Wednesday, March 31, 2010

TerraMia Brick Oven: "Where Everybody Knows Your Name"

Located at 7025 CR 46A in Heathrow, TerraMia Brick Oven (called TerraMia II or TerraMia Junior or TerraPizza by regulars) dishes out high-quality, high-value, family-style Italian fare six days a week to a loyal customer base that is drawn primarily from surrounding neighborhoods.  The second of two restaurants owned by the locally well-known restauranteurs Rosario Spagnolo and Massimo Nobile (the other is called TerraMia Wine Bar and Trattoria), TerraMia opened at its current location in June, 2009 and has been a neighborhood favorite ever since.

The restaurant opened in the midst of the recession, when other restaurants in the neighborhood were closing their doors one after the other.  The success that it has achieved in this environment is a testament to the standing of the owners in the community, the shrewdness with which they approached restaurant sizing, a formidable chef (who is also the general manager), phenomenal food, good value for money, and a great staff, who have, for the most part, been there from the beginning and know your name.

The restaurant fare is phenomenal and consistent.  It ranges from crisp, on-premise-baked bread; to a pizza that is thin, crispy-crusted, and second to none; to a wide array of Antipasti and Pasta (Rigatoni Con Salsiccia and Peppers, Spaghetti Allo Carbonara, Spaghetti Alle Vongole are not to be bypassed);  to second plates inclusive of Veal Parmigiana, Salmon Piccata, and Pollo Della Russo.  In addition to the on-menu items, Chef normally prepares between one to three specials every evening in order to keep the locals engaged.

The owners, Chef, and James (one of the lead wait staff) are very knowledgeable about wines (especially wines of Italian origin) and, as a result, the restaurant provides wines that are well suited to its dishes.  The list includes both by-the-glass ($5.50 to $9.00) and bottle options including such notable names as Tignanello and Zenato Amarone.

When asked about the success of the restaurant, Chef  Francesco attributes it to consistency.  With the same staff, you get the same high-quality food and the same high-quality service.  And the chef is a classic example of following that mantra.  The restaurant is open Monday to Saturday, 11:00 am to 10:00 pm and, regardless of the time that you show up, he will be the one preparing your food (He did take a two-week vacation last year, much to the consternation of regulars.).

About 20% of the restaurant's patrons are from Orlando and Deltona.  Out-of-Towners tend to visit on the weekends.  The restaurant has capacity for 52 people if outside seating is taken into consideration.  Come early or be prepared to wait for a seat.  If I want a long. leisurely meal, I visit the restaurant after 1:30 pm so that I can get in after the midday crush and before the early-birders.  On the occasions when the Antonio's Wine Tasting Group decides to take a break from Antonio's, we generally lunch here.

You must visit this place at least once.  It is a destination spot.  The food is absolutely great.  Tessa, Victoria, Jory, James and Tara will take excellent care of you.  If you see a guy walking around looking like he has nothing to do, it is either Rosario or Massimo.  Go up and introduce yourself.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

AMS Testing for Fake Wine: A Bridge too Far?

Recently, online news outlets have been atwitter with news of a new application of an old technique (accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS)) for detecting fake wine.  The technique utilizes technology, historically utilized for dating archaeological artifacts, to determine the level of carbon 14 in wine. When correlated with the known levels of carbon 14 in the environment in each year over the past 50 years, an accurate determination of a wines' vintage can be made.

The research was led by Dr. Graham Jones ( of the University of Adelaide in Australia and the findings ( were presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.  According to Dr. Jones, the technique can be used as a tool to combat the incidence of fake wine, a problem which he sees as affecting 5% of wine sales. 

Fake wines have always been a problem for the wine industry and was one of the reasons that the Bordeaux chateaus began to bottle their wines in-house.  Most recently, the high-profile Rodenstock case (;  Benjamin Wallace, The Billionaire's Vinegar) has brought this problem into even greater focus.  But is this technique a realistic "arrow in the quiver" of the folks battling this problem? Or is it just an academic exercise?

The authors of the study had first signaled their intent in a 1999 Australian publication ( wherein a broad description of the approach was provided.  According to the article, an accurate record of the variation in atmospheric radiation over the last 50 years had been determined by reading the isotope records in trees.  By comparing the isotope measurement in a specific sample of wine, a clear identification of the vintage was possible.  The tool used for this purpose was the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization (ANSTO) Australian National Tandem Research Accelerator (ANTARES), which had been procured from Rutgers University (NJ) in 1991 and had been upgraded on numerous occasions to provide additional/broader analytical capabilities.  ANTARES can detect concentrations of carbon isotopes in red wines as low as one atom in a thousand million million.  It can also detect additives which were not a part of the initial fermentation and, thus, cannot be foiled in its vintage identification efforts even by "topping up" of the wine.

As can be seen by the picture above, ANTARES is not a simple university lab analytical tool.  According to data from Purdue University (, there were only 30 AMS facilities worldwide in 2001 and sample turnaround can range from a few weeks to several months.  According to information provided at a standard sample would be turned around in 30 days, at a cost of $450 per sample, while a 14-day rush would cost $700 per sample.

I have not read the actual report underlying the research (I have requested a copy but it has not been provided as yet) but a number of questions are raised by the available information.  Most accelerators require a breakdown of a sample into an ion beam in order to detect the isotopes of interest.  In the case of the wine being tested, this would require securing a sample of the wine of interest ( a destructive test), and, more specifically, a sample from every bottle in the lot.  The issues of how the samples would be obtained, the cost of the tests, and the timeframe for the tests  all call this technique into question in terms of broad applicability.  If the team has solved the problem of non-destructive testing, it would mitigate a number of the questions raised but still would not minimize the fact that the sample would have to be sent to one of a few places in the world that has the technical capability and only one place in the world with the personnel with the specific expertise.  It should be noted that the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI), which is a part of the Wine Cluster along with the University of Adelaide, has used spectroscopy for non-destructive, in-bottle measurement of wine composition and quality, but those tests have been conducted using near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy rather than accelerator mass spectrometry.  It is not clear whether these techniques have been in anyway incorporated into the AMS research.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Icons of California Wine Dinner

The subject dinner will be held on April 11 at the JW Marriott in Orlando and will feature "a blind tasting of some of California's best wines, paired with a seasonally created dish for a tantalizing, 6-course dinner."  The event is comprised of a reception at 6:00 pm at the JW Marriott Lobby Terrace and dinner at 6:30 in the Chef's Kitchen.  The price for attendance is $100 per person.

This dinner is of especial interest to this blog as the wines will be introduced by Andrew McNamara, the Master Sommelier whose Wines of the Decade list is the inspiration for our Wine Journey posts.

For further information please contact or call 407.393.4683.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Mothra Vs. Napa

Beware everyone. It has come to Napa. Save yourself. Don’t be a hero. Run for cover. It’s terrorizing the landscape of California's famous wine country and will inflict its wrath on everything and everyone in its path!!

Story goes that a powerful typhoon causes the egg of the heroic giant insect Moth to be swept away from its home on Infant Island and to be washed ashore in....California. It finally settles in Napa to ravage the landscape while satiating its grape eating lust.

Could it be.....


Well ok maybe not, but it is the next most ferocious thing! A well-kept secret has now reared its ugly head, or should I say wings. It appears that a ravenous grape-eating moth from Europe has made its way to the California landside. The finger of suspicion is pointed at the act of smuggling in cane cuttings. These cuttings are brought in to clone vines from Bordeaux's top estates. Though many shrug off this accusation, its not far off base since an acre of top grapes can fetch $15,000 in Napa. These acts of smuggling do happen, but is there any plausibility to this story? Entomologists say the life cycle of the moth, native to Italy but found across eastern Europe and the Middle East, makes it difficult for it to survive on cuttings, so the suitcase smuggling theory might not hold up, regardless of the hype.

So how could it have happened? A better theory is that the moth surreptitiously eluded inspectors on any number of container ships. So who is right? The USDA says it may never know the exact cause, but they are investigating all leads. Quarantine in Napa has begun as swarms have destroyed some the local vineyard harvests. “This pest directly attacks the fruit and the flower, and that is tremendously concerning,” said Bruce Phillips, who farms 70 acres of grapes inside the quarantine zone. “If we are not successful in eradication, this could present serious long-term costs for us.” So far, local areas in Yountville, St. Helena and over the border into Sonoma have been quarantined. Greg Clark, the assistant agricultural commissioner for Napa County, says hundreds of traps have been setup to draw the insects into sticky strips. Can you say Moth’s check in, but they don’t check out? I guess it beats moth balls. Until next time….

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Wine & Dine on 9: Not a 10

The subject event, held in conjunction with the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament at Bay Hill Golf Club, promised patrons "... a special hospitality event alongside the #9 fairway. Top area restaurants will be providing exquisite appetizers, each of which is paired with a wine sample."  The event was well attended and organizers are probably doing a jig right now and declaring the event a success but, in my opinion, this inaugural event leaves a lot of room for improvement.

First, the event was held alongside the 9th fairway but, unlike other hospitality tents located along the 9th fairway, was (i) uncovered and (ii) unfloored (held on the grass).  The hospitality area was enclosed by a waist-high white picket fence at the front and sides and the restaurant booths (small) at the back.  Tables and chairs were scattered on the grass within the enclosure.  At 2:00 pm, the sun in Central Florida can be unforgiving and yesterday it was.

Very shortly after the gates opened at 2:00 pm, it was apparent that enough seating had not been provided.  People who had not secured seating were either standing around or sitting on the grass.  As the day wore on, the organizers brought additional tables and chairs to accomodate the crowd.  To the extent that the tickets were sold online and, supposedly, a finite number of tickets were available for sale at the site, a better job could have been done in providing seating for all patrons.

The restaurants serving at the function were recognizable names and, for the most part, the fare was excellent.  For example, Capital Grille had a steak that was topped with aged balsamic vinaigrette that was excellent.  The Samba Room served Paella and pork dishes that were very good.  It was not clear to me how the pairing of the food and wine was conducted.  After getting your food from the restaurant booth you could potentially make your way to the Robert Mondavi booth for your pairing.  The place was very busy, however, and I did not see any of the restaurants recommending which of the available wines would go with their food; nor did I see the "pourers" at the Mondavi booth performing that function.

The event was slated to run from 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm but water, wine and food had been exhausted well before the ending time.

As currently configured, Wine and Dine on 9 is not a destination event.  If you are already going to the tournament, it is a fantastic deal.  The opportunity for onsite parking -- and not having to deal with the masses being bussed in from Universal -- alone is worth the $35 over the single-day ticket price.  And if you add food samples and "wine" to the mix, you have a pretty good deal.  In addition, sitting alongside the 9th fairway and watching the golfers and spectators go by is way cool.

If the organizers want to make this a destination event, they will have to bring the locale up to the level of the corporate hospitality tents, ensure that supplies are adequate to meet the demand, pay as much attention to the wine as to the food, broaden the mix of wines available for consumption, and increase the quality of wines available for consumption.  The environment is prime for this to become a signature event but first the signature has to be inscribed.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Wine Journey: 1994 Vega Sicilia Unico

The Wine Journey is centered around tasting the wines identifed as Wines of the Decade by Master Sommelier Andrew McNamara.  The first wine tasted was the 1989 Beaucastel CDP.  The second step in the journey occured on Tuesday and was both a scintillating and exhilirating tasting experience.

I decided that the 1994 Vega Sicilia ( would be the second wine tasted and decided to enlist the assistance of the Wine Barn team because of their vast knowledge of, and experience with, Spanish wines (Remember the Clash of the Spanish Titans?).  So I grabbed a bottle of the 1994 Vega Sicilia from the cellar, hopped into my car, and drove to The Wine Barn.

When I got to the Wine Barn, the entire team was there along with (a pleasant, and pertinent, surprise) Juan Carlos "JC" Marin, the manager of the Jorge Ordonez portfolio for Stacole Fine Wines.  No one refused to participate in the tasting.

The bottle number (a Vega Sicilia practice) was 056115 and Andrew noted that this particular vintage was made by Mariano Garcia, the winemaker at Vega Sicilia from 1968 to 1998.  The bottle was opened and decanted at 5:00 pm and I began pouring wine into the glasses at 5:15 pm.  In the glass, the wine had an oily texture and a dark cherry color.  Both Andrew and JC remarked as to the brilliance of the meniscus and lack of "bricking," an indication that the wine still had many years of life in it.

We spent approximately 15 minutes in nasal worship, contemplating the majesty of the wine as manifested in the complexity and promise of the bouquet.  The tasters observed scents of saddle leather, baking spice, sandalwood, wet stone, morcilla, bacon fat, toast, buttered raspberry, and sweet tobacco with brandy.  At the initial taste, the wine did not live up to the promise provided to the nose.  In addition, there was a strong sense of iron and the wine was both highly tannic and acidic.  It exhibited a lot of power but the finish was not as long or as deep as one would have expected.  Vegetal elements were apparent towards the back of the tongue.  We set the wine aside to see if the various elements would resolve themselves with time.  The wine delivered.  It smoothed out considerably as the elements began to integrate properly and the promise on the nose began to show up on the palate at about 5:50 pm.  The vegetal characteristic noted previously resolved into a soft chalkiness and hints of Penfolds Grange began to show through.

All in all a wonderful and memorable experience (by this time we had been joined by Jerry Spoto, a fine wine rep from Transatlantic) for all of us.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spanish Wine Education II

For those wishing to attend the Wines of Spain training, discussed in a previous post, please note that Orlando residents can enter the discount code orlando 20 when signing up in order to receive a discount off the stated price.

A Wine Journey: Profile of a Master Sommelier II

Yesterday was a great day.  Andrew McNamara, the Master Sommelier who created the path along which this journey will traverse, came on to the blog and provided input in terms of his wine profile.  Based on our profiling, we surmised that he preferred French wines of '80 and '90s vintage.  Andrew agreed and added that he preferred moderate alcohol levels and, currently, Barolos and Barbarescos.

A further analysis of the French wines of the '80s and '90s included in the Wines of the Decade list shows that, in the '80s vintage, Andrew had a preference for Bordeauxs, followed closely by Burgundy and Champagne.  In the wines with a '90s vintage, Andrew had a preference for Burgundies  and Rhone varietals.  Overall, Andrew preferred Burgundies and Bordeauxs in that order.

The wine profile for Andrew, then, is primarily a French wine drinker, with a preference for  1980s and 1990s Burgundies and Bordeauxs with moderate alcohol levels.  Andrew is developing, based on his input, a love for Barolos and Barbarescos.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Wine Journey: Wine Profile of a Master Sommelier

The exercise of attempting to taste all of the wines listed as Wines of the Decade ( by Andrew McNamara, a Master Sommelier, is a journey into/along the palate of a Master.  Aggregating the data underlying the list allows us to look into the mind of the Master and, in so doing, build his "wine profile."  In this, and subsequent posts, we will analyze the data underlying the Wines of the Decade list in order to build such a wine profile for Andrew McNamara.

The Wines of the Decade list stretches from the 1940s to the 2000s, with each intervening decade represented.  The decades with the highest representation are the 1980s (31% of all wines) and the 1990s (39% of all wines).  French wines are by far the most doiminant, comprising a full 62% of the list.  The next nearest country is the US with 15% of the listed wines.  French wines comprised 66% of the wines from the 1980s and 62% of the wines from the 1990s.  Based on the foregoing, we can surmise that Andrew has a preference for French wines that are vintage 1980s and 1990s.

In future posts we will examine regional preferences, wine styles, and varietal styles, as revealed by the list.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Elusive Grape

The Elusive Grape is a warm, customer-friendly, neighborhood retail store/wine bar located in downtown Deland that serves as a gathering place for local residents and as a great book-end to Cress Restaurant (a wine-friendly Deland restaurant that will be reviewed in the future) for out-of-town visitors.  With an on-premises license, the Elusive Grape offers over 30 wines by the glass for its patrons pleasure, a substantial retail wine store, beer and artisan cheeses.

The Elusive Grape was founded on April 1, 2003 .  Bill, the owner, had previously operated two restaurants in the Deland area and had sold those to his partners.  His introduction to the wine business came while he worked with the Ritz-Carlton in Naples in 1987.  At that time Berns Bestaurant had conducted on-site sommelier training courses for Ritz-Carlton staff and Bill had taken advantage of that opportunity.  After leaving the Ritz-Carlton, Bill went to St. Thomas where he opened a liquor and wine store.

The Elusive Grape opened initially with 100 wines and with the intent of being a retail establishment.  The Volusia licensing authority had him put in a sink and make other improvements to the property and this led him to pursue an on-premise license.

According to Bill, while the Elusive Grape is the face of wine drinking in Deland today, there was a wine culture in town prior to it's arrival.  Residents procured wine but went over the bridge into Seminole (Pierre's) and Orange (Tim's Wine Market) Counties to do so. 

The Elusive Grape has grown tremendously since its inception even though, like most retailers, they have lost some business to the grocery store and the general slowdown in the market.  Customers,80% of whom are "regulars," can consume wine on the premises without paying a corkage fee.

In addition to drawing on the regulars who come in on a daily basis, the Elusive Grape takes advantage of the fact that Deland is the County seat for Volusia and betwen 26,000 and 34,000 people come into town each day to do business. 

The Elusive Grape does not prepare meals on the premises at this time but it has mutually beneficial arrangements with all area restaurants.  If a customer buys a bottle of wine at the Grape, they can take it to any nearby restaurant and consume it with a meal without paying a corkage fee.  If the customer wishes to remain at the Elusive Grape, food can be ordered from any nearby restaurant and it will be delivered for consumption at the Elusive Grape.

I was at the Grape on Saturday from a little before 2:00 pm to a little before 6:00 pm and saw a steady stream of regulars and visitors come onto the premises and order for on-premise consumption or take out.  They were cheerfully greeted by Bill and offered help if needed. 

Susie, who just passed her first-level sommelier's exam, was a stalwart behind the bar. 

This is a very comfortable environment and the regulars will welcome you with open arms. 

A must for any wine drinker visiting Deland.

Blog Name Change

If you checked in to the blog anytime after 8:00 pm last evening you might have noted that the name of the blog has been changed.  This name change in no way reflects a lessening of our love for the metro-Orlando area.  Or the lack of acceptance of a narrowly focused blog.  Rather it is an attempt to more accurately reflect in the title what the contributors have been doing in practice. Let us know what you think.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spanish Wine Education

The Wine Academy of Spain will be offering a two-day professional certification program on Spanish Wines on May 10th and 11th at 310 Lakeside Restaurant in downtown Orlando. The certification program was designed by Spain's first Master of Wine and the included classes will be led by instructors who have been trained by him.  The course, which includes a significant tasting component, will cover areas such as DOs, wine laws, wine styles and grape varieties.  The program includes a final exam covering the theoretical material as well as blind tastings of 6 wines. The top 15 high scorers will be treated to a 1-week tour of Spain's top DOs (not inclusive of air fare to and from Spain).

The cost for the course will be $465.  Additional information regarding the program (including sign-up information) and The Wine Academy of Spain can be found at

To freeze or not to freeze?

Early on Friday afternoon, I decided to place a bottle of 2006 Ross Estate Old Vine Grenache in the freezer. Wine popsicle anyone? Don’t look for it in your grocer's freezer anytime soon… What I am talking about is a technique used by some wine drinkers whereby they freeze left-over wine. I read about a gentleman who froze 1/3 of a bottle of Phillip Togni and thawed and thoroughly enjoyed it two years later. I figured this would be a nice experiment. In theory, freezing your left over wine will significantly lower the oxidation rate and, thus, preserving the flavor. Others who have experimented with this technique say that it works better for younger wines and wines that have been recently opened (less exposure to oxidation, I assume). Maybe this technique could be tried with a low-acidity wine. The process of freezing the wine should cause the pH to drop, which translates into an acidity increase.

This makes sense, but, as for taste, I have not had much luck with soda or beer.  They always seem watered -down after the thaw. So how about the Ross Estate Grenache? I took it out of the freezer and placed it on the back patio. After an hour I retrieved it, cracked the top, and poured a small glass. I ran some hot water over the glass to warm up the wine a bit in order to draw out additional scent and flavors. I was extremely encouraged by the nose which was a concentrated blend of cranberry, petroleum; and mineral, similar to what you would find in a dry Alsatian Riesling. Lovely start!!! On the palate the wine was drinking nicely. Nothing over the top. Good acidity, soft elegant flavors, bright mix of cranberry and raspberry, and no alcohol burn. The only issue that I noticed was that the wine took on more of a light cloudy color, a mild distraction. A successful experiment I would say. Right up there with my drinking straight out the bottle experiment which I will touch on in the future.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

In Pursuit of McNamara's Wines of the Decade: 1989 Beaucastel CDP

A journey begins with but a single step.  A small step for man, a giant leap for mankind.  Those were some of the over-the-top thoughts that were reverberating through my mind yesterday as I made my first foray in pursuit of McNamarra's Wines of the Decade (  The journey began at approximately 12:30 pm when I went to my computer and launched my wine cellar management program (The Uncorked Cellar) in order to locate the 1989 Beaucastel CDP in my cellar.  The program showed two bottles of the '89 resting comfortably beneath three bottles of the '90 in the Argentinian section of the cellar (don't ask).  I deleted the lower of the two bottles from the graphical representation of the cellar then stepped into the actual cellar to retrieve the wine.  There it was.  I carefully extracted it from the slot and took it out of the cellar to prepare it for its final act.

My plan was to take the bottle to our weekly Antonio's tasting in order to begin this journey with the right amount of ceremony.  I wanted to decant the bottle prior to going to the site in order to remove any sediment.  The cork broke just below the midpoint during extraction but I was able to remove the offending portion without any difficulty.  The wine was decanted at 12:45 pm and rebottled at 2:15 pm.  Let us take a look back at the 1989 Beaucastel CDP.

The 1989 Beaucastel CDP was named Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year in 1991 and had received a 98 rating at that time.  Chateau de Beaucastel, a Southern Rhone winery, is one of only three wineries in the region to plant and vinify all of the appellation-permitted varietals.  The Perrin brothers run a winery which consistently produces some of the best wine in the appellation. The varietals are harvested and vinified separately with the Syrah being the only one exposed to new oak.  The wine is blended in the spring following the harvest.  The varietal distribution in the 1989 vintage is as follows:  Mourvedre (30%), Grenache (30%), Miscellaneous (15%), Syrah (10%), Vaccarese (5%), Cinsault (5%), and Muscardin (5%).

In a re-tasting of the wine in 2007, James Molesworth, senior editor for Wine Spectator, raved "Gorgeous truffle, bacon fat, cedar, shaved vanilla bean and saucisson notes, but the fruit is still fresh, with currant, date and fig flavors followed by a long clove- and sandalwood-infused finish."  He upped the rating of the wine to 98 at that time.

We began to taste the wine at 3:10 pm.   It was a blind tasting and Hlyterroir and Dr. Jeff id'd it as a Southern Rhone.  Hlyterroir said that it had the softness of a Grenache or Pinot Noir but not their lightness.  Keith M. thought that it had a short finish and was light.  On the palate, the acidity and fruit were strongly in evidence with that initial tasting.  From the opening onwards, the wine continued to evolve in the glass.  After about 10 minutes, we began to identify graphite (lower intensity than the 1991 Dominus), pomegranate, and red apple.  Fine-grained tannins were apparent on the mid-tongue.

This was a well-balanced wine which, unlike many of today's wines, is very well suited to accompanying a meal.  It was refined, submissive and understated, qualities which were re-inforced with the passage of time.  Not an aha! wine for any of the group (see some members of the kill team, with trophy in hand, below) but we recognized that we were in the presence of a very good wine.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Wine Journey: In Pursuit of The Wines of the Decade

Andrew McNamara has compiled a list of Wines of the Decade, a list of "my wines of the last 10 years in no particular order ..."  No criteria is given for how the list was devised but I suspect that it is a listing of the standout wines that he has tasted over the past 10 years.  Who is this guy who has the audacity to compile a list of the decade, you ask?  And why should I buy into his list? Check out Andrew's bio at  So, now you know. 

Peruse the list at

My journey entails taking a random tasting walk through this list of 116 stellar wines and to report on the acquisition story (how the wine was acquired), the circumstances surrounding the tasting of the wine(s), and impressions regarding the wine(s).  Each story will be accompanied by a picture of the vanquished bottle(s), along with any other warriors who participated in the slaying of said bottle.  I have tasted, and/or have in my cellar, 14 of these wines but will revisit them to ensure completeness of the process. 

I ask that you join me in this endeavor by submitting similar information for bottles on the list that you might taste before I get to them.  The more submittals, the quicker the journey.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Wine Journey

Jason spent a lifetime pursuing the Golden Fleece.  Odysseus spent ten years making his way back to Penelope and his palace at Ithaca after the close of the Trojan war.  Don Quixote spent years in his quest for adventure, many of those years spent tilting at windmills.  I am about to embark on a signature journey -- a wine journey.  Join me. Spring Wine Event

This event will be held on Thursday April 22nd from 6:00 to 8:00 pm at the Winter Park Farmer's Market.  The event will feature over one hundred 90+ point wines from around the world and butlered hor d'oeuvres.  Tickets are priced at $25 per person.  Please call 800.975.5649 for more information.

Wine Barn's Around the World in 180 Wines

The Wine Barn's "next big tasting extravaganza" will be held on Friday March 26th at 1711 33rd Street in Orlando.  The event will feature ".. new arrivals ... direct imports, '07 Napa Cabs, Italian, Rhone, Chile, and a stellar showing of up and coming superstar wineries .."  Ticket prices for the event is $20 and includes food and a take-home glass.  You can reach The Wine Barn at 407.704.8816 for more information.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

City of Winter Park 9th Annual Dinner on the Avenue

The City of Winter Park's 9th annual Dinner on the Avenue event will be held on Park Avenue on April 17th from 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm. This highly regarded and highly anticipated event is hosted by the City of Winter Park which provides the locale (a closed-off Park Avenue between Morse and New England Avenues), the environment (round table and seating for 8 for the minimal charge of $100 per table), and the judges (for naming winners in the following categories: most colorful; most elegant; most original; best TV/movie theme) in order to provide a memorable, yet affordable, evening of fun for its residents while showcasing the beauty that is downtown Winter Park.  This year's event had 141 tables on offer and was sold out in 10 business days.

In order to gain some insight into the genesis and intent of this highly successful event, I sat down with Craig O'Neil, Assistant Director, Communications Department, City of Winter Park.  According to Craig, the initial thought was to have a social event with the following characteristics: anyone could participate; not for profit; low cost of entry (fee to cover rental of table and chairs, police, and street cleaning); and, no rain date (the rental company had to be paid regardless).

The event is owned and controlled by the City of Winter Park.  It began in the Purchasing Department but is now managed by the Dinner on the Avenue Committee which is made up of members from a number of City departments.  The committee meets monthly from the December prior to the event until the event is held. A number of organizations have approached the City about taking the event over and turning it into a charity event but the City has demurred fearing that affordability, and, as a result, access, would suffer if such a scenario were to unfold.

The event started out with 110 tables, expanded to 120, and, this year, will be 141 tables, the maximum that will be allowed by the Fire Marshall.  Odd-numbered tables are positioned at the north end of the event while even numbers are at the south end.  Attendees are expected to provide their own food, beverage, and table decoration.  Food could be prepared from home or sourced from one of the local restaurants.  There are a few restrictions to which attendees are expected to adhere: no open flames; do not go outside the parameters of your table; and, do not take alcohol off the avenue.  Decorating the tables begins at 6:00 pm and judging runs between 7:00 and 7:45 pm.

A judge is assigned to each end of the avenue to make the determination as to category winners.  This task has normally been assigned to Henry Maldonado and news anchor Jacqueline London.  Ms. London will be honeymooning at the time of this years' event and, as such, will be replaced by Laura Diaz, also of Channel 6.  Each judge is accompanied by a City representative who records the comments and remarks of the judge.  Category winners have their tables identified on site as well as having their names mentioned in a City-issued press release.  They also receive a ribbon to commemorate their win.

Last year the event added a food drive and that aspect of the program will be repeated this year.  The food drive benefits the Second Harvest Food Bank.  Attendees are asked to bring canned goods or money to donate to the drive.  Donations can be deposited at the event information booth.

One of the City's measure of the event's success is the speed at which the tables are sold out but they also want a fun evening with no incidents.

I attended this event for the first time last year and did not know what to expect going in.  I had a blast.  I am going back for more this year.  Do not let the fact that the tables are sold out deter you.  Go on the avenue and see the spectacle and then sit on the sidewalk seating areas of the local restaurants and have your own Dinner on the Fringe of the Avenue.  Dinner on the Avenue is a great spectator sport.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Trouble in Napaland: Popping of the Wine Country Bubble

A major shift in consumer sentiments and buying patterns is causing significant dislocation in Napa Valley, especialy among growers/wineries with poor financial positioning. 

In the period 1991 to 2008, U.S. retail wine sales grew by 66% but fell by 3.3% between 2008 and 2009.  Sales of bottles in the super-premium category ($30 and above) fell by 15% while sales in the premium category ($15 and above) fell by 10%.  U.S. wine sales decline can be traced to three direct forces: (i) the impact of cheaper wine from Chile, Argentina, and other areas; (ii) consumers trading down in their buying preferences (there may be some causative influence between (i) and (ii); and (iii) a falloff in the restaurant wine sales market as recession-racked consumers stay home in droves.

Within this market environment, wineries are having a tough time moving inventory and some have resorted to such heretical practices as doing private label wines or selling in bulk.  In the case of bulk wine sales, the sell price of the wine could be lower than the cost of the grapes to the winery.

The turmoil in the wine market has had significant knock-on effects for wine industry real estate.  According to Silicon Valley Bank, as many as 10 wineries and vineyards will change hands in distressed sales or foreclosures between 2010 and 2011.  Further, property loan defaults in the month of January were four times higher than one year ago.

Napa land values are currently averaging between $150,000 and $200,000 an acre for land planted with red varietals.  This is a 15% decline from the 2007 peak.  This reduction in land values is affecting everyone but even more so the new arrivals.  These "newbies" made their money in real estate or finance, came into Napa with the romantic notion of crafting the next Screaming Eagle, and bought land at the peak of the market in pursuit of this dream.  This approach has saddled them with enormous initial costs, costs which are unsupportable in a down consumer environment.  And, given the decline in land prices, and bank credit tightening, it is very hard to refnance loans without a bulletproof story.

The strongest players in the industry are seeking to turn this turmoil to their advantage.  For example, Bill Harlan, of Harlan Estates, has purchased 21 acres of an Oakville property called Diamond Oaks Winery from a businessman named Dinesh Maniar.  This same Dinesh Maniar has two other properties in the area that are also facing foreclosure.

In a KQED forum on the state of the Napa wine industry, Robert Nicholson of International Wine Associates has stated emphatically that the sky is not falling.  He sees the market experiencing some adjustment but continuing to be strong overall.  The U.S. wine market, according to Robert, has a very strong core group of wine drinkers in that 90% of the the wine consumed is drunk by 20% of the population.  He is very optimistic about the long-term prospects for the market as the 44 milion marginal drinkers, and those who do not currently drink wine, continue to be exposed to the beverage.

It is possible that current wine price declines will be the silver lining in that long-term picture painted by Robert.  If lower wine prices solidify the marginal drinkers, and attract the non-drinker, it would have positive implications in that today's entry-level wine drinker is tomorrow's premium wine drinker.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Trouble in Napaland: European Grapevine Moth

The discovery of the European grapevine moth -- scientific name Lobesia botrana -- in parts of Napa County has forced Federal officials to impose a quarantine on areas in northern and southern Napa County as well as parts of Sonoma and Solano counties. The quarantine, announced on March 9th, and covering an area of 162 miles, places the regulation of harvesting, shipping, and handling of certain fruits and plants, inclusive of grapes, into the hands of government commissioners.


The European grapevine moth, native to southern Italy, has long been a major problem for European grape growers and has extended its reach into North and West Africa, the Middle East, and, recently, Chile and Japan.  It was noticed in the U.S. for the first time when it was detected in a vineyard in the middle of Napa last September.  The entire crop of the vineyard was destroyed before the moth was detected.

The moth is feared because it is a berry pest. The larvae burrows into the fruit and pupates and, in so doing, introduces fungus and rot which destroy the berry.

There is some confusion in the industry as to exactly how this pest will be battled.  According to a report on, "Premium grape growers face the prospect of spraying at least three times in the months ahead to deal with three generations of grape-eating larvae that are produced each season." There would be direct financial impact to the grower if such an approach were pursued as spraying costs run in excess of $200 per acre.  Further, premium grape growers feel strongly that their low-impact farming techniques have contributed significantly to the quality of today's wine and that reverting to high-impact methods could have deleterious effects.

Jenifer Putnam, executive director of the Napa Valley Grape Growers Association indicated ( there would never be any spraying for this pest. According to Ms. Putnam, "... you have to be more surguical and get right in there with the worm."

A number of steps are being taken to combat the pest.  First, over 750 traps have been placed in the quarantined area and plans are afoot to lay more throughout the growing regions. The traps draw the insects onto sticky strips.  The second ongoing active process is the deployment of mating disruption dispensers.  These dispensers emit a female pheromone which attracts male moths who die after flying around for a while in an agitated state futilely searching for a female moth.  The focused application of pesticides and the introduction of predatory wasps are being considered as future "kill-the-moth" tactics.

With the market issues they confront today, the last thing that Napa grape growers need is the European grape moth.  The average ton of premium grapes cost approximately $3400 and three to four tons of quality grapes are produced per acre.  If uncontained, the European grape moth could have a severely negative impact on Napa's $400 million annual premium grape crop and could force growers to attempt to raise prices in the face of reduced demand for premium wines.

Homeowners for Haiti Food and Wine Event

The subject event, hosted by Scott Joseph, will be held on Saturday, March 20th from 6:00 to 9:00 pm at the North Concourse of the Orange County Convention Center.  The aim of the event is to raise funds for the purchase of structures called Little Haiti Houses and for their delivery to the earthquake-ravaged country.

According to Scott Joseph, chefs from Cala Bella, A Land Remembered, Jack's Place, and Everglades will be preparing items such as Focaccia-Crusted Lamb Chops, Tropical Crab Cakes with Mango Salsa, Tobias-Braised Short Ribs, Pan-Seared Diver Scallops, and Chocolate Sabayon.  Wines from Rodney Strong and Opici ( a distributor) will accompany the dishes.  Cost of entry is $25 per person and will also allow entry into the Home and Garden Show.

Tickets for the event can be purchased at

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Three Wines as Seen Through a Fog

Yesterday was a day of excess both in terms of quality and volume. 

It started out with the Friday wine tasting session. We shifted from our regular hang out at Antonio's to Terra Mia Brick Oven in Heathrow. Ten members of the group were present and this means that I was (heavily) exposed to at least 15 bottles of wine within a three-hour period. It was brutal and did a poor job of preparing me for the upcoming evening. 

The wine that was the most memorable of the bunch was a 2004 Petrolo Galatrona from Fattoria di Petrolo.This 100% merlot from Tuscany was one of only two wines ( the other was the 2004 Montevitrano)

to receive a unanimous top score (super wine) in 2007 from all of the most important Italian wine guides. In 2004 the winery produced 8000 bottles of this beauty. Antonio Galloni gave this wine a score of 96 while James Suckling gave it a 97.This wine is hard to come by.

The bottle tasted yesterday was opened and recorked at approximately 10:00 am.  It was re-opened at 2:00 pm for the tasting.  When poured, it had a deep inky color and was not very expressive on the nose. It had a good mouthfeel but was tight and had tannin rising. We set it aside for a while and revisited it after approximately half an hour. At this time the chocolate that is a hallmark of merlot was very apparent. The wine drank beautifully and more than fulfilled the hype surrounding it. If you see this wine you should buy it. I have paid as low as $110 and as high as $190 per bottle.  The Ornellaias and Sassicaias get all the press but this super Tuscan gets my money.

So I am in good spirits.  I am going to The Capital Grille that evening with Tom D and Bill A.  Doctor Jeff is a surprise addition to the group and that is great because he will only add to the fun. We all took wines and the lineup was truly impressive.  One of the bottles that Bill took was a ZD Abacus X and that bottle has a

story behind it. Over a year ago Bill and I were hanging out at Vineyard's and we both ended up buying bottles of ZD Abacus X.  I opened one of my bottles and Bill was so impreseed by the wine that he said he would not open his bottle unless I was there to share it.  So that bottle had stayed in his locker at the Vineyard until last evening when he fulfilled that promise.  It brought a tear to my eye (well, not really).

The ZD Abacus was my second standout wine of the day. This is a solera-style wine which is made by blending wine from all previous vintages of ZD Reserve Cabernet into a product which combines the best qualities of an aged wine with those of a young wine.  The resulting product shows great complexity and has an incredibly long finish. There have been 11 bottlings (vintages?) of this wine to date. The wine is available for pre-order from the winery for $450 but can be obtained on a request basis from your local purveyor for around $330.

The third standout wine for me was the 2003 Penfolds Grange.  Grange is by far the most recognized of

Australian wines and has been consistenly rewarding drinkers palates since the mid-1950s.  While not receiving the accolades of the surrounding vintages (the '02 was awarded a 98 and the '04 a 99 by Parker), this wine performs admirably outside a drinking window which is expected to run, according to Jay Miller of the Wine Advocate,  from 2014 to 2030.  This Shiraz has been blended with 3.5% Cabernet from Coonawarra and was aged for 15 months in new American oak.

Ok. I am done now so let me go back and continue the recovery process.

Wine & Dine on 9

This event, presented by Robert Mondavi Wines, is held in conjunction with the Arnold Palmer International golf tournament at Bay Hill Golf Club and provides the opportunity to attend a hospitality event alongside the 9th fairway while play is ongoing.  The hospitality event will be held on Friday, March 26th, from 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm and will feature appetizers paired with wine samples.  Participating restaurants include Fleming's, Morton's, Timpano, The Capital Grille, The Melting Pot, Maggiano's, Ocean Prime, Cariera's, Vines, and Palm.

Access to the event is sold either as a special ticket or as an upgrade to an existing golf-entry ticket.  The price for a standalone ticket is $75 and provides: an onsite parking pass for the day; access to the tournament grounds on Friday, March 26th; and entrance to Wine & Dine on 9 from 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the Arnold Palmer Medical Center and the Dr. Phillips Rotary Club.  Tickets can be purchased at

Taste of Lake Mary 2010

The 5th annual Taste of Lake Mary takes place on Monday, March 29th from 5:30 - 8:30 pm at Park Place at Heathrow.  The event will feature food and wines from a number of local vendors.  Invited restaurants include Dexter's, Shan, Shula's 347, Journeys at Alaqua, Fishbones, Vineyard Wine Company, and Terra Mia Brick Oven, among others.  Beverages will be provided by ABC, Cork & Olive, Wayne Densch, Tim's Wine Market, and Pierre's Wine Cellar. Tickets are $40 per person ($75 per couple) and can be obtained in advance at the Marriott in Lake Mary or at Cork & Olive.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Wine Barn

One Friday afternoon a few years ago, the members of the Antonio's Wine Tasting Group were sitting around doing what we do best (drinking and talking) when the topic of The Wine Barn Grand Opening Tasting came up.  I did not know Andrew Montoya (owner of The Wine Barn) at the time but everyone said that he was a great guy and it would be a lot of fun so I decided to go.  As I negotiated the route from the I-4 exit to the location, I thought this guy had better be good because this truly was a destination location.  Andrew was manning the first table as you went into the store and was smilingly pouring for all comers while trying to explain the qualities of the array of wines on his pouring table.  A few days after the tasting my friend Steve E. called me and asked if I had noticed the 1996 L'Evangile in the store and indicated that it was listed at a very attractive price.  I called Andrew immediately and asked him to set aside a number of bottles for me and the dialogue which we had when I came by to pick the wines up convinced me that he was someone that consumers would enjoy buying wines from.

Andrew was born in Medellin, Colombia and came to the U.S. for the first time when he was five years old.  He returned to Medellin to attend middle school when he was 15 and during that time developed a lifelong love and appreciation of flavors while spending time in his mother's kitchen.  He was introduced to wines by a French family residing in Medellin and travelled to France to do vineyard work with one of their sons.

Rather than going into the family business in Medellin (printing and packing), Andrew came back to the U.S. and began his climb up the ladder with a tip-based job at Race Rock.  His love of wine led him to take a distance learning course in winemaking from UC Davis where he was introduced to the aroma wheel by its inventor Dr. Ann Noble.  This encounter was the catalyst that launched him on a path to develop a better understanding of the aromas and flavors in wine.  He sought to develop a nose for wines by buying the flavors in the aroma wheel and adding them to a base wine in order to detect how these flavors manifested in a wine.

During this time he became very interested in wine education and began writing a blog on wine and wine tasting.  Following reader queries, he listed some of his wines on the blog and was rewarded with some sales, leading him to posit that there was an opportunity for education-driven online wine sales. He tested this model by continuing to work during the day while doing order fulfillment and shipping during the evenings and on weekends.  He negotiated with the Florida Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco to gain a license to sell wines without having a physical presence -- a first.

After working the online model for a while, Andrew decided that he needed a brick and mortar facility.  He wanted something that was centrally located and that would not drive his overhead up dramatically.  He competes on giving his customer the best cost he can and high overhead plays havoc with that model.  The current location best met his criteria.  It has very high ceilings and is somewhat spartan.  The focus is on the wines rather than beautiful racks. Parker scores and reviews are provided for each wine in the store.

The team at The Wine Barn is one of the best wine retail teams in the metro-Orlando area.  They bring together a wealth of talent, a wealth of experience, and a knowledge of wines and wine drinkers that is unparalleled in the space.  Andrew's enthusiasm, knowledge, and constant smile is Irish-publike in drawing you in.  His love of Burgundies and his knowledge of Spanish and South American wines and wine regions places a customer in a good place. The quiet assurance of Gary Tupper, hardly raising his eyes from the computer screen but knowing exactly where you are and what you need, and always ready with a knowledgeable insight into the wine at hand.  And Fidel! What can I say.  Enjoy spending time with him.  Guy after my own heart in that all he wants to do is talk about wine.  Get a life Fidel.  The Wine Barn has replaced its clunky, old web site with a new version and Fidel is responsible for that initiative in addition to all web-based and electronic activities.

My introduction to The Wine Barn was a kickoff wine pouring.  That event was held in the store and, at the time, it was considered a big tasting.  Late last year I went to one of their tastings which spanned multiple tents in the parking lot and the driving areas outside the store.  In addition to these large events, the Barn puts on a number of small, tightly focused, high-profile tastings.  Two of the most recent (Clash of the Spanish Titans and Remoissenet) have been covered on this blog in previous posts.

Going forward, Andrew does not want to become a wine superstore.  He wants to bring wine education more centrally into focus in the overall venture.  He may place a mezzanine in the current structure -- the high ceilings would allow that -- to serve as an education locale.

Great guys.  Great prices.  Be careful of the sharp turn onto 34th street from Orange Blossom Trail; especially if you are coming from I-4 West.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rioja Kick-Off Tasting

Vibrant Rioja will be hosting members of the trade at a kick-off tasting and launch of its new Point of Purchase program on Monday March 29th at Luma on Park.  The proceedings will begin at 5:00 pm and continue through 8:00 pm.  This event is part of a multi-million dollar initiative on the part of Vibrant Rioja to support national sales at all levels by providing relevant assistance to existing and prospective importers and distributors of Rioja wines.

Persons employed in the trade and wishing to attend can call 407.620.3588.

Bond Estates Tasting: The Wines

This final post in the series of posts on the Bond Estates tasting organized by Stacole Fine Wines and led by Bond Estate Manager, Paul Roberts, focuses on the individual wines in the portfolio and the tasting experience of the attendees. It should be remembered that Bond's objective is to have the wines representative of the terroir in which the grapes are grown and for this terroir-driven difference to be the key characteristic of the portfolio. With the exception of Matriarch, the entire portfolio was tasted. Each wine is described in turn.

This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon (Cab) sourced from grapes grown on "... a spectacular property on the slopes north of Lake Hennessey, in the hills of Rutherford." This 7-acre hillside vineyard resides at elevations ranging between 348 and 522 feet and has a sedimentary/compressed clay soil profile. This wine demonstrates "... plush red fruits (currants, bing cherries), redolent with spice and the scent of violets." The '03 and '06 versions of this wine were presented for tasting. The wine presented sweet red fruit, a floral violet and sweet tobacco on the nose and loads of tannin on the palate. Robert Goulet felt that the '03 had more body than did the '06. Robert Parker rated the '06 a 94 while James Laube (Wine Spectator) rated it a 92. $275.

This 100% Cab debuted with the 2006 vintage and is made from grapes sourced from a 9-acre site in the eastern hills overlooking Napa. The site is located between 433- and 595-feet elevation , has a southwestern exposure, and has a soil profile of ancient uplifted riverbed covered with volcanic ash. The winery tasting notes speak to blue fruits and graphite. I sensed a strong salinity. Paul expressed the opinion that this wine would go well with mushroom, spice, and (greeted with looks of incredulity) seafood. James Laube scored this a 93 while Parker rated it a 92. This was my least favorite of the offered wines. $275,

This 100% cab is sourced from an 11-acre plot -- average elevation 161 feet -- with a soil profile of iron-rich fractured volcanic rock on north-facing slopes. The site allows for the warmth of the valley floor during most of the day and cooling in the afternoon. The '01 and '06 vintages were presented for tasting. Notes of creme de cassis, mocha and olives. Long finish. Rated 90 by James Laube and 96 by Parker. $275.

This 100% Cab , referred to as the Lafite of Bond, is sourced from an 11-acre site situated in Oakville's western foothills on pure bedrock topped by 2 feet of alluvial soil. The soil manifests itself in the wine as wild forest floor and mineral tones. '01 and '06 vintages presented for tasting. Black fruit. Tobacco leaf. Good tannin structure. Elevation 221-330 feet. This wine is rated 8 by Laube and 95 byParker. $275.

In the '06 vintage this wine was comprised of 8% Merlot, 3% Cab Franc, and the remainder Cabernet Sauvignon. It is sourced from a 7-acre site located at 1100 feet up on Spring Mountain.The soil profile is decomposed volcanic material. The vineyard is surrounded by conifer trees which contribute what Paul calls "airborne Terroir" to the wine in the form of a "piney" phenolic. The '03 and '06 vintages presented for tasting. "Huge" dark plum, roasted coffee and cedar scents. Rated 90 by Laube and and 94 by Parker. $225.

The overriding feeling coming out of the tasting was that these wines were "tannic monsters." This is supported by a note written by James Laube in August of 2009 in which he said, "While there have been many fleshy, supple, opulent 2006s, this group shows the vintage in its tighter, more compact, tannic and backward persona. These wines need cellar time, more so than many other 2006s. Open them now and expect to be greeted by chewy, earth tannins."

At the end of the tasting, the group was asked to select, by a show of hands, which wines they liked best. The results were as follows:

  • Melbury -- 2006 - 17; 2003 - 16
  • Quella -- 2006 - 11
  • St. Eden -- 2006 - 14; 2001 - 14
  • Vecina -- 2006 - 11; 2000 - 16
  • Pluribus -- 2006 - 15; 2003 - 11
Based on the foregoing it seems that the Melbury was the across-the-board favorite. It was somewhat surprising that the 2000 Vecina scored as well as it did given the problems associated with that vintage across Napa.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bond Estates: Philosophy, Viticulture, and Viniculture

"Bond is our covenant with select vineyard estates and shred commitment to produce only the best expression of the land." So says the Bond mission/vision statement and the product of this covenant has been five terroir-specific Cabernet Sauvignon wines:

  • Melbury -- from northeast of Rutherford
  • St. Eden -- from north of Oakville
  • Vecina -- from west of Oakville
  • Pluribus -- from west of Calistoga
  • Quella -- the newest of the bunch; from north of Rutherford

In this post we will examine the winemaking philosophy and the practices employed in the production of these wines. The material presented herein draws heavily on the talk given by Paul Roberts, Bond Estate Manager, to attendees at the Bond Estates tasting on March 4th.

Bill Harlan, the driving force behind Bond Estates, thinks of Napa in terms of the French appellation system: Villages; Premier Crus; and Grand Crus. Harlan thinks that they have found and exploited five of the possible 25 Napa Grand Cru sites in the production of their wines.

The winemaking team will not bring a wine to market before engaging in extensive experimentation and testing. A wine will undergo a minimum of three years experimentation before a vintage is released.

The Bond vineyard manager is Mary Hall and she supervises a staff of 55 year-round employees. Each site averages 8 acres in size and vineyard production is approximately 2 to 2.5 acres per ton. Only the best grapes make it into the wine. The grapes are picked on one of up to 15 picker passes through the vineyard and only perfect fruit is picked on each pass. The grapes are double sorted, once in the vineyard and then again at the sorting table.

The goal of the venture is to ensure that differences between the wines are a reflection of the differences in terroir so, to the extent possible, winemaking procedures are the same for all of the Bond wines. Fifty percent of the vinified juice goes into the Bond wines and the remainder is blended into Matriarch, a label designed for early drinking.

Bond Estates Tasting: Why the Anticipation?

Why was Stacole Fine Wines able to bring together the group they did for the Bond Estates tasting? The answer is simple: Bill Harlan. Harlan, the force behind Bond Estates, was, and still is, the driving force behind Harlan Estates, a wine that has been described variously as "... one of the ten best wines of the twentieth century" (Jancis Robinson) and "... impossibly lush, incredibly concentrated reds." Harlan himself has been described as "... part philosopher, part real estate man ..." and "... genius behind one of Napa's greatest wineries" and "... something of a philosopher, a man with a well-articulated vision of what really matters in life."

William "Bill" Harlan was born in Southern California in 1940 and made the trek north to attend Berkeley from which he graduated in 1962 with majors in Communication and Public Policy. Harlan had his introduction to Napa while a student at Berkeley. According to Decanter Magazine, Bill made his money as a property developer. His signature real estate deal was the purchase and transformation of the luxurious Meadowwood resort on the east side of Napa Valley.

Bill was in Napa when Robert Mondavi opened his winery and he found Mondavi's story inspiring. He wanted to build his own winery and this led to 15 years of exploration including travels to Europe, a region whose wines he found to be fascinating. During these travels Bill formulated a philosophy that producing great wines required (i) great land and (ii) great people.

Bill helped to found Merryvale in 1982 and hired Bob Levy as the winemaker. Harlan was founded in 1984 with the purchase of 240 acres of prime land, 30 acres of which were devoted to estate vineyards planted to the classic varietals. Experimentation continued on the Harlan wine until the 1990 vintage was released in 1996. Merryvale was sold at this time so that the fullest attention of the winemaking team (to which had been added Michel Rolland, famed French oenologist and consultant winemaker) could be focused on the production of Harlan Estates.

Bill's philosophy and efforts have been vindicated by the market acceptance of Harlan. The wine rapidly achieved "cult" status as a result of its quality, lack of availability, and stellar Parker scores. The 1995 vintage was awarded a 99 by Parker while the 1997, 2001, and 2002 vintages all received perfect scores. While those lucky enough to be on the Harlan mailing list are offered the wines at around $250, the open market price can range from $500 to upwards of $2000, depending on the vintage.

Flush with the success of Harlan, Bill, in 1997, launched a collaborative venture with winemaker Bob Levy and vineyard manager Mary Hall to identify and produce "grand crus" of Napa Valley. While buying fruit for Merryvale, Bill had found many outstanding vineyards and in this new project -- called Bond --he sought to utilize these vineyards in the production of terroir-specific Cabernet Sauvignon wines. According to Decanter, the name Bond reflects the reality and promise of Bill's long-term relationship with the growers who produce the fruit for these wines.

So the group was brought together by the pedigree and promise of the Bond Portfolio. The pedigree as manifested in the accomplishments of Bill Harlan and his winemaking team. And the promise that lightning could be in a bottle of Bond.

Confessions of a Wine Collector

Collecting wine, how does it start? For myself it started about 7 years ago when I tasted a Penfolds bin 389. It was my epiphany moment, someone flipped the switch. I was like Caroline in Poltergeist, ‘Caroline come into the light, there is peace and happiness in the light! I didn’t know much about wine and never tasted a wine of superior quality. The Penfold's was the catalyst to where I am today and for that I can never knock Australia. Collecting wine is fun, it always leads to meeting colorful people and it starts engaging conversations. Collectors love hunting for their favorite wines at the best prices and then bragging about it to their friends. Collectors do crazy things like getting on those long waiting lists for those costly elusive limited quantity wines at prized estates eg. (Scarecrow, Screaming Eagle, Harlan, Sine Qua Non)

In most cases it my take years to receive an offer for an allocation(3 years to receive Scarecrow for moi). We desire wines from estates with a good story, philosophy and an all star wine making team. Collectors enjoy evaluating wines, picking apart the obvious and subtle nuances on the bouquet and palate. There are single blind and doubleblind tastings. We decant wines, double, triple decant, mollydooker shake, vinturi, slow oxygenate, vacuvin and private preserve. We check fills levels, cork profusion, capsule spins, seepage signs and color discrepancies. We store our wine in cellars, wine coolers, anonymous lockers, bonded and duty free storage facilities. We enjoy coming up with those mouth watering descriptions, velvety tannins, asian spice, bright acidity, mocha and mint notes. A bit geeky I have to say, but there is a nerd inside all of us. Bored yet? I hope not.

The collecting community is not large so at times it can be like a fraternity. It brings people together from all over the world thru wine forums like Mark Squires, Bordeaux Wine Enthusiast, Wine library tv, Wine Spectator and Auswine to name a few. We have our magazines Wine enthusiast, Decanter, Wine and Spirits, World of Fine Wine, QRW or Wine Spectator etc… We’re always on the prowl for the next big tasting (not a pouring) or a new wine bar to christen. I’ve met alot of great people and have tasted incredible wines. I collect wine and also invest in wines. I am more of a collector than an investor, but I enjoy both. The only time it’s not fun is when I peek at my credit card statements. Calling Dave Ramsey!!! It time to get back to my roots as a fiscal conservative. Whatever it’s worth I’m not name is Marc and I am a wine collector.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Bond Estates Portfolio Tasting

On Thursday March 4th, Stacole Fine Wines, one of the most respected distributors in the metro-Orlando area, presented a tasting of the Bond Estates portfolio (Melbury, Quella, St. Eden, Vecina, and Pluribus) at the Country Club of Orlando. It was an exquisite affair. One of the finest pure wine tastings that I have experienced in the Orlando area and truly befitting the wines on offer, the venue, and the presenting organization. If you are a wine-tasting process person (as I am) this was all-galaxy.

The event was held in one of the larger halls of the Country Club of Orlando. The room was outfitted with circular tables arrayed around a centrally positioned lecturer's table and each of these tables had settings for four attendees in order to ensure that each attendee would have an unobstructed view of the lecturer. Each attendee position had a total of 9 Reidel glasses, each holding a pre-poured sample of the current-year offering of each of the Bond wines plus prior-year vintages of all except for the Quella whose 2006 vintage is its market introduction.

The tasting was led by Paul Roberts (below left), Estate Director and a Master Sommelier. He spent approximately 15 minutes providing extensive background on the winery, winery owner, winery philosophy and practices, and the wines. After this introduction he led us on a wine-by-wine tasting of the Bond portfolio.

The attendee list included: owners and representatives of Wine on the Way, The Wine Barn, Tim's Wine Market, Sanford Wine Company, Luma, The Elusive Grape, The Vineyard, The Wine Room and Orsay; contributors from Metro-Orlando Wine Scene and Events; representatives from The Country Club of Orlando; and some of the more important wine collectors in the area. There were about 50 attendees.

The material covered over the course of the two-hour tasting cannot be effectively covered in a single post. Over the next several posts we will examine why this was such a heralded event; provide details about the winery, the wine owner, and the wines; and provide our impression of the wines based on the tasting and other independent perspectives.