Saturday, August 30, 2014


Some days you do get some satisfaction.

A customer came into the store to purchase some of the wines she'd tasted at our 'New Arrivals - French Wine Tasting.' She had several wines already in her basket when I went over to speak with her.

"Which one was the rose with the weird funky salty flavor?" she asked.

A flutter went through my heart, it's beyond a wine guy's wildest dreams (well, maybe not wildest, but out there) to hear a customer speak in those terms.

"Why, did you like it?" I replied.

"Yes, I didn't realize how much I liked it when I tasted it, but I keep thinking about it, I definitely need a couple of bottles."

I launched into my talking point.

"It's right here. 'E Prove Rose by Domaine Maestracci. It's from Corsica, it's just a big lump of granite in the Mediterranean off the coast of Italy. Everything there is swept by the salty sea breezes and the flavors come off the wine skins into the wine. Don't ask the names of the grapes, nobody can pronounce them."
And she bought a few bottles. Satisfaction all around.

A few days later Susan and I went out to dinner at our local BYOB 20 Feet Seafood Joint. They do the best fish and chips, which we both ordered I took a bottle of the Maestracci Rose and it was indeed fabulous with the meal. It received Susans' tre bicchieri award (meaning she drank three glasses of wine)  an award conferred on only the best wines. However, stay away from the malt vinegar, it absolutely ruins the wine!

Very satisfied.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Visiting An Old Friend

One of my oldest wine books is a beat up copy of Frank Schoonmaker's Encylopedia of Wine, the fifth edition, reprinted in 1974. That's when I started getting serious about wine. It was an A-Z compendium of everything one needed to know, from Abbocatto to Zymase with 91 pages of appendices covering everything from breakdown of wine production per appellation to food pairings.

This battered book also houses my tiny label collection. Labels were a pain, especially California bottles. Europeans seemed to use more water based adhesives and were easier to steam off. I only have two California, a Ventana Chenin Blanc, which only brings back a vague sense of unease and disappointment and a 1979 Chalone Chardonnay, which always brings a smile to my face.

1979 was the year our first son was born, but Chalone was our special occasion wine, bought for anniversary and birthday dinners. It always had a great expression of ripe California fruit, but the finish was always long and rich with a wash of mineral keeping the flavors bright. Chalone also always seemed to be just beyond what I wanted to spend. It was always what we took to the cabin we used to rent in Oklahoma's Kiamichi Wilderness. After arriving in the dark we would boil some shrimp and drink a bottle of Chalone.

But that was years ago. The Chalone Wine Group was publicly held, Susan's dad was a stockholder, in Dallas it was only available through Sigel's. In our house it was eventually replaced by lesser expensive brands until I entered the wine business and now the sky is the limit!

AND SO IT WAS that I was invited to a Chalone seminar and tasting a couple of weeks ago. After a discussion of Chalone's history and terroir (it truly is one of the great terroir driven California wines) we tasted three vintages of Chalone, then compared blind to a Premier Cru Chassagne Montrachet. All the wines were terrific. Some felt the 2007 Chalone was getting too old, but I found it round, fat and full of flavor, with its typical mineral driven finish. The younger vintages featured flashier acid profiles, but also came from colder vintages. The Chalone certainly held its own against the Chassagne as both wines tasted true to type, Cali is Cali, Burgundy is Burgundy.

We also tasted Pinot Noir, both from Chalone and from Burgundy. None were as outstanding as the Chardonnays. My old friend has held up well. Chalone is now owned by Diageo, but still seems to retain it's identity. The current winemaker, Robert Cook, is only the fourth winemaker in the modern era of Chalone (that is, since Richard Graff resurrected the property in 1966.) Chalone is still in essence a monopole, as it is the only winery in the Chalone appellation.

However, I find no entry for Chalone in Mr. Schoonmaker's Encyclopedia.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Dizzying Array of Bins, A Dazzling Array of Wines

Dallas' own DLynn Proctor made his triumphant return to the Dallas Sommelier Society the other night in his guise as the Ambassador from Penfolds, the super-venerable winery from Australia.

Big, jammy Australian shiraz were all the rage a few years ago. Lord knows Sigel's led the charge with a zillion high-end, high-alcohol wines from Dan Philips, Chris Ringland and the Grateful Palate. And then the Australian market collapsed and everyone switched to big, jammy Pinot Noir's from the new California coastal vineyards.

Penfolds was a rock of stable quality through the boom and have maintained through the present  day.What we did learn is that there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to the Bin Numbers. None. Anyone who remarked on the similarity of the 707 to the Boeing jet was absolutely correct. It was named by a former Quantas executive.

However, there is rhyme or reason to the structure of the Ranges and it begins with Max Schubert, who began the dry red wine program after World War II. Schubert learned that some of the greatest pre-war Bordeaux had been Cabernet-Syrah blends, so that was how he made the Grange.

The range is structured like Burgundy. The Grand Cru wines are the very best Grange, 707, RWT, or Bin 169 Cabernet. Bin 407 Cabernet, Bin 389 Cab/Shiraz (baby Grange would be the premier crus and Bin 28 and 128 Shiraz, Bin 9 Cabernet function as the village level. Fruit and barrels are declassified from the top levels down through tiers, keeping style and balance in step throughout the range.

And as you would expect, the top wines were dazzling and the rest were delicious and all were sounds and well-made.

Return from forever

Have I written one of these return posts before?

No doubt.

Will I write one again?

No doubt.

But for now I'm going to see if I can sustain the discipline of posting an entry or two a week. I do enjoy the writing. And I was surprised by some of the older entries I just read. And I hope I can keep the style relaxed and informal enough so that the production of each post becomes a huge research project.

We'll see!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Neyers Vista Luna Zinfandel: The Story Behind the Wine

From: Bruce Neyers []

Subject: The 2012 Zinfandel ‘Vista Luna’ from Neyers Vineyards: The story behind the wine

I had a message recently from my distributor liaison in New York City, Chris Newman, with a question about our 2012 Vista Luna Zinfandel. At the end of his message, Chris asked if there was any interesting background information on this wine. There is, and it’s a fascinating story. It starts ten million years ago with the formation of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, however, so be patient.

The Sierra (without a plural ‘S’) are uplift mountains, were created 10 million years ago when a tectonic plate slammed into the west coast of what is now California, forcing thousands of feet of rock and earth to rise above the surface to form these mountains on the Nevada border. Over time, they have been worn and etched into their current shape by almost everything imaginable, from glaciers to earthquakes to man. At the western base of the mountains is the start of California’s lush Central Valley, but the area in the foothills immediately west of the Sierra – part of Calaveras and San Joaquin Counties -- contains some igneous rock that worked its way to the surface and remains there today. In 1995, a portion of this area was approved as a new AVA named Borden Ranch. Here, we like to say, the soil for grape growing begins to get interesting. A few years ago, Tadeo and I traveled there to visit with Markus Bokisch, a long-time friend and grape grower in Lodi. Markus took us to see a Zinfandel Vineyard that he was managing called Vista Luna. The vines were on a mound 100 feet or so in elevation, with the mountains visible to the east. We were immediately struck by the amount of Quartz that was scattered on the surface of the vineyard. In fact, I tripped over a large, partially submerged piece of quartz about every two or three steps. Markus confirmed that the vines were planted on an outcropping of Quartz, and that as far as he knew it was 100 feet deep, or more. Only two winemaking regions I know of in France are planted on Quartz: the Savoie in the foothills of the Alps, near the Swiss border, and northern Alsace, near Strasbourg, in the town of Epfig. Both regions make wines of remarkable character, with exotic mineral aromas, and crisp, elegant flavors. We eagerly agreed to buy the grapes.

But that wasn’t all that we found interesting about this vineyard. The clusters were much smaller than those we were accustomed to seeing in other Zinfandel vineyards, and the individual berries were smaller as well. We thought it might be due to the hard, rocky soil, but Markus – as a UC Davis graduate in Plant Science -- had a different, more educated theory. The vineyard had been propagated vegetatively from existing Zinfandel vines, and was not planted to nursery stocks. By law in California, vines obtained from a nursery must have been subjected to heat treatment -- to remove virus -- and are then cloned to eliminate variation. These vines at Vista Luna were, it turns out, an heirloom version of Zinfandel, neither heat-treated nor cloned. The smaller clusters allow for even ripening, with lower sugar levels at harvest. The alcohol level in the finished wine is accordingly lower. We knew we were on to something.

When I moved to San Francisco in 1970, Zinfandel was all the rage. It was fruity, quaffable and complex enough to enjoy regularly, and except for a few examples was modestly priced. I learned to love it. As stronger and more disease tolerant versions of the variety were developed through heat treatment and cloning, the size of the clusters grew, higher sugar levels were necessary for maturity, and the alcohol level increased in the finished wines. My fondness for Zinfandel declined. Many other wine lovers found themselves similarly less interested in the wine. But here we begin to see the charm of a return to the past. The heirloom plant material and the hard quartz soil in this Vista Luna vineyard favor the development of small clusters. As such, they ripen normally, and develop fruit flavors that are reminiscent of my early love affair with the grape and its wine. The flavors here are rich, as we expect Zinfandel to be, but there is a high-toned, graceful and vibrant side to the wine as well. Drinking a whole bottle is more of a pleasure walk than a determined amble. At the end there is that delicious, fresh berry finish that always seems to invite another glass. Join us in sharing a trip back in time. You’ll like it.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Corsican Wine, The New Surprise

When I heard we were getting some Corsican wines imported by Kermit Lynch, I didn’t know what to expect. Corsica is an island just off the coast of Italy and while Corsica is technically French (acquired from the Genoese in 1764,) its history and culture, its food and wine are Italian. We received wines from two producers. The wines from Domaine Maestracci are ripe and accessible and a little less expensive, while the wines from Domaine Abbatucci opened up new dimensions of flavor. When I tasted the wines, I was amazed by their brilliance and intensity. As a whole, the wines are characterized by ripe, acid-driven fruits with complex structure driven by lush minerals and fine tannins and express the rocky granite soils and the salty island breezes.

The Domaine is run by Jean-Charles Abbatucci, a direct descendant of General Jean-Charles Abbatucci, a hero of the French Revolution and comrade in arms of another local hero, Napoleon. The grapes are indigenous Corsican varieties, many of them recovered from small farmers in the mountains and reintroduced into producing vineyards by Jean Charles’ father thus saving them from extinction.

The Abbatucci estate is in the granite mountains south of the capitol of Ajaccio with vines planted on ancient terraces among groves of olive trees and sheep foraging on the grass covering between the vines. The vineyards are totally organic and certified biodynamic. To keep the vines happy, Jean-Charles is known to drive his tractor around the vineyards and play traditional Corsican polyphonic music over loudspeakers. After harvest, he does the same in the cellar. Does it work? Have a taste for yourself.

Ajaccio Blanc “Cuvee Faustine” 2012 $33.99
100% old vine Vermentinu hand harvested at extremely low yields (20 hl/ha). Slow, cold fermentation in stainless steel yields a brilliant bone dry yet lush wine with rich suggestions of stone fruits and a shimmering minerality.

Ajaccio Rose “Cuvee Faustine” 2012 $29.99
100% Sciaccarellu, vinified in stainless steel. Very crisp and clean, perfumed with notions of strawberries, the wine is bone dry, yet has a rich presence on the palate.

Ajaccio Rouge “ Cuvee Faustine” 2011 $33.99
70% Sciaccarellu, 30% Niellucciu fermented entirely in stainless steel. Intense light ruby in color with aromas of flowers, minerals and red berries, the delicate flavors intensify into rich pure cherries with a long mineral finish lifted by the lingering fruit and fine tannins.

Monday, June 17, 2013

St George and the Gin and Tonic

A while back in the heyday of the absinthe renaissance, there was a legendary (in Texas at least) American absinthe that came on the market. It was notable not only for the quality of the absinthe, but for the monkey on the label beating on a skull with bones instead of drumsticks. And it was notable for the distiller, Lance Winter, whom the New York Times photographed with his gleaming copper still. The distillery had a small but geeky reputation for its eau-di-vie and Single Malt Whiskey, but was more widely known for the Hanger One Vodkas whose brilliant infusions blew open the doors for high-quality infused vodkas. Although St George still produces the vodka, they sold the brand in 2000 allowing them to expand their portfolio.

Which they did.

Into their true love: Gin.

Which happens to be my true love. Big Confession. Even though wine is now my profession, Gin and Tonic has been the singular beverage of my adult life. I've had flings with Beer, Bourbon, Scotch, and Tequila. I've even danced with Cognac, Rum and Eau-di-vie. But there is something about living in a hot climate that makes a well-made GT the most refreshing beverage in the world.

I was almost arrested by Turkish soldiers at the Greek border over an incident about a bottle of Gordon's in the duty free shop. We drank it with tonic, without ice in our cheap hotel in Istanbul. We searched out Genevers in the hash bars of Amsterdam. We never went camping without a bottle of gin, a lime and some tonic and a bag of ice. I've backpacked a flask over the Continental Divide.

Recent years have seen a revival of gins. Fresh botanicals, cucumbers, saffron, herbal infusions designed by celebrity chefs, malt gins, Old Tom gins, Navy gins have filled the shelves, each costing more than the last.
However, I was excited I heard that we were getting St. George Gin. And not one gin, but three. And they are amazing!
The Terroir uses herbs from the California coastal range, primarily Douglas Fir. It tastes like a walk though a damp forest. Drink it from a flask by a glacial lake. Or drink it straight up, icy cold. Maybe an olive.

The Botanivore is their version of classic gin. A clean spirit driven by juniper and citrus, rich, round and smooth. Perfect Martinis and G/Ts apply here.

In the Dry Rye juniper and pepper focus the botanicals on the dry and spicy base rye spirit. The stout backbone will stand up to any flavor. Bring on your bitters, your vermouth and cordials, MIX AWAY!

We also received the St. George Absinthe with the monkey and the bone drumsticks, but minus the skull. The absinthe is impeccable and that's the best way to describe it. Smooth and massive, sweet and bitter, long and complex, with anise aromatics lasting into next week.

Trouble in a heartbeat.