Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Meet the Wine Geek (me)


Well, me, to be honest. I have no qualms about referring to myself that way, I assure you. I love to talk, no, babble incessantly, about my wines, and I do know a ton of geeky, er, let's call it esoteric, information about them.

I will be pouring my wines at the Wine Library, in Springfield, New Jersey (directions), on Saturday, October 4th, from noon to 4pm. This is a part of the job, one I actually love to do as it allows me to meet and greet you, the end consumer. That part is always fun, because even if you may not like them, I get to expose you to new wines. And the interaction is one I love, no matter which way it goes.

And anyway, who can say no to free booze and a friendly smile while you're wandering the intimidating aisles of a massive wine store? Feel free to stop by and say hello and have a sip, and let me know how you really feel about the wines. I do appreciate honest, constructive criticism. So I hope to meet a few of you, my loyal readers, this upcoming Saturday.

I am really looking forward to this, and I hope you are too.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

93 Points!

Whoa! I just found out from the Wine Library that the irrepressible Gary Vaynerchuck, he of the Wine Library TV fame, just rated my Viognier, from Montfaucon, 93 points. Wow, that's pretty cool.

What does this mean? Well, I don't really know his palate that well, and as wine is all about a subjective experience, it means he liked it. Not a little, but quite a lot, actually. So I guess that's a good thing. But wait, I hope that's 93 out of 100. Imagine if it's 93 out of 200, or worse, 93/1000????? Nah, I'm pretty sure it's out of 100 points, that's pretty standard thanks to Mr. Robert Parker.

On a dark and dreary day, after a dark and dreary week, hearing that news makes me smile. While it's nice to know that the wines I represent bring happiness to consumers, it's always a pleasure to have a peer in the business review them as well. Of course, I like them, but I am biased and think they're the next best thing to multiple orgasms.

But then if I didn't think that I couldn't represent them, now could I?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Miracle Occurred...

I tasted some Australian wines and liked them (gasp!). Sacré bleu!

Before you run for the shelters awaiting the Four Hoursemen of the Apocalypse, let me reassure you, gentle reader, that these were not the usual Australian wines that we see in the market. They were not the Yellow Tails that have polluted our fair shores for so long. Those wines are mainly from the South-East Coast of Australia, where it's extremely hot and dry and where huge vineyards are tended like futuristic crops straight out of Blade Runner. Nor was I blackmailed, bribed, influenced or otherwised pressured into being surprised at this tasting. As far as I know, there was no mind-control involved either, but then again, with those shifty Aussies, you never know...

No, these were a completely different animal. These were from a cooler side of the Down Under Continent: the Western Coast, near Perth. I was graciously invited to a sit-down tasting organized by the Australian Premium Wine Collection in a private room at the Modern, the restaurant inside the Museum Of Modern Art, to taste and analyze some wines coming in from that region.

Click this picture for a HUGE map

Joining us were four winemakers from the area: Allister Ashmead of Elderton Wines; Nicole Esdaile from Rutherglen Estates; Dean Hewitson, owner of Hewitson; and Hunter Smith of Frankland Estate. Our host was John Larchet, owner of the Australian Premium Wine Collection.

When I arrived, there was a forest of glasses set before us, most of them red wine, and the air was redolent with the heady aroma of wine. With only four whites, I was afraid this was going to be a tough slog. But I was in for a surprise. In general the wines were big, yes, but balanced, and this, as you know, is what I look for. Some tasted like they'd been acidulated slightly, but none was so out of whack as to be painful. That is, until lunch arrived, and we were poured the bigger cousins of the wines we'd been tasting. The contrast, as you will see, was profound.

Flight 1 ("For the Love of Vibrant Whites") began with the 2008 Hewitson "Lulu" Sauvignon Blanc, Adelaide Hills, my first surprise: typical gooseberry, lime and tropical fruits with hints of herbs on a fat frame with some nice acidity. Quite nice, really. We moved on to the 2007 Frankland Estate "Isolation Ridge" Dry Riesling, Frankland River which had some lovely mineral notes surrounded by candied lemon aspects with hints of tea. The 2006 Rutherglen Estates "The Alliance" Marsanne-Viognier (70% Marsanne, 30% Viognier) was also nice but nothing exciting, and I think it might have been acidulated, with hints of honeysuckle and lychees and apricots. Lastly, the 2007 Elderton "E Series" Unoaked Chardonnay was an interesting wine. It never went through malolactic fermentation to keep it crisp, and of course it saw no oak. Its flavors were reminiscent of an unoaked CA Chard, good if a bit on the tropical side.

Flight 2 ("The Art of the Red Blend") had me quivering in fear. Would these be your average fruit bombs with tons of oak and enough alcohol to start a bonfire? My first sniff of the 2006 Rutherglen Estates "Red" Shiraz-Petit Shiraz was something of a shock: leafy red fruits with some hints of bubblegum and stones, with a similar profile on the palate, ending in a medium short finish. The 2006 Hewitson "Miss Harry" GSM was also nice, with dark plummy notes. The next glass, 2003 Frankland Estate "Olmo's Reward" (59% Cab Franc, 16% Merlot, 14& Cab Sauvignon, 11% Malbec) reminded me of a Bordeaux blend, with bright dark fruits with some leafy aspects backed by plums and currants. This had a spicy body and good acidity, with some gripping tannins. The most interesting of the flight IMHO. Lastly, we tasted the 2005 Elderton Estate "Ode to Lorraine" CSM, which offered ripe plums, oak, and hints of herbs with some spicy acidity and softly fruity tannins.

Flight 3 ("The Real Thing: Single Variety/Single Vineyard Reds") was to me a rather blah one. Many of the wines had similar characteristics, and none really wowed me. All three Shirazes, 2004 Frankland "Isolation Ridge", 2005 Hewitson "The Madhatter", 2005 Elderton Estate Shiraz were typical of the grape: black pepper, rich dark fruits, some meaty aspects, plummy, soft on the palate, and ending with some surprisingly short finished. The 2006 Rutherglen Estates Petit Sirah was also typical of its variety, with bright violet fruits, plums, a fat body and gripping yet fruity tannins. Finally, the 2006 Old Faithful "Sandhill" Grenache (no oak) was a rather restrained version of the grape, with herbal red fruits, gripping and fruity tannins.

Flight 4 ("Surprise me please") was where these wineries were redeemed. Starting with the 2005 Smith-Cullam Shiraz-Cabernet, with its herbal red fruits, medium body, black pepper and medium finish, this flight was something of an eye-opener. The 2006 Hewitson "Old Garden" Mourvedre, planted in 1853, was delicious, even after spending 18 months in French oak. This wine took the oak and just bitch-slapped it: dark red fruits, vanilla, with a lovely perfumy nose, with more herbal red fruits on the palate ending in a somewhat short finish that showed a bit of heat. The 2006 Old Faithful "Top of the Hill" Shiraz offered red and dark fruits with some brett, vanilla and chocolate notes on a fat body that offered a long ending with some fruity tannins. And the 2004 Elderton "Ashmead" Cabernet was, to me, one of the wines of the tasting. This had that Bordeaux-ish Band-Aid nose, with cherries, herbs, chocolate, currants, graphite and minerals on a medium/fat body that hid some spicy zip and left you with a long finish covered in fruity tannins. Very nice.

However, with lunch, the old ways returned: 2003 Tir na N'og Old Vines Grenache, 2003 Hewitson "The Madhatter" Shiraz, and 2003 Elderton "Command" Shiraz. Big, spoofilated wines that cover your palate in ripe, sometimes over-ripe fruit and just smack you upside the head with both alcohol and body.

The 2003 Frankland "Isolation Ridge" Dry Riesling was one of the two saving graces, lovely and refreshing with a tartness that made you reach for it again and again. The other savior was a wine made back when they were going for a more balanced model: the 1992 Elderton "Command" Shiraz, with musky, mushroomy dark black fruits, leather, herbs, chocolate and some VA (Volatile Acidity) on a medium body with funky dark and red fruits and a long finish that hinted at some heat from the alcohol.

So overall I did enjoy the tasting, having left my preconceived notions of Australian wines at the door. Having an open mind and open palate certainly helps, and I found that there are indeed some well-made, drinkable wines coming from Down Under. But the wines we had with lunch were a warning as to what not to aspire to...

Monday, September 15, 2008

And away we go...

It's that time of the year again, harvest, when the grapes are ripe (hopefully), the sugars high and the pips not too green. It's also a race against the clock, as you rush into the fields to pick those cute little berries before rot/birds/weather/deer get to them. And to those of you who think it's easy, I offer my report of the 2006 Burgundy harvest, where I learned how difficult a job it could be.

That said, there is a lovely sense of camaraderie in the trenches, as you waddle from cluster to cluster with sharp secateurs and clip the bunches. Covered in mud, dust and leaves, with some spider webs thrown in for good measure, no one can get too full of themselves. Let's face it, misery really does love company.

So I offer for your perusal some pictures from this year's harvest at La Bouscade, in the Minervois region of SW France, which is going on even as I write these words from the comfort of my New York apartment. My knees, feet, fingertips and back are all thanking me for not having volunteered this year. I am getting too old for that...

Picking Grenache

Grenache awaiting pickup

Yet more Grenache

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Meet the Winemaker!

Fabrice and his mom at ViniSud

I am really excited, this week I am hosting the first of my winemakers to visit New York. Fabrice Durou, of Chateau Gaudou, will be in town to show his wines and answer questions. We will be visiting a bunch of stores in Westchester on Wednesday, then spending the entire day on Thursday in the city, hitting stores and restaurants that either carry his wines or are interested in them.

It's always a thrill to say "my winemaker", I still giggle a little bit each time. As I've said before, this is the culmination of lots of hard work and even more luck, and I am thrilled to see things coming to fruition. The reaction to Fabrice's wines has been extraordinary, to say the least, due to both their quality and their price points. Better yet, to me, is that they are quite unlike most Cahors (which are normally referred to as Black Wines, with teeth-staining tannins and tons of oak). These are elegant and balanced yet never forget where they're from.

So, if you happen to see some weird French guys pouring wines at your local store, feel free to come up and say hello and try the wines. Who knows, you might enjoy them!

Friday, September 05, 2008

Meeting YOU, the end consumer

I did a tasting at K&D Wines the other day, where they sell my Picpoul (and I'm happy to report it's flying out the door). I had the opportunity to meet you, the end consumer, and see your reaction to my wines.

And this is where I get the real satisfaction out of my job. Yes, there is lots of hard work and stress, but when I see that smile on the face of someone discovering a new wine (and hopefully liking it), it makes all of it worth it. I can't help but grin like a complete idiot (which I am, as many friends will attest). This is why I do what I do.

There is no feeling like turning someone onto a wine they've never tried or heard of before. That sense of adventure and discovery, as they tentatively sniff, swirl, and taste the wine, are exhilirating moments that leave you breathless in anticipation. And as someone who enjoys babbling endlessly about his wines, standing in a store and explaining where it's from, how it's made, and what it is, this is a complete thrill.

When I began Vinotas Selections, my goal was to bring well-made, boutique and interesting wines to the US at decent prices. But in this competitive industry, it's easy to make a mistake, or be overtaken by mass-produced plonk, or just plain ignored. So seeing the smiles on the faces of the people the other day, and watching them walk out the door with bottle after bottle, made me forget nearly a year's worth of effort. More importantly, it energized me to both find more interesting wines to represent and to push harder to enter new markets. Almost like a virtuous circle, really.

At the very least, for a few hours, I was really, really happy.