Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Virginia Wine Industry and the Upcoming Wine Bloggers Conference

In light of the announcement that the next Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC) will be held in Charlottesville, VA, I sought out an insiders perspective on (i) the Virginia wine industry and (ii) the potential impact of the WBC being held in the state.  The person I turned to for his insights was Dr. Bruce Zoecklein, Professor of Enology at Virginia Tech, State Enologist, and head of the Wine/Enology - Grape Chemistry Group (WEGCG), also at Virginia Tech. Before delving into Dr. Zoecklein's expertise, responsibilities, and perspectives, an overview of the VA wine industry is in order.

According to Virginia Tech the VA wine industry:

  • Utilizes 2500 acres across the state for grape growing
  • Generates $35 million annually in tax revenues
  • Ranks 8th in the country in wine production
  • Supports 165 wineries
  • Hosts over 1 million tourists annually
  • Primarily plants Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The industry has the resources of the University and the state at its disposal for grape quality research and improvement initiatives.

The primary resource available to the industry from the University is the Dr.-Zoecklein-led WEGCG which: (i) conducts/oversees wine-related research and provides lab services; (ii) provides an Extension Service; and (iii) conducts onsite visits to wineries for consultation and data collection.  An example of the research conducted by the group is the development of the electronic nose, a tool that allows the grower to assess grape maturity and select optimal pick-time.  The Extension Service provides workshops, short courses, symposia, and printed/online material, all aimed at increasing the knowledge base of industry participants.

In addition to his teaching responsibilities and leading the WEGCG, Dr. Zoecklein also oversees the Enology Service Lab which provides fee-based analysis of wine or juice for in- and out-of-state customers.  The lab is staffed by two full-time chemists and provides chemical, physical, microbiological and sensory analyses upon request.  The lab was initially established to serve the VA industry but expanded its services to customers beyond state lines in order to have enough samples to run through the system to keep overhead down.  Revenues from the lab activities go back to the lab or into the program.

The WEGCG does not have a charter per se but works actively with VA winemakers to (i) lower their cost of production and (ii) increase the quality of their wine grapes.  One of the primary inputs to WECGC activities is the information gleaned from regular roundtables held with the winemakers.  At these meetings, wines are tasted blind and determinations made as to what the sensory problems are.  The WECGC will then design research programs to address the identified issues. Within the larger group of winemakers there is a smaller group of 15 or so who can, and have, worked on the worldwide stage. Dr. Zoecklein listens carefully to the input from this group.  Organizational success is measured by the number of wineries that adopt his recommendations.  As an example he cited the case of fermentable nitrogen in wine where today, based on his recommendation, the majority of winemakers are sending samples to be tested so that they can make adjustments prior to fermentation.

Dr. Zoecklein sees the VA wine industry as still embryonic, still learning what varietals to plant and where to plant them.  At a broader level, however, the industry operates in a favorable political climate peopled with progressive politicians.  The current governor, for example, is very supportive of the wine industry because he sees its potential impact on tourism, state tax revenues, and agricultural economic development.

When queried about VA terroir, Dr. Zoecklein said that VA was all about soil and climate variation: from the sand of the eastern shore, to the red clay of the Piedmont, and with some limestone thrown in for good measure.  What is more relevant in VA, he says, is hydrology -- soil moisture and soil moisture-holding capacity -- and the industry needs to get to a place where they understand the regional differences and its impact on varietals.

Dr. Zoecklein identified a number of challenges confronting VA winemakers:

  • The need to understand the nuances of climate and how those nuances affect winemaking styles
  • The need to understand what technologies are available and the to adopt the ones that are most germane
  • The need to better understand the marketplace and how best to market their wines.  Tourism is the main sales vehicle today but does not provide the economies of scale needed to get production costs down
  • The need to understand the economics of winemaking.  It is easy to spend a lot of money and not get a return on the investment.
The VA winemaking industry will be positively impacted by the WBC being held there next year, according to Dr. Zoecklein.  In his view it will increase industry visibility.  On a broader level, he sees blogs and bloggers as an increasingly important mechanism for getting the word out.

As regards the future, Dr. Zoecklein sees Virginia as part of a strong regional wine industry with, in its case, demonstrated excellence in Petite Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc.   He expects to have access to grant money to expand winemaker sensory training and to create specialized online programs for people looking to get into winemaking.  He sees the presence of technically trained individuals as key to the growth and development of the industry within the state.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dinner in Paris: Gerard Depardieu's La Fontaine Gaillon

Gerard Depardieu, best-known in the U.S. for his Oscar-nominated role of Cyrano in Cyrano de Bergerac, is owner of a classic French restaurant called La Fontaine Gaillon and located in the heart of Paris at 1, place Gaillon in the 2nd Arrondisement. describes the cuisine as "traditional French" and the establishment as a "... beautiful restaurant nestled in a 17th century beautiful mansion" with cuisine "... at par with the decor."

The restaurant having been recommended by the hotel concierge, and confirmed with vigorous nods by people that I queried during the course of the day, we set out in an under-air-conditioned taxi in search of a gastronomic tour de force.  We were not disappointed.

The restaurant is located at the confluence of Rue Gaillon, Rue St. Augustin, and Rue de Port-Mahon, directly in the vee formed by Rue Gaillon and Rue de Port-Mahon.  This geographical location places the restaurant in a position of prominence as viewed by the approaching patron and provides a commanding view of the surroundings looking from the inside out.  When recommending the restaurant, the concierge had suggested we sit on the terrace if possible and I had requested thusly when making the reservation.  When we presented at the entry, it became clear why such a recommendation had been made.  Check-in was at the gate of a half-moon-shaped courtyard which had seating for about 50 people and which was protected from the outside environment by well-manicured window boxes along the perimeter and by two large, off-white tents above.

Directly across from the entrance, and hard against the building wall, was a massive, two-level fountain which reached almost to the eaves (In a 2004 article in the New York Times, Dana Thomas reported that the original building was constructed in 1872 for Sieur Fremont, the guardian of the royal treasury, and that the fountain was rebuilt in 1828 by Visconti, the architect who built Napolean's tomb.).

Our reservation was at 8:00 pm so it was still very bright outside when we were seated directly adjacent to the fountain.  We noted the sharply dressed, black-clad wait staff with vests and black ties for males and open-necked white shirts for females.  We were presented with an extensive wine list, once comfortably seated, and selected a 1998 Pommery Cuvee Louise to start the evening off.  The pale straw color and small, tight bubbles in the glass were harbingers of the full-mouth-enveloping acidity, the bread, the minerality, the burnt orange and long finish of this wine.

Our entree (remember, we are in Paris) was a Ravioli de Crevettes au Persil Chinois.  This was shrimp (large) in a see-through casing and flavorful it was.  It went wonderfully with the champagne.

Our main courses were, respectively, Aladdin de homard Breton (lobster), Cote de Veau (veal) a la creme et de Truffles Blanche, and Entrecote Black Angus Grilled, sauce Bernaise.  We paired the meats with a 2007 Chateau Giscours.

The desserts were an Assiette de Fruits rouges, glaze vanille; Soup de Peches blanches aux framboises basilic; and Profiteroles au Choclat chaud.

This was a Monday evening but by the time we were on our second glasses of champagne, the restaurant had begun to fill up.  It was a calm, unhurried environment, well-suited to enjoying the delicacies which had been placed before us that evening.  By the time we got up to leave, darkness had enshrouded the plaza and, as we got into our taxi, we cast one last, longing look at the vista shown below.

Goodbye for now, friend.  I will see you again.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Wine Lovers" #Cabernet Day Survival Guide

On Thursday, September 2nd, wine lovers are being invited to a worldwide, social-network-facilitated celebration of Cabernet Sauvignon, the king of grapes. On that day, individuals will share Cabernet Sauvignon wines in local environments and, through the connectivity afforded by social networks, with like-minded individuals around the block and around the world. On that day, any entry on a social network which includes the term #Cabernet will be shared with other members of the network who are monitoring that stream.

Wine lovers will experience this event in any number of ways: at home alone; at home with friends; at wine retailers; at wine bars; at wineries; at restaurants; or at some type of special event.  Given the amount of time allocated to the worship of this varietal, the aforementioned venues are not mutually exclusive.  If you do intend to enjoy the event away from the confines of your home, in a bar-hop, for example, please consider the use of a designated driver.

Your objectives for the day should be to have fun and, in so doing, honor the varietal.  You will Connect, Imbibe, and Share with other Cabernet lovers, both locally and globally.  It is recommended that you bring your own social network access tools (phone, iPad, etc.) if you are participating out of the home in order to ensure that you can comment, reflect, and share on your own time and pace.

At the event, once you have signed in, you should let the world know where you are and an approximation of the number of people there.  You should let the world know what wines you are opening and what you are experiencing.  Feel free to comment on what others are saying, both locally and virtually, as the data streams go by.  Be sure to include the term #Cabernet in all of your comments in order to ensure that your communication is included in the relevant stream.  Include the term #CSOrlando to allow us to capture metro-Orlando participation.

All in all, have fun and enjoy #Cabernet Day safely.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

#Cabernet Day: Open Letter to Metro-Orlando-Area Wine Purveyors

On Thursday, September 2nd, wine lovers are being invited to a worldwide, social-network-facilitated celebration of Cabernet Sauvignon, the king of grapes.  On that day, individuals will go to wineries, wine shops, restaurants, and homes to share Cabernet Sauvignon wines in local environments but, through the connectivity afforded by social networks, can also share their experiences with like-minded individuals around the block and around the world.  On that day, any entry on a social network which includes the term #Cabernet will be shared with other members of the network who are monitoring that stream.

The most recent event of this type was the #PinotNoir Smackdown, hosted by Ed Thralls (@winetonite), held on July 15th last.  That event, 2 hours in duration, and limited to Twitter, generated 2073 tweets from 323 locations and a ton of fun for all participants.  I wrote a piece on my experience and the biggest issue for me was the lack of participation by metro-Orlando wine establishments.

The upcoming #Cabernet Day provides you with an opportunity to rectify that oversight.  It will be hosted by Rick Bakas (@RickBakas), the social media guru at St. Supery, and will provide a number of substantive benefits for your company if you choose to participate. (i) Having a Cabernet Day provides you the opportunity for focused sales on a popular varietal and, within that varietal, brands of your choosing; (ii) Participating in the event allows you to increase your foot traffic through promoting the "feel-good" concept of bringing the world together; (iii) Your stock will rise in your customers' eyes.  You are now the hip, with-it, social media guy (gal) who is taking them beyond the walls of your establishment without them having to leave their seats.  The Wow! factor; (iv)  You will get an opportunity to see what folks beyond your block are drinking and thinking and this may affect future stocking decisions; and, last, but not least, (v) you will gain exposure to potential new customers.

Sounds good, you say.  What do I need in order to participate? That is easy.  You probably are already in possession of all the needed tools.  You will need computers (one with a large-screen display, or multiple laptops, would be the best-case scenario but use what you have), network access (DSL or wireless), and a social network account (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).

What should you do next?

  1. Commit to participation -- half-measures will not work.  Time and effort will be required in order to plan and implement a successful effort.  The event will run until 11:59 pm PST but you, obviously, will choose the hours during that time that you want to participate
  2. Register for the event --
  3. Determine the details of your participation -- brands that will be promoted, horizontals and/or verticals, foreign and/or domestic, outfitting customers for home-participation, allowing customers to bring bottles from home? etc.
  4. Promote the event heavily through all of you channels -- in-store, e-mail, website, other advertising channels
  5. Check this blog site regularly for updates.
On the day of the event you should be ready to facilitate your customers in their efforts to Connect, Imbibe, and Communicate.  According to Rick, "Put up the twitter stream so everyone can see it and interact. ... use to pull in #cabernet tweets only."  Communication threads emanating from your establishment must have the #Cabernet term included in order to be a part of the #Cabernet Day stream.  Further, I am asking that you also add the term #CSOrlando so that we can determine local participation.

Once the event is over, you should take steps to measure its impact on revenue, customer perception, and, over a longer time period, new customer acquisition.

So.  Now you know.  What are we going to do about it.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

For Chateau Lafite press B5

Just when you thought the wine culture couldn’t become sexy enough. Coming to a store near you, the sleek, the exotic, the provocative…the wine vending machine? Whoa. I just heard the music stop. Call forensics, because this has the fingerprints of bad legislation written all over it. Nothing screams you’re a responsible drinker louder than a machine that checks your ID, takes your picture, and performs a breathalyzer test. Smile and say cheese; government cheese that is. Big brother is watching. Do I sound a bit jaded? Nooo, never. I must say all these steps do sound a tad cumbersome and intrusive.

Currently, these machines are being test-marketed in Pennsylvania. The Liquor Board is making claims of consumer convenience and modernization of the purchasing process...Yawn...Other claims include keeping minors from the being able to purchase the wines...Are you still awake?...Ahhh, earth to Liquor Board, minors are not going to purchase kiosk wine unless you offer Mad Dog 20/20. Sorry, I’m not buying this line.

Personally, I prefer to examine the wine before I purchase it. I like to check out the fill level, capsule spin, the flush of the cork, and the color. The kiosk process feels impersonal and inconvenient. If the kiosks offer high-end labels then I possibly do see a benefit, since the wines will be refrigerated. Then again, I still prefer to examine the bottle prior to purchase so this still creates a problem.

I say this not knowing the details of a return policy, so my views may change. The whole process may not appeal to the wine connoisseur but may possibly appeal to the casual drinker. I prefer we save the vending machines for our snickers fix. I predict this pilot program fails to leave the ground. Until next wine…

Friday, July 23, 2010

Book Review: When the River's Ran Red

When the River's Ran Red (Palgrave MacMillan, 2009) is Vivienne Sosnowski's telling of the travails that beset the American wine industry as a result of Prohibition and how the players in this fledgeling industry survived this misbegotten experiment in social engineering.  It is a historical tale with a good ending for the producers of wines and spirits, those who made their living getting product from the producer to the consumer, the consumer, and government tax receipts.  Not so for the "Drys" and those employed in "enforcing" the Prohibition statutes.

The book -- arranged into 10 chapters, and 200 pages long (exclusive of front matter, notes, bibliography, and index) -- has six main themes: the development of the American wine industry prior to the passage of the constitutional amendment ushering in Prohibition; the preparation, or lack of same, of the winemakers for the onset of Prohibition; the broader social and political battle that was waged over the Prohibition issue; winemakers' initiatives to "ride out" Prohibition; the battle for repeal; and the euphoria accompanying repeal.

The book begins slowly, somewhat dry and peppered with numerical data and historical facts.  We are made to know that the Franciscans were probably the first to grow grapes in California (1823), followed by George Yount in the 1840s, and that Agoston Haraszthy, a Hungarian emigre, brought in clippings to Sonoma.  The role of the early immigrant Italian families in the development of the wine industry in Napa and Sonoma counties is explained in some detail.  The names read like a roll call from the wine hall of fame: Seghesio, Simi, Passalacqua, Foppiano, Cuneo.  Despite the effects of Phylloxera and the San Francisco earthquake, the domestic industry had raced past imports, going from a ratio of .03:1 gallons-consumed in 1850 to 3.5:1 gallons-consumed in 1896.  The 1910 census showed a total of 145 million grape vines in California.

The author paints a broad-brush picture of the national battle leading up to the institutionalization of Prohibition with the passage of the 18th Amendment.  We learn of the Drys -- the forces in favor of passage -- and their arguments and the counter arguments of the Wets -- the forces arrayed against passage. We learn that, in California, "Prohibition was a confrontation between North and South, a war between Southern California's Presbyterian dominated Protestants, who had hailed from Arkansas and Oklahoma, and the multi-ethnic inhabitants of the Catholic dominated north, many of whom had come from Italy, France, and Spain, where wine was an integral part of life."

The author impresses upon us the deleterious effects of Prohibition on the domestic winemaking industry.  Prohibition had a loophole which allowed for home winemaking -- up to 200 gallons per year without incurring a tax liability -- and this was, initially, a boon for grape growers.  But the lack of relevant transportation infrastructure, as well as shady operators all along the supply chain -- eventually brought this safety net crashing down.  California went from 700 registered wineries at the beginning of Prohibition to 137 at its repeal; and many of the survivors had to resort to bootlegging and other "unsavory" practices in order to survive.  The author recounts these stories in an unvarnished fashion; as she does their encounters with Prohibition Agents and the rampant corruption associated with all aspects of Prohibition.

This book makes for good reading.  The author surrounds the dry historical facts with flowing, gripping descriptions of the anthropology, geography, agriculture, and environment of America's premier wine-growing regions.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cru Bourgeois - Part Trois

For the 1855 Exposition in Paris, Emperor Napoleon III requested a classification system for France's best Bordeaux wines which were to be on display to visitors from around the world. The negociants from the wine industry created a hierarchical system that ranked the wines according to a chateau's reputation and trading price, which at that time directly correlated to the wine’s quality. Four wines were rated at the top as Premier Cru Classe (First Growths): Chateau Haut Brion, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Lafite Rothschild, and Chateau Latour.

A number of wines were then classified Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Growths. In total, only sixty (60) chateaux were ranked. The ratings did not include white wines, the sweet wines of Sauternes or Barsac, and the rankings were limited to the wines of the left bank, so no chateaux from St. Emilion or Pomerol were included.

Only two changes have been made since. Once in 1856 when Chateau Cantemerle was added as a Fifth Growth, and again in 1973, when Chateau Mouton Rothschild was reclassified from Second Growth to First Growth, making a total of five First Growths with which most everyone is familiar. In only ranking 60 chateaux, thousands of other chateaux were excluded. In 1932, a system was devised to include the “best of the rest” – the people’s wine - the Cru Bourgeois.

444 chateaux were included, separated into three (3) groups: The highest ranking was designated Cru Bourgeois Superieurs Exceptionnel (sometimes called Cru Exceptionnel or Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel) (6 chateaux), followed by Cru Bourgeois Superieurs (99 chateaux), and finally Cru Bourgeois (339 chateaux). However, chateaux in any of these three categories could only use the term “Cru Bourgeois” on their wine labels.

This lack of distinct labeling led to the establishment of a panel in 2003 to re-evaluate the Cru Bourgeois classification with the idea that the newly ranked wines could place their elevated status on their label as a sign of quality. Four hundred and ninety chateaux registered to be included in the classification - the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce listed 247 in their final rankings. Nine wines were ranked as Crus Bourgeois Exceptionnels, 87 as Crus Bourgeois Superieurs, and 151 as Crus Bourgeois. As with any such classification system, there was controversy over these rankings, and some very highly regarded wines such as Chateau Gloria and Chateau Sociando-Mallet did not even apply for classification, preferring to rely on the quality already associated with them by name.

The controversy boiled over and into the courts, where 78 chateaux (which had been excluded from the classification) leveled claims of bias (several members of the 2003 panel were owners of chateaux seeking the rankings), resulting in a February 2007 decision to overturn the new classification and return to the 1932 rankings, with all wines referred to as Cru Bourgeois. That decision was amended in July 2007, when the French courts ruled the use of the term “Cru Bourgeois” illegal.

Now we are set for the third try – the “Reconnaissance de Cru Bourgeois.” The new classification, ratified in 2009, will be set by a panel made up of wine professionals – but with no chateau owners – who are at present selecting “benchmark” wines which will set the quality standard for all the 290 wines from chateaux which have applied for Cru Bourgeois status.

Forty wines were selected from the Medoc and Haut Medoc, as well as forty from the various communes (St. Julien, St. Estephe, Margaux, etc.) to be judged and scored as the benchmarks for rating the 290 chateaux. The same panel that is rating the benchmarks will rate the applicants.

This time the designation of Cru Bourgeois will be an assurance of quality, which will be assessed on a yearly basis by an independent organization. The new system will have only one category, as they hope to avoid the controversy associated with the prior Exceptionnels and Superieurs. The chateaux will have to adhere to production rules and independent quality testing in order to remain in the classification. Although the production rules are yet to be finalized, proposals will govern, among other things, barrel and vat capacity, and a guarantee of 18 months aging in barrel. The new classification, scheduled to be announced on September 23, 2010, has already drawn criticism. A group of chateaux (including well-known names such as Chateau Chasse Spleen, Chateau Potensac, and Chateau Les Ormes de Pez), that were part of the Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel ranking in 2003 have formed their own alliance, “Les Exceptionnels.”

Les Exceptionnels have stated that they will of course adhere to the standards of quality that brought them their original classification, but opined that the new system has gotten too complicated and does not necessarily guarantee quality.

There is also the question of expense - a 25 hectare (55 acre) property would need to invest in stainless steel tanks able to contain an extra 1,000 hectolitres (about 26, 500 gallons) of wine to ensure compliance with portions of the new regulations. These new vats alone would cost close to $250,000. If properties choose to increase barrel capacity, the cost will be far higher, to the tune of $800 - $1,000 per barrel.

Will the third time be the charm for the Cru Bourgeois classification?

Only time will tell. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Night of Debauchery Redux

You read about the first Night of Debauchery in a previous post.   Well, here we go again.  Back to DefCon1. My drive once again brings me back to the trimmed hedges of Lancaster Park, ultimately ending up at the steps of Robert's beautiful home nestled on the shore of the lake.  The first dinner was supposed to be catered by a professional chef who, for some reason, ended up having to cancel for another affair. Perhaps our perceived reputations conjured up emotions of fear, which wouldn’t make much sense since he’s the one holding the knife. Or was it a case of mistaken identity as the less-heralded JV squad?  All kidding aside, it was well worth the wait.

Our host Robert put a clear stamp on the theme of the wine dinner… ‘GO BIG’. This fired up my anticipation. Robert sensed this so he felt the need to text me pic's all the potential wines he was considering...Ste. Cosme, Janasse, Clos Des Papes!!! Of course, all the suggested wines were issued a professional score of 100 points.  Perfect. What a tease!! I thought to myself, ‘he will pay for his insolence’!

So now you have a hint of foreshowing leading up to what is in store. The Night of Debauchery should never be taken lightly. It’s a night where passive posture turns to pea- cocking. Past stories become unheralded tales of delusional glory. When coherent vernacular gives way to slurred speech and clear sight melds into jumbled images. Crazy thing is, this takes place before we open the wines!!! So you see this event is not for the meek.

We're fully alert to the delicatable dishes of culinary art in attendence, but we’re all here for the wines. If you want great wines we’ve got them in spades. Tonight, the crew came out swinging!!! An impressive sacrifice at the alter of pickled livers. The heavyweights came into the ring led by…quick cue the dude on the snare…

2007 Ch. de Ste. Cosme Gigondas 'Hominis Fides'
2000 Pichon Baron Bordeaux Pauillac
2005 Marcassin Three Sisters Sonoma Chardonnay
2005 Clos Figueres Priorat
1999 Ch. de la Negly Clos des Truffieres
2004 Cos D'Estournal Bordeaux Saint Estephe
2005 Henzell Pinot Noir
2009 Merry Edwards Sav. Blanc Russian River

Like a crazed sorcerer chef Bram Fowler (of Journey’s fame) conjured up his six course magic in the kitchen. He whipped up succulent sea bass, scottish sockeye, fresh mussels, tender pulled pork and mouthwatering lamb shanks, oh my!! As we waited patiently we were treated to little bit of history as TK turned through the fragile the pages of his law book collection that goes back to the mid 18th century. Amazing!

Our patience was rewarded with a night filled with all types of temptations to tantalize the taste buds. I must extend my vote to the stand out pairing of the evening. Wafting from a warm dish was a delicately placed braised short rib comfortably hugging the smoked chipolte gouda polenta. Salivary glands shuddered as this dish delivered seismic waves of pungent aromas. On the palate I was entranced by the flavors akin to watching flamenco dancer on speed. No subtlety whatever-so-ever, this brash dish rocked my face off and as I placed the glass of the ’00 Pichon Baron to my lips it became clear the Pauillac was my WOTN. The Pichon was like a locked treasure chest. At first taste, it's locked up tight offering no glimpse inside. After a long decant the lock opens offering up a peek at all it's riches. As you enter the realm of Pichon you are treated to notes of leather, beef carpaccio, sweat, smoke, tobacco and hints of sweet pepper. The elegant balance of this wine is profound. A strong showing from Robert’s Ste. Cosme "Hominis Fidis" Gigondas gave the Pichon all it could handle. The Gigondas was a wealth of complex cracked pepper, creosote and dark fruits. One wine that threw me for a loop was Ivan’s 1999 Ch. de la Negly Clos des Truffiers. Can you say baby killer? This wine was so young, candied and new world. How could this be this is from the 99' vintage? I sat dumbfounded scratching my head, heck I thought it could be a Clio. Never in a million years could I guess this wine blind. Another honorable mention is the Marcassin 3 sisters. A noticeable burgundian profile stood out, but this was too big to be French. A potential contender for wine of the night, it unfortunately fell victim to it’s underwhelming lack of acidity.

In our wake, empty bottles of the world’s most distinguished estates are tossed about. Dusk transitions to twilight and the night comes to a close. Fresh faces have now transitioned into hard lines and sunken cheeks. We head off into the dim moonlight fixated on staying between the lines. You enter your home as fumbled keys and heavy footsteps announce your arrival. You fall into bed, still hazy and as silhouettes fade to black, you awaken the next morning realizing it was just another memorable night at one of Roberts wine dinners. Thanks again for the invite. Until next wine…

Friday, July 16, 2010

#PinotNoir Smackdown = Metro-Orlando Tap

I checked with all of the retail wine outlets and wine bars in the metro area and not a single one had even heard about the #PinotNoir Smackdown much less had a scheduled activity.  So I said #WTF, I will have my own.  I invited some of my tasting buddies to meet at one of two venues but most of them had prior engagements so it was going to be a mighty small Tweet-down in Orlando.

On the morning of the event, I awoke with barely-contained excitement, swung my legs out of bed, and was greeted by a searing pain in my big toe.  Gout.  Just kidding.  I was driving to Tampa that day so enroute I reached out to @wineontheway for Pinot Noir recommendations.  He recommended the most expensive item on his menu.  I said fine and we had a deal (This guy knows his customers.).  We agreed to meet later so that I could get the wine prior to the event.  Later on in the day I reached out to @winebarn and Hlyterroir for their recommendations as to what I should be packing (By this time you are beginning to get the sense that my cellar is not exactly brimming with Pinots.).

The day went by slowly, the passage of time repressed by anticipation.  I left Tampa at 4:45 pm so that I could get back to Orlando in good enough time for the 8:00 pm start of the Tweet-down. Unfortunately, I left at the same time that a storm chose to blow through.  Heavy thunderstorms.  Rain. Lightning. Flooded highways.  Major accidents.  It was a hellish trip which took over 2.5 hours (1 hour 15 minutes under normal circumstances).

There was no time to meet with @wineontheway to pick up my Kistler so I stopped in at @winebarn and Gary recommended the '07 Radio-Coteau La Neblina ($44.99)from Sonoma and the '06 Belle Pente ($32.99) from the Yamhill-Carlton District.  I agreed, paid for them, and rushed out.

I got to the Imperial at a little after 8:00 and my little group settled in at a table just to the right of the entrance.  I borrowed a wine key and some glasses from the bar manager, fired up my iPad and directed it to #PinotNoir, and settled in for a night of fun.  It was a slow night, due to the rain, so the two managers sauntered over and joined us.

I opened the Radio-Coteau at 8:12 pm.  By this time, the tweets were going by fast and furious.  I tweeted as to the fact that I had opened the bottle.  The wine presented cherries, raspberries, vanilla, and a certain creaminess on the nose. On the palate there was red fruit, spiciness, and heavy barrel toast. The wine had a good round mouthfeel and a long finish.  I alerted the world as to these characteristics.

The second bottle opened was an '05 lamont ($52.00) from Central Otago in New Zealand.  This wine was darker in color than the Radio-Coteau and gave a visual impression of concentration.  It had a lot more fruit (dark, ripe berries) on the nose than did its predecessor and also presented vanilla and other baking spices.  Very light on the palate.  It fell off a cliff after an initial weak attack on the frontal palate. This was not a complex wine.  It was rather flat.

By this time the interaction among the group had become primary and the action on the screen had somewhat faded into the background.  We revisited the screen from time to time, thumbed through the tweets looking for ones that stood out, and then returned to our discussions of the wines on offer.

At this time the management of The Imperial brought out a "bagged" Pinot for us to taste blind.  The characteristics of this wine were strawberries, vanilla, and spiciness.  It had reasonable levels of alcohol to go along with the fruit and high alcohol.  It had a long, smooth finish.  A complex, delicate wine.  It turned out to be a 2007 Calera from the Central Coast and is on the Imperial wine list at $52.00.  We continued to tweet the characteristics of our wines and to look for interesting tweets.

The fourth wine opened was the 2006 Belle Pente.  This wine was by far the lightest in color of the wines we had opened.  We tweeted that we had opened the bottle and immediately got a hit from @tayloreason who said "Belle Pente is definitely burly."  We had a few exchanges regarding the wine (I am thinking that I will be following her.  She seems to know what she is talking about.).  As @tayloreason indicated, this wine was muscular, belying its color.  A lot of red fruit.  The Pinot-est of the Pinots we had tasted to date.

At this time Imperial management brought out another brown-bag special.  This wine had been part of an earlier blind tasting and so had had some oxygen face time. On the nose it presented ripe red cherries, polyurethane, and pine needles.  Dark red fruit on the palate and evidence of skin tannins. New world fruit but old world acid.  It turned out to be an '07 Frederic Magnien Bourgogne which retails for $30.00.

I left the Imperial at 10:15 pm feeling pretty good about myself and the evening I had just had.  I had shared five bottles of Pinot Noir with a small group and with the world.  Simultaneously.  And I had lived to tell the tale.   Ok Hlyterroir.  I take back all the things that I had said about Pinot Noir in the past.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What is setting the wine Twittersphere atwitter this Summer?

Three considerations: (i) the residual good feelings resulting from the very successful 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla, Washington; (ii) the hard-upon-us PinotNoir Twitter Tasting and Smackdown; and (iii) The Summer of Riesling.  I will reprise these considerations in this post.

The 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference, held in Walla Walla from June 25th - 27th, provided wine bloggers from across the country the opportunity to: visit Washington-area wineries; attend seminars covering a range of pertinent topics; and, most importantly, from some perspectives, interact with their peers (I had signed up to attend but had to cancel due to a bi-annual family gathering on the same dates.  Failure to attend said gathering would have resulted in permanent banishment from all such future gatherings -- a fate worse than death.).  Judging from the number of laudatory (and self-congratulatory) posts hitting the web at the conclusion of the event -- and the number of tweets released into the Twittersphere before, during, and after the event -- it was an untrammeled success.  Early Twittersphere preparation is already underway for the 2011 edition of the event which will be held from July 22nd - 24th in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The second event that is highly trafficked on the 'sphere is the July 15th PinotNoir Twitter Tasting and Smackdown.  This event, the brainchild of Ed Thralls, will bring Pinot Noir lovers the world over together, both physically and virtually, for a 2-hour Pinot Noir taste-off.  Participants will gather at their homes, in bars, in restaurants, and in wineries and will share their experiences live on Twitter.  The event will be from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm on the west coast and 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm on the east coast.  The event provides a great opportunity for wineries to connect with Pinot Noir fans from all around the world (and, to that end, Ed has provided a special set of participation suggestions for wineries) and for Pinot enthusiasts to have a worldwide party with like-minded individuals.  The 'sphere has been atwitter with Twitteristas setting up parties, making connections, and determining exactly where, and with whom, they will be at Smackdown time.

By going for Tweet volume, @terroirNY has singlehandedly lifted The Summer of Riesling from a wine sommelier's dream to a series of live, New York City events and significant Twitter updates on these events and other Reisling-related initiatives.  The scope of Terroir's Summer of Reisling initiative is aptly captured in its tag line: The Tastings! The Concert! The Queen! The Crawl!  The crawl looks like it will be a lot of fun.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dom Perignon introduces ...

Champagne house Dom Perignon launched its Dom Perignon Brut 2002 and Dom Perignon Oenotheque Brut 1996 in a live webcast on July 12th from's headquarters in London.  The launch event was a tasting which also included the Dom Perignon Rose 2000 and the Dom Perignon Oenotheque Rose 1990.  The tasting panel was led by Richard Geoffroy, Dom Perignon's Chef de Cave, and included Decanter contributors Sarah Kemp and Margaret Rand.  The session was moderated by John Abbot of Decanter.

The format for the webcast was interesting.  The tasting panel and guests were ensconced in a room on the 12th floor of the Decanter building (the only floor with a view, according to John Abbot) while a worldwide audience tapped into the tasting via a text-only stream or a text-and-video stream.  Attendees signed in using Twitter, Facebook, or openID accounts and, once signed in, had the potential to pose questions to the panelists (Most of the questions were directed at Richard and many of them were broad Dom Perignon questions rather than being specifically about the wines being tasted.).

The first wine tasted was the Vintage 2002.  This particular vintage was released 8 years after harvest while, traditionally, Dom vintages are released 6 to 7 years after harvest.  Richard saw no significance in this fact.  Sarah Kemp was first to comment on the wine and declared it a "very Burgundian champagne" with a "full, rich, Montrachet style" and having "extremely expressive notes of hazelnut and brioche." Margaret Rand saw the wine as "immensely rich and concentrated" but noted that it wore its weight lightly.  It was "very, very elegant and linear, supple and terrifically long."  Richard Geoffroy focused on the overall mouthfeel, a direct result, he stated, of the blending.  Such a mouthfeel could not have been achieved with a single grape variety.

This vintage was disgorged 15 months ago and will pair well with seafood, in general, and specifically, with crab.

The second wine tasted was the Oenotheque 1996.  Margaret Rand stated that 1996 was a year of enormous acidity which usually yielded great wines but on the lean side.  She felt that the Oenotheque 1996 would be "young and tight" because of its recent disgorgement and found that to be the case.  She found the wine to have "powerful toasty notes and huge weight" and an "enormous finish."  This was a complex, mineral wine.  Richard saw the wine as "packed with serious flavors" to include, smoke, minerality, toast, and iodine.

This vintage was disgorged 2 years ago and pairs well with caviar or very intensely flavored flat oysters.

In responding to a question on the difference between the Vintage 1996 and Oenotheque 1996, Richard stated that the primary difference was mouthfeel.  The Oenotheque had a creamy expansion and a glide to the finish while the Vintage was a more classical champagne.  It was more linear and then tailed into something marginally dried out.

Richard also re-emphasized the Dom Perignon philosophy that the wine be a perfect balance of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  This does not necessarily imply a 50/50 mix; it is driven by taste and will vary somewhere between 40% and 60% for each varietal.  The more classical vintages are on the Chardonnay side, according to Richard, because it is not as intense as the Pinot Noir.

The panel continued on to taste the other wines but that does not fall under Dom Perignon introduces ...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Too Big to Fail - Wine Industry Style

In all of the hullabaloo regarding the housing industry, the banking industry, the oil industry, and the meltdown of the global economic system as we know it, the wine industry felt left out – until now.

Let's start with the everyday, run-of-the-mill, garden-type-variety insanity.

Michael Havens was a professor of English in the University of California system. He caught the wine bug, cut his teeth making wine for Truchard Winery in the Carneros region of southern Napa Valley, and he and some friends eventually opened the Havens Winery in 1984, specializing in Bordeaux- and Rhone-style wines. The winery flourished, becoming known for a Cheval Blanc homage known as Bourriquot and even making some wine for an upstart restaurateur -- with a wine bug himself -- named Manfred Krankl. In 2006, Mr. Havens was approached by one of his distributors (Billington Imports) who liked the wines so much, they wanted to buy the company. Billington bought the brand and the vineyard holdings and winery facilities were sold to a company called VinREIT (Real Estate Investment Trust), which leased the facilities to Billington.

Billington, a significant importer of South American wines, fell into financial troubles when it lost the right to import the wines of Nicolas Catena and Alamos wines from Argentina in late 2008. The next thing you know, Billington defaults on the lease, goes into receivership, and its assets are liquidated. No Havens, no more. And VinREIT is now in financial straits as several of its other winery holdings are in foreclosure.

Here is a slightly different twist with, hopefully, a better outcome. Diageo, the London-based alcohol conglomerate which owns such iconic labels as Johnnie Walker whiskey, Smirnoff vodka, and Guinness stout, notified the public and its shareholders that it is selling most of its Napa Valley wineries and vineyards, including its flagship brands of Sterling Vineyards and Beaulieu Vineyards, to Realty Income Corporation (another REIT) for the tidy sum of 269 million dollars.

That is not necessarily big news given the economy, but the company also announced that it would turn right around and lease these same properties back for a period of 20 years. Diageo Chateau Estate Wines will continue to manage and operate the properties and will retain ownership and marketing of the wine brands. This will, hopefully, provide Diageo with some much-needed capital with no discernible effects on the wine-drinking public. Hopefully, the investment will work out better for Realty Income than similar investments have for VinREIT; and we won’t have to worry about iconic symbols of Napa Valley being foreclosed.

Finally, news came out a short time ago that Southern Wines and Spirits, arguably one of the largest, if not THE largest wine and liquor distributor in the United States, is in negotiations with Bank of America for two billion dollars in loans in an attempt to restructure the company’s existing debt. Terms of the deal with Bank of America include a $1 billion line of revolving credit and a $1 billion term loan, both of which would mature after five years.

Given than Southern has an estimated 20+% market share, what would be the implications if they were not able to restructure their debt or that this loan is only a stopgap measure? Are they “too big to fail” a la Lehman Brothers and AIG? Also, given the timeframe of the loans, does that indicate that Southern anticipates another 2 to 3 years of economic hardship before they see a rebound in sales?

Only time will tell.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Lure of Prosecco

I went to an Italian wine tasting at Tim's Wine Market on Wednesday of this week and the Prosecco offerings (i) reminded me as to why this wine is one of my wife's favorites and (ii) gave me the urge to learn more about the varietal.  The Prosecco's tasted were the Trevisiol Winery Prosecco Brut and Rosecco and the winemaker, Paolo Trevisiol, was on hand to act as our guide.

Prosecco wines are known for their pale straw-yellow color, moderate body, delicate flavors, and aromatics, characteristics which are preserved by the use of the Charmat method of sparkling wine production.  Unlike the methode traditionelle, the Charmat method allows for the second fermentation to occur in pressurized tanks rather than bottles.  The result is a fresh sparkling wine at a reasonable cost.  In order to be called Proseco, the wine has to be made from a minimum of 85% Prosecco with the remainder drawn from local varietals such as Bianchetta and Verdiso.  The best Proseccos are generally made from 100% Prosecco.


From 1969 until 2008, the Prosecco DOC covered wines made from Prosecco grapes grown in the Conegliano and Valdobbiadene areas of the Veneto region.  Beginning with the 2009 vintage, this area was upgraded to DOCG status and allowed to place DOCG Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore on the label.  The production zone for the grapes extends over 15 communes and 18,000 hectares along the hills around Valdobbiadene.  The vines are planted on south-facing slopes at elevations ranging between 50 and 500 meters thus allowing for long hang times and good drainage.  Within the broader DOCG there is a smaller delimited area of 104 hectares which has a specific microclimate and soils (moriane, sandstones, clay) that produces exceptional, grand-cru-type Prosecco.  This area is called Cartizze and wines made from grapes grown in this region are allowed to so indicate on the bottle.

Prosecco production is tightly controlled by an organization called the Tutelary Consortium.  This group was initially formed in 1962 by 11 regional producers and is a private body focused on improving quality and and monitoring adherence to production rules.  Tutelary Consortium rules cover grape origin, varieties, vinification, bottling, and marketing.

The Trevisiol Winery is located in the hills of Valdobbiadene.  The vineyards are located at 200 - 300 meters elevation and are planted at 2800 to 3500 vines/hectare with vines that are, on average, 40-years old.  The soil type is called Morenico and is comprised of alluvial deposits from ancient glaciers.  The winemaker is Paolo Trevisiol, a second-generation winemaker.

The pictures below show the Trevisiol wines and the winemaker in discussion with Tim, the owner of Tim's Wine Market.

The Prosecco Brut is a 2500-case production made from 100% Prosecco.  This wine has delicious fruit and floral aromas and is light and "peachy soft"on the palate.  This is an excellent aperitif or a summer refreshing wine. Retails for $16. The Rosecco is a 550-case production crafted from 40% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, and 20% Prosecco.  This sparkling rose is a study in minerality, acidity and cherry/raspberry fruitiness.  This wine is being introduced to the US for the first time and is available at a price of $20.

The tasting was conducted on a hot evening at very close quarters so these refreshing wines were especially appreciated.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Imperial Wine Bar: Tasting the Wines

In my previous post, I described the the new wine-bar-in-an-antique-store, Imperial.  I have visited the establishment on three occasions and, while there, have tasted four separate wines.  On my first visit I tasted the '06 Three Saints Cabernet and the Von Strasser ‘Eye of the Diamond’ Rose of Cabernet. The '06 Three Saints Cabernet is a slightly scaled-down version of the '07 Caymus so if you like fruit-forward, new-world treats, give the Three Saints a try. The second wine, the Rose, was a delight to the palate, a summer sipper that brings great pleasure. The nose was a stimulation of minerality, pear, and peach notes. A perfect wine for a warm summer day or night.

On my second visit to Imperial I went for the entry-level Merlot. This Washington-state Merlot is made by the well-known winemaker Charles Smith and is aptly named Velvet Devil.  The wine has a plush velvet feel on the palate, plenty of oak, and buckets of black cherry.  Unfortunately, the wine does not hold your attention. Though, I must note any newbie to the wine world would enjoy this offering.

On my third visit to Imperial I decided that the weather was right to sip a Pinot Noir. Imperial was able to exceed my expectations with the '07 Celara. This is the entry-level Celera rather than one of their acclaimed single-vineyard offerings.  The wine, a bit tight initially, really began to display it’s full potential within a short time. The nose began to unfold notes of earth, porcini dust, ginger (I’m not kidding), dried strawberries, and some subtle char. On the palate, smoke, black cherry, shiitake mushroom, and strawberry. This is really good and, at $13 a glass, it should be. The Celera may be a bit pricey to drink all night, but is definitely worth a taste.

If you want to head out with a few friends for a relaxing time, stop in at Imperial and give these suggestions a try. Until next wine…

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Washburn Imports, Furniture and…Wine?

Yes it’s true. And while you’re out shopping for some furniture, why not grab yourself a glass of wine? Ok I’m exaggerating a tad.  However, tucked away on a side street in the back of Washburn Imports is a cozy new wine bar named Imperial. Once Washburn Imports closes for the day, Imperial comes alive at night. It appears as though John Washburn, the proprietor of Washburn Imports, has previous hospitality experience and felt that it was time to put it to good use. When I asked the attending bar keep Kaitlin about John Washburn and what he was like, I received the ever-so-minimally eloquent "he’s awesome." Love it!

Imperial has a capable and compact wine list (only one Bordeaux offering). For wines not offered by the establishment, a patron can bring his/her own bottle for a $20 corkage fee. The decor is a delight for the eyes with an eclectic blend of international flair. While I was trying to describe Imperial with one word, ‘chill’ immediately came to mind. Chill with some relaxing tunes and capable bar staff, led by Manager Brett. Brett, who designed the wine list, has a previous relationship with John Washburn. When John came up with the idea for Imperial he recruited Brett to deliver on its message. Brett's second-in-command, is Angel whose additional duties include handling and organizing private parties and events. There is no kitchen on the premises so the catering is subcontracted out to Cuisiniers and Big Wheel Provisions.

If you are looking for a mellow night out, a night to relax and enjoy good conversation,  a visit to Imperial is in order. You will find yourself immersed in calm, cool, and laid back atmosphere. So if you’re up for a glass of wine, a beer, or even an end table (look for the price tags), give Imperial a try. Until next wine…

The Imperial at Washburn Imports.
A Wine Bar and Beer Garden specializing in boutique wines and craft beers.
1800 N. Orange Avenue Orlando FL 32804
Tue - Sat 5-12/Sun 1-6
Manager: Brett
Staff: Angel(events) Pours: Kaitlin and Libby

Friday, July 2, 2010

Comparing Top Wine Regions: Taber and

In checking Twitter this morning, I came across an article on soils that had been forwarded by @winewomansong.  The article, written by Sunny Brown, and posted on, was a fascinating take on her choice of the top 10 wine soils in the world.  The article was fascinating for me on two levels: (i) its internals and (ii) how the regions identified as having the best soils matched up to the regions identified by George Taber in his book In Search of Bacchus.

The article begins with a primer on soil types and then launches into a discussion of of the top 10 wine soils ordered from lowest to highest.  The rankings probably will not ignite the third world war but there are a few things I wished the author had delved into in greater detail (understanding that there may have been editorial constraints).  First, the stated criteria for the rankings were unique qualities, historical importance, and market appeal (of the region's wines).  I would have liked some more detail on what each of the criterion meant, within the current context, as well as the relative weighting of each characteristic.  Further, I would have liked some discussion of how each region fared against each of these criterion.

George Taber, whose In Search of Bacchus was reviewed in a previous post, set out on a journey to explore "... twelve of the world's most interesting wine regions."  In his work, no effort is made to rank the regions that he visited and, as I point out in my review, no selection criteria are provided.

If we compare the lists emanating form the two works, the only regions of commonality are Napa Valley (broadly speaking as the soils article narrows its choice down to Rutherford), Mendoza, Tuscany, Bordeaux, and Mosel.  This is probably not surprising given the starting points of the two efforts. set out to show the best regions for growing grapes while Taber's focus was the best wine regions to visit.  All fun stuff.