Vol. 1 No. 14 – from Natches to New Orleans – actually much more

That was not this trip, actually it was Florida to New Orleans then up to Natchez, across to Nashville, west to Memphis then to Arkansas and headed north to home. So why the title? Because one of TB’s favorite shows growing up Maverick (Brett not Bart), and that was part of the theme song: “Natchez to New Orleans, Livin’ on Jacks and Queens, Luck is the lady that he loves the best…” Okay, corny but what the hey?

Did you know there are wineries in all 50 states – yep, including Alaska and Hawaii. In some cases the grapes are purchased from OR/WA/CA growers. Why? Because the wine grape, vitis vinifera, can only grow between the 30th and 45th parallels at each end of the globe. There are other grapes that do not observe these boundaries (Concord, Muscadine – not related to Muscat – and others).

Back in the day, when TB was beginning his wine experience, most of the wine came from California or New York (most notably Taylor which having transitioned from a family-owned winery to a corporate entity, has now fallen by the wayside – remember what TB says about winemakers: they are passionate about what they do…they see it as agriculture, i.e. farming, with little romanticism or mystery to it. Corporations, especially today where the ‘long run’ is the next year or quarter, have no feelings and are not expected to have them: they exist to make profits, in what used to be labelled ‘free-market capitalism’ but is virtually non-existent today in an era of bulbous executive compensation – mostly for mediocre performance. Ethics? A thing of the past…and that is the biggest. The theory was that a corporation would never do anything that would endanger its long-run survival and profitability. Sure there were scandals but those were uncommon and usually related to price-fixing. We only have to look back to 2008 to see that fiduciaries (or supposedly so), including the biggest banks, threw ethics and service out the window: not for the benefit of shareholders who couldn’t see it but for greedy CEO’s and other financial executives. Poor Martha Stewart, she went to jail for a trivial violation.

Fast forward to the present and you will find that there truly are wineries in all 50 states. The principal grape in the southern U.S. is Muscadine, which is almost a weed and the only native American grape. There are several varieties but the other main one used in wine making is Carlos, a sweet white grape.  Sometimes other grapes are blended with it and for Cabernet and Chardonnay, they import grape juice from California (unfortunately, as the taste tells you, much of that is from the Central Valley – Gallo territory). I have yet to find a red wine produced in this area that has the right character. On the other hand semi-sweet and sweet wines are pretty good and at less than $10 represent value if you want to sit on your patio on a hot summer day.

We started our journey in Tampa, Florida and drove up the panhandle. There are at least 18 wineries in Florida, seven in the northwest alone. In addition, I found that in the 11 states we transversed plus Minnesota, there are 407 wineries: Missouri 107!?!; Iowa 76!?! Plus 3 with <40 wineries!

Our first stop was the Dakotah Winery in Chiefland. There Dr. Max Rittgers and his son, Matt, have created a winery started in 1985. The wines were well made and they produce eight of them which they are eager to let you taste free of charge. The reds, which they make to satisfy a limited number of customers – hard to think of a dry red wine there – were well made but not to my liking. The sweeter wines including a Port and a Cream Sherry were good value at $13. They also sell a Muscadine grape juice for $7 which I purchased to enjoy while driving. The tasting room is well designed and very comfortable. The U-shaped tasting bar had creative ‘spit buckets’ at each station – something not always found in small wineries, and a big plus unless you are trying to taste yourself into oblivion. Not wise, if you are driving. This is a great stop if in the area.

Next was Montecello Vineyards and Winery in Talahassee, which grows 18 varieties of Muscadine for their wine lineup. Note that they are certified organic too!

We spent the night in Destin, half way out the panhandle. Emerald Coast Wine Cellars is located there. This is more of a tasting room as they purchase their grapes from various growers. We drove briefly through Alabama which has 15 wineries but all were way to the north

After visiting New Orleans we headed up to Baton Rouge past the St. Amat Winery in St. Amat and Vacherie Winery at Becnel Plantation. All fruit wines, blackberry both sweet and dry (more like semi-sweet), and the next day to Natchez (where Jerry Lee Lewis did his first professional performance in 1955…saw him perform at Jazzfest and although he walks with a cane (he is 80) he can still play as good as ever), home to Old South Winery – Mississippi’s only winery!  It is just outside of town and has a large lineup of wines from dry (?) to sweet. Again, the reds were well-made but not to my liking. They did a good job though on the semi-sweet and sweet wines which were priced at just $8.99.

We then drove up the Natchez Trace which is a beautiful run all the way to Nashville and with NO commercial vehicles. Sometimes we drove for as long as five minutes without seeing another car! Highly recommended!

All of Tennessee’s 42 wineries are located from Memphis to the west past Nashville to Johnson City near the state line. They are just above the 45th parallel where vitis vinifera can grow. I confess that we were overwhelmed by the number of wineries and didn’t visit any this trip.

Oklahoma has 48 wineries. All but one are in the southern part of the state near Texas. There is one near Kansas, Cimmaron, but could find no information on when it is open, and website would not open up. Lots of bad comments here and mostly fruit wines. One standout was Sommerset Ridge, well south of KC. Due to the composition of their portfolio, a mixture of fruit and grape wines, and the distance we passed. Of all the states we visited, this one was the most perplexing and frustrating.

We spent the night in Kansas City, that’s Missouri, not Kansas. In the morning, crossed the bridge to K.C., Kansas and then up to Iowa. Most of Iowa’s 76 wineries are in the eastern part of the state. Eagles Landing, which produces 36 wines. Of particular interest to me was the use of oak barrels along with stainless steel fermenters. Good reviews and might be worth a trip. We are now in ‘cold weather’ country so the predominant grape here, as in Minnesota is Marquette along with other hardy grapes. This is the one area I might want to revisit sometime as there are nine wineries along the Mississippi east of Des Moines.

The upshot is that it seems most of these wineries cater to locals and while some are friendly, more are not so much and some of them have closed down. Few have website and that shows a lack of passion: if you have it, you want to tell others about it. So while wine may be made in all 50 states, good wineries in each are few and far between. If you find one: support it!

TB

©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.

Vol. 1. No. 13 …a rosé by any other name…

Just got back from an incredible trip. Flew to Florida where we rented a car in Tampa and drove up and along the panhandle, crossed Alabama, and through Mississippi to New Orleans, then up the Mississippi to Minnesota. Fantastic trip (with the added benefit of a great deal on car rentals: from Mid-April to Mid-May you can rent any car from any of the majors for about $10 a day, drive it anywhere so long as it is north – they need to get these cars out of Florida now that the snowbirds have returned home – and drop off at any airport with no additional fee. The taxes are about as much as the car rental. See you can get good info at TB on wine!).

But I digress…I was going to write this post on the wines and wineries we visited along the way, but some friends who own a very nice innovative wine shop (Wine Republic) in nearby Excelsior (on Lake Minnetonka), that features only organic, biodynamic, or sustainable wines, held a tasting of rosés at their shop on Saturday afternoon. I wrote that I wouldn’t be getting home in time to be there and they graciously let me sample some of the TWENTY-FIVE wines from the U.S., Europe and Argentina. “Ugh, rosés you say.” Curb your tongue, knave! These are not the wines that most Americans think of as rosé. A little history:

The biggest California and American winery back in the 1960’s was Paul Masson (remember Orson Welles, “we will sell no wine before its time” – ah, if only that had been true), and most of the wines were cheap, under $2. Good wines sold for less than $5 as late as the early 1970’s! TB can’t remember all the names but there was Chablis (no wonder the French hate us and forced us to stop using names like that and Champagne on …er…crap!), Riesling, Pinot Noir (the lesser quality ones simply said Burgundy), Cabernet Sauvignon – note that only in the mid to late 1960’s did the best producers (Louis Martini, Charles Krug, Robert Mondavi, Beaulieu, and a few others) bother to put the vintage on the label. Rosés were usually of the Crackling Rosé variety – you do know that that is what Neil Diamond was singing about don’t you? Listen to the lyrics and you will understand.

Next came the ‘pop’ wines, made popular mainly by Gallo (who now also produces a premier label), such as Boone’s Farm, Thunderbird, Madría Madría Sangría (created during the grape picker strike and used a Latina saying “my ‘hosband and his oncle’ make this wine” – perhaps the lowest thing the Gallo’s ever did.

From there, we grew up: sweet was ‘out’, subtle wines were ‘in’.  No self-respecting person would drink the pop wines any longer. No siree. But here is the rub: despite great reviews by Robert Parker and other established wine writers, sweet wines were all lumped together. Those included German and Alsatian Rieslings and heaven-forbid Sauternes (due to confusion with California Sauterne – a totally different animal).

But also in the early 1970’s a few guys experimented with one of TB’s favorite wines: Zinfandel, and lo and behold White Zinfandel came into existence (it actually had a slight pink tinge to it since Zin is a red grape with red juice). Robert Lawrence Balzer, the first of the early wine critics, praised this as “being on to something”, which was true because they sold millions of bottles of the stuff. At least it was better than the rest of the lot…actually the only California rosé TB could stomach was a pretty good, inexpensive, Zinfandel Rosé produced by Pedroncelli.

So here we are in the twenty-first century and following the lead of the well-known Tavel Rosé from France, there are a plethora of wonderful rosés as witnessed by having a tasting of 25 of them – five each from five distributors (a representative of each was at the tasting). Now look at this. The price range: $10.99 for a Le Rosé des Acanthes (which TB liked) to $24.99 for an incredible Commanderie de Peyrassol Rosé. The average price was $17.64, but note that thirteen were priced under $16, and three under $13!

Summer is fast approaching. Don’t let preconceived notions stop you from having something refreshing to cool you while you relax on your patio on those hot days. Trust TB, you won’t be disappointed – not one bit because all of these wines which have varying degrees of sweetness (more like tart), finish with something that hits the back of your tongue and throat the way tannin does thus preventing a lingering sweetness in your mouth which might otherwise be cloying. You will probably find this more suitable than the Sauvignon Blanc you might have served. Don’t take TB’s word for it: try some and compare…then you decide!

Once again, good wine is forcing out bad, all over the world and we, the wine lovers are the beneficiaries. Life is too short to drink bad wine.

One last note on this: a few weeks ago there was an article in a column on a wine from Portugal, a red called Portada, a deep red wine exploding with berry flavors (you decide which). No this is not one of the California ‘fruit bombs’ that are 15% or more alcohol. This one weighs in at 12.5% and is thus a very enjoyable wine for even those who are not wine fans. The price? $10-12. The author said if it was from California it would be at least a $30 wine – TB concurs! Having been to Portugal twice and going again in October, trust him, it is not just about Port! Vinho Verde, which used to be poorly made is now on a par with Spanish Albarino’s, and at half to two-thirds the cost.

Start looking at wines from other places around the world recalling that the best ones will be in the range of 30°to 45° latitude – north or south. That is the only area where vitis vinifera, the wine grape thrives.  

The world of wine is getting bigger…and better.

TB

©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.

Vol 1. No 12 …you can call it Duero or you can call it Douro…

One of the most intriguing wine regions in the world is the Ribero del Duero in Northern Spain at the source of the Duero River in the Cantabrian Mountains (so you won’t think TB is getting senile – he may be – he discussed part of this are in Vol. 1 No 110), which then flows south through Valladolid and into Portugal where it becomes the Douro, famous for centuries for Port wine growing. The major city of the region is Burgos, near the source. It then meanders down past Valladolid where the two most expensive Spanish wines hail from (Vega Secila and Pesquez), and dozens of other fine and reasonably-priced reds and just outside the boundaries of the appellation one of Spain’s best white wines is made, Rueda, a complex and beautiful wine.

The Duero then passes to the north of the university town of Salamanca and into Portugal where it becomes the Douro for the remainder of its 550 mile journey to the Atlantic. It is in Portugal that it becomes navigable and the Port growers used Daδ’s (small lateen-rigged sailboats) to transport the barrels down to the Port Lodges near the sea across from the beautiful town of Porto (I just learned that there are 8 day river cruises up the Douro and the views look incredible).

While TB loves Port (just as he does Pedro Ximénez sherries and Madeira’s), our interest here is on the unknown Reds that come from here (and slightly above it the whites called Albarinho’s which are labeled Vinho Verde – the only similarity to the old Vinho’s is the name as the quality is equal to Albariño’s and they are less expensive – try one, you’ll like it and save some money too!).

TB will revisit the Duero region in October when he returns to finish the northwest edge of the Iberian peninsula (Rias Biaxas, Santiago de Compostello, and Vigo), then down into Portugal to Porto. From their he will fly to Madeira and back to Lisboa to begin a cruise to Marakeesh, Casablanca, and more, then finish in the Canary Islands at Tenerife – one would think it would be easier to fly from there to Madeira but since the Canary’s are Spanish and Madeira, Portuguese, no can do). Can’t wait to take the trip and report back to you.

Last Sunday, TB read a review of a wine named Portada. A 2013 red, that the author said was a $30 wine selling for $10. Intrigued, and anxious to increase his knowledge of Portuguese wine he bought a bottle from a local wine merchant and it is ‘knock your socks off stunning’! What does it taste like? Indescribable – a wine for all tastes as it is chock full of rich berry flavors but with soft tannins to make it a great wine to go with everything from barbecue to ??? But more than that it will even appeal to those of you who are Two Buck Chuck lovers (even though the price is approaching $3!). Don’t misunderstand, TBC has not only enriched the coffers of Trader Joe’s but it has helped eliminate cheap wine from the competition – globally, good wine is forcing out bad because you can’t sell much for under three dollars – that is legal anyway!

That’s all  for now, friends! Stay thirsty? – now why would you want to do that? As an old Navy guy running an enlisted men’s club used to say, “drink up, this ain’t no library!”

TB

©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.

Vol. 1 No. 11 …on the road to La Rioja…

…the title of this post may seem strange but as Jack Paar would have written it: a funny thing happened on my way to La Rioja.

We left our beautiful hacienda in Hernani, just five miles from San Sebastion, or Donostria as the Basque’s call it, heading up the autoroute to France where we had to drop my sister-in-law at the train station. Afterwards, feeling hungry, we decided to drive around beautiful St-Jean-de-Luz and saw a little bistro, Le Madison, with a few tables outside. We parked, bought a parking ticket, and went to the restaurant. It was a beautiful day so we sat outside. I noticed a well-dressed elderly woman (who is TB to call someone else ‘elderly’?), at the next table with her dog lying beside her. The owner brought us a chalkboard listing the specialties and while we were trying to decipher it, the woman, in perfect English with a distinct Spanish accent, asked if she could help us. After we ordered, we continued our conversation with the woman. She asked where we were going to visit and I told her we were going to La Rioja the next day. She then asked, which bodegas we were visiting and I told her we had reservations at Muga (which I had made more than a month ago). She said, “don’t go there, go to CUNE (pronounced coon-ay).”

I was taken a bit aback by this but she continued, “my family once owned that bodega, one of the oldest in La Rioja, but sold it to CUNE (a large corporation owning several bodegas in Spain: Compañia Vinicola del Norte España), Muga buys grapes from us.” That got my attention, as she added,”I still own 6% of the bodega”, and proceeded to write a letter of introduction (whenever you can get one of these, from your hotel or anyone, they are like gold as you will get priority treatment. She said her name was Sophia Vallejo, and I had to ask if she knew there was a town in California by that name. She said, “yes, Robert Mondavi took me there years ago when I stayed with him.” How about that!?! We said our goodbyes to a lovely woman and drove off to explore the French Basque country and visit St-Jean-Pied-Porte, where the pilgrimage trail, El Camino (made famous in the Michael Douglas film The Way) to Santiago de Compostello, nearly 500 miles away begins. Near St. Jean, which is a lovely town, we were told of a good winery nearby. It is called Iroully, and was a very good wine, which is only sold locally I believe. Worth stopping at! I bought one of their big reds and a bottle of a Cava Rosada, which we enjoyed when we got back to Hernani.

The next day we drove, the long way as it turned out, to La Rioja. We arrived in Haro (pronounced ‘arrow’) and noted that there were actually five bodegas together at the bottom of the hill where the old town sits. They are Bodegas Muga, La Rioja Alta, R. Lopez de Heredia, CUNE, and one other one which I didn’t know and we didn’t have time to visit. Why were they clustered together? Because in 1880. a railroad link between Bordeaux and Haro was completed so it was the only efficient way to transport wine. Later, one was built connecting Haro with Bilbao, opening the way to shipping. That is what made Haro the ‘Napa’ of La Rioja, and both continue as the centers of those regions. I might add that the important part of La Rioja (Alto – centered in Haro, Alevesa – Lograno, but excluding the lesser important, Baja – which extends southeast to Zaragosa),is only slightly larger than Napa Valley and reminiscent of it in the 1960’s with the bodegas space far apart with vineyards in between. The most desirable are is Between Haro and Lograno, especially a town called La Guardia where the Marqéuz de Riscal’s Bodega, designed by Frank Gehry, architect of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, is located. Most of the Rioja’s are blends of the two regions. If you think of La Rioja, dilineated on both sides by the Ebro River, as an arrowhead (Harohead?), with the Cantabrian Mountains at the head, and just past them, Haro, you will see that the breezes blowing off the Bay of Biscay, cool it and it gets warmer as you move down towards Lograno, and ultimately to the scorching hot Baja which is on the flatlands. Rising to the north are the Pyranees which makes for a stunning backgrounds for the incredible bodegas which are all uber-modern and put any I have seen in California, or anywhere for that matter to shame.

Now that you have my take on the region, it’s time for some tasting. There are three main classes of Riojas:

Crianza – reds must be aged at least two years, one of which in oak barrels: whites must be aged for six months in oak barrels. Interestingly, most of the oak is American, although some use French Limousin Oak, and Muga, for one has its own barrel makers. More on the effects of oak later.

Reserva – reds must be aged at least three years, one of which in oak. Whites, six months in oak but aged for one year.

Gran Reserva – reds at least FIVE years, two of which must be in oak, and three in bottles.

Naturally, due to storage costs the prices ascend in that order. But it begs the question; which is best? Certainly at the time the appellation was established, that seemed sensible, but with today’s tastes it ‘ain’t necessarily so’. The modern trend is to less oak flavoring which enhances early drinkability, and to my surprise (at three different tastings of at least eight wines), I found that i like the Crianza best. That is not to say with more aging the reservas might taste better. Like all wine, it is, and should be a matter of personal taste. The plus to the crianza’s is they are less expensive! The white Rioja’s are very good but have to compete with so many other good whites – including Rueda, from nearby Ribera del Duero, and which I prefer – make them less likely to be seen in wine shops outside of Spain.

As for the grape varieties, recall that when the phylloxera struck Bordeaux, the French vignerons moved south to La Rioja, but when it was cured by grafting to American rootstock, they returned, and production plunged. As the locals tried to regain the reputation, but with much less profitability, along came the 1930’s and Generalismo Franco, who, because of a famine, decreed that half of the vines be torn out and replaced with grains (this is the same Franco who in 1938, ‘allowed’ Hitler to bomb and destroy the town of Guernica, which for the Fuehrer was a prelude to the concentrated bombings soon to be done throughout Europe. Needless to say, Franco is still a dirty, obscene, name in Euscal Herria (Basque Country).  

The grapes used today are (thanks to Karen McNeil and her tome The Wine Bible, which took ten years to assemble and was published in 2000, and while it omits some new wine regions, the information it contains is reliable to date, including contact numbers for the bodegas which proved both accurate and a necessity since you don’t just ‘drop in’ to wineries in Europe. Hopefully a new revision will be out soon…note: it can be purchased in paperback for about $5 on Amazon):

Reds: tempranillo (the main grape of Rioja, and used for aroma, flavor, delicacy, and aging potential), garnacha (grenache, for alcohol and body), graciano (for flavor and aroma), mazuelo (a ‘seasoning grape’), and viura (used by a few vintners for acidity)

Whites: Viura (main grape with mild fruit flavors and acidity). garnacha blanca (blending grape for body), and malvasia (for aroma)

With the advent of the automobile and modern trucking, Haro, was no longer necessary to ship wines, so Longrono grew both in size and importance, but continues to be the ‘heart’ of the wine region.

We left Haro, and drove down the southern side of La Rioja, crossing to La Guardia, then up the northern side, and returned to our hacienda. It would have been much easier to just continue to our next stop, La Ribera del Duero, but we preferred the warmth and convenience of staying in one place, which was also easy to get to San Sebastian from. If we had spent more time in the wine regions we would have loved to stay at the Gehry hotel that is at the Marqéuz de Riscal’s bodega near La Guardia, and priced accordingly.

next: Burgos and La Ribera del Duero

Adios!

TB

©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.

Vol. 1 No. 10 …the wine in Spain isn’t mainly on the plain

Mea culpa…I am a week late with this post. A lot of things going on plus I had the allergy attack of the century and that was not conducive to writing – or tasting wine! Here goes…

There are six main wine regions in Spain. Only one, Jerez (Hereth), is in the south, nearly at the southernmost part of Europe. It is famous for sherry. While we didn’t visit the region, we were fortunate enough to be told of a wine festival (Feria de Vino), in Durango, which is between Bilbao and Donostria (Basque name for San Sebastian and the one the locals use). The owners of the beautiful hacienda we were staying at were kind enough to tell us about it so we drove the fifty or so miles hoping to taste some local wines. Wrong! Admission was 15€ and it gave us access to a dozen tables of food samples from jambon to Spanish cheeses. We were also given the best wine glass I have ever seen at this type of event and access to over 15 exhibitors and nearly 80 wines – some local – but others from all wine regions of Spain including Jerez. The program listed each exhibitors name and all the wines he had brought to sample plus the price per bottle in euros which simplified the choices. Most were in the 4-9 euro range (currently $4.40 to $9.90 thanks to the strong dollar, 1.1:1), while about 20% were priced over 20€.

First, there were several Cava’s, and no that is not like Asti Spumante. Cava originally came from the Penedès region near Barcelona (Barthelona), where the wine was so bad that in the 1870’s, Don José Raventós, owner of Bodega Codorníu went to France to see how Champagne was made – at that time, even their grapes weren’t the best but the wine was in high demand. He bought some equipment there and had it shipped home, and when he arrived announced to the owners that from now on all they were going to make was sparking wine, and it proved to be a wise choice. But Cava is not wannabe knock-off of Champagne, it is its own character. It is made in exactly the same manner (methóde champenois), and uses the same terms for dryness as in France, ranging from Brut Nature to Sweet. Freixenét is the only one brand allowed by the French to have ‘champagne’ on the label…it was grandfathered in before the French clamped down on the use of the name. Instead of a Rosé however, they call it Rosada. It is reminiscent of a Provencal Rosé, only sparkling, and now made in several areas of Spain. In La Rioja, I had both Brut and Rosada from such well-known names as CUNE (pronounced Cuné), Muga, and La Rioja Alta. I also had some from the French Basque country in both styles. They sell for 12-18€, and are better than most champagnes in that price range. Sadly, I have been unable to find the high quality ones here, only the major producers like Cordoníu and Freixenét.

I went to several tables and found what the Basque owners of our hacienda wanted us to try; Txocoli  (the name of the grape is Txocolina but they say: Choc-o-le since ‘tx’ in Basque is pronounced ‘ch’ – once you learn that reading signs is much easier). It has a slight fizz which they amplify by holding the bottle above their head and pouring it into a large tumbler on the side of the rim (the same way they pour their cidre (sidra). It is a refreshing and lower alcohol wine.

There were several worthy Brandies too. That is what brought me to Ximenéz-Spínola’s booth (‘xi’ is pronounced like José Jimenéz). A tall, well-dressed man, José Antonio Zarzana, was behind the booth and we began to talk while he made sure I had tasted all three of his sherries and two excellent brandies! As with every person I meet that is in the wine industry the ‘ice’ was quickly broken, and we became ‘buddies’. The label on their wine is absolutely beautiful: black and gold lettering on a white background – stunning!). I told him that the only ‘pedro ximenéz’ (the name of the grape which was brought to Spain by Roman soldiers who were responsible for spreading most of the grapes in Europe), I had seen in the U.S. was ‘PX’ and asked if that was theirs…wrong question! There are perhaps six good producers of pedro ximenéz, If it has that name on the bottle it means that the grapes were allowed to dry in the scorching sun for two to three weeks until it shrivels as the water is dehydrated. It is then very concentrated and aged for as long as twenty years before releasing it.

Sherries are made using the Solera method where barrels are stacked in rows and bottles are filled from the bottom row and replenished with the one from above until they reach the flavor that is desired from dry to sweet (Mansanilla to Pedro Ximenéz).

José is the viticultor (winemaker), and a descendent of one of the original family of producers in Jerez. They use ‘px’ grapes exclusively. When he took over as winemaker he introduced a new sherry in which he added some juice from the ‘px’ and created a very rich, semi-sweet sherry. We purchased a bottle of it (Exceptional Harvest), and consumed same in a couple of days. Yummy! We also bought a bottle of the Pedro Ximenéz, which I brought home and would have bought a Brandy if I could have brought that back too. These are expensive wines ranging from the ‘Old Harvest’ (20€), the ‘Exceptional Harvest’ (40€), and the PX at 45€….and worth every penny!

By the way, you don’t drink a glass of PX. It is so rich you drink less than an ounce. Despite the high price, in Spain they can be seen pouring it over ice cream. Later in the trip, at a terrific restaurant in Burgos (Restaurante Rincón de España). the owner, as a gift, poured each of us a glass from a just unopened bottle of 1996 PX. Nectar of the gods!

Next: a visit to La Rioja and a chance meeting with a bodega owner.

TB

©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.

Vol. 1 No. 9 …what is good wine?

(TB is really anxious to report on my trip to northwest Spain but I saw a blog today that just had to be reported in the wake of the arsenic ‘scare’: people are already increasing their price points on wine or as the TV show was called we’re  movin’ on up! Will try to get the Spain articles in this week. TBOW)

Customer: This wine tastes terrible!

Merchant: Really? Parker gave it a 90!

Customer: I’ll take two cases!

Don’t be that customer! Trust what you like, not what Robert Parker, Michel Rolland, or any other critic says is a good wine. For one thing, you  might serve it to friends and they might have the same tastes as you and like the customer, think it tastes terrible. $50 down the drain and worse, perhaps ruining a good meal (putting aside for a later column which wines pair well with food).

First, ‘good’ is a relative term: compared to what? Is a wine ‘good’ for a Cab? Is it good in the $50 and up range? Is it good value? Is it good by itself? …with food?

As TB writes this column those thoughts come back again and again. We have all heard someone tell us that is a good wine,  but then tried it and found it ‘so-so’ – or worse! A few decades ago Gerald Boyd, a prominent San Francisco-based wine writer, wrote an entire column that essentially asked this question.

He said, how can you accept a wine writer’s recommendation without knowing what he looks for in a wine? Does he like big, bold, tannic wines, like Robert Parker?  At the other end of the spectrum the late Robert Lawrence Balzer who wrote in the Los Angeles Times? An eccentric, pioneer wine writer who accomplished many things in his 99 years but who could talk as glowingly of Gallo Hearty Burgundy or Sutter Home White Zinfandel (they pioneered it in the 1970’s and Balzer wrote a column saying they were ‘on to something’, even though there is no such thing as a white Zin, a red grape that produces what we now know as a ‘blush’ wine), as a first growth Bordeaux.

This is the point of TBOW: you be the judge, not some recognized expert. Two of the most respected wine writers are Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson have had a ‘lively’ debate over which is better: Bordeaux or Burgundy? Since I have a friend who can‘t stand Pinot Noir (it makes him ill, and we have tried to trick him but somehow he always has the same reaction), it proves it is in the ‘nose’ and taste buds of the beholder.

Think of wine as NASA would: the cost difference between 90% reliability and 100%, or even  95%. Wine is not a matter of life or death so a wine that is 90% as good as a $100 wine (very subjective, of course), can cost as little as $25-30. If you want the expensive wine and can afford it, more power to you, but TB would suggest that fewer and fewer people either an afford an expensive bottle of wine or do not have the inclination (there was a time that this writer wanted and collected them but that is in the past having some that were disappointments when he finally drank them).

I want to recommend a great wine blog, www.thewineeconmist.com by Mike Veseth who is an economist who has chosen to study wine. In today’s blog (3.31.15), he discusses the impact of the financial crisis on wine consumption (actually all consumption was impacted). Wineries have seen their wine clubs ‘wither’, and downward pressure was exerted by wineries and wine shops who were finding it difficult to move their inventory,  significant discounting occurred in th ‘dead zone’ of $20 and up wines. As a table in the blog shows, sales of wine selling up to $8.99 a bottle are off (and will likely be more so with the new  arsenic ‘scare’). Meanwhile wines  from $9.00 to $11.99 have had increased sales of 7.2%; contrast this to wines from $6.00 to $8.99 which have declined by 3.2%! Below that level they are off from 0.1%- 1%. More significantly, wines selling for $12..00 to $14.99 are up by 10,6% and wines selling for $20 or more are up 15.7%! This is significant since total wine consumption  for the 52 weeks ended 12/6/14, as reported by Wine Business Monthly, was up just 3.4%! Think about it!

The extreme high end Bordeaux have priced themselves (been priced?) out of the range of all but a small percentage of consumers. Also, new laws in China which prohibit giving gifts (Lafite Rothschild was a favorite), have cut back on Chinese demand and the ‘spec  wine’ buyers have seen the values of their wine consortiums plummet. Also, you will find this hard to believe but there is counterfeiting  out there! No…not wine! Yes, wine and it is as old as Thomas Jefferson’s era. One would be wise to consider wines as consumables and stop gambling on demand and thus prices of rare wines continuing to rise.

In the movie, Red Obsession, the statement was made that the Chinese would buy up all the best wines in the world. TB chuckled at that because in 1989, just before the Japanese economy tanked, the same was said of Japan! Funny how that same year the went into a tailspin and have never emerged from it. The same may be true for China, and take TB’s word for it: no wine is worth even $100, except for the historical value, but do you feel lucky? It might be fake!

TB

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