Saturday, February 27, 2010

What Softsoap has to tell us about Iowa's competitive advantage in wine

Terry post:

A competitive advantage is something which all businesses strive to attain. A competitive advantage is that certain something which gives a product or a brand an advantage over its competitors. Examples of competitive advantage would include engineering expertise at General Electric, logistic chain with FedEx and brand recognition for Coke.

A competitive advantage can be brief or enduring. A competitive advantage can be realized or unrealized. Having a competitive advantage also requires that you recognize that advantage and are able to comprehend it’s scope and magnitude. It takes skill or luck to create the advantage and expertise to recognize its existence.

It could be argued that the soil and climate of France created a competitive advantage for their wine makers. That competitive advantage for premium wines existed unchallenged for dozens of years and is being challenged by similar regions which, each in their own way, have advantages.

That brings me to the story of Softsoap. Those of you 30 or younger have always known of liquid soap products which are dispensed from pump containers. It was not always that way. Until very recently there was no such product.

Enter the entrepreneurs at Minnetonka Corporation. In 1980 they envisioned a liquid soap product which would be squirted from pump dispensers - Softsoap. The only problem was that they were a small company and their idea, once on the market, could be easily duplicated by huge companies such as Proctor & Gamble.

Minnetonka desperately needed to find a way to maximize their competitive advantage - liquid soap - establish market share, and keep the big guys at bay.

How did they do it?

It turned out that the patents and manufacturing capacity for the pump mechanisms were held by one company. Minnetonka invested heavily and locked-up 100% of the pump manufacturing capacity for a period of three years thus ensuring that no competitor could bring their product to market during those three years. This provided Minnetonka's Softsoap with an unfair competitive advantage: the only liquid soap product in the market segment for over three years.

Now it is time to put this analogy in terms of Iowa wine.

I am certain that there are people reading this who think that Iowa operates at a competitive disadvantage as compared to other wine producing states such as California, Oregon or Washington. And that the competitive disadvantage is the inability of Iowa to consistently produce the workhorse grapes of the West Coast such as Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.

Let’s recast the scenario in terms of Minnetonka's Softsoap and P&G. Softsoap was a new and unique product which Minnetonka wanted to bring to market and were able to do so in isolation for a period of three years because they controlled a key element required for production - the pump mechanism.

How then, is Iowa like Softsoap?

I would offer that Iowa’s unfair competitive advantage is that it does not grow the same grapes found in California, Oregon and Washington. I contend that Iowa holds an unfair competitive advantage in the growth of LaCrosse, Frontenac and Marechal-Foch grapes. And, that the advantage is an enduring advantage given the period of time it takes to make vines productive.

Now hold that thought for a moment. I am certain that most of you have never considered this to be an advantage. Iowa has a unfair competitive advantage in growing grapes which are not widely enjoyed outside of Iowa. Iowa is in the identical position of Minnetonka the day before Softsoap went to market.

What then to do?

If I were the Iowa Wine Association (if there is such a thing) I would:

  1. Increase the name recognition of varietals (NOT BRANDS) which are grown primarily in Iowa.
  2. Create “buzz” over the new hot varietal - which just happens to grow in Iowa.
  3. Get Iowa varietals used as blending grapes in wines from other states.
  4. Develop and distribute the taste characteristics of Iowa varietals - create the language of the top Iowa varietals.

Bottom Line: Iowa's wine issue is not so much copying California wines, as establishing which varietals will carry the state's banner. Job #1 should be identifying which grape is the Chardonnay of Iowa, and then advertising the hell out of it.

~ Terry

Monday, February 22, 2010

What Home Depot has to teach us about marketing wine.

Terry post:

Next time you visit Home Depot take a walk through the section where they sell drill bits.

Drill bits are the instruments which are used to drill holes through materials. There are bits for drilling holes in concrete, ceramics, wood, brick, plastic, steel, iron and copper. In short, there is a wide world of drill bits.

And you know what is interesting about those bits? They are shelved based on their use. Bits for drilling holes in concrete are located next to other bits which can be used to drill holes in concrete. They vary in diameter, brand and length. But, the bits which are used to drill holes in concrete are all shelved next to one another.

So too for bits for ceramics, wood, brick, plastic, steel, iron and copper: bits are shelved based on their functionality.

Now. Let's take a trip down to our favorite local wine retailer. How are the wines shelved?

The worst offenders shelf their wines based on the winery with all of XYZ Brand being shelved shoulder-to-shoulder with one another. Cabernet Sauvignon next to Pinot Gris next to Merlot next to Chardonnay: no logic or sense to the placement.

Only slightly better are those retailers which shelve their wines based on regions. You've seen them: "FRANCE", "SPAIN", "ITALY" and my personal favorite "OTHER". Yes, come sample the wonderful wines of "OTHER"!

Getting closer to a reasonable approach are those retailers which shelve their wines based on varietal. But, even this approach has its limitations as the characteristic of a grape varietal can vary widely based upon where the grape is grown and how it is processed. You'd be hard pressed to believe that a steely French Chablis was borne of the same grapes as the oaky Chardonnay offerings from Napa - they are so very different.

So how to shelve our wines, then? Let's go back to Home Depot and arrange wines by their functionality.

About fifteen years ago I visited a wine shop in Traverse City, Michigan which had their wines arranged by the food with which they were best paired. Over the shelves were crude wooden cut outs of cattle, chicken, fish, cheese, etc.

Just like Home Depot this small retailer in Traverse City found sanity in shelving their wines in a way which made sense to their customers. An individual looking for a good wine to go with beef had only to meander under the wooden cut out of cattle to find their wine.

I know that it is a wild idea. But, maybe, just maybe the wine-drinking public would be more accepting of our products were we to make their use a little less daunting.

~ Terry

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Pinot Gris Info & Lipizzan Port

Brad Post:
As one of the fastest growing wine segments in the U.S., Pinot Gris is favored by many as a light, easy to drink, and uncomplicated wine.  My last tasting featured three Pinot Gris’ one from Italy, California, and a spectacular wine from Oregon (King Estates, Acrobat: Pinot Gris)!
We learn things when we taste vertically, meaning the same varietals from different regions, such as how winemaker decisions can really affect the contents in the bottle.  Same grape, different process yields wildly different wines.  I guess that’s why there is a winery on every street corner in California.  Nonetheless, there is much to be learned from these grapes beginning with the grape itself.  What do we know about Pinot Gris?
Thought to be a mutant clone of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris/Grigo has been around since the Middle Ages making its way throughout Europe by the 14th Century.  The name Pinot Gris is derived from two words: pinot, meaning pinecone (i.e., the shape of the cluster) and Gris, French for grey.  Unlike traditional white varietals that produce yellow to green fruit clusters and red varietals producing blue to red to black berry clusters, Pinot Gris produces light pink clusters whose juice, if pressed without skin contact, yields a clear to straw hued juice.  Extended skin contact will impart a rose color to the wine.  Generally made into light, innocuous white wines, Pinot Gris has lots of potential and depth of character.  Last week, after we finished with our three Gris’ we opened a bottle or Pinot Gris Port-styled wine from Colorado.  Here are my notes:
Graystone Vineyards, Pinot Gris, Lipizzan White Port (Cliffton, CO). (18% alc. Source: winery, Cost: $23, size: 375ml).
This past fall our wine tasting friends, Kurt and Lu, visited their son in Colorado and together experienced several wineries in the Grand Junction area. This particular winery features only dessert styled wines: a white port (Pinot Gris, called Lipizzan White Port), Port II and Port III.  The attractive bottle, features a Lipizzan horse on the label and a “double hand-waxed dip” top.  I began by trying to remove the stubbornly affixed “double hand-waxed” cap and ultimately was successful after a prolonged knife battle.  (Note to winery: this is a pretty addition but is potentially dangerous – I’d consider an alternative closure).  On to the notes:
First, I must confess I love the idea of a winery specializing on one product line, in this case crafting dessert wines.  I began my tasting in a good mood (remember we just finished tasting three traditionally styled Pinot Gris wines) and was greeted to a pleasantly tinted orange-red-tawny, but not quite crystal clear, white port. Hefty wafts of chocolate, hazelnut and caramel characterize the aromatics of this interesting port-styled wine.  My palate was awakened to HUGE chocolate-covered cherries, hints of caramel, and a little zing of orangey goodness.  Tasty.  Nice.  Makes me want to take a road trip to the Grand Valley of western Colorado.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pinot Gris - Tasting Notes

Brad Post:
Pinot Gris/Grigio Tasting Notes:  If this is wine boot camp then last week must have been “hell-week” where our drill sergeant, Paul, pushed us to our sensory limits.  The last thing I remember, with my face in the mud, was his comment about me holding my wine glass incorrectly, he said something like “grasp by the stem not the bowl, maggot!”…everything after that was a blur.  Doing an about-face, this week we turn our taste buds to the innocuous Pinot Gris/Grigio.  Here are my notes, in the order we tasted:
1.  Torresella (2008) Pinot Grigio, Veneto – Italy.  (12% alc., Source: Hy-Vee, Cost: $12)
The first wine was a simple and easily slurpable white wine without much depth or personality. Light aromas of peach, strawberry and kiwi were barely noticeable in the pale light straw colored wine. In the mouth this summertime white was easy, if not a little boring, and exhibited a round, rich and tart (lemony zing) sensations.  A quickly fading wine leaving behind a slight sense of astringency mid-palate. Easy to drink. Not very memorable.
2. Francis Ford Coppola (2007) Presents - Bianco: Pinot Grigio (CA). (13.4% alc. Source: ? Cost: $11)
Subtle straw hues and flavors reminiscent of honeydew melon are the hallmark of this innocent white wine. Indistinguishably modest flavors from the citrus family were underwhelming with maybe a suggestion of light spice on the finish.  Quaffable. Warm to Hot and some bitterness in the finish. 
3.King Estate (2008) Acrobat Pinot Gris (OR). (12.5%. Source? Cost: $12).
Incredibly light straw to almost clear this Oregon Pinot Gris surprised my taste buds. Expecting another mass-produced, factory-made, and board-room conceived Pinot Gris, I was astounded by the aromatic and flavor profile of this seductively delicious Gris.  A blast of tropical fruit pleasantly captured my olfactory attention. Pleasing layers of apple, pear, and lemon zest accompanied by just a tease of residual sugar. Jam-packed with glorious, mouth-filling Pinot Gris that lasts and lasts.  Amazing!  Extraordinarily Yummy!  A bottle to fight over!
Post Tasting Comment:  Pinot Gris is the second fastest growing segment in the white wine production world totaling more than $709 million in the past 52 weeks (according to Wine Business Monthly and Nielson – 2/2010). With almost more than twice the number of dollar sales than White Zinfandel, Pinot Gris is expanding at a rate of more than 4% per year (contrast that to Chardonnay with sales of $1.95 Billion and increases of 2.7%).  A neutral wine, mostly, and continues to build as a crowd-pleaser.  All the wines in this tasting were fine.  The Torresella and Francis Ford Coppola were both good wines and it is easy to understand why large numbers of consumers would enjoy this wine style.  Thankfully, there are variations on a theme and the King Estate – Acrobat: Pinot Gris was an extraordinary and sensational example of how this wine should be made. The winemaker notes for the Acrobat indicates cold fermentation and sur lee treatment.  All I can say is…I want more!

Monday, February 15, 2010

2007 Cantara Cellars Syrah, Lodi California

Terry post:

I am seldom surprised when I drink a wine. Going in, I usually know what to expect and have confided to friends that I could write a review without ever having tasted the wine - based on the varietal and my experience with the winemaker or winery.

Did I ever get that wrong today!

Cantara Cellars will not impress anyone with their building (industrial plaza) or location (Oxnard Plains) but something special is taking place inside their humble facility: that something special is making great wine.

Cantara Cellars is a small winery (I don't think I saw more than 50 French and American oak barrels total in back) which sources virtually all of their juice from the vineyards of family and personal acquaintances in Lodi, California.

With one white and four reds I settled in for a tasting with the very affable owner, Chris Brown.

You know the scene in the old movie where the boy falls in love with the girl? The scene will include fireworks exploding in the sky: well, my first taste of the 2007 Cantara Cellars Syrah was something like that. Wow.

I purchased a bottle of the Syrah and have spent a several hours of quality time sipping, chewing and genuinely enjoying this fine wine.

My impressions: Inky dark garnet intensely colored in the glass. Blackberries and chocolate powder initially on the nose with the chocolate fading way to pepper as the wine opened up in the glass. Profoundly earthy and mouth filling. Deftly balanced with fruit up front and the acidity at the end - just right. Concludes in a long finish with the tannins winning out over the fruit - but, just barely. Superb.

This is a big red and, as such, I would recommend it with the typical pairs including: beefsteak, prime rib, and bison steak.

I have no idea if Cantara Cellars can continue to produce this wonderful Syrah, or for that matter, their also-wonderful Zinfandel year-in and year-out. Time will tell.

Their Facebook page. Their website.

This is a winery to keep your eye on.

$29.99 at the tasting room.

~ Terry

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Testing & Tasting

Brad Post:
After reading my brothers posting yesterday about “writing on wine” I began to think more about the influences on my own writing.  As a relative newcomer to wine critique, mostly a response to my introduction to wine course, my experiences and insights are tainted from an academic perspective.  Understanding experiences of visitors was my gig for awhile, using a pragmatic approach, meaning it could be purely experimental quantitative or headlong into qualitative methods such as naturalistic observation. In any case my approach to wine appreciation or wine making is muddied from my screwy philosophical position: post-positivism / pre-constructivism.  It’s my own version of a philosophy of science that gives me lots of latitude in understanding things.  These days the experience I am striving to understand is Wine Appreciation and Wine Making.
Wine appreciation is totally different compared to wine making.  You see, as I am making wine a different part of my brain is activated, the part that gets off on science.  When making wine, I am critically looking at the various grape parameters; first I visually inspect the new grapes to make sure they look sound, then I take a good sniff to make sure they smell right (i.e., they don’t have an unpleasant, vinegary odor), and then a more quantitative process begins.  This quantitative process can be as simple as taking a refractor reading, a measurement of how much sugar the grape must possesses, and tests for pH, acidity, and calculations for additions (e.g., yeast, enzymes, tannins, etc.).  Not that wine making is formulaic but there tends to be a lot of science in the cellar these days.
Complementary to my wine making is wine appreciation, the artist side of my brain, where I am encouraged to release my inner-prose. The simple act of attempting to gain a deeper understanding of a wine by first viewing, then smelling, and finally tasting is more difficult than I initially anticipated.  When going through my tasting ritual, instead of identifying specific aromas like grapefruit or honey, I may have a recollection of a time long ago, a faint dusty, earthy quality of a memory and then romantically inspired words to spew forth.  A very different experience from wine making, one might even say there is a qualitative difference between the two.  I enjoy both immensely.
There is harmony between the craft of wine making and the appreciation of wine. Last Thursday I set-up my wine laboratory at the winery and spent the day conducting our regular, periodic wine tests.  My bench, a portable lab table, provided ample space within the cellar to construct a series of wine tests. Every so often wine makers need to assess pH, acidity, and sulfur-dioxide (SO2, aka: sulfites) in the aging wine and adjust, as necessary, to keep the wine happy and protected from micro-critters and oxygen.  In front of me (from left to right) is an array of scientific devices; first is a Titratable Acidity (TA) assembly where, just like in high school chemistry lab, we titrate to determine the acidity in the wine. Crowded next to that is my desktop pH meter where, after calibration, I take pH readings of the wine. And to my far right is a Free SO2 Assembly, another elaborate set-up that might look illicit to someone who hasn’t been in a lab for awhile. (Photo: from my home wine lab).
Lab days tend to be hurry-up-and-wait days.  It goes something like this: take samples from the various fermentation tanks, test for pH, run an acidity test and calculate TA, and then conduct a Free SO2 test (add additional SO2 if required).  Each test takes a different amount of time and precision: pH, quick and easy; TA, about 2 minutes unless I screw up the titration (then I have to re-do it); and finally the Free SO2 test which takes at least 10 minutes to run and a bit more for the math calculations.  All told, it takes a better part of a day to run a series of laboratory tests for only our white wines (I didn’t finish them all either).
I taste, I test, and I try to remember.  Testing is a meditative effort, repeated tasks, calculations and formulas; Tasting is also a contemplative process, smelling, tasting, and feeling.  Each aspect, whether tasting for learning or appreciation, or tasting to assess a fermenting wine, is a complementary process – one without the other and something would be amiss.  There are a lot of things I don’t know about wine – but one thing is certain, I will continue to strive to understand wine from both a scientific point of view and from an artistic/philosophical perspective.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Writing on Wine

Terry post:

I realize that I may be the only person with a test engineering background writing about wine. Over the past 25+ years I have worked as an engineer and program manager responsible for testing combat systems which are integrated onto Navy guided missile cruisers and destroyers. My experience in that field is important as it provides background to a question which I am often asked, "How do you taste wine?"

In testing combat systems and evaluating wine you have to begin with requirements.

In the case of weapon systems the requirements are quantitative with binary answers being either "yes" or "no". Weapon systems do, or do not meet requirements.

In tasting/testing wine the requirements are qualitative with the benchmark established by the individual taster with input and assistance from others. I, for instance, lean heavily on my experience as Wine Director at Restaurant 213 where I tasted some fantastic wines and from other food and wine authors such as M.F.K. Fisher* and Robert Parker. The evaluation of wine tends NOT to be binary: that is, the answer is somewhere along a value-oriented continuum.

I have my own capabilities and limitations which I am mindful of when tasting. In my case:
  1. I see wine as an accompaniment to food and will almost always comment on a particular wine's ability to pair with food.
  2. I am mindful of the taste-holes. I have never, ever experienced violets when drinking a red wine - yet many of my wine writing friends mention it regularly in the reds they sample. I have never sensed tangerine in a white wine. Never.
  3. I am mindful of over-sensitive taste spots. In white wines I am quick to pick up vanilla, burnt toast, baked bread, flowers. In red wines I am quick to pick up cherries, raspberries and camphor.

I take notes as I drink but my notes are more like impressions than a listing of sensory experiences.

Quite simply, the first thing I ask myself is, "Do I like it?" That is an easy binary response and then based on that initial response I sip, chew and drink my way through the bottle. I jot down impressions as I drink the wine and I'll start my first draft on the computer the next day.

The second thing I ask myself is, "Would I buy it again?" A "yes" to both of these questions will always yield a favorable write up.

~ Terry

* If you don't know her - it is worth your time to research this writer - foodie (in that order).

Crimson Label Tempranillo

Brad Post:

As you may have gathered I am taking a wine appreciation class, called VIN 150 (Introduction to Wine), where the goal is to further our understanding of wine regions, varietal differences, and ultimately to be to gain the ability to speak the language of wine. Interestingly enough, we do this mostly via blended-format (meaning, 80% online discussions, research topic blogging, and 20% end-of-semester residential/tasting school).

So after this last assignment, what I am calling "the horrific Sherry experiment", in an attempt to enjoy the remainder of our evening with our wine tasting friends, we opened a bottle of Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection Tempranillo (2007).

Tasting Notes:  An enticing richly hued, deep ruby red wine gave way to initial bright cherry overtones followed by an freshly plowed earthy quality. Evenly balanced. An interesting interplay between dark fruit, hints of vanilla, and appealing astringency led to a suggestion of smoke and a beautifully, and moderately long finish.  

The Coppola 2007 Tempranillo was an amazingly good wine and deserves another tasting soon!


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Tasting Notes: Sherry

Brad Post:

Sherry Tasting Notes: Each week I make an effort to keep an open mind to the varietals I am about to taste. This week I struggled to get past all of the Sherry horror stories told to me throughout my adult life. Surely this richly hued wine couldn’t be all that bad…

1. Sherry, Fairbanks (CA). Source: Fareway, Cost: $4.99
The familiar green label of Fairbanks Sherry bottle had dust on the shoulders of its clear-green bottle, an indication of the lack of attention given to the bottom of the bottom-shelf fortified spirits. Warm amber hued, with some degree of rim variation, this wine possessed a noticeably high amount of alcohol as evinced by long, silky legs coating the glass interior. Potently aromatic with hefty amounts of honey and butterscotch up front, while suggestions of anise and hazelnut lingered. The somewhat initial pleasantries were quickly dissipated upon first sip! Immediately I was taken aback by a very harsh and bitter, an almost antiseptic quality initially, followed by a lingering burning sensation throughout my mouth. Unpleasant. Bitter qualities gave way to a slight grassiness post-swallow. My face contorted as a result of the strong, bitter and ghastly nature of this awful product.

2. Sherry, Lustau Solera Reserva, Dry-Oloroso, "Don Nuño". Source: Johns Grocery (I.C.), Cost: $16.99.
Gorgeously tinted to a dark root beer and trending to light amber along the rim. Despite Sherry #1 (above), I was hopeful this Sherry, made in Spain following the Solera tradition, would yield something remarkable. If the first Sherry was a powerhouse of aromas, this Sherry was the antithesis, subtle scents of butter rum, nuts, and anise. Nice. Don Nuño clobbered me, metaphorically, in my taste buds: blasts of cherry, orange, quickly led to a nutty combo of mouth-puckering bitterness followed shortly thereafter by a high-octane explosion of lingering heat. My dry Sherry was remarkable – remarkably terrible.

After we rinsed our palate with crackers and water we opened a bottle of Coppola Tempranillo (2007)...but that's another story!

Happy Tastings,

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

2008 Fat Bastard Chardonnay, Languedoc Roussillion, France

Terry post:

For those of you who are not located in the mid-Atlantic region: we have been walloped with back-to-back-to-back snow storms which have put industry and individuals at a dead stop. For my brother in Iowa a 9" snow is not that unusual. It is VERY UNUSUAL in Maryland, where we don't usually get 9" of snow in an entire season. As of this morning we are somewhere around 40" of total accumulation over the past 2 and one half weeks. For God's sake: we are under a blizzard warning. Enough.

So what does one do when the government is closed and you are snowed in? Eat and drink!

Last evening I prepared a chicken-centric version of Beef Burgundy. The changes to the recipe are quite simple, really: replace the dry red wine with dry white wine and replace beef with a whole cut up chicken. What worked for Julia Child in 1950 with beef works for us today with chicken.

My white wine of choice was a 2008 Fat Bastard Chardonnay. The Fat Bastard brand is another example of a vin ordinare being repackaged as an entry-level wine for American consumers who choke on the pronunciation of French vowels. A few weeks ago I double-tasted a Red Bicyclette Chardonnay to disastrous results - undrinkable - so, my expectations were not all that high when I opened this similarly pedigreed wine.

My impressions: Vanilla and flowers immediately on the nose - nice. Full buttery mouth-feel with more acidity than I expect - even in a Chardonnay. Lively. The acidity is pronounced when new in the glass and becomes less impact-full as the wine warms. Vanilla (again) on the long finish. Wonderful.

The 2008 Fat Bastard Chardonnay was a perfect accompaniment to my "Chicken Burgundy" having the backbone to stand up to richly sauced bird. The steeliness of acidity softened somewhat as the wine warmed, and the Fat Bastard remained a desired dining companion throughout. Highly recommended.

100% Chardonnay.

$8.99 at the Dover AFB package store.

~ Terry

Sunday, February 7, 2010

2007 Folie a Deux, Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley

Terry post:

It is pure coincidence that both Brad and I are drinking and commenting upon lighter white wines this week. He just completed a survey of several Sauvignon Blanc's while I am going to talk about only one brand: Folie a Deux.

The name of the winery translates to “shared fantasies", and is appropriate if you are a fan of small batch, hand-crafted wines such as this offering.

My impression: The color of gold were it a liquid and you diluted it a thousand to one. Substantial citrus nose followed by grassy finish. The wine improved as it warmed in the glass reaching near-Sauvignon Blanc perfection after a few minutes - when it opened up completely - revealing sweet flowers. A very pleasant surprise. Contrary to my previous experiences with Sauvignon Blanc, this wine improved as it warmed in the glass. The finish was long and distinctly floral. Food friendly. Superb.

I enjoyed this bottle along side a re-taste of a Penfolds Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon blend, still superb by-the-way, a pint of raw oysters and homemade chicken soup.

Would recommend this wine with: Grilled chicken, grilled fish, smelt & morels, clams, oysters (!) and pork (grilled or baked and lightly sauced). Would not pair it with pasta or any cream or butter sauced entree - which would completely overwhelm the wine.

$16.99 at the Giant supermarket.

~ Terry

Friday, February 5, 2010

Tasting Notes: Sauvignon Blanc

Brad Post:

A couple years ago I read a book by Eric Arnold titled, “My First Big Crush: The down and dirty of making great wine down under” and was immediate taken by his off-color, and frequently irreverent perspective towards the wine industry. His story is a personal account of working the crush during one of New Zeeland’s biggest harvest years as an aspiring author, turned would-be cellar rat.  I was inspired by his adventure and captivated by the idea of an extraordinary Sauvignon Blanc – and thus, I began my tasting with high expectations. 
Each of my tasting notes, unless otherwise indicated, is designed as a vertical blind tasting.  Four of us were gathered around a square table with five wine glasses, atop of white paper, in front of us.  We tasted silently (as silent as we could) and took notes.  Then we discussed.
1. 2008 Sauvignon Blanc. Angeline, Russian River Valley (CA). Source: ?, cost: ?)
At 13.9% alcohol, Angeline displayed a light straw color and gave off a delicate, almost imperceptible floral fragrance and a touch of melon. Other than a full, round mouth-feel, this wine lacked substance with the exception of a slight perception of sweetness and a hint of oak. The finish was long and unpleasant with its high alcohol.  Some of my comments: “nondescript, burns, high alcohol, kind of boring”.
2. 2007 Sancerre, Domaine Franck Millet (Appellation Dorigne Controlee - FRA). Source: Johns Grocery (Iowa City), cost: $16.99
An intriguing golden-hued wine greeted me with prototypical floral characteristics and wisps of fruit, citrus and pineapple were predominant. A nicely balanced, yet thin, pleasing green-apple flavor lasted just long enough to leave me wanting more.  Comments: “light smoky quality, guessing this is a French wine.  Maybe some oak”  Delicious.

3.NV Sauvignon Blanc. Barefoot Cellars (CA). Source: ?, cost: ?).
Crystal clear and pale yellow, this Barefoot Cellar represents a good wine gone bad!  At first glance this bottom-shelf wine gave rise to a light spritz as evidenced more by visual inspection than by taste. This hint, a clue to a possible fault, should have stopped me right here, but instead I dove nose first into what can best be described as olfactory overload!  First sniff reminded me of one of my earliest jobs working in the paint shop of a Chevy dealership in Grand Rapids, Michigan – yes, a paint shop aroma!  Leaving good sense behind the tasting continued, my notes read: “thin, unpleasant chemical quality, possibly turpentine”. If the smell and taste wasn’t bad enough, the lingering finish left my mid-palate begging for a cracker and a rinse.
4. 2005 Sauvignon Blanc - Reserve. Rancho Zabaco, Russian River Valley (CA). Source: Hy-Vee, cost: $5 on sale).
This California Sauvignon Blanc, golden-yellow in color, initially overloaded my sensory neurons with a familiar smell.  I’ve heard about the aromatic compound of this varietal, frequently cited in the literature, but as they say, I hadn’t experienced it firsthand. Cat pee.  Apparently, wine science geeks who study such things have identified the odor as “p-mentha-8-thiol-3-one”(a sulfur compound) that does strikingly, in fact, smell an awful lot like cat pee. Once I composed myself from the initial shock of the aromas (now, I’m being nice), I took a slurp and found a powerhouse wine full of grapefruit, medium bodied, seductively balanced and dare I say…Interesting.  Frankly, the more I tasted (I returned to this wine several times) the more complex and interested I became. My $5 sale rack wine was a hit!

5. 2008 Sauvignon Blanc. Allan Scott Family Winemakers, Marlborough (NZ). Source: Johns Grocery (I.C.), cost: $9.99
In my lead in to this posting I introduced you to Eric Arnold, the author of the book I read, but what I didn’t mention was the fact he worked at Allan Scott.  I was thrilled to find this brand at my Iowa City store and couldn’t wait to taste it.  Visually, a nice green-to-yellow tinted wine gave way to a lackluster hint of citrus and melon on the nose.  Not a strong starter aromatically and gustatorily speaking, provided an equally disappointing bitter, almost a pithy grapefruit quality, much like chewing the white flesh of a grapefruit. On a positive note, this Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc wine did offer a full, rich and almost creamy mouthfeel that I wasn’t expecting. My notes read: “not terribly memorable, some lingering post-swallow heat, bitter taste”. Honestly, after revealing the wines I was disappointed, not because it was necessarily bad, but because I had such high hopes for a wine (and wine company) that felt I knew.
Post Tasting Notes: For me, this tasting was less interesting than the previous two (i.e., Chardonnay and Riesling) and I am not really sure why.  Perhaps it was due to my high expectations for this varietal or maybe it was the result of poorly chosen selection of wines.  In any case, my favorites were the California, Rancho Zabaco (surprisingly!) and the French, Sancerre (Domaine Franck Millet) – both very yummy!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

NV Barefoot Cellars Merlot - California

Terry post:

Barefoot Cellars is one, of a many, lifestyle products whose aim is align its consumer offerings with a particular way of life.

As noted on their web page, "Barefoot Republic is a community of people who share an enthusiasm for living life barefoot, exploring and relaxing, living and loving, making a difference and for making new friends, preferably over a glass of Barefoot wine."

Their web site also features links to Beach Volleyball (which they sponsor) and beach cleanups (a good thing to pick their empty wine bottles, I suppose).

Surveying the wine producers, this sort of lifestyle marketing is not widely adopted. Leading the adoption curve can be a good thing if you can lock consumers up for the long haul. It won't be long until some other winery matches their eco-sports niche. Barefoot Cellars will need to protect their eco-sport leadership with additional market share as their success is bound to draw imitators. It will be fun to watch.

My impressions: Medium plum in color. Cherries are very pronounced when the bottle is first opened and fade a over time. As the cherries fade the spice-box opens up dramatically. Soft - almost no tannins. Low acidity. Short finish. Tasty.

I paired this Merlot with homemade Beef Vegetable soup and the wine was complementary . The fruitiness and barely-there acidity balanced easily against the beefy soup.

This Merlot is, taste-wise, somewhere between the highly quaffable Australian Yellow Tail brand and the more traditional U.S. brands.

The wine is very tasty and is, perhaps, best when enjoyed by itself. I have doubts that it would hold up well with the heartier traditional Merlot-pairs such as beef roasts, steaks, bison, etc.

Bottom line: A very good value.

I don't have much experience with Barefoot Cellars, and based on this experience I think I'll start drinking my way through their product line.

$5.99 (on sale from regular $6.99) at CVS for the 750 mL bottle.

~ Terry