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!