Great news -- I've been published again in BlackBook Magazine. In lieu of re-publishing the post, I'll direct you to BlackBook's site and to the article!
Enjoy and I hope this helps with your TG wine selection!
November 23, 2009
November 20, 2009
Today, I canvased the city of Atlanta to promote the launch of my in-home wine tasting and wine education business. I visited nearly 20 wine shops, dropping off marketing materials and pressing the flesh. This little journey (which was successful -- thanks for your support, wine peeps of the ATL!) got me thinking about wine shops and how people pick their faves. Given that the holiday season is upon us, and that we're all going be frequenting the till more often than usual, I thought it may be helpful to talk about what to look for in good shop.
A local shop or grocery store can have great employees who can help get you the best versions of what you like, and lead you to take chances on things that will open up the world of wine for you. Unfortunately, there are also many stores that suck. I'm no guru, but here are some things you may want to consider as you're picking a store:
1. Do they have enough wine? If the walls are bare or there isn't a good selection, I feel uncomfortable in a store. It's like I'm pigeonholed into getting something, even if it's not what I wanted. Who wants to be guilted into buying something? I like stores that have a lot of selection at a lot of price points.
2. Do they have too much wine? Ok, not to be Goldielocks, but if there is too much wine, it's hard to narrow down what you went to the store for in the first place. It's like babies and shiny objects -- it's too easy to be distracted. The best shops are those that have bottles across all major wine producing countries, and who carry a range of price and quality within that selection. If they lack a good French, German, or Spanish section, I'm out.
3. Is the store clean? If the bottles are dusty or the floor is dirty, what does that say about the wine? Could mean the wine is corked or heated or nasty. Leave.
4. Is the store organized well? There are two ways that stores organize wine -- either by country, or by wine type/grape. Either is fine, as long as there is a rhyme or reason to the organization and it's consistent. I prefer the organization by grape because I may want a certain style of wine -- let's say Riesling -- but forget that the Clare Valley in Australia makes wonderful Riesling that I love, so I buy a German instead. Because the world does not bend to my will (dammit!), most stores are organized by country. Regardless of my preference, a must is that things are easy to find. If the wine is all over the place -- some on the shelf, some in a box behind me, some on a table somewhere, it's too hard to sort through it all.
5. Are the people all over you or are they no where to be found?
Either is irritating. I like to scope out a place, be given some breathing room and then have someone ask if I need help. If I don't need help, I don't want to feel like I just told the person I have Swine Flu. I also don't like being followed around like I'm about to shoplift. On the flip side, I HATE when I need help and there is no one around. The goal of building a relationship with a wine shop is that they get to know you and what you like. Then they can recommend other stuff that expands your wine world into new and different things. If people are no where to be found, you don't get to build that trust or be exposed to new stuff. At that point the store really has very little value to you and it's time to find a new one.
6. Are the people dumb or snobby? I'm astonished sometimes at how little people that work in wine shops know about wine. Especially in grocery and chain wine stores, sometimes they don't even hold basic wine knowledge (like saying Pommard is a grape, when it's a region that makes Pinot Noir in Burgundy -- horrible). Either that or they know too much and try their best to make you feel small and dumb. I've got no patience for either.
7. What are the prices like? Even if you have a lot of cash, there's no reason to pay more than the fair price for wine. Go to a few shops and price out some standard brands (a few good ones to try with are things like Sterling Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc). Make sure they are all within range -- don't get gouged. Most of my favorite shops have great prices and even better ones if you pay with cash or debit. Look for deals -- they are out there.
8. Speaking of money, do you feel like someone is always trying to upsell you? Turn around, walk out. If you tell someone your price range and they exceed it by more than a dollar or two, I find that disrespectful. You shouldn't feel pressured to buy something expensive because someone recommended it to you. Fake a call on your cell, walk out, and don't go back!
So that's the list. Hope it helps you narrow down where to go and what stores to cut off. Go out and get 'em!
November 11, 2009
Last week, I told my sister that I was doing a live blogging event with Wines of Chile. She was really excited for me. Then I told her I'd be tasting 8 Carménères. Her tone changed. Sympathy city.
"That stuff tastes like shit," I think were her exact words. I couldn't exactly argue with her, nor could I concur. In my past experience the wines have been all over the map -- some are great, and some are really, really, really freaking awful. I entered the tasting with some trepidation.
Chile is a fabulous country for wine. The Sauvignon Blanc kicks ass, the Cabernet is delicious, and the Chardonnay beautiful. But the big deal in this little sliver of a country is a rare grape originally from Bordeaux, Carménère. They used to blend it into the fine wines on the Left Bank of Bordeaux to add some red fruit and spice notes to the mix. The problem with the grape is that it was a pain to grow. It's fragile, susceptible to rot and fungus, and frankly didn't thrive in its native home. In the late 1800s there was a giant pest infestation in Bordeaux and when the growers replanted they decided to let Carménère go the way of the dinosaur.
The thing they didn't know is that somehow vine clippings made their way around the world to Chile. The Chileans grew it and thought it was some weird strain of Merlot, labeling it that way when they began making wines in earnest and exporting them to the US. I'm not sure how they confused the two grapes, since Carménère is kind of weird and Merlot is really straightforward, but hey, we'll give them a buy on it (I mean growers in California blend 25% Syrah into Pinot Noir and call it Pinot Noir, so I guess it's not too far off from that...).
Now the Chilean wineries are pushing out Carménère and are doing PR around it (hence my event). In my personal experience and in the blogger event I found tremendous variability in the wine. I usually say that if you don't know what you like, remember a region you like and try stuff from there until you get bored. Here, I feel pretty strongly about that and about the fact that you need to find the right producer and seek them out too. Because although the wines in the blogger event were all well-made, there were some that tasted so off to me that I could barely drink them.
After the tasting I realized that I definitely prefer Carménère from the Rapel Valley, specifically from the Colchagua Valley sub region. The other regions produced wines that tasted like green pepper, V-8 juice, and mothballs/old lady (I swear. M.C. Ice can vouch). The second thing I will say is that Carménère is a huge wine. It stains your teeth, it's flavorful and spicy, and it can be fabulous. Because this post is so long, I'm going to mention my three favorites with a short explanation on why they are kick-ass wines that you should have ASAP.... here goes:
1. Vina La Rosa, La Capitana Carménère 2008. This wine is one of the most delicious reds I've had in a LONG time. It smelled like incense and was multi-layered with red berry and blueberry undertones and gorgeous flavors of oregano, cigar, and an unbelievable balance of tannins and acids. This wine is phenomenal. For $18.00 this drinks like a $40 bottle and it was the only one of the 8 that we finished. This is everything that Carménère should and could be.
2. Cono Sur Vision Carménère, 2007 (clever pun on the name, no?). Don't drink this right out of the bottle. It needs to sit in a glass or a decanter for a minimum of 30 minutes. After that you will get a rush of black tea, blueberry, black pepper, and coffee up the nose. The wine tasted like roasted nuts, violets, and coffee and the tannins were thick and juicy. I love this wine because it's delicious but also because it's organic and it proves that organic wines can be as great as those farmed chemically. For $15, this is well worth seeking out.
3. Santa Carolina Reserva Carménère 2008. This wine could also use a little mellowing in the glass or decanter. If you do that you'll get rid of the tomato-like flavors that are hanging around when you first open the bottle (I think this is typical of Carménère, and frankly, I don't like it.). With some time, it's a solid wine -- lighter and simpler than the others with plum, blackberry, and blueberry flavors and a hint of sage and brown butter. The tannins are soft and for $10, this is the most unbelievable deal you are going to find on Carménère.
On food...All Carménère will pair best with brown food (you know, like meat and mushroom stuff). Anything red and it will taste tomato-y, anything green may bring out the green pepper, and it will annihilate anything light colored.
So ends the exploration for now. Go out and try these and don't give up if you've had a nasty Carménère in the past. These wines have great potential and they don't all taste like old-lady, green peppers, and V-8.
Enjoy and tell me what you find!
Disclosure: Wines of Chile sent complimentary samples to me, but I only reviewed those I loved! A full transcript of the event is here.
November 8, 2009
Admittedly, I'm a wine thrill seeker. When it comes to wine shopping, I'm like one of those people that needs to skydive or bungee off a cliff to feel alive (I'm so wannabe Bella from Twilight!). I love to try something I've never tried before and I usually shun the super popular wines. But after our awesome Halloween party (partly awesome because I got to listen to the Monster Mash 7 times) we had a bottle of White Truck 2007 left over so I decided to give it a whirl.
You know, it wasn't half bad.
Although California is not known for its blends, leaving that to the Europeans and Aussies, Cline, the producer, does a nice job on this. For a cheap wine, I'd give this a whirl. Why? Let's break it down...
The Wine: White Truck
Where It's From: California (the wine notes say it's from Lake County and the Central Coast)
The Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc (56%), Chardonnay (22%), Pinot Grigio (11%), Viognier (11%)
Color: Rub a dandelion on the inside of your arm. Look at the color. There you go.
Smell: There is a whole lotta scent on this truck (sadly, there's no gasoline smell in it...guess that would be too ironic for them!). Initially, the wine smelled really grassy, figgy, and grapefruity. It was also kind of like green vegetables. I waited a few minutes and put my mitt around the glass to warm it up a tad (cold wine is less aromatic) and shaazam! new scents appeared before my very eyes (lesson: don't over-refrigerate your wines please). Now it was more like white flowers, vanilla, and thick apple butter (so southern of me, I know). Ah, the scents of a child borne of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. I was able to impress M.C. Ice greatly with this blind guess -- we had not looked at the wine notes yet.
Taste: This was a really easy wine to drink. The overwhelming sensation was apple paste (I think wine snobs call this flavor quince, which is a Mediterranean/Persian tree fruit like an apple or pear but that needs to be cooked. It's heavier, less mealy, and awesome as a jelly). It was also a little like cilantro and green bean -- but when you get them from a farmer's stand and they're fresh. The wine tasted more like flowers than it smelled -- honeysuckle and other white little blossoms. That was the normal stuff.
There were some weird things with this wine too. Like the distinct sour note that M.C. Ice and I described to each other as sour cream or Parmesan cheese rind. Strange, but happily it was funk-a-licious, not funk-ass. The other weird thing about this wine was that it was creamy and thick and round. This usually means the wine went through a second fermentation, called malo-lactic fermentation, but the wine notes say it didn't get that treatment so I assume that it's either the aromatic, low-acid Viognier giving some bounce or the fact that this wine is pretty good on the alcohol (13.5%) which our mouths/brains translate as creaminess. Given the burn as it blazed its way down into my belly, and the small ring of fire it created once there, I'd say it's probably the latter.
Food: Be careful what you pair with this wine. I think for its sour cream-like notes, I would recommend it best with Mexican food or something like Indian or Thai where there is spice and cream mixed together. I think grilled chicken or fish could do better and be enhanced by something with less going on. I would not pair this with Chinese or sushi or anything soy-based, because even though I haven't tried it personally, I think the savory/salty thing in soy would be nasty with the sour cream/green bean funk of this wine. Maybe I'm wrong -- happy to amend this post if so.
Drink or Down the Sink?: Drink. This is a good wine for 9 bucks. For those tiptoeing into the world of Sauvignon Blanc, this is a good place to start because it's a mild version of what the grape should could be. It is a pleasant wine, it's kind of interesting and it's a good buy for the money. Would I drink it at someone's house? Yes. Will it be a regular in my rotation? Probably not -- I like something a little more pure. Should it be in yours? Try it and see...and remember that while I'm saying it's not on my shortlist, I've got a proverbial plane to jump out of for my next wine thrill...
November 5, 2009
So, you may remember that a few weeks ago I did a tasting on www.tastelive.com with the Wines of Germany. I wrote about three German Rieslings from Schloss Saarstein in the Mosel region, which rocked.
A week or so after the event, I was diligently procrastinating and I clicked over to TasteLive. I noticed that the Wines of Germany was sponsoring another tasting with Rieslings, this time from Rhiengau, so I figured I'd pull on the black vinyl pants, round wire glasses, and turtleneck, revive my love for the monkey, and check out the differences between wines from these two regions.
(Big print: the Wines of Germany sent me the wines for review. I'm still going to tell you what I think, though!).
This time the wines were mostly QbA (I'm not EVEN going there with what it stands for because there're like 6 vowels in a row), which means quality wines that come from 13 designated regions that make decent wine. It's usually an estate's base tier wine and it's affordable.
To do a little compare and contrast to the last review, Rheingau has completely different terrain from Mosel. Where Mosel is full of steep slopes and terraced vineyards, Rheingau is pretty gentle, with slopes that flatten towards the Rhine River and its tributaries. Mosel has mostly one type of consistent soil -- slate, and Rheingau has lots of different soils mushed up together. Rheingau's Rieslings are hard core -- lots of flavor, lots of acid, lots of stuff goin' on in general, probably because of the soil type and the growing conditions. Mosel Riesling is but a soft flower compared to Rheingau.
The Cliff Notes: There's a difference in the regions so please pay attention to the different reviews before you go pick something and then tell me you hated it.
Below are reviews of the 4 wines all from Schloss Reinhartshausen. The properties they own have been churning out wine since 1337 (beat that Napa Valley!) and currently the Weingut (translation is winery, not the gut you acquired from drinking too much wine) is the largest private wine landowner in Rheingau. For the blogging event we had Andrea Besslich, the export manager at Schloss Reinhartshausen to answer questions for us.
So without further ado -- my take on the wines:
Wine #1: 2007 Schloss Reinhartshausen Fountain Blue Riesling (off-dry/a little sweet)
Color: Straw yellow and nice and bright!
Smell: This was an interesting one. The nose had a lot of acidic citrus on it -- the zest of a lemon (the part of the peel that is really strong smelling), some fresh lime juice, a little orange. There were definite nectarine, peachy whiffs, and a nice white jasmine note too.
Taste: I tasted light orange and apricot flavors and it tasted like rose water too, but the overwhelming sensation: a tart apple candy -- sour and really sweet at the same time. The wine is off-dry, so it has some sugar in it, which is probably why the apple tastes candied instead of just plain tart. From a texture perspective, the wine was a typical Riesling -- burning acid with a long finish.
My take: For an entry tier wine (it's about $15), this is a decent Riesling. It's well-balanced, has more than one flavor going on, and it's soft. Although I enjoyed this wine, I did find it a little sweet and not quite acidic enough for my taste. It left me wanting more and I wasn't overwhelmed by it. Could you eat it with some moo shu pork takeout? Yes. But I think you may be able to find something that does the job better for the same price.
Wine #2: 2007 Schloss Reinhartshausen Old Vines Riesling (off-dry/a little sweet)
Color: Also straw yellow and very twinkly!
Smell: Very, very faint. I thought my (rather large and usually overly sensitive) snout may be broken when I sniffed a few times and I got just a little hint of gardenia or a floral perfume something. Riesling is usually super aromatic. I thought I was coming down with H1N1 or something...
Taste: ...then I tasted this wine. This will keep you awake! Put it in your mouth and zzzzzzzz! It's like an electric shock on your tongue. Such bright acidity, IT'S ALIVE! And pretty damn great. Here the sugar is balanced by the acidity very well. The dominant fruit flavor: a pineapple lifesaver! And it had this absolutely amazing savory quality, as my fellow blogger, Decatur Wine Dude, astutely pointed out (a cool and nice dude, BTW). It was like a butter herb rub. There was a slight bitterness at the end, but the wine was solid.
My take: This wine is worth a try. This could be your Thanksgiving wine -- for $22, so worth it. It's a classy wine, very balanced and unexpected in its savory characters that not overwhelming because they are tamed by acidity. You won't even notice the sweetness when you pair it with all the salty, buttery goodness on the TG table or with savory Thai or Indian samosas. Try this one...if I haven't convinced you, have I mentioned that it has a glass cork closure. Well worth bringing to mom's for TG.
Note: As a side note, even though they don't market this wine as such (big mistake!) it's actually from a single vineyard called Erbacher Hohenrain. That makes it more consistent and full of character. If you want to buy this wine and open it in 10 years, it will ROCK then too, given the quality of it now.
Wine #3: 2007 Schloss Reinhartshausen Erbach Schlossberg Monopole Erstes Gewachs Riesling (dry)
WTF on the name? Let's break this down. Germans love putting detail on their bottles...
Monopole= it just comes from that one vineyard (mono = one)
Erstes Gewachs=a quality classification for DRY Rieslings. This is the highest quality level
Riesling = you got this one, I know it
Smell: Ah, at last...some traditional Riesling smells. I was in my comfort zone: it was like eating a peach near a babbling mountain stream. Petrol, minerals, nectarines. My confidence in my nose was restored.
Taste: This was a very serious wine. The palate lived up to the nose -- it tasted streamy. Crisp acidity was balanced out by the really luscious apricot, pear, and tart apple fruitiness. It was slightly hot because, strangely, this wine was high in alcohol (14%). It was kind of hot in my mouth and felt full, even though there was a ton of acid. It added another, very interesting layer to the wine.
My take: Kinetic and flavorful, this was my fave. It's just a damn sexy dry wine. With your triple cream brie, fatty meats, and cream sauces -- have a field day with this. This is getting up there in price at $30, but for the layers, the balance, and the richness I think it would be hard to find a dry German Riesling at this price point that is this nice. Love it.
Wine #4: 2006 Schloss Reinhartshausen Erbacher Marcobrunn Auslese Riesling (very sweet)
Again, WTF on the name?
Auslese= Select grapes are picked very ripe. This is a high quality classification and usually the wines are pretty sweet, although they can be off-dry or dry too
Smell: OMG. Pooh Bear? Did I just sniff a honey pot? Or is it a honey comb with a little waxy-chemically, nutty smell? Flavored apricot honey. With petrol. WOW.
Taste: Man, this is a HUGE wine. It's nearly of dessert status. This is like sipping apple cider or tea with a lot of honey in it. It was very, very sweet, but was not quite of dessert quality because it still had wonderful acidity to make the wine bright rather than syrupy.
My take: This wine is from a very high quality vineyard that produces a lot of sweet and dessert wines. Although I appreciate the wine and think it is well-made, for me, it cannot be consumed without food. This wine could age for 30 years and still be great, but it wouldn't ever be great without something rich, creamy, or creamy and spicy to go with it. This is a big boy and without food, it may just be too overwhelmingly sweet and rich to shine.
For the full discussion on these wines from the Taste Live event, go to: http://twitter.com/#search?q=%23winesofgermany. My Twitter Name is Vine 75.