Vol 3 No 11 The Best Wine in the World!!!

Let’s face it there is way too much wine in the world…way too much to consume and consumption is declining in Europe due to driving laws, flat in U.S. being again replaced by beer…due to those new craft breweries not Bud or PBR.

The wine industry too follows fads: who can forget the Sideways effect on Pinot Noir and Merlot – both on demand (price) and store placement (Merlot went from eye level to the bottom shelf, replaced by Pinot Noir…and not all of it good…as was the majority of Merlot). Of course there is the rating ‘fad’ (?), such as this scenario:

Guy in tasting room: This wine is awful!

Salesperson: Really??? Parker gave it a 90!

Guy: I’ll take two cases!

You laugh but that is what happens. As TB has stressed here many times: you are your own best critic! …and guess what? That guy will probably serve it at a dinner to his friends, and guess what? Most of them won’t like it! TRUST YOUR PALETTE, it is the best wine critic in the world…for you…and will likely be in line with most people.

Most wine is drunk within hours of being purchased…not even long enough for the wine to get rested and refreshed, especially if it is a red! How about laying it down for a week or two (at least), oh, and if you can pace yourself, when you serve it, keep a little to try the next night…most likely it will taste better if it is good wine! Far too many times I have loved a wine then found out it was only going to get better…patience is a good thing, especially with wine.

There is a wine blog: thewinegourd

You should do yourself a favor and check it out. Pretty interesting and sensible: unless you KNOW what a wine critic looks for in a wine (i.e. Parker and high tannins), and that meshes with what you like, look for tasting ratings of groups. As Wine Gourd shows graphically, you want the one that more tasters like…if you want to please the most people at say a dinner you are hosting (also note: just because you bring a bottle of wine to a dinner, unless requested that is up to the host…in other words it is simply a gift), go for the broad ratings. Here is an excerpt of a letter to a local wine maker I wrote to today on the subject:

As a winemaker you want to appeal to the broadest base of buyers for two reasons: one you want the buyer to like it; secondly, when that person pours it you want the majority of those at the table to like it.
When I was a wine snob I bought Parker 90+ wines until I realized I didn’t like these high tannin monsters that you have to hold decades to enjoy, and noted guests reactions and wine left in glasses to learn the lesson. Also, the vast majority of wines, sadly, are drunk within a week of purchase which fails to allow the wines to develop or even recover from their journey.
I see Parker as a paradox: he improved the quality of wines globally; he has contributed to the homogenization of wines trying to weed out terroir which I firmly believe in…as does my friend, Randall Grahm and other Rhone Rangers.
I also subscribe to Mike Veseth’s Wine Economist blog. If not familiar, Mike saw Sideways and was shocked to see the effect on Pinot Noir and Merlot prices and placement on shelves. You might want to look at back issues of The Wine Gourd fro further study.
This winemaker, discussed in an earlier post, won two golds in their respective classes at the San Francisco Chronicle’s Wine Tasting in January. No mean feat! As mentioned in the post (Vol. 3 No 9), there were 60 – count them sixty – judges, meaning these wines appealed to the broadest range of wine professionals.
By the way, both of those wines were in the $25 class…so you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for quality.
Twenty-eight years ago TB read a book that changed his outlook on wine, Kermit Lynch’s Adventures on the Wine Route…kind of a bible for Rhone Ranger, Burgundy, and Loire oenophiles. Couldn’t put my hands on it the other day and was angry with myself since it changed my view of wine and introduced me to so many wines I have come to enjoy over the years (decades?). So I went on Amazon and lo and behold there is a 25th Anniversary Edition, published in 2013, and I bought it in hardbound edition for less than the original list price too. Here are three things he did and didn’t do that make this edition the one to buy:
1. He added an epilogue rather than make changes to the original text…it is relatively short if you already read the first edition,
2. He tells what happened to some of the personalities in the first edition,
3. He lists the 25 favorite wines he has ever tasted, including the vintage (i.e a 1929 Chateau Y’Quem.
That’s all for today, folks…live, love, enjoy good wine…life is too short to drink plonk.
TB
©2017, traderbillonwine.com
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Vol. 3 No. 9 – a few of TB’s favorite Central Coast wineries

Here is an interesting problem. Friends are going to visit the Central Coast as I said in the last blog. They are flying in to different airports (LAX, San Jose, San Luis Obispo) and meeting in Paso Robles. Here are the distances and driving times (normal) between various cities and Paso Robles, the geographical center of the Central Coast:

From the north: Paso Robles from SFO 194 miles 3-1/4 hrs; from San Jose 160 mi, 2-1/2 hrs; from Santa Cruz 137 mi, 2-1/4 hrs – note these times are VERY variable!

From the south: Paso Robles from LAX 210 mi, 4 hrs (not in peak traffic!!!); from Ojai 158 mi, 2-3/4 hrs; from Santa Barbara 126 mi, 2 hrs; Los Olivos 91 mi, 1-1/2 hrs; Los Alamos 80 mi, 1-1/4 hrs; Santa Maria 64 mi, 1 hr.

Using this guide you can figure the distance between any two points along the route, to aid in calculating time to various wineries. Hope you find it helpful.

Santa Barbara is really the southern end of the Central Coast (unless you count Malibu Winery, and Moraga Winery, which TB doesn’t). It is really here for people who want to see more than the most visited towns.  The term here refers to Santa Barbara County which extends all the way to San Luis Obispo. Ojai Vineyard, Adam Tolmach is the most significant in the Southern region. Adam apprenticed under Ken Brown at Zaca Mesa, the first winery in Santa Barbara County (still alive and well in Ojai) along with Bob Lindquist, Jim Clendenon, and Lane Tanner among others. All of them are among the most influential winemakers in California. After leaving ZM, Adam and Jim were partners briefly before going their separate ways. Note that Zaca Mesa is still making incredibly good wines…but pricier these days.

Lindquist started Qupé winery, a Chumash indian word meaning ‘poppy’ and is a Rhone Ranger (more on this in Paso section), and teamed up with burgundian style winemaker, Jim Clendenon with a joint winery Au Bon Climat (or simply ABC). Jim is first and foremost interested in making wines of the quality found in Burgundy. While Bob started Qupé which he sold in 2013, but Bob continues as winemaker as well a producing Lindquist Family Cellars, Sawyer Lindquist wines, and some beautiful Spanish style wines under the Verdad Label (verdad means truth). His wines are all certified biodynamic.

The websites tell where their tasting rooms are, Jim’s in Santa Barbara, Bob’s in Santa Maria, but if you are going to be there on Saturday, October 14th the winery will be open from 11am to 3pm and you can taste all of their wines. At $20 it is a steal. Why? Because unless you are in the trade the winery is not open to the public at any other time during the year.

Earlier I mentioned Lane Tanner, who once made great pinots under her name, but the movie Sideways drove the price of pinot noir grapes to the moon, Alice…the moon, and on her smaller scale she could not compete. Have no fear, Lane has returned, teaming up with Will Henry of the Henry Wine Group which was sold last year and has turned “garagiste” but still making her acclaimed Pinot’s in Santa Maria, and other fine wines under the Lumen label. You can taste her wines in nearby Los Alamos at Pico, a wine bar serving tapas  (small plates) and featuring wine pairings dinners. Highly recommended!

Other wineries in the area are CambriaBaileyana  where winemaker Christian Roguenant came to after being brought over from France for the Deutz winery specializing in sparkling wines a and now called Laetitia, Alban (although it is unlikely you can visit them but they make superb Rhone style wines), Rancho Sisquoc, which is a fun small winery to visit on Foxen Canyon Road near Cambria and ABC. There is also Sanford & Benedict, and several more.

Moving north to San Luis Obispo is where we always stay in a beautiful French B&B, formerly a motel, called Petit Soleil. I can’t say enough about this wonderful place with warm owners and employees…better than France…with rooms in various French motifs, and the best wine tasting hour of anyplace we have ever found, and that is only topped off by their breakfasts. It is at the north end of SLO so you are very close to Paso Robles. Very close, if you need a lot of rooms is the Apple Farm, which began in 1924 and is the first motel in America…it has been remodeled but has been in continuous service since and it is at the extreme north end of town just before you go up the Cuesta Grade to Paso.

Santa Maria is the home of Santa Maria Barbecue…you must have it…a tri-tip grilled to perfection! San Luis Obispo has some wonderful restaurants both downtown by the beach and by Morro Bay. No need to go hungry here…whatsoever!

Finally, we are at Paso Robles and our primary destination. The choices are many and it is pretty much divided between west of town and east of town wineries. The first one I want to talk about is Eberle. Why? Because Gary Eberle was the original Rhone ranger, who first planted syrah there and with the exception of Joseph Phelps the first in California. He began at his family’s Estrella River Winery (now part of the Bronco Wines Group which makes Two Buck Chuck, aka Charles Shaw), then started his own winery. He makes Viognier, Syrah, Syrah Rosé, Côtes du Rôbles, as well as fine Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. He is often overlooked but he provided the ‘canes’ for Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon and Bob Lindquist among others. Both Randall and Bob credited Kermit Lynch with convincing them that there were some great Rhone wines and from that they embarked on their Rhone Ranger adventure.

Jumping to the other end of the spectrum is Tablas Creek, jointly-owned by Californian Robert Haas and the Perrin family which makes the great Chateau du Beaucastel (the highest rank of Chateauneuf-du-Pape). Had it not been for the Rhone Rangers (Graham was the first to be labeled that by Wine Spectator, but he acknowledges Eberle as preceding him). Tablas Creek makes all the other Rhone varietals too including mouvèdre, grenache, grenache blanc, rousanne, marsanne. There flagship wine used to be Esprit de Beaucastel but switched the name to Esprit de Tablas, perhaps to avoid confusion? The only other winemakers I know in the region that does this many is Bob Lindquist and Randall Graham…these are great wines to enjoy. Note that October 20-22 is Paso Robles Harvest Weekend…Tablas Creek among others has a great event.

Other top wines in the area are Justin, which was started in 1981 and has since been sold to the Fiji water company (I kid you not) and recently made news for removing a large number of trees without a permit…they apologized for the omission…yeah, right.  There is a tasting room in Paso for Turley Wine Cellars named after acclaimed winemaker, Helen Turley. Her zins are single vineyard and come from Napa as well as Paso Robles (her brother may now be running the winery). They are distinct and either you love them or don’t see them as zinfandel…Rather than name the rest of the wineries, here is a link to a downloadable map. Also, here is a list of Paso Robles wineries by varietal if you have a special interest…very useful!

A friend who lives there took me to Linne Calodo winery which is a favorite of the locals in adjoining Templeton. This is the type of place you might miss but is adored by the locals.

Heading north from Paso are thousands of acres of grapes on both sides of Highway 101. They are pretty flat and personally not of much interest to TB, but when you get to Santa Cruz, things change. First is the aforementioned Bonny Doon with a winery in the town of that name but the tasting room is about 10 miles north of downtown Santa Cruz in Davenport on Route 1…again, highly recommended, especially if Randall happens to be there – don’t worry he is very friendly and approachable…his life revolves around his wine.

Higher in the Santa Cruz mountains are a few more wineries, most notably Ridge, which also is located in Healdsburg on the mountain adjoining Dry Creek Valley, but it is here that their acclaimed and long-lived Montebello, and especially coveted Lytton Springs, are produced. Lytton Springs has one of the longest lives of any wine made in America.

I enjoyed the trip down memory lane and hope you find it useful…I think I’ll go have a glass of wine now!

What kind of wine does a wine geek choose for a special occasion? In this case, it was our 48th anniversary, so I built the dinner around the wine. A million years ago when my son-in-law, then a chef, and I toured Tuscany and Piemonte, we had the best steak I ever had in Europe: a Florentine steak. Most beef there is rather tough and lacking in flavor, but if you baste a nice thick top sirloin or similar with aged (in this case 20 year old) Balsamico,a little salt and pepper and some rosemary and a few other herbs, then grill it perfection…to us that is between rare and medium rare, it is exceptional! Rummaging through my cellar I stumbled across a 2007 (not a typo) Chianti Classico, not even a reserva from Felsina, the first Chianti ever on the Top 100 Wines of the World by Wine Spectator and consistently on that list. We visited Felsina and another favorite Volpaia (which is at the opposite end of Tuscany in a medieval town of that name, and when they built the winery the owners put all the utilities underground, hence no wires, and no cars on the streets in this little hillside town. They have four apartments you can rent for a minimum one-week stay. We were allowed to stay for one night -secluded and fantastic.

How was it? Incredible…we both loved it: it was fresh, no signs of aging. The next night I poured two glasses of the remainder which I accidentally left out overnight with using my Vacuvin and handed one to my wife and asked how she liked it. She loved it…said it was even better than the one the previous night. Oh really??? It was the same wine, and yes, it had improved…amazing for a 10 year old Chianti! That is the holy grail: storing a wine for long period…in a passive wine cellar I might add…and then being blown away by its charm and complexity.

Ciao bella,

TB

©Copyright 2017 by traderbillonwine.com

 

 

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.

 

 

Vol.1 No.24 …why bigger isn’t better…in beer OR wine…

In the last episode, TB unloaded on the AB ImBev-SAB/Miller buyout. Do you really think that is good for the industry? Consider this: TB went to lunch yesterday and on the list of craft beers was Stella Artois…at $8 the most expensive beer on tap. Hmmm, is it that good? It IS good, but with literally hundreds of craft beers springing up all over the country, their might be more competition than the behemoths think. There is a good profit in a craft beer and attempting to raise the price on Bud, Miller, or even Stella likely won’t fly as the closer they get in price to those fine craft beers being made virtually everywhere in the country, people might just revolt from the swill that passes as beer (oops, I exaggerate but you get the point).

Now let’s look at the BIG wineries…to satisfy their audience who most likely aren’t oenophiles, they strive for consistency from year to year. The also have to buy grapes from many growers and their profit margins aren’t that wide – the profit comes from volume. That is why a winery that produces 10,000-25,000 cases cannot charge less than $20 and frequently has to charge $25 to $35. But as TB has frequently noted: globally, good wine is forcing out bad…bad wine cannot be sold at any price. Last year, three million gallons of French wine were turned into ethanol. Think those winemakers got the point?

Some people who rant about wine prices blame it on fancy labeling, heavy bottles, and many more issues. The fact is that 80% of the cost of producing wine is labor. Now add in the investment in real estate, the cost of maintaining vineyards, stainless steel, oak barrels, and much more…and guess what? After all that, even if you do everything right, you can have a bad year. That is why the late winemaker Joe Heitz told me that people think wine is romantic…it’s agriculture…farming.

So, don’t you think those people deserve to make a profit? They are not faceless corn or wheat farmers, who people never consider when there is a drought, infestation, or a huge glut that drives prices down…and don’t forget farmers…and grape growers have big cash flow issues and have to borrow to match their revenues and expenditures. Did you stop to think of that?

Previously, TB said, drink your Two-Buck Chuck or whatever you like during the week then get adventurous on weekends. Spend some money on good wines you have never tried or like. One way to satisfy both conditions of value and quality is to go to restaurants associated with a wine shop. There, you buy the wine and bring it to the restaurant (usually next door), and they waive the corkage fee. Now you can buy a $30 wine and not pay $50 for it. I will list two that I know, one in Walnut Creek, California, PRIMA, a northern Italian restaurant, and one in Minnetonka, MN, called Spazzo, also Italian. But there are others and you can find them, if you look and ask around.

While we are on this topic, it appalls TB to see wine lists that take advantage of the customer. First, the markup in sparkling wines is outrageous…sometimes a common Prosecco can cost as much by the glass as an entire bottle. Then there are the wine list themselves. No self-respecting restaurateur – or a sommelier that works for one – should have the commonplace wines on their carte de vins that has a plethora of the most common names at double or even triple the price. Along with this goes the wine lists that you swear you have seen before. Most likely you have with a few changes. Distributors offer to print the wine lists for free and then pack them with their own wines and provide the pricing. That is one stupid move by a fledgling owner and says volumes about her care for the restaurant. If she does this with the wine, does she look for the best meats and vegetables or just the cheapest? On my last trip in a great restaurant in Genessee Depot, WI, that I bet none of you ever heard of, The Union House, built in 1864 (?), I had a wonderful wine dinner. It will be discussed in a blog most likely early next week. Folio Wines provided the pairings and the chef did wonders with them. The distributor who set up the dinner said he was originally a consultant to restaurants on their wines before becoming a distributor. The wine list here showed his expertise…who would have thought? By the way, as obscure as the restaurant sounds it is only about ten minutes off I-94 near Delafield, and coming from Minnesota about half an hour before you get to The Dells. A must!!!

On etiquette, other than the examples above, never go to the store and buy a current release wine and take it to a restaurant. It is bad form here and you will still have to pay the corkage fee, which nowadays can be as high as $20 a bottle (oh, and that is a 750ml bottle so don’t try sneaking in a magnum at the same price). You can bring in a treasured bottle but always ask when making the reservation…and here is a tip: sometimes offering the somme a taste of a memorable wine will result in the corkage fee being waived.  But note it is either bad form or not allowed to bring wine into a restaurant in Europe…think about that.

In Adventures on the Wine Route, Kermit Lynch describes going to the cellar of a vigneron in Burgundy and tasting some exquisite wines. The man then said lets go get something to eat and they went to a local truck stop (not a joke), where a carafe of the house wine was ordered. Kermit noted that it tasted like “shit”, and the man said it is worse than that, it is “shit de merde”. So why would a man with a great cellar at his disposal do this? He said to bring his own wine would insult the owner. More food for thought.

Now if TB hasn’t succeeded in hammering into your brain what wine is all about, you may as well stop reading because you don’t get it and never will. That is your prerogative. But if you want to see hard-working people make a living, and want to continue to drink their wines…show them some respect and support…please!

To those of you who want to hear about the trip and the names of some of the wineries, TB promises he will do it next week. It is a lot to organize…thank you for your patience.

TB

©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.

Vol. 1 No. 22 …back home again from NYC/Canada roadtrip…

(Readers note: when I began this blog I had planned to post at least once every two weeks. I did not want to waste my, or my readers, time ‘just to get something out there’. The problem with that is people forget and come back and see no updates – the last was on 9/24 shortly before I left on the wine trip. IF you like the blog, please add your email to follow and you will be notified when there is an update. You can, of course, unsubscribe at any time. Thank you, the management) 

…an incredible trip of 4,200 miles in 19 days…not as daunting as it sounds. Despite the fall colors, not that many tourists out there. Haven’t even tallied up the number of wineries I visited and was very impressed. Long Island, Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes, Niagara (mainly on Canadian side). DO NOT underestimate these wineries! Overall quality was very good and many were excellent!

Where to start…well…not where you might expect. Starting right here in Excelsior, MN, where we got home on Friday afternoon. I had two reasons for this: first, Total Wines here was having Gaia Gaja speaking on the Gaja wines – or so I thought. For $20 she spoke with a Q and A followed by a tasting of Gaja wines – some but not the very high end ones that cost more than $200. I then found out (and it made sense) this was a teleconference that could be viewed in any of their stores and having recently tasted the Gaja portfolio, I passed. Several years ago I visited the winery in Barbaresco, Piemonte, Italy. Some time later The Wine Club in San Francisco posted in their newsletter that she was interning at their store following one at Robert Mondavi. I went down and was privileged to meet a ‘cautious’ Gaia, who was charming and opened up once she realized I had been to the winery and met several of her friends in Barbaresco. As it turns out, she is now running the winery, having taken over from her father, Angelo. If I can connect with her again, it will be the subject of a later blog.

So, while that was a bust, the other reason I came back was for a tasting of Italian wines at The Wine Republic here in Excelsior, MN. Patti Berg and RJ Judalena (and their precious daughter, Orla), opened a specialty wine shop here a little over a year ago. Their niche is that they only carry wines that are either organic, sustainable, or biodynamic. Besides being environmentally friendly, these methods are growing in popularity…in California, mostly sustainable, and in Sonoma all wineries will be sustainable by 2020. I also saw on the trip of both sustainable and organic (only one certified organic), and one biodynamic which is also starting to catch on in California. Although it has been since sold, Justin winery in Paso Robles was doing it when they started.. Without getting technical (which I can’t because I don’t fully understand it), it involves planting by the phases of the moon and much more…think Farmers Almanac.

By carrying only these environmentally-friendly wines (along with some beers, ciders, and hard liquor that meet the criteria), it limits the number of wines so you don’t see a wall (which is what you will see at Total, Wine Club, or any large wine store), of confusing wines – some of which may have been standing for a year or more. Instead, you can browse or tell them what you like (isn’t that what TB has been trying to tell you here?), and they will show you their wines that might appeal to you.

But the other thing they do is host weekly tastings of wines they carry and sometimes very special tastings of wines. Cost of the regular tastings is $5 which can be applied to any purchase, while the special tastings cost $10 (so far at least) but due to the large number of wines tasted, can not be applied, but trust TB, they are worth it.

The first of these was France is for Lovers, featuring wines distributed by Berkeley, Ca. importer/distributor Kermit Lynch, who has done more than anyone to promote wines from the south of France which were previously obscure, and was the first to come up with the idea of temperature controlled shipping containers for all of his wines – especially important on the West Coast where they frequently travel through the Panama Canal. It took several years for another distributor to replicate this. He also is author of several wine books, the most enjoyable being Adventures Along the Wine Route, written more than 20 years ago and recently updated, which drove TB’s passion for wine. It is a thoroughly enjoyable read, even for wine novices or those just interested in French travel. The tasting included 25 of his wines and provided the taster with the ability to try wines they might never have the nerve or inclination to buy. It was very festive an even featured a beret-donned accordion player to set the mood!

Saturday’s was Italian Opera and Wine, featuring 22 wines from FIVE different Minnesota distributors, The quality was high and the prices blew me away – TB marked 11 as having exceptional value (range $16 to $30). Especially notable were four alternative whites including a Soave (Tamellini) – a wine I wrote of long ago; a Ca Lojera LuganaTrebbiano which blew me away; 47 Anno Domini Pinot Grigio (also a Prosecco that was fabulous), with a beautiful floral nose that finished very dry, an amazing PG that I had never seen before. Lastly, a deliciously sweet but very clean 47 Anno Domini Moscato – yummy. If you haven’t ever had any Malvira wines you are in for a surprise. Their Brachetto D’acqui Birbet is a beautiful, succulent red that seduces you. Note that Malvira’s Roero Arneis Sargietto is highlighted in 1000 Wines to Taste Before You Die. If you haven’t ever tasted an Arneis you will be surprised by the wonderful flavors. TB first tasted it at Vietti in Piemonte, on a private tour by founder Alfredo Corrado, then in his 80’s and recently deceased. Roero means wild and Arneis is the river that flows through Piedmont stretching past Asti and Alba. He was the Robert Mondavi of the Piedmont region, an unbelievably wonderful man. Caution: never buy an old Arneis…the one cited in the book was a 2004. They should be drunk young and not exposed to heat. Two of the reps/pourers (Marcus and Dustin) as well as a young lady sang opera spaced throughout the tasting adding to the experience.

Kudos to Patti and RJ for both of these events and there will no doubt be more to follow.

Okay, back to work on sorting out the trip. Several of the posts will be up over the next week or so. Hope you enjoyed this one. Au revoir, ciao, adios, friends. If you enjoy the site simply add your email – you can cancel it at any time.

TB

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