jumilla Blanco

Pacifico Sur Sauvignon Blanc

Ponte Vinho Verde

Oracle Chardonnay

Ca Stella Pinot Grigio

Norton Torrontes

Some Reds!

Santa Ema Carmenere

De Bortoli Petite Sirah

Minini Cabernet Sauvignon


Chat en Ouf

La Fiera Montepulciano d'Abruzzo

Assort any twelve bottles and most stores will discount the case by at least 10%
You'll have twelve nice, dependable, easy drinking wines to serve even the fussiest
guests who may pop in. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Gordon Russell: Esk Valley Winery

People often ask me how often I travel to the vineyards, to wine country. I think I always disappoint them when I tell them "rarely". The fact is, after living in San Francisco for 15 years and obsessively visiting almost every winery in northern California, I don't think I ever need to see another bladder press, crusher/de-stemmer or barrel room for as long as I live. I do miss the vineyard dogs who typically come racing up to the car as you creep slowly down the dusty entrance roads, trying not to kick up as much dust as possible. With their slobber covered tennis balls moving from side to side in their mouths and their ears laid back in the always familiar "come play with me" expression, I know that I'm in the right place. Life at the winery is always laid back and never hurried. 

But that was then and now it's different. Now, winemakers come to me and that's just fine with me. Chatting with winemakers is the "real deal". There's no fluff, no pretense - just straight up wine talk. Stuff that would probably make most people bored out of their brain. As long as I've been doing this I still like to "feel" a winemaker. These are the guys who are so intimately involved in the process of crafting their wines that you can just feel the passion for what they're doing. I've had the great pleasure of meeting and hanging out with hundreds of winemakers.

So today it was a great pleasure to meet with Gordon Russell, the Senior Winemaker as Esk Valley Winery of Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. 

Gordon couldn't have been more "down to earth" and comfortable talking about his wines. We started off with his Sauvignon Blanc which is a stunning example of a rare style of sauvignon blanc not frequently encountered in the Marlborough vineyards of New Zealand. The overt, aggressive grapefruit/citrus character of most Marlborough  Sauvignon Blanc is nowhere to be seen in this wine and that's just fine with me. This wine had more minerality, river stone and snap pea flavors to make me think of Pessac-Leognan wines. Gordon actually admitted to making a White Bordeaux styled sauvignon blanc for their own consumption - not for sale. While this Sauvignon Blanc is surely Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, it definitely suggests to me that there is some inspiration from Bordeaux. 

Next up was a beautiful Chardonnay that is produced from grapes grown in the Hawkes Bay area. Using partial barrel fermentation with "neutral" oak and partial malo-lactic fermentation, this chardonnay exhibits pristine, pure fruit flavors and pleasant tongue teasing acidity. Sadly, chardonnays are being passed over these days, but this effort is worth checking out.

As nice as these two whites were, the show stopper for me was a red wine that was so nicely done I couldn't stop thinking about the wine long after Gordon had left. I see lots of Pinot Noir from New Zealand, but rarely have I tasted a Bordeaux-style red from this part of the world. Gordon described the unique vineyard site, the Gimblett Gravels vineyard parcels, that had very unique soils and drainage that favored Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec. This blend was striking on so many levels: there was a wonderful array of fruit flavors with each varietal seamlessly combining and creating a harmonious center to the wine; the tannins and structure of the wine were just firm enough, avoiding any drying astringency, and the finish on this wine was persistent, with long lingering notes suggesting grapes that were truly picked at perfect ripeness. All I can say is - Wow! You got to go out and get some.  

Tech Sheet for Sauvignon Blanc

Tech Sheet for Chardonnay

Tech Sheet for Merlot - Cabernet Sauvignon - Malbec


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Great, Affordable Petite Chateau Bordeaux

Who doesn't like a great deal on tasty Bordeaux! Well, I just tasted the new releases of Chateau Nicot moments ago and I just absolutely loved them. The labels have been updated. The red no longer has the crazy Halloween orange label. It now carries a very stylish, understated label, a really nice change. 

This property is in the Entre-Deux-Mers region of Bordeaux a spot that produces lovely, crisp delightful whites and soft, plummy enjoyable reds. These two are excellent examples. 

The white is rather unusual in that it is produced with 20% Muscadelle, 40% Sauvignon Blanc and 40% Semillon. Typically the Muscadelle portion would be lower, but this effort seems perfectly balanced. I found lots of really nice sweet grassy flavors and the perfect amount of acidity. I first discovered this white at 80 Thoreau, the Concord, MA eatery that had it offered by the glass. I got back to my store and made inquiries and was told that I would not be able buy any. The distributor needed to protect the restaurant - the restaurant was pouring it like water. I can see why. With the new vintage there's more available, so get some before they cut us off again. Approx retail $12

The red is equally enjoyable and is built using just 80% Merlot with the balance being Cabernet Sauvignon. I loved the lush, soft, concentrated black raspberry fruit flavors with a touch of that cedar spice that only Bordeaux reds have. There's enough body to give that nice mouth-filling sensation, but enough elegance to make it very food friendly. I think it has enough up-front appeal to be a great cocktail wine. It's so crazy good you'll just have one glass after the next. Approx retail $12

You should be able to find these easily - so go out and get some!

For all the wine geeks who want more specific info here's a link to a site that does the best job.

click here

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Wine Blogging - Why?

Why blog? Does anyone really read this stuff? Granted it's way easier than updating and maintaining a website, but am I reaching the right bunch of people to make it worthwhile. Am I just doing it as therapy? Am I just stroking my ego, convincing myself that I know something about this stuff. This must be a phase that all bloggers must go through. Whatever the phase I'm going through is called, I think I'm over it. It's time to get back to it and see what I can accomplish here.
So, to all of the 497 people who have taken a look here - thank you. I hope you'll come back from time to time.