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 http://us.nakedwines.com 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

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!

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.

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.

Source: http://www.vacances-camping-jura-location.com/photos/photo-article-1285665301-1285748464.jpg

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 http://elsbethcooksanddrinks.wordpress.com/ 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.

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: http://www.flickr.com/photos/galant/ / 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.

[Signed]
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

Cheers,
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.

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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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?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Moving on up--2005 La Vieille Cure, Bordeaux

We are enjoying this wine so much we have to tell you about it--a a red Bordeaux from Chateau La Vieille Cure, Fronsac. It is a 2005, which was called the vintage of the century until 2007 came along, and now 2009 may have supplanted 2007. Never fear! Plenty more vintages of the century are sure to come.

This wine justifies the hype over the 2005 vintage. It is deeply flavored and intense, with sufficient tannin to see it through many years' aging. We have a second bottle that we intend to set aside for five years or more.

We are happy to have picked it up for $20, and recommend it without reservation at that price. However, we may have been lucky to find such a deal. Wine-Searcher shows the Chateau's second label wine as widely available at $20, but this, the Grand Vin, starts at $30 and goes up from there.

Good luck in your search!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Campo Viejo Tempranillo

Spain is hot right now. It's wines are, anyway. Best known for Tempranillo-based wines from the Rioja region, and for Sherry, Spain produces wines throughout the country. Wines from Ribera del Duero, Penedes and Priorat have been critically acclaimed, with prices to match, but bargains abound in Jumilla, Navarra, Rias Baixas, Bierzo, and... even Rioja.

We recently enjoyed a 2006 Campo Viejo Crianza from the Rioja, which we received as an unsolicited sample. The wine was closed up at first. The Mollydooker shake helped with that, as did time. On the second day the wine was very expressive. This is a tasty and typical example of the Rioja style, and it is a great value at $10 suggeted retail. We recommend decanting the wine to let it reveal all it has to offer.

The wine was sent with suggested recipes, including pumpkin empanadas, caramelized figs with Mahon cheese, and a basil-beet spread. We'll happily pass these recipes along. The wine should work well with these as well as any fall-inspired cuisine.

Tempranillo Grapes on Foodista
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Friday, October 30, 2009

Disappointment in a can

We could not be more excited about wine in cans. Putting wine in cans is great for convenience, for the environment, and for quality. We've talked about wine in cans before, but to briefly re-cap, cans come in more appropriate sizes, and are lighter and easier to carry than glass bottles. They do not require a cork screw, and there is no cork to possibly affect the wine's taste. And they are easy to smuggle into movie theaters.

Consumers tend to view new packaging types with suspicion, assuming that only inferior wine would be placed in a bag-in-box, TetraPak, or can. It is important to prove such customers wrong by having very good wine in these new packages. If a skeptical consumer musters up the courage to try a canned wine, and the product disappoints, they are unlikely to try wine in a can again.

When we learned of  Barokes' Australian wines in cans, we eagerly requested samples. We received four wines: a Chardonnay, a Shiraz, and  two sparklers. Unfortunately, we did not like any of the wines. Both whites, the Chardonnay and the blanc de blanc sparkler, tasted flat and oxidized. The Shiraz was simple and sweet, and the residual sugar in the wine grew so cloying that we were unable to finish the 250-mL can. The red sparkler, mysteriously called blanc de noirs, was particularly disappointing because we have very much enjoyed sparkling Shiraz in the past. This wine (a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet and Merlot) had good bubbles and ample tannin but lacked the fruit to match.

We hope Barokes reconsiders their strategy and improves the quality of the wines in their lineup. Meanwhile, keep a lookout for Wild Pelican canned wines, and please let us know if you see or hear of any others.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Beverage Testing Institute Top 100 Values

The Beverage Testing Institute has issued a decree listing the top 100 values in wine. Well, we wish they had. Instead they posted a link with further links to values in each of several categories, presumably adding up to 100 wines.

We have certainly disagreed with the BTI in the past, but this is nevertheless a good resource for anyone looking for recommendations for inexpensive wines. We appreciate that they note producers that use organic grapes or practice sustainable methods.

Are you familiar with any of the wines on the BTI list(s)? Do you agree with their assessments? Your comments are welcome as always.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Northern California 2009 Vintage and Harvest

The 2009 harvest is near enough to completion that we can give a preliminary report on the quality of the wines that will hit the shelves over the next few years.

The key factor for 2009 is the big rainstorm that hit California around October 13. Until then, the growing season had been nearly perfect, and much like 2002, with no sustained spells of unseasonable weather from April through September. As in 2008, we had a few days over 100F in mid-May. This year, that interfered with the set in many varieties, principally Cabernet Sauvignon, reducing yield, but otherwise had no impact. More on yield later.

Grapes brought in before the storm--and that is close to all of them--benefited from all that great weather and will provide winemakers with the quality they need to make great wines. The storm has passed now and the ground is beginning to dry out. Mountaintop vineyards that remain unpicked may be done for this year, as they got hammered by the rain. But most vineyards are likely to recover, and mildew pressure is low despite the humidity.

Chances are good, therefore, that wines made from the later-ripening Cabernet-family of grapes will be fine despite the storm, but we will have to wait to know for sure. In the meantime, you can look forward to delicious 2009 whites and non-Cabernet reds such as Pinot noir, Zinfandel, Syrah, and so many others.

Washington State
We are big fans of the wines from eastern Washington, so we were sad to learn that the area was hit by a hard frost on October 10. As with our storm, winemakers claim (and hope!) that the grapes still on the vine will not be affected, but we find it hard to believe. It is mostly Cabernet that is still out there. Yet another reason to try Washington Syrah!

Smoke Taint
Hundreds of wildfires raged across California in summer 2008. Where fires burned near vineyards, the fruit often took up compounds that led to unpleasant flavors in the wines. These flavors, referred to generally as "smoke taint," range from a pleasant smokiness that might have come from a toasted barrel to the not unpleasant but overpowering smell of a campfire, to the downright nasty smell of a stale ashtray. Not every wine was affected, and even wines made from different parcels of an affected vineyard could have very different levels of taint. Still, we advise readers to buy 2008 Pinot noir from Sonoma and Mendocino counties only after tasting the wines for themselves.

Image from www.nerve.com No attribution information provided. Please contact us to add, change or remove this image and information.

Australian experience with wildfires and smoke taint indicates that vines may store the compounds for release into the grapes in the following season. That is, grapes could have smoke taint even though there were no fires nearby this year. Fortunately that did not happen. The Pinots from areas affected last year are free of smoke taint this year.

Yield and the Economy
We mentioned above that hot weather in May reduced yield in Cabernet Sauvignon. This seemed terrible at first, given that the 2008 Cabernet crop was also light (in 2008 due to late frosts). However, it may have been for the best. The economic meltdown has put many wineries out of business and made it difficult for other wineries to access cash. In what looks to be a great year for quality, many grapes are going unpicked for want of buyers. Napa Cabernet, which has averaged more than $4,500/ton for the last several years, is now offered for barely $1,000 with no takers. Very sad for the growers, and for consumers, who will face consecutive years of little Cabernet, albeit of high quality.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Palate Cleanser

As winemakers, we face a problem that you may not share: carryover effects when tasting a lot of wines. In blending trials this can be particularly acute, as the wines we try to choose among differ very slightly from one another. Tannins accumulate with each wine, making the actual tannin impact of the following wine that much harder to judge. Something to cleanse the palate that does not also affect it would be a huge boon for us.

And it might be for you, as well. This may be a bit of a stretch, but if you are planning a tasting of numerous wines, or if you want to be able to enjoy a Pinot Noir after having coconut creme pie, a good palate cleanser would be just the thing. And you might find it useful beyond wine, as well.

Winemakers do use palate cleansers, of course. Plain water is the most common. Sometimes a dilute solution of pectin is used (pectin can help sweep up tannins). Bland crackers are, alas, also common. Until recently, our favorite palate cleanser has been sparkling water. We love it, first of all, but we also believe that the carbonation helps purge tannins and other sensory-impacting compounds.

Photo by SanTásti
Recently we learned about SanTásti, a beverage formulated by winemakers to use as a palate cleanser. We requested and were graciously sent samples. We devised a fiendishly devilish series of tests for the drink, and we are now ready to report on Round 1.

We feasted on delicious homemade char siu bao (pork buns), not the most wine-friendly fare. We sipped a Barokes Chardonnay, IN A CAN! (But that's another story.) Notes will follow. We also had a Napa Cabernet.

We tried each wine to get a baseline, and we also tried the SanTásti, which tasted remarkably like sparkling water. It differs mostly in having a slightly more viscous mouthfeel. There is a tiny amount of sugar in SanTásti (a whole bottle has a mere 10 calories), but we did not detect any sweetness.

In our trial, we started with pork bun->SanTásti->Cabernet. The Cabernet tasted as it did before the meal, and was unaffected by the sweetness of the pork bun. Next we tried pork bun->SanTásti->Chardonnay, again finding the wine unaffected by the intense flavoring of the pork bun. We ended the trial with pork bun->Chardonnay (with no SanTásti in between) ->SanTásti->Cabernet->SanTásti->Chardonnay. No surprises though we did think the Cabernet tasted a little bit dilute after the SanTásti. We speculate that the viscosity had a mouth-coating effect that kept us from tasting the tannin in the wine. In other words, the SanTásti seemed to work too well.

We are intrigued by this product and we look forward to testing it further. We have every intention of using SanTásti in our professional capacities. Stay tuned for further reports and for our thoughts on the Barokes wines in cans.
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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cruz Andina Malbec 2006

We have just enjoyed an incredible wine.

We have been fans of Argentine Malbec since the 80s, when we enjoyed Trapiche by the caseload for less than $60 (for the whole case). Malbec is a Bordeaux variety but it is a minor blending component in Bordeaux itself and among copycats in California. Argentina has justly claimed Malbec as its own, much as Australia has with Shiraz and Chile with Carmenere (and, once upon a time, California with Zinfandel).

This particular Malbec, the Cruz Andina 2006 Lujan de Cuyo Mendoza, is unlike any other Malbec we have had. The wine commands attention with intense aromas of black fruit and judicious oak. It is rich and savory on the palate and has a long, spicy finish. We know expensive Napa Cabernet, and this wine could easily pass for one costing well north of $50. It retails for a mere $20.

Part of the mystery of this wine is explained by the fact that Alvaro Espinoza is the winemaker. Espinoza also has a hand in many of the wines from Chile we have enjoyed so much of late, such as Chono and Alto Sol. Cruz Andina is a project of Augustin Huneeus, who produces the high-QPR Veramonte wines from Chile as well as the much more expensive Quintessa, in Napa Valley.

We are very happy to see this new venture offer so much at so reasonable a price, and we look forward to future vintages.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Zaca Mesa Roussanne 2006


Many years ago, in the predawn before we entered the wine industry, we visited the Santa Barbara area for the first time. A good friend and loyal reader of this blog had been invited by the Frass Canyon Winery--oops, we mean, Fess Parker--on a special trip to learn more about that winery's use of IBM for their Information Systems needs, and he was kind enough to invite us along. It was a very interesting journey to say the least.


But now is not the time for tales of Fess Parker and his attendant Charlie's Angels. On that trip we visited a few wineries, and Zaca Mesa stands out as the most memorable. We were traveling with two dogs, and Zaca Mesa, who at the time had their own dogs, Zach and Macy, warmly welcomed our own beasts. We should say coolly welcomed, since it was about a billion degrees at the time of our visit, and the winery had a lovely stream for us to enjoy. (At another, less dog-friendly winery, our dogs took shelter in the shade underneath our car, and it took all our cajoling and pleading to get them out when it was time to leave.) Kudos to Zaca Mesa.

We have not kept up with their wines, but that fond memory was sufficient for us to recommend a visit to Zaca Mesa, when friends also traveling with a dog asked for recommendations in the area. They enjoyed their visit and brought us a bottle of the 2006 Roussanne to thank us.

A lovely gesture, if completely unnecessary. But, wow, the wine is fabulous. It has the classic Roussanne elements of beeswax, citrus rind, and herbs, and it is full-bodied enough, if not very oaky, to satisfy any Chardonnay enthusiast. This is very pleasant to sip, but it is close to being a vin de meditation, by which we mean a wine so complex and interesting that it commands all attention. Not quite, but there is a great deal going on here.

The retail price is $25, putting it at the high end of what we like to recommend here. Wine-Searcher shows it widely available for a more palatable $20. If you don't know Roussanne, this will be an exciting new white wine for you. If you do, it is a very good example of what the grape is capable of.

Monday, September 28, 2009

PWR's First Pick!

We have started our own small wine company, PWR Wines. The PWR stands for the People's Wine Revolution. The purpose of this blog is not to promote PWR Wines, although we strive to produce wines that would fit right in here. That is, wines that deliver high quality at low prices.

But today was our first ever pick, and we wanted to share the news. We found an old, head-trained vineyard in St. Helena planted to a mix of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, with a little bit of Viognier. We only managed to bring in 0.37 tons, barely enough to fill a single barrel, but the fruit looked beautiful on the sorting table. Here are a few pictures of our triumph!

One of two half-full bins ready to go.


Sorting the grapes: removing leaves, etc.


The "full" bin, ready to begin fermentation.

We are now in the thick of harvest and there simply are not enough hours in the day to do everything we want to do. We have a long list of wines and other discoveries to tell you about, and we will in good time. Hang in there, dear readers.
 
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