Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Are there beer and wine counterparts?


Beer and wine have their own unique qualities, based on ingredients, how they are made as well as the specific characteristics that result in the finished product.  But they do have some things in common.  I think they have enough in common that in some cases we can identify beer and wine counterparts.  Why do this?  I see at least two reasons:

(1) Many people see beer and wine in exclusive terms, e.g., there are many people categorize themselves as a beer drinker or a wine drinker (but not both).   I’d argue that it’s time to start viewing beer and wine inclusively, i.e., beer and wine don’t necessarily compete with each other but rather complement each other, e.g., some types of beer and wine share certain similarities, pair well with the same foods, etc. 
(2) People who tend to drink only beer or wine can use this post as a way of deciding which beer or wine counterpart to try… in essence, a gateway counterpart.

Based on (1) and (2), for example, I’d like to begin seeing restaurants hosting special opportunities to have (combined) beer and wine pairing dinners, etc.

A few introductory notes: sometimes I’ll refer to a beer or wine style.  In wine, there is a conventional distinction between new- and old-world, which refers to the distinction to Europe (old-world) and everywhere else (new world).  Typically new-world wines are more fruity and less dry than old-world style wines, e.g., Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand tend to be fruitier than those from France.  Note, however, that there are many exceptions to the new-/old-world categories, i.e., there are old-world style wines, e.g., less fruity, more dry, etc., that made in new-world wine regions, e.g., California, etc.  It’s also common to categorize wines into styles based on specific wine regions, e.g., a Syrah from Cotes-du-Rhone, etc.  In beer, there are many styles: American, Belgian, English, German, Irish, Scottish ales; and American, Czech, European, German and Japanese lagers; as well as styles such as Summer Ales, etc. 

Last, I want to point out that—obviously—there are many differences between beer and wine; not just their ingredients, how they’re made but also that there are many characteristics that are just unique to each kind of beverage. 

Beer and Wine Characteristics
Appearance & Color
While there are similarities between the appearance and color of beer and wine and beer and wine drinkers definitely get enjoyment out of the appearance of a beer or wine, people typically people don’t drink something only because of appearance.  So I’ll ignore this characteristic.

Aroma & Flavor
There’s a close connection between the senses that detect aroma and flavor, i.e., the olfactory sense and taste, respectively.  Further, although beverages can have some aroma X, e.g., sweetness, etc., it may not taste like X.  Also, I’m only going to discuss characteristics that have similar counterparts in beer and wine; I’ll be ignoring types of characteristics that have no counterparts in beer and wine.  For example, sweet citrus characteristics are (almost exclusively) not found in beer but only wine so I’ll ignore this type of characteristic.  Examples of aroma and flavor:

Fruitiness: both beer and wine have fruity characteristics.  And good beer and wine can have fruit in different stages of consumption, e.g., fruity start, dry or bitter finish.  Some examples of fruity characteristics in beer and wine and their counterparts:
§       Citrus:
  • Beer: Summer style beers, Belgian (white) ales, (and my favorite) Jai Alai IPA (Cigar City)
  •   Wine: old-world whites, e.g., Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, dry Rieslings, Chilean Torrontes (which also tends to have floral characteristics)

§       Red Fruit:
  • Wine: old-world style reds.  Common favorite grape varietals include Italian Sangiovese, Spanish Tempranillo & Grenache and French Syrah
  • Beer: these are easy to spot, with names like Cherry or Rasberry Lambic (Kreik or Framboise), Strawberry Wheat

All of these wines with citrus and red-fruit that have beer counterparts tend to be dry; and all of these beer and wine counterparts tend to have a good amount of acidity.
Savoriness: examples of savory characteristics in beer and wine and their counterparts:
§       Cocoa:
  • Wine: new-world Malbec
  •  Beer: Stouts and Porters (esp. those with “chocolate” in the name!)

§       Smoky:
  • Wine: Spanish Tempranillo
  • Beer: Stouts and Porters (esp. those with “smoke” in the name!) 

Mouthfeel
Another important way to identify beer and wine counterparts is by similar mouthfeel.  Both beer and wine contain alcohol, which produces a specific sensation in the mouth (e.g., hot, etc.).  And if you’re looking for a low-alcohol beer or wine or a high-alcohol beer or wine, it isn’t difficult to do: simply look at the alcohol by volume (ABV) percentage on the label.  But I’d argue there is another aspect of mouthfeel found in beer and wine that makes them similar: bitterness in beer and dryness in wine.  In beer, bitterness is produced by hops; and in wine tannins produce the feeling of dryness and astringency in the mouth. 
It seems plausible that if someone likes hoppy (e.g., bitter) beer they might be disposed to like dry wines.  Here are some beer and wine style counterparts by bitterness and dryness:
Less Bitter/Dry
  • Beer: Light Lagers
  • Wine: White wines and new-world red wines

More Bitter/Dry
  • Beer: IPA, Barleywine
  • Wine: Old-world red wines, e.g., Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Tannat.
Have a beer-wine counterpart of your own?  Leave it in the comments.....

Friday, July 27, 2012

Tallahassee Wine of the Month Club

Tallahassee
Wine of the Month Club


Love wine but don’t know which ones are good?

Join the Tallahassee Wine of the Month Club and let us select the very best wines available at the best prices!


Club Details:
You customize your membership by duration, number of bottles per month and average price per bottle.

To join or for more information contact me at

(850)212-3823 or srmillard@gmail.com

Sip locally!

Tallahassee Wine Shopper

Tallahassee Wine Shopper


Ever find yourself on the wine aisle completely confused?

Let us buy your wine for you!
 
We have the resources to find you the best wines to suit your unique preferences and save you money. When we shop for you, you’ll also get:

• Tasting Notes on your wines

• Food Pairing Suggestions

• Suggestions for new wines to expand your palate

To join or for more information contact me at


(850)212-3823 or srmillard@gmail.com

Sip locally!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Summer White Post in Spring



Since March 2012 was the warmest on record in the US I don't think any would object to publishing the customary Summer wine post a bit early.  I don't know about you but I really couldn't wait to start drinking some white wines to try to stay cool in this early on-set heat.  I'm also starting to store my everyday reds in the fridge before serving so as not to experience too much of that internal warming sensation in my mouth since I'm already roasting externally in the summer-like temperatures.  


The first wine that I picked up was the most recent vintage of Domaine Lefage Vin De Pays des Cotes Catalanes Cote Est (Languedoc Roussillon, France).  This is a blend of White Grenache, Chardonnay & Marsanne from the interesting southern part of France that borders the northeastern tip of Spain.  The Languedoc Roussillon region of France has an interesting collection of grapes and some very good values.  I enjoyed the Cote Est.  It had good weight, noticeable floral elements and a good amount of acidity.  For $10 I thought it was a good wine.


The second wine was the 2010 Regis Minet Pouilly Fume VV (Loire, France).  This Sauvingnon Blanc was a nice alternative to the New Zealand SBs (which I enjoy) with a some chalkiness and a less amount of acidity that lead to a seamless, enjoyable transition from beginning to the finish.  This wine would pair very well with most kinds of shellfish and seafood that were prepared in a simple manner, e.g., raw, lemon/butter sauce, etc.  This wine was a bit more expensive at $17 but I would still rate it a good value, which would be an even better value if enjoyed with the right food.


Both of these wines were purchased at the Wine Warehouse, which is recently under (mostly) new ownership (Bob Gorman).  

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Not-Really-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving Wine Post

On the one hand, people have come to expect a list of wines dedicated to Thanksgiving. On the other hand, I think posts dedicated to Thanksgiving wine recommendations have been over-done. And there are problems with wine lists (e.g,. top 10 wines for X, etc.,): people's preferences vary and there's no single wine that goes with Thanksgiving, but rather a range of many wines that would be good fits with typical Thanksgiving fare, e.g., turkey, starchy goodness, etc.

As always I start with premise that wine can be a source of enjoyment and that some of that enjoyment can come from trying wines that they have never tried, e.g., wines made with grapes that they have never tried, produced by a country or region that they have never tried, etc.   Then apply this idea to wines that are available in Tallahassee at the moment that are either legit alternatives to the wines commonly associated with Thanksgiving or just darn good wines in their own right that are off the beaten path!  This is what I've done...as always, the wines featured are all sub-$20.
Reds
- 2010 Casillero del Diablo Reserve Pinot Noir (Chile). Strawberries, bing cherries, light-bodied, balanced, simple Pinot Noir.  You'll be hard-pressed to find a Pinot Noir of equal quality for $10.  Pinot Noir is traditionally associated with Thanksgiving...I'm buying more of this stuff.  (Publix, Killearn)
- 2009 Annabella Pinot Noir (Carneros, CA). This is probably the best $15 Napa Pinot Noir in town (New Leaf Market)
- 2009 M. Chapoutier Bila-Haut (Languedoc Roussillon, France). This wine is well-known and much like the Borsao it's a wine that won't disappoint for the price. Medium-full bodied Grenache blend with good secondary elements of earth, leaves, etc. ($12 Wine Warehouse)
- 2009 Borsao Garnacha (Spain). This is a steal at $6.99 (I've seen it listed around $10) although it's a fairly big wine and will need some bold flavors to compliment it. This is a good wine Thanksgiving or no Thanksgiving. (World Market)
Whites
-2009 Villa Wolf Riesling (Pfalz, Germany).  Simple, clean, balanced Riesling from a reliable producer year to year.  This is an ideal first-Riesling... can't go wrong with this wine.  ($9 Earth Fare)
- 2010 Dr. Loosen Riesling (Mosel, Germany).  I tried this wine a few weeks ago and was most impressed by its balance, weight and mouth-feel.  Sour with some sweetness to it, so if you have an aversion to sweetness, then avoid... unless you have an open mind and are willing to try something new! ($14 Earth Fare)
- 2010 Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc (Stellenbosch, South Africa). Fantastic, different light white wine with fresh floral, chalk and citrus notes.  This is must-try if you're looking for a great non-traditional white.  ($14 Market Liquor, Lake Ella Plaza)
- 2009 Giachino Vin De Savoie (Jura, France) I already bragged a lot about this nice French white here. ($13 Wine Warehouse)
Sparklers
 - Riondo Prosecco (Italy). I tried this over the weekend at some friends' wedding and enjoyed it, as did the others at my table--so it's not just me! Note to reader: it had a little more sweetness that expected but not enough to diminish its quality. ($10 Costco, $11 Publix Killearn)
- N.V. Jaume Serra Cava Cristalino Brut (Spain).  Much like many of the wines featured here, this Cava is simple but well-made and won't disappoint for the price. ($8 World Market, $10 Publix)  

Dessert Wines & Aperitifs
- Moscato might be the most popular wine at the moment.  They're bubbly, sweet, relatively inexpensive (sub-$20) and fun.  Wine Warehouse carries this pink Moscato for under $10 that is simple and surprisingly good.
- Madeira or Sherries.  Here's a good post I came across recently on dry and cream sherries, their characteristics and foods you might want to try them with.  Sherries and Madeira are under-valued (read: relatively cheap) and so are worth exploring.

Last, it's impossible not to notice that some retail stores are also selling wine-based beverages like ChocoVine, Mulled Wine, wines made from fruits other than grapes--I discovered that Cranberry wine is being pushed this holiday.  These can be enjoyed after over-eating.

I hope one (or more) of these wines helps contribute to a happy Thanksgiving!

p.s. please contact me if you have any questions about any of these wines or any wines not included on this list that you'd like to find in town, e.g., Zinfandel, Cru Beaujolais, Rose, Syrah, etc.  Also if you're not afraid of dropping more than $20/bottle, there are some very good wines available in town--contact me and I'll try to point you in the right direction.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Summer Vin De Savoie

Yesterday I came across a wine good and interesting enough that I thought it deserved a post unto itself. Trying to survive the 100 degree temperatures of the south in the summer I went looking for a white and found the 2009 Frédéric Giachino Vin de Savoie Abymes Monfarina

It is produced in the French region of Savoie, east of Burgundy and south of Jura. (Map below.) The grape is Jacquere. According to winegeeks "wines from the Jacquère are often very light, higher in acidity, and crisp with scents of fresh grass and flavors of citrus fruits." And the Giachino Vin de Savoie is no exception. I called Jacquère obscure--obscure is relative, obviously--because my audience is most readers in the southern US many of whom aren't wine geeks, and my use of (a dry or off-dry) Riesling as an analogue to describe the acidity of this Vin de Savoie caused some disagreement. But the high, vibrant acidity (that almost pulsates in your mouth!) is what grabbed me and reminded me of the acidity in some very good Rieslings and Sancerres and even the occasional excellent Provencal rosé. In any event, I found this off-the-beaten-path French white to be one of my favorites of this summer. You can find this very good Vin de Savoie at Wine Warehouse in the $12 range. I'll be buying more.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Loire Tasting



Loire Wine Region Tasting
Here is the Wikipedia page on Loire wines. Loire is one of my favorite regions especially for its sparkling wines which are a great alternative to the sparkling wines of Champagne. Loire fact: the Loire region produces the second most sparkling wine in France behind only Champagne. All of the following wines were sampled at a tasting at The Wine Warehouse (WW) on February 2, 2011. If you live in Tallahassee and are interested in any of the wines, you can find them there (WW prices shown). Last, although I have #4 as my favorite of the tasting, #5 is just as well made; I just thought #4 was more interesting, had more complexity to offer, etc. On to the wines....
The Whites
All of the whites showed elements of citrus, chalk and some amount of passion fruit.
1. '09 Les Hexagonales (Sauv Blanc), $12: Tart citrus passion fruit nose but not much sweetness. Medium acidity (read: not New Zealand SB acidity levels), some chalk, balanced. Short-med finish. 85-6
2. '09 Jardin de la Fruitiere (Melon-Chard blend), $9: Tart, passion fruit and small amount of anise. Sour fruit (I'm at a loss for an example here--any ideas?), chalk, balanced. 84-5

3. '09 Chardonnay de la Fruitiere, $10: Similar to 1 but more muted nose. More body than 1 & 2. Some/mild toast. Mild bitter (steel) finish. 84

4. '09 La Craie, Vouvray, $15: Similar nose to 1-3 with some honey; pleasant. Mild sweetness/honey, bigger body/more viscosity than 1-3. Lower acidity. Medium finish. 88. IMO, wine of the night...yes, I bought a bottle.

5. NV Louis De Grenelle, Samur Brute Rose (100% Cab Franc), $17: Strawberry nose muted. Fine bubbles, mild creaminess, focused body, balanced. 88 IMO, runner-up wine of the night.

The Reds

6. '08 Les Hexagonales (Pinot Noir), $15: Red fruit (cranberry), spice and mild oak. Near perfect Pinot nose. Somewhat flat (not enough acidity). Let down after such a nice nose. 83

7. La Claux Delorme, Valencay Rouge (Gamay, Malbec, Cab Franc, Pinot Noir blend), $15: Red fruit and... kitty litter (!) nose. Some pepper, mild green veg (raw collards) some oak. 85

8. '08 J. Merieau, Cot Cenit Visage (100% Malbec), $16: Super dry, tight prune brown leaves... bizarre nose! Dry but Not bone dry. This needs cellar/decanting time... or a blackened steak to reveal everything it has. 84

9. '09 La Paradou, Provance (Grenache), $12: Button mushroom, moist forest floor nose. Fruitest of all the reds. Acceptable everyday red. 85

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Aged Merlot for $12

Ever hear wine snobs talking about the higher pleasure of drinking aged wine and haven't been able to find out for yourself whether they're just self-deceived ego-maniacs or whether they're actually on to something? Well, here's your chance. The Wine Warehouse has a 2002 Merlot for a great value, circa $12. It's 8 years old and just starting to reveal signs of aging. And as a bonus, the wine is from Israel--Israeli wines are fairly rare. So this wine may provide you with two firsts. Here are my notes.

2002 Segal Merlot Special Reserve (Israel, Galilee, Galilee Heights)
  • Nose: stewed prunes & cedar. A great nose, IMO.
  • Taste: medium bodied, stewed prunes (again), molasses on the finish. Very focused still. A fairly long, smooth finish.
Although this wine is just starting to show elements of aging, it is holding up very, very well. This wine is ready to drink now. The stewed prunes & molasses are the best way I can describe the aging characteristics of this wine. But don't take my description alone, go taste it for yourself.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Crossings Sauvignon Blanc 2009

Who, I ask, doesn't like a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on a hot summer day? Still when I arrived at my local retailer late there were no clerks available to help me sort through the good, the bad and the ugly. So when I saw this wine in a waist-high stack of 3-4 cases in the middle of an aisle with a price tag of $9.99 I must admit that I was skeptical. I took a chance anyway and have to say that I was impressed with the wine I got for the price.

2009 The Crossings Sauvignon Blanc
(New Zealand, Awatere Valley, Marlborough)
Color: transparent pale yellow.
Nose: bold pink grapefruit with some orange blossom. Screams NZ SB!
Taste: balanced, light-medium mouth-feel, lime peel/oil with a mineral finish.

The only way this wine could improve is if it were more tightly focused (it was slightly flabby esp. on day 2) and for my tastes a little less sweet. But, again, for a sub-$10 white wine I was very happy.

I found this wine at the Timberlane location of Market Square Liquors.

Monday, August 2, 2010

2008 M. Chapoutier Côtes du Roussillon Domaine de Bila-Haut

Michel Chapoutier is one of the most respected winemakers in all of France. He took over operations of the family business from his father around 1980. All of the wines produced by Michel are from the Rhone region of France; and all of the Chapoutier vineyards produce biodynamic wines.

So any opportunity to sample a bottle of a Chapoutier wine is exciting. And his most recent vintage of his Bila-Haut for $11 shouldn't be missed.

2008 M. Chapoutier Côtes du Roussillon Domaine de Bila-Haut
(France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Côtes du Roussillon): this wine is a Grenache blend, which is very common in the Rhone.
  • Color: slightly transparent edges.
  • Nose: raspberry, muted cinnamon and soil.
  • Taste: primarily raspberry, but also tempered notes of nitrogen/soil and graphite/lead. Dry, medium tannin. All of the elements are very well integrated. Balanced
This wine cries out for food. If you're a wine drinker who believes that wine is a compliment for food, you'll love this wine. I drank it with dry rubbed, grilled chicken and it was an outstanding match.

I found this wine at the Wine Warehouse, but I'm sure that you can find it at Market Square Liquors too.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Beating the heat with Chilled Effervescence

Dear Tallahasseans,
I hope you haven't had an AC unit stop working like mine did--it's tough to sleep when it's in the upper-80s...mid-90s with the heat index! I did, however, luck out with only a $100 repair, avoiding a new $5-thousand unit. For this reason (and because it's the beginning of a new month) I decided to try a couple new effervescent wines that are great served chilled. Both are available at the Wine Warehouse (WW).

The first was a South African sparkler; the second a Moscato D'Asit

NV Graham Beck Brut (South Africa, Western Cape) 58% Chard, 42% Pinot Noir. This evolves slightly in the glass slightly but shows consistent fine bubbles, very little sweetness, a frothy mouth-feel (but without creamy/yeasty notes) , with clear lead/graphite secondary elements. And with good balance. WW, $13.

2008 Oscar Bosio Moscato d'Asit La Brusciata (Italy, Piedmont, Asti, Moscato d' Asti) Light bodied, super-fine bubbles showing clear honey, peach/apricot flavors. WW, $13.

Neither of these white sparklers are complex, but are enjoyable nonetheless. I enjoyed them with some prosciutto, baguette with Fontina cheese & fig & guava jam.

A good way to beat the heat and relax.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Wine Warehouse Sleeper Tasting


Why is this tasting called a sleeper tasting? Because the wines featured are considered unknown excellent wines... available now at the Wine Warehouse at an excellent price. And most of the wines lived up to their name. Below are my favorite, all of which I'd recommend. If you can afford them (how can you not afford them at these prices?), you won't be disappointed. I've listed both the retail and Wine Warehouse Sale prices.

Denogent Cuvee Claude 2004 1/2 bottle (pictured, left above). Retail $40/WW $15. Balanced, restrained 100% Chardonnay that IMO is what Chardonnay should taste like. Rating: 90-91.

Le Soula Blanc 2004. Retail $45/WW $25. A white Rhone blend from 13 grapes that is medium-bodied, focused, complex white that among other things showed an unusual sweet-tart element. Simply put: my favorite white wine of 2010 for sure--my favorite white wine since as long as I can remember. Rating: 94.

Brokenwood Area 2002. Retail $30/WW $19. A balanced, medium bodied 100% Shiraz. Rating: 90.

Roeder Brut 2002. Retail $72/WW $40. Perfectly balanced, complex elements of roasted marshmallow, seamless smooth finish. IMO drinks like some $100 Champagnes. Rating: 93-94.

Vieux Telegraphe 2004. 1/2 bottle retail $35/WW $20; full-bottle retail $60/WW $40. A virtually perfect example of Chateauneuf-de-Pape. This wine is drinking perfectly NOW. Incredibly food friendly. Rating: 93-4.

Quinta Do Noval 2003 (pictured, right above). Retail $95/WW $40. Not enormous mouth-feel that you find in lower quality ports that try to compensate for other . Simply put: the best port (vintaged or non) I've ever tasted. Rating: 96. If you're a port love, you simply cannot afford to miss out of this port at this price point.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Couple Good Value Ports

This winter I've had the desire for something to drink that could warm you up… something fortified. So I decided to try a few ports. Always in pursuit of variety I decided to try one aged port and another blended port; both are non-vintage. And since I’m always in pursuit of good values, I chose Warre’s 10 Year Old Otima and Trevor Jones Jonesy Tawny Port. (Both pictured above & below.)

Both of these ports are made using the traditional Portuguese blend of grapes, e.g., Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz and Tinto Cão. After fermentation it is fortified with brandy. And the alcohol content is 20% by volume.

The Otima is made in the Douro region of Portugal and is a lighter style Tawny (pictured right, below) that clearly shows aged aromas and flavors on the finish, e.g., Sherry or Madeira oxidized characteristics together with honey, hazelnuts, orange peel on the mid-palate.

The Jonesy is made in the Barossa Valley in southern Australia and is a blend averaging 46 years in age. It is dark brown (pictured left, below), with notes of candied black cherry and molasses.

I found the Jonesy more approachable than the Otima but enjoyed both for their differences.

You can find both of these Ports at The Wine Warehouse; the Jonesy is $11 and the Otima is $25.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Warming Up to Malbec



I have to confess that when Argentine Malbec first hit the market, I was not a fan because I tended to dislike malolactic, oak-y, prune juice. But since we are in the dead of winter I drove myself to my local merchant and asked for some recs for substantive reds under $15. In the process I consciously decided to put aside my aversion to Argentine Malbec. Then in my inability to decide between two different Malbecs, I decided to pick up both of them. Due to sheer coincidence I happened to purchase another cheap bottle of Malbec a few days earlier at another local merchant. So I found myself with with three Argentine Malbecs... and here they are:

2007 Urban Uco Malbec (Mendoza)- Medium bodied, red & black fruit, discernable amount of spice & oak, balanced. 90
2008 Dona Paula Estate Malbec (Mendoza) - small amount of earth disappeared quickly after opening, medium bodied, not much fruit, almost no attack, seamless transition from middle to end, longest finish of the three. 89
2008 Gouguenheim Malbec (Mendoza): light bodied, strawberry (fruitier than expected), dry finish, balanced. IMO a nice table wine. 87

The first two Malbecs were purchased at Wine Warehouse for $9.99 each. The third was purchased at New Leaf Market for $7.99. Both the Urban Uco and Dona Paula were very good and I'd recommend both, but personally I preferred the former because it had more complexity and because the Dona Paula did show more oak. But I was pleasantly surprised by all of these wines mostly because none showed any malolactic treatment. If you are like I was--Malbec-phobic--please give any of these a try and shed your Malbec phobia.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Visiting Walla Walla AVA

I just returned from a visit to Walla Walla AVA in the southeast corner of Washington. I have some family there so I have sampled Walla Walla wines before, e.g., L'Ecole 41, Cougar Crest, etc. But I wanted to visit some new tasting rooms. I ended up visiting Northstar (pictured above), Va Piano and Amavi Cellars. (I went by some others but they were closed, one of which was K Vintners--I was told by some locals that Charles Smith marches to the beat of his own drum, which in this case meant "doesn't hold conventional hours for public tastings.") Walla Walla is approximately the same latitude as Bordeaux as 2007, which explains that three out of the four most common grapes grown (by planted area) are Bordeaux varietals:
  • 41% Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 26% Merlot
  • 16% Syrah
  • 4% Cabernet Franc

Some white grapes are grown, e.g., Chardonnary, Viognier, Riesling; and some growers in Walla Walla are starting to break out of the Bordeaux paradigm and are planting other red varietals. But red grapes dominate this AVA.

During my visit to the three tasting rooms I tasted three whites--a Sauvingnon Blanc blend, a Viognier blend and a late harvest Semillon. I found the white blends to be average; the late harvest Semillon was better, but still doesn't compare to a $25 half bottle of Sauternes. The rest of the reds were almost all blends; except for one 100% Syrah at Northstar. Without exception I found the reds to be very well made. None of the wines showed the slightest hint of being off balanced; all had a seamless transition from the attack to the finish. All were incredibly polished. In general they were fruity; and all received some amount of oak treatment--some more than others, but even for someone with old-world preferences like me none of the wines had an offensive amount of oak. To me these wines tasted like they were made by very skilled people with state of the art technology. Although I personally prefer something from the south of France to these reds, I can see why people would enjoy these wines. They're seductive. I look forward to going back soon to visit more wineries... oh yeah, and family too!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Revisiting the Reliability of Wine Ratings

I really don't think that people should over-think wine, but occasionally I temporarily stop enjoying wines to think about it. Lately I've been thinking about wine ratings--their reliability, etc.--in light of some ink that has recently been spilled (esp. see here and here). On the one hand, wine ratings are important—they are clearly a desiderata of producers, once a year the major print publications and even minor businesses herald their Top 10 or Top 100 wines and we readers consume them. On the other hand, almost everyone would acknowledge that our impressions of a wine can vary significantly from time to time because of a cluster of internal (e.g., palate fatigue, mood, etc.) and external (e.g., bottle variation, etc.) conditions. Note that in most domains a difference is statistically significant if there is a ≥ 5% change; but on the 100 point Parker scale, wines are automatically attributed 50 points, so the 100 point scale is really a 50 point scale. This means that statistically significant variation on the 100 point scale is ≥ 2.5. I doubt that there are many—if any—people who would doubt that their ratings of the same wine never vary ≥ 2.5 on different occasions. Once consumers (fully) realize that variation between 0 to 2.5 isn’t significant on the 100 point scale, consumers will place less importance in a rating, especially a rating just below the boundary of a multiple of 10, e.g., 89, and a rating just above the boundary of the next multiple of 10, e.g., 90. A wine that scored 90 on one occasion will almost certainly receive a different score on another occasion for one reason or another. I would argue that many consumers have fully realized this. But many critics have not acknowledge this either because they mistakenly believe that their tasting and evaluation abilities are so precise that they would never attribute a score ≥ 2.5 to the same wine on separate occasions; or they mistakenly believe that their professional stature would suffer if they publicly acknowledge this.

In light of typical variation in a wine rating on the 100 point scale, purchasing wines on the basis of a single rating, even of a professional critic (no one shall be named), is… well, irrational. So what should consumers use to guide our purchases? I have two suggestions—neither of which are infallible, but are more reliable than using a single score from a professional critic. First, you can stick with ratings and use the average from multiple ratings provided by professionals, non-professionals or some combination thereof. How many ratings are sufficient, you ask? It’s unclear, but 6 or 7 is a standard range of series to eliminate bias. One popular source for ratings that automatically calculates an average (as well as the median) is
CellarTracker! (If you want to a more reliable average rating, you can drop the high and low score, etc.) Second, you can forego ratings altogether and use good old-fashioned word of mouth. That is, find a trustworthy friend who reliably recommends wines that you enjoy. My friend is a clerk at my local wine shop; and her recommendations are reliable even in the face of contrary evidence, e.g., a $10 price tag, etc. One might argue that the scores and tasting notes of a single professional wine critic can be as reliable as the recommendations of your trustworthy friend. But I would argue that because I have more access to my trustworthy friend at the local wine shop, and therefore access to more information, her recommendations are more reliable than those of the professional critic to whom I have no personal acess.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Rocland Estate Tasting 11/12/09

Picture from: http://www.prlog.org/

Last night’s tasting at the Wine Warehouse featured twelve wines from Rocland Estate Rocland is a large facility in the Barossa Valley (map) that has the crushing capacity of 7000 tons annually. In addition to producing their own wines they offer custom wine making services to private clients who, for example, can elect to use their own winemaker or have one provided by Rocland. Their estate bottlings have been well-received by big American critics from Wine Spectator to Parker. Of the twelve wines featured, there were four whites, and (unsurprisingly) six of the remaining seven reds contained some amount of Shiraz. All wines featured at the tasting except one were sub-$20 (the one other was $25). I found almost all of the wines to be well made & in the mid- to upper-80s scoring range, making them good values. And all reds seemed to be medium-bodied, have a relatively smooth mouth-feel, opaque dark brick red color and have a nose of mild mushroom/earth & clay/saline (think playdough); there was slight variation in flavors (see below). Although I didn’t find that any wines clearly stood out as significantly better than any other, below is a good sample from the tasting. (All prices shown are only for the Wine Warehouse. And, yes, the names are gimmicky.)

1. Chocolate Box White ’08 (100% Sauv Blanc): Med-Big bodied SB, balanced, tart citrus fruit. $13 TWG: 86

2. Duck Duck Goose White ’08 (100% Chardonnay): Tropical notes, balanced. $11. TWG: 85.

3. Ass Kisser Red Blend ’07 (40% Petite Verdot, 29% Shiraz, 29% Grenache, 2% Mataro): Mushroom, clay nose. Dark prune, medium bodied, balanced. $9. TWG: 84. Interesting blend worth a try for $9.

4. Kilroy Was Here Shiraz ’07 (100% Shiraz): Mushroom, clay nose. Dark prune, medium bodied, balanced. Similar to 3 (above) but more focused, more tannins. $19. TWG: 87.

5. Kilroy Was Here Cabernet Sauv ’07 (100% Cab Sauv): Mushroom, clay nose. Dark prune, balanced. Similar to 3 & 4 (above) but leaner and longer finish. $19. TWG: 89.

6. Chocolate Box GSM Red Blend ’07 (Grenache, Shiraz, Mouvedre): same nose as the other reds but with the addition of 5 spice. Dark prune, balanced, medium bodied.
7. Kilroy Was Here Sparkling Shiraz '07 (100% Shiraz): not too bitter/dry, not too sweet. Nice. $20. TWG: 87
Leave a comment: let me know what you think of Rocland wines.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Recession Syrah


During this recession people are eating out less often and drinking more value wines. I'm no different. So when I was browsing the selection at my local merchant the staff brought a French Syrah to my attention priced at $9.99. (Based on Wine-Searcher here this wine is at least twice the price anywhere else.) My first reaction was: how good can it be for $10? Then I also remembered that my (tiny) cellar is Syrah-heavy right now. But when the staff described it to me it sounded like my kind of wine: Syrah from the Languedoc, shows garrigue, etc. Although I was skeptical, I decided to give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised. Here are my notes:
2005 Chateau Maris Minervois La Touge (France, Languedoc, Syrah)
Nose: candied black cherry, black currant.
Taste: black cherry, garrigue, black currant.
Overall: medium bodied, balanced, great right out of the bottle--no decanting necessary. Would definitely pair well with roasted fall vegetables, pot roast, etc.
Rating: 90
This is a Syrah that I'd enjoy anytime--recession or not.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Unusual Grape Tasting


Regardless of how wonderful they are and how much variation there can be in wines made from them them, inevitably people get tired of wines make from common grapes, e.g., Chardonnary, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, etc. If you're like me you like variety in life and wine which is why I was thrilled to see that the Wine Warehouse was hosting a tasting whose theme was unusual grapes. Yes, unusual is relative from person to person but it was nice to see people tasting who, for example, had never heard of a Bonarda. The tasting featured no blends. There were 12 wines made of the following grapes: Verdejo, Torrontes, Garanega, Aliante Bouchet (Grenache hybrid), Pinotage, Mencia,
Gruner Veltliner, Godello, Prieto Picudo, Gamay, Bonarda and Petit Verdot.

Those that I thought were the best are:
1. Crios by Susana Balbo 2008 (100% Torrontes; Mendoza, Argentina) $14. Fruity, floral, light, crisp, steely finish. This is a nice everyday white that has the same body as, and is a great alternative to, Sauvingnon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. 87/100

2. Huber "Hugo" 2008 (Gruner Veltliner; Austria) $13. Lime, honeydew, minerals. Also a good everyday light white. 86/100

3. Bodegas Godeval 2007 (Godello; Galacia, Spain) $15. Excellent balance, good acid, seamlessly transition from beginning to end. 91/100 - my favorite wine of the night. (Label pictured above)

4. Pardevalles Gamonal 2006 (Prieto Picudo; Tierra de Leon, Spain) $15. Dark bitter cocoa, black cherry.

5. Pirramimma 2003 (Petit Verdot; McLaren Vale, Austrailia) $17. Medium bodied red, red & black fruit but not fruity.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Local Italian Tasting

Well, I've been waiting a long time for this...the Italian tasting. Since some Italian wines typically start at $40, I was happy to sample some of these at the Italian tasting at the Wine Warehouse. The tasting featured 13 Italian wines--two were whites and the rest were reds. These days there are so many wines that are made using modern methods that are best when drunk alone but this tasting really showed that Italian wines are some of the best in the world at balancing fruit, acidity and tannin. And for this reason they are some of the most food-friendly wines in the world--all of the wines below will pair well with food, e.g., dry cheese, grilled meats simply prepared, charcuterie, or Italian food (of course). All of the wines tasted were either light- or medium-bodied. The flavor profile trend for the reds was dark cherry (sometimes cough syrup-like...not in a bad way), honeycomb, cinnamon and almond paste. Although almost all of the wines were well-made, none of them really stood out as significantly superior than any of the others. The wines mentioned below are the best values (FYI: all prices are sale prices at the Wine Warehouse):

1. Jermann Vinnae IGT 2007 (90% Ribolla, 5% Tocai, 5% Riesling) $25. Medium, smooth mouth-feel, pear, nut & a hint of sweet, roasted marshmallow. Try for a change of pace from the traditional Italian whites. 91/100
2. Falseco Montiano IGT 2003 (100% Merlot) $30. Light-medium bodied, stikes a great balance between fruit (cherry), acidity and tannins. Long finish. 91/100.
3. Orlando Abrigo Nebbiolo 2005 (100% Nebbiolo) Cherry cough syrup, bittersweet chocolate, honeycomb. Well-balanced, well-integrated elements. 91/100
4. La Meridiana "Vitis" Barbera d'Asti 2006 $14 Anise, clear cherry cough syrup, bittersweet chocolate. 86/100
5. Coppo Brachetto d'Acqui 2006 Red sparkling dessert wine with caramel, dark cherry and nut. Paired perfectly with dark chocolate. Interesting alternative to the common dessert wine. 91/100

The tasting also featured the following wines that were very good or excellent but in my opinion not significantly better than the 90-pointers above and so were not worth the money. But if you have the money and love Italian reds, by all means go ahead and pick up a bottle:

Feel free to leave a Italian wine-related comment....

Friday, August 14, 2009

Old Vines Tasting

Although many wines are labeled "old vines" (French: vieilles vignes), surprisingly there's no definition of "old vines". In some old wine growing regions 30-40 years is considered old, while in other regions 20 years may be considered old. Regardless of the definition of "old vines", over time vines begin to produce smaller grapes that in turn bear more concentrated flavors. Whatever meaning of "old vines" that a producer uses "old vines" is typically used in contrast to regular bottlings of the same wine from younger vines. Wines made from old vines usually have more concentrated flavors than regular bottlings, but because there are so many variables that apply to wine making the quality of old vine bottlings are not necessarily higher than regular bottlings.

The tasting featured 12 wines: 3 were white and the rest were red. Although the whites included Morey Montrachet and an Ostertag Sylvaner, I thought they were disjointed or just not good. Of the reds I thought only the following six ranged from very good to excellent and are therefore worth trying. All wines lived up to their labeling and showed good concentration of flavor. All are available locally at The Wine Warehouse, and all are marked down between 30%-50%.

1. Marietta Old Vine Red Blend Lot #49 ($15) Light-medium body, black cherry, balanced. 85-6/100
2. 2007 Cline Ancient Vine Zinfandel ($15) Medium bodied, blackberry & cassis notes, balanced, long dry finish. 87/100.
3. 2003 Bonny Doon Old Telegram ($20) Mouvedre (Spainish: Monastrell) Medium-big bodied, excellent integration of black fruit & tannins. 90-1/100
4. 2007 Atteca Old Vine Garnacha ($15) Youthful, ripe, tart black cherry & prune. (I'm surprised that this wine is still in stock--I bought some months ago!) 87-8/100 Very good value.
5. 2004 Cenit Old Vine Tempranillo ($27) Medium bodied w/ gripping tannins, dark black fruit, smoke, longest finish of the tasting; balanced; biggest wine of the night. 92-3/100. This wine is why you should go to tastings! For me this was the best wine of the night.
6. 2005 Abad dom Bueno Carracedo ($40) Earth, caramel & saline, red/black fruit, big, balanced; polished. 92/100

Share your experiences with old vine wines--comments are welcome!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Thoughts on the Beer & Wine Pairing Dinner at Cypress Restaurant

This Thursday (8/13) Cypress restaurant will be hosting a special event that will feature a five-course dinner and each course will be paired with one beer and and one wine. Doug Blackburn, who writes the beer blog for the Tallahassee Democrat, has written about the dinner and he gives beer the edge over wine. Its clear that one way to look at this is as a competition--a wine and beer throwdown! But there's also another way....here is the menu* with my thoughts:

First course: Lobster and Chantrelle Fritters: Lemon Tartar Sauce, Green Onion Slaw, Smoked Paprika Lobster Oil.

I would not have chosen rosé to pair with this course. A full-bodied white high in acid (e.g., Chardonnay, Sancerre, Pouilly Fume, etc.) would seem to pair better with the richness of the lobster and the acidity of the lemon tartar sauce. But the rosé may surprise.

Second course: Fennel Seed Salami and Summer Truffle Flatbread with salted mozzarella, roasted tomatoes, local arugula and roasted garlic-oregano sauce.

St. Jeannet is a rare grape variety that is only grown in small amounts (roughly 500 cases/year) in a few places in the world. Some say it tends to resemble Sauvignon Blanc but has slightly more fruit. Although this is the sort of wine that I seek out because of its obscurity, it would be one of the last wines I would choose to pair with fennel salami and truffle flatbread. The better fit would be a dry Italian red with a fair amount of acidity (e.g., Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, etc.) to cut through the pork fat and stand up to the spice. Italian wines, probably more than any other wines in the world, are intentionally produced for drinking with food. Again, however, the acid in white wine will combine well with the salt in the salami and make for a flavor boost.

Third course: Panama Red Blackened Grouper Cheeks with corn rice cakes, sea island red gravy, bread and butter pickles.
Viognier is a low acid white wine, so it will decrease the heat in the blackening spice--acid in wine increases the heat in spice. So the Viognier should work well with this course.

Fourth course: Smoked Duck Stacker--stacked smoked duck on griddled cypress bread with Thomasville Tomme cheese, grilled vidalia onions, herbed duck fat mayonnaise and Michigan sour cherry relish.

First off, I just want to say that for me this is the course of the event--duck with duck fat mayonnaise? Wow! Second, regarding the wine chosen: perfect--I wouldn't change a thing. The salt and fat in the duck (and real duck fat mayonnaise) and the low tannins in French Burgundy mellow each other out. Result: wine & food harmony.

Final course: Fried Apple Pie with gorgonzola ice cream and almond-bacon brittle.

Let me just express "Wow (again)!" (I'm having a hard time continuing to stay on task after reading this dessert's description....) And again I think that Cypress nailed this wine pairing--the acid cuts through the fat and cream, the tiny bubbles (fizz, really) contribute to a wonderful mouthfeel with the fried pie, and the contrast of the sweetness will tame the salt in the ice cream and bacon, creating the wonderful salty/sweet contrast.

Of course all of this is from my armchair since I've haven't actually tasted any of these things. I think that the greatest virtue of this sort of culinary event is not that it will determine which spirited beverage pairs better with each course and is heralded as the winner, but that it allows people to experience the differences between what wine can do for food and what beer can do. Among other things, wine tends to contain more acid than beer; acid (like salt) is a flavor booster. Beer on the other hand contains hops which makes for unique flavor combinations and carbonation which lightens up the mouthfeel and even diminishes fats in heavy foods. Typically, however, people are going to favor what they already prefer--beer or wine--regardless of how well it pairs with the food; this is natural and there is nothing wrong this. Cypress is offering a great opportunity for beer and wine devotees to to discover the differences and similarities of what beer and wine can do with food.

Enough with the armchair speculation--go taste the food and drink for yourself and enjoy wine and beer for what they are.

*Note: the wine and beer pairings were taken from Doug Blackburn's blog post.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Earth and Tannin Tasting

I believe that all of these wines except #6 were purchased locally, but most of them are no longer available. The wines are listed in the order drunk--I'll be honest: I did begin to experience palate fatigue somewhere after the 5th or 6th wine, which is reflected in lack of detail in my notes in the later wines. For me the wines that stood out and are worth seeking out are # s 7, 10 &15 (10 and 15 are pictured below). The notes for the wines are pictured above from left (#1) to right (#15):
1. 2004 Domain Gautier Fitou (Langudoc) Nose: cranberry & earth. Decent fruit still, perfectly balanced, soft tannings. Rating: 88-9.
2. 2001 Finca Villacreces Reserva (Ribiera del Duero) Nose: red/black fruit, carmel/vanilla. Medium body, dark fruit, anise, medium finish w/ menthol. Rating: 89.
3. 2004 Fontanafreddo Langhe Barbera Eremo (Piedmonte) Nose: cranberry/pomegranate, hint of vanilla. Light bodied, red fruit-iness, moderate tannins. Rating: 86.
4. 2004 Bertani Villa Valpollicella Classico Superiore Novare (Veneto) Nose: cranberry, cola. Very light color & body, brick red rim, medium-long finish. Rating: 88.5. 2002 Domaines Ott Chateau Romassan (Bandol) Nose: dark stewed fruit & earth/barnyard. Red fruit on the attack, smooth mouthfeel, black tea finish. Rating: 89-90.
6. 2006 Chateau Saint-Roche Chimeres (Cote du Roussillon) Nose: crushed red fruit w/ floral note. Red fruit and cola on the attack, medium tannins with medium finish. Rating: 89-90.
7. 2003 Clos de la Dioterie (Chinon) 100% Cab Franc. Nose: earth, herbs de Provance, nut, red fruit, cola. Begins w/ red fruit, then herbs and cola. Rating: 91. Most complex wine of the tasting.
8. 2002 Caparone Merlot (Paso Robles) Unfiltered. Nose & palate: herbs, earth w/ aged elements, smooth tannins. Bordeaux style Merlot. Rating: 90.
9. 2004 Chateau du Bousquet (Cotes du Bourg) Nose: little fruit remaining after being opened for more than a week. No rating.
10. 2004 Les Brunes (Vin de Pays D'Oc) Black/red fruit with focused, long black currant finish. Rating: 91. (Also pictured below, right) Favorite wine of the night #1.
11. 2005 Clos Troteligotte CQFD (Cahor) Malbec. Flaw--big disappointment :(
12. 2005 Huter Chaps Final Blend Merlot (Napa) Red/black fruit. Medium tannins & finish. Rating: 85.
13. 2006 Jean-Luc Colombo Les Bartavelles (Chateauneuf-du-Pape) Red fruit and earth on the nose. Red fruit & cola on the palate, medium-light body. Rating: 88-9.
14. 2001 Rodney Strong Symmetry (Alexander Valley) Nose: red/black fruit, cola, flowers. Still good tannins--this could be cellared 5-10 more years. Rating: 90.
15. 2004 Montes Carmenere Purple Angel (Colchagua Valley, Chile) Red/black fruit. Biggest wine of the night, but perfectly balanced. Long finish. Rating: 92. (Also pictured below, left) Favorite wine of the night #2.

Other wines (not pictured, above):
16. 2002 Hall Merlot (Napa) No notes. Rating: 89.

Thanks to everyone for sharing such great wines: Tricia, Leonard (for hosting also), Dwayne, Terry, Jessie, Vanessa, Sean & Andrea.