As you know, if you’re a reader of this blog, it’s illegal for me to ship to wine lovers living in most states outside California. Tom Wark and the folks at the Specialty Wine Retailer’s Association (“Wine Without Borders”) is working to remedy this, and we need your help. Don’t worry, your “help” might result in a great wine deal for you!
By bidding on any of the great items in the online auctionbeing organized by SWRA, your proceeds will help us educate policymakers in various states. In doing so, we’ll take a small but important step towards offsetting the millions of dollars spent each year by the liquor distributor’s lobby – those who would lose protected sales (and pricing) were the market allowed to operate freely. Please help by taking a look at the available wines available for bid (Click Here to view). All bidding ends at 8:04 PM (Pacific Time) on November 19th.
Tips for Winning Online Auctions
Review all the auction items and select your top 5 – 10 items
Check the “Current” bid and eliminate any that exceed your price range.
Click on the name of any remaining items and select “Watch Item” (sorry, but you’ll need to register with Wine Commune first, a worth competitor of mine!) This will email you any time a new bid comes in on your watched item.
On Thursday, 11/19 – Set a reminder to check back within 15 minutes of closing. You may see your bid eclipsed in the final minutes, and you if you’re present you can then decide if you want to counter.
Note, this market is far less busy and efficient than one such as eBay, and you are more likely to see a winning bid that is far below market value!
“I still feel pangs of remorse over an insidious habit I’ve had since I was a teenager. About three times a week, I attend estate auctions and make insulting, low-ball bids for prized heirlooms until I’m asked to leave.”
Dennis Miller, American Comedian and Conservative Political Commentator
In this week’s edition of the ScienceNow Daily News, (full story, here) it was reported that Japanese researchers have discovered why fish and red wine so often clash. Turns out there are minute traces of iron in some red wines, particularly those grown in soils high in certain minerals, and that these trace elements can leave you with a very unpleasant “fishy” aftertaste. And I don’t mean the clean fish smell of the ocean, but more like the day-after fish smell of the trash bin.
The research also seems to answer why some red wines can actually compliment seafood and fish, while others make you run for the motion sickness bag. The researchers identified an “iron threshold” of 2 miligrams per liter. Any red wine containing more than this amount spoils the seafood pairing.
Scallops, perhaps the most notorious offender when it comes to foul red wine pairings, were used to test this theory further. When dried scallops were soaked in wine whose iron content was below the threshold smelled fine, but those soaked in wine with iron above the critical 2 mg/L, smelled horrible. Note, I’ve observed the same phenomenon when fresh scallops are rinsed using iron-rich water. Now I know why!
But I agree with Gordon Burns, the enologist who argued that the more compelling reason to avoid red wine with fish is that most red wines are big-bodied wines that over-power the lighter, delicate flavors of most seafood. And that violates one of my key guidelines for food and wine pairing:
Match high acidity in the food with high-acid wines
Match sweet foods with equal or higher sweetness in the wine
Pair light dishes with lighter wines, heavier dishes with heavier wines
If the wine is high in fruit and alcohol, leave it on the cocktail bar when you go to the dinner table!
Others, such as Tim Hanni, M.W., suggest that simply adding a pinch of salt and a squeeze of citrus to your fish dish will make it surprisingly compatible with your red wine. And still others, such as David Rosengarten, in his famous book (right) simply focuses on finding lighter red wines that can compliment fish and seafood prepared with red wine-friendly recipes. Of course, his book was written in 1989, when it was easier to FIND a lighter red wine, i.e., lower in alcohol (average then was just 12.5%) and body.
By contrast, today’s contemporary styles for wine often dictate alcohol levels in excess of 14.5% along with “gobs and gobs of ripe fruit”. If red wine with fish is your culinary preference, I’d seek the lighter reds of Burgundy, Beaujolais, Northern Italy, the Loire and other cool-weather growing areas.
Seek out such wine, and I think you’ll be finding Nemo never tasted so good.
Dave the Wine Merchant
Quote of the Day
“Fish, to taste good, fish must swim three times. First in water, then in butter, and then in wine!” ~Old Proverb
This week’s featured wine is an interesting blend of 60% Carmenère (car men EAR) and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. Carmenère was an obscure, almost obsolete, blending grape in Bordeaux until it found a home in the coastal vineyards of Chile. In these mountainous vineyard, this varietal thrives – an almost-extinct varietal now achieving its full potential. Carmenère is the backbone of the burgeoning Chilean wine industry.
This wine was one of two favorites of the eight we’d opened for a recent group dinner and tasting. If tasted blind, you’d think it costs far more than its miserly $14, and that’s my definition of a crowd-pleaser! Better yet, the price goes down to $11.20 for club members ($11.90 for non-members)
Look for aromas of plum with sweet spices, a touch of oak, and a hint of farm yard and fresh garden earthiness. A nice balance between the Cabernet’s fruitiness and Carmenère’s soft tannins and nice herbal notes. And with 13.5% alcohol, it is both food friendly and head friendly – split a bottle tonight and enjoy a clear head in the morning!
Today’s featured wine is named La Bruma (The Fog) after the frequent morning mists that cover the Pacific Coast where the Peay’s vines call home.
The winemaker – Vanessa Wong – says this wine has less pepper than the 2005, which I find surprising, since the pepper notes are what registered most in my taste memory. They remind me of the peppery Syrah-based wines of Provence, only without the rough-hewn nature of those delicious but brawny wines.The wine is delightful, and will really kick butt if left in a dark, cool place for another half decade or so, if you have such a place and the will power to use it.
Look for floral notes sitting atop pie spices and warm, dusty blackberries. A bit of Beef Jerky and smoked ham (or is it Asian pork ribs?) on the palate, and a dark fruit and peppery finish that lasts for several minutes. The scuttlebutt in the industry is that there is more Syrah available for sale than the market can bear, particularly if the wine is priced over $30. If that’s true, it’s only becaue more of them don’t taste like this one. This is a wine you’ll enjoy getting to know.
The year 1994 was a big one for me. I had just moved to the Bay Area from the Midwest, and living on the doorstep to the wine country allowed me to spend each glorious weekend scouting out ever more delightful tasting experiences. In those days I pursued such forays for fun instead of profit, as I do today, though that profit thing is stubbornly elusive!
These weekend forays became sanity saviors. During the week, the craft I plied was database marketing, and my employer was a financial services company. Not one deemed “too big to fail”, but one large enough to have a very old boy network. In the midst of that dreary suit-and-bad-tie society was a bright spot named Annie Sammis. Intelligent. Stylish. Funny. Hip.
Of her many redeeming features, perhaps my favorite was her love of the fermented grape. In the 15 years since our careers parted ways, she has secured her place in the high-tech advertising hall of fame. And now she’s throwing her famed marketing hat into the ring at Murphy Goode Winery, sponsor of the “Really Goode Job” contest. Here is Annie’s entry, out of which I think you’ll get a really “goode” kick. (Note, as with Lay’s potato chips, you’ll find it difficult to stop after watching just one! Fortunately, you can vote for all those you like)
Social Media & The Wine Industry
With this contest, I think Murphy Goode has struck on a brilliant piece of viral marketing. By announcing that they will pay the winning entrant $100K in exchange for six month’s work as their social media guru (details here), they have obtained far more than $100K worth of public relations awareness. Plus they’ll get a highly skilled marketer to boot, and will have given that individual a huge boost in awareness to be leveraged.
So far, almost 1,000 people have submitted their 60-second video application. Just as with the popular American Idol TV show, the quality of entrants is highly inconsistent. Some are even painful to watch. But thankfully, part of Murphy Goode’s decision has been left up to those of us in the universal wine community. Your vote counts!
I’ve said for some time now that the wine industry has embraced social media faster and more effectively than any other consumer goods industry. They just seem to get it! And while the pace of change and development is enough to make my head spin from time to time, I’m glad to be in the mix. It is an interesting time to be a marketer.
Cheers! (And, vote for Annie!)
Dave the Wine Merchant
I’m taking a break from studying Priorat vineyards so I can write about Priorat vineyards. It’s sick, I know. But I leave tomorrow for six days in Spain, and I’m learning everything I can about the region.
Priorat (formerly known as Priorato) is Spain’s other DOQ (their highest regulatory standard for wine quality). There are only two DOQ’s in all of Spain – the well-known Rioja region and the lesser known and far smaller region of Priorat. Priorat was a wine region long before wine (and especially an obscure old world wine) enjoyed its current popularity. Winegrower’s kids left in droves for the more attractive beach lifestyle, just 30 minutes away on the coast. But a decade or so ago, a handful of adventurous young adults decided to return home, nurture the long-forgotten Grenache (Garnacha) vineyards, and “produce the best wine we possibly could”. And, as they say, the rest is history. This first release won raves from the global wine press, and suddenly demand exceeded supply – a condition that has not changed much today.
Priorat wines tend to be dark, well-oaked and very brawny, which is not normally my preferred style. But as with a few domestic wines (such the Rattlesnake Rock from Big Basin Vineyards), these big wines bring complexity and earthy minerality to the party, giving their joviality a depth that most back-slappers never know. So instead of growing quickly tiresome, these wines pull you back for more, for one more sniff, one more taste… and the next thing you know the bottle is empty. And you swear you’ve only had a few sips. It’s that kind of wine.
What is it that makes these wines so alluring? The smart money is on the soil, though I must use that word loosely. As you can see from the vineyard photos here (click the photos to learn more), the earth that supports these vines is more rock than soil. The local term for it is “Llicorella”, which is known as Schist in geological terms. Schist is simply a unique sort of fractured shale with a pH that is nearly neutral (most shale is highly acidic), which I’m told makes it easier for the vines to convey more of the minerality so sought after by wine connoisseurs. And in this case, the mineral flavor is reminiscent of slate, an evocative nuance that makes the price of the best Priorat wines hover in the mid-hundreds.
Upon my return I’ll recommend some of the more affordable versions of this wine. No promises – I’m a retailer, not an importer – but if I can find some gems with U.S. distribution, I’ll bring them into my portfolio and let you know about them. Meanwhile, support your local wine merchant!
There is a brouhaha brewing in the wine media. It seems that bloggers are the new review service of choice, and that younger wine drinkers trust social media reviews over those of professional reviewers, believing the latter have been compromised in some way.
Whatever you think, I’d like to highlight a reliable source for pinot noir reviews – Greg Walter’s publication “Pinot Report”. Now here’s where I must admit my own bias, lest I be painted by the same brush of distrust – perhaps I enjoy his reviews primarily because Greg’s palate generally agrees with mine. Which means he gives high scores to pinots of elegance and character, of nuance and delicacy. IMHO, this is a publication for the true pinotphile. Subscribe here ($75 per year) or for information on sending Greg samples of your pinots click here.
But Greg Walters is a busy boy. In addition to rating hundreds of pinots every year, he also organizes and sponsors the Pinot on the River event – on of several great opportunities to immerse yourself in a weekend dedicated to pinot perfection. For information on this fall’s Pinot on the River event (October 23 – 25), click here (note, it appears the full agenda is not yet posted).
And for information on the June 12th “Russian River Passport“, featuring pinots from 40 producers in this famed growing region, click here.
Pinot lovers rejoice.
Dave the Wine Merchant
“It’s like cancelling the 4th of July to keep everyone at home” said one patriot, who shuddered at the idea. But that’s what the fear of Swine Flu has done to Mexico’s traditional Cinco de Mayo celebration – an annual commemoration of their unlikely victory over the French in 1862.
What’s an online merchant to do? The hordes of would-be Cinco de Mayo celebrants, once searching the internet for last-minute pairing advice, now sitting at home with idle keyboards.
Unless, just maybe, I can find an alternative celebration that generates millions of alternative web searches. And thanks to the power of internet search tools, I’ve found one – the birthday of Michael Palin (CBE) who was born back in, well, some years ago.
Palin is best known for his work with the comedy troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus, back in the latter part of our prior century. He then launched a second career as an award-winning travel writier and TV guide. Then in 2000, he was beknighted. Aftersuch career success most people would be content to fade into retirement. But in 2008 Palin anted up his fame and fortune to launch a failed campaign for President of the United States, an ill-advised move that left a bit of a stain on his otherwise stellar and tasteful reputation. I’ll bet McCain still won’t talk to him.
But enough silliness (is there ever though, really?). Speaking of tasteful, and of something completely different, I’d like to turn the conversation to wine. As always.
Whether raising a toast to Cinco de Mayo, or to Palin’s birthday, here is a wine that makes the best of both celebrations. This was one of eight wines selected for our various wine club shipments that went out in April, and it’s proven to be one of the favorites, if subsequent re-orders provides any indication!
Nevada City Winery, 2005 “Contour” Bordeaux Blend – Affordable Luxury
The 2005 Directors’ Reserve Contour is a blend of all five of the classic Bordeaux grape varieties. This wine melds the structure, charm and personality of each variety into a balanced, complex wine.
Cabernet Sauvignon takes the lead role at first, but more complex and layered aromas and flavors emerge as this wine opens up in decanter or glass (or cellar).
A blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 7% Malbec, 3% Petit Verdot. Alcohol: 14.2% (perfect for food pairing). Total Acid: .62 g/L (pH 3.79).
The Back Story
More than a few small wineries have started in a garage. In Bordeaux they’ve even coined a word for it – Garagiste – generally referring to Mavericks who choose to operate outside the restrictions of their local winemaking traditions, and charging arm-and-leg prices for their product.
Nevada City Winery started out in a garage in 1980. Since that time, this successful winery has enjoyed many expansions, but each has preserved the historic Miners Foundry Garage. Visitors are often surprised by its smallness – about the size of a large living room. The winery building, now centrally located, was on the outskirts of this two-street town back when the garage first served its residents.
By the way, the “town” is pictured on the label, the Gold-Rush town of Nevada City, California, where the wooden plank sidewalks and Victorian-era building facades make you wonder if you’ve just stepped into the film set for an old western.
But this is the second incarnation of this winery, the original was founded over a century ago during California’s first wine boom – sadly put asunder by the one-two punch of the devastating phylloxera epidemic in the late 1800’s, followed by the ruinous experiment in legislating morality known as “Prohibition”. After that, the California wine industry was sidelined for four decades.
In 1880 there were over 300 acres of grapes in Nevada County. A century later the county was home to just one small vineyard. Today there are again over 300 acres of grapes and the wine industry is flourishing once more.
Hard work, but somebody’s gotta do it
Dave the Wine Merchant
As Mother’s Day approaches, wine specials have flooded in. From this avalanche of offers, you may have noticed how wine writers (especially the men, it seems) recommend “feminine” wines for Mother’s Day. What characteristics evoke femininity in a wine is a curious thing. As far as I’ve been able to tell, wine bottles come with neither the innie nor outie sort of naughty bits. If they did, surely I’d have noticed by now.
Perhaps the easiest way to engender a bottle of wine is through its label. A bottle wearing a label emblazoned with fire trucks, motorcycles, airplanes, fast cars, skulls or anything with flames… probably not one for mom. Unless her Harley is parked out back. There are always exceptions.
Though a label can hint at gender through the immediacy of our visual senses, our sense of smell and taste take over once the bottle is out of site. A wine’s gender is implied by its characteristics – those that are lighter in body, smooth, nuanced and elegant are often referred to as feminine. Those that are big, tannic, high in alcohol, and deeply infused with the color and flavor of very ripe fruit are considered brutish and masculine (neither of which are good marketing terms, so the industry prefers the phrase “New World Style”, AKA “Parkerized” in homage to the man who made them popular).
But in my experience, these stylistic classifications don’t actually seem to work when it comes to predicting which sex will prefer a certain style. In my unscientific observations, women are perhaps a bit more likely than men to be fans of the New World Style, and if not more so, certainly no less so.
So where does that leave those in a quandary over a wine for Mother’s Day? With lots of great options, actually!
The Bantem Weight
Let’s start with pairing the wine to the meal instead of worrying about Mom’s palate preference. The former trumps the latter in the end. If selecting a wine for brunch the key is to find something with a light hand on the alcohol, a wine that doesn’t leave the group comatose after an hour at the table. Both the earliness of the meal and the typical fare argue for wines light in alcohol and body (but then, I repeat myself).
Sparkling wine lends itself nicely to the brunch meal, but here’s the twist – opt for the off-dry Demi-Sec instead of the usual Brut, or the often over-looked Prosecco or Moscato (sorry I have neither of these in inventory, but here are some favorites from other retailers – Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant,Arlequin Wine Merchant. These options are particularly adept at complimenting fruit salads, sweet rolls and other mid-day fare. And if you’re meal involves egss of any sort, a touch of sweetness will be key – dry wines and eggs fight like unhappy siblings.
For meals with more robust flavors, don’t overlook the blush wines, though even many of these are being made with high alcohol these days – opt for something below 14%, if you can find it. Other options abound, including a good Riesling or Gewurztraminer.
What About Mimosas?
Ahhh, the old mimosa. The key here is to avoid the expensive stuff, as their nuanced flavors and lighter bubbles get crushed under the weight of the orange juice, without serving rock-gut Charmat-style bubbly. I recommend the Charles de Fere ($19 no on sale for $16) mixed with no more than 1/3 to 1/4 orange juice. And for a beautiful variation, top it off with a splash of grenadine, POM or (my preference) Framboise and a fresh raspberry.
These wines are lush in sweet, ripe-fruit flavors with enough alcohol (14.5%+) to suggest they be saved at least until late afternoon. These are the wines often described as “Masculine”, but I find them equally favorited by those with the double X chromosome as those with the X-Y.
Lots of interesting things popping up in the headlines this last week…
Alice Waters Pioneers New Compensation System– Alice Waters, a powerful food advocate and founder of the iconic restaurant Chez Panisse, was interviewed on 60 Minutes a week ago Sunday. Her comments were picked up by US News & World Report. Seems she’s abolished tipping, at least in its traditional form, at her stalwart restaurant Chez Panisse. A guest’s voluntary tip has been replaced with a flat 17% service charge (more can be left if desired) which is split amongst the front and back of house (FOH/BOH) to create better parity. Alice indicated the discrepancy between FOH and BOH pay scales was affecting the quality of her custoemrs dining experience. This story became #5 on Google searches for the past week…
California Teaches French Students About Wine – Wine marketing, that is. The Napa Valley Register reports a group of Masters students from the famed French University of Burgundy in Dijon studied Napan’s marketing techniques for a week. They are taking home the word that Napa Winery’s are “la Bomba!” when it comes to wooing customers. I envision a group of Galoise chain smokers learning how to Twitter, create Facebook groups, and send email invitations for exclusive subscriber events…
Ultra Violet Man to the Rescue! – No, it’s not a character from Bay to Breakers, San Francisco’s costume/alcohol extravaganza and foot race. It’s this week’s S.F. Chronicle (long may it live) report that wineries are turning to ultra violet light waves to destroy the microbes once killed by the Winemaker’s addition of sulfites. Why do we care? Because sulfites are what cause some of our bodies to create histamines, and histamines create headaches in those with allergies. Another solution? Age your wine until the free SO2 is absorbed. But for the 98% of wine drinkers who prefer more immediate gratification…
Robot Pruner at work
Robots To Save The Wine Industry? – Wine growers rely on immigrant labor to harvest grapes and prune vines. American workers are no longer adept at such tasks, or able to live here on the wages winegrowers can pay. Now tightening labor laws have created a short supply of this important imported labor force. Not wanting to be caught with ripe grapes and no pickers, winegrowers have been testing the waters of automated harvesters for some time. I expect more will make the jump each year. And this week Wines and Vines reports that a robotic vine pruner may replace human laborers for that most tedious of carpal tunnel tasks. Introduced in 2007, the only hurdle remaining for the innovator of this robotic system is about $2.5 million for development and testing. Want a piece of the action? The company is looking for partners to ante up $125K each…
Dave the Wine Merchant