Vol 2 No 22 -a wine importer/distributor worth knowing – and a Spanish region worth knowing: Priorat!

Last April, while visiting Spain and Portugal, a name came up a few times: Eric Solomon. He specializes in smaller ‘unknown’ wines from France (Languedoc/Roussillon) and Spain. I am reasonably confident that there are others out there like Solomon, like my friend, Kermit Lynch, who did similar in the Valcluse, Chatenauf-de-Pape (Viex Telegraphe), Bandol, and others. Seek them out because the stand behind and are deeply involved in the vineyards and wineries they represent.

Solomon made a concerted effort, along with Joâo Riveras of Quinta do Infantado, just outside Piñao, Portugal, in the heart of the Douro Valley. For over a century, the small growers had to sell all of their grapes to one of the large port shippers who bottled under their names like Dow, Sandeman, Niepoort, etc. Rivera’s family was one of the early protesters of this policy and struggled to get the law changed and in the 1980’s they succeeded. The two met and Solomon tried desperately to promote, not only small vineyard ports, but other wines like Dão, Vinho Verde (Albarinho – same as Albariño in Spain), Douro and others. The market simply wasn’t ready for that. To this day, go to the Portugal section of any wine store and you will see only a few besides Port, such as Lancer’s and Mateus, along with a few others. The missing ones represent great value, especially as Spanish wines are gaining in popularity causing prices to rise.

Rivera told me that the failure to gain acceptances was mostly due to “our failure to speak up for our wines…we are our own worst enemy” (this comment was also mentioned in Spain!). Eventually, Solomon found Portuguese wines a costly venture with no upside in sight, so he now focuses mainly on Spain, Southern France, some in Italy, and one each in Switzerland, and yes, even Macedonia (and up and coming region also). There is a word in Portuguese, ‘saudades’ (sa-da-ye), which means a nostalgia and warm feeling for the past. This is bittersweet in Portugal’s case, once one of the most powerful nations in the world. At times it seems that all of those former territories bear a cross of what once was.

What can you do? Be adventurous, try some of the wines and TB believes you will be pleasantly surprised, not just on quality but on price points. Don’t wait until it is too late.

Recently, I tried ten of Solomon’s wines (6 French and 4 Spanish), at a tasting in Excelsior, MN, at the Wine Republic, now approaching its second anniversary. Their unique niche is carrying only wines that are organic, sustainable, or dynamically produced. Why should you care? Because many of the expensive wines, especially in Bordeaux, France use chemicals as herbicides and pesticides (the U.S. is slowly moving away from this practice), and there are trace elements of these chemicals – some on the banned list, by the way – in the top Crus). Note that organic is not the same as ‘natural’ wine, which, while produced organically, tends to be unstable, and can be cloudy in appearance.

Here are the wines I tasted, all are curent release 2014(?) *Asterisks indicate the ones I liked best as I disavow any use of ratings as the last blog pointed out):

Lafage Cote d’Est, Roussillon, France ($12), a blend of Grenache Blanc, Chardonnay, and Marsanne. A bargain a this price!

Lafage Cuvee Centenaire, Roussillon($15), Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, and Roussane). *Big brother to the first, more complex, and a very well-made wine!

Lafage Tesselle Old Vine GSM, Languedoc-Roussillon ($16), Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre are the stars here, hence the GSM moniker. *These are vines that are 30-50 years old and while they produce less fruit it is more intense. GSM has become very popular among winemakers everywhere, and again makes for a complex wine of merit.

Lafage Tessellae Carignan, Languedoc-Roussillon ($16). 100% Carignan, a grape commonly used in the Rhone and in Argentine and Chilean wines. ***This was my favorite of the flight. Carignan and Grenache are not understood well in the U.S. thanks to producers Like Gallo who produced insipid, sweet Grenache wines in the 70’s and 80’s. Give them a try!

St. Jean du Barroux L’Argile, ($28,(note how the price increases when you move to the Rhone Valley). 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Cinsault, 10% Carignan. My favorite of the tasting with jammy fruit and many complex flavors (note TV is not good at descriptives)

Chateau Puech-Haut Prestige, Languedoc ($22), 50% Grenache, 50% Syrah. Once you get past the name, (pooch), this is another great find…and again lower in price.

Castaño Hécula, Yecla, Spain ($15), 100% Monastrell (8 months in neutral oak). Good value, but see the next one:

Castaño Solanera, Yecla, Spain ($19), 70% Monastrell, 15% Cabernet Franc, 15% Alicante  Bouchet. *this shows how the Spanish have adapted to blending the stronger Monastrell with our varietals to make a better finish wine.

Capcanes Mas Donis, Montsant, Catalunya, Spain, 2013 ($16). *Montsant is like a claw partially surrounding the higher elevation and more recognized – and prized – Priorat region. Again, this wine is a very good value!

Black Slate Gratallops, Priorat, Spain ($23). Priorat is one of only two regions in Spain with the DOC and higher region, the other being La Rioja. This wine is 60% Carignan, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah. ***Perhaps the best value in Priorat, and from Grattallops, the oldest town and where grapes have been grown since for over 600 years! Also in Grattallops is Clos de L’Obac, which TB visited and where the owner Carles Pastranes, developed one of the original six vineyards. It was due to Alvara Pallacios, who made his reputation in La Rioja, and declared Priorat to be an excellent wine growing region. His L’Ermita ($400-800), is the benchmark here, Scala Dei, is the oldest winery here, having been operated by monks at this monesterio. Clos de L’Obac makes incredible wines in the $60-100 range.Vall Llach, which TB also visited is another fine producer. Quality? Consider this: they make three labels, Idus, Embruix, and Porrera (the village where the winery is located), when we visited last April the labels and cartons had been printed for the Porrera de Vi, their top of the line wine. Alberto, the son of the founder, and winemaker, decided the wine was very good but not to the standards he wanted for his signature wine, so it was not bottled: this wine has only been produced in 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013. That is caring, it cost a lot to declassify that wine but it is what buyers should expect of a quality winemaker. It is distributed by Michael Mondavi’s Folio Wines.

Ending with a love story, Eric Solomon met and became close friends with Daphne Glorian, whose Priorat wine, Clos Erasmus, is another pricey benchmark wine selling for over $200 a bottle. Eventually the were married and both they and their wines are doing just fine.

Whew! That is the longest blog I have ever written…hope you find it of interest and seek out the wines mentioned. Don’t forget to support your local wine merchants who do a good job, are both knowledgeable and helpful, because they are at risk from the ‘big box’ stores like Total Wines, and even supermarkets that don’t display and store wines properly and when you learn that you can buy better wines at similar prices from your local merchant, reward their research and investment by supporting their effort. It’s in all of our interest.

 

 

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traderbill

How did Trader Bill originate? It was conceived by me as a way of providing information summaries of global financial markets so that friends and associates could bring themselves up to speed on events and changing market conditions upon their arrival at work. In addition, it provides information on speakers and economic releases that day with consensus estimates and level of last release so that the reader is prepared to react, or knows how the market might react upon the release of information. Who is Trader Bill? Initially any reference to me was as ‘i’. This is to remove the aura of ego and to suggest that i am but a humble reporter, albeit with 35 years of investment experience. Investments are demanding of ego, however, or one would not feel that he was qualified to manage someone else’s money in the first instance. Therefore i needed an ‘alter-ego’. Like Winchell and Mahoney, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy and especially Trader Vic and Mai Tai’s! Why Trader Vic? Because he was a likeable man who delivered pleasure to his customers and knew exactly what their desires were. The reason for the alter ego became obvious once I introduced Trader Bill into my commentaries: people started asking what Trader Bill thought. They had never asked me what I thought before, but suddenly they wanted to know what TB thought! Now mind you they KNEW that I was Trader Bill but for some reason he became bigger than life. Maybe it was the small ‘I’? What does Trader Bill try to do?His goal is to educate from his years of experience. Consider that most of the traders and people managing investments weren’t even around in 1987 for the crash! Consider that Graham and Dodd, and even Warren Buffet are not relevant to them, too old hat. Their historical perceptions of markets and fundamentals (earnings, price/earnings ratios, bonds, debt service coverage) are irrelevant in this fast moving world. This is the NEW ECONOMY, or is it? How did your style originate?Years ago i found that i had a knack and talent for writing. In addition, i developed an ability to analyze market news about 15 years ago. It took the Crash of ‘87. Prior to that i was just listening to what others said about the economy. But bond yields had been soaring in ‘87 yet the stock market just kept hitting new highs. That was when i began to learn about markets. i have both a dry and witty sense of humor (some call it inane!). Therefore i attempt to make even the worst news somewhat amusing: whether it is the absurdity of an economic release, or the comments of a CEO. This is trading desk humor (or gallows humor). It isn’t politically correct but it does ease tension. Ironically, it is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel (in the Navy they say: it’s always darkest before it’s pitch black!), that allows you to be more objective in your analysis, as bad as a situation is there will still be a tomorrow! You will see that i practice three-dot journalism, a style made famous by San Francisco reporter Herb Caen, whom i idolized. At least to me it is effective. What is so special about your analysis?Frankly, i don’t know that it is special, but at least it beats “the market closed down today on profit taking.” What i do know is that most of what you read is spat out without considering whether or not it is rational, like the above statement. Is it right? Sometimes yes and sometimes no, and that is the key to what is different about my analysis: it is meant to make you think. Is Dan Rather right or is Trader Bill right? If it causes you to stop and think about it, regardless of whether you agree, i win! Because THAT is my goal…not to have you think i am a guru, got that? Bet you never heard that ANYWHERE before in my business! Instead they want you to think just how smart they are but remember in this business if you are right 60% of the time you ARE a genius! Another thing that is different is when i am wrong on an analysis i will tell you, not hope you forget what i said. So now you have the tools to do what the speculators and hedge funds do: challenge authority, and if you make money it is because YOU did it not me. i was just a tool, your flunky to do the grunt work and let you decide…course you could be wrong too but at least you looked at the big picture. But the goal is also to have fun! This shouldn’t be a business of hushed tones and grim faces. It is a living, breathing thing and nowhere else in the world do you have the odds as much in your favor as here. Just beware of the guy who wants to put his arm around you and tell you he is your friend. So there you have it. I hope you select me as one of your sources for market information. If you do I promise to work my best for your financial success. Trader Bill

2 thoughts on “Vol 2 No 22 -a wine importer/distributor worth knowing – and a Spanish region worth knowing: Priorat!”

  1. I love Madeira’s, Stephen! The two types to look for are ‘Bual’ and ‘Malmsey’ the latter being the sweeter. First off, go if you ever have the opportunity! It is one of the most beautiful islands in the world…actually there are three but the main one is where all the commerce is. We only were there one day but it was enough because we had a local that operates a taxi company and put the time to great use. The biggest problem is getting there because it is Portuguese so you need to fly from Porto or Lisbon. The food and people are also great.
    The two big companies are the Madeira Wine Company which produces most of the big name brands (like the Symington’s in Porto and in fact in 1988, they bought this company too and in 1996 hired Michael Broadbent to market the wines for them, one brand bears that family name), and Justino’s which makes 70% of all the wine produced on the island, including Henriquez y Henriquez which I visited and liked very much, difficult to find in the states though.
    Truth be known, I like Madeira’s even more than Port. The prices are better, the wine can be left open for weeks or even months due to the process used involving subjecting the must to very high temperatures for long periods of time…sort of like pasteurization. Contrast this to a vintage Port that needs to be drunk within a day or two at most, or the others that can last perhaps a week or two. Personally, I’ll take Madeira as John Hancock, Ben Franklin, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson did – often drinking a bottle a day, After signing the Declaration of Independence, they all toasted with Madeira wine.
    Hope that answers your question…and a good one it was!

    Like

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