Wine of the Week: Pacifico Sur, 2006 Reserve Carmenere-Cabernet (Chile)


Wine of the Week!

Click to purchase Pacifico Sur, 2006 Reserve Carmenère-Cabernet (Chile)
$14/Bottle or $151/case (10% case discount)
Member Price = $12.60/bottle or $143/case (15% discount)
Selected as a “Jack’s Crowd Pleaser” in June, 2009

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!

Click to purchase Pacifico Sur, 2006 Reserve Carmenère-Cabernet
$14/Bottle or $151/case (10% case discount)
Member Price = $12.60/bottle or $143/case (15% discount)

Happy Merchant
Dave the Wine Merchant


Quote of the Day

“Wine is an art. Winemakers are the artists, growers provide the paint, and history prepares the canvas.”
~ Unknown

Wine of the Week – Bonneau Wines, 2005 Zinfandel, Shenandoah Valley ($22)

06Zin-bottleWine of the Week!

Bonneau Wines, 2005 Zinfandel, Shenandoah Valley
$22/Bottle or $238/case (10% case discount)
Member Price = $19.80/bottle or $225/case (15% discount)

This wine was included in our June shipment to members of our sampling program “Maya’s Collectible Selections”.

It hails from the warm reaches of the Shenandoah Valley (between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite) in hot Amador County. This region is home to lots of big, fruity, “Monster” Zins, whose alcohol can exceed 16%.

This wine runs counter to that stereotype. It swims upstream. Marches to a different drummer, and a number of other hackneyed expressions that don’t come immediately to my fingertips at the moment. It enjoys an elegant body and a moderate 14.1% alcohol level with hints of fresh cracked black pepper that make this versatile wine – equally pleasing at the cocktail hour or the dinner hour.

A Classic Zinfandel With Pleasant Surprises!
For one, winemaker John Bambury has crafted that rare California Zinfandel that works well with food (recipe suggestion). The wine shows a beautiful dark fruit profile topped by a filigree of red raspberries and the tell-tale Zinfandel markers – mouth-watering wafts of dark licorice and fresh ground pepper.

From an old historic Sonoma family, this wine reminds me of the Zins I fell in love with in the 80’s. Pop the cork and drink a piece of history!

Just 420 cases produced.

Bonneau Wines, 2005 Zinfandel, Shenandoah Valley
$22/Bottle or $238/case (10% case discount)
Member Price = $19.80/bottle or $225/case (15% discount)

Happy MerchantCheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Quote of the Day
“To the sun that warmed the vineyards.
To the juice that turned to wine.
To the host who cracked the bottle,
and made it yours and mine!”

~ Unknown

Cabernet Sauvignon & Grilled (Grass-Fed) Ribeye Steak

In June, 2009, this recipe was paired with the Sojourn Cellars ’05 Sonoma Valley Cabernet sent to members of our Grand Cru Selections sampling program.

SOJ Cab Sauv 05B 1-14-08 AgainAs I wrote the tasting notes for the 2005 Sojourn Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon ($48) I began craving grilled steak.  I could practically smell the hot grill and hear the sizzle.  And got hungry!

We’ve recently started buying grass-fed beef, ever since my wife investigated the environmental and health impacts corn-fed cattle brought to large feed-lots.  I listened attentively as she taught me all about the downside of corn-fed beef, with the antibiotics they require in the over-crowded feedlots where they’re fattened up  just prior to their last moo.  It’s the sort of “Hey listen to this” reading that romantic married couples do for a few minutes before the lights go out and we retreat into our individual dream cycles.

After learning the dangers of commercial beef, I was looking forward to tasting  the healthier, more sustainable, and more expensive alternative.  I just want it to be at least as good as corn-fed beef, perhaps even tastier.  But my first few experiences with it were less than stellar.

You see, grass-fed beef is so much lower in fat that it must be cooked at a lower temperature and for shorter periods of time than regular beef.  We had been told this, but it proved difficult to overcome a lifetime of experience that had taught us exactly how long to leave a steak on the grill.   As a result, we over-cooked our first few efforts with grass-fed beef.  When grilling or pan-searing beef (high heat, short cooking time), it is best to use a New York strip or rib eye, as it comes from a more tender part of the cattle, and benefits from both bone and a layer of fat.  And fat, my friends, is  flavor!

The fat of grass-fed beef is more yellow than that of corn-fed beef, as grass provides a richer source of Vitamin A.  Its flavor will be more mineral-driven than the more iron (blood)-driven flavor of regular beef.

We also found considerable flavor differences among sources of grass-fed beef.  Terry, our butcher at the Real Foods Market,  carries a brand from Argentina that we didn’t find as tasty as the Prather Ranch brand we prefer.  So we invited him over for a taste-off – he brought his brand and we provided the Prather Ranch and all were grilled in an identical manner.  Every taster could tell the difference in flavor without hesitation, but as for which was preferred, there was no concensus.  So you may need to try different ranches before you find a favorite!

1 Grass-Fed Rib Eye Steak per person.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
A good grill.  Mesquite or other hardwood chips add a nice layer of flavor, but I prefer my steak unadorned with extra filigree.  It’s up to you!


Arrange your grill for high, indirect heat.  Grill your steak as you normally would, but muster every ounce of will power you can, and shorten the cooking time by a full minute per side.  Depending on the thickness of your steak, this might mean leaving it on the grill for only 2-3 minutes per side.

Serve with grilled corn on the cob and a side salad of fresh tomatoes with basil and balsamic and life won’t get much better.

Happy MerchantCheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Today’s Quote
“Red meat is not bad for you.  Now blue-green meat… that’s bad for you!”
~Tommy Smothers (American Comedian and Winemaker.  1937 – )

An Elegant Syrah & Tapas! Savory Lamb Meatballs

This recipe was originally paired with the Peay Vineyards 2006 Syrah “La Bruma” in the June, 2009 shipment to members of our Grand Cru Selections


The sauce used here is not the typical BBQ sauce often used in meatball recipes.  There is no vinegar to offset the sweetness of the peppers and tomatoes – instead, the counter-balance is provided by the lamb’s natural richness, and the onion/garlic/herb combo.  I think you’ll agree it works well with a softer, elegant Syrah – I partnered this dish with the cool Sonoma Coast syrah from Peay Vineyards, their 2006 “La Bruma” ($47).  See other syrah choices here.

Meatball Ingredients

1 1/2 Lbs. ground lamb 1 Cloves minced garlic
1/2 Cup breadcrumbs 3 Tbsp chopped parsley
1 Egg, lightly beaten 1 tsp Coriander
1/2 Cup minced onion 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
1/3 Cup diced red pepper

Meatball Procedure
Preheat oven to 400°F.  Combine all ingredients in a large bowl – minimal handling assures better texture in the finished meatball, so mix gently and stop as soon as ingredients are combined.

Using a small (1 Tbsp) scoop or a soup spoon, form about 48 small, roughly-shaped  meatballs, placing each in a baking pan (with sides).  It’s best if they don’t touch.  Bake for 12 minutes, remove and turn off oven.

Sauce Ingredients

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil ¼ tsp fresh ground black pepper
½ Cup diced onion 28 Oz. can of diced tomatoes
1 Clove minced garlic 3 Tbsp minced parsley
½ Cup dry red wine

Sauce Procedure
While meatballs bake, heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion and stir until lightly golden, ~5 minutes.  Stir in the garlic, wine, and black pepper. Simmer over medium-low heat until the wine reduces by half.

Add the tomatoes and simmer on low for 12- 15 minutes more.  Add the meatballs and heat through, then add the parsley just before serving.  A handful of short bamboo skewers turn this potentially messy dish into an easy stand-up meal.

Dave the Wine Merchant

The History of Spanish Tapas

A Tapas Bar on Barcelona's La Rambla. Typical in every way, except it's empty!

We recently returned from Spain, where I fell in love with Tapas – bite-sized items often sold “by the stick” (as shown on the counter in the photo, above).  When it comes time to pay the piper (or the Flamenco Guitarist as the case may be) your empty skewers are tallied up and your bill calculated.  Very low-tech and very effective.

Tapas offer a perfect solution to what to serve when your friends stop by your place for a glass of wine before heading out to an evening event.  Serving one or several of these small plate items will make you a most appreciated host(ess).  This is sort of the idea behind Spanish Tapas as well, except most urban dwellings are too small to have people over – so the pre-event socializing occurs in the many Tapas bars.

The Spanish verb Tapeo can be defined as “the act of wandering from bar to bar, arm-in-arm with a friendly group that expands and contracts as the social event unfolds” – that’s the definition I liked best, so I’m stickin’ with it.  In each Tapas bar (Taberna), a parade of platters invites passers-by to stop in and linger a while.

The origin of Tapas is rather unclear, but food historians tend to credit the Spanish King Alfonso X, who decreed that all tabernas must serve a bit of food (tapa) with each glass of wine.  The word comes from the verb tapar, which means “to cover”.  This seeming non-sequitur suddenly makes sense once you learn that a small plate – the perfect size for a bite-sized, savory treat – was specified as the cover of choice for a wine glass, thus protecting it and its valuable contents from flies, dust or sneaky neighbors.

Several of the following recipes were inspired by our favorite Tapas items from our recent trip.  They’re surprisingly easy to prepare and delicious with your wine, so I hope you’ll try them, and enjoy them as much as we did!  And an added benefit to this way of eating?  It compliments a wide variety of wines!  In fact, the dishes are so small, varied and numerous, that I saw individuals pair them with everything from sparkling wines to whites to rose to robust reds from Priorat or Rioja.  Fun and conviviality are the only guidelines here!

Happy MerchantCheers,
Dave the Wine Merchant


Schist Happens

This is Schist - Classic Priorat Vineyard

This is Schist - Classic Priorat Vineyard

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.

Oh Schist!

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!


Dave the Wine Merchant