Vol 3 No 10…don’t cry for me Argentina…

I had an unexpectedly nice surprise in many ways at a wine tasting of Domaine Bousquet wines from Argentina hosted by the Wine Republic in Excelsior, MN. Guiding us through the tasting were the owners, Labid Al Ameri and his wife Ann Bousquet, a charming couple who like Naji and Jill Boutros of Chateau Belle-Vue in Lebanon, are making a difference (see vol. 2, no 7), both had a Cinderella story, and both are doing good things for the people of their respective countries and making really good wines at the same time.

Both of these couples care deeply for the country and the people. They both hire as many local people as possible. In the Boutros’s case it is to keep and have people return to their small town in the hills beside Beirut. They ‘invested’ in peoples land rather than buy it outright and created two internet companies to keep people from leaving. Likewise the Bousquet-Al Ameri’s have hired local people rather than outsiders, such as winemakers, and in addition to being organic are a ‘fair trade’ company which in Argentina means effectively collective bargaining with their employees. There, a pool of funds is created and the employees form a board to determine how it should be allocated, removing that decision from the landowners. Makes sense to TB…if you want to improve the quality of life. Remember both of these families live in small towns and wish to spread the wealth around not have a huge wealth gap with their employees struggling to survive.

The story begins with Ann growing up in the Languedoc in the medieval walled town of Carcassonne. We had visited the Languedoc and Carcassonne in 1997, when the vast majority of the wines were substandard due to Co-ops and pricing the grapes based on weight alone, still, if you can’t change the wine you can change the way the food is prepared to create a pleasant combination (when we travel, wherever we are we drink the local wines and I have made the mistake of buying some and then when I got home they didn’t taste all that good causing me to wonder what I was thinking when I bought them). The Co-op just outside the small town of La Clape (seriously, and it is now a DOCG if you can believe that!), had what looked like a 1930’s gas pump which delivered the wine for one franc a litre! People came in with whatever jugs they had…even saw a Clorox bleach bottle – egad!

Ann came to the U.S. to study at St. Cloud State University and there she met Labid, who was originally from Iraq but grew up in Madrid. Then, in 1990, her father, whose family produced wine in France, went to Argentina with the intention of planting grapes near Mendoza. Just south in the small town of Tupungato he found what he wanted: 110 hectares (about 260 acres) at 4,000 feet elevation with the soils to provide the terroir, he found what he was searching for. There were no other vineyards in the area and everyone thought he was crazy (reminiscent of my friend Carles Pastrana of Clos de l’Obac in Priorat, Spain, also at a high elevation). Despite this he purchased the land in 1997 and planted grapevines in 2002 with the first harvest in 2005. By this time he had recruited Labid and Ann to run the winery…okkaayy…and he focused on the vines. Like the Rhone Rangers of Paso Robles he brought in canes in his suitcases, and planted them. Due to the elevation there was little concern for phylloxera and other pests and they immediately decided to get organic certified, a process that takes three years to insure no chemicals are used and the government checks every year. They also use no sulfites as a preservative which is a common cause of headaches in some people.

The grapes are hand-picked and handled carefully and their ‘big’ wines are stored in 500 litre French Oak foudres in their underground cellar. Their softer wines use a combination of 80% French and 20% American Oak, mostly neutral so as not to impart harsh tannins. Their white wines are fermented in stainless steel and include a chardonnay (which spends three months on lies), white blend, and sauvignon blanc. They also produce two sparkling wines, a lower priced blend of 75% chardonnay and 25% pinot noir using the Charmat process (in vats), and the premier one made in the traditional or methode Champenois manner (in the bottle).

As for still wines they make a 2016 Rosé of Malbec which is delicious and very much like similar Rhone wines. We also had a 2013 Reserve Malbec which was 85% Malbec and 15% cabernet sauvignon, that to me was better than any Malbec I have previously had primarily due to the blending. A 2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was elegant with soft tannins and wonderful fruit and spice flavors.

The remaining two wines were 2013 Gaia (not to be confused with the Piemontese wine maker Angelo Gaja whose daughter is now running the business…her name is Gaia, which is the Greek Goddess of Earth…I was pleased to see they weren’t going to have any trademark problems or be accused of trying to confuse buyers. This wine, the only one in a beautiful artist label bottle while the rest are in plain block letters was my favorite, which made Ann very happy as it is her baby.

We finished with a 2012 Ameri which is Labid’s favorite and I found to be incredibly rich for a Malbec blend. Made in French oak it has black pepper and soft tannins yet should serve well until 2022. It was the most expensive of the flight yet still under $35, which I think is a steal. The rest of the wines are in the $10-20 range which makes them great value. I bought the Gaia and the Reserve Cab at about the same price as the Ameri, which to me was the best deal but I would not hesitate to spring for the Ameri which should make Labid happy.

Lastly, although readers know of TB’s dislike for ratings (to put it mildly), you would be hard-pressed to find one of these values with less than a 90 and several in thee 92-95 range. While that means little to me, it says a lot to see that much consistency. As the saying goes…try it, you’ll like it!

Best,

TB

©2017 traderbillonwine.com

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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. 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

©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

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