Wednesday, April 28, 2010

2008 Teldeschi White Zinfandel, California

Terry post:

Summertime truly is the time to relax with one's friends and what goes better with friends and summertime than a nice quaffable wine?

For many wine drinkers, White Zinfandel is the perfect summer drink. Easy to find. Easy to buy and easy to drink.

White Zinfandel is also the Rodney Dangerfield of wines as it doesn't get any respect. Many WZs are one-dimensional quaffs with overwhelming fruit (usually strawberries) on the nose, moderate alcohol and a low price.

When a WZ comes along and pushes the boundaries: that is something worth talking about.

My impressions: Medium pink in the glass. First in the glass my immediate impression was CHARDONNAY. As it opened up the initial predominant Chardonnay nose softened to crushed raspberries with a hint of flowers. Slightly tannic - think of crushed grape seeds. Moderate acidity on the ripe-berry finish. Recommended.

Second and Third Thoughts: Much, much more interesting than the Beringer White Zinfandel which I sampled a few weeks back. Decent acidity - some food pairing options here. There is a hint of woodiness here which is most noticeable on the finish and I don't know if this is a result of the wine spent any time in oak. One day after tasting I begin, I see this wine as more of a Rose than a WZ.

I think you'd find this an interesting alternative to the too-sweet, run-of-the mill White Zinfandel's.

$9.95 at The Wine Seller in Herndon, VA.

~ Terry

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Counterfeit Wine?

Terry post:

How difficult is it to sell counterfeit wine? I would estimate that it is only slightly more difficult than it is to make counterfeit wine.

David Molyneux-Berry is very a knowledgeable wine guy having run Sotheby's wine sales. In 2007 he noted that, “ of Ch√Ęteau Lafleur's late owners had said that only five magnums of the 1947 Lafleur were produced, yet 18 magnums purportedly containing this legendary Bordeaux have been auctioned off in the last three years alone.”1

Should you worry about the contents of your wine cellar?

It is not like counterfeiting dollars: the Treasury doesn’t worry about fake $1 bills, but they do worry a lot about fake $100 bills. Conventional wisdom would have you believing that only rich collectors have a problem. Not so.

E&J Gallo’s supplier of pinot noir for their Red Bicyclette brand stands accused of diluting that wine with less expensive varietals including merlot and syrah. While not an expensive fake on a bottle basis, a small fraud multiplied several hundred thousand times equals a lot of money.2

But the rich guys have issues too.

Billionaire wine collector and all-around interesting guy Bill Koch filed suit in March against Christie’s International accusing them of conspiracy to defraud. His complaint goes back a few years when he purchased bottles of French wine which, it was claimed, had been owned by Thomas Jefferson. Research, which only a billionaire could afford, resulted in Koch’s claims that the Jefferson bottles were fakes. He has also recently hired wine detectives to comb his 35,000 bottle collection to seek out other fakes. He is also considering lawsuits agains Zachys, and Acker Merrall & Condit for selling fakes.

What then, does this mean for the average wine drinker?

It really means nothing. I'd be thrilled were I to learn that a multi-millionaire wine collector was reading this blog for guidance, but I consider THAT to be highly unlikely. For someone like Mr. Koch who will spend $500,000 for one bottle of wine - the issue is real. Yet, he has the means to conduct due diligence on bottles of that pedigree.

What is likely that individuals such as you and I will continue to visit our wine stores and shop for the brands and varietals which we have come to know and trust.

Bottom line: Will we drink a fake wine or two in our lifetimes? Likely so. Will we be able to tell the difference? Likely not.

~ Terry

Interview: Tim Pearson, 7 Springs Vineyard - Part 2

Two Wine Brothers: Wine making is a capital-intensive business with the time between when you plant the grapes and you are able to put bottles on the shelves of retailers is measured in years. How has the global recession impacted your ability to raise capital?
Tim Pearson/7Springs Vineyard: Building a wine making facility from scratch is a very capital intensive business, you are correct. I am in a fortunate position to have an established business which has helped fund the development of the vineyard, winery and tasting room. Vaughan and I are going to use money we have in our pension funds to finance the building of the winery and tasting room, so you can see the absolute commitment we have for Seven Springs (the name, co-incidentally comes from the seven natural springs in the nearby spa town of Caledon).
Architect Rendering of Seven Springs Winery
The global recession has had an impact on my UK business but this has not been significant. We have merely stood still, in terms of growth, for a couple of years. What impacts us most is currency fluctuation. To give you an example, since we purchased the land in 2006 the £ Sterling / South African Rand has varied between 11 Rand to the £ up to 18 Rand to the £. This effect will obviously have the reverse consequence when it comes to exporting our wines.
So to answer your question; we have not needed to borrow a penny (or should I say a cent) from the banks. At the moment we have put the winery build on hold as the current exchange rate is around 11 Rand to the £. Once the £ strengthens against the Rand we will transfer the money over and commence the building.

Two Wine Brothers: The post-Mandela political landscape has been soft on "property rights". How are you managing the risk of losing your vineyards by government expropriation?
Tim Pearson/7Springs Vineyard: First, can I say the current political situation in South Africa is far fairer than it was during the apartheid era. I have no idea what will happen in South Africa in the future, just as I do not know who will be in power in the USA or in the UK in a few years time. If there are government ‘land grabs’, or expropriation as you put it, so be it, we will have little influence over that.
We are in the fortunate position of having an income, and a capital asset with no debts, from my business in England, we own our house here in England and one in Le Marche in Italy. So, as the saying goes, we do not have all of our eggs in the one basket. Life itself is not without risk and I fully understand that things can go wrong. I have never been interested in wealth creation; the idea of creating something special from scratch is much more appealing, so we do have provision for different scenarios.

Two Wine Brothers:  Now that your first vintage (2010) is behind you and resting in barrels/tanks, when do you anticipate releasing your first wines?  Can you elaborate a little on where and when consumers will ultimately be able to find your products in general, and in the United States, in particular?

Riana van der Merwe, Winemaker

Tim Pearson/7Springs Vineyard: We will release our first wines, Sauvignon Blanc and our un-oaked Chardonnay, around July/August of this year. We will await Riana’s, our winemaker, decision as to when the wine is ready to bottle. We have no commercial pressure to ‘get the wine on the shelves’ and would rather release the wine when it is perfect to drink.
Our lightly oaked Chardonnay (in second fill barrels) and our Syrah will be ready mid 2011. For our first year we were going to release only in South Africa and the UK, concentrating on building our brand and our market in our ‘home’ markets. However, we have been overwhelmed by the interest that we have had from the USA and  are reconsidering our options regarding the US. We have been in talks with Fiona Phillips, who runs an online, South African only, wine retailing business. Fiona, is English but based in Franschhoek, South Africa, and is establishing her business to export these wines into 26 US states from May 2010. Check out the Cybercellar website as she has an exceptional portfolio of wines at very reasonable prices.

Two Wine Brothers:  We look forward to the opportunity to experience the 7 Springs Vineyard wines as they become available and wish Tim Pearson and his family much success. Please take this opportunity to visit his website – 7Springs Vineyard!
Thank you, Tim!
Two Wine Brothers,
Brad & Terry Johnson

Monday, April 19, 2010

Interview: Tim Pearson, 7 Springs Vineyard - Part 1

INTRODUCTION:  Tim Pearson (7 Springs Vineyard) came to Brad’s attention several months ago on the social/professional media outlet, LinkedIn.  During the intervening months Tim and Brad have exchanged comments, suggestions, and shared a general interest of wine together on LinkedIn and on Facebook.  Two Wine Brothers is grateful to have Tim Pearson as our first online interview.  Tim possesses an authentic and passionate personality, an obvious love of wine, South Africa, and his family.
The Two Wine Brothers (Terry and Brad) worked together to forge six interview questions carefully designed to succinctly capture Tim’s personal background, winemaking passion, and the business realities of a newly forming winery located in South Africa.
The Seven Springs Vineyard is a premium winery located in picturesque Western Cape, South Africa, between the seaside town of Hermanus and the Spa Town of Caledon.
Two Wine Brothers: Can you tell us a little about your background (e.g., family, work-life, and education) and how you found your way into the wine business?
Tim Pearson/7Springs Vineyard: I was born in a small village in the east of England, called Crowland, in 1953. At school, I was never an academic child eventually left at age 17 and ultimately did not go on to higher education. I moved to Stratford upon Avon in 1977 to work as an Agronomist in the agricultural industry, meeting my wife, Vaughan, in 1979 and marrying her a year later. We have two daughters, Kim born in 1984 and Katie born in 1986. I left the agriculture business in 1987 to build a 5 star hotel in Mauritius with 2 friends.
We were very close to funding this project but in the early 1990s a recession hit and the bank that was going to fund us pulled out. Vaughan found a job to keep us solvent.  At that time we had a £6,000 bank debt, and I took a sales and marketing job with a cleaning company in 1991. In 1993, I left to start my own cleaning business called, Goldcrest Cleaning Ltd., and it is the profits from this business that has enabled us to provide funding for Seven Springs Vineyard. 
Over the years I have become more and more interested in wine and we spent many happy hours when the girls were younger camping in the Loire Valley and visiting many of the wine farms there. Our connection with South Africa happened because we lived there for 6 months in late 1994/95 when I was looking at buying a small, cleaning business there. The venture did not happen, because the person selling the business started changing the rules, so we came back to the UK and I concentrated on building up Goldcrest Cleaning.

Two Wine Brothers: What financial factors lead you to locate your vineyard and winery in South Africa?
Tim Pearson/7Springs Vineyard: It was not financial factors that led us to choose South Africa as a destination for our wine farm, it was a couple of other factors. Firstly, having lived there for 6 months (we lived in the east of the country near the Kruger National Park) we had fallen in love with the country and the potential of the country. Secondly, I had met many of South Africa’s winemakers at the annual London International Wine Fair and my passion for the country and her wines increased.
Vaughan and I spent our 25th wedding anniversary on a South African holiday in 2005 and it was before this trip that Vaughan said “If you are still interested in looking at South Africa to start a wine farm, now would be a good time”. By now, our daughters had both left school, my business could be run without me and we had met people in South Africa who could help us. It was during that visit that Vaughan said “If we are going to buy anywhere this would be the perfect place”. Vaughan was describing the Hemel en Aarde Valley (Heaven on Earth in English) and this was a perfect win, win, situation for me as I knew the area had high elevation, cooler climate, and great potential, and is one of the most visually stunning places on earth!

Two Wine Brothers: You’ve just harvested your first full crop of Chardonnay, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc, with Pinot Noir coming on line in a couple of years. What went into your decision to grow and craft wines from these noble varietals? What are your current production levels (i.e., volume in cases/varietal) and what do you think they’ll be in ten years?
Tim Pearson/7Springs Vineyard: After purchasing 12 hectares (30 acres) of land on north and south facing slopes (we already had soil analysis results from the whole area), the land had not been used for vineyard before and had cattle grazing happily on it. This analysis showed that the soil was capable of growing a number of varietals and producing high quality results from the land. It is one area of South Africa that is producing first class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay so we decided to plant these two varietals first. It was also given top scores for Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc so made a plan to plant each varietal on the most suitable parts of the land.
The red varieties were to be planted on north facing slopes, the whites on south facing slopes (this is the reverse of the northern hemisphere because the sun rises the opposite way round). As we are waiting for the vines to fully mature we are limiting our production. Our Pinot Noir is a couple of years off producing the quality of grape that we require, so 2012 will be our first year of production.
This year we are making around 12,000 bottles from 1 hectare of Sauvignon Blanc, 2.1 hectares of Chardonnay and 2 hectares of Syrah. We are making our wines at a friend’s winery, called Iona Vineyards, this year and hope to build our own winery and tasting room later in 2010. We will be building a winery with a crush facility of over 100 tons as we have access to first class grapes being grown next door to us. We will have about 10 hectares planted ourselves, 3.5 of Pinot Noir, 2 of Syrah, 2.5 of Chardonnay and 2 of Sauvignon Blanc.
In ten years time we do not know what our production levels will be. We have asked our winery architect to come up with a design that will allow us to expand if required. We are flexible and will make decisions on a yearly basis. We will be looking to reinvest our profits back into the winery and vineyards.
- - - -
End of Part 1.  The Two Wine Brothers will post Part-2 on Wednesday, 4/21/10.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Tasting Notes: Pinotage

Brad Post:
Hailed as South Africa’s own wine grape, Pinotage, a genetic cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut/Hermitage (frequently used as a blending grape to build powerful southern Rhone reds), was last night’s wine selection. Efforts to locate this elusive, at least in eastern Iowa, proved to be a challenge but finally my A-team of wine sleuths discovered three for our tasting.
1. Westerland (2006) Pinotage, South Africa. (Source: Hy Vee, Cost: $10.99, Alc., 14%).
Very low intensity ruby tinted with a noticeable rim variation and thick, long lasting viscosity.  Very little fruit was evident but there were earthy notes of gravel, dusty roads, oak and butter.  On the palate this wine displayed a short taste of blackberry up front followed by a nice amount of oakiness.  Little tannin and lightly astringent.  A mild medicinal quality reminiscent of antiseptic lingered post-swallow.  After a few minutes we were able to detect a pronounced coffee scent.  An okay wine.  Recommended with reservations.
2. Warwick (2006) Pinotage, Stellenbosh, South Africa. (Source: Hy Vee, Cost: $19.99, Alc., 14.5%).
All three wines were of low to moderately low intensity.  Ruby clear with thick, long lasting legs and moderate rim variation. On the nose this Pinotage opened up with rich fruit aromas of prune and processed fruit; followed by oak, vanilla, and buttery scents. Nice.  My palate was pleasantly surprised when an array of yumminess arrived across my tongue, first with fruit, then smoky wafts of oak, vanilla, spice, and maybe a dash of soy.  A slightly aggressive dose of tannin and a gorgeously mouth filling medium bodied wine that sent waves of flavor and minerality on for a long time.  Nice balance.  A winner!  Highly Recommended.
3. Westerland (2005) Pinotage, South Africa. (Source: Hy Vee, Cost: $10.99, Alc., 14%).
Garnet hued wine with an orange-brown rim variation. First sniffs reveal little else other than a barnyard or wool aroma.  Not a terrible odor but definitely an opinionated wine.  No fruit.  My palate was clobbered with smoke, spice, leather and potent tannins.  Drying. The astringency was quite aggressive and coated my mouth.  Lacks complexity.  Recommended with reservations.
Post-Tasting Notes:  This was a good tasting.  Despite my criticisms all three wines were pretty good!  The two Westerland wines (note the different vintages) were recommended with reservations, not because I hated any of them, but because our group of four were split between them to take the second place finish.  The Warwick was by far the best of the three!  You can always tell the favorites by how quickly the bottles empty after our formal tasting.  Warwick was first to go!
One final comment.  About midway through the tasting one of our evaluators stated what I had been thinking: “doesn’t this (Pinotage) remind you of Marechal Foch?”  Yes, it did!  Marechal Foch is one of the wine grapes growers in cold-climates cultivate and frequently is at the bad end of many jokes because of its aggressive personality (e.g., earthy qualities, leather, tobacco).  Interesting.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

NV Dolin Vermouth De Chambery, Blanc, France

Terry post:

Everything I know is wrong.

Or, so that is how things seem this afternoon after sampling a French Vermouth served over ice.

Earlier in the day I drove over to The Wine Seller and put myself in the hands of Lucinda. I told her I was looking for light summertime wines to sample and that I didn’t want to limit myself to only White Zinfandel.

She went to the racks and returned with several bottles of wine - the most surprising being a French Vermouth. I know what you are thinking: Vermouth, are you freakin’ kidding me! Stay with me on this one.

Like most people I see Vermouth as a cheap sweet wine with practical limitations at softening the rough edges of gin/vodka in a Martini. Vermouth is a drink that is reserved for the shuffleboard set. Vermouth is everything in a wine which I hold in distain: it is sweet, it is one dimensional, it is boring.

Like I said before: everything I know is wrong.

Ever see the movie, “Charade”? There is a scene at the beginning of the movie, where Cary Grant meets Audrey Hepburn. Hepburn is sitting outdoors at a ski resort enjoying an adult beverage with the Swiss Alps laid out before her. I imagine that Ms. Hepburn is sipping a cold Dolin Vermouth De Chambery as Cary Grant approaches her. I don’t know what she is drinking, but it SHOULD be this drink.

My impressions: Clear in the glass. Herbal. A walk in a cool pine forest at dawn. Sweet but balanced with the herbs. A rumor, just a rumor, of bitterness on the lingering finish. Highly recommended.

Second thoughts: This wine stands on its own two legs. While it would blend well in any drink of distilled spirits, I sampled it on its own over ice and did not find it wanting.

A perfect after dinner aperitif.

16% alcohol by volume

$15.99 at The Wine Seller

~ Terry

Calling All Grapes!!!

Brad Post:
For the past couple of months my postings have concentrated on my wine appreciation class as evidenced through the volumes, literally and figuratively, of wine both consumed and written about.  Apologies to wine education/tasting purists but I couldn’t find it in myself to spit out the delicious, at least frequently delicious, nectar of the grapes.  And as much as I enjoy writing about the tasting experience I find myself wishing to write more about other wine-related topics. So begins my personal challenge to write (at least every other day) about some aspect of the wine industry.
On or about November 7, 2007 my wife Jill and I, and two, soon to become friends, Marty and Jeff, met at a coffee shop in downtown Vinton, Iowa to discuss forming an amateur winemaking club.  By the end of our first meeting we had a name, some ideas about what we wanted to accomplish, and several future meeting dates.  One of our most important goals was to learn to make wine with fresh, locally-sourced, wine grapes.  To this end we’ve been very successful.  Last year, our Eastern Iowa Wine Club (EIWC) membership sourced, negotiated purchase price, and secured more than 9,000lbs of fresh wine grapes from local and regional growers.
We’re committed to working with winegrowers located in Iowa and surrounding states to source the highest quality grapes available.  Compared to last year where our group sought 12 different cultivars (i.e., cultivated varietals) this year we are narrowing our focus down to two red and two white wine grapes in an effort to increase our buying power; while at the same time, improve our winemaking skills through a focused effort on a few cultivars.  And in all honesty, as the volunteer wine grape source person, it will make my life easier!
Narrowing down the huge list of potential grapes to craft into wines is a challenge.  One needs only to look to France and Italy as exemplars of what might be!  The French system, at one end of the spectrum, is a highly organized and managed wine industry; name a region and I can tell you the varietals they grow and the wines they construct.  Contrast the French system to the Italian wine system: Italy grows more than 1,400 wine grape varietals in a seemingly arbitrary or corrupt organization. 
Iowa isn’t France nor is it Italy, but it could be either if left unattended.  As our state/regional wine industry struggles through a period of adolescence, in an effort to determine a viticultural or enological sense of self, groups like EIWC can begin to nudge the system to encourage a certain Midwestern wine style.  Places like Indiana have already identified desirable wine grapes and organized an effort to identify “Signature Grapes of Indiana” – Traminette is the most recent and has it's very own marketing program, titled: "Try On Traminette".  Brilliant!
The Eastern Iowa Wine Club, through the efforts of their member-growers, winemakers, and wine friends, are beginning to transform both the perception of Midwestern wines and perhaps, to a small degree, the direction of this burgeoning industry.  What grapes will EIWC source this year is yet to be determined, but clear favorites are emerging within this group of experimentally-minded and amazingly talented winemakers. As we narrow down our choices, maybe one or two will become the signature wine grapes of Iowa.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Wanting and Getting: The Winery Experience

Brad Post:

My brother mentioned in a Two Wine Brothers Facebook “Fan” posting recently the idea of working with wine retailers to develop an optimization model. This reminded me of a marketing research project I worked on for a group of Iowa wineries with a colleague at Des Moines Area Community College a couple years ago. I thought I’d post a snippet of our findings, titled: “An On-Site Evaluation of Selected Iowa Wineries: A Mystery Shopper Program”.

At the urging of some members of the Iowa wine industry we designed and administered a Mystery Shopper Program whose purpose was to gain a deeper understanding of visitor experiences at selected Iowa wineries in an attempt to uncover areas for future growth and opportunities. We recruited and trained 31 evaluators who “acted” as normal winery visitors in order to simulate a real Iowa winery experience, without the prior knowledge of the winery and tasting room staff. Upon the conclusion of their visit, each evaluator completed a six-page post-experience evaluation form.

For this posting, I will keep the findings restricted to one series of questions that addressed the experiences winery visitors “wanted to have” and the experiences they ultimately “actually got”. We suspected when desired experiences were not sufficiently attained visitor dissatisfaction may occur and consequently provide opportunities for wineries to improve customer service. The below set of tables reflect 19 questions/statements reflective of potential motives/desires of Iowa winery visitors (Note: green=experience wanted; red=experience attained).

We used a standard Likert Scale (1=not at all to 7=very much) as a metric to determine various experience dimensions. We asked: The following are feelings or experiences that people sometimes seek at wineries. For each, please indicate how much you hoped to get AND how much you actually got from this winery visit.

The first Table (above) reflects nine of the 19 questions and we somewhat arbitrarily determined values of 5 or greater to be meaningfully strong. For example, the second statement (i.e., to taste locally made wines) received a score of 6.2 for both desired and attained; thus we conclude visitors expectations were met satisfactorily to a relatively high degree. We found similar high scores for these items: “try something different” and “to accompany a friend/loved one”. Conversely, substantial discrepancies between “want” and “get” on these items suggest opportunity: “to tour a winery” and “to tour a vineyard”. In other words, visitors to these wineries wanted to tour the winery/vineyard and were not given the opportunity.

The second Table (above) shows the final series of questions/statements. The data suggests high visitor satisfaction (based upon our criteria) for the following areas: supporting Iowa wine industry; visiting another winery; enjoying scenery; having a good time with their company; and relaxing. Areas of particular concern (substantial discrepancy) are these general areas: learn about winemaking; learn about grape varietals/cultivars; learn about label reading; and gain knowledge of food-wine pairing.

After teasing out the data we learned there are considerable differences between how men and women experience a winery.
1. Men more often get the experience they wanted.
2. Women want more information/education and are less likely to get it than men.

Female mystery shoppers want to: Tour the Winery & Vineyard; Learn more about Iowa wines; Learn more about winemaking; Learn more about grape varieties; Learn more about label reading; Learn about pairing food & wine.

Post-Research Thoughts:  After a research project is completed, reports written and presentations, presented, I wonder how much information the clients really use.  Many of the findings are easily addressed, such as spending a little time providing wine-food pairing education to winery visitors; and paying a little more attention to their female visitors.  Seems like a little effort could go a long way.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Tasting Notes: Merlot

Brad Post:
If the acclaimed wine movie Sideways (2004) taught us one thing it was to despise Merlot! The now famous scene is played out just as a pair of friends are about to enter a wine-restaurant (to meet their dates), when Jack says “If they want to drink Merlot, we're drinking Merlot” to which Miles poignantly rebukes “No, if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any f*****g Merlot!” These two lines continue to echo throughout the wine world in both economic and preference terms.  Public opinion toward Merlot took a serious hit as a result of this movie!
I mentally prepared myself for this tasting given the recent negative history of this noble varietal.  We selected three Merlots, one each from Australia, California, and Chile (all tasted blind and in this order).
1. Marquis|Philips (2008) Merlot, South Eastern Australia.  (Cost: ~$12, Source: Vineria Wine Shop, Alc.,16.5%).
A very dark and intensely hued ruby wine with extraordinarily long lasting legs captured my attention.  Initial scents of blackberry, prune and jam followed by oak and black pepper.  Was hit over the head by wafts of alcohol. Potent!  Subtlety was not achieved on the palate as black pepper overwhelmed my taste buds.  Moderate tannins accompanied the hot, lingering finish of a wine with, in my humble opinion, too much alcohol.  Wickedly hot.  If you like aggressively constructed wines with a kick, you’ll love this!  Although I might cellar it for a couple of years to let it calm down some. Good.  Recommended ++.
2. Casa La Joya Reserve (2006) Merlot, Colchagua Valley Chile.  (Cost: ~11, Source: Vineria Wine Shop, Alc.,14.5%).
All three wines were deeply hued and ruby colored.  First sniffs revealed barnyard odors reminiscent of Brettanomyces (i.e., a bacterial infection of the wine that some believe to add complexity). The barnyard aromatics of this Merlot overpowered any other scent that may have been hidden underneath.  Initially on the palate I picked up cherry and some oak, but the post-swallow bitterness that followed ruined the wine for me.  Stinky and unappealing.  Not recommended.
3. Robert Mondavi Private Selection (2008) Merlot, California.  (Cost:?  Source: ?, Alc.,13.5%).
A lower intensity purple-ruby colored wine opened up and offered berry aromas, oak and vanilla, a hint of dusty earth, and a whiff of butter.  Nice. A fruit-forward wine infused with black cherries and raspberries accompanied with an excellent balance of acid and astringency.  Not too much of anything…just the right amount of yumminess!  Easy to drink.  Recommended +++.
Post-Tasting Notes:  Two things come to mind: 1) what is the deal with ridiculously high alcohol wines?  2) After tasting these few Merlots it seems apparent why the French were so wise to use it as a blending wine.  Not terribly interesting or complex by itself but I can see where it’s particular qualities would benefit a potent partner, such as Cabernet Sauvignon.  The favorites of this tasting: #1 – Mondavi and #2 – Marquis|Philips – both good wines.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

2008 Rock Rabbit, Sauvignon Blanc, California

Terry post:

Summer Wine Series

It is true that I spend too much time drinking red wines and not enough time sampling the lighter fare such as Sauvignon Blanc.

I don’t have too much to say about the Rock Rabbit brand. We carried it at Restaurant 213 as a lower-priced Sauvignon Blanc and it sold well.

My Impressions: Pale straw color in the glass. Stone, grass, modest fruit and a hint of spice (10% Gewurtraminer) on the nose and across the palate (The Gerwurtraminer was not co-fermented with the Sauvignon Blanc - I suspect the wine maker hoped to soften its razor-sharp edges). Unabashedly tart, with fruit under-represented resulting in an off-balanced wine. Lingering tart finish. Recommended with conditions: 1) Not a pool-side quaffer and not the sort of wine you’d want to sip on without food, 2) Would recommend with hard cheese (think Parmigiano-Reggiano) and other hearty nibbles, and 3) It might work with grilled white meats.

This is a personal bias of mine: I like some fruit in my wine. The major flaw of this offering is its overly tart nature combined with the thinness of the fruit. There are plenty of acidic wines which I have enjoyed - each having a level of fruit holding the whole package together.

It's not a great wine and it's not a terrible wine. With all of my complaining about many wines lacking a backbone - the 2008 Rock Rabbit Sauvignon Blanc has a cold-steely, razor-sharp backbone of immense proportions. My only caveat: the wine drinker had better be ready to pucker up.

90% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Gewurtraminer in a handy screw-top bottle

13.5% alcohol.

$8.99 at retail.

~ Terry

Sunday, April 4, 2010

WineSmarts - Residential School

Brad Post:

Over the past 10 weeks I've been immersed in wine appreciation, as part of a curriculum using a blended format (i.e., part on-line and part residential school), in a class titled VIN 150 - Introduction to Wine. 

Recently, after several weeks of recorded, online lectures and a thorough self-guided wine exploration (e.g., my tasting notes reflect my progress), our class gathered together on the campus of Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) in Ankney, IA with the face-to-face class to delve further into wine.

In attendance were culinary students, those with an interest in wine service (i.e., many of which are working toward sommelier accreditation), winemakers and winegrowers, and wine retailers.  Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if Iowa, if not already, then soon, will have the highest number of sommeilers per capita than any other U.S. state - thanks in large part to the efforts of enology instructor Paul Gospodarczyk.


The two-day wine residential school launched with several students surrounding a table in the culinary arts program building.  Placed in front of our small group was three glasses of a white wine standard - the same wine unaltered.  This unaltered standard was provided for us as a way to judge against the upcoming wines we were to describe.  Soon 13 "altered" wines were whisked into our room, a semi-circle of tables, marked only with a letter on the base of the glass.

In total silence each of us was to work our way around the "doctored" wines and sniff out the truth and to write down as many descriptors as we saw fit.  Behind the scenes, and prior to this moment, inside each wine standard glass was placed a common scent for each student to try to identify.

Here is the list of white wine scents: pineapple, bell pepper, lemon juice, honey, vanilla, lychee, oak essence, lemon peel, apricot, butter, cloves, asparagus, and apple.

I'm not exactly sure how everyone else did but I did slightly better than 50% (maybe an F+).  It was only a couple of weeks ago when I asked my brother "what the heck is a lychee" and now I was tasting it.  Well, I tasted it but thought it was cooked green beans.  Still do.  Weird.  Doesn't taste anything like beans as it tastes like, well, like lychee.

After the reveal, we were given an opportunity to re-smell and try to commit to our odoriferous-linked memory these scents.  It is strange how scent works. To me "butter" smells like, get this, butter smells like the chemical that's in insect repellent known as DEET.  So butter=DEET to me, at least, when I smell it in wine.  Again - strange.

Lectures, discussion, more lectures, and then on to the red wines.  Just like the white wines, we were given a standard red wine and then another 13 adulterated wines.  My initial, personal success rate didn't improve a lot, but after subsequent smellings I was better able to detect the scents.

Here is a list of the red wine scents: black pepper, co-co or chocolate, butter, anise or licorice, soy, cloves, asparagus, bell pepper, molasses, prunes, tea, vanilla, and oak essence. 

Mixed throughout this intensive residential school was mini-lectures focusing on world wine regions and their administrative organizations, characteristic qualities of wines,  and on day-2 - the tastings.  We tasted and evaluated five white and five red wines and became fairly adept at it too.

There is one thing about wine industry people - they are a lot of fun!  From dinner at a French restaurant to wonderful backyard conversation over a bottle of port or sipping accidental sparkling Marechal Foch, life, frankly doesn't get much better.

My enology certification is almost complete with only one class to go.  My final course requirement will have me working the Mid-American Wine Competition along side my fellow wine students but also with notables such as Doug Frost (MS, MW) and other wine industry big-wigs.  Lots to learn but what a wonderful subject to drink in.

Lastly, if you have any interest in furthering your own wine education, whether that means wine service or wine science, then I suggest checking out this web-blended program at DMACC.