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Random wine tasting notes

24 Jan

I’m running a tasting later this week for one of my side editorial projects. Here’s my take on some of what we’re having. They’re all available locally, and all are in the $10-$15 range.

Domaine Lafage Cote Est
A blend of grenache blanc, chardonnay and marsanne.
Located in southwest France, Roussillon borders both the Mediterranean coast and the Pyrenees Mountains separating it from Spain. As the sunniest part of France, it’s able to produce very juicy wines. You’ll notice aromas of honeysuckle, cantaloupe, iris, lime and cilantro, and flavors of ripe lime, guava, watercress, apricot, peach, tangerine rind, sea salt and white flowers. Even though this is 13% alcohol by volume, which puts it almost in full-bodied wine territory, it can work with many salads and lighter fare. For best results, pair it with rustic French or Spanish dishes, cod, grilled bruschetta, or ratatouille.

And if you close your eyes and imagine that you’re sipping this on the rue d’Antibes on the Cote d’Azur, we wouldn’t blame you.

Susana Balbos Crios Torrontes
100% Torrontes

Though it’s a white, this is the little black dress of wines: versatile, ideal for any occasion, and dang sexy (well, it is made by an Argentinian woman).

This wine is widely considered to be the epitome of Torrontes, a native Argentinean variety. It’s, simply, an irresistible tease: dry and acidic like Sauvignon Blanc, yet full-bodied, fruity and floral, with lushly perfumed aromas of peach, white pear, flowers, and orange. Rather beguiling.

Pair this baby with smoked meats, mild to medium cheeses, seafood (particularly crab and sushi). Or drink it our favorite way—by itself. Once you taste it, you’ll want to make this your house wine.

Li Veli Primonero
50% primitivo, 50% negroamaro

If this Puglia wine brings back memories of your post-college trip to Italy and a certain local attraction named Stefano, we certainly won’t tell.

Negroamaro is earthy; primitivo (depending on who you talk to, either an ancestor or twin of zinfandel) is more refined. Combining the two balance out the rougher and softer edges into a wine you can take a lot of places.

Dark, intense and plummy, with hints of black cherry, licorice, pepper and mocha, the tannins are softer than you’d expect and the nose is more floral. This is a wine that lingers nicely. It’s great for your heavier winter meals, or even for grilled foods in the summer.

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My take on opportunities and challenges for the Australian wine industry (if anyone cares.)

20 Aug

A lot of you know Aussie wines were my first loves, so this subject is near to my liver, oops, heart. The Guild of Sommeliers held a essay competition for members for an Australian educational enrichment program. I didn’t get the trip, but hey, I got a blog post!
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The past few years have not been easy for the Australian wine industry in general. The success of mass-produced wine and status of Yellowtail as the number one imported wine in the US have given rise to a perception solely based on cheap, over-engineered bulk wine that even the recent years of drought cannot entirely erase—-or export in toto with success.

The Australian dollar’s parity with the U.S. dollar now negates Australia’s price-to-quality advantage even on higher-prestige names. The challenge lies in negotiating a middle path that keeps both extremes of the industry—-both small vineyards and large brands—-producing and profitable. By shifting the public’s awareness from $10 and under wines to higher $15 to $45 ranges, Americans will eventually realize that there is greater variety—-and reward—-to Brand Australia.

In addition, Australia’s flagship wines—-easy drinking yet bold Shiraz, heavily oaked Chardonnay—-are out of favor currently with American palates. Being able to point to a specific region can also lessen the challenge to educate consumers about the flavor profiles and nuances of critical but misunderstood or lower-profile wines such as Riesling and Semillon. The latter may be an easier sell then the former, given the unfortunate mark that budget European Riesling has left on American tastes over the decades.

It could be argued that Australia’s current perception problem has deeper roots than simply agricultural ones, stemming back to Australia’s worldwide pop culture juggernaut in the 1980s fueled by entertainment exports such as Men at Work, Air Supply, The Thorn Birds, and of course, Crocodile Dundee. Boomers and Gen Xers have indelible, iconic–and erroneous– ideas of Australia as a casual, beach-going, laid-back, bushwhacking, Foster’s Beer-swilling, Vegemite-snacking society where both the men and the women are tough and proficient in knife-throwing.

Millennial consumers have less need for “retraining” than their parents and grandparents. They have fewer touchstones and perceptions of larger-than-life Australian culture and personalities to set aside. And given this generation’s propensity to forge their own paths earlier in life and take more risks, the ability for the Australian wine industry to present them with images of younger winemaking stars such as Ben Glaetzer and Anna Pooley could resound very deeply.

Given that Americans are now more concerned than ever with where their food products come from, there may be potential for the Australian wine industry to position its wine as a complement to the locavore movement. Affluent consumers who are inclined to pay more for organic apples from New Zealand at Whole Foods Market, or shares of a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, are more willing to pay premium prices for goods of higher perceived quality and benefits, as well as experiment and try both new varietals and wine regions. This may especially be effective in areas where local wine is sub-par or the viticulture industry nascent.

The strategy to demarcate regionally-specific wines can also assuage Americans’ aversion for surprise. The similarities between the two nations as former British colonies establish an instant kinship. Australia is on the other side of the world, but in many ways, it is as close as Canada. That Australia is also the most significant English-speaking wine producing nation after the U.S. would instill a level of high level of comfort in consumers who avoid the French wine sections of their purveyors because they confuse Cotes du Rhone with Cote de Beaune or think Chablis is an actual grape variety. This is where education engenders loyal consumers. When consumers feel empowered enough to confidently make purchases themselves based on regions they have begun to trust and appreciate, they will often stick to what they know and venture out slowly.

Those who tell stories for a living know the advice that “if you want to write about or depict the universal, you must be specific.” Put in other words, consumers will find something identifiable in organic or market-driven narratives if they themselves can recognize something in them about themselves.

Americans have a soft spot for underdogs. And Australia is home to some of the harshest, most difficult winemaking conditions on Earth. The story of winemaking there is an epic one of surviving and thriving against the immutable forces of nature and carving out beauty and bounty. The end of the story—the bottled, finished product—are in their own ways miraculous, poetically mad things: manifestations of devotion, sheer determination to succeed in harmony with (and often despite) nature.

For the American wine-consuming public, there are still epic stories for Australia to tell.

Craneford Barossa Valley Grenache 2002

31 Mar

Oldish and still goodish

A bunch of years ago, I bought two bottles of this because I was enchanted with the idea of 100% Grenache (I still am). The first bottle was long ago consumed, but I remember how it was one of the most spectacular wines I had ever had. So I hoarded that last bottle for as long as I could. Years. And I forgot about it. And how it was a screwtop. Sure, a lot of great wines come in screwtops, but most of them aren’t nine years old.

So when I decided to reheat a pot pie from KO Catering & Pies, I knew which wine I had to open with it, and hope for the best.

Still has some nice color. Plus the screwcap.

You know how Elizabeth Taylor, Jacqueline Kennedy, Greta Garbo, and a bunch of other glamour girls still had that sparkle, that mystique after their heydays? How you were excited to see them, even after all these years (rehab and bloat aside)? That was this wine. Take a bunch of strawberries, black cherries, cassis and blackberries. Add tobacco and a little cedar, violet and anise. And voila. Probably not the bestest ever wine to put with meat pie but still managed to hold its own. There was still a little heat (alcohol) climbing out of the glass and ready to bitchslap me as I tilted the glass toward me, and a bit of tannin left. But mostly this was a red fruit lovefest, even with a little fridge time.

Cro-Magnon screwcap

I tried some after dinner, and it was still lovely and as hedonistic as Ava Gardner, but overwhelming and a little cloying without food. I had a second third third and a half glass anyhow.

Craneford Wines, point of purchase forgotten, probably around $25

Saint Jean du Barroux L’Oligocene 2004

22 Oct

From the Cotes du Ventoux, this organic mostly-Grenache blend (with a little Syrah, Carignan and Cinsault) springs from Cenozoic-era soils (37 to 24 million years ago) which means they’re crap: stony and poor, and the vines themselves are at least 25. The good news is that the harder the grapes are to grow, the better wine they make.

Gorgeous herbs de Provence aroma–my favorite part of the wine, along with sticky, smoky deliciousness. Definitely a wine for grownups.

Verdict: like a slinky, sexy Bryan Ferry song, all bespoke suit and unbuttoned white oxford (before he fell victim to Dylan-idoltry and was still cool).Or maybe haggard like Jagger these days, but the moves are still sending the pretenders to school.

BRIX on Broad, $30