Dibble Dribbles...

As dusty rhetoric, and a certain temperance to expectations, I have been trying to shorten my blurbs.  I created the Buzz as a quick, easy, fun read for those of you who are tired of stuffy, tweed-laden(yes itchy) approach to wine.  
I had dinner with Vic Bourassa last night.  Vic owns Bourassa Vineyards, a premium example of what 'Boutique' ventures can create, given a certain minimalist approach on a scale level.  Vic is a firecracker, a business man and a story teller.  His wines are bombastic, boasting austere and often robust fruit that paints the pallette in shades of the darkest mauve or the most gorgeous flakes of gold(the latter being a byproduct of small-scale Sauvignon Blanc, yum).  This author prefers his Syrah Reserve, a Shiraz-tastic(yes I made that up) homage to bigger Croze-Hermitage muscle juice.  This Syrah pulls no punches, slamming the front pallette with fortified cassis and red currants.  The mid pallette is a speckling of dark licorice and warm blackberry turnovers.  Would Vic tell you that?  Probably not.  Vic would ask you if you liked how 'Rock Star' it's presence was.  Vic would tell you how that wine was a 'Liquid Sex Machine'.  Why?  Because he respects that wine is cool.  I recognize that I am, in fact, a wine nerd; a byproduct of both avoiding what is deemed inherently cool and having zero reservations about continuously waxing poetic when deemed necessary.  Vic is cool.  With his snow white hair and his child like grin, he graciously pours wine with the zest of a new father.  His port, the Solera, is my go-to after dinner drink.  With heavy leather and dark chocolate, this is a port that boasts formidability and layers of character....Come to think of it, so does the Bourassa family.  
In short, Wine is cool.  Wine is the sum of those who make it, and for their dedication, they are subject to my fandom.  I will dribble further on other wine-o's as I blog on into eternity, but for now, enjoy the good stuff that we can all appreciate.
As a post script, I want you buzzers to post a review of your favorite wine.  The person with the most personality in their review will get a free bottle of the Syrah Reserve from Bourassa.  Blog on....


I'll have the Usual

Sometimes an addiction to habit can be good, considering the diversity of what has become both 'enjoyable wine' and assumed 'enjoyability'.  I poke fun at those of you who say, "You know what I want", as if your toe is immeasurably uncomfortable with a dip in the ocean of change.  I will say, however, that there are a few wines that have received high praise for both being 'consistent' and delicious.  
I like Jordan's wines.  I just do.  They make a big style Cabernet Sauvignon that is both unobtrusive and still hearty.  It's a dash of black leather and heavy currant-like berries.  Simply tasty.  Their Chardonnay is made in the Fuisse model, a nod to the wines of Burgundy that have been replaced by the 'Land O Lakes' butter model that saturates the California Market.  Brian, the other contributor to this website(and my boss), goes to lengths to communicate the elegant reservations of their fruit; a sexiness that whispers 'Old Culture'.
Another beauty, Alpha Omega, is just 'freakin awesome'.  Pardon my level or grammatical depreciation, but they 'freakin' are.  Their Chardonnay is a knock-out, it's the Buster Douglas of the wine world:  Not the most expensive fighter in the ring, but given it's shot, it'll take down even the biggest dog.  Their Cabernet Sauvignon, that I have already mentioned on a past post, is a stellar competitor to the 'Caymus' and Silver Oaks' of the habitual wine world.  I had a chance to try their ERA; a Meritage(marrying the Varietals of the Old World on our Native Soil) that easily out muscles any cuvee of recent memory.  Cultured Leather and humidor lacquer the nose, preceding a strong blackberry and fortified currants.  Hints of bay leaf like spices linger on the extremely long finish, mellow neutral-sweetness cocoa marry into your saliva for what seems like days.  It's just 'freakin good'.  Fellow Oenophile and Wine Nerd Chelsea Bellows is their Director of Sales is a pen pal of mine, and she will tell you; it's not about what you do it's about the integrity of what you create.  Our relationship is a result of my passion for their wine, and the integrity of my suggestions.  It's nice to be a professional and a fan.  
           Follow what you love, understand that variety is both the spice of life and circumstancial.  Find a wine you like and paint your pallette with it.  Vary depending on your assumptions, but never ever settle for what you deem to be the best.

Mystery loves Company

         I find myself, more often than not, as to the veil that has been placed over the culture of wine drinking.  It is with that statement, or perhaps the commanding social magnetism therein, that I pose my latest theoretical tirade.  I believe, and those of us who are fortunate enough to work our daily lives surrounded by wine follow me on this, that wine is made hard to grasp by those who believe it is simply a hobby.  Following that statement, those that treat it like a culture, a pietry dish-like community wherein we all grow with our likes/dislikes; a shared hedonism that creates what I believe to be an inherently humanistic passion.
         What am I saying?  What's the best pairing for food?  Companionship, period.  I realize that here at the Daily Wine Buzz that I take a very solo-istic approach to 'learning' about wine; but I have to emphasize that wine appreciation that takes on a tone of isolationism is at it's heart is just wrong.  Wine Enthusiasm isn't about saving a bottle to savor alone, because passion arises from the ability to communicate enthusiasm; a collective teeth clacking, lip smacking reverence that begins at the first blessed sip.
         Don't associate this article with monetary labeling either, your $20 dollar bottle could easily be a 'share worthy' wine should you deem it to be.  I love Chapoutier's ventures in the inexpensive Samouren Rouge market; a byproduct of both my miser-like siblings and my overzealous fruit driven pallette(should that occasion arise).  I think Chile makes amazingly sensual fruit, while still practicalizing the budget therein.  Montes makes wines all over the price-scale; I will say, however, that a finer $60 dollar buy is nearly impossible against their 'Purple Angel'.  A blend of Carmenere and Petit Verdot(it does change vintage to vintage) this stellar, muscular red is both a blend of ripe berry fruit and winding, vegetative spice.  I decanted it for an hour and it was still as austere as any wines being produced in Northern California.  Did I share it?  With my family and my friends.
          Love wine, but more importantly love your passion.  This blog is a personal passion of mine, and as a result have become accustomed to indulging in both sharing and caring(no I'm not the Lionheart of the Wine world...yet).  A good friend and wine drinker, Doug King, convinced me to write this article as a means to express what I deemed rhetorical; excitement.  Get excited about having people who can share it with you, and more importantly, find more.  I love my mother(yes I am a "momma's boy"), and I revel in the fact that I can share nearly every cherished bottle in my humble 'cellar'.  As a result, she has branched out and begun sharing her prized bottles with her incredibly diverse social network.  
            The only way to understand the complicated and sometimes confusing universe of the fermented grape is to hear it from a knowledgeable source.  Be humble, and remember they aren't necessarily smarter than you, they just heard it from someone else.  Wine Teachers, be humble too, don't scare them off by confusing passion for power.  Wine Hoggers, you know who you are, and cut it out.  If I have a bottle open at the bar sometime, and you see me, don't ever hesitate to ask for a pour.  I love to share wine the same way I love to share my breath, in heavy doses with a smile.  
           Thank you again all you Buzz-ers, I love you all for supporting my passion, and will continue to fill your glasses and screens as long as you'll have me.  


The Wine in Spain falls far from Plain

More and more I read articles that corral a certain cluster of affordable 'every day' wines, a treasure trove of dedications and salutations to vineyards both old and new that are trudging forward in times of economic strife to keep our tables and bellies full of quality wine. You know what I'm finding less and less of on sed lists? California Tradition. Call it oenological evolution, or perhaps some divine nod to the forgotten areas outside of dogmatic comfort zones; the truth is, the value balance has shifted to non-domestic markets.
One of my favorite varietals, Mencia, is a beautiful pairing for gamey meats and heavy starches. Originally thought to be a 'grand-pappy' to Cabernet Franc(see, there is another Cab), this slightly above mid-bodied red is both elegant and substantial in it's fruit-driven nature. Musty, but not overly dusted, it's raw trail berry flavor coats the pallette in the vein of chocolate covered cherries or the prized corners of your mother's homemade blueberry pie pieces. It's fragrance muscles up to the task, hinting at just whispers of refined earth, but really pushing that dried fig and tobacco clippings we all want from our 'Bay Side Beauties', but find ourselves scraping our wallets to purchase.
I have never met the man, but Eric Solomon(a fellow 'Charlottean' as well) has brought droves of chic and gorgeous wines from 'other' parts of the old world. Specializing in French and Spanish Wines, he began his 'European Cellars' from his living room in New York with the help of just two obscure(and now famous) wines; 'Domaine de Marcoux' and 'Domaine de La Janasse'. A wunderkind of the wine world, Solomon started young and as it stands he doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon. His pallette is superb, and his ability to take risks on otherwise unheard of vineyards helps us all appreciate the true value of walking on the wild side of wine.
It comes as a double edged sword from this reader, as he had hoped to continue to sneak wonderfully affordable wines from Priorat(an area in the southern part of Catalonia, Spain) from the shelves and let the rest of you struggle to find the perfect Napa Cab. I jest only because I find that most workaday wine drinkers apply a price tag with a certain assumed quality, rather than actually believing too good can be true. Ribera Del Duero, a region that relies on the delicate Tempranillo grape, is producing wildly popular everyday wines that marry an air of regal earthiness with a great number of dried off-black fruits. Tempranillo is a dimunitive of the word 'Temprano', meaning 'early', and it's early ripening gives it a balance of leafy vegitation and sweet tobacco-like spices. Adding in malolactic fermentation(application of lactic bacteria to convert malic acid, the sharp acid in Granny Smith apples, to the creamy lactic acid) makes a Tempranillo this author's top choice for a 'Rocky' like Cabernet Sauvignon contender.
If you're a risk taking Maverick like Mr. Solomon, or if you're just up to a good suggestion, I suggest you go out and try something from our Spanish friends. Whether it's Priorat, Ribera Del Duero, Rias Baixas(Ree-as By-shass); you're sure to surprise and impress your company. Hey, if you're lucky, you might fall in love with a wine twice; Solomon fell in love with Clos Erasmus and then again with Erasmus Winemaker Daphne Glorian shortly thereafter. For now, let's just stick to loving his wine though, maybe I'll blog love life advice in a later column.


Grape Gripes

It's amusing to me what little I actually know about wine DRINKERS. I published an article a few days ago about pronunciation, and all of our shortcomings therein. I say 'OUR' because even as much as I know about my wine, I can in some cases just flat out have no idea. Apparently there is a trend going around wherein people pronounce Merlot as Mer-lawt. Do you say Filet as if it were Fill-et? Do you find yourself saying 'I'll have a Pinot' and meaning Gris? Better, do you say Tempran-il-oh, as if you have never had a Que-sa-dee-yah? It's not our faults, because, well someone obviously didn't ever take the time to mention that you undoubtedly did not correctly know what the real deal was. I mean this in regards to not just pronunciation but in regards to overall basic wine knowledge.
This is a basic article that I hope will clear up a few inconsistencies in the world of the fermented Grape, peeves of my friends and wait staffs all over the East Coast that I have been made aware of. If you do these things, then you are not alone, because I gathered this information from a very large pool of sources in and around wine service. If you are offended by my candor, please don't be, this is tough love from a guy who loves all of you very much for simply reading his musings. If you are laughing at the people who do these things, I challenge you to look at your own understanding of wine, and I bet you'll find a skeleton of common fallacy somewhere therein.
So you want a dry wine? Asking a server for a dry wine is like asking a pet salesman for a bigger dog than the one you already have; Spaniels are certainly bigger than Chihuahuas but smaller than Mastiffs, yet none of them are quite as big as you assume their ESP laden brain to be. Dry is a personal taste preference, and we as your host have no idea what you are accustomed to. If you drink Sangiovese, the supple, acrid dryness is hard to beat, second only to the Nebbiolo Grape from Piedmont or perhaps the Sicilian Nero D'Avolo. If you think Mer Soleil is dry, then, I suggest you go Virgin(Un-Oaked Chard, not Hannah Montana). The point is, we have no reference point as to what you already consider dry. Understand, too, that dry is a taste reflex that is unique to how our pallette reacts to the wine. Some pallettes have been saturated by wines that cause that off-drying effect, and as such, we are all like little puckering snow flakes. Make us aware, so we can help you to the best of our abilities.
"I like Pinots, and I like Cabernets". You like what? Pinot Noirs? Cabernet Sauvignon? While I often shorten Cabernet Sauvignon to Cabernet, understand that Cabernet Franc is not nearly the powerhouse here that it is in Loire Valley or even Stellenbosch. Pinot Noir and it's white cousin the Pinot Gris/Grigio are both VERY popular varietals in America. So asking your waiter to pick you out simply a 'Pinot' may end in a very jarring surprise. Furthermore, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir are VERY different styles of wine. Saying you like either of them, is about as vague as saying; "I like Shel Silverstein and I like Tolstoy". While both authors are brilliant and worth their own solid merits, they both have their own expectations. A better approach to this would be to say, "I'm in the mood for a bigger style Cabernet(at this point if you're in America, that will suffice for Cabernet Sauvignon), but I could ALSO go for a medium bodied Pinot Noir. This gives your server the opportunity to come up with several choices. 'DARE' Cabernet Sauvignon from Viader is an excellent by the glass Cabernet(Sauvignon) that wreaks of blackberry cobbler and calveskin. It's mocha influences draw out it's tannins and paint the finish with ground espresso. However if you want the medium bodied Pinot Noir, Bel Glos from Joseph Wagner(son of Chuck, maker of Caymus) is a dear of an elegant drop. It's Black Cherry all the way, hints of plum and herbs tinge the finish. Give us something to work with, this is just an example, but we cannot just understand your many years of wine drinking(or lack thereof) with a simple glance. What we do, is learn from you, and put it to good use.
House Wines do not represent the house. In Europe, however, they are representative of the quality of the Chateau(hence HOUSE). For this reason, many restaurants use this title to suggest a wine for the casual glancer, inherently to save money. Not all House Wines are bad, and as such, it is key to ask your server, "HOW is the House today?" The alternative, and most common question is, "What's the House?" Some restaurants pride themselves at pricing common and quality stock as House Wines, treats for newbies to the wine world. Others put out their most basic 'swill', juice that will most likely scare off anyone sticking a toe into the vast ocean of 'Wine Culture'. Don't just order a House Wine because you are being cheap. If the server recommends the House, you may be in luck, but listen to us because most of our reactions are genuine. I have had good House wine on many occasions, but only in the instance that the server said, "Oh, its great actually", and the House will often turn out to be a foreign varietal that doesn't sell well for reasons of consumer ignorance. If the server recommends a glass a mere $2 more than your house, pay it; that is our way of saying, I wouldn't do that if I were you. Bad wine is like boxer shorts you see at 'GoodWill'; you wonder who would buy it, but you inevitably see the shelves half empty(gross).
Just because you get headaches from drinking wine, does NOT mean you have some obscure allergy to wine. Conversely, if your doctor says you do, try to listen to their educated advice please. Until I started working face to face with people on wine, I had no idea how many authorized Health Professionals were circulating through society; a byproduct of our undoubtedly 'Do It Yourself' culture that self diagnoses the pain away. Sometimes you are allergic to these things, though in very, very rare occasions. More than likely it's a histamine issue and the pollen that undoubtedly attached itself to the skin of that particular red grape has gotten into your system and given you sinus tension. Even more likely, is that you cannot hold your alcohol, and you learned the same thing that most college kids do in their first years away from home: Drinking in volume does not make for fun mornings. If you drink black tea, you aren't allergic to tannins...period. If you eat blackberries, you have no problem with sulfites. If you are sensitive to either, or if you've convinced yourself that you have, you should find a good Old World delight(Spain, France or Italy) that has a much lower metasulfite content. Further, most times I cannot unravel what you have convinced yourself of, and I can only suggest you avoid it altogether.
Any way you cut it, these are a few Q and A sessions I deal with, backed by literally dozens of professionals that put their input into the metaphorical hat that I had to pull from. A lot of you fit into these categories, so don't blush please, just know that it can be helped. This is a guide for you to know what to tell us, so we can help you. I'm sorry if anyone was offended, but I'd rather give you tough love, than let you continue to miss out on the beauty that is wine in it's most splendid form.

Fun-damental Wines: Charles Smith

         I'm a sucker for trinkets.  I'm not sure if it comes from my father's quirky desire to make sure I had a genuinely unique upbringing, or if it comes from some inherent desire to view every experience from some skewed angle; like knowing that there is in fact a box and somehow forgetting wherein I'm supposed to think and completely not caring.  As soon as we got a cargo-top for taking my seven member family across state, my father found a fake arm and bolted it out the front clasp.  There it was, in all its prosthetic glory, flapping across the east coast.  People waved, some honked, others still thought this grim prank was just flat out inappropriate.  I, however, remember every stop, ever bypass, every monument and every scenic detour.  Why?  Because every time I was reminded that my father had somehow done something bizarre, totally in the spirit of fun, I saw a side of the coveted 'American Tradition' that did not need to be a stale, 'monochromatic' staple of what has inherently become a Hallmark dynamic.   Was our family vacation less valuable?  I'd make the counter argument that my family vacation was actually better than yours(and your honor students).  I'm kidding, but I do think that the effort and earnest approach my father took in sculpting my formative youth made it both strange and incredibly amazing.  
Why am I telling you this?  Because I think there is a breed of wine maker, one who takes something so cherished as 'Fine Wine' and has fun with it.  It's not a fake arm, but the gimic is still there, calling attention to both critics and workaday wine drinkers.  I started this article wanting to expound on several winemakers, snippets of information on a few men and women who take the stuffiness out of what has become a moth-ball like mentality to somehow elder'ing the hobby of wine appreciation.  However, as I started researching a few key people, I realized that this would in fact become an installment series; like pieces of a jagged puzzle, to understand any of these characters I would have to start from the edges and work my way in.  
What do you get when you cross Van Halen(or Van Hagar?)'s front man Sammy Hagar with the venerable genius of any Rhone Master Winesmith?  You get the mad hatter of Washington State; Charles Smith.  A former Scandinavian Band Manager, Smith is to wine in most cases as to David Lynch is to modern cinema.  Wildly colorful, mysterious and at times a little gothic(check the label on The Creator), his style is both bombastic and incredibly supple in one fell swoop.  Insert also comparisons to Bjork, Mickey Rourke and perhaps even Egon Shiele.  
Setting up shop in the Blue Mountains of Walla Walla, Washington, his K Vintners Winery is gaining press like wildfire, quickly earning it's place as one of(if not the best) places to find Washington State Wines.  Beyond that, and in this authors opinion, it may just produce one of the finest Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon Blends in the World.  The 'Roma' is a 68% Cabernet/32% Syrah Blend that boasts incredibly dark, brooding black fruit.  Marrying the thick, jam-like berries is a twist of camel leather that laces dark, cigar smoke and a lush fortified currant apertif flavor on the finish.  It ROCKS.  He made the 'Roma' for his mother, it's big brother the 'Ovide'(pronounced Oh-veed) for his father, Robert.  Ovide is much more of a sensual sipping wine.  Firm and bold, the dark cassis smear the pallette with grippy fruit.  A mellow undertone of olive tapenade sits just above spicy, almost sweet tobacco.  The finish is long but not overly lacquered, painting instead the picture of mocha and herbal spices.  It's a cellar wine if you can wait that long.  His 'Cougar Hills' Syrah is my favorite straight Syrah that he makes, owing most of my passion for a dense, mixed currant mid-pallette against the finishing's of a fine Chocolate Checker Pie(if you don't have a southern family, find one, best pie ever).  It's great, and it doesn't kill your budget.  
It's not just WHAT he makes that makes Charles so unique.  He's never stuffy, he's always consistent and he markets himself in a way that makes you feel as though you already know him.  His 'Kung Fu Girl' Riesling states, "Why Kung Fu Girl? Because Riesling and Girls kick ass!"(A quote from the website).  Why?  Because it's an affordable Riesling that wreaks of Asian pear and honeysuckle.  It's floral bouquet is 100% fresh cut lilac and violets, and the acidity is about as balanced as the Olsen Twins on a 'see-saw'.  It's good.  
I find that in an industry that prides itself on 'Pomp and Circumstance' that we forget what exactly circumstance means.  In what circumstance do we buy wines?  Well, if you're like this author, all of them.  If I want a K Vintners wine, I have a huge catalogue to try from, and yet all of them are both entertaining and delicious.  Sure, I'll spend the $70 on 'El Jefe'(Smith's Tempranillo/Cabernet Sauvignon Blend), and I'll definitely please my oenophile friends; but what about if I want to pop in and buy a $20 dollar easy pleaser?  Look to both his Steak House Red and his Chateau Smith; both are beautifully solid and robust, splashing the tongue with rich hues of dark fruits and tangible minerality.  
The basic, classic black and white labeling only add to his kitsch appeal, hinging your wild expectation's of his wild style against the consistent quality of his product.  I saw an interview with him wearing a black and white Nirvana shirt, and I got the warm sensation of youthful joy.  I realize that I am only a few years more than a quarter-century old, but if people can get beyond the pomp that shackles our expectations from our overall possibilities maybe people would start to take myself and Smith more seriously.  
             As for his wine, it's seriously great, seriously.


You say Tomato, I say Tom-ah-to

As a writer, and an occasional paper grader, I have my share of peeves.  You are= You're; not the latter alternative, "Hey Stacy your home", as if Stacy is somehow unaware of possession of her house.  "Look over their!", look over their what?  I think they might have some boundary issues.  
Just as I have my literary ticks, I find that the ethereal, ubiquitous world of wine provides me with more grips, rants and silent grunts than I could possibly share in a single article.  While most occur as a result of poor instruction(I truly blame that on half cocked intellects and dinner parties, average wine drinkers you are redeemed), and not a genuine desire to hurdle the wine world in one single bound.  Here's a tip, SOUND like you know what you're talking about by practicing proper pronunciation, it will impress even the snobbiest of wine drinkers because half of them don't even use it either.  
First, the most botched Champagne house in modern history; Moet.  Tempted to say Moe-Ay?  Don't worry, it's something that really takes practice not to, as we see Moet and think to soften the 'T' as the French do(about the only soft thing they still do).  As the House is Moet eh Chandon, the 'ET' is attached to the isolated 'Moet' and there for mimics the sound of what exactly happens when you have too much of the beloved Champagne; you get wet.  Taittinger is not like Tay-ten-jer, it's Tayt-en-Zyah; but if you're savvy enough to be drinking this delectable bubbly, I'll forgive the slip of the tongue.  Bollinger, a personal favorite of mine is Bah-len-jer; again the R isn't softened up, I have heard many reasons why but I guarantee your companions won't know either.  Champagne Henriot, is one of my new go-to affordable Champagne Houses.  It skewers the front pallette with lush, creamy lilac and melon rind, before spilling out into honey suckle and Angostino bitters.  The breathy bubble structure is a subtle cascade, rather than the grinding, thinner bubbles that come from 'cheap' Champagne wines.  All of this, however, is lost if you're talking about it like it's called 'Hen-riot'.  Our aunts are named Henriette, this wonderful gem is called 'AHn-ree-oh'.  
In Rhone, we have Gigondas, a lovely Rhone Blend that generally favors Grenache(Gren-aw-sh).  Gigondas isn't pronounced, 'Gy-gan-das', like it's some Mammoth Red Wine that may or may not fight Mothra.  'Gee-gohn-daas' is likely to draw a smile from your waiter/wine steward/date, should it be the occasion.  Cote Rotie(Coat-Row-tee-ay) and Croze-Hermitage(Crow-zhay-Ayhr-Meht-ahj) are two others that may be twisted.
Bordeaux has Paulliac(Paw-leeh-yac) and St Emillion(Sahnt-Eh-meel-yawhn).  One of my personal favorites, Chateau Lynch-Bages(Lehn-Ch-Bah-jh), is so formidable in it's breathy earth, a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon grip with fresh, nickel-like minerality, that I will often forgive you for saying, "Lynch Ba-zhey" or "Lee-nch Ba-yzh".  
On a white note, here are a few twisted by the general public:  Semillon is not Sem-ill-on, rather Sem-ee-yon, Chablis is not Cha-bliss but Cha-Blee.  Viognier is Vee-ahn-yay; lord knows I can't tell you how many ways people can screw that up.  Ugni Blanc is Ooh-nee Blanc, and Tocai Friuliano is Toh-Cay Free-you-lee-ahno.  
There are literally THOUSANDS of wine varietals, millions of estates and further still different personal accents, so again, this is a guide to understanding some of the pronunciations that may or may not having you drinking great wine; your's or someone else's(I prefer the latter, but then again I'm a good beggar).  My point is, wine is something you can enjoy with all of your senses, and as a result a sense of responsibility must be asserted to control your audible reflex as well as your visual, textural, olfactory and tasting mechanisms.  Why have we so long ignored that vital 5th sense?  Probably for a lack of instruction, but more than that, we have forgotten that wine is a living creature.  'Ah-Dy-ooh' and fairwell my wine-lings, have a great day enjoying your 'Cah-ber-nay Sah-ven-yahn' or your 'Pee-noh No-ahr' and remember that a glass of wine is only as tuned as it's reciever.


Dead Presidents and Set Presidence

Spending solid amounts of money on fine wine is perfectly acceptable. There, I said it. Fine Wine is no more alien or less valuable than any other vice that we as a society can acquire. It tastes great, in moderation it's good for you, and it's a great social tool for creating positive intercultural bonds. I know that times are hard, it's a fact that I would be foolish to skirt around, but the fact remains that by avoiding the things that please us would be to destroy what inherently built us up to who we are.
Most of my musings have been on 'affordable' wines, and will continue to hover over wines that you can consume on a daily basis with little or no 'guilt factor', however I would be doing my fellow wine advocates no justice if I didn't talk about a few crowd pleasers that cost a little extra coin. These wines aren't expensive by any global standard, and placing them against the high end French catalogue these wines will look like what your grandfather told you McDonald hamburgers used to cost.
Cabernet Sauvignon is always a good jumping off point when talking about high-end, nicer wines. Since Stag's Leap beat the French in a blind tasting, Cabernet Sauvignon has been the reference point when talking about the top teton of American wine. You don't have to spend a bucket of money when buying a good Napa Cabernet, but you can and often it will titilate your tongue in ways you can only imagine. Wines like the 'Astral Cabernet' from Star Lane rock all day long at a price under $100 dollars, something that has become a rarity since the birth of the 'cult' Cabernet Sauvignons that spilled out into the market a decade or so ago. 'Astral' is an austere, tightly woven blackberry bundle, dripping bakers chocolate on warm layers of tobacco and pristine cuban spices. Winemaker Nick de Luca is an anomoly of an artisan, making his way from forklift operator to a young sensation in a market that can often look cookie cutter. Plus he used to be a semi-pro mountain biker, how cool is that? Moving through Napa, one of my favorites is Alpha Omega Cabernet Sauvignon. The definition of 'pedigree', Alpha Omega's consulting wine maker is Michel Roland. Roland is wine's Waldo, showing up like a phantom in the night and making red and white gold. Jean Hoefliger is the estate wine maker who formerly worked at Lynch-Bages; I almost don't need to tell you how the wine is by now. A powerhouse of a Cabernet Sauvignon, the key is the subtlety of the fruit. The lush black currants hide behind cured leather, echoing just enough bramble to suggest ageability. I cannot say enough about a wine that has a nose and a pallette that match up as well. The tenderbox like nose is full of round blackberries and dusty cocoa. Here's the best part, it's not even $70. Look for it to get better, I've tasted this in verticles(past vintages) and I can safely say it's only getting better.
But it's not just Cabernet Sauvignon that I'm on my soap box about. Easily one of the best Bordeaux-style blends on the market is Krupp Brother's Veraison: Synchrony. Cab based, this big boy flows forward with bold fruit, dark berries buried in red currants. Everything about the full body rounds out the mid-pallette, coating the tongue in what can only be described as mellow bakers chocolate. Veraison is the term for the change a grape goes through from berry growth to berry ripening. In many ways it describes the growth of Krupp Brother's rise to one of the best boutique wineries in the world. A fun vineyard, they integrate Napa cowboy culture into their wines, including a gigantic syrah(Blackbart) named after a gentleman stagecoach robber who actually stuck up a stop where the vineyard is located. The Syrah is good, the Synchrony is fantastic. It could age, but I haven't garnered the strength to save it. At under $80 dollars expect to be just as wowed as this wine nerd.
Pinot is taking center stage in many households, and for many of the right reasons. A lot of people transition from white to red in waves of delicate taste patterns, and as such they experience Pinot Noir as a stepping stone. The problem therein is that they don't spend enough on a Pinot Noir to really gather a solid opinion. A few wonderful examples are Siduri, Mi Sueno and Miner; three family owned vineyards with a lot to cheer about. My current favorite, however, is Saintsbury. With over half a dozen seperate Pinot Noir vineyards, they make a Pinot for all types. Saintsbury fights the idea that the American pallette craves BIG style wines, refusing to make overextracted, overbearing juice that gluts the California scene. My personal pick is the Lee Vineyard, a nice, Burgundian stylized wine that steps up to the plate with hard bing cherries set against a mellow velvet lining of spiced plum. It goes a long way to muscle up, but not out muscle, avoiding the pitfall of watery North Coast style Pinot Noirs. It's a steal at under $60 and for what Burgundy Pinots are running, it's the only real way to go.
I could wax poetic on litereally hundreds of GOOD wines, but the point is you need to go free and try them yourselves. I created this site to introduce you to the gems of here and abroad, but like your mother always said; "you can lead a horse to water....". I'm always at the shop, eagerly awaiting to shock you with some of our great stock, and I'm always up for questions, the point is it's your job to formulate some. Think hard, and drink well, what else is life for?


Jeff McNeice, a good friend and the owner of Dolcetto Wine Room, knows that my biggest pet peeve is the self declaration of Connossieur-ship when dealing with wine. I love wine, it's a major part of my life, and yet my self applied title is simple 'Wine Geek'. I apply the connosieur title to guys like James Halliday, Hugh Johnson and Robert Parker, as they have spent their life in pursuit of the perfect wine(s). In graduate school I learned quickly that you need only learn 15 minutes worth of knowledge on any subject to look like an expert, and in a lot of areas I do just that. Know, however, that I will push this issue when you purport to be a 'know-all' in the wine world. It's not an insult, and its not with pretentious intentions, it's a means to protect all the wine lovers out there who are humble in their wine appreciation.
I talk on long tangents, tyrades at points, about the people who make the wine we so love, but never about those that help us find them or teach us how to enjoy them. Guys who created publications like Parker's 'Wine Advocate' and the venerable 'Wine Spectator'. Places neophyte and sommalier can go to soothe their hedonistic desires and read about the newest hits and misses.
And that's just it, everyone can enjoy wine, but not everyone has the passion to share it. Halliday, my personal favorite critic, is both a winemaker and a wine writer. His musings are my gospel, and though I have a slight disdain for the 100 points system, I read his reviews as I would a text book for any other subject. I recently opened a bottle Yering Station Reserve Shiraz/Viognier that got 97 points on his scale. Rich, soothing Cassis pushed against but not jarringly so, was an invigorating licorice and eucalyptus undertone. It's nose wreaked of pencil box and freshly cut brush fruit. I wasn't surprised to find it completely on the money, but then again it's way easier to tell you what's right with a wine than what's wrong with it. I seldom say bad things about wines that I share, just as I find that if you don't like my writing, don't tell me. However, I will say that I absolutely adore Yalumba's The Menzies, as a counter to that statement I find their Octavius to be one of the most overrated of Australia's high end Shirazes. What's wrong with it? It lacks that robust, fortified berry structure that makes Barossa such a hot spot for Shiraz. The nose is too soft, it's Cassis integration is subtle at best and the undertones wreak of underipened fruit. Yet it gets high ratings. So whatever I'm seeing as inherently wrong with it, may just be my own short comings.
Parker loves the big, jammy style wines from Australia. He loves Ribera Del Duero, and on that note it's easy to find an affordable one these days. Torremoron makes a steal of a deal and is consistently above 90 points Robert Parker. Spain is the new black, and in true connossieur fashion Parker tips his hat to their finer wines. My particular favorite area for Spanish wine is Toro, but again, this article isn't about me.
Stephen Tanzer has a very wide span of favorites, making it easy to see why his name appears in so many fine wine circles as of lately. His love of Cava is quickly making it the next break out sparkling wine. Expect to hear more of his name, he's got a great sense of not only what is good, but what is good for the money.
Again, I have to reiterate, if you don't know these people, don't worry about it. The point is, if you know these names, then they did their job in pushing their views out to the masses. You might be a connossieur, but you might not be. Find someone you trust, a good sommalier, a friend who is into wine, or even a good book. Keep your eyes open, your glass full and remember that opinions can be like bad breath; at times we have something we should keep to ourselves.

Chateau Cashflow?

There it is, in all its pink 'glory', staring at you, it almost looks like it's snarling at you. You move towards it, you wonder who brought it, or why they thought it would be a good idea. Did it come from a box? Can you just pour it out and be done with it? How on earth does it keep showing up?
White Zinfandel is the tupperwear party of wine, a glitter speck that for some reason will just not go away, no matter how much you try to rid yourself of it. I say that with all due respect to those who just fell in love with it when it was a transitional bridge for a burgeoning California Wine Industry. It's a money maker for vineyards that don't have to rely on a solid, gripping product, and it poses a serious threat to other Rose wines that are often associated with it.
Since Bob Trinchero had a stuck fermentation(occurs when yeast doesn't fully ferment the sugar in tank) in his Zinfandel in the late 50's, White Zinfandel has been a staple of the Napa Community. Owing it's fan fare to the easy drinkability of strawberries and sweet cherries, the modern day White Zin drinker either doesn't know any better or doesn't care to.
Rested against it's skins, the juice from the crushed Zinfandel grape spends just hours with it's shell before beginning fermentation, stealing what can be the most delightful flavors from a grape that is synonymous with Napa Nativity. The result is a juice that looks like that ectoplasm goo from Ghostbusters II, and probably tastes that way as well. It's boxed or put in oversized Magnums(1.5ml bottles) and hocked the way that faux leather purses line the streets of a bay harbor tourist trap.
Red Zinfandel, on the other hand, is an amazing alternative to enjoying the beautiful nature of this mysterious grape. Zinfandel is in most ways akin to the Primitivo grape and the Crljenak Kaštelansk(don't ask me how to pronounce it either). Zin is perhaps our most famous grape, being affordable and potent at the same time. With a harmonious intermingling of spice and full bodies fruit, it's turning the local wine world on its' heels.
Good Napa or Sonoma Zinfandels are easy to find, any good wineshop should have between 10 to 15 solid buys for under $50 dollars. Falcor makes a beautiful, bigger style Zin that drinks somewhere between a Cabernet Sauvignon and a hearty Durif(a grape that varies only slightly from Petite Sirah). Mixed black and white spices dance on a heavy dosage of Blackberry and dried Cranberries. Owner Mike Bee will tell you that this is his favorite of their wines, and at under $40, that makes it a steal. Howell Mountain's Bear and Lion Zinfandel is a treat for those that think Zins have become overly alcoholic and port-like. It's high-pointed fruit hides its 15.5 alcohol percentage, dusting the fruits with dried tobacco and feverish red spices. It's under $30 dollars too...Need I say more?
The point is, Zins aren't wallet busters, they are affordable and they taste great. Dry Creek Vineyards and Gary Farrell are a few party favorites that deliver nice nuggets of budget value to gourmet fruit. Frank Family puts out a fantastic Zinfandel that wreaks of Cabernet Sauvignon influence, a muscled up version of the varietal that doesn't succumb to overly sweet berries as can be the case in a 'cheap' Zinfandel.
Don't fall into the gap that Fetzer and Sutter Home dropped you in. Eat your cereal from a box, and drink your wine from a nice red bottle of Zin, or perhaps from a drier Rose made from Syrah or Mourvedre. If you want a sweet wine, see any of my other articles on white wines. If you're still drinking White Zinfandel by the end of this article, then you're too tough for me, so enjoy it. Wine is about as accepting as any other facet of society, so don't leave behind something you MUST have if you must have it. Any way you cut it, drinking wine is better than not drinking it. Cheers,

White Whine

Yes I said Whine. It's patio season here in North Carolina, though the weather is about as predictable as the Venezuelan political climate. Insert also jokes about Jessica Simpson's weight, Dallas Cowboys playoff hopes and perhaps box office revenues for movies involving Dane Cook.
As we battle the heat wave we find ourselves drawn, like cattle, to the quaint serenity of metal patio furniture. Our brows wet with sweat, we fill our mouths with lighter fair and our favorite white wine. Therein is the problem; our FAVORITE white wine. I have no problem with habit, I myself write with a glass of wine, a cup of coffee and a Coke Zero. It's an quirk of mine, and I may only drink one of them, but I have to have them in case I want one. Creatures of wine habit irritate me, though, and it's as simple as not knowing what you COULD have.
Rhone white varietals are a particular favorite of mine. Call me old fashioned, call me chic, the pervasive flavors of Asian Pear and Apricot jam in any good Marsanne are enough to tingle both my tongue and my typing fingers. Marsanne along with Rousanne and the burgeoning Vigonier are simply a few of the Rhone Clones that are reaching the American market with some real fan fair. A good Chardonnay is exactly that, a good Chardonnay. A good Rhone Style white is both a good white and a secret bond between those in the know. Do you think we wine lovers think, "Shame he/she can't afford this lovely Kissler Chardonnay?" like we apply a monetary denomenation to appreciating wine? I find myself gleeming with joy everytime I see someone ordering outside their comfort zones(at my recommendation of course, please don't go drinking boxed wine just to be a rebel). We wine lovers are more likely to say, "Shame he/she didn't order that Miner Viognier with that Gruyere". The truth is, Apricot is king in the land of stinky cheese, and often enough, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio just will not cut it.
Beyond those lovely Rhone Whites, we have the Italian "others". Trebianno and Soave are killer patio wines, owing most of their drinkability to a rustic, austere off dryness and lighter bodies. Treb won't kill a formidable cheese, but it will bust a heat wave and clean your pallette. My particular favorite is a Tocai Friuliano, a bigger style white from, duh Friuli. Warm honey and lilac fill the nose, bleeding tones of spiced almond. The mouth feel is huge, not overpowering, but soft and robust. The flavors are decadent, aged honey and beautiful lemon peel are layered with caramel and a tinge of minerality. Tell me that your Chard does that?
I am NOT opposed to Chardonnay, and I am not opposed to Pinot Grigio, I am however opposed to sensationalism. This craze of ordering Santa Margherita and Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay(shudder) gives me a rash, only because it says to me, "I am a zombie to consumer culture". I like Jess Jackson a lot, and I think Santa Margherita can be a very enjoyable 'easy wine', however I do not ever ever ever plan on sampling them in any of my classes. Why? Because you've already tried it at someones house who undoubtedly called themselves a 'connousieur'. If they bring out a tasty Verdicchio or an Alsacien Pinot Gris, drink up, chances are they either know what they're doing or they asked someone who did.
Rieslings, another pet peeve of mine, are NOT meant to be a substitute for Kool-Aid. One of the most Noble Grapes in the WORLD, these beautiful wines have been crafted for the most sensitive pallettes. I find that more and more casual drinkers expect these sugar bombs, and as is the case in most American Wineries that is exactly what they get. Riesling, a German native-son, is in it's best form an age worthy sensation. Light bodied, a good riesling has grippy minerality with soft undertones of wild honey suckle and asian pears. The mouth feel gets bigger as the wine cellars, and can in best case scenarios become a lush marriage of breathy weight and immense complexity. Australia's Clare Valley makes the best, affordable Rieslings of recent. Even the mediocre Clare Rieslings are breathtaking, lowering the residual sugar(what's left over after fermentation) to match the subtle acidity. They are treasured abroad, and that's probably why few get over here. I LOVE these Rieslings, Simon Ossick at Leasingham makes $10 dollar Rieslings that literally bodyslam it's American competition.
As for Germany, I cannot say enough about their delightful style of lighter, drier whites. Silvaner and Muller-Thurgau are atop my list; drying, regal textures make my mouth water, while balanced acidity curls my lips in the best of ways.
Argentian has Torrontes, a Muscat like white that tastes a bit like Five-Alive of the 80's gone by. A delecate mix of creamy pear and wild apricot linger in this light bodied varietal. Rodolfo makes a delicious Torrontes for next to nothing, and it pairs with the summer breeze.
Chile makes excellent Sauvignon Blancs, a well known varietal in it's own right, however they make them a lot more affordable.
France's "other" section includes Semillion; it's the other varietal in White Bordeaux besides Sauvignon Blanc, and Aligote(the other white Burgundy).
Chenin Blanc, sometimes called Steen, is a dying varietal in South Africa. It's a great white, that if done right, battles any good Chardonnay. Kenn Forrester makes an amazingly well balanced Chenin, an honestly, I'd put it up against any Napa white.
I guess what I'm saying is, listen to us when we say we know what you're looking for. Don't tell me you only drink Chardonnays, because I'll tell you that I only give advice to people smart enough to listen to me. I don't think I'm smarter than you, I'm just smart enough to try something new, and in that regard I'm often pleasantly surprised. As a shameless plug to Dolcetto, we have an eclectic staff with varying opinions, so don't be surprised if you get a shotgun blast of varience and education if you come visit us. Either way, make your patio experience better by drinking outside of your comfort radius, it's really the way to learn and enjoy wines in the 'other' section.

Que Syrah, Shiraz...

To most, and at times, to this author the Shiraz/Syrah grape maintains a glorious luster and veritability that both puzzles and pleases the pallette. A Rhone grape at heart, the Syrah grape has spread around the world, uniforming and conforming to nearly a dozen different styles in a manner that seems almost chameleonic. Yet, to most, it is the Uigi Board of red grapes, a venerable phantom that is questioned from the moment it's own name is pronounced.
To take one of my classes, you'll find that I slighly pronounce it's Australian twin Shi-raz not Shi-roz, an homage to what I find to be a uniquely masculine style of the Hermitage clone unparalleled in it's sleek, muscular sexiness. Rhone dorks relax, I realize that Cote Rotie produces some pretty hard nosed Syrahs, a byproduct of both New French Oak and some pretty incredible wine makers(i.e. Guigal, Chave, Chapoutier, etc.) but I'll get to that. Busby's clones that he brought to Barossa in the late 1880s have now become a staple wine in the average American Homestead. Owing a great deal of debt to Riverina 'bulk' table wines like Alice Springs and Yellow Tail, America has become a lucrative market for the 'fruit bombs' that are inherently associated with Australian Shirazes. The cute Kangaroo symbol draws in more bored, natively saturated pallettes than any other attribute from any foreign wine market alone, and while I realize that I have not actually researched this fact, watch any wine isle at your common grocery store...see?
The fact is, that Australia makes a darn good Shiraz, and its complexity can compete with any wine in any climate in any Wine Growing Appellation. Period. From the sexy, complete Riebke by Teusner(if you can find it, buy it, holy cow) to the gorgeous Old Paddock/Old Hill from McWilliam's Mt. Pleasant label, you will find more varietal varience than even the ubiquitous California Cabernet Sauvignon. Critics and those who can afford it(this rarely includes myself) rave about the national treasure of Australia's wine catalogue; Penfold's Grange, a wine crafted in true rebel fashion by the late, very great Max Schubert. Stylized very much in a bordeaux mindset, Schubert created the Grange to compete on a more global scale, realizing that the Australia of the 1950s was ready to take on the juggernauts of Europe. Aged in New American Oak, this bombastic wine was neither authorized nor supported by the Winery, which of course makes it even more alluring to the 'anti-hero' culture that so draws us to Australia as a whole. Of course it rises and falls in quality year in and year out, but it's a staple of a country's history and a great example of the "stretchability" of a grapes qualities. In fact, it was once called Grange Hermitage because Schubert believed it opitimized the grapes of the Croze-Hermitage, a label that was contested and eventually removed for reasons of Appelation fallibility. Sexy in it's herbaceous entry, this gorgeous wine boasts of tahitian vanilla bean and licorice, traces of fresh tobacco mingle with smoked balsa wood that makes the mouth water. The nose wreaks of 'Old World' elegance, and in time this wine performs on a level that is almost unbeatable, echoing soft notes of brambly fruit intertwined with freshly laid tar and hand rolled cigars. I say 'almost unbeatable' because it's competition puts up a pretty hard fight. Henschke(Hen-sh-ki) Hill of Grace is a wolloper of a wine, utilizing the lover and fighter pent up in the Syrah/Shiraz grape. 100 percent Shiraz aged in both French and American Oak, this pricey number consistently ranks as Australia's top wine, only really alternating between Grange and Claredon Hill's mammoth-like Astralis. What does it taste like? I hesitate to say, at nearly $700 dollars a bottle I'm afraid to even mutter tasting notes, but I will say that it exceeds expectations. Big, jammy and sexy; this wine performs on a level that just out runs the competition. It's the Magic Johnson to Grange's Larry Bird; the latter being more composed and consistent, but still not the flashy face of a teutonic label with a rock-star namesake.
Again, not all Shiraz from Australia is a symbol of hard-nosed formidability. Shiraz from the Northerly Hunter Valley can be very subtle, and in being so utterly 'Old World-y'. Rose Hill, another shocker from Mt. Pleasant is one of my very favorite wines in the world. Rocking a mere $40 dollar price tag, this wine is a MVP(most valuable plonk) from an area that hasn't made enough of a splash to present us with a heavy price tag. Earthy, wild fruit slide across your tongue as it opens up into a mellow, round marriage of warm cassis and black currants. The hints of fine, dry-aged field mushrooms really seal the deal, and I have had way too many bottles of this beauty to argue as to it's worth.
Due praise is noted, and will be addressed to the geniuses who continue to produce what I consider to be fantastic wines out of the Rhone Valley. My personal favorite, Jean-Louis Chave, produces wines that are literally 'Wines of a lifetime', turning the grapes of the Croze-Hermitage and the 'hot hills' of the Cote Rotie into plush, robust juices that make the mouth water and the cheeks blush. Guigal and Chapoutier make both affordable wines and cellar gems, often in different price ranges but altogether tasty. Chapoutier's wines from the Cote Du Rhone echo of velvety, seductive fruit that really coats every inch of your mouth. Guigal, well, Guigal utilizes the more heavy handed nature of the Rhone fruit. Think of Guigal as Stallone's character Lincoln Hawk in 'Over the Top', not necessarily the biggest guy in the fight, but certainly managing to out muscle the competition. Other references include Hulk Hogan in No Holds Barred or Jean Claude Van Damme in Lion Heart.
South Africa is stepping up to the plate, with producers like L'Ormarin and Kanonkop leading the way. The Cape style tends to be a heavier blend of minerality and 'funk' that is just now softening down to fit the sensitive pallettes of both America and abroad.
California produces some nicer Syrahs, but the truth is, it's a road they'll be on for a while. Some of my affordable favorites are Falcor and Mi Sueno. Falcor is a family owned winery that utilizes sourced fruit from Napa Valley that makes for a reliable, supple $40 dollar bottle. I love the blackberry cobbler that hints at Jamaican spices and flakey vanilla bean. I know Mike Bee who owns this winery and he is both a gentleman and a quiet scholar, his son Ryan makes the wine with Ray Corson(huge hero of mine), and they make it right. Mi Sueno is the opitimy of Cinderella story. Rolando Herrera jokes that he went from dishwasher to Wine Maker...but he did. A former Director of WineMaking for Paul Hobbs, Herrera literally picked his way to the top, finally coming to a stop at his Vineyard that litereally means 'My Dream'. Wickedly powerful, his Syrah is a fruit powerhouse, black and red currants drip over melted chocolate, the hints of caramelized fig and tobacco are hard to miss. I love this bottle, and at under $50 dollars you should too. It's a great story, from a great winemaker, who really has a solid grasp of soft spoken sex appeal.
Chile is doing a good job of cultivating Syrah, though it will take time, considering the vegitative pallette of most Chilean varietals. Still, their blend worth Syrahs embolden most of their luxury Cuvees. Veramonte's Primus takes a huge deal of grip from it's robust Syrah, adding some depth to their otherwise soft but decadent Cabernet Sauvignon.
Oregon is arriving on the scene, my favorite that you will be able to find is Rock Block Syrah from Domaine Serene. It's just good; big and beautiful from an area that you least expect it. Look for Oregon to be putting out some fantastic Syrahs if this is the start of a trend.
So next time someone asks what the difference between and Syrah and a Shiraz is, you can either do what I did, and write a tome or you can just tell them it's a matter of changing your hemisphere. While the Aussies don't actually have "swirl backwards" toilets anymore(all pressurized; that's right folks...straight down) they do vary in their Syrah/Shiraz identification. What they also do is push the rest of the world to stop slacking and leaving us Rhone-ry. As a postscript, I will address the geniuses behind the Rhone Rangers and the Rhone revolution in another article, as I cannot possiby say enough about Randall Graham and keep your interest in solely this post. Are you still here?? Go drink a Syrah already!


Merlot'ering your Expectations

As a film studies major in the better part of my college years, I find it frustrating that our representation on the big screen is Sideways; not because I dislike the movie, I find it to be quite entertaining, but because everyone who watches it immediately becomes an expert on wine.
McCarthyism is a period of time in American history where a good deal of great artists and minds alike were blacklisted based on assumptions and fears. It is in this same light that I view Sideways with the same inherent disdain. The period after Sideways, the anti-Merlot hysteria that seized a nation, and somehow saved a varietal at the same time. 'Sidewaysism' isn't a real phrase, nor does it really catch the ear correctly, but it sums up a phenomenon that made us closely observe a grape we were sure we knew everything about.
How many times have you heard, "I'm not drinking a f---ing Merlot??" in relationship to Giamatti's tyrade as he and his compatriot pick out wine. Church, playing the perfect neophyte looks at him in all his simple glory, and asks, "What if they want a merlot". Somehow the simplicity got confused for ignorance, and Merlot became the anti-wine snob wine.
Giamatti's savoured bottle, the Cheval Blanc(I tear up just writing it, yum) is 100 percent Merlot. It is in this author's opinion that his refusal to drink wine is simply a desire to wait, to wait drink the perfect merlot. Like his pursuit of both Virginia Madsen and his ex-wife at the same time, it's the pentultimate example of viticulturally 'having your grapes and crushing them too'.
Either way, even nearly a decade later people are still avoiding merlot like a feral cat, only really picking a bottle if they hear their companion say they want to avoid 'harsh tannins'. The feverish tendency to confuse clever artistic yearnings has backfired in a big way, scraping the Merlot Grape's barrell and bursting their once lucrative bubble.
Merlot is a grape that finds it's home in Bordeaux, France. It's thought to have first been referenced by Chaucer, but we do know that it has been a staple of the Bordeaux region for well over half a Millenium. Owing it's subtle nature to a delecate balance of tight, cherry light fruit and a dusty cocoa semi-sweetness(when made correctly) this dashing, robust beauty was once a 'lady-killer' in both Napa and Sonoma. In fact, this author's first date wine was a relatively inexpensive Napa Merlot. I think it was bad, but then again, I was nearly 17 and just happy that I could be drinking wine.
Merlot has found a nice niche in Sonoma, it's relatively cool climate produces just enough 'hang time' to make a solid juice with just enough ripeness. Companies like Lambert Bridge(again, Jill Davis does wine right on the money) and Geyser Peak are making pocket-friendly, highly rated Merlot's that blow the doors off the passing trend. Dave Miner of Miner Vineyards makes rock star Napa Merlot(Gary doesn't make a bad wine, his Oracle is my $80 Blend Lady-Pleaser) for a reasonable price. Even Paso Robles is doing it in style. J Lohr has planted a similar Cuvee(french for blend, or close enough) called St. E(an homage to St. Emillion, this readers favorite area of Bordeaux for Merlot forward wines) that will burn the barn down in terms of flavor and elegance. For the best value under Flora Springs, I find that their merlot competes with their much higher priced catalogue, but still keeps the priced to everyday costs.
Moving upwards and onwards, Washington State may very well become the new home to Domestic Merlot. L'Ecole 41 has already proved that it can compete on a global stage, and their delcious merlots and cuvees are a testimate to the veritability of the climate. Novelty Hill, a wine that I cherish with the fervence of a good book or a cheesy zombie flick, put's out a $25 dollar smasher that gleams of warm cedar and crushed bing cherries.
Chile just realized they've been producing merlots that were actually its forgotten sibling the varietal Carmenere. While it's true of a lot of smaller vineyards, merlot is still performing on a wonderfully high pedestal, especially for affordable companies like Casa Lapostolle. Owned by the Marnier family(yes the delicious after dinner/cigar apertif), this vineyard really showcased the power of a good Chilean Merlot.
And yes, of course France is putting out great merlots. Christian Moeuix(Mo-Ay) makes Petrus, a bombshell of a Merlot based Bordeaux wine. I have only had it once, and believe me, it was only a decade old and tasted like an infant wine. The man who wears all the hats, Wine Worlds' Circus Conductor and a man of immense talent, Michel Roland is the consulting oenologist at Chateau Ausone, a wine that makes 50 percent of their blend with St. Emillion merlot. The result is a bottle that will age until the Detroit Lions win a SuperBowl(just kidding, we don't have that long).
I guess my point is, what on earth are you waiting for? Go drink a merlot. It's not a matter of finding out if you like the varietal, it's more of a matter of finding out which one you like. I cannot tell you how much you will enjoy the sexy, roundness of a good glass when you finally find one. Until then, please avoid drinking Cheval from 'to-go' cups at fast food joints, that too is just the stuff of Hollywood.

Champagne on the Membrane

I laugh everytime I open a bottle of Champagne and someone asks me, "What's the Celebration?" I don't laugh at them, so much as what we as American's have turned bubbly into.
Champagne is not just for parties anymore. If you don't believe me, after I cut to the chase, move on to one of my more subtle articles. Champagne isn't just for dinner parties, it's not just for proposals or christenings.
Champagne has it's roots in, well, Champagne(imagine that); a little area just outside Burgundy in France. Composed of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and sometimes Pinot Meunier, this wonderfully clean style of wine has fan fair from Popes to Rap Artists and everyone in between. Yes, as Paul Giamatti explained in Sideways, it's just the juice that goes into it. Almost all grapes are the same color on the inside, how very 'Sesame Street' to say that it's ALMOST like with people(Pontac being the grape, bad tippers the latter). So, unless it's a rose, which involves contact with the Noir and Meunier's red skins; Champagne is white in color.
I interupt myself now to tell you that Cava and Prosecco are totally different as well. Prosecco often contains Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but from it's native Italian fruit. Cava is a blend of three grapes I'm sure you aren't familiar with: Malvasia, Xarel-lo and Paralleda. In Loire, it's not uncommon to have a sparkling treat made from Chenin Blanc known as a 'Sparkling Vouvray'. While other examples occur, I'm straying from my point.
Sparkling wine, whether it's a cultural misnomer, or a serious inundation with popular mediums(i.e. Films, Music, Jay-Z?) has been labeled as almost purely celebratory. Forget that it battles Albarino and Verdehlo as the true king to the Sushi pairing phenomena, it's a wine that cleans cheese out of your mouth without overpowering the funk of a good gruyere or manchego. The complexity of a good sparkling screams balanced acidity, a combination of creamy fruit and floral aromas. An offset dryness that boasts some of the most elegant drinking conditions in any modern day glass. Forget just the taste, it's fun, and let's face it were a Coca Cola society that loves bubbles.
Critics like Stephen Tanzer are shedding light on this now flourishing trend, bolstering not just my own opinion, but the cries of millions of thirsty American's just now breaking free of their still wine chains. Tanzer, who's ubiquitously chic palette echoes the late Len Evans(my hero, and probably the only person to know EVERYTHING about wine) has breathed new life if not into Champagne than at least into the little known Cava world.
Duval Leroy(Duval Le-rah, not like Uncle Lee-Roy) is my pick for best Champagne you may have never heard of but can find. Their Blanc Du Blanc from the '98 vintage is a stunner, marrying lilac and honeysuckle, with a delightfully mouth watering acidity. If prosecco is a favorite of yours, here at Dolcetto Wine Room we serve Borgo Magredo, a delightfully affordable example of how the Italians are making Champagne sweat. Segura Viudas is a clean, beach friendly Cava that is so frugally sensible, you almost doubt every sip.
Either way, you have to start getting out there, preach to the masses and figure out what Sparkling means to you. If you have to celebrate to drink it, then celebrate every day of life. If that's how the Europeans do it, then that might explain why the Italians/Spanish always seem to be smiling. Either way, toasts to you and yours as you pop, sip and savour your newest bottle of bubbly

Call me a Cab...ok you're a Cab

Forget, even for a second, we as American Wine Drinkers don't covet our Cabernet Sauvignons the way most nations cherish their National Symbol. If you're Australian and reading this, cheers, but you don't count as you eat your National Symbols (the Emu and Kangaroo) WITH your Cabernets. I use this as an example, because the more frequently I watch my students and customers pick out bottles of wine, the more I am convinced of some kind of internal divining rod that hones in on hard-nosed Napa Cabernets. I realize that I have not specified that I exclude Cabernet Francs, as they are rare and often far more complex than some of the mainstream Sauvignons that glut our domestic markets. Cabernet Sauvignon, a varietal that makes up for the majority of mass red consumption, is quickly becoming our 'Recreational Native Symbol'. A true stickler for the boutique, hand-made Cabernet Sauvignons; I pledge my allegiance to the increasingly few high quality yet affordable Cabs in our "bubble-like" market. I say this because as times grow more bleak, there is a certain magnetism to low-cost alternatives, budget beating wines that fall into two catergories: Cheap and Affordable. Like buying a car, sometimes you get what you pay for, and sometimes a walk on the wild side will prove frugal and enjoyable. Expect to pay no less than $30 dollars at best to get a great Napa Cabernet. It's a small plot of land that bleeds too few 'handmade' juice to be a 'sneaky sensation'. Darioush, for example, makes a second-label called 'Caravan' that is a dynamite little low $30's gem. Richard Frank of Frank Family makes a Cabernet Sauvignon that is just down right solid for around $50, and is consistently solid between vintages. You don't have to rush out to Napa either. Sonoma, Paso Robles and even Monterrey County are making solid Cabernet Sauvignons. J Lohr, the popular main stream vineyard that makes the Grocery Store friendly 7 OAKS, also makes a fabulous "Reserve" label called Hilltop, that blends in just a few small percentages of the Cabernet Sauvignon's Noble Varietal "siblings" (Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and the veritable Cabernet Franc). Lambert Bridge, a rising star in the Sonoma scene consistently puts out solid Cabernet Sauvignons. Jill Davis, a student of Andre Tchelistcheff, and a brilliant winemaker in her own right, combined forces with Mitch Gils to produce a darn fine affordable bottle of plonk. If you're truly adventurous, you can look farther north to Washington State, where the Cabs are often more subtle and seductive. Owing it's terroir to significant amounts of volcanic ash and it's climates to much more subdued cooling temperatures, I find that companies like Coeur D'Alene put out amazingly wallet-friendly, tasty Cabernets (Sauvignon AND Franc). If you know me, you'll know my favorite frugal alternative is Chilean Cabernet Sauvignons. Budget-wise it's very tough to beat a good Chilean Cab, and honestly, they are mostly all good. Even the amazing Don Melchor is under $100 dollars, and I'd put that up against any fine wine in today's market. For better deals, look to Veramonte, a sister project to California's St. Fransiscan. Australian Cabernets tend to have what most people, including myself, call a "Donut Pallette". The entry is really tight and austere, but between that and the finish, there's not really much going on. However, occasionally you will find an amazing exclusion. My common favorite is the Bin 407 from Penfolds. Powerfully elegant, it's cocoa and eucalyptus against dusty tobacco spice and hints of fresh tar. I lived and studied wine in Australia, and I find that Penfolds really does it right, provided you aren't scared to spend $25 dollars and up on wine. France leads the way at producing the world's most expensive Cabernet Sauvignons, including the titan-like Mouton Rothchild. It is, in this author's opinion, that with careful research you can find a Paulliac that will stretch your dollar and get you hooked on what is increasingly the best market for truly 'native' Cabernet Sauvignon based wines. Look for an affordable Pichon, they'll peak out like mere ant hills when you're in a big enough shop, but they're certainly around.
Remember that Napa does make some of the world's best Cabs. Napa makes some of the world's best varietals across the board. If you're into spending good, solid money on wine then you may want to try Rudd's Oakville Reserve. At nearly $100 dollars a bottle, you will see exactly why you want to share it. Reaching beyond that, I find that I hold my tongue as to some of the now mainstream, former cult Cabernet Sauvignons that I would probably be crucified to criticize. Don't leave a nasty taste in your mouth because you want to keep your wallet 'web-less'. Learn to adapt, and save the money for those occasions when you want to open Darioush's single label Cabernet Sauvignon (totally worth it). This author couldn't afford a Screaming Eagle if he sold his left and right pouring arms, but then again in not tasting it I wouldn't know if it was worth it at all. Just enjoy it, it's only wine. As hedonistic as this society has become, I shudder to think at anyone not falling in love with wine for wine's sake.
Now go get a drink, what are you waiting for?

Greetings New Wine Drinkers and Wine Geeks alike...

Welcome to the Daily Wine Buzz.... If you're reading this, then chances are you are interested in either learning about wine, or already know about it and just enjoy new venues within which to appreciate it. If you're looking to learn EVERYTHING about wine, you're in the wrong place. Wine is like Outerspace or really bad 'Coming of Age' films; ever expanding and always drawing completely different comparisons from novice to scholar. However, unlike a National Lampoon Catalogue, you have the Daily Wine Buzz to at least row your boat in the right direction. If you're a first timer, welcome. If you're a return browser, welcome back. Either way, thanks for joining us in what I consider to be a very 'jovial' approach to what I have seen become an overly inclusive community. It is my hope that by lightening up the subject, I will be able to unveil the cloud of secrecy and intimidation that has held back so many 'everyday' wine consumers. Who knows maybe one day you'll even begin writing about it...
Cameron Dibble