Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Who owns what, redux. This time in Australia.

By far the most read post on this blog is "Who Owns What-A Guide to Wine Brands," in which we revealed the corporate ownership of many wine brands (to the best of our knowledge, in 2009).

Today we stumbled upon an article about an Australian winemaker, Sarah Collingwood, who has published a similar list, listing all the brands that are actually the products of two grocery store chains, Coles and Woolsworth.

Since few of our readers live in Oz, our readers are unlikely to encounter these wines, but I thought the list and the animus behind it were both interesting. The lists are incredibly long, for one thing. Those grocery stores must have big marketing departments.

Ms. Collingwood appears to consider these brands fraudulent, in that they appear to be the products of small, family-owned wineries like her own when they are not.

Of course, US grocery stores and others around the world do similar branding of wines and other products. What do you think are the stores' ethical responsibilities to reveal the true ownership of the brands?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Naked Wines (part 1)

Have you heard of Naked Wines? Like us, they are trying a different than normal approach to get great wines to the thirsty masses. Naked now owns an actual winery in Sonoma County (their UK and Aus operations are beyond my purview), but they don't work with a single winemaker. Rather, they help a number of winemakers realize their dreams by funding specific projects that are then made available only* to Naked Wines's members. The * is because they have a tasting room in Napa and one, I believe, at the winery in Kenwood, California, where anyone can walk in and buy whatever they please, member or not.

Member isn't quite the right word, anyway. Naked calls them "Angels." Angels are on tap for a certain dollar amount each month. The money remains their own, but since they are unlikely to spend it each month, Naked is able to invest it in their winemakers' projects.

I considered becoming a Naked winemaker when they first began their California operation. At the time they did not have a physical winery, and neither did I. Finding a way to produce wine for Naked did not work for me, but it did (or did later) for many of my friends, including Jac Cole, Leigh Meyering, Macario Montoya, Jessica Tomei, Ken Deis, Jim Olsen, and more. I have not had the chance to try all of their wines, let alone the wines produced by those I do not yet know, but all are highly skilled winemakers. I will seek out these wines and report on what I find. In the meantime, if you are curious about Naked, please visit or click on one of the banners in this post.

Banners in this post? Yes, Naked asked me to become what they call an "affiliate." Should anyone become an Angel thanks to my posting, Naked will send some dough my way. But that's not why I am posting about Naked. I am posting because Naked, just like the People's Wine Revolution, is trying to bring great wine to great people at great--that is, affordable--prices. Whether they, or we, succeed, is for you to decide. Receive $100 Off a $160 Order of 6 or More 750ml Bottles of Wine. First Time Customers Only.
  Free Delivery on Orders Over $100 or $9.99 Flat Rate Shipping on All Other Orders

Friday, July 26, 2013

We Love LA

I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because my vinous investigations made grammar checking something-something. What was I saying?

I had lived in San Francisco for five years before I realized that I had never been to Los Angeles. A trip there was inevitable. Why bother planning something that is sure to happen any day?

Turns out I was two months shy of 20 years in California before I got to Los Angeles (no, LAX does not count). It was a crazy trip. Drive down from Calistoga (6.5 hours at a minimum) on Monday; drive around the city all day Tuesday; drive home all day Wednesday. It was great. We love LA!

Funny, I found musical cues all over the city. Seeing the Hollywood Hills brought Bob Seger pumping at full volume into my poor noggin. I can enjoy some Bob Seger, but that song has never done anything positive for me. It did not diminish my enjoyment of what might be America's oddest city.

I was there, of course to sell wine. I have dear friends in the city whom I was very happy to see, but they've lived there a while and this was my first visit. Time to sell. Selling dictated the events Tuesday.

We started by heading from Eagle Rock (an LA neighborhood) to Woodland Hills (its own city, I think, north of Malibu). We left within 5 minutes of my desired departure time, but traffic was bad. Los Angeles traffic may always be bad, but this was reallyreallybad. And there was a wreck. Fortunately I had an applied mathematician as wingman, and he navigated us onto surface streets. We arrived at our first sales appointment only 30 minutes late.

That, of course, a terrible way to arrive at a sales meeting. Kaj and the crew at Woodland Hills Wine Company took it in stride. We had a great time tasting together, and we are happy to report that WHWC now stocks PWR Wines! Yippee!

The day's schedule was wrecked. I looked at my day planner and laughed. Time for plan .... P?

I will not bore you with the logistical side of events. Suffice to say that we traversed the LosAngelesVerse multiple times. I should have contacted my applied mathematician sooner. O, what joyous discoveries we made. Abbot Kinney Blvd in Venice may be hipster heaven, but I enjoyed it, too. When Applied Mathematician (AM henceforward) checked his phone we saw that the Kogi BBQ truck was in the neighborhood. We had a lunch plan. Eating Korean tacos has been a dream since I first heard of them.

But then we saw Pork Belly's. We could not resist. AM might have harbored dreams of visiting the Kogi truck afterward, but our schedule did not permit. We reveled in the delights that a pork belly sandwich can bring. Maybe brisket can, too. We'll have to return to find out. As it happens, PB's was right next to our next stop, Elvino Wines, a fantastic store with amazing selections from all over the world. We saw wines from our friends at Forlorn Hope and other gems that we know. We also saw unusual but delicious items such as Barolo Chinato (sweet wine infused with quinine and other herbs, an amazing dessert drink). They even had beer from our kindred spirits at Eagle Rock Brewery--Beer for the People! The good folks at Elvino liked our wine. We hope to be on their shelves in short order.

So close to the beach; no time to visit. We did get to return through Hollywood (Bob Seger again) to downtown, and then eventually to Larchmont Village. Returning to Eagle Rock AM rated the hipster quotients of Silver Lake and Echo Park.

It was great to return to Eagle Rock. Dinner at Cacao--"Best tacos in Los Angeles," says AM--with the aforementioned Eagle Rock beer.

The next day brought us back to Pasadena, where on Monday we had a fantastic dinner at The Luggage Room after enjoying a round of beers at Stone Brewing Co. A tasting at Everson Royce led to a purchase for their sister store, Silver Lake Wine.

Los Angeles retains many secrets. Who knows what joyful discoveries await us there? From our small taste, we are confident that they are manifold and wondrous. We look forward to many return visits.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Plastic wine bottles?

We here at Revolutionary HQ are big fans of alternative packaging. Glass bottles sealed with tree bark are just so 18th Century. Yet plastic gives us pause. Gentle readers, would you buy wine in a plastic bottle? We shall explore the pros and cons below. Please read on and weigh in. We would love to hear your questions, or any concerns we fail to address. We would also like your opinion on whether you would buy a wine in a plastic bottle, especially if that wine happened to be one of our own.

Pros and Cons of Plastic versus Glass
  • Extremely light weight. The plastic bottles we have seen weigh in at 54 grams--less than 2 ounces. The glass bottle we use at present weighs 468 grams, or just over 1 pound. A "light weight" version is still 400 grams (more than 14 ounces).

    Weight is important in at least three regards. First is the carbon footprint. Moving mass around takes energy, and the more mass you move, the more energy is required. At a difference of 414 grams per bottle, each case of wine bottled in plastic would weigh 4,968 grams less than the same case of wine bottled in glass--almost 11 pounds! That adds up as the wine moves around the country.

    The second way that weight matters is to those who handle it. A case of our wine weighs 36 pounds. If it were bottled in plastic it would be 25 pounds. That's a big difference to anyone stacking, packing, racking, or hauling, including you, the consumer.

    Finally, weight is important in reducing shipping costs. Most shipping charges are determined by weight and distance. Reduce the weight and the shipping costs will fall.
  • Carbon Emissions. In addition to the carbon emissions related to moving the wine around, we must consider the carbon emitted in producing the plastic bottle compared to one of glass. According to one plastic bottle producer (do please consider the source), "air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions [are reduced by] more than 50% compared to glass bottles," and "it takes 77% less water to make a [plastic] bottle."

    We don't (yet!) have any independent numbers, but we do know that it takes a lot of energy to make glass, and that amount is about the same whether the source material is virgin sand or recycled bottles.

    But, ah, at least glass can be recycled! What about plastic? These wine bottles are made from PET, the same plastic used for soda bottles. Those bottles have been "recyclable" for some time now, and the industry knows how to do it. But do they? We know very little about plastic recycling, and welcome your input.
  • Breakage. Certainly a plastic bottle is less prone to breaking than glass.
  • Transportability. Many public places prohibit glass containers. A plastic wine bottle would let you take your wine to more places.
  • Shelf-life. Plastic is gas-permeable. The wine bottles in question have are specially lined to reduce oxygen transmission, but even still the manufacturers recommend storing your plastic-bottled wine no more than 1.5 to 2 years. We imagine that most of the wine we produce is consumed in that window, but we also pride ourselves that our wine will develop beautifully over a much longer period.
What's your take? Would you give a wine bottled in plastic a try? If we bottled our wine in both glass and plastic, would you be tempted to try a plastic bottle?

Please let us know what you think! Even a simple thumbs up or down would be welcome. Thanks!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

How to buy our wine

Recent TTB "clarifications" suggest that it is imprudent for us to use this blog as anything other than a forum for our own opinions. We hereby divest this blog of any affiliation with PWR Wines proper. Please disregard the information below.

We love you and want you to drink our wine. So how can you get it? You can
  • buy it from us,
  • buy it at a store, or
  • try it at a restaurant.
But where and how? In terms of restaurants and retailers, keep your eye on this post. We do our best to keep it current, and we have a friend working a Google Maps version of the list. Pretty cool. At present we have representation in California, Colorado and New York. (And Denmark, but that's another story.)

If you don't live in California, Colorado, New York, or Denmark, your best bet is to buy the wine directly from us. Because of the vagaries and Byzantine complexity of state shipping laws, please contact us directly so we can discuss delivery options and pricing. What follows are general guidelines.

Shipping a case of wine (12 bottles) costs about $15 within California; $30 to CO or WA (where we also have to collect sales tax); $35 to OR or NV, $38 to AZ, ID and WY; $40 to DC and GA; $44 to NM; $49 to IA, KS, MN, NE and ND; and $54 to CT, DE, FL, IL, IN, LA, ME, MI, NH, NJ, NY, NC, OH, RI, SC, TN, VT, VA, WV and WI. Our ability to ship to various states is ever in flux. One more reason we will confirm your order before shipping. While we wish we could bring the Revolution to everyone, sadly PWR Wines cannot ship to the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas and Utah.

As always, we thank you for your interest and support.

Here's a map put together by Revolutionary Supporter & Friend K. Jensen:

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bea's Labels

We bottled our entire production of 2011 Viognier from the two vines at our house today (all five bottles). Our daughter was very eager to make the labels for the wine. We started with blank label sheets, water colors and markers, and made about 18 labels. She then selected her fave-five, and we applied them together. This wine is not for sale, so no need for any words. I think they are beautiful. We may have to do a few more that we can scan to use as the basis for a future PWR label.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Creative winemaking part 2, in which we confess our error

In our previous post we mused about the nature of creativity in winemaking. To wit: is there any, or even room for any?

We compared winemakers to chefs, contrasting the way in which chefs are applauded for novel technique and approaches to food, while the winemaker is expected to get out of the way and allow the grape to express itself.

Part of the difference, of course, is that food has few boundaries, even if it does have tradition. A Béchamel must be a Béchamel, but if the cook changes it enough that it becomes something new, no one seems to mind. A chef can use wine, but if a winemaker uses food, the product is no longer wine. In that sense wine is constrained.

Béchamel. Thank you Wikipedia.
But really, I missed the point. The nature of creativity is all but impossible to discuss because it can't be known until it appears. If we say “X would be something new in wine,” we've already created it. All that remains is the doing. I would argue that wine types beyond still wine, such as sparkling and fortified arose out of creativity, along with creativity's dance partner, good fortune. Other winemaking differences or preferences are more reflections of style than of creativity.

Where and when the next creative breakthrough will arise remains to be seen. We'll work on it. Promise.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The role of a winemaker, the role of a chef

Herewith some rambling thoughts on the nature of creativity in winemaking. Expect revisions and updates as the writer's brain continues its churning. Please weigh in with your own thoughts and suggestions.

Winemakers must be a self-effacing lot. How many times do we hear winemakers say their job is to take perfect fruit and get out of the way, letting the grapes express their greatness in wine?
Chefs of course seek out the finest ingredients, but diners would be disappointed if chefs did the disappearing act that winemakers claim to aspire to.

In simply prepared, or familiar, dishes the quality of the ingredients may matter as much as the technique. But technique is what piques our interest, and why many of us are willing to pay big money to eat food. Even perfect ingredients cost much less than the plate prepared from them at a restaurant. We are paying for technique.

From Adria's Wikipedia page and used under a Creative Commons License. Thanks!
The current issue of Lucky Peach has a wonderful, thought-provoking article on Ferran Adria, a master of technique to say the least. Adria makes the point clearly: "I laugh now when people say 'No, the future is the product, the ingredients.' That is gibberish. What's important is the creative talent."
What is the creative talent in wine, and how can it be set free? Winemakers know that the self-effacing statement is a convenient fiction that marketers and, we hope, the public want to hear. The winemaker must make decisions that will greatly influence the finished wine, and there really is no true expression of the fruit, unless you consider that to be the shriveled or rotten end state of unpicked grapes.

Is deciding to pick at 25 degrees Brix (percent sugar in the grapes) rather than 22, or 27, a creative decision? Are the other routine decisions of how to handle the fruit and fermenting must, and how to age the wine creative, or stylistic decisions?

Adria says that the first person to make a mousse expanded the culinary language. What's an analogy in wine? Aside from the endless grape varieties wine can be made with, we have categories such as still, sparkling, fortified. Sometimes grapes are processed in some way before fermentation, e.g.,
Amarone, Ice Wine. Relatively new (or returned) to the wine world are the "orange" wines, white wines fermented and aged on the skins, often in oxidative conditions. We also have new techniques at hand, such as flash-detente, electrodialysis, and reverse osmosis with selective membranes to adjust the concentration of compounds such as tartaric acid, acetic acid, alcohol and ethylphenols. Are these techniques expanding the language of wine? Do they offer new creative outlets?

Do the ever-popular
Biodynamics(tm) rules for farming enhance the winemaker's creative options?

In truth, winemakers love to share ideas, and these discussions can lead to experimentation in the winery. Both the conversations and the experiments are a lot of fun. Is it creative to try a technique that another winemaker is already using? What is a creative breakthrough in wine, and where will the next come from?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's Day Thoughts

In 1998 I visited France for the first time, in the company of my wonderful wife-to-be. We explored Paris, Burgundy, the Rhone and Provence. Not bad for a 2-week visit. Between Burgundy and the Rhone we took an impulsive side trip to the Jura, nestled against the western tip of Switzerland.

There we found fabulously stinky cheeses and impossibly obscure (but delicious!) wines, from the ethereal Poulsards and Trousseaus to the tangy Savagnins and Vins de paille. We also found a spectacular campground, set among lakes underneath towering mountains.


We found no grocery store, nor any other purveyor of food save for the one-Michelin-star restaurant at the campground itself (yes, that's how they do it in France. This is not KOA). Lacking appropriate attire to enter the restaurant, we sheepishly approached the kitchen door and explained our plight. "One hour" the shadowy figure behind the screen declared, "and 20 francs."

An hour later we were clutching a perfectly roast chicken and an abundance of frites. We returned to our campsite for the feast. We lacked silverware and napkins, but we did have a bottle of 1985 Burgundy we had found in a grocery store in Chablis for a song. '85 was a great vintage, but would a simple AOC Bourgogne hold up for 13 years? Yes, dear readers. Yes.

That meal, wonderful roast chicken, perfectly crisp french fries, and a simple but well aged Burgundy, enjoyed in the beautiful outdoors with my true love, is the most happily remembered meal of my life.

It's the day before Valentine's and, like many of you, we have yet to firm up our plans for tomorrow. As we consider our options, we'll look for inspiration in the memories of our time in the Jura. Enjoy your day!

Note: Inspiration for this post came from Thank you, Elsbeth!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hey, Maury! VdN, flor and more

We like to believe that winemakers are a naturally curious, inquisitive bunch. To that end, we have an experiment going that delights and amazes us. We are working on an admittedly bizarre dessert wine, inspired by the wines of Maury, in Southwest France. These wines are made from Grenache (mostly), but the fermentation is stopped by the addition of brandy (as is the case with Port) to leave some unfermented sugar in the wine. Then they are left outside in small glass containers, experiencing wild swings in temperature, and a great deal of ultraviolet exposure, along with some oxygen.

We decided to try this a bit late, when all of our Grenache had long since finished fermentation. So we combined fermented Grenache, unfermented Syrah juice, and grape alcohol to achieve about 20% alcohol (as in Maury). Two minuscule gallon jugs now sit exposed to the elements, as they will for at least a couple of years.

The odd thing is that one of the jugs has developed a flor, or yeast film (most commonly seen in Sherry). How are these yeasts able to survive such high alcohol, not to mention near-freezing temperatures? We'd like to know. Perhaps we'll manage to take a sample for analysis, to see what's in there.

Sadly, this is not a commercial-scale project, though of course we'll be "analyzing" the wine when it is finished. Inform of us of your analytical bona fides if you would like to help, when the time comes.

Pictures will follow.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Forlorn Hope Wines

What were we thinking? We weren't. Should've brought the camera. Should've taken notes. Shoulda shoulda shoulda.

Matthew Rorick of Forlorn Hope Wines just hosted us and allowed us to taste the wines he will soon bottle. Readers, they are astonishing.

Matthew's wines are Rare Creatures. That is, he produces wines from varieties not seen everyday. When was the last time you had a Verdelho? Okay, how about Alvarelhao? Really? Then what about St-Laurent? We thought so.

Matthew's not using these grapes because they are obscure but because he believes they can make wonderful wines. And in his hands, they certainly do.

Matthew is passionate about his winemaking, and we really mean it. His eyes are bright and he is lively and animated as he talks about his wines. He is full of ideas for the next vintage and always trying to learn more from past vintages with each taste. He follows some admirable rules--no added water or acid, for instance (not to mention insisting upon printing the true alcohol level on his labels*)--but is always willing to experiment. We got to taste a 2010 Gewurztraminer fermented to dryness on its skins (this is extremely unusual). It was proudly, truly and beautifully Gewurz, but it had extra layers of complexity and interest thanks to the maceration on the skins.

We also got to try a Charbono that was done 100% whole cluster. It had the pure, rich dark fruit of Charbono supported by a firm foundation of tannin from the stems.

Prices for his wines are beyond reasonable. Please seek them out and support Matthew's project. And next time I'll bring a camera.

*TTB rules allow as much as 1.5% error in either direction. And that's just what's allowed.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Another video!

The last movie was such a hit (see post below) that we could not help ourselves. Here's our latest video post:

We hope you like it. Comments and suggestions are most certainly welcome!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Karma--more innovative packaging

The latest in our ongoing series on innovative wine packaging is Karma California Brut. We discovered it on a Virgin America flight and given the cool bottle and our naive belief that Virgin would have wine worth drinking  we ordered it up.

Well, at least the bottle was cool. Not much really innovative--it's still glass, and it has a screwcap--but it sure is not traditional sparkling wine packaging. We appreciate that much, at least. Read on if you care to learn more about the wine.
The wine was close to bland, and that is probably good. It does have a slight sweetness (so why call it Brut?) that builds over time, annoyingly. Our overall rating: better than Sofia. Which is not saying much.

The website is surprisingly cool, aside from the autoplay, horrible music. What is up with that?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Odds and Ends

Item: Organic? Biodynamic? Sustainable? What do these terms mean and what's the best way to farm? The answer, of course, is outrageously complex. Slate did a fine job tackling the question, given the size of the piece. They gave sustainable farming short shrift, however, as we point out in the comments. The big knock on "sustainable" is that it is ill-defined. True, but that's not as big a problem as it seems. Bigger, we feel, is that the threshold for calling yourself sustainable under the certification systems is pretty low. If you'd like to learn more about sustainable grape growing, take a look at the Lodi Rules program, and the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.

For the record, PWR Syrah comes from the CCOF Organic Massa Ranch, in Yountville, Napa Valley, while our 2010 Grenache comes from the Hunters Oak Vineyard, farmed sustainably in accordance with the Lodi Rules.

Item: Our quest to discover new ways to package wine continues. Today we learned about Indulge Wine in pouches, which is basically bag-in-box without the box. 2 wines are available in 1.5L pouches (equivalent to 2 standard wine bottles). Retail price is $20 each for 2009 Sauvignon Blanc (North Coast) and 2009 Pinot Noir (Central Coast). Available only in California at present. We hope to find the wines soon to report on their quality.

We also learned about Boisset's new twist on bag-in-box....bag-in-barrel. We're not sure we see the point, as the barrel will take up more space than a box and counteract some of the environmental benefits of BiB (less packaging, lighter weight), but as this article states, it would make a good conversation piece. And Boisset points out that the barrel is re-fillable, so it would only be transported once.

Item: We can't resist sharing this picture with you. We are so proud. We held back a tiny amount of the 2009 Bea's Knees and bottled it in January in magnums. Here they are.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Free Tickets--Dark & Delicious--Petite Sirah tasting Februrary 18

We have a pair of tickets to give away to the Dark & Delicious tasting in Alameda on Friday, February 18, 2011, from 6-9pm at the Rock Wall Wine Company.

Dark & Delicious is sponsored by PS I Love You, the Petite Sirah advocacy group. We are huge fans of Petite Sirah--we even make it for a living. If you don't know the delicious, rich, full-throttle wines redolent of chocolate and blackberry, or would like to get to know them better, this is the event for you. 48 wineries are slated to pour, representing the regions where PS does best--Napa Valley, Mendocino, Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley, Paso Robles, and the Sierra Foothills to name a few--and including some of our favorite producers, such as Robert Biale Vineyard, Foppiano, Artezin, Ballentine, and Bogle.

There will also be a ton of food. The full list is here, and includes Napa's Fume Bistro.

So how do you get free tickets? First step, ask. And why don't you also tell us a little about why you would like to attend the event. Promises to report back on the event will be viewed favorably.

You may enter in a publicly-viewable comment here on the blog, or privately via email: pwr [at] att [dot] net. Please do so by this Friday, January 28. We'll sift through the mountains of entries and choose a winner subjectively but fairly, to be announced no later than Monday, January 31.

Many thanks to PS I Love You for the tickets. We look forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

FLASQ Wines in Aluminum Bottles

We are pleased to take a break from reporting on PWR's Progress to tell you about a new discovery, FLASQ wines in aluminum cans bottles. We love alternatives to glass bottles for ever-so-many reasons, and we thrill to learn of any new wines so packaged. Some such products reviewed in the past have disappointed, while we have raved about others.

To repeat ourselves, the glass bottle with cork stopper was a great idea 400 years ago, but we can surely do better. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of the alternatives we know of--aluminum cans/bottles, bag-in-box, tetrapak, screwcaps--except that none of these technologies so far seems up to long term wine storage. But most wine is consumed within hours of purchase, and most wine intended for aging will be put in a glass bottle, anyway.

Quality is the key. Sadly, most wine buyers are afraid. Afraid of buying the "wrong" wine, or of buying a wine that will make them look foolish. If such a consumer musters up the courage to buy a wine that is not even in a glass bottle, that courage must be rewarded with good tasting wine. So how about the FLASQ wines?

FLASQ's inaugural release consists of a 2009 Chardonnay (Monterey County) and a 2009 Merlot (San Luis Obispo County). FLASQ kindly provided a sample of each, and we are happy to report that we like both wines. The Merlot has a great, fruity nose and is quite pretty to behold. It is a light wine, showing little tannin or oak. This easy-drinking character allows the wine to go well with many foods, and it will not be too heavy to consume on its own. We enjoyed the wine at home with homemade chicken shawarma, a dish that would have clashed with a heavier wine.

The Chardonnay, too, is in a lighter style, with intense and compelling tropical fruit aromas. The wine suggests pineapple and pears and has a subtle creaminess that keeps it from being too tart. This wine, too, will work with a wide range of food. We happily paired it with a dish of soba noodles with asparagus and pine nuts topped with a fried egg. Yum! Our brave consumer will not be disappointed in either wine.

The package is great, too. The image above shows the Merlot bottle sandwiched between a 375mL wine bottle (same volume as the FLASQ) and a 12-ounce beer bottle (just a little less volume). The FLASQ is easy to grip, very lightweight (not to mention shatterproof), and that wide mouth is terrific. This product is all about portability, right? And surely there are places you will end up where a glass is either unwelcome or forgotten. Yep, we tried the wine straight from the FLASQ and it was just fine. We were tickled to see that the FLASQ fact sheet boasts about this trait.

The manufacturers also claim that the bottle chills much more rapidly than glass. We did not test this but it is quite easy to believe given the thinness and conductivity of aluminum versus glass.

FLASQ warns that the wines should be consumed within 6 months of purchase. That's not a problem for these wines, which were not meant for aging, but we would love to see a new wine container that will allow the wine to age.

At present, the FLASQ wines are available in only 20 states, although they hope to find distribution in all 50. If you live in AL, AR, AZ, CT, FL, GA, IL, IN, LA, MA, MI, MS, NC, RI, SC, TN, TX or VA, take a look here to find your distributor if you don't yet see the wine in stores.

The wines will be available for $5.99-$7.99 per 375mL bottle (the pricing is ultimately up to the distributor and retailer; hence the range). That is the equivalent of $12-$16 per bottle (750mL). Given that a 1L TetraPak of Bandit wine, holding more than 2.5 times as much wine as the FLASQ bottle, is on sale at our local grocery store for $6, this might be a problem for FLASQ, despite the fact that, based on our tastings,  FLASQ wines are far more enjoyable than Bandit's.

We wish FLASQ success and recommend the wines, especially for taking places where a glass bottle would be awkward. We look forward to more offerings and to California distribution.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hyping another winery--Bokisch Vineyards

Of course we are here to promote PWR Wines, but it is in keeping with our purpose to let you know about great wine buys out there.

We have long been fans of Bokisch Vineyards. Markus Bokisch has planted a number of spanish varieties in the Lodi area, where they thrive in the heat. We are glad that he champions these varieties, and we also think he does a great job farming and making wine from them. Bokisch adheres to the Lodi Rules for sustainable winegrowing, which have become the template for the rest of the state.

Two of our favorites, the 2007 Garnacha and 2006 Graciano, are now on sale for $100/mixed case (6 of each). Shipping is free in California.

The Garnacha will be a bit of a sneak preview for PWR Wines fans. PWR Wines is buying 1 ton of Bokisch Vineyards garnacha this year. We will make the wine this fall and expect to release it next summer.

So check it out, enjoy, and let us know what you think!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Why good California wine is so darn expensive

We read a piece on the Tablas Creek blog* today that is too good not to share. The piece explains in thorough detail why Tablas Creek elected not to buy a potential vineyard site to expand production of their $25/bottle Cotes de Tablas line. The short answer is that the land was too expensive. In getting to that conclusion Jason Haas delineates financing costs, farming costs, winemaking costs, and the cost of just about everything that goes into that bottle of wine. It's difficult to see how anyone could produce a good wine from a coastal vineyard for less than $25.

Haas allows "that as long as winemakers can find older vineyards of less-fashionable varietals, we'll see growth" in the $10-$20 range, but scavenging thus is hardly sustainable. Such scavenging is pretty much PWR's business plan, and given our size and the economic malaise in the wine industry, we expect to have no trouble sourcing good grapes over the next few years, but we certainly won't be planting a vineyard any time soon.

What's the solution? We are not sure there is one. As Haas eloquently states, there are too many demands on land suitable for planting coastal vineyards to expect land prices to fall significantly. The California coast simply is not suited to produce great wines at low prices, at least not on a large scale.

The solution may lie inward, however. California's Great Central Valley, which runs from Redding in the north to Bakersfield in the south, produces much of the nation's produce and is no stranger to the grapevine. Most of the viticulture is focused in the Souther San Joaquin Valley--roughly from Fresno to the South--where the winegrapes planted among the Thompson seedless raisin grapes are hardly renowned for their quality.

The Southern San Joaquin (SSJ) is hot and nearly water-less, with sandy and somewhat saline soils. This is no region for Chardonnay or Cabernet, let alone Pinot Noir (although acres of each variety are planted there, with disastrous results). But we believe the region could be just fine for varieties suited to such a climate. Varieties from regions such as Greece (Xinomavro, anyone?), Sicily (Nero D'Avola) or Spain (Garnacha/Grenache), for instance.

Housing pressures are great even in the SSJ, but land is still much cheaper than in coastal regions. It's also less expensive to farm. Now we just need to find a grower willing to take the plunge!**

* The Tablas Creek blog is well worth reading for many reasons. Today's piece illustrates the best of them--Jason Haas is open and honest in his discussions. The blog does not read like PR fluff. We love Tablas Creek wines. While not exactly inexpensive, they represent excellent quality at their prices, and are easily the match of wines costing many times as much.

** One reason growers are reluctant to plant varieties that may be better suited to their climate is the perception that consumers won't buy a wine that does not bear a familiar varietal name on it. Given the difficulties *everyone* is facing selling Syrah these days, the growers are probably correct. But would you rather have an eye-poppingly good Mavrodaphne or a dreary, flabby raisin-y Cabernet? Good. Now go tell 100 of your friends.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

We have a Winner!

In a recent post, we asked for help naming the 2009 PWR blend of Syrah (40%), Zinfandel (40%) and Petite Sirah (20%), that we will bottle in July.

We got a lot of great suggestions, and we thank everyone who shared with us. After careful consideration, we have decided to go with the name Bea's Knees, in honor of our daughter, who it just so happens turns one on Saturday.

Mike Trotta, who makes the delicious wines at Elyse Winery, made the winning suggestion. Lucky for him, we can legally give him a bottle of the wine he named. Lucky for us, too, because if we had to go with the "legal alternative" we promised to any winner from a state closed to wine shipping, we would have been stumped. What's the equivalent of a bottle of delicious, lovingly made wine?

Again, the wine will be bottled in July, along with our 2009 Syrah from Massa Ranch in Napa Valley's Yountville AVA. We'll make the wines available to you shortly thereafter. We cannot wait to share what we have made.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Wine and Food pairing -- what's the big deal?

Ask anyone in the wine industry, whatever their role, what question they are most often asked and the answer will be some variation of "What food goes with this wine?"

If a wine's back label says anything at all (beyond some gibberish about the glorious winery owner or the wonderful vineyard site) it will recommend food pairings.

Look at any winery's twitter stream and every other tweet will mention food and wine pairing.

We have two questions:

1. Are you, dear reader, interested in this sort of knowledge?
2. Why?

We don't mean to be snide. Rather, we feel that food and wine pairing is both incredibly subjective and relatively unimportant. There are a few no-brainers: most any steak will go well with most any red wine; most any crisp white will go well with shellfish, and some rich and fat whites will go well with some shellfish, Chardonnay and oysters, for instance.

But even those basics are disputed by some, and rightly so. What works for us may not work for you.

Or at least not as well. Because there are very few combinations that are disastrous to either wine or food. Artichokes are famous for making wine taste metallic, and peanut butter can make wine taste funny, too.

On the other hand there are very few combinations that make wine and food transcend themselves to become some magically wonderful taste sensation unlike any you have ever before experienced.

Which, come to think of it, is probably what people are asking for when they ask the question. But don't you think we'd tell you if we knew? And the answer probably isn't, "This wine pairs well with chicken, fish, roast meats, game and pizza," as you'll likely see on that back label.

In fact, the answer probably is not a particular pairing in the first place. Probably what makes some combinations so heavenly--and it does happen, dear reader. If not for you yet, we hope very much that it does soon--what makes some combinations so heavenly, we repeat, is the company.

The Jura (not where we were, though). Thanks, Modzzak.

Our most cherished wine memory involves a bottle of 1985 Burgundy (the cheap low-end stuff; we probably paid about $8) drunk in 1998 at a campsite in the Jura. We ate it with roast chicken and french fries we got from the servants' entrance of the nearby restaurant (for which we were impossibly underdressed), which was the only restaurant or grocery open on that lovely Sunday afternoon.

Chicken, but you knew that: / CC BY 2.0

We were in the middle of a wonderful journey together and were entranced by the high mountain meadows and the Jura's stunning peaks. By our humble tent amidst all the splendor, the wine, chicken and fries were transporting--not that we wanted to go anywhere. It seemed all was abloom and a radiant glow suffused everything--the food, the wine, us.
Nope, that wasn't the bottle. Thanks, Wine Label Readers.

Does that mean that chicken and fries is the perfect combination for cheap burgundy? Maybe.... But it's at least as likely that the best way to enjoy a cheap burgundy is to walk around a mountain lake before enjoying dinner in the late summer light with your beloved. Yeah, that seems the more likely pairing.

What do you think? We'd love to hear your tales of food/wine bliss. We'd also love to know why you ask that question, if you do, and what sort of answer satisfies.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The PWR plan to take over the world

In the January 18, 2010 issue of The New Yorker, Malcom Gladwell writes about the character traits that make enrepreneurs succecssful. We admit to being momentarily taken aback, as we fit almost none of the criteria.

Successful entrepreneurs
  • write a business plan.  We have not written a formal business plan, though we do have a mission statement. Does that count?
  • take over an existing business, rather than starting from scratch. Last time we checked, no revolutionary wineries were for sale. Or were we supposed to swashbuckle our way in? Oh, wait. There aren't any (other) revolutionary wineries.
  • sell to other businesses, rather than consumers. But we want you, the PEOPLE, to have our wine, not other businesses.
Gladwell goes on to say that failed entrepreneurs
  • underemphasize marketing. Well, we have TOP people working on our labels, and we've chatted up marketers at parties in an effort to get free marketing advice.
  • don't understand the importance of financial controls. Guilty as charged. What is a financial control, anyway?
  • Try to compete on price. Well, yes! That's what we're all about. Bringing to market great wine at a great price.
Gladwell concludes that taking these risks "reflect[s] a lack of preparation or foresight." As you can see, neither is lacking on our count. We are surely making mistakes, but not for lack of trying.

But perhaps we are on the wrong track entirely. Because Gladwell is talking about successful, or not, entrepreneurs. And we are not trying to become wine moguls or anything of the sort. Our mission is clear and succinct and does not include our personal enrichment.

Doubtless we have fretted in vain.

Nor should you fret. The wine is resting happily in barrel. We shall see whether it will be ready for bottling in late spring, in which case it should be available by mid-summer. If not, it will be available when it is ready. And we'll be sure to let you know.

Until then, we thank you for your patience, and wish you happy, and not ruinously expensive, drinking.

The People's Wine Revolution

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wines for the People is Dead! Long Live Wines for the People!

We have enjoyed ourselves immensely, but it is time to end the Wines for the People blog as we know it. We set out to share our love of wine with our readers, as well as some of our knowledge to help you enjoy wine more, and have fewer disappointing glasses, without having to spend a lot of money. We hope we have succeeded.

When this blog returns--and it will--its new focus will be the wines we are producing as The People's Wine Revolution. PWR Wines is all about delivering top-quality wine at reasonable prices. No surprise there. We do hope you will return to see the new incarnation.

In the meantime, the older posts will remain, and we do hope you'll explore and catch up on any that you may have missed. All the posts are indexed by category here. With New Year's Eve fast approaching you may want to review the video lesson on opening sparkling wines with a sword (or butter knife), found here.

We remain at your service to answer any wine-related (or not) questions you have. Please comment on the site or contact us directly via email: pwr [at] att [dot] net

The People's Wine Revolution

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ritual Pinot Noir

The 2008 Ritual Pinot Noir from Chile's Casablanca Valley is delicious and represents a great value at $18 (or less).

We have been greatly impressed by the outstanding wines coming out of Chile of late. The success of the Chono Riesling (discussed here), for example, shows that Chile can excel with cool-climate varieties. This wine, our first Chilean Pinot, is confirmation. The wine is definitely new world in style, but it is distinct from any Pinot Noir from California or Oregon. It is medium-bodied, with an elegant tannic structure. The fruit is pretty, with notes of Bing cherries, but what stands out is the attractive peppery, spicy note on the finish.

The wine is produced by Veramonte, who were also involved with the excellent Argentine Cruz Andina Malbec we discussed earlier. Veramonte is a solid Chilean producer and we have long enjoyed their Sauvignon Blanc in particular.

We loved the Ritual Pinot Noir and will be back for more. We shall also continue to seek out Chilean Pinot Noir.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wine Guerilla Zinfandels

Here at Wines for the People we view wine and the wine industry with the eyes of revolutionaries. Imagine our delight to discover the Wine Guerrilla and the wonderful Zinfandels produced under that label.

What motivates the Wine Guerrilla?

 "Wine Guerrilla is a hero to those who seek wines of unabashed uniqueness and character. Wherever proud zinfandel grapes are oppressed and the taste buds of consumers are in peril, Wine Guerrilla is there."

We could not have said it better ourselves.

At our request, Wine Guerrilla provided two of their 2007 Zins, and a yet-to-be-released 2008 Zinfandel. We loved them all.

We never seem to get enough Zinfandel, let alone the good stuff from Dry Creek. When we do get it, it disappears quickly. Why? Because it is so delicious. Zinfandel is an amazing grape that can appear in any number of styles while still retaining its "Zin-ness". Zin can be restrained, believe it or not, and it can be overblown, super- to overripe, and even sweet. Zinfandel can also reflect its origins as well as any other variety, including Pinot noir. We find it does so best when it is somewhat less than overripe.

The 2007 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, $22, was everything we look for in Dry Creek Zin. It is delicious and well balanced, and it tastes like it comes from Dry Creek, with wonderful red berry flavors and sufficient acidity to match the alcohol and tannin. If you are not familiar with Zinfandel from Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley, this wine is a great introduction.

We also enjoyed the 2007 Goat Trek Vineyard Block 6 Zinfandel, $25, which is also from Dry Creek Valley, though not the valley floor. As the back label explains:
"It would take you a 45 minute drive up a dirt road to a 1250-foot elevation to reach the grapes of Goat Trek Vineyard. So we decided to bring them to you instead. You can thank us after your first glass"

This wine is incredible. The same flavor profile as the Dry Creek Valley Zin described above, but turned up a notch. Brilliant, zingy raspberry fruit that tasted almost candied (though not sweet). And still perfectly balanced. Some of this wine survived to day 2, when we found it deliciously savoury and sapid. It made us want to close our eyes and meditate on deliciousness.

The third wine may have been our favorite. This was a 2008 Zinfandel from the Russian River Valley. Wine Guerrilla will release it in January in a lineup of eight 2008 Zins at ZAP, an annual Zinfandel showcase/tasting event in San Francisco.

The Russian River Valley abuts Dry Creek Valley, but it is generally cooler than its neighbor. There is plenty of Zinfandel planted in the RRV, but it is perhaps better known as Pinot Noir country. We typically find that Zinfandels from Dry Creek are more to our liking than those from Russian River, but this wine confounded our expectations. As a 2008 wine, it is still very young, but it did not take long for it to loosen up and begin revealing its layers of flavors. It continued to grow more beautiful with each glass. With a little more time in the bottle and perhaps a good decanting, this wine will sing.

The wine does represent its origins. We find that Russian River Valley Pinots often have a cola/sassafrass character. In Pinot we find that somewhat off-putting, but this Zinfandel has it as well, and it works.

We look forward to returning to these wines and to further exploration of the Wine Guerrilla's creations.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Two More Treats from Bonny Doon

When you see a great painting or play, or read a great book, the images and ideas can swirl around in your head for weeks. How much you talk about a movie after seeing it is a good gauge of how good the movie was.

About a week ago we finished reading Been Doon So Long, a new book ($35) by Bonny Doon's founder and President-for-Life Randall Grahm. Later we enjoyed the Bonny Doon 2005 Le Cigare Volant ($30). Both book and wine have been very much in mind ever since.

Autumn tableau of Tri-Pour beaker used as decanter and sadly empty bottle of Le Cigare Volant

The wine was amazing. We heeded Mr. Grahm's strongly emphasized advice to decant the wine, and we reiterate that advice to you if you try this wine. In fact we recommend either a double or triple decanting (i.e., bottle to decanter, decanter back to bottle, bottle back to decanter), or letting the wine sit for at least an hour after decanting before taking a sip. As a friendly reminder, your decanter need be nothing fancy--an empty wine bottle will do if you have one on hand. We used a plastic tri-pour beaker, which cost about $1.

A fancy decanter, for contrast. Image by Geoff Parsons used under the Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Here's why you should decant and wait. Our first sips revealed the wine to be pleasant, with silky tannins--a simple if tasty wine. About an hour after decanting, however, the wine was something else entirely. The wine was still "quiet," in the sense of not being overly extracted or tasting like a fruit compote, but it was also intense and lively on the palate, with multitudinous delicate flavors dancing on the palate. This is the sort of complexity we love in wine, really what wine is all about. Alas, by the time we reached this stage, most of the bottle was gone. Decant and wait, and you can start at the exciting part.

As you will see below, Grahm is redefining the mission of Bonny Doon. In an Apologia accompanying the wine, Grahm writes, "[Le Cigare Volant] has become the truest lens of my current winemaking ideas, aspirations and obsessions, a reflection, of where I am going as a winemaker and where the company itself is headed." In that light, this wine promises a very bright future for Bonny Doon Vineyard.

At $30 the 2005 Le Cigare Volant is at the high end of wines we recommend on this site, but this wine is worthy of a splurge, and would make a great present for any wine lover you know. Just remember to decant!

Been Doon So Long would also make a great gift for anyone who enjoys wine and has at least some appreciation of word play. Puns and such are not our favorite amusements, but Grahm is extremely gifted with his word play and never once did we groan. His writing is also full of allusions and references, some to the wine industry and its players but most to literary works.

The book is called a "Vinthology," so we assumed that it would be a collection of pieces from the always amusing Bonny Doon newsletter. It is that, but it is also much more. How many collections of newsletter pieces can be said to have a narrative arc? This book, despite being divided into sections by type of writing (in "Ficciones," for example, we find "Don Quijones, the Man for Garnacha or A Confederacy of Doonces," while "Poesy Galore" features "The Love Song of J. Alfred Rootstock" and "Da Vino Commedia: The Vinferno"), decidedly has a narrative arc.

The plot begins with Grahm at the helm of a large wine corporation that seems to have little in common with his original and still held winemaking ideals. He lampoons the wine industry, which can always use a good poke (if not kick) in the ribs, but he also probes his conscience. Throughout the book and especially toward the end, Grahm grows ever more philosophical as he tries both to understand and to explain his enological yearnings. A couple of these entries are appropriately called "meditations." These resonated with us, who also consider ourselves to be philosophical winemakers, and we will return to them whenever we begin to doubt or need inspiration.

As the book ends--and this is really no spoiler--Grahm has dramatically altered the course of Bonny Doon in the hope of returning to his original vision. The wines Grahm sent with the book, the Cigare Volante (supra) and the Albariño reviewed earlier, show us that Grahm is very much on track. Mr. Grahm may protest that he still has far to go to produce the wines he has always wanted to produce. We will eagerly watch and taste his progress.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Holiday samplers

Both North Berkeley Wines and Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant are offering heavily discounted sampler packs for the holidays. The North Berkeley samplers are priced at $99, $199, $299--each for a 12-bottle case--and, yipes, $599 for a six-bottle pack. The prices reflect a discount approaching 50%. The Kermit Lynch samplers range from $72 to $228 for 6 bottles, as well as a $144 full case offering.

For your convenience, we'll list the included wines below. Many have been discussed elsewhere on this blog. Full details are of course available from the respective vendors. Happy hunting.

North Berkeley Sampler Packs
Celebration Sampler--12 bottles, $99
  • 2006 Chono Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Maipo Valley
  • 2006 Alto Sol Syrah / Carménère Elqui Valley
  • 2006 Roaring Rock Springs “Big Rock Red”
  • 2007 Alto Sol Chardonnay Elqui Valley
  • 2007 Perticaia Umbria Rosso
  • 2007 Mattes Sabran Corbières “Dionysos” Rouge
  • 2007 Domaine Sauvète Touraine “Oneiros” (Organic) Blanc
  • 2004 Villa Carafa Aglianico “Sannio”
  • 2006 Villa Ritina Sangiovese de Toscana
  • 2006 Domaine Dragon Côtes de Provence “Cuvée St. Michel” Rouge
  • 2006 Domaine Michel Magnien Pinot Noir
  • 2005 Domaine Philippe Livera Côtes de Nuits-Villages Vieilles Vignes

Grand Tour Sampler--12 bottles, $199
  • 2007 Domaine Roger Lassarat Mâcon-Vergisson “La Roche”
  • 2008 Quintale Falanghina Campi Flegrei
  • 2007 Domaine Barraud Pouilly-Fuissé “Alliance V.”
  • 2008 Clava Chardonnay Casablanca Valley
  • 2006 Domaine Oratoire St. Martin Côtes du Rhone-Villages Cairanne “Haut Coustias”
  • 2004 Vestini Campagnano Pallagrello Nero
  • 2005 Georges Viornery Côte de Brouilly Vieilles Vignes Cuvée Unique
  • 2006 Ronchi Dolcetto d’Alba “Rosario”
  • 2006 Chateau Haut-Maurac Medoc Cru Bourgeois
  • 2007 Gérard Raphet Chambolle-Musigny “Les Bussières”
  • 2007 Quintay Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley
  • 2007 Frédéric Magnien Fixin “Crais de Chêne” 

Connoisseur Sampler--12 bottles, $299
  • 2007 Domaine Bouard-Bonnefoy Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru “Dent de Chien”
  • 2007 Domaine Barraud Pouilly-Fuissé “La Verchère” Vieilles Vignes
  • 2006 Guffens Vin de Pays du Vaucluse Blanc “Bien Entendu”
  • 2007 Domaine Philippe Delarche Le Corton Grand Cru Vieilles Vignes Reserve
  • 2007 Frédéric Magnien Gevrey-Chambertin “Echezeaux”
  • 2006 Domaine Dubois Beaune 1er Cru “Bressandes” Cuvée Unique
  • 2004 Domaine Saffirio Barolo
  • 2004 Novaia Valpolicella Classico Superiore “I Cantoni”
  • 2004 Perticaia Sagrantino di Montefalco
  • 2006 Le Clos du Caillou Côtes du Rhône “Quartz”
  • 2006 Domaine la Bouïssiere Gigondas
  • 2005 Ronchi Barbaresco 

Jacques Six-Pack Sampler--6 bottles, $599
  • 1996 Domaine André Beaufort Ambonnay Brut Grand Cru
  • 2007 Domaine Boyer-Martenot Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru “Cailleret”
  • 2007 Domaine Pierre Gaillard Côte Rôtie “La Brosse”
  • 2005 Podere Forte “Guardiavigna” IGT
  • 2007 Gérard Raphet Clos de la Roche Grand Cru Cuvée Unique
  • 2007 Frédéric Magnien Bonnes Mares Grand Cru 

Kermit Lynch Sampler Packs
Holiday Sampler--12 bottles, $144
  • 2007 Alsace Blanc • Kuentz-Bas
  • 2008 Bordeaux Blanc • Château Ducasse
  • 2007 Bourgogne Blanc “Chardonnay” • La Soeur Cadette
  • 2007 Vin de Pays d’Oc Rouge • Château Fontanès
  • 2007 Corbières Rouge • Domaine de Fontsainte
  • 2008 Coteaux du Languedoc “Lou Maset” Domaine d’Aupilhac
  • 2007 Vouvray Sec • Didier Champalou
  • 2007Coteaux du Languedoc “Mourvèdre” Château La Roque
  • 2007 Chinon “Beaumont” • Catherine & Pierre Breton
  • 2006 Bandinello • Villa di Geggiano
  • 2008 Tavel Rosé • Château de Trinquevedel
  • 2006 Montagne-Saint-Émilion • Château Tour Bayard  
Italian Gift Box--6 bottles, $72
  • 2007 Dolcetto “I’Pari” • Guido Porro
  • 2006 Chianti Classico • Villa di Geggiano
  • 2008 Pinot Grigio • La Viarte
  • NV Prosecco di Conegliano Brut • Sommariva
  • 2008 Bianco di Custoza • Corte Gardoni
  • 2006 Barbera del Monferrato “Rosso Pietro” Cantine Valpane 
Domaine Joguet Sampler--6 bottles, $190
  • 2005 Chinon “Clos du Chêne Vert”
  • 2005 Chinon “Clos de la Dioterie”
  • 2005 Chinon “Les Varennes du Grand Clos” Franc de Pied
  • 2006 Chinon “Clos du Chêne Vert”
  • 2006 Chinon “Clos de la Dioterie”
  • 2006 Chinon “Les Varennes du Grand Clos” Franc de Pied
Collector's Sampler--6 bottles, $228
  • 2006 Savigny-Les-Beaune “Serpentières” 1er Cru Pierre Guillemot
  • 2006 Saint-Véran “Les Pommards” • Robert-Denogent
  • 2005 Vin de Pays de l’Hérault Rouge • Grange des Pères
  • 2006 Condrieu • Domaine Faury
  • 2006 Côte Rôtie • Patrick Jasmin
  • 2003 Barolo “Vigna Santa Caterina” • Guido Porro
Please let us know if you hear of other retailers with similar holiday offerings.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Falling Star Boxed Wines

Image from Stardusts and Sequins used under the Creative Commons license.
In our on-going quest to discover good wine in a box (see here, here and here), we were excited to hear about Falling Star boxed wines from Argentina. As we remember the press release, the producers claimed that Falling Star would rapidly become the biggest-selling wine in a box because the quality of the wine was so high.

In time samples came our way, and.... well, we can say that we finished the 2009 Cuyo Chardonnay ($20/3L). We found nothing remarkable about the wine, but it did not take up much space in the fridge, and it was often handy to have a drinkable white at the ready with no deliberation about what bottle to open, let alone chill. So high marks for convenience, at least.

We were disappointed by the 2008 Cuyo Malbec ($20/3L). Malbec is Argentina's signature grape, so we expected much more from this wine, and the box remains nearly untouched.

Our hopes remain for the 3L bag-in-box category. As soon as someone actually does package a high-quality wine this way, the market will be theirs. But so far the promises to do so have gone unfulfilled.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Rosa D'Oro Vineyards

Rosa D'Oro Vineyards specializes in Italian varieties in Lake County, California. Their unusual lineup of wines and their reasonable prices made us curious to try the wines. The winery was kind enough to send us some, and we were quite pleased.

A Lake County Vineyard in the Spring. Courtesy of an anonymous Wikipedia contributor who has donated the image to the public domain.
The Muscat Canelli (dry!), $16, is as dry as advertised. This is an unusual sort of wine to find from California. Most California Muscats that are not overtly styled as dessert wines are at least off-dry. That is a real shame as the grape can really shine when made into a dry wine. The aromatics entice--and lead the taster to expect a sweet, floral and fruity wine--and the dryness on the palate is a refreshing surprise. Our archetype for this style is Alsatian Muscats, which are usually made from a different though related grape, Muscat Ottonel. Mendocino County's Navarro Vineyards produces a dry Muscat that is a dead ringer for the Alsatian style.

The Rosa D'Oro dry Muscat is something else again. The aromatics are relatively tame for a Muscat, but the wine is explosively delicious on the palate, with an almost honey-like texture. We enjoyed this before, during and after a dinner of Ma Po Tofu, a spicy dish typically served with beer. The wine worked as aperitif, accompaniment and digestif, and maintained its delicious character throughout.

We also enjoyed the Rosa D'Oro Dolcetto, $18. This is another variety not widely grown in the US. This wine is a true Dolcetto but we found it more approachable than many Italian versions, which can be hard--overly tannic and acidic. But the wine was not overripe, which would make it too fat or soft. The tannins are just right, giving the wine a grippy mouthfeel, and are sufficient to see the wine through several years' aging. The wine tastes almost sweet at first, with notes of blueberry and blackberry, and the finish is quite pleasant.

We are eager to try the winery's other offerings, especially the Aglianico and the Refosco. These varieties are even less widely grown in the US than Dolcetto, and we look forward to seeing what Rosa D'Oro can do with them.

Lake County itself is something of an enigma viticulturally. These wines demonstrate its great potential, and we may just have to take an investigative field trip to learn more.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Man that Waters the Workers' Beer

Here's another song from Rise Up Singing that we thought you would enjoy. Sure, it's about beer, not wine, but if you replace "strychnine" with microoxygenation, or oak chips, or Mega Purple (all legal additives in winemaking), could the song be about cynically made, overly manipulated wines and their producers? Perhaps that's too much of a stretch. A better analogy may be the illegal and sometimes dangerous additions made to wines, such as diethylene glycol in some Austrian wines.

Many thanks to the Workers Music Association, UK, for permission to reprint these lyrics.

The Man That Waters the Workers' Beer
I'm the man, the very fat man who waters the workers' beer (2x)
And what do I care if it makes them ill,
or if it makes them terribly queer?
I've a car and a yacht and an aeroplane and I waters the workers' beer

Now when I makes the workers' beer I put in strych-i-nine
Some methylated spirits and a drop of paraffin
But since a brew so terribly strong
might make them terribly queer
I reaches my hand for the water tap and I waters the workers' beer...

Now a drop of beer is good for a man who's thirsty and tired and hot
And I sometimes has a drop for myself from a very special lot
But a fat and healthy working class is the thing that I most fear
So I reaches my hand for the water tap and I waters the ...

Now ladies fair beyond compare and be ye maid or wife
O sometimes lend a thought for one who leads a sorry life
The water rates are shockingly high and malt is shockingly dear
And there isn't the profit there used to be in wat'ring...

--Paddy Ryan
©Workers Music Assoc, UK

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Sparkling Shiraz

We have a great recommendation if you are looking for something different to bring out at Thanksgiving: sparkling Shiraz. Who doesn't like sparkling wine? But when it's red, not white or pink, it's a completely different experience.

We have always been drawn to sparkling Shiraz wines, though in the past they have never quite met our expectations. However, the Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Sparkling Shiraz, $18, is a winner. The tricky part with bubbly red wine is balancing the tannins with the carbonation and the acid. The three together can be very hard on the palate because the carbonation enhances the astringency and bitterness of the wine phenolics. Other sparkling Shiraz we have tried have had an overly bitter finish. The Wyndham Estate, in contrast, is very nicely balanced, with typical Shiraz fruitiness and some orange rind flavors (but not too bitter). The bubbles themselves might be ever so slightly out of whack--the wine goes into the glass with froth more than effervescence, and the sparkle faded more quickly than we would have liked, but this is a minor complaint.

We enjoyed the wine with an Indian-inspired dinner of spicy chickpeas, sauteed broccoli, and coconut rice. The wine worked beautifully with this meal, which would have proved challenging to most wine pairings. This is a great wine for holiday gatherings, and its weight, balance, and flavors allow it to work as an aperitif, with hors d'ouevres, with a meal, or even with dessert.

Please note that we very happily received this wine as a sample.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bonny Doon 2008 Ca' del Solo Albariño

We'll get straight to the point--the 2008 Bonny Doon Ca' del Solo Albariño, $20, is a triumph. This is a dead ringer for a Spanish Albariño. We even find it more enjoyable than the Spanish Albariños you are most likely to encounter, such as Burgans. The delicacy of Bonny Doon's version is enhanced by the wine's low alcohol, for California--it weighs in at 12.8%.

For those unfamiliar with the variety, Albariño tastes something like a muted Riesling. The flavors are of stone fruit and a hint of citrus, but those flavors, and the wine's acidity, are less intense than is typical for Riesling. It hails from the northwestern part of the Iberian Peninsula, where it is a major grape in Galicia's Rias Baixas region, and, as Alvarinho, in Portugal, where it is a principal component of Vinhos Verdes.

We are delighted that the wine is so good. We have long been fans of Bonny Doon and its founder, Randall Grahm. His sense of humor and his eagerness to laugh at the overinflated egos of so many involved in wine have provided wonderful respite from an industry that often takes itself far too seriously. But we have not had much of their wine lately.

The Bonny Doon empire is under reconstruction at the moment. A few years back Grahm decided that the company had grown too large for him to pursue his vision. He sold off large chunks of it and is now focused on his goal of producing wines that truly express their origins. This Albariño is evidence that he is on the right track.

Bonny Doon sent us this wine along with Grahm's new book, Been Doon So Long, and a bottle of the 2005 Le Cigare Volant, Bonny Doon's flagship, Chateauneuf-du-Pape-inspired red wine. We will consume both in due time and report on our findings.
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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Grande Maison Monbazillac “Cuvée du Chateau”

Yum! But we do love sweet wines. This 2003 Grande Maison Monbazillac, "Cuvee du Chateau" was sent to us by the good folks at North Berkeley Wines. The Botrytis influence in the wine is deliciously prounounced, making the wine not merely sweet but compelling, capturing the imagination with aromas of candied fruits, honey, beeswax... well, it's delicious. It paired wonderfully with homemade ginger cookies.

The wine sells for $24/half-bottle. If that sounds steep bear in mind that a little of the wine goes far, and that the opened bottle will keep in the refrigerator for a week, easily.

There are many kinds of sweet wines and the basic differences lie in how the sugar is left behind. The Botrytis fungus infects grapes and dehydrates them, concentrating the sugars and acids. The fermentation stops long before all the sugar is converted to alcohol. But what makes Botrytis-influenced wines so special is the other flavors the fungus develops in the berries. Unlike simply sweet grape juice, a good wine affefcted by Botrytis is wonderfully complex.

We'll feature affordable examples of other styles of dessert wines in future posts. If you are curious to try a Botrytis wine, we recommend the Grande Maison Monbazillac.

A grape cluster partially infected by Botrytis. The "noble rot" looks horrible but can produce delicious flavors in the wine.

This image by Kassander der Minoer is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License. In short: you are free to share and make derivative works of the file under the conditions that you appropriately attribute it, and that you distribute it only under a license identical to this one. Official license.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Gallo Song

We found this in Rise Up Singing, edited by Peter Blood & Annie Patterson. Songwriter Peter Jones graciously allowed us to share the lyrics with you. You can hear the song performed here.

The Gallo Song

I was having dinner the other night
With the Bishop of Idaho
He served roast beef and mashed potatoes
And a bottle of Paisano

And I said Paisano* is a Gallo wine
You got to take that bottle back
And you cannot drink it until Gallo signs
You got to take that bottle back

I was walking thru this alley the other night
And these were the words I heard
“Give me all your money 'cause I got to go
Buy a bottle of Thunderbird”

I was at a concert the other night
When I felt the tap on my arm
I took the joint, but I refused
The bottle of Boone's Farm

I was lying in bed the other night
Talking with my friend named Jane
I brought out the baby oil
She brought out Andre Champagne

So when friends and family and relatives too
Take Gallo off the rack
Don't be afraid to step right up
And tell them to take it back

(last chorus) Just say “Didn't you see that's a Gallo wine?”

*Thunderbird etc.

© 1981 Steve & Peter Jones, used by permission. From "Steve and Peter Jones” (CloudsRec) and NSLT.

With the list of Gallo-owned wines here, how many more verses can you come up with?

The UFW's struggles with Gallo continue. Recently Gallo ousted the UFW from its Sonoma County operations, but the vote has just been overturned. Read more here. The article has a great list of related articles detailing recent UFW-related events.

Do you know any other good songs about Wines for the People?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Bargain hunting with the San Francisco Chronicle

The front page of Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle's Food & Wine section features an article by Jon Bonné on bargain wines.

Bonné taps BevMo's WiIlfred Wong, Julie Joy from Cost Plus World Market, and Daniel Kahn from San Francisco's Spencer & Daniel's wine shop to select 20 wines under $15 that represent outstanding bargains. In doing so, Bonné identifies three "rules" to help you in seeking out such deals.

Before we get into those rules, we must shout, Segura Viudas Brut Cava is $10 for a magnum, at Cost Plus! Or so we gather from the article. The Cost Plus website is vague on the subject, and indicates that prices vary by region. But this is a solid sparkling wine, and would be a great deal at $10 for 1.5 liters if indeed such is the deal.

Also on the list is the 2008 Larry Cherubino The Yard Whispering Hill Vineyard Mount Barker Riesling, at $6. This one is supposedly available at Spencer & Daniel's, for San Francisco readers, although we do not find it on their website. We feel it is worth a shot if you can find it there. The S&D website does feature an Australian Riesling from the Clare Valley for $5, The Rail Tail, but it is from the 2005 vintage and may be past its prime.

On to Bonné's rules:
1. The less obvious, the better the wines.
2. Instead of paying for a familiar name, pay for the region and the wine.
3. Find a winner and stick with it--at least for a month or so.

The point of rule no. 1 is that values are more likely to be found away from tried and true varieties--Cabernet and Chardonnay--and regions--Napa Valley, Bordeaux. Hunting off the beaten path has its rewards. All very true, although bargains can be found in every region and from every variety with a little guidance. Still, $10 spent on a Monastrell from Yecla will probably get you a better wine than $10 spent on a Bordeaux or a Napa Cabernet.

If you like Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, for example, rule no. 2 suggests you try another Pinot Grigio from the Alto Adige. You are sure to spend less, and the wine will likely be as good. Good advice as far as it goes.

Rule 3 has to do with the transient nature of bargains. If you find a bargain wine you like, buy up as much as you can before it's all gone.

These are fine suggestions and will help you in your hunt, but we stand by the advice we have doled out so often--cultivate a relationship with a wine retailer. When a retailer knows your tastes they will steer you towards wines you will enjoy at the price you want to spend. When the retailer scores bargains, they will let you know. You are sure to make discoveries as you would following rules 1 and 2, and have the opportunity to stock up as with rule 3, but with more hits and less misses.

We welcome your thoughts on the Chronicle article and the suggested wines.

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