Sunday, November 24, 2013

Time for Turkey Friendly Wine

Thanksgiving is once again almost upon us. Our store will be filled with people looking for that perfect wine to go with their special holiday meal. Turkey, of course is at the forefront of most Thanksgiving dinners, so what do you choose to go with the beautifully browned bird?

For those white wine lovers, the wine must be able to stand up not only to the turkey, but to the myriad flavors that assault our taste buds at the holiday table. It is easy for the cranberry sauce, yams, dressing, three bean casserole, and gravy to overwhelm a wine. My first pick for the job is Gewurztraminer from Alsace. These spicy, aromatic wines are wonderful in this setting. Ziegler’s is very good at $13.99, but even better is Joseph Cattin Hatchbourg for $22.99 and if you want what I consider the very best, $26.99 will get you a bottle of Zind Humbrecht.

Riesling, with its touch of sweetness and its generous minerality, is another great choice for the occasion. Washington makes several that are great bargains. Chateau St. Michelle has been the gold standard, but Charles  Smith’s Kungfu Girl is rapidly overtaking it. They are in the $10 to $11 range. Germany is where Riesling rules and Dr Loosen’s Blue Slate from the Mosel ($20.99) and Donnehoff from Nahe ($24.99) are great examples of what heights the Germans can attain with this varietal. If you like your Rieslings drier, the Aussies make some good ones. Yalumba Y series is only about $11 and is wonderful.

The final white to consider is Chenin Blanc. Not any old Chenin Blnc, but vouvray from the Loire Valley in France. These wines have a beautiful acidity and minerality that work well with many foods and will offer much pleasure to your thanksgiving guests. Clos le Vigneau, at $19.99 is very good, Vigneau-Chevreau Cuvee Silex is  downright ridiculous at $21.99.

The red wine lover will have no problem finding a wonderful libation to make the meal truly memorable. The most common choice is Pinot Noir, its medium body, fragrant aromatics and cherry flavors mingling gracefully with the roasted fowl. I especially like those from Oregon. They have a little more minerality than California Pinots and are not quite so fruit forward. Halloran Estate Pinot Noir at $29.99 should be bought if you find it because it is outrageous. Foris, at $20, is a classic example of Oregon Pinot Noir. For a true bargain, try Llai Llai, from Chile. This is done in a Burgundian style and is remarkably good for $10.99.

Burgundy makes the best Pinot Noir in the world. Unfortunately to get a good one, $30 is about basement level. Bouvier’s En Montre Cul is a god one at this price point.  I had a glass of 2008 Domain Belleville Chambolle- Musigny that practically brought tears to my eyes from its magnificence. It’s not cheap at $55.99, but if you want to see what Pinot Noir is supposed to taste like, this one will give you the idea.

A great alternative to Pinot Noir is Beaujolais. I am NOT talking about Nouveau Beaujolais, that banana bubble gummy stuff released the third week of November every year.  What I mean is a good single village Beaujolais made from 100% Gamay, preferably from a grand cru. These are similar to burgundy, but are more vibrant. Clos de la Roilette Fleurie, at $16.99 is a very good one.

The other wine that I think is one of the best choices for this occasion is Cabernet Franc, particularly one from the Loire Valley in France. Most commonly known as one of the grapes used in Bordeaux, this grape can be awesome on its own. The nose has a characteristic herbaciousness that combines with nice berry fruit and round tannins. Medium in body and generous in acidity, this wine is a truly food friendly wine and together with turkey or other fowl it forms the proverbial “match made in heaven”. Bernard Baudry Chinon is a classic at $19.99. From the tiny nearby appellation of Samur is Domain Fillatreau Chateau Fouquet which is probably my favorite at only $16.99.

Now you have no excuses not to have the right wine to maximize your enjoyment of your holiday meal. Be safe and enjoy this special time. Happy Thanksgiving to all! 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Zinfandel – “America’s Grape”

The red varietal Zinfandel is planted in over 10% of California’s vineyards. It produces a robust, fruit forward wine that is very popular in America as well as a semi sweet red blush (White Zinfandel) which is even more so. Although many writers in the late nineteenth and twentieth century liked to refer to it as “America’s grape”, it did not originate here.

After finding similarities between Zinfandel and Primitivo, an Italian varietal found in Puglia, Italy (on the map of Italy this region is ‘the heel of the boot”) the two grapes were found to be genetically identical in 1933. Further historical and genetic research led to the theory that both grapes were brought to their respective countries from, of all places, Croatia. Then in 2003, they were  genetically proven to be an offspring of the grape known as Crljenak Kastelanski, a total of nine vines bearing this grape being found in a single vineyard in Kastel Novi, Croatia.

The varietal was introduced from Hungary to the east coast of the US in 1829 where it was grown in hothouses and prized for its early ripening (hence Primitivo’s being named for being the first grape to ripen). It was brought to California in the 1850s during the Gold Rush where it exploded in popularity, becoming the most widely planted grape in California.

During Prohibition, many of the vines were ripped up and replaced with Petite Sirah and Alicant Bouchet, which transported more easily for home winemaking. Zinfandel was largely forgotten, being used mainly for bulk fortified wines, but some producers with very old vines wanted to keep the varietal alive.

One such producer was Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home, who in 1972 decided to make a rose of Zinfandel and sell it under the name of Oeil de Perdix. He legally was required to change the name to White Zinfandel. In 1975 he experienced a stuck fermentation. This occurs when the yeast dies before the sugar is completely converted to alcohol, resulting a lower alcohol somewhat sweet wine. He sold it anyway and it was an instant hit that made him a wealthy man. Modern day white Zinfandel still a very popular wine. The popularity of the wine also saved many of the old vines from being ripped up in premium growing areas  until red Zinfandel came back into fashion and they came to their own.

Zinfandel vines are vigorous and do best in warm but not hot climates. If the climate is too hot the grapes ripen too quickly and become over ripe with a raisin like quality. Also the high sugar levels result in wines becoming very high in alcohol in order to be fermented to dryness. High alcohol can result in a “heat” to the wine. Many Zinfandels can reach alcohol levels of over 16%.

Red Zinfandels are very popular wines. The big fruit flavors make it an ideal barbeque wine and it is easy drinking on its own.  It goes very well with glazed ham at Easter. The wine does pick up variable characteristics  of its terroir. Those from Dry Creek in Sonoma tend toward bright fruit, balanced acidity, and blackberry anise and pepper on the palate. Dashe, at $19.99, is one of my favorite Zinfandels, with complex black fruit flavors intertwined with pepper and earth.

Zinfandel from Napa Valley tends more toward red fruits, cedar and vanilla. Storybook Mountain, at a weighty price of $43.99, is probably the best Zinfandel I’ve ever had. It is almost Cab-like with remarkable finesse and balance between fruit, acid and tannin.
Sonoma’s Russian River Valley tends to have a cooler climate, resulting in slightly lower alcohol, spicy wines with more red fruit.  Deloach is an excellent example from  here for $16.99. Lodi, home of some of the oldest plantings produces Zinfandels rich in dark fruits and can be somewhat complex, but can tend toward overipeness. Lodi is the source of many Zinfandels with Michael-David winery’s Earthquake leading the way at $25.99, its massive fruit exploding on the palate. Also very good is The Zin ($19.99) and Brazin at $17.99. There are many very nice Zinfandels that are designated “Sonoma County” so the fruit is sourced Dry Creek, Russian River and other places as well.  Seghesio’s is especially good at $18.99 and Ridge’s Three Valley at $25.99 is very complex and full of fruit.

 If you like big, full bodied flavorful wines you have to try Zinfandel if you already haven’t. You will see why although it can’t correctly be called “America’s Wine” it can be called one of America’s most popular. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Some Great Bargains From a Small Distributor

One of the biggest concerns of customers in our store is the price of wine. Many people come in after a trip to France or Italy and are discouraged by the fact that they see $19.99 price tags on wines they drank in Europe for a few Euros. This is not because we are making huge margins at Liquormart, and it certainly isn't the fact that the winemakers are getting paid any premiums for shipping their wines here. The reason is the multi-tiered system that rules the wine industry. An estate in Europe must sell its wine to an importer. That importer then sells it to a distributor, who sells it to the store. Often the estate has to pay a negociant to make the wine available to importers.  With everybody getting their substantial cut, it is small wonder that the wines double or even triple in price from the estate to the shelf.

Is there a way to combat this? Not always, but one person does it the right way. Enter Denver's own Philippe Sevier.  He owns some vineyards of his own in Europe. He also visits other small estates that make wonderful  wines, and brings them to Colorado, acting as importer AND distributor. He even delivers the wines himself in his van. When other distributors host trade tastings they do so at restaurants, museums or art galleries at considerable expense (ultimately born by the customer in the store). Phillipe hosts trade tastings in his dining room, with dozens of wines lined up on the table, a few assorted cheeses to enhance the flavors of the wine, and an occasional treat from his delightful wife's oven.  He knows everything about every wine, so it is a very valuable experience for all who attend.

Not only do his methods keep prices very reasonable, but he gives small estates an opportunity to showcase their wines...and many of these wines are very, very good. They grow grapes in the same terroir as the more expensive, well known estates, and have similar winemaking techniques. They can avoid the techniques of mass production that enable the production of hundreds of thousands of cases of wine, and also diminish the flavor and character. The result is a great wine for a great price.

Sampling Sevier's wines is like taking a tour of Europe, and it doesn't feel like a low budget one either, until you hit the checkout line. If we start in Bordeaux, chateau Carbonneau delivers vibrant black fruit flavors with earth, cassis and spice. This is an every day dinner wine for $9.99. Chateau La Croix Bonnelle from St Emilion, shows surprising complexity, with rich dark fruit, earth and spice. One of the most expensive wines in his portfolio at a whopping $16.99!

When looking for crisp, minerally vibrant whites, one may forget Bordeaux and Sevier is there to remind you of these great bargains.

These wines are blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, are beautiful food wines, and perfect for large events....and I sell a lot of this wines for wedding receptions. Chateau Vrai Caillou and Chateau Des Chapelains, both at $9.99, give a mouthful of mineral driven, fresh, vibrant tropical and citrus fruit.
Traveling next to Cahors, we come to the birthplace of Malbec. Although most people think of Argentina when they think of this grape, it originated in France and is one of the grapes found in red Bordeaux. Cahors are primarily Malbec with a little Merlot or Tannat thrown in. They are more structured and less fruit forward than the typical Argentinian example, and more complex. Sevier has two, and they are excellent – Chateau St Sernin ($13.99) and  and Chateau Nozieres ($12.99), both are bursting with ripe plumb, black cherry, cocoa, vanilla and spice. Next time when you think of Malbec, give one of these a try.

Looking for a different summertime white? Think Ugni Blanc, a grape most famous for its use in Cognac. In the Cotes du Gascogne, in southern France, this grape makes very flavorful whites. Domain D'Uby makes a blend of Ugni blanc and Columbard. It is fresh and vibrant, similar to a Sauvignon Blanc, but a little more floral and nutty. Awesome at the massive price of $8.99. do you HAVE to have your weekly Chardonnay fix? The Philippe Sevier Chardonnay from the Loire valley, in an unoaked style gives the best mothful of tropical and citrus fruit you'll ever have for a $8.99 price tag.

This is just a small sample of Mr. Sevier's  list of wines. Burgundy is represented and he really does the Loire Valley in style. Wines from Chinon, Bougeuil, Anjou, Muscadet, Sancerre and Vouvray are all found on our shelves and are all fun to try, with not a single one over 15.99!!! The Rhone Valley is not forgotten either. So come in the store and ask for me. Let Philippe Sevier and I take you on a tour of France. First class accommodations at Supersaver prices.