Save 50% – Pre-Order the new book from Wine Folly

WineFollyBookAmong the many producers of wine info-graphics, WineFolly is the consistent winner in terms of creativity and the visual display of information.  And now the minds behind these reliable graphics are coming out with a new book, available for under $12 when you pre-order on Amazon (sorry, U.S. only).

Check it out here – http://bit.ly/WineFollyBookOffer

I’ve not yet seen the book, but perusing the preview on Amazon provides a good indication that it will be a useful and reliable guide to wine and the grapes that produce them.  Wine Folly seems to have brought to wine literature what DK Publishing brought to tourism guides.

Cheers!
Dave

The “New” Ice Bucket Challenge?

I’ve watched with great interest the viral success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  Congrats to ALS for this most deserved windfall.

And now, I wonder “what’s next”?  Every non-profit in the country is studying this case to find ways to replicate it.  Well, I think can speak for all the Managers at all the Tasting Rooms for every winery when I say “I hope  the next big trend is NOT the Spit Bucket Challenge”.  So messy.

Is the "Spit Bucket Challenge" Next?

P.S.  October of 2014 marks the 10-yr anniversary of this movie.  You’d be amazed how many of my Millenial customers have no idea what it was.  It’s worth the $4-$5 you’ll spend on the DVD!

New Union Wine Co. Ad Campaign Pokes Fun At Wine Snobs

Every once in a while, if you’re lucky, you get to see an ad campaign that changes your industry. You may have to set your way-back machine all the way back to the Bartles & James Wine Cooler era before you’ll see a series of ads to match the “Pinkies Down” series from Union Wine Company out of Oregon.

I find the ads to be hysterical, poking fun at the techniques and (often) pretense that a thorough knowledge of wine requires. After the various actor-snobs establish their unabashed and off-putting wine bonafides in four amusing scenarios, salvation is delivered in the form of the Union Wine Co product – wine in a can.

Kudos to the agency Story Manufacturing Company out of Portland. Even if you don’t have the time to watch all of them right now, do it anyway. Especially if you’re in the wine industry. Here’s the first one to get you started. Just look for the links to the remainder after this one finishes.

Wine Snob - Ad for Canned Wine

Cheers!  Dave the Wine Merchant

What Wine Pairs With Spring Salads?

White wines with Spring salds

Spring arrived early this year.  And though I am covering my optimism with some naked puts on late frosts, we are enjoying our warm spring weather as we live in denial of California’s ongoing drought.

One of the early indicators of Spring at our olive ‘farm’ in Boonville is the arrival of Miner’s Lettuce (AKA Winter Purslane.  See photo.) along or walking route on Anderson Valley Way.  Foraging for this tasty but short-lived treat has become part of our seasonal ritual.  Dress these greens very simply with a squeeze of lemon, our Lila Farms EVOO and a bit of crunchy, flaky sea salt – our favorite comes from Mendocino’s Bob La Mar, or simply “Captain Bob’s” in our household.

We’ve harvested many baskets worth of Miner’s Lettuce over the past few years.  It has a thicker texture than most lettuces, with less veins and more leaf.  One might say it’s meaty in its texture, though that description seems a bit lacking – the flesh of an animal used to describe a vegetarian delight?  Maybe it’s best described as just this side of baby spinach, with the hopes that you know what that delight is like.  But don’t steam or saute this treat or you’ll miss it’s toothiness.

Recommended Wine Pairing
The wine to pair with Miner’s Lettuce doesn’t differ all that much from the wines that pair with most spring salads.  Spring greens exude an enthusiasm for life, a fresh greeniness that the wine needs to compliment.  For this reason, and I hate to dissapoint the “I drink red with everything” crowd, you really must eschew anything with more than a tint of color.  Crisp, dry Rose’s work well.  Heavy Chardonnay does not, Chablis-style does.  Sauvignon Blanc is brilliant, though the extreme versions from New Zealand would over-power.  Crisp whites from Northern Italy or Iberia are brilliant.  But, when are they not?

A Word on Acidity
Salad dressing is the one ingredient that ruins most wine pairings, so the wise host will focus the wine choice around the dressing.  Here’s your fool-proof guide – pair acid with acid.  In other words, if you have a dressing that features vinegar or citric acid, ask your local fine wine merchant for a white wine with similar acidity.  Because the wine world has its own vocabulary, you might hear words such as “Crisp” and “good structure” or “acidic backbone” when referring to such wines.  

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Dave the Wine Merchant

Wine Club Shipment – New Selections!

Keenan Res Merlot 2010 LabelWell, it’s done!  This month’s wine shipment to members of our wine clubs.

This week, 11 different wine selections were shipped to our club members.  Or should I say, we shipped wine to those members living in states where the thermostat allows for the safe delivery of wine – the rest of your packages are enjoying a bit of quiet repose in the shop’s basement.  Baby Blue label

Once your shipment arrives, you’ll find the latest additions to my curated portfolio, any of which you can order here

In case your copy of my wine notes gets lost, you can read them here – 2014-02 Wine Club Notes, all wines.

Buil et Gine Montsant 17XIAnd finally, if you’re looking for guidance on pairing your wines with food, you’re bound to find some new favorites among our home-tested recipes, complete with recommended wine pairings.

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Dave “the Wine Merchant”
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Highlights from Taste of the Bay 2013

2013 Taste of the Bay

Sending congratulations to the student organizers of last night’s ‘Taste of the Bay’ event in the Julia Morgan ballroom.  There are many charity fund-raising events you can attend in San Francisco.  I’ve been to many.  But this is the only one I know of where the organizers are full-time students in SFSU’s Hospitality Management track.  Many of them also hold part-time jobs in addition – oh to have that resilience and energy once again.

Dessert Table - 2013 Taste of the BayThe food options were more than ample, and most of the samples offered fell somewhere between ‘excellent’ and ‘outstanding’.  To compliment the food offerings the student organizers recruited a handful of breweries (of course, the community-oriented Lagunitas Brewery was pouring!) and about a dozen Wineries, pouring 2-5 wines each.  

It took some work and much jostling but I managed to taste all the wines.  My favorites were the Chardonnays and/or Pinots from Thomas George (formerly the Davis Bynum property), Hook & Ladder, and Moshin, as well as the ’08 Cabernet from Xurus (pronounced Hoo Roos) from Lake County.

Special kudos to the entrepreneurs behind “Spicy Vines” – wines infused with spices without using heat to steep the spices (which makes so many mulled wines bitter, hence the need for sweeteners).  I laud their risky venture inspired by the traditional winter wines found in many Old World wine regions – it’s the traditional drink that greets vineyard workers after a cold morning of pruning vines.  Spicy Vines offers fun, unique wines you can serve warmed or at room temperature.  I encourage you to try them here.

Winemaker Bryan Harrington, Dr. Kathy O'Donnell, SFSU
Winemaker Bryan Harrington, Dr. Kathy O’Donnell, SFSU

Though not pouring at the event, I enjoyed learning about the no-sulfite techniques being employed by Bryan Harrington for his “Terrane” line of wines.  He uses chilled CO2 to extract the natural oxygen-inhibiting properties of grape seeds in place of the more commonly applied SO2.  I’ll be stopping by his facility on Custer Ave soon, and will report on the highlights.  Bryan’s eponymous ‘Harrington Wines’, one of San Francisco’s urban wineries, features a couple dozen obscure Cal-Ital wines, each crafted in very limited quantities.

Dr. Colin Johnson, Chair of SFSU Hospitality & Travel Mgmt Program
Dr. Colin Johnson, Chair of SFSU Hospitality & Travel Mgmt Program

I encourage you to attend next year’s event, or to sponsor a table if you’re in the hospitality industry, to help support this most worthy cause.

Cheers!

Dave “The Wine Merchant”

Disclaimer.  For the past six years, I have been a regular guest lecturer for SFSU on the “History of California Wines” and “Deductive Tasting Techniques”.

Synopsis – “The Wine Shortage vs. Wine Surplus” Debates

The wine industry’s been abuzz with counter-arguments to last month’s Morgan Stanley report on pending wine shortages.  In summarizing the opposing views for the speech I gave on Friday (Global Wine Supply – Surplus or Shortage?) it seems fair to summarize the arguments as follows:

  1. Morgan Stanley focuses on several long-term trends which indicate a shortage with little near-term relief possible
    • Rapidly expanding demand in China
    • Moderately expanding demand in U.S.
    • Reduced area under vine, globally
    • Depleted stocks, worldwide
  2. Opponents point out the potential bias of the report
    • Morgan Stanley benefits from a rush to purchase, as they have the struggling Treasury Wine Estates on their “buy” list
    • Treasury just wrote off tens of millions of dollars (USD) worth of wine, dumped due to inability to sell it prior to spoilage date
    • Other analyst groups calling for Treasury to sell its primary US holding – Beringer Brothers
    • Were Treasury to sell Beringer, it would benefit from a perceived shortage
    • “We’ve seen this cycle before” – An artificial shortage was predicted in the 1990’s, resulting in a flurry of purchases, an over-supply, and a crash.
    • Most of the reduction in area under vines was in France and Italy, where consumption is decreasing due to EU regulations on alcoholic beverages
    • China’s growth in demand was dealt a blow by recent laws that regulate gifting.  This will impact the higher end.
    • If China is to continue the rising demand for low-end wines, they will have to continue economic growth at the same rate as seen for the past decade.  China’s growth has been slowing as of late, and there are concerns about a real estate bubble.

So it seems Morgan Stanley may have a conflict of interest, and the vocal “anti-shortage” writers have the upper hand.  

WSJ graphic - Wine Consumption by price pointBut the Morgan Stanley report is also based on some valid long-term trends.  For example, I’ve seen no accounting for the impact of rising water prices on vineyards.  And globally, water is becoming a commodity over which battle will be done.  It seems clear that agriculture won’t be getting the same cheap water that justified the cost of many water-intensive crops.  For example, recent press covered growers in California’s Central Valley pulling out substantial vineyard acreage for this very reason, and the Central Valley is one of the state’s primary sources of inexpensive wine grapes destined for wines under $11 (73% of the market – See WSJ graphic from IRI data, right.)

So, over the long term, and perhaps not in time for Treasury to sell Beringer for a premium, it seems the Morgan Stanley report might prove to be wise investment advice.  But as with most things these days, much depends on China.

Cheers,

Dave

Experience the “Insider’s” Napa

Would life be better if you owned a winery?  Would you rock the wine world?  Be the envy of everyone you meet?  Well here’s the next best thing.

Smack dab in the midst of Napa’s 2013 grape harvest, here’s a long weekend you’ll remember for the rest of your life.  Channel your inner Lucy and go knee-deep at the grape stomping competition.  Take home wine you bottled*.  Welcome Napa Winemakers to your table.  Dine by candle light surrounded by century-old barrels.  In short, see Napa like an industry insider.

To make this all possible, the folks at Chicago Magazine and I have developed this “Insider’s Tour” of Napa. If you can join us, here’s what you’re in for… 

"Insider's Napa" Tour - Itinerary Logo

Weekend Itinerary: (Items subject to change)

Friday, Sept. 20th
Arrival, Reception and Dinner

Napa signArrive SFO before 3:00PM Pacific Time.  Hop aboard one of the hourly shuttles to the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa – your home base for this “insider’s” weekend.

6:00 PM — Welcome Reception. Get to know your fellow wine enthusiasts and meet boutique producers you won’t find in wine shops back home. Who knows?  One or two winemakers might even show up, if we can tear them away from their 20-hour days during harvest.

7:00 PM — Garden-to-Table Dinner.  You want Fresh?  You want seasonal??  Join Chef Brian Whitmer in the hotel garden to pick ingredients for your al fresco dinner.  He may fly below your radar, but Chef Whitmer has chops.  His resume includes stints managing culinary operations for the Masters of Food and Wine, working with New York’s Daniel Boulud at Polo Club and Bradley Ogden at San Francisco’s Campton Place before earning Esquire’s “Best Restaurant” nod for his work at Montrio in Monterey.  Brian and I will work together to perfectly pair Napa wines with each of your three courses.

Saturday, Sept 21st
Napa’s Emerging Winemakers

9:00 AM — Enjoy breakfast in the hotel at your convenience.  Or arrange for an early spa treatment.  Or take a lap in the pool.  Just don’t be late, because the bus leaves at 10:50 sharp for your next immersion experience…

11:00 AM — Bottle Your Own Barrel at the Ried Family Vineyards
A wine bottling party - Reid Family VyrdsOwner Kirk Reid leads us through his family’s vineyard, then through the production facility and on to the bottling room where you’ll bottle the barrel of wine purchased for your group – all 24 cases.  As reward for your hard work, you’ll gather around the farmer’s table for lunch overlooking the vineyard.  When you get home and open a wine you bottled, the story pours out with the wine.

Ried Family Vineyards are a boutique winery, crafting a miserly 400 cases each year.  Yes, that’s hundred.  The family ‘s Napa roots date back to the mid 1800’s, though their vines date back to 1992.  Their vineyard provides homes for vines producing choice Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Petite Verdot, and Viognier.

3:00 PM — Private Tasting at Kenzo Estate
Kenzo Estate ownerWhat would you do with an extra $100,000,000?  If you’re video game tycoon Kenzo Tsujimoto, you buy 3,800 acres in Napa and build a custom winery to produce world-class wines.  Kenzo Estate produces just 11,000 cases of such wine, most of which is exported to Japan.  But you’ll get to taste Kenzo’s rare wines ($80 – $250 a bottle) in the luxury of their hospitality facility and have the opportunity to purchase them directly from the winery.  (3-minute video – Kenzo Estate in the news)

6:45 PM — Stomp Grapes!  
Entrance to Castello di AmorosaYou’ll eat dinner on Saturday at the “Harvest and Grape Stomp Party” at the beautiful Castello di Amorosa.  Winery owner Darius Sattui built this Italianate castle, complete with dungeon and various hidden chambers, over the course of a decade.  He was inspired to build it during trips to Italy, where he was struck by the celebratory Italian spirit of food and wine, friends and family.  Grape stomping competitionThat was something he wanted to bring home to Napa.  But while you and I might bring home Italian spirit with a painted dish or an airport tchotchke, Darius built a castle.  And it’s here he hosts the annual harvest party you’ll be joining.

What do you wear to a stomp party?  Leave the coat and khakis at the hotel and break out whatever goes with grape juice stains.  (Note, grape stomping is not required.  You’ll still be fed if grape-colored calves aren’t your thing.)  Click the image to view video from last year’s event.

Sunday, Sept 22nd
Napa’s Classic Winemakers

9:00 AM — Breakfast and Bubbles
Breakfast with Bubbles on Mumm's patioAfter a hard night of stomping grapes, you’ll need a breakfast with bubbles to get going.  And there’s no more scenic spot for sipping on bubbly than on Mumm’s patio (weather permitting) or glassed-in dining area.  

One can never tell what September mornings will bring.  But if it’s a clear Sunday you’ll watch hot air balloons as you enjoy breakfast.  Or maybe you’ll just want a cuppa java to get going – take it to go and stroll through Mumm’s famed photo gallery to start your day.  Your continental breakfast will provide just enough to get you off the launch pad – which is perfect, given that your three-course lunch is just a short time away…

11:30 AM — Mondavi Immersion
Our private tasting in Mondavi's barrel roomHow can an “insider’s tour” include wines carried in every wine shop around the world?  Because you’ll see it as no regular tourist does.  And because you’ll want to take home a deeper knowledge of this icon of the wine world to share with as many friends as possible.  Appreciating this winery’s impact on Napa, and the whole Mondo Vino, is your foundation for appreciating today’s entrepreneurs.  

You’ll begin with a vineyard tour hosted by a Mondavi’s historian, who will then guide us through the production facility and a private tasting of their Reserve wines in the breath-taking barrel room (above right). You’ll end your visit with a leisurely three-course lunch (with wine pairing) served in their hospitality facility.

2:30 PM — Restoring Inglenook!
Our private tasting and tour at the re-christened InglenookYou’ll enjoy a private tour and tasting at this facility, until recently known as Niebaum-Coppola/Rubicon Estates. This magnificent estate is home to one of the valley’s finest Bordeaux blends — Rubicon.  Is there a better way to learn how to detect the distinctive “Rutherford Dust” found in Cabernets from this exclusive part of Napa?  The short answer is no.

And the winery’s history is just as intriguing – it was Inglenook’s early history from the mid 1800’s that inspired owner Francis Ford Coppola to abandon plans for a simple “weekend get-away” in favor of re-building Inglenook.  After two decades and countless millions spent acquiring the property’s original vineyards, he’s now completed this Herculean task, and restored the property to its original name – Inglenook.  You’ll be among the early visitors to this re-named property, which never disappoints.

4:30 PM — Return to the hotel and spruce up for your intimate dinner.

6:00 PM – Merryvale by Candlelight
Your final dinner in the Merryvale Barrel RoomYou’ll have just enough time to freshen up and change for your final event in the valley –  your candlelight dinner amid century-old barrels at Merryvale.  You’ll find this the culinary and experiential highlight of your weekend, with a menu designed specifically for Merryvale’s library wines. This is an experience like no other so don’t forget your camera.

Monday, Sept. 23rd 9:00 AM — Swap phone numbers and email addresses with all your new friends of your final breakfast at the Marriott.  10:00 AM — First shuttle departs hotel San Francisco International Airport.

About Your Guide
Your tour guide will be Dave Chambers (www.DaveTheWineMerchant.com) who spent time as a marketing consultant for wineries before launching the “Sideways Wine Club” for Fox Searchlight Pictures. He now curates an ever-evolving portfolio of artisanal wines for his adventurous wine club members and is a regular guest lecturer on California’s wine history for the SFSU Hospitality Management program.  Dave will co-host your weekend with Rich Gamble, the Publisher of Chicago Magazine.

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Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

*Possible only if fully subscribed.

Take Israeli wine out of the liquor store ghetto

Kosher Wines on the riseA good friend and customer of mine went to Israel a few years ago.  He went with his Chinese wife and a couple dozen members of his extended Jewish family.  He was a bit leery of the whole affair prior to going, I mean, traveling with your immediate family is challenge enough, but aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews,  cousins…  

But when he came home he was excited.  Not only had they had a great and memorable visit, but he’d discovered the wines of Golan Heights Winery and couldn’t wait to tell his wine merchant buddy about them.  He couldn’t bring me any of the wine, but he did bring one of the winery’s hats, which is on permanent display in our home (I really do need to get a better hat model).  

This seems as good an intro as any to the subject of Kosher wines, which have been seeing a huge upsurge in quality over recent decades.  Hence this timely (and particularly well-written) guest post from Juda Engelmayer.  Enjoy:

 Guest Post By: Juda Engelmayer

Having become somewhat of a wine enthusiast over the years, I have tasted many fine wines from all over the world, and have toured wineries in the United States and abroad in pursuit of a recreational oenophile’s whimsy.

Over the past 20 years or so, the market for kosher wines – don’t laugh – has grown, as post Baby Boomers acquired money and taste, and began seeking finer alternatives to the old style syrupy sweet Malaga and Concorde Grape selections of Kedem and Manischewitz.

My late step-mother loved to tell this story. She went to a local liquor emporium known for its kosher wines, and asked for two gallon-sized bottles of ritual (Kiddush) wine, one Malaga and one Concorde. The owner pulled her over to the side and said, in a low voice, “You know, you don’t need to drink that anymore. We have a large selection of really good kosher wines.”

“I know,” she said, with a tinge of regret. “But my husband loves this stuff.”

That was over 15 years ago, and the “large” selection is now a huge one.

In a sense, kosher wines have become ultra-westernized, and along with the fine cars, nice homes, single malt scotches, boutique distilled bourbons and golf outings, kosher baby boomers now collect fine wines.

kosher wines

Fine wine and kosher used to be contradictory terms, but with the rise of so many wonderful vineyards in Israel, the race to produce the best kosher wines soon expanded to Spain, Australia, France, Italy, Chile, Argentina, Australia, New York, California, and every other place non-kosher wines have been made for centuries.

Grapes, like all foods that grow in the ground, are inherently permissible foods, as is the alcohol produced during fermentation. Any wine can be “kosher,” and some kosher consumers accept that they are. A biblical prohibition prohibiting “pagan wine” ceased to be a problem in the first millennium, according to the rabbinic literature of the period, but social contact with non-Jews was an issue, so the ban on “non-kosher” wines continued. “Cooked wine,” on the other hand, was permissible, even during social contact with non-Jews. Thus, “mevushal” (cooked) wines became the standard until only recently. Why that is so is subject to debate. To get into that debate here is beyond the scope of this article. Besides, it would force me to examine why I can do tequila shots in a dark bar with my non-Jewish friends, but sitting down with them for a sedate dinner with wine is frowned upon.

Needless to say, the cooking process does sound as if it will certainly make any wine taste off as compared to typical non-mevushal wines. Yet, two important phenomena have occurred in the past two decades: flash pasteurizing, which maintains the essence of the flavor and qualities while super heating the wine; and the growth of wineries in Israel that are controlled and staffed by Orthodox Jews. These developments have allowed for an increased production of non-mevushal wines.

Now, I am good friends with Jose DeMereilles, the owner of and inspiration for the kosher New York bistro, Le Marais. He is not only a master chef, but a wine connoisseur who enjoys traveling around in search of the best. At his restaurant, he has some of the very best mevushal wines (they must be mevushal, because kosher certification agencies insist on it).

In recent years, he has come to know Israeli and Spanish wines of the kosher variety, and now buys them for his own home. He once believed that kosher meat could not taste as good as the non-kosher equivalents he served at Le Marais’ sister eatery, Les Halles, the home of chef Anthony Bourdain. Then Jose perfected the aging process for Le Marais, and his food now ranks among the best eateries in its class, kosher or non-kosher.

He also remembered a time when kosher wine was undrinkable and unthinkable for non-Jews, but has come to respect greatly the wines made today. That leads to his thought about wine marketing.

When you go to most, if not all, liquor stores that carry kosher wines, the kosher wine is sectioned off, and few real wine lovers will stop in the kosher section. What a grand idea it would be for Israel’s wineries — any kosher winery for that matter — to be displayed in the regional sections alongside their non-kosher peers.

This is where my public relations and marketing background comes into play, alongside my enthusiasm for wines. Kosher wineries now make a bulk of their revenues off the Jewish, and kosher in particular, consumers who enjoy good wines. That Jews are not big drinkers is a myth, but the number of Jews who drink only kosher wines is limited, and that limits market share. Consumers who want to see kosher wine sales really soar and who want to support Israel on a larger scale should work on a campaign to lessen the emphasis on kosher wines and increase the awareness of the regions where they come from.

There are few “Israel” wine sections in wine stores across the United States. There are French, Italian, Spanish, Chilean, New York, and Californian sections, as well as every other country where wine is made. Yet the Israel sections are found only among the kosher wines, and the kosher wines from every other country are relegated to that small section, as well. Take that section away, market Israel as a wine-producing nation unto itself, and place it among its fellow regions, then put the kosher wines from every other country within its own regional section. Kosher Italian with the Italians, kosher French with the French, and so on.

Kosher wineries such as Tura, Castel, Recanati, Rothschild, Elvi, Capcanes, to name a few, are perfect for the tables and cellars of both connoisseur and high-end restaurant. There is no reason they have to be put in sectioned off in ghettos in the liquor store.

Juda Engelmayer is an executive at the New York PR firm, 5W Public Relations.