Friday, December 25, 2009

2005 Morgan "Double L" Pinot Noir - Santa Lucia Highlands

Terry post:

It was in July of 1980 when I was first in France that I drank red wine from Burgundy. I was traveling from Naples, Italy to Den Helder, Netherlands via train when I stopped over in Paris for three nights. Staying at a one-star hotel above a butcher’s shop I explored the city, ate well and drank well for not much money.

As a young man from rural Michigan I’d not experienced anything remotely like the wine which I enjoyed that trip. My experience with red wine was limited to marginal Italian reds and California reds. I remember two things vividly about that moment twenty-nine years ago: First, the overwhelming mouth-filling flavor of the wine and how it seemed to be everywhere in my palate. It was rich, ripe and flavorful: more so than I’d known before and without the overly acidic or overly tannic flavors which characterized much of the low-cost California reds which I’d consumed up to that time. Second, was how common and accessible the wine was even at inexpensive side-street cafes. I was having lunch at decidedly non-upscale restaurant and the wine was listed as, “Vin Rouge - Burgundy” on the menu. As I dined at that sidewalk cafe my appreciation for wine changed forever.

I preface this review of the 2005 Morgan Double L Pinot Noir as this wine is a close to any French Burgundy which I have enjoyed originating this side of the Atlantic. It is simply a wonderful wine which strives, quite successfully, to emulate the great French pinot noir’s of Burgundy.

My Impression: Medium plum in color. Intense but not overly so. Cherries, raspberries and spice box with just the right amount of acidity. Closing out with a luxurious, long and lingering finish that goes on forever. Superb.

The 2005’s are at their peak right now and should be consumed in the next year or so. Only 800 cases of the 2005 Double L were produced and it is available on-line for prices between $49 and $56 per bottle.

The 2005 Morgan Double L Pinot Noir is, at it’s price point, a “trophy wine” and the sort which is reserved for special occasions. And that is a shame as great wines are to be enjoyed in any circumstance. It is the wine that makes the meal special!

Christmas Eve I paired it with homemade pizza and boiled chicken gizzards, firmly believing that for those few fleeting minutes that no man on earth was dining as well as I.

~ Terry

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wine Diamonds: The Untold Story

Brad Post:

The adage goes something like this "diamonds are a girls best friend" but what about wine diamonds?  Perhaps you've encountered crystalline structures attached to the underside of your cork or maybe noticed sediment in the bottom of your wine glass and wondered what was wrong with your wine.

Are Wine Diamonds the new best friend of girls or are they indicative of bad wine?

Some background. Wine contains three primary acids: Tartaric (most abundant), Malic, and Citric (least abundant) and are responsible for the sour taste in wines.  There are preferred ranges of total acidity (TA) for white wines (6-9 g/L) and red wines (5-7g/L) - (notice white wines acidity is higher).

In the Midwest, the cold-hardy varietals that we are able to grow, and make into good wine, tend to push the envelope of high acidity. (The Frontenac grapes from this year were picked at 21 Brix and 16 g/L TA - crazy-high!). Reason for high-acid?  Either the grapes were harvested before they are fully ripened or may just be an artifact of the varietal being grown.

Back to the questions:  Are wine diamonds the new best friend of girls or are they indicative of a fault?  No.  No, is the answer to both questions.  Although interesting to look at and harmless to consume, wine diamonds are simply Potassium Bitartrate salts (or Tartaric Acid crystals) more commonly known by their kitchen cupboard name - cream-de-tartar. These crystals are soluble in juice but less so in wine. And this means that the acids in the juice are invisible (much like sugar dissolved in Kool-Aid) but in wine they can begin to crystallize and precipitate (fall out of solution) and ultimately collect on the cork or inside at the bottom of your bottle of wine.

In my next blog, I'll explain how winemakers try to minimize the chance of crystal formation and explain what I do around the winery to aid in the stabilization of wine.

Brad Johnson is a contributing writer for Make Mine Wine Magazine, an artisan winemaker, researcher, teacher, and proud member of the Eastern Iowa Wine Club. He Tweets as "Iowine".

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

NV Harthill Farms Cabernet Sauvignon - California

Terry post:

The first thing you should know when you visit Wholefoods Market is it's nickname: "whole paycheck". Wholefoods Market is an expensive place to shop for your groceries. The Porches, Mercedes and Volvos in the parking lot tell you all you need to know about the demographic which shops at Whole

So imagine my surprise when I saw a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon at the endcap of check-out counter for $4.99. The wine, a non-vintage Harthill Farms is a California appellation is of an unknown origin. I tried searching for Harthill Farm Winery on the web, and all I could find was a horse farm in Ocala, Florida. I am left with assuming that some middle-man has aggregated a lot of juice and brokered a high-volume deal with Wholefoods Market. Think of Harthill Farm as the upscale version of "Two-Buck Chuck".

My Impression: Medium red in color. Thin nose with very little fruit across the palate. Moderate soft tannins on the woody finish. It is a pretty simple wine without much going on other a little fruit and a respectable amount of tannins at the end. No real flaws.

I paired the wine with a bowl of chili this evening. In boxing terms, the wine was fighting outside of it its weight class. While I found Harthill Farms Cabernet Sauvignon acceptable, it did not have the intensity to stand up to the spicy beef, beans and tomatoes. All-in-all, at $4.99 for a 750 mL bottle with no critical faults the NV Harthill Farms Cabernet Sauvignon is a very good value and worthy of a try. Just be careful when you park your truck next to the Porche.

~ Terry

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Fun Wine Marketing Data

Terry Post:

Some interesting quotes from a 2007 report on wine produced by Marketing Intelligence (MINTEL):

Wine branding though fun labels has emerged as an important attribute to attract American consumers, especially the younger ones, and drive growth in the market. The brands with fun imagery, such as animals and critters, and tongue-in-cheek titles such as Fat Bastard seemed to connect better with consumers

On premise consumption...accounted for nearly 50% of the total sales...Liquor stores remained the biggest off-premise channel accounting for 22% of the total wine sales. Supermarkets...accounted for 18% of the total sales.”

The imported wine segment exhibited 56% increase volume sales growth - four times the sales growth achieved by domestic wine segment...Although Italian brands accounted for the highest volume share (35.2%) of the imported segment, it is Australian brands that drove primary growth. Australian Yellow Tail, the best selling imported brand...accounted for 26% of the total volume growth.”

37% of women are likely to drink wine, compared with 30% of men.”

Around 40% of the respondents aged 55-64 are likely to drink wine - exhibiting the highest incidence...while respondents aged 21-34 exhibited the lowest incidence of drinking wine.”

Wine consumption significantly increases with household income of respondents. Around 46% of respondents reported drinking wine in the highest household income of $100k+, compared to 23% of respondents with household income of $25k or less.”

~ Terry

Saturday, December 12, 2009

2007 SKN Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Terry Post:

Gotta love the name: SKN which is an abbreviation for Screw Kappa Napa. I have been aware of the brand for a few years and first tried a SKN Sauvignon Blanc a last year.

SKN is another of several affordable down-market brands for Don Sebastiani & Sons. Other DS&S brands include: Smoking Loon, Mia's Kitchen, b-Side and and Pennywise.

My impression: Garnet to dark plum color. Red fruit and a hit (not unpleasantly so) of grass across the palate. Finished by long, soft, and lingering tannins on the dark berries. Very pleasant. It drinks like a more expensive Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon.

I am serving this wine with Beef Burgundy this evening. I think it would pair nicely with all of the typical pairings: beef, bison, lamb etc.

I paid $8.99 for my bottle at Dover Air Force base package store. Locally, I have seen it priced at $9.99 and $10.99 - so they are trying hard to keep it affordable. At this price and quality, the 2007 SKN Cabernet Sauvignon is an outstanding value.

~ Terry

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Holiday Wine Q & A

Terry post:

Some questions which I have fielded recently:

Q: Is it appropriate to combine wine and egg nog?

A: Good question. I tried this at home and the answer is a qualified “no”. I say it is qualified in that I limited my egg nog blending with a dry white wine. The wine blended easily into the nog, with the resultant beverage being slightly curdled. If I were to try this again, I would blend with a Madera or a Port Wine: I think they would blend more comfortably with the egg nog. I did a little internet research and could not find a posting which had a favorable result with this combination.

Q: What wine pairs best with roasted turkey?

A: My personal preference is a either a non-oaked Chardonnay or a Sauvignon Blanc. It really depends on how the bird is prepared. The Chardonnay would be my choice if the turkey is served with rich sauces or gravy (think fat or butter or cream based). The Sauvignon Blanc would be my choice if I were eating healthier and passing up on the fatty gravies and sauces. As a wild card, I continue to advocate Champagne and sparkling wine with virtually any entree.

Q: What wine works best with baked ham?

A: I have never been satisfied with any wine with which I paired baked ham but here the wines which I have tried in decending order of personal preference: Pinot Gris (Italian), Pinot Grigio (U.S.), Sparkling Syrah (Australian), dry Reisling, and Sparkling Wine. Ham is really challenging because the meat is typically salty and it is served with overly sweet preparations and side dishes. If it were my table and my wine-selecting "cred" were on the line, I'd punt and serve sparkling water!!

Q: How cold should I serve my white wine?

A: As a general rule it is my opinion that we drink our white wines too cold and our red wines too warm. Here is my suggestion for enjoying your wines just a little bit more. Refrigerate your white wine for an hour or more and then set it out 20 minutes at room temperature before you serve. Refrigerate your red wine for 20 minutes before serving. Simple.

Q: What is a good inexpensive sparkling wine for the holiday season?

A: I like Spanish cava's with my favorite value selection being Freixenet. The cava's feature sufficient fruitiness with a dry finish. At $8 to $12 per bottle they are a great value. I saw Freixenet at my local grocery for $8.99 last week.

~ Terry

Thursday, December 3, 2009

2008 Yellow Tail Shiraz: Wine for People Who Don't Like Wine

Terry Post:

It is a curiosity. The Yellow Tail wine brand accounts for nearly 10% of the imported wine market in the United States. Think of that! One of every ten bottles of imported wine consumed in the U.S. is from one Australian brand which is panned by the wine press. When is the last time you read anything positive about Yellow Tail in Wine Spectator? for that matter, when was the last time you read ANYTHING about Yellow Tail in Wine Spectator?

There may be a good reason for the dearth of positive reporting as Yellow Tail breaks with the popular conventions of the wine business because their product doesn't taste like a conventional wine. You have heard me talk about acidity in almost every commentary which I have posted. In some cases the acidity of the wine has made it a food friendly winner. And, in other cases the acidity has made it usable only as a drain cleaner.

Yellow Tail approached the wine market by taking aim at the segment which does not like the tartness or acidity which is typically found in wine. That is, they produce wine for people who don't like wine. By neutralizing the natural acidity in the wine they removed a barrier which kept the vast majority of individuals from drinking wine. In one article I read several years ago in Wine Spectator, the author estimated that only 15% of Americans actually like wine. If true, that means an overwhelming 85% of Americans do not like wine. At least they do not like wine as they know it.

My Impression: Monumentally huge, overwhelming cherries and oakiness on the nose and and equally flabby red fruit on the tongue with a brief almost sweet Luden's cough drop finish. For an instant I was transported in my wine-time-machine to the summer of 1974 and drinking Mogen-David Concord grape wine coolers at the Reno Bar in Greenville, Michigan. The Yellow Tail is like that: and, almost as embarrassing.

It is brilliant that Yellow Tail identified an under served portion of the market and developed a product specifically to address that segment. There must be marketing executives shaking their heads in disbelief that such a simple approach could succeed so easily. So, what is their secret? It is simple really: give people low-priced, low-acidity wines that are easy to drink.

At $6.99 for a 750 mL bottle it is reasonably priced. However you are part of that 15% of the American wine consuming public, you should pass on this low-priced Shiraz.

~ Terry

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Fermentation: CO2 Gas and Climate Change

Brad Post:

(Copenhagen) Gathered together, for the past two weeks in an empty wing of the Parliament building, an unlikely assembly of climate scientists and members of the Federation of Oenological Leaders (FOLS) met secretively, in advance of The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark to discuss Carbon Dioxide emissions related to wine fermentation activities occurring throughout the world.

According to the United Nations “Over a decade ago, most countries joined an international treaty -- the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) -- to begin to consider what can be done to reduce global warming and to cope with whatever temperature increases are inevitable.” Missing from the Kyoto Protocols, according to FOLS President Juan Antonio Tempranillo, is an “accord that doesn’t necessarily exempt the carbon emissions resulting from alcohol fermentation (a buy-product of winemaking) but provides a sequestration framework similar to other emitters.”

Emissions trading, also known as Cap and Trade, is an administrative process to control pollution through incentivizing reductions in carbon emissions. The International Association of Wine Regions (IAWR) recently proposed an innovative framework, based loosely upon the Cap and Trade system, colloquially regarded as a “Cork and Trade” approach. The Cork and Trade approach sequesters the carbon dioxide (CO2) gas that is produced during fermentation. The “captured” CO2 gas is held at high pressure for later use.

With the glut of still wine available on the market and world-wide demand for sparkling wine increasing exponentially, the IAWR regards the Cork and Trade system as a net-gain model of efficiency. In the words of Dr. Tempranillo, “the Cork and Trade innovations highlight the imagination of international winemakers by creating a new market for greenhouse gasses – injecting CO2 into still wine to create a new class of eco-friendly bubbly!”

The next few days are critical as climate scientists and wine industry leaders lobby hard for the incentive program prior to the Conference.

Brad Johnson is a contributing writer for Make Mine Wine Magazine, an artisan winemaker, satirist, and proud member of the Eastern Iowa Wine Club. He Tweets as "Iowine".

Friday, November 27, 2009

2008 Red Bicyclette French Rose

Terry post:

I don't expect much when I buy a bottle of Rose and am always pleasantly surprised when the bottle provides more pleasure than I expect.

Gallo owns the Red Bicyclette label and is using that brand to sell "vin ordinare" to US citizenry. I recently double-tasted a Red Bicyclette Chardonnay to disastrous results - it is simply un-drinkable. So, my expectations were very, very low when I cracked open a bottle of the 2008 Red Bicyclette Rose yesterday to be served at the Thanksgiving Day dinner table.

My impression: Strawberries and raspberries immediately and intensely upon the nose. There is good acidity which provided enough food-friendly structure for the wine to stand up pleasantly with my oyster-infused turkey dressing.

I expect the Gallo brand to provide reliable, unspectacular every-day wines at reasonable prices. The 2008 Red Bicyclette French Rose exceeds my expectations and is keeping with more pricy Rose (primarily from Australia) which I have sampled these past two years. Whereas their 2007 Chardonnay is un-drinkable, this 2008 French Rose is a food-friendly surprise and and at its very reasonable price point ($6.99 750 mL) a bargain.

~ Terry

Sunday, November 15, 2009

2004 Oriel Setena Terra Alta Red

Terry Post:

Perhaps I am a little jaded in favor of Oriel as I really like the basic idea behind the négociant brand created by entrepreneur John Hunt: "Rock Star" wine makers hand-craft small-batch wines with grapes from some of the world's most interesting wine regions.

Oriel’s is a different way for doing business as the majority of premium wine makers control the entire wine making process from owning the land upon which the grapes are grow, to crushing, blending, aging and (in some instances) distribution. In the U.S. this sort of closely-controlled arrangement is the norm for premium wines.

In France things are a little different with négociants having a well-established and well-appreciated place in the wine business. A négociant is a trader which buys wine products (from grapes to wine) and places his name on those products. Until quite recently négociants were the most common brands and the most common way for wine to reach the French retail market. Wikipedia has a nice write up on négociants here.

The important difference with the Oriel brand is that they employ well-respected wine makers who have made their mark with other premium brands to make their wine. The 2004 Oriel Setena Red's wine maker is Xavier Clua - a fourth generation winemaker. Clua is the current winemaker for Celler Xavier Clua which specializes in wines from the Terra Alta region of Spain. The Setena is a blend sourced from Terra Alta.

My impressions: Setena is a full-bodied, richly colored red wine with ripe cherries and spicebox on the nose. Plums and spice on the finish with moderate tannins. My immediate impression was that I was tasting a Châteauneuf du Pape with softer, more rounded edges. This shouldn't be too surprising as Setena is 40% Grenach – the workhorse grape of a Châteauneuf. The wine is more tannic, and less rustic, that you'd find with the typical Châteauneuf, and I think this is a likely positive outcome resulting from the 20% Cabernet Sauvignon used in the Red's blend.

This wine is engineered to be paired with foods of intense flavor such as bison, venison and rack of lamb. It would also pair very nicely with a dry-rubbed beef roast. Two summers ago I had a morel mushroom bisque served over foie gras at Citronelle in Washington, D.C. - This wine would have paired very well with that intense, flavorful bisque.

You can find Setena for about $18 (750 mL bottle) at retail and at that price it is a very good value and worthy of your consideration.

~ Terry

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Lost at Sea

Brad Post:

I’m no slouch when it comes to wine. Well, perhaps I do possess certain slouch-like characteristics such as yesterday when I visited a local wine store. With some time to kill before I had to pick up my wife from work, I decided to gather some supplies at the grocery store and to poke my head into the wine department.

What began as a “poke” became an extended browse as I inched my way from Argentina to New Zeeland, around the corner to Cabernet Sauvignon and by-passing Chardonnay land, with a brief stop by Iowa wines to say hi, and slowly crept past my old friends: Zinfandel and Petit Syrah, and finally ending in a colorful foil enshrined and encapsulated sparkler section – a magical place.

The dizzying selection of wines captured my attention as my eyes darted from cute to sophisticated labels, checking out prices, and scanning for the occasional wine review and numerical evaluation assigned by some faraway wine snob. Without much else to go by the 91 (out of 100, I assume) seemed like a fair bet. Only once, while standing there in my slouch-like trance, did a wine store employee stop by to ask if I had a question. I must have mumbled something like, “well, I am just looking at the pretty labels” or words to that effect, and she promptly did an about-face, never to return. I was abandoned!

I was lost in a sea of choices! Just like the damn ice cream stores with their 83 varieties – what evil monster is behind this vast kaleidoscope of oenophile opportunities? For a second I looked over both shoulders to see if there was a curtain from which some master-mind orchestrated this wicked play. But alas, it was just me and the wine, and then looking down at my watch I realized I had overstayed my brief visit and it was time to go.

There are worse things than leaving a wine store empty handed. Right?

- - - - - - - -

Brad Johnson is a contributing writer for Make Mine Wine Magazine, an artisan winemaker, and proud member of the Eastern Iowa Wine Club. He Tweets as "Iowine".

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

2008 Red Bicyclette Chardonnay - Vin De Pays D'Oc

Terry Post:

Last year I enjoyed a bottle of Red Bicyclette Merlot and on a recent trip to the wine store I saw a bottle of Red Bicyclette Chardonnay on the shelf for $8.99 and on a whim bought a bottle.

The Red Bicyclette brand is owned Gallo and they appear to be making market penetration selling jug wines wines from the South of France. These vin ordinare are dolled up in with a nice label and sold as a low-priced entry into French wine.

Slightly confusing, the Gallo brand masters have changed their familiar Frenchman on a bicycle on a yellow background for a simpler, less evocative, bicycle against a tan background. Who am I to argue with Gallo, but the older label seemed a better branding choice.

My impression: Lively vanilla and oak nose. Tart initially and tannic on the finish - tastes which I do not associate with Chardonnays. No fruit at all. Very difficult to drink with more than half of the bottle going down the drain. I suspect that I had a stale bottle which would explain the lack of fruit. My limited experience with oxidized wines is that they are very thin on the nose, so maybe I am off on the cause. The cork looked to be intact and the wine was a lovely straw color - as it should have been. All-in-all a very flawed wine. I will buy a second bottle from another retailer and see if I get the same results.

It wasn't that long ago that I opined that there has never been more high-quality wine hitting the market and that it was challenging for the consumer to find a bad wine. Well, I have hit two clunkers in a row. I hope to do better next time.

November 27th Update: Purchased another bottle this past week from a different retailer and opened it Thanksgiving Day. It displayed the same overwhelming tartness and lack of fruit which I experienced with my first bottle. It is a deeply flawed wine and not worth drinking at any price.

~ Terry

Monday, November 9, 2009

Best of the Best

Brad Post:

On Saturday morning, with my back cooking from the unusually warm November sunshine, I sat in a nondescript room in a conference hall with nine others waiting for the first pour. In front of me rest ten small empty wine glasses in an convex arc laid upside down upon white linen; one at a time during the next several hours (with replacements at the ready) wine was poured, slurped, sipped, tasted, evaluated and scored.

We slogged through the fruit wines, one at a time, and some were very good. Others were not so good. With each evaluation, I carefully tasted and made comments to the winemaker in hopes of providing a fair assessment of their wine – hopefully something one could use to improve a bit (at least that was my intent).

The group sitting opposite of ours was responsible for judging the wine (grape wine) and mead, while ours critically scored three dozen fruit (or country) wines. Tastings began with light and dry and eventually ascended or descended into a syrupy mêlée of 10% residual sugary wines.

For some wine judges inexperienced in judging fruit wines this can be a turn-off, chore or simply beneath them. In fact, I noticed at least two judges scurry away from my table once learning it was the fruit wine table. Of course who could blame them with the reputation of fruit wine as an overly sweetened nasty concoction crafted from grandma’s dandelions, elderberries, and God-knows what else? What are Elderberries, anyhow?

Common problems
: 1) Sediment in bottle, haze or cloudy plumes in bottle, 2) evidence of oxygen ingress (e.g., browning and orange-hued wines; acetaldehyde (sherry aroma); and way too much headspace between cork and wine) – probably the single most problematic issue and one so easy to remedy, 3) lack of fruit flavors.

Ultimately our group faced-off against the wine group to pick the best of the best. Theirs was a California wine-kit red wine, and mead, and ours an Elderberry wine. We tasted their wines and they tasted ours and we were all convinced “our” picks were best!

And in that warm, sunny room, on an unusually warm November day, we decided that we had already picked the best of the best – And the truth is that one cannot compare an Elderberry wine to a bold California wine, not to mention the Mead!

Brad Johnson is a contributing writer for Make Mine Wine Magazine, an artisan winemaker, and proud member of the Eastern Iowa Wine Club. He Tweets as "Iowine".

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Naked Wine Show: Revealing the Truth

Terry Post:

So. I was in Los Angeles a couple weeks ago and the hotel channel featured something called the, "Naked Wine Show". Intrigued, I watched a quick 60 second review of some sparking wine.

Like all good advertising there is some truth, but not all truth in the "Naked Wine Show". The host, Susan Sterling, does appear to be sans-clothing and due to the positioning of the camera, her wine glass and the wine bottle her nakedness is not shared outside of the studio wherein her quick summaries are taped. The appropriate name of the reviews might more appropriately be called the, "Naked Shoulders Wine Show".

Now to her reviews. After watching the first review it seems obvious that she is reading prepared notes and that the seeming spontaneity is just that: seeming. From personal experience when I taste a wine I slurp, swoosh, spit several times before I begin to get a sense of the wine: it takes time. Semi-naked Susan just pops open the wine, pour it into a glass and the comments flow like, well, like wine from a bottle.

She is easier on the eyes than I am. Her comments are rehearsed. Her shoulders are naked. All-in-all she is an interesting diversion from the dime-a-dozen wine reviewers such as - ahem - me.

~ Terry

Friday, October 30, 2009

Lots of Cleaning!

Brad Post:

Behind the tasting room door is another world most visitors never see – the wine cellar. There is a flurry of activity in a wine cellar and most of it is preceded and followed by cleaning. Lots of cleaning! Here is a quick example from just the other day:

For the past several weeks, in a 1,000 gallon stainless steel tank, our last batch of wine (fresh Merlot grapes transported via refrigerated semi-truck from California) has been slowly fermenting. Yesterday morning I performed a pump over operation on this wine.

Pumping over is a process where the ferment (juice/wine and grape skins) are suctioned from the bottom of the tank through a hose connected to a pump and sprayed “over” the top of the must (the floating grape skins on the surface) – while perched precariously atop an 8 foot ladder. This important process, something most winery visitors don’t see frequently, is needed to extract all the wine goodness (e.g., color, flavor, tannins, etc.) and helps prevent bad bacteria from taking over.

For cellar rats, a term of endearment for those who work in the cellar, this is a thrice daily (at least) activity during the early stages of fermentation and a task many would call “work”. To me at least, performing a pump over or doing the traditional punch down (same function as the pump over but requires the use of a hand tool where one plunges the must below the surface) is almost a meditative endeavor. I punch down, pull back, submerge the must, in a Zen-like state or trance trying not to be overcome by the oxygen-depleted environment. You see, during fermentation a tremendous amount of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is released and if a cellar rat (figuratively and literally) breathes in too much can die or lose consciousness. A dead body in a vat of wine, despite what you may have heard, doesn’t add complexity to any bottle of wine!

After carefully cleaning the hoses, pumps, and thousand-gallon tank there were countless other tasks that needed attention. For the rest of the day I conducted a panel of wine laboratory tests, including pH, TA (acidity) and Sulfur Dioxide (SO2). And of course there was plenty of cleaning! Always cleaning, lots of cleaning!

Brad is a contributing writer to Make Mine Wine Magazine and can be found on Facebook at the Eastern Iowa Wine Club (Fan/Group) pages.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Buying Wine in a Restaurant

Terry Post:

Okay. You've decided to splurge and are going to have an evening out with the Mrs. which will feature dinner at a good restaurant with wine. Oh. My. God. You think to yourself: I am going to have to select wine. What to do? What to do?

When ever I am going to plan a night out which features wine I ALWAYS look the restaurant up on the web and search for a copy of their wine list. Generally, the web based wine list won't be 100% accurate, but it will usually be 80% accurate and that is good enough for my purposes.

Even though I have sipped and sampled hundreds of wines over the past several years there is NO WAY that I can remember which wine and which vintage are hits and which are misses. And, I'd feel like a fool were I to show up with my dog-eared wine log comparing my favorites with their listing. That is why I consult the online version first. At least I'll have a couple of wines in mind when I arrive.

As I have noted before there are several keys to understanding how to buy wine in a restaurant:
1. There is always garbage on the wine list. Your job is to NOT buy the garbage.
2. There is a lot of good expensive wine on the wine list. Pay attention to #1 above, as some of the expensive wine is bad.
3. The wine director will spend the overwhelming majority of his/her time populating the lower priced end of the wine list.

Keeping #1, #2 and #3 in mind I typically begin my search at the lower priced end of the wine list. The first thing I do is to discount the obvious bulk wine in sheep's clothing such as Sutter Home and Gallo.

The next thing I do is seek out the bazaar named wines and eliminate them. I know it isn't very scientific and I don't have good data to back up my decision. You know the sort of brand to which I am referring: Fat Bastard or Ugly Blonde.

I also eliminate critter wines. These are attempts by the vintner to sway your wine buying judgement because there is a cute animal on the label. Run. Run very quickly away.

If there is anything left on the list: I look for a brand that I have enjoyed before; I look for French, Australian, Californian or Washington state origin; I look for standard varietals.

There is a lot of good, reasonably priced wines to be found - even at restaurants. You just need to do a little homework before you head out the door and be ready to dig through the low-priced selections when you get there.

~ Terry

Saturday, October 24, 2009

2006 Beringer Merlot California Collection

Terry Post:

Over the years I have enjoyed many bottles of wine and have come to believe that humans have never lived in a time with more, higher-quaity and less expensive wine. We live in a time when it is almost impossible to find a bad bottle of wine. Like I said, almost impossible.

The truth is, the 2006 Beringer Merlot California Collection is not a bad wine or an awful wine: it just isn't a good wine.

My impression: Medium bodied with astringent mouth-drying tannins on the tongue and rich plum on the nose. Vegital and medicinal on the finish. Not pleasant to drink.

I paid $6.99 for the 750 mL bottle at my local wine store. Easily the least enjoyable wine I have drank in quite some time.

~ Terry

Sunday, October 11, 2009

2008 Black Box Chardonnay - Monterey County

Terry post:

In my new quest to find good inexpensive wine I am spending a little quality-time with 3 liters of Black Box Chardonnay.

A few posts back I wrote about a the 1.5 liter Wine Cube offered at Target. The
first big difference between Wine Cube and Black Box is the volume of the offering. A 3 liter box is not insignificant in size and makes demands on you refrigerator shelves. Also, the Wine Cube is a Target product and available only at Target. I bought my Black Box ($23.99) at a somewhat upscale Harris Teeter grocery store.

I am trying not to get hung up on the size of the Black Box Chardonnay and feel that there is something important here. Only a few years ago the 3 liter size was reserved for not-very-good off-dry whites and blushes to be served at parties and quickly dispatched. This Chardonnay is something else all together. What if...what if better-than-average wines could be sold reliably from boxes? What if those storage sacs in the box REALLY could keep out oxygen for a week or two? What if we surrendered our romance for the glass bottle and cork and concentrated on the contents and not the packaging?

My impressions: Reminded me immediately of a very good French Chablis. Big nose of citrus and smokiness finished with wet-stone minerality. Moderately acidic. It is the stone-minerality which pushes me towards the Chablis comparison but it isn't nearly as acidic as most Chablis.

I paired the wine last night with a very simple dinner of boiled fresh vegetables, cold sliced chicken and a mayo-sour-cream-dill sauce on the side. The wine was a great accompaniment to the sauced vegetables and chicken.

~ Terry

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Humble Drinking Today and Tomorrow's Desires

Terry Post:

A friend at work who knows my fondness for fine wine asked me what I'd been drinking lately. I found myself slightly embarrassed as I'd not really tasted anything noteworthy for quite awhile. My drinking has been limited to some very humble, low priced offerings since giving up my position as Wine Director for Restaurant 213.

The question did get me to thinking: What would I like to drink if I had the choice? In the old days, I would taste whatever the wine reps brought by placing me at their disposal. Granted, their offerings were often good and occasionally sensational. Yet, it does beg the question. What would I like to drink?

1. French Champagne. I know, I know it sounds really vague but I have NEVER been disappointed when I opened a bottle of the real French stuff. The humble Moet & Chandon White Star is a reliable mid-priced Champagne which has never disappointed me. Nor, for that matter, has it overwhelmed me. I have been overwhelmed with the fragrent, sumptuous Krug brand. On more than one occasion I have shared a small sip of a horrifically expensive bottle of their vintage stuff and was floored by the difference. Careful: There is a Krug brand in California: this ain't the REAL stuff. The French Krug is most definitely the REAL stuff.

2. 1986 Cabernet Sauvignons from California. I had my personal wine awakening in 1984 while stationed in San Diego in the Navy. I visited Napa Valley several times while living in America's Finest City and each time I sampled products from different wineries and always falling back to the bold California red. It may very well be that 1986 was not a great year for California cabs, but it was a great year for me and I continue to hold the memories of those first reds in my mind. Principle among them: Monticello Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Jefferson Cuvee, and Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon. I bought two cases each of these 86's and they endured until 1998 when I finished the last bottle of the Monticello Cellars in my back yard that May night before we started our drive East. It was a great wine at, or near, it's peak.

3. Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet. The hard-core French White wine fans will find it difficult to understand why I'd put these two wines in the same category. Well, it is simple really: I can't tell the difference between them and I find them to be day-in and day-out simply the finest white wines on the planet. There is almost something magical about them as they warm in the glass until the steely backbone is softened with flowers and butter.

So, that is it. My desires are not too special and all that I want to drink are the finest Champagnes, Reds and Whites the planet has to offer. But, for the moment I have glass of Black Box Chardonnay sitting next to me demanding my attention.

~ Terry

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Sound of Fermentation

Wine Lab 2
Originally uploaded by iowine

Brad Post:

As I walk into my back porch, a 3-season porch, I am greeted to the sound of 17 gallons of La Crosse (white, hybrid grape) fermenting like mad! I know this because on the top of my primary fermenter (a closed container) is an air locked filled with a sulfur-citric solution that keeps critters out and air from entering the vessel.

The exiting carbon dioxide gas burping from the air lock has a nice rhythm that goes: burp, burp, burp....bubble, burp, bubble. The sound
of fermentation is a comforting sound to me because in its own way it is saying everything is going fine. Then there is the smell, some would say fragrance, of fermentation. I know many a winemaker widow (the wives of friends who make wine) who complain about the nasty stench of fermentation. To which I shake my head in complete lack of understanding.

The scent of fermentation, like the sound, tells me everything is going well. And similar to the smell of bread dough rising on the counter, the smell of fermenting wine is similar. Comforting. Soon, when all the sugar is consumed by my yeast friends, the scents and sounds of fermentation will be no more.

And this winter as I visit my wines, patiently waiting for the heavier particles to fall to the bottom so I can rack and transfer the wine to a new container to wait some more, I'll think back to these short few weeks and reflect.

I love the smell/sound of fermentation in the morning! :)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Winemaker Notes

Brad Post:

While most people were enjoying their Labor Day weekend at the beach or picnicking with friends, many of my fellow Iowa winemakers were busy picking wine grapes and processing them.

I thought it might be interesting to share some of my winemaker notes with you. These particular notes represent my efforts to craft a medium-bodied, Marechal Foch red table wine.


Grower: Tom and Vicki Capper (Old Mans Creek Vineyard)
Quantity: Purchased 156lbs.
Quality of Grapes: After two weeks of heavy rain (3-11 inches) the berries we picked were in remarkably good shape. Although there were some indications of rot in some berries (we left those) but some probably got into our bins. The berries were mostly sound, few greenies, and few light red berries, but overall the berries were very good. We harvested on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend (9-6-09).

Marechal Foch Table Wine
Background: We wanted a medium bodied, low-herbaceous Foch wine, so we wanted to press early.
Brix: 21.2 (potential alcohol: 11.7%)
pH: 3.41
SO2 Addition: 1.5 grams (30ppm, sound quality grapes).
Pressed: 9-8 (t=36 hours)
Yeast: Inoculated at t=18hours (9-7) in morning (8 gram yeast).
Go Ferm: added with yeast (10 gram).
Quantity of must before pressing: ~11 gallons. (note: I didn’t press as hard as I could).
Quantity of juice after pressing: ~5.5 gallons

Notes: We had spontaneous fermentation on the morning of 9-7 and promptly inoculated must with cultured yeast. We also added 4 grams of VRSupra Tannin (2x more than I was supposed to – doh!).

9/7/09: Inoculated with yeast
9/8/09: Pressed must; very dark juice
9/9/09: Hydrometer: Brix = 13.5; added 4 grams of Fermaid K
9/10/09: Fermentation going very well
9/11/09: Fermentation slowing down and nearing completion; tastes and smells good.
9/13/09: Added: Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) - rehydrated with Acti-ML (nutrient). FYI: The LAB will convert the sharp tasting Malic acid in the wine to the more smooth Lactic acid. *Note: need to be careful about oxygen ingress from here forward as alcohol fermentation is nearly complete.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Oh my, another Crush?!

Brad Posts:

Labor Day weekend will be here in a couple of days and that means one thing: I am about to become very busy with the Fall grape harvest! The first wine grapes of the season have already been picked, crushed, pressed and are fermenting away quietly in stainless steel tanks.

Just last weekend, at the winery where I work part-time, forty volunteer pickers (i.e., they picked for a donation to a charity of their choice) worked their way through three cold-hardy, white wine grape varietals – La Crescent whose small, golden berries were filled with sweetness and about to burst from the recent rains tasted delicious; St. Pepin, planted in between neighboring rows (because they need other grapes to pollinate) were green-yellow and full of bright flavors; and Briana teased the growers with her gorgeous voluptuousness and full-on fruity goodness.

In just a few short hours our volunteers had hand-harvested more than 8,000 pounds of wine grapes! We promptly dispensed with the grapes.

That is just the beginning. For the past several months I have been working with regional wine growers and negotiating prices for our wine club (Eastern Iowa Wine Club) – and on Saturday we’re at it again! Last year we purchased somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000lbs and this year we surpassed 9,000lbs – and the logistics alone is a bit overwhelming! Trying to manage club member purchases, grape grower requirements, transportation, and crush-pad plans – sheesh, “what did I get myself into?”

I know its crazy-busy now but in about 6 weeks the rush will be over and our wines will be peacefully fermenting and all will be quiet. But right now the grape volume is about to get cranked up! This coming Saturday we will pick up Frontenac grapes (about 2.5 hours from here) from a grower south of Des Moines and on Sunday many of our club members will be hand picking Marechal Foch at a friend’s vineyard bright and early.

There are still lots of choices to be made: 1) do we crush and press the Foch right away or let it macerate for a few hours? 2) do we give the delestage technique a try (removing the seeds from the ferment)? 3) yeast selections? 4) enzymes? 5) fermentation temperatures? 6) and many other questions we haven’t even thought about yet.

The grapes will keep coming and coming until one day it will be over. There is a bitter-sweet aspect to the harvest season – it is exciting, exhausting, thrilling, frustrating -- and a lot of fun!

Have you ever tried a port-inspired Frontenac wine? Oh, it’s goooood.! Like I said…Fun.

Happy Crush!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

2006 Red Truck Merlot, California Central Coast

Terry post:

The Merlot grape was overdone in the 1990s and its popularity resulted in a lot of vintners hurrying sub-par product out the door in a rush to make a buck on a hot varietal. The result of that haste has been a Merlot back-lash where individuals who tried the wine and were dissatisfied with a lousy product have not yet come back.

There has recently been, thankfully, a new intense focus on the variety and resurgence in the qualities which made Merlot popular in the first place: Complexity, approachability, food-friendliness and price. In terms of classical music: Merlot is the easily approachable Beethoven while Cabernet Sauvignon is the more challenging Brahms.

We never carried Red Truck in the restaurant because it is widely distributed and its low price point firmly established. This brand was featured at my local wine shop (and gas station) alongside of the Red Bicyclette brand wines and I gave each a try last summer. Both were good. Red Truck was better.

My impressions: Medium-to-dark ruby in color. Über complexity bundled into a very reasonably priced wine. There is a lot going on in this wine and it is all good. Very full mouth-feel with smoky, juicy grapes, cherries, and pepper with a long, lingering finish. Firmly tannic.

Would pair very well with wild game, or beef, or most any other red meat. It would excel should the entrée feature a hearty mushroom, cream or butter based sauce. Very approachable. It is a wine engineered for food and whose finest characteristics shine as a continuo against which the richness of the meal is played.

I paid $9.99 for my bottle of the 2006 Red Truck Merlot and note that the 2007 vintage is selling for $10.99 at the same store. I have not yet tried the 2007 vintage but will do so in the coming weeks and will let you know how it turns out.

~ Terry

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

2007 Wine Cube Cabernet Sauvignon / Shiraz, California.

Terry post:

UPDATED: Included at the bottom of the blog.

I was on my way home from the big-box retailer Target with 1.5 liters of 2007 Wine Cube Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz tucked away in the trunk of my Camry when my brother sent me an email asking where I was getting all of my time to crank out my wine postings. He implied that I wasn’t giving my new employer its full due. Well, the answer is that I am fortified with cheap (errrr) inexpensive wine and that will keep you going. That and frozen pizza by any rate.

Wine Cube is a Target-brand boxed-wine and, based on the semi-hip looking in-store marketing, is aimed squarely at the under 30 crowd. When I lived in San Diego in the early 1980’s, I drank more than my share of Franzia boxed wines and didn’t think much about it at the time. The wine was very reasonably priced and tasted good to me.

My impressions: Medium ruby in color. Gobs of fresh fruit with bright cherries on the nose and a slightly herbal character at the short, thin finish. There is a lot of fruit in this wine, but it does not linger in the mouth. Virtually tannin free. After a couple of glasses and consulting my tasting book I was reminded of a better Australian blend I’d sampled last year and enjoyed greatly (and recommend highly)– Moloto “Jester”.

It would complement the traditional simple red accompaniments such as hamburgers, ribs, grilled beefsteak or pasta with red sauce. I paired it with a Tombstone “Original” Pizza (pepperoni and sausage) and enjoyed each completely and thoroughly.

At $11.89 for a 1.5 liter box it is the equivalent of a $6.00 750 mL bottle of wine. It is a simple wine, but it is a decent simple wine and at its price it is a good value.

August 28th Update: It has been a couple week since I first opened the box and have intentionally not finished it - choosing instead to let it sit and see how well it holds up. My experience is that most bottled wines have a shelf-life, once opened, of only a couple of days.

How would the boxed wine hold up? Well, the answer is: quite good.

Should you choose to dissect the box (as I did) you'd see that the product is contained in an airtight, bladder-like sac which did a fine job of keeping out oxygen and hence preclude the oxidation of the wine. I did not detect the flatness nor sourness as I have come to expect from corked bottles forgotten on the countertop.

All-in-all one more reason to embrace good cheap wine sold in boxes.

~ Terry

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ego at Work!

Brad Post:

Every once in a while when the stars line up there is magic under the cork. A harmonious balance of sunshine, rainfall and the perfect little piece of earth and under the gentle guidance of a patient vintner may yield something amazing. Art and science. That’s what they say winemaking is all about and for the most part I agree, but I suggest we might add these terms: ego and competition.

Although I am reticent to admit it there is a bit of ego tied up in my wine and I must confess my competitive side too. Maybe that’s why winemakers send their wines off to distant locales, to be judged by the “experts”, in the hope of a little ego-boost.

Interestingly enough, I have experience on both sides of the tasting table, as a wine competition organizer and a wine judge. Our wine club (Eastern Iowa Wine Club) organizes a regional competition and this year more than 113 wines were judged by our table of experts. And they are really experts too! Two of our judges were professional winemakers and two others are experienced, wine critics. For the most part they are tough and fair – some are tougher than others. One judge, in particular, for whom I have the greatest respect, is most persnickety. Of course, when my wines are scored highly by him I am rewarded with an inflated sense of self, but then again, when he scores my wine low or indicates the presence of a fault; my emotional yo-yo is brought back to earth. Such is the life of wine competition.

Competition is not perfect. Judges are influenced by each other and there are varying levels of expertise and knowledge of winemaking practices giving one judge an advantage occasionally. But this is not always the case. Sometimes advanced knowledge of winemaking may lead to a faulty judgment. Case in point: Traminette is a hybrid grape, a cousin to Gewürztraminer, with a fragrant floral and spicy aroma. There is a fault in winemaking that occurs when Malolactic Bacteria act on Potassium Sorbate (yeast inhibitor) that results in a Geranium flower smell (not what you want in a wine). There is a floral quality, which is characteristic of the Traminette varietal, which is desirable and not indicative of a winemaking problem.

As I observe the wine judging and overhear the panel of experts discussing the Geranium fault in all the Traminette wines, I must push back the ego (yes, one of the Traminette were mine) and let them judge without interference. The ego is an interesting phenomenon. We love it when it boosts us but we’ll go to extraordinary lengths to protect our ego when threatened – even making excuses for our Traminette wine.

Is there a fault in my wine? I don’t want to think there is…but probably. If my ego allows, I think I will learn from this competition and take the judges criticism in the way they were intended – to help me become a better winemaker. Maybe next vintage I will find some magic under the cork!

Damn judges! Sorry, that was my ego! :)

Happy Tastings,

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

2007 Mirassou Pinot Grigio

Terry post:

Another in a series of good/great wines which can be found in restaurants for less than $30.

Okay. You may ask what is the difference between Pinot Grigio, and Pinot Gris? The answer is, “virtually nothing”. They are essentially the same grape but the names vary based upon where in the world you find yourself. In the U.S. the grape is called Pinot Grigio. I am not sure about which nation calls it which other than Italy where it is typically known as Pinot Gris.

Many Pinot Grigio’s have“issues” when served with food:
1) Lacking sufficient structure to stand up to foods. A typical situation is a wine which has a subtle floral or citrus nose and nothing else. This issue is common for many of the Italian Pinot Gris which I have tasted. Or,

2) Overwhelming floral nose and too much residual sweetness. Wines like this don’t complement the meal – they overwhelm the meal. This issue, in particular, is far too common with American Pinot Grigio.

They are generally fine summertime wines suitable for sipping poolside.

We carried the Mirassou brand on-and-off over the years I was Wine Director at Restaurant 213. We never committed deeply to the brand due to the inconsistency of their products: quite a few “hits” and a few too many “misses” to be perpetually listed. With this wine they hit a homerun and I recommend it without reservation.

My impressions: Multi-dimensional, food-friendly Pinot Grigio with the guts to be more than a summertime picnic wine. Very dry and hugely acidic (a good thing) for a Pinot Grigio while retaining the typical citrus and spice characteristics on the nose and finish. I would not avoid it poolside, but it is so superior to most of its type that it would be a shame not to take advantage of its food-friendly traits.

I paired a bottle with a Pork Calvados (pork filet medallions in a veal reduction) entrée and it held its own quite nicely – though I would not push it any further. I think it is perfectly suited to complement fish (grilled, fried or in a broth-based soup), fresh cheeses or fresh fruit.

We carried this wine at $27 per bottle (restaurant price) making it a very good value. It is widely distributed with over 50,000 cases produced so you should not have any problem finding it at your local wine shop or grocery store.

~ Terry

Monday, August 10, 2009

NV Cristalino Brut Sparkling Wine

Terry post:

This is another in a series of posts regarding good or great wines to be found in restaurants for $30 or less.

One of the problems with Champagne and Sparkling Wines is that people don’t drink enough of them to be comfortable and tend to buy the label or the reputation. Be not afraid. Embrace the bubbles!

We carried this sparkler on our wine list since 2005 and it has continued to be a reliable, consistent friend year-in and year-out at a very reasonable price point.

My impressions: Full mouth-feel with abundant citrus aromas and a touch of yeast. Long clean finish with vibrant bubbles.

We sold this wine at $8 per glass or $28 per bottle (restaurant price) and think you can easily find this at your local grocery store for between $8 -$10 per bottle. It is a fabulous value and has been consistently our best selling (by volume) sparkling wine.

My personal preference is to pair a Champagne or sparkling wine with virtually ANYTHING. It may be a personal bias, but I have yet to find any dish which isn’t improved by a glass of Champagne/sparkling wine.

Sir Winston Churchill was famous for the copious amounts of Champagne (the real French stuff) he consumed with oysters. That should be reason enough for you to try it sometime, as well.

~ Terry

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

2007 Provenance Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley California

Terry post:

This is another in a series of posts regarding good or great wines to be found in restaurants for $30 or less.

From time-to-time we'd find a really good wine at a really good price and we'd feature it on the wine list. We'd highlight the name in bold print and list it as
a, "Restaurant 213 BEST VALUE Selection". Now, our intention was to highlight those wines which were good, good with food, and a good (or great) value

Funny thing about customers: sometimes they don't pay any attention to what you tell them.

In previous postings I have highlighted the fact that virtually every restaurant's wine list contains a few clunkers. It isn't intentional. It just happens. Perhaps that was the issue when we highlighted this wine - that our customers thought we were trying to pull a fast-one on them by discounting a clunker. That certainly wasn't our intention. It was a great wine. In fact, sauvignon blanc's generally do quite well but this one didn't sell well as long as we featured it as a "Best Value". Curious. Once we took it off that feature, its sales picked up.

My impressions: Fragrant pear, lemons and wet stone notes. Very acidic. Medium bodied with the pears and herbs at the finish. We sold it for $27 per bottle (restaurant price, should be lower at the wine shop) and it was, in my opinion, a great value. There were over 12,000 cases of this wine producted, so it should not be too difficult to find.

As is typical with sauvignon blancs, this one is wonderful with most any white meat (fish, chicken, pork) but it would not stand up well to red meats. While very acidic for a sauvignon blanc, I still would not pair this with any dish whose base featured butter or cream.

My personal favorite pairing of this wine is with oysters broiled, Rockefeller or raw on the half shell.

~ Terry

Sunday, August 2, 2009

2004 Trevor Jones' "Boots" South Australia White Wine

Terry post:

This is another in a series of posts regarding good or great wines to be found in restaurants for $30 or less.

Maybe I am just a teensy bit of a wine snob though I try very hard not to be so. The "issue" that I sometimes have are with individuals who'll spoil a perfectly fine meal by pairing their meal with a wine that just doesn't fit.

Let me give you an example: Because our customers demanded it, we carried a number of off-dry white wines. Some might call them "Jacuzzi Wines" the sort of easy quaffing wine that is great when accompanied by your significant other in a hot tub or a remote mountain spring. You get the idea. As I have said before, if you like it - it is a good wine.

But, just because you like it does not mean that it is a great wine with food.

Case in point: Trevor Jones' Boots White Wine is a classic "Jacuzzi Wine" combining Riesling and Muscat.

My impressions: Highly aromatic with huge flowers on the nose. Refreshing. Pale-straw in color. Low acidity, long legs, medium finish.

At $28 per bottle it is a good, though not great, value. But who am I to challenge our customers? This was one of our best selling whites.

~ Terry

Friday, July 31, 2009

My Vine Yard

Brad Post:

More than an appreciation for their oxygen-producing abilities, there is something about plants I love! There was a time when I was a young man, providing forced-labor in my parents garden, that if you would have asked me I am sure I wouldn't have mentioned the word "love".

Maybe it is in my genetic material, this love of the earth, that drives me to get all "Green Acre-ish" - so my mother would suggest. My grandfather, on my dad's side, a frustrated factory-worker, part-time farmer who worked the brier infested sandy earth around the 1920's-era West Michigan homestead town of Greenville. He never was able to make a go of it and eventually sold off most of his holdings around Woodbeck Lake, less the parcels he gifted his children.

Throughout my life, as location allowed, I would plant a radish here or a cucumber there and if I were really fortunate -- a tomato! When we moved to Iowa from Idaho people shook their heads thinking we were making a mistake, no doubt, but I was hopeful to be moving to a truly unique place on earth. You see, from my days in a geography/geology classroom I remembered the soils and climate of Iowa were absolutely unique to the world - only a tiny fraction of the entire planet has this perfect combination of soil and climate.

Our first year in Iowa was busy landscaping our barren yard with perennial flowers, raspberries, a garden chocked full of goodies, and finally a few grape plants. My precious grapes! In my little yard, a vineyard sprung, containing the tender Niagara and Catawba grape (a little too far north, maybe), later a Concord, St. Croix, Marechal Foch, La Crosse, Louise Swenson, Sabreviox (my favorite), and Edelweiss.

For the past few years, as my gardening and viticulture skills increased, I have been busily taking enology classes from Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) and have learned a lot. In attempt to learn more I have volunteered to help a friend restore his vineyard and have worked the wine cellar and vineyards of Fireside Winery.

Sometimes I hear people tell me, "oh, I'd love to have a vineyard" usually followed by they are so pretty. They are pretty! I forget who said this about growing grapes, anyway, this person's comment to people who say such things was this: "Do you think you'd love to grow 3 acres of tomatoes?" to which usually brought a, "duh, noooo" response. The grower would suggest it isn't much different, growing grapes or tomatoes - it's a lot of work.

I guess it all comes down to a love of the earth and growing things. I love getting up in the morning to visit with my plants, give them a little pep-talk, and when I leave (maybe after squishing a few Japanese Beetles between my fingers) I feel better.

Maybe one day I'll have opportunity to work a bigger vineyard, to take care of the burgeoning grape plants and help them achieve the highest honor for a grape - to become great wine!

Yeah, I love growing things and I kind of think Grandpa would be proud too!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Oriel Courant 2003/2004

Terry post:

This is another in a series of posts regarding good or great wines to be found in restaurants for $30 or less.

Oriel is an interesting brand in that there is not one winery or one wine maker.

The brand is based on the concept of employing European rock-star winemakers (primarily) in the creation of a stand-alone brand allowing them to be more expressive in their product.

Oriel Courant is a prime example. It is a Syrah and Grenache blend sourced in 2003 and 2004 from grapes exclusively from old (40 year old plus) vines in Cotes du Rhone, France.

My impression: Intensely flavorful with ripe plum, tar and chocolate notes. The plum is very noticeable on the nose and the sip ends with a moderate finish (that is perhaps why the price is so reasonable, as great Cotes du Rhone have huge, long finishes that go on forever). At the restaurant we recommended this wine alongside our Fillet of Bison - it takes a powerful wine to stand up to Bison. At $28 per bottle (restaurant price) it is a very reasonable Cotes du Rhone. If you find it, give it 30 minutes or more in the glass before you drink it. It really benefits from some time outside the bottle before drinking. In fact, if you have any left over it is better on the second day than it is on the first.

~ Terry

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Estrella Chardonnay 2006

Terry post:

Lest you think that I like all the wines which I taste, let me assure you that I have tasted some downright awful wine over the past few years and a few (for one reason or another) still find their way onto the winelist.

In an earlier postining I'd noted that there is alot of crap on the average winelist. A classic example would be that of a down year for a usually superior wine. For instance, the 2002 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Sinards, Perrin & Fils. This year was awful: bitter, fruitless, herbal with no depth whatsoever (a blessing acutally). This Châteauneuf-du-Pape is 9 times out of 10 a superb wine reflecting all that is great about this winegrowing region. But like a lot of other restaurants we purchased several cases in advance of bottling and advance of reviewing and were stuck with a dog. Of course we put it on the wine list, but we did discount its price somewhat. So even restaurants such as "213" will carry a less than great wine for one reason or another.

A second reason you'll end up with a sub-par wine is profitability. Take for
instance a bottle of Estrella Chardonnay 2006. This less-than-stellar wine will cost a restaurant about $3.50 to buy and sell four pours at $6 to $8 per pour. The first pour pays for the bottle and the remaining pours all contribute to the nightly gross. At "213" Estrella was the low priced leader
and we sold it only by the glass for those individuals who wanted wine but would not pay the $30 or more per bottle to buy a carefully selected wine which, in most cases, was a vastly superior wine.

My impressions: Pale yellow color. Some fruit but more earthiness than I have come to expect from my white wines. A little apple. Crisp, perhaps too crisp. Refreshing. A great value, but a chardonnay engineered more for sipping in the shade than pairing with food.

Oh. An another downside of Estrella: it is widely available and the customers know how much a bottle costs at their local grocery store.

~ Terry

New Field of Dreams: A vineyard!

Brad Post:

What does Napa Valley, Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and the Upper Mississippi River Valley have in common? They all represent wine-growing regions (American Viticultural Areas, AVA) distinguishable by geographic features and designated by the Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

On July 22, 2009 the United States government designated the worlds largest wine-growing region - the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA with 29,914 square miles covering four Midwestern states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa). The new AVA follows the Mississippi River and is bounded on each side by approximately 60 miles in what is known as the "Driftless Area", an area unaltered by the last ice age.

So what does this mean to an aspiring wine producing region to receive an AVA designation? I have been asked this question several times in recent days and have given some thought to it. Although the majority of wineries and growers, in Iowa, produce outside the new AVA, it seems to me to be a good thing.

Here is why: An established wine-growing region allows an area to receive attention, a spot-light whose beam will help illuminate the entire Iowa wine industry. An AVA designation says to the world, "hey, something special and unique is happening here" bringing with it wine tourists eager to try something new and interesting. And finally, I believe this AVA will ultimately mean better wine! Under the close watch and scrutiny of a discerning wine-drinking public, winemakers will ultimately become better at making locally grown grapes into exquisite and regionally recognizable wines.

In closing, stealing and altering a line from Field of Dreams, where Terrance Manning strongly urged Ray to build the field (vineyard and winery):

"People will come WINEMAKERS. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your VINEYARD not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your WINERY as innocent as children, longing for SOMETHING INTERESTING. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per BOTTLE. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and GOOD WINE they lack.

Forgive my enthusiasm and apologies to "Field of Dreams"!

Sources: Wines and Vines online
Field of Dreams - quotes:
Image: (Limestone Bluffs: Resource Conservation and Development) in Maquoketa, Iowa