Friday, February 26, 2010

New Smyrna Rising: SoNapa

So I have known Tom D. for about 15 years. We have played a lot of golf together, drank a lot of different brews, played cards and dominoes, and have had an all around good time. So when he texts me and says let's have dinner in Deland on Saturday (fabulous restaurant called Cress) and then go see his friend play the saxophone at a place called SoNapa in New Smyrna, I grumble under my breath "this will cost me my entire weekend" but dutifully texted him back "let's do it."

As we get closer to Saturday, Tom discovers that his friend is playing from 7:00 to 9:00 pm so if we want to catch him, that would nix our plan for dinner in Deland. So he deputizes me to find a place for us to have dinner in New Smyrna after listening to this guy play at SoNapa (Why me?). We have a mutual friend, Bill A., who has a condo in New Smyrna so I thought I would short-circuit the process by getting a recommendation from Bill as to a good place to eat in New Smyrna. I call Bill and pose the question. Bill says, "That's funny. We are in New Smyrna for the weekend." "That's great," I say. "You guys can join us but where will we eat." He makes a recommendation but calls back later to say that his wife has nixed his recommendation and, instead, we are going to the Spanish River Grill. Ok.

Going from Lake Mary to the SoNapa location at 761 3rd Avenue in New Smyrna is about a 35-minute ride. On the way to SoNapa we went by Norwoods, long a fixture on the New Smyrna dining/wine scene and home to a fairly large winter wine pouring. The GPS shows us approaching location and I turn into a large, Publix-dominated shopping center looking for SoNapa. We roll by Spanish River Grill (great, they are close to each other) and then notice the SoNapa location just a few storefronts away, directly behind the Riverside Bank branch. We park in the bank parking lot, walk to the entrance of SoNapa, open the door, and ... are confronted by a perfect visual example of what a wine bar should be.

There is seating up front in a foyer-like area which is furnished with comfy-looking, single-seat, dark-brown leather couches and, on the walls behind the couches, racks and racks of wine. As you leave this foyer-like area, you enter into a larger open area which has a bar running along the left-hand side of the room and a (hidden) kitchen area at the top end of the bar. The remainder of the room is occupied by restaurant-style tables and chairs. The word that comes to mind immediately is "cozy." Cozy in a "great place to have wine fun" sense.

Tom and Moxie were already at the bar and so, wide-eyed, we joined them. "This is nice." I pulled out my camera and began popping off at everything in sight. The nice young lady behind the bar (I found out later that her name was Cassie) smilingly (she had seen Japanese tourists before) asked "can I get you something to drink sir." I smiled sheepishly, placed my camera back into my pocket and asked to see the wine list.

The name SoNapa is not a valley-girl name as in "that is so Napa." Rather it indicates the focus of the business. They sell wines from Sonoma and Napa counties for on- or off- premise consumption. The wines that are available are reasonably priced and the by-the-glass wines are available in 3- and 6- ounce pours.

In addition to its wine sales, SoNapa also has a food menu with appetizers, flatbreads, entrees, soups and salads, and desserts. We ordered two appetizers -- the Chalk Hill Flatbread and the Sonoma Coast Oven Roasted Jumbo Lump Crab Cake with flavorful aioli sauce -- and were blown away. We had seconds. We saw some of the entrees -- none over $20 -- as they went by and they were pleasing to the eye.

The place was crowded -- it is capacity rated at 65 -- with people standing around in the foyer waiting for seats in the larger area. The sax player blended in well with the ambiance of the place.

SoNapa is everything that is desirable. It is young, fresh, hip, happening, and noisy. The giant-killer has arrived. We had fun and will go back. It is worth the trip. And coupled with Spanish River Grill, it is a gem of an evening. Get there early.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Elusive Grape Pouring - Kapcsandy Family Winery

On Thursday, February 18, The Elusive Grape ( held a wine pouring headlined by the 100-point-rated Kapcsandy Family Winery 2007 Estate Cabernet. This winery is not very well known but the quality of the wine tasted that night encouraged us to provide our metro-area Orlando readers with some background on this rising star.

When Lou Kapcsandy (pronounced cap-chandy) fled Hungary ahead of the Soviet invasion in the mid-50’s, I doubt that he ever thought he would eventually end up in Napa Valley, but winemaking was always part of his dream. In 2000, after a highly successful run as a player for the San Diego Chargers in the National Football League, and as a construction contractor in the Seattle area, Lou, his wife Roberta (Bobbie), and son Louis, Jr., purchased the historic 20-acre State Lane Vineyard on the Yountville Crossroad in the southcentral portion of Napa Valley. The vineyard had provided a key component of Beringer’s Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon for the prior 20 years but the phylloxera root louse had ravaged the majority of the vines.

Not to be deterred, the Kapcsandy’s hired Helen Turley to make their wines and hired her husband John Wetlaufer to help them replant and redefine the vineyard. Whereas the original vineyard was solely planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Wetlaufer and the Kapcsandys discovered that the site contained several microclimates and soil profiles that made it suitable for several varietals, so they planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. The first vintage produced under the Kapcsandy Family Winery label was the 2003. Helen Turley produced this vintage and the next (2004), and then recommended Rob Lawson, the winemaker from the Napa Wine Company, to take over the winemaking position. Turley had become familiar with Lawson when she made the Pahlmeyer wines at the Napa Wine Company facility. The Kapcsandys also brought in Denis Malbec from Chateau Latour in Bordeaux’s Pauillac commune as a consulting winemaker.

The first Kapcsandy wine was a Bordeaux-style blend (the Kapcsandy Family Winery Estate Cuvee – State Lane Vineyard) composed of about equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with a small dose of Cabernet Franc to boost the aromatics. The second wine -- produced in 2005 -- was the Kapcsandy Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon - State Lane Vineyard, typically about 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the remainder split between Merlot and Cabernet Franc. In 2006, they added a third wine (designated Roberta’s Reserve) made from the most structured lots of Merlot, occasionally with a small dose of Cabernet Franc added.

For those who visit the winery, or are on the mailing list, there is an outstanding Rose composed of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot ,and 4% Cabernet Franc, and a Port-style wine made from dehydrated Merlot grapes.

Production levels are kept relatively low and the quality level high – in 2004 they produced on the order of 900 cases, in 2005 production rose to 1400 cases, and in the difficult 2006 vintage, some 500 cases of wine not meeting the Kapcsandy’s standards were sold off to ensure that only the best wine appeared under the Kapcsandy Family Winery banner.

With Denis Malbec assuming full control of the winemaking, the 2007 vintage looks to be the finest to date and, as the vines are not fully ten years of age, the best from the Kapcsandy family may be yet to come.

Darioush Winery Tasting at The Wine Barn

Last night the guys at The Wine Barn hit a process home run. They invited me to a Darioush wine tasting and a wine tasting it was.

Darioush (which in Persian means "in the name of Darius," and most likely refers to Darius the Great, the much-storied King of the Achaemenid Empire) Winery, located on Silverado Trail in Napa Valley, has become known for its limited-production, Bordeaux-style wines. The winery is owned by Darioush Khaleh, a Shah-era Iranian exile, and current supermarket mogul, while viticulture/viniculture responsibility is delegated Steve DeWitt. The winery produces approximately 14,000 cases of wine annually with over half of the production dedicated to its "Signature" Cabernet.
The wines offerred at the tasting were: 2007 Chardonnay ($38.99); 2008 Viognier ($34.99); 2006 Merlot ($46.99); 2007 Caravan Cabernet ($29.95); and 2006 "Signature" Cabernet ($69.99). (The price of the '06 Signature Cab appeared to me to be about 20% less than the comparable wine of the '05 vintage.).

The tasting was led by Allen Papp, a Darioush Estate Attache (I don't exactly know what that means) who provided an excellent overview of the winery and then took us one at a time through the wines on offer. The first wine tasted was the Chardonnay and, according to Allen, this wine has changed from past vintages. The winery has acquired four acres on Mt. Veeder and is now mixing that fruit with valley-floor fruit (60/40 mix) to produce the offered vintage. The barrels used in aging this wine has also been turned down to neutral thus diminishing the oakiness of the wine. These changes have resulted in a lean Chardonnay somewhat reminescent of Ramey's Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay. I liked it.
The Viognier is made from fruit grown at the Ashley Vineyard in Oaknoll. The wine, of which 1400 six-packs are made, exhibits great acid and, even though characterized as a dry wine, some residual sugar. Significant peach and floral elements on the nose follow through to combine with an oiliness on the palate. Definitely a seasonal wine.

The Caravan, the "baby" Signature Cabernet, is harvested from 5- to 7-year-old vines and utilizes the same clones and style as does the Signature Cab. The '07 instance of the Cab has been green-harvested to provide lower yields than the '05. Allen sees the vintage as having a little more acidity than the '05. I evidenced a creaminess and significant amounts of blackfruit but felt that this vintage fell short of the '05. While the '05 was rounded and had great mouth-feel, the '07 felt flat and died mid-palate. The varietal mix for the '07 is 76% Cab, 12% Merlot, and the remainder evenly distributed between Cab Franc and Malbec.

The Signature Cab is subjected to three berry-by-berry sorts in order to ensure that only the best fruit make it into the final brew. A measure of the care that is taken with the fruit is the fact that pickers place picked berries in 14-lb champagne buckets in order to minimize fruit-bruising. The vines utilized for the Signature Cab are from 9- to 12-years old. The varietal mix is 85% Cab, 9% Merlot, and the remainder evenly distributed between Cab Franc and Malbec. In the tasting I got hints of anise, coconut, vanilla, blackfruit, and dark chocolate.

All in all a very good tasting. A small, tightly controlled group. A good time was had by all.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Elusive Grape Pouring: Lessons Learned

So last Thursday(February 18th), I am travelling from Lake Mary to Tampa on my twice-weekly jaunt (three times a week now that we have a new employee who does not know, or does not care, that the national unemployment rate is just south of 10%), listening to Lady Gaga (yes I said Lady Gaga), when I get a telephone call from Robert Goulet (you have to be a "special" person to choose that hallowed name as an alias on a wine blog). "Hey," he said, "are you going to the Kapcsandy tasting tonight at The Elusive Grape?" Now I was totally baffled because I was not familiar with the winery or the scheduling of a tasting at the mentioned locale. I told him that I was unaware of the event but that I would give Bill (the owner of The Elusive Grape) a call. So I called Bill (I was a little hurt that Goulet knew about the event and I did not) and asked him how come I had not been invited. "I didn't have you on my mailing list," he said, "but come on over. It's going to be great." So I went.

When I got to The Elusive Grape in Deland, I found that the tasting was a benefit in support of Journey's End, a doggy hospice program. Attendees were assessed a $10 charge plus had to bring an item that could be used by Journey's End. All proceeds went to Journey's End. It is estimated that upwards of 100 people attended the event.

The wines on offer were from Kapcsandy Family Winery (2006 Estate Cuvee, 2006 Estate Cabernet, 2007 Estate Cabernet), Erba Mountainside Vineyards (2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2004 Merlot, 2004 Syrah, 2007 Chardonnay) and Pina Napa Valley (2006 Cabernet D'Adamo Vineyard "Yountville," 2006 Cabernet Buckeye Vineyard "Howell Mountain"). The 2007 Kapcsandy Estate Cabernet Sauvignon was rated 100 points by Parker so having this wine poured in his establishment was a coup for Bill.

The wines were set up on a table to the left of the bar and patrons rolled by this stately assemblage with outstretched glasses so that Gerard Moffet, National Sales Manager for Kapcsandy, could deposit the valuable juice therein. A number of issues here. First off, the glasses that were utilized were very small and, combined with micro-pours, did not allow for meaningful evaluation of the wines. Second, Gerard could have been more suitably attired in order to align with the general attendee mode of dress (Gerard is the one on the right in the picture. Bill is on the left.). He also could have been more forthcoming in his answers to questions posed and could have looked at his watch 50 fewer times.

The size of the crowd, and the method of wine distribution, made it very difficult for Gerard to control who had which wine in their glass at a specific time. He did try to go from white to red and from least impactful to most impactful but people knew that there was a 100-pointer in the house and wanted to get at it. The fact that only one bottle of the 100-pointer ws on hand for a crowd of this size exacerbated the problem.

So what did we learn? First off, this was a pouring, rather than a tasting (see my 2/19/10 posting). Second, the appropriately sized glass is key in an event such as this (see Robert Goulet's posting of 2/22/10). Third, the winery representative should have enough wine to adequately conduct the event. Fourth, have the winery representative send you a picture of what he/she plans to wear to the event.

Both 2006 and 2007 vintages of the Kapcsandy Cuvee were poured and the "07 was obviously a very special wine. The winery, and its products will be covered in greater detail in a future post. The Elusive Grape will be covered in fuller detail in a future post.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Decisions, decisions. Which glass to choose?

Now one person may accuse another of being a wine snob because of the type of wine they consume or all of the due diligence engaged in prior to a wine purchase, but this label may not always apply. My idiosyncrasies may suggest the profile of a snob, but to be honest, I have no problem sitting down with some cheap plonk as long as it is somewhat drinkable. What about glasses? Yes, one can look like a snob by the type of wine glass he/she chooses or by the way it is used. Like, for example, upon arrival to a tasting, lo and behold, like He-man unleashing his sword, a beautiful $30 Reidel glass is unsheathed and held in the air followed by the war cry "I’ve got the power!!!!!" I for one have not brought personal stemware to a tasting, but I understand it. People ask how can a wine glass dictate the performance of the wine? For some, not having the correct wine glass is almost akin to driving a Porsche through a slalom course strapped with Firestone tires instead of Pirellis.

Professor Claus Riedel was the first glass designer to recognize that the bouquet, taste, balance, and finish of a wine can be affected by the shape of the glass. Below are some sample wine glasses with the corresponding wines from the Riedel glass company.

I for one have found that the differences are subtle. In fact, I find myself using a small Stolze Bordeaux-style white wine glass for my reds, especially if the wine is drinking well after the initial pop and pour. Unorthodox maybe, but sometimes a glass with a larger volume bowl can subject the wine to too much oxygen causing the flavor to fade out rather quickly. When pouring your wine, utilize the lower 1/3rd of the glass and not much more. This gives you the ability to swirl your wine comfortably and, along with the act of diving your proboscis deep into your glass, allows examination of the bouquet. It is your choice as to whether you use a stem or stemless glass (not shown above). Find a glass that works comfortably for you. Experiment with different shapes, sizes, and weight. For example, I often find myself using a lightweight, stemless red burgundy Reidel glass for my Cabernet and Bordeaux wines. Whether or not a wine glass can affect the performance of the wine can be subjective. I believe the right glass can enhance the overall experience, but don’t listen to me, you be the judge.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Wine Pouring versus Wine Tasting

Nothing ticks me off like being invited to the latter and running full bore into the former. What is the difference between the two, you ask? And why is it important? Well, let us step back a moment and take a look at this conceptually singular phenomenon that has, over time, evolved into a duality.

A wine event is generally put on by a local wine purveyor and can run the gamut from a group of regulars who have been called together, to a wine dinner, to a mega-event taking up many city blocks. The common characteristics are: it is generally pre-scheduled and publicized; the wines on offer are pre-announced; a guest-of-honor is generally associated with the event and is pre-announced; and, there may or may not be a "cover charge."

The wine retailer's objective in putting the event together is to drive increased revenue in both the short and long term. In the short term, there is a bump in revenue from the participation fee as well as the sales coming out of the event. If the product is on hand, the revenue bump is immediate. If the product is shipped in post the event, the revenue is further down the road (assuming that the retailer does not collect pre-arrival).

The objectives of the attendees differ depending on their level of sophistication but it is bound together under a common rubric: education. An equilibrium is reached when the purveyor provides enough information to allow the attendee to make an informed purchase decision. Further, if the attendee feels that he/she is consistently informed at this particular facility, he/she will keep coming back, with positive, long-term implications for the enterprise.

Now back to wine pouring versus wine tasting.

If your wine shop owner invites you to an event where there are four wines and these wines are poured into your glass by a salesperson who says "Parker gave this a 92" or "great wine" or "check out the nose on this baby," you are at a wine pouring. Note that the determining factor as to whether or not it is a wine pouring is not the size/scope of the event, but the activities within and the substance derived therefrom by the attendees. As a matter of fact, if you are at an event, and the winemaker is pouring the wine into your glass and making these non-value-laden statements, you are still at a wine pouring.

The hallmark of a wine tasting is an event that delivers quality (or not) wine and some relevant knowledge about the subject wine. Wine dinners are a classic example of a "true" wine tasting: The wine is poured by a team; each patron has the same wine in his/her glass simultaneously; someone with a more-than-cursory knowledge of the wine expounds on its qualities; and it is consumed in total before we move on to the next wine. In addition, a quality wine tasting has a limited number of attendees, has a clear, written description of the subject wines, has material available which the attendee can use to make notes about the wines and the event, and has an easy-to-understand order form.

The wine beginner should always opt for a wine tasting before a wine pouring. When I leave a wine tasting I hope to know: The wine-making philosophy of the winemaker; the region where the grapes were grown; any growing difficulties associated with the vintage; the wine-making process; what sets this wine apart from other wines; and the critics' perspectives. For someone who is familiar with the wine maker's style and previous vintages, a wine pouring fits the bill in that they can be exposed to the latest edition of the wine(s) without a lot of diversion.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Devil in the Details – More about the Method

In a prior post, we discussed the deductive method of determining the identity of a wine that is being tasted blind. This entry provides an overview of some of the more detailed sensory information that an individual would attempt to discern while tasting a wine.

The color of a wine can provide clues regarding, not only the grape varietal, but also the age of a wine. A dark purple, opaque wine could indicate a varietal such as Petite Sirah, Malbec, or Syrah, while a light ruby color could indicate a wine made from Grenache or Pinot Noir. Additionally, a golden colored wine could be a Chardonnay, while a pale, straw-colored wine with a hint of green could be a Riesling. As wines age, the compounds responsible for the colors change. Red wines generally become lighter over time, and often take on a brick red or orangeish tinge, while white wines generally become darker. Understanding the rates at which these changes occur can yield significant information to the taster as to the age of the wine.

Aromas can also play a significant role in determining the grape varietal as well as the origin of a wine. The Method typically requires the taster to identify three (3) fruit and three (3) non-fruit aromas. Fruit aromas such as cherry, strawberry, cassis (black currant), raspberry, and blackberry are common descriptors for red wines, while apple, pear, peach, pineapple, and guava are common descriptors for white wines. Non-fruit aromas can be in the form of floral scents, spices, minerality (e.g., the smell of wet stones or freshly turned earth) and the like. Scents such as vanilla or coconut (or lack thereof) can provide clues as to whether the wines were aged in barrels and, perhaps, the origin of the barrels (certain wine regions are known for using only French oak barrels, or only American oak barrels, and this knowledge can further fine-tune the taster’s assessment of the wine).

The flavors in a wine often, but not always, mimic the aromas. The taster using the Method should attempt to identify three (3) fruit flavors and three (3) non-fruit flavors. The ripeness of the flavors can assist in narrowing the area of origin. Under-ripe flavors such as green apple or sour cherry can be presumed to be associated with regions subject to cooler temperatures, whereas ripe flavors in a wine may indicate a warmer climate.

The taster will also assess the level of acid, alcohol, and tannins in the wine, grading from low to high. White wines and lighter red varietals tend to have higher acid levels, as do grapes grown in cooler climate areas. If the wines are vinified to dryness (all of the sugar is converted to alcohol), wines made from grapes grown in warmer regions where higher sugar levels are possible tend to have higher alcohol levels.

All of these details are brought together in determining the balance of the wine - are the fruit, acid, tannin, and alcohol present in a harmonious fashion, or does the wine taste somewhat disjointed because one or more of the components are either too high or too low. The harmony and the presence of each of these components can also lead an individual to guess as to the relative quality of the wine, and to its ageability.

The Method

To some, the act of a wine enthusiast or wine professional sniffing, sipping, and (maybe) spitting a wine, effusing about this scent or that taste in an effort to describe the wine, and, in some circumstances, guess the wines origin, is the ultimate in snobbery and/or geekdom. If this is your opinion, you may want to wait for tomorrow’s post.

Sommeliers (wine professionals trained in the service of wine and spirits), wine retailers, wine educators, and wine enthusiasts often challenge each other to determine the age, origin, and grape varietal in a bottle of wine that is served to them blind (that is, the label is covered or the wine is poured elsewhere and the glass delivered to the taster). By tasting blind, the individual is not influenced by any preconceived notions regarding the particular grape varietal or the relative cost of the particular wine.

The Court of Master Sommeliers (, a London-based group dedicated to improving standards of beverage service in hotels and restaurants through education, teaches students in their programs using what is referred to as “The Method.” This technique uses a series of deductive evaluations regarding the color, clarity, aromas, flavors, acidity, alcohol, and tannin levels in a wine. Each wine is evaluated in a similar fashion each time and, given the proper training, and sufficient repetition, patterns begin to emerge that provide clues to the taster as to the potential identity of the wine.

Several friends have observed that they could never properly guess wines in this manner because they do not smell or taste all of the things they hear someone saying about a particular wine. The two biggest things that foil a beginning taster is a lack of vocabulary and, as noted above, a lack of sufficient repetition. As to the vocabulary, it is not necessary to arrive at the same flavor and aroma combinations/descriptions as any of the persons tasting with you (although it does help in conveying your findings), but it is important to look for the trends in your tastings and remember when certain flavors or aromas are linked to specific grape varietals or wines from a particular country or specific wine region. Remembering trends in the tastings will come with tasting many wines while using an objective set of criteria such as the Method.

I also tell beginning tasters that there is really only one criterion that matters – do you like the wine or not. Everything else beyond that is gravy, and it is up to the individual to pursue.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Clash of the Spanish Titans: Bodegas Emilio Moro

In yesterday's posting we examined areas of discourse that Juan Muga of Bodegas Muga could have pursued during the Clash of the Spanish Titans wine tasting, held at the Wine Barn in Orlando, if the format and available time had been more conducive. Today we examine broad constructs from which Mr. Espinar of Bodegas Emilio Moro could have drawn for his theoretical discourse.

Unlike Rioja, the Ribera del Duero region had neither the locational proximity nor the winemaking "chops" to "merit" French involvement during the relevant period. To elaborate, Ribera del Duero is located in the heart of Castile y Leon, a decidedly Spanish enclave. Second, the only wine of note in the Ribera del Duera region for the longest time was Vega Sicilia which was founded in 1864 and was the region until the founding of the modern bodegas in the late 19th century.


Ribera del Duero was awarded Denominacion de Origen designation in 1982 and is noted for its reds made from Tinto Fino (also called Tinto de Pais locally). The wines, which must b at least 75% Tinto Fino, are characterized by "... a soft 'summer-fruit' characteristic and crisp, green tannins." The wines are more concentrated than their Riojan counterparts, a fact that has been attributed to grapes resulting from the combination of chalk-rich soils and a micro-climate consisting of hot summer days and cool nights.

Bodegas Emilio Moro, currently one of "... the DOs benchmarks ...", has a history stretching back more than 120 years to the father of the founder Don Emilio Moro. Drawing on his father's
philosophy and practices, Don Emilio founded the winery, which would bear his name, based on the principle "To make good wine, to make the best wine or not be involved." Ownership of the winery continues in the family to this day.

The winery, located at 1950 feet up on the banks of the Duero River, is unique in that its vineyards are planted with some of the purest Tinto Fino clones available, drawn from vines originally owned by Don Emiliano's father. In an effort to ensure that the individuality of the terroir is manifested in every instance of its wine, natural fermentation is practiced.

The Bodegas Emilio Moro wine portfolio is as follows:
  • Emilio Moro -- 100% Tempranillo; 12 months in oak (Crianza), 24 months in oak (Reserva); 1,100,000 bottles; 2005 vintage awarded 92 points by the Wine Spectator
  • Finca Resalso -- 100% Tempranillo; 4 months in oak, 400,000 bottles
  • Malleolus -- 100% Tempranillo; 16 months in oak; 200,000 bottles; 2005 vintage 93 points Parker, 92 points Wine Spectator
  • Malleolus de Valderramiro -- 100% Tempranillo; 16 months in oak; 7,500 bottles; 2005 vintage 97 points Parker, 93 points Wine Spectator
  • Malleolous de Sanchomartin -- 100% Tempranillo; 16 months in oak; 3,500 bottles; 2005 vintage 98 points Parker, 96 points Wine Spectator
The wines of this Bodega have been well received internationally and, I think, deservedly so (Please note that while I quote Parker and Wine Spectator scores, I am not a believer in a numerical method of rating wines. I will save that rant for another day.).

Clash of the Spanish Titans: Bodegas Muga

In a previous posting (Wednesday, February 10), I posited that the Wine Barn's Clash of the Spanish Titans wine tasting event delivered in terms of wine quality but under-delivered in terms of wine knowledge. In my view, the winery representatives (David Espinar of Bodegas Emilio Moro and Juan Muga of Bodegas Muga), given the opportunity, would have spent time talking about the wine regions and the wineries in greater detail than the format actually permitted. I will attempt to show the kinds of material these gentlemen would have probably covered. I will cover Bodegas Muga in this posting and Bodegas Emilio Moro in a subsequent post.

Bodegas Muga is located in the Rioja region (named after the Oja River, Rio Oja in Spanish) of Spain, a region with a winemaking culture dating back to the 9th century and codified into law since 1600. Spanish wine law assigns levels to the various wine growing regions and and Rioja was the first region to receive the Denominación de Origen Calcificada (qualified designation of origin) classification. Approximately 90% of the wine produced in Rioja is red with a typical blend of 70% Tinto Fino (local clone of Tempranillo), 15% Garnacha (Grenache), 7.5% Graziano, and 7.5% Mazuelo. Garnacho is used to add flesh to the leaner Tempranillo.
With its proximity to France, Riojan wines have long been subject to influence from the Bordelais. This influence became most pronounced when the French root stock was wiped out by phylloxera causing Bordeaux negociants to seek out alternative sources of supply. This French influence, especially evident in the use of oak, is one of the factors that set Riojan wines apart from other Spanish wines.
Grapes for Riojan wines are grown in three sub-regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Baja. Riojas are made in traditional (oakiness) and contemporary (bigger, more concentrated wine) styles. The key to a quality Rioja is its ageability.


Bodegas Muga, founded in 1932 by a husband and wife team of the same name, has vineyards that are located in the calcareous/clay soils of the Obarenes Mountains in Rioja Alta. The soil, vineyard architecture, and climactic conditions combine to provide ideal conditions for the growth of high-quality grapes. Bodegas Muga is a traditionalist Rioja producer and uses American and French oak (from its own cooperage) throughout the winemaking process. The Muga non-red product lineup is shown below:
  • White -- Viura (90%), Malvasia (10%)
  • Rose -- Garnacha (60%), Viura (30%), Tempranillo (10%)
The reds are the focus of the portfolio and are arrayed as follows:
  • Reserva -- Tempranillo (70%), Garnacha (20%), Mazuelo (5%), Graciano (5%); aging 6, 24, and 12 months, respectively, in vats, barrels, and bottle
  • Reserva Seleccion Especial -- Tempranillo (70%), Garnacha (20%), Mazuelo (5%), Graciano (5%); 6, 30, and 12 months aging, respectively, in vats, barrels, and bottle
  • Prado Enea Gran Reserva -- Tempranillo (80%), Garnacha, Mazuelo, and Graciano (20%); 6, 36, and 36 months aging, respectively, in vats, barrels, and bottle
  • Torre Muga -- Tempranillo (75%), Mazuelo (15%), Graciano (10%); 6, 12, and 12 months aging, respectively, in vats, barrels, and bottle
  • Aro Muga -- Tempranillo (70%), Graciano (30%); 6, 18, and 12 months aging, respectively, in vats, barrels, and bottle.
The Torre Muga, introduced in 1991, and the Aro Muga are more modern in outlook than the traditional Muga Riojas.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Country Club of Orlando -- Tastings New Home?

On this past January 14th, Augustan Wine Imports held its first ever Winter Producer Tour, an event which brought 21 of the leading domestic winemakers together under a single roof for the express purpose of displaying their wares to the industry in a small-group format. The venue for the Orlando portion of this event was The Country Club of Orlando. On Thursday, March 4th, the Bond Estate Winery Tasting will be held at The Country Club of Orlando. Do these occurrences signal that The Country Club is now the home of high-profile tastings in the Orlando area?

I posed this question to an industry insider who said that The Club had a number of advantages which made it attractive as such. First, it is neutral ground. Many store owners will not go to a tasting that is held at a store other than theirs but have no problem mingling with their compatriots on neutral territory. Second, The Club is centrally located and easily accessed by shop owners across the region. Third, The Club has a visionary as its Food and Beverage Manager.

To these advantages I would add beautiful scenery, eye-pleasing architecture, stunning appointments, copious parking, valet parking, and lots of room.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Stone's Throw Bistro

Sanford is not on the beaten path for most food/wine aficionados but this gem of a restaurant is just a "stones throw" off said path. The (coincidentally) named Stone's Throw Bistro ( is an eclectic-themed restaurant located in the heart of downtown Sanford (that is not an oxymoron) on Magnolia Avenue between 1st and 2nd Streets. The restaurant's focus is on "... fresh, seasonal ingredients made in-house."

The entrance to the restaurant is through two rickety glass doors and the hostess station is almost never (wo)manned. The restaurant stretches way away to your left with the floor expanse broken up by outcroppings of chair-surrounded tables and, in the far distance, a small, brightly lit bar. The walls are covered with local, non-first-rate art and the ceiling hails from a bygone era. In other words, the perfect setting for a culinary surprise.

The chef/owner, Richard Lendino, will not be appearing in any celebrity-chef shows any time soon. His preferred presentation is in marked juxtaposition to everyone that we see on The Food Network but boy, can he transform raw ingredients into succulent, orgasmic, palate-pleasing dishes. Richard worked under chef Louis Chatham at his downtown Orlando restaurant before moving to New York to become the Executive Chef at a Long Island restaurant. Upon his return to Florida, Richard became the chef at the now-defunct Blue Dahlia, followed by a stint at a Metrowest restaurant. When the opportunity presented itself to be both chef and owner, Richard jumped at it. Hence Stone's Throw Bistro.

I have dined at Stone's Throw on many an occasion and give it pretty high marks. It has the best quality-price ratio in the region with appetizers averaging $10 and entrees $19. I have been there with parties of 2 and 20 and have always come away pleased with my meal. Because everything is prepared in-house, and it is a minimally staffed kitchen, patience is in order (The word "bistro" in the name is not an accident.).

I had dinner at Stone's Throw last evening and had a wonderful experience. The appetizers at our table were the Portobello Ravioli and the Steamed Mussels (dripping in a lemon butter sauce). The restaurant generally features a game and sport fish and these were venison and poached mako shark, respectively. I had the latter. It was accompanied by thinly sliced potatoes and both were topped with a crumbly tomato sauce. The shark had the look a of a sailfish steak but was much more approachable as the desired piece calved from the core with just a light application of pressure from the fork.

Chef has created a captivating environment in which to enjoy his culinary masterpieces. In order to minimize his expenditure on wine inventory (he has a more-than-adequate wine list), he encourages patron to bring their own wines which they can enjoy corkage-fee-free. The service was excellent last night. Nikky was persistent and consistent; enveloping but not overpowering. There is live music on weekends (last night it was live acoustic rock with Fred Frap) but the music stays in the background.

Take a trip to Sanford and visit Stone's Throw. The restaurant is closed on Mondays but open on Sundays between 11:00 am and 3:00 pm for brunch. It is best approached by coming up 2nd Street and making a left into Magnolia. Parking is available on the street or in the bank parking lot across the street from the restaurant.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bond Estate Winery Tasting

The subject tasting has been described as "... a unique tasting that might be the most unforgettable experience of 2010 ..." A little hyperbole, I am sure but there is no denying that this is a fantastic opportunity to taste the wines of one of the great American estates. The wines on offer will be the 2006 vintage of St. Eden, Vecina, Pluribus, Melbury, and Quella as well as selected earlier vintages of these labels. The tasting, to be led by Estate Director Paul Roberts, will be held at The Orlando Country Club (1601 Country Club Drive, Orlando, FL) on Thursday, March 4th from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm. Attendance will be limited so please call 407.733.9463 at your earliest convenience to assure entry.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Board Meeting -- February 10, 2010

Kind of a weird name for a food and wine extravaganza. Or the "Bored" Meeting as Chiqui calls it because only guys are invited. The Board Meeting is an Adam Chilvers (Wine on the concept wherein he brings together selected customers and distributors at an area restaurant for no purpose other than to drink great wine and eat great food. Attendance is by invitation only and invitees are expected to bring a great bottle of wine from their cellars for sharing. Attendees are also expected to pick up their dinner check such that there is no implication of there being a quid pro quo.

Yesterday's Board Meeting was originally scheduled to be held at the dock on the lake at Houston's (a wine-friendly restaurant (WFR)) but due to the cold temperatures was shifted to Luma's on Park (a very WFR). The published guest of honor was Donald Patz of Patz and Hall who happened to be in town, heard there was free wine to be had, and wangled an invitation.

We convened in the bar at Luma's to admire the offerings prior to being shown to our table. The bottles on offer are shown below.

The wines were all good but two stood out above the rest. The first was a 1995 Patz and Hall Chardonnay which was sent by Cavanaugh Wines in honor of Donald Patz's attendance. The wine was stunning and a treat for everyone there including Donald. It gave up tons of toasted hazelnut and apricot and still had good acidity. Donald indicated that he normally expected his chards to last from two to three years but that this particular vintage had been derived from 50 to 60-year-old vines.

The other standout wine was the Abacus X bottling from ZD. The Abacus is a "solera-style" wine where each bottling is made from every prior vintage of ZD Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. This blending gives incredible complexity to the wine and great length of finish. The Abacus X had great acidity and showed strong notes of vanilla and espresso.


The Board Meeting was an unqualified success and we all left Adam with the task of getting back to us quickly with the date for the next scheduled meeting. Want to get that on the calendar as quickly as possible.

Clash of the Spanish Titans: Opportunity Lost?

On Thursday, February 4th, The Wine Barn ( held a tasting at its store which it billed as the Clash of the Spanish Titans!! The tasting featured David Espinar of Bodegas Emilio Moro and Juan Muga from Bodegas Muga. The billing (reminiscent of such classic billings as "Rumble in the Jungle" and "Thrilla in Manila") was fitting, I thought, because it featured two top representatives from top-tier wineries in two of the foremost Spanish wine regions.

I went expecting a steel cage, fight-to-the-finish match with blood-spattered regional representatives hurling verbal bottles at each other but instead I got the Clash of the "Puddy Tats." These guys were so nice and unassuming . No pushed-out chests, no groupies, no egos that bumped up against me as they passed by. Heck, they even rolled up in the same car.

The wines that were poured were pretty special, with Moro wines ranging between $11.50 and $150 and Muga between $11.00 and $83.00. The large majority of wine poured was red and the wine was ably accompanied by a hearty paella. The stunner for me was the 2005 Emilio Moro Malleolus Valderramiro, a 100% Tempranillo offering sourced from 85-year-old vines. Robert Parker describes this wine as: "Inky purple-hued, the wine has stunning aromatics, kinky and complex. Notes of mineral/slate, pencil lead, espresso, wild blueberry and blackberry lead to a layered, opulent wine with superb concentration and great length." I picked up a few bottles of this beauty at the tasting price of $149.99.
While the wines that were poured were pleasing, there were some missed opportunities in the implementation of the tasting which, I think, disadvantaged metro-area attendees. The winemakers were situated obliquely opposite each other at the far ends of the room and patrons chose the order and length of time for their visits to each position. This approach meant that the winemakers were pouring wine in each glass as it was proffered and that each glass had a different wine in it at any point in time. There was no opportunity for the winemaker to discuss any single bottle coherently. This allowed for the knowledgeable to monopolize the winemaker with pertinent questions while the beginner or shy questioner was pushed to the edges. This sense of attendees not being best served by this approach was further exacerbated when I visited the B-21 website and saw that persons attending their tasting had the opportunity of sitting in on 1-hour seminars led by each of these winemakers. So metro-Orlando attendees were disadvantaged vis a vis Tarpon Springs attendees.
What would these winery representatives have told metro-Orlando attendees if they had had the opportunity to discourse with us in a cohesive fashion. I will attempt to answer that question in future postings.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hidden Gems

One of my wife’s favorite wines is Caymus Vineyards’ Cabernet Sauvignon. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90’s, Caymus would list the names of the vineyards from which they sourced their grapes. Being a wine geek, and trying to get more bang for the buck as Caymus leapt from a $16 price in 1993 (’91 vintage) to nearly $60 in 1997 (’95 vintage), I started searching for other wines made from and by these vineyards. That search led me to both Altamura Winery and Lewelling Vineyards. Lewelling is made by the Wight family - David is the wine maker, his brother Doug is the grapegrower, and brother Alan assists with blending decisions. They make two wines – a Napa Valley Cabernet and a Wight Vineyard Cabernet. These are both fabulous wines and are reasonably priced (if you can find them).

Other producers purchase grapes from the Wights and the family is also involved in other wine projects. One of these other projects is a wine called Trivium (Latin for “a place where three ways meet”). This is the project of three neighbors – Doug Wight (from Lewelling), Jack Stuart (of Silverado Vineyards fame – see my Ah-Ha Moments post), and Stuart Harrison (who helped start Opus One and Domaine Chandon and is currently working with the Mondavi family on their Continuum project (By the way, Stu is a Rollins grad giving an Orlando-area connection)). The wine is made from a specific block in the Wight vineyard designated Les Ivrettes (little tipsy ones), so named from the evidence (empty bottles) Doug found in the vineyard of parties the three men’s daughters had during their high-school years. This is a classic Napa Cabernet. By that I mean that it is made in the classic style reminiscent of wines from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Alcohol levels are lower, acid levels are higher, and, while approachable and enjoyable now, the wine is meant to age for a couple of years in order to be at its best.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Age, it's just a number....

It’s not everyday that you get to partake in something special. A rare treat that is too precious to ever be taken for granted. Serious wine drinkers are all familiar with the '82 Bordeaux vintage. I have been aware of it ever since I began drinking seriously 7 years ago. You know, the year that critics state will rank up there as one of the greatest Bordeaux vintages ever. Well, the only thing I wasn’t aware of is, what does one of those '82 Bordeaux’s taste like?

Isn’t it nice to have generous friends? People who will do something special for their friends without having to be bribed, coerced, or threatened in any way? Recently, Keith opened up his beautiful home for a special event in Orlando. It was Keith’s birthday and he made sure that it would be a memorable one. As a guest at his party I would say it was more than memorable.

What was so memorable you ask? Well, lurking in the dark depths of his cellar was a bottle of Bordeaux quietly, patiently waiting its turn to dazzle our palates. A bottle of '82 L’Evangile Pomerol to be exact. Keith pulled out the monumental bottle and held it up so we could get a good look at the label. This sucker had a label that could tell its own story. A label that looked somewhat haggard and weathered from all the humidity it had been exposed to all these years. Like the velveteen rabbit that you still love more than anything in this world regardless of how tattered. Like a pro athlete in championship game leaving everything on the field and the uniform to prove it. That’s what came to mind as I gazed fervently at this bottle.

Keith cautiously and meticulously removed the capsule with surgical precision. We all watched patiently as he carefully poured it into the decanter. I kept a close eye on it, anxious to place a glass to my lips.

I truly feel sorry for anyone at the party who did not get the chance to spend sometime with this wine. I was almost a victim. I got caught up in stimulating conversation with some of the interesting guests and when I turned to look at the decanter it was almost empty. My eyes widened. I moved into strike position and spoke up. Yes, it worked! Now, carefully, I hold the L’Evangile as though it was some magical elixir. I didn’t drink it initially. Instead, I held the glass up to my nose, intermittently evaluating the perfume in order to identify the complex scents. This worship went on for five minutes slowly building to a crescendo. Today was the L'Evangile's day to shine and shine it did.

The look of the label was deceiving for there was no sign of malaise anywhere inside this bottle. In fact, I never would have guessed this was an 82’ based on the beautiful color.
The L’Evangile had a gorgeous red hue with some bricking on the meniscus, but no more than any other 10-year-old bottle of Bordeaux. Very impressive for a 28-year-old bottle of wine. The wine spent approximately 30 minutes in the decanter before tasting.

The nose was exquisite and complex. It exhibited a silkiness intertwined with an array of red and black fruits. The palate was not as expressive and silky but still very captivating. Some black tea and red fruits topped with a subtle smooth layer of smokiness.

This was a wonderful bottle of wine.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Who the heck is this guy?

This is the thought that ran through my cranium as I somewhat crashed an informal tasting with a fraternity of serious wine drinkers. What else was I expecting when one infiltrates a group of conservative guys a bit older than myself all the while sporting spiked hair, a trendy mother of pearl button-up cowboy shirt, designer boots, and jeans? Well, I guess this guy does.

Who the heck is this guy breaching our wine circle-of-trust? A trust that looks deeply established and time-based. Hard lines, sunken cheeks, and swollen livers are proof enough of how that time has been spent.

This great event takes place every Friday afternoon as a group of professionals gather at Antonio’s restaurant to share their love of wine, food, jokes, and stories (exaggerated of course). Well thanks to the gracious Keith Edwards who invited me to sit in and get to know some of the regular cast of characters. Each one with their own personal and interesting bio.

So, who the heck is this guy who dares to place a bottle of wine for a blind tasting inside a local five-and-dime paper bag? I guess this guy does. All the while rethinking my offering. Is my bottle good enough? Will my wine be well received? Will I be invited back? What's wrong with with me bringing white zin??;) Well, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was getting into, but I was excited to be there.

To my surprise, I knew a few others in the group through the infallible Kevin Bacon 6 degrees of separation. Like DJ with whom I have exchanged posts on the Robert Parker board. Dan from UCF. Dr. Lopez with whom my pharmaceutical partner Debbie used to call in the past. Then there is Dr. Fisher who has shared some of his cabbage, brussel-sprout-infused burgundies (terroir??) at the local Wine Warehouse tastings and Dan the champagne connoisseur whose fiancé I coincidently have known for 10 years. Dan I promise to starting drinking champagne!
I want my bromance back!! Starting with the Aubry and my new love the Gosset.

Not surprisingly, the entire group was gracious and respectful. Though I probably did dumb down this group a bit, in no way did I feel like the omega who had to earn or build his status. Slowly I felt part of the group and I hope to do it again. Though the tastings are casual the wines were not, led by an amazing '03 Staglin Cabernet which was sexy, seamless, and silky, bravo. Thank you Dr. Lopez for this brillant offering. I had an amazing time and a headache to prove it. I really owe it all to the classiest guy in the room Keith Edwards. Thanks again for this fantastic opportunity, salute and next time I attend I hope no one has to say 'who the heck is that guy'?

Shula's 347 Lake Mary

Don Shula had 347 wins in his coaching career and coached the Miami Dolphins to a perfect season in 1972. His namesake restaurant seeks to capture both of these realities in its name (Shula's 347) and its operating principle. Located in the recently opened Westin Hotel in Lake Mary, the restaurant seeks to create "raving fans" by providing, according to Assistant Coach Arlind Lile, "... consistent service, consistent food, and great ambiance."

I have eaten at the restaurant on four occasions since its opening and it is what I characterize as a "wine-friendly" restaurant. A wine-friendly restaurant has: a quality look to its wine list; a good mix of by-the-glass wines that are not exorbitantly priced; a good selection of wines by the bottle; food that complements the wines on the wine list and vice versa; someone on staff who knows something about wine and can make credible suggestions; a policy that allows you to bring your own wine without having to give your first-born child as a corkage fee; the good sense to allow you to return a bad bottle without having the manager or chef come over and taste the corked bottle at your table.

If you like wine with dinner, or you just like hanging out and sipping a glass of wine with friends, Shula's 347 should be on your list. The chain is known for its steaks but it has a diverse menu with, for example, three daily fish plates. The physical bar is small but a sizable lounge that extends away from the bar contains intimate seating areas as well as a large, wooden communal table. The bar/lounge area is the scene of a very well-attended happy hour which could be "jazzed-up" with the addition of live entertainment.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Ah-Ha Moments, 100 Point Wines, and Family Tradition

I have had a few revelatory wine moments (so far), at least two of them from Napa Valley wines. One was the 1991 Silverado Cabernet Sauvignon made by Jack Stuart (more on him later), the other the 1994 Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (made by Nils Venge). The Silverado came first (obviously), and showed me that wine could be more than just something to drink. The Groth, the first wine from California awarded a 100-point score from Robert Parker, came a few years later and took my appreciation of wine to yet another level and showed me that wine could transcend the moment.

These moments and these wines came to mind the other day when I attended a small wine tasting event. There was a small producer tasting on February 3rd at the Wine Barn, a shop worth seeking out in the warehouse district south of I-4 and Orange Blossom Trail. On the menu were the current releases from the Venge Vineyards. The wines included the 2006 and 2007 Family Reserve Cabernets, a 2007 Sangiovese, a 2007 Syrah, and the 2007 Scout’s Honor (a blend of Zinfandel, Petite, Sirah, Charbono, and Syrah). All of these wines are under 1000 case production levels and are fabulous. I was especially fond of the Scout’s Honor and the Syrah, which has 2% Viognier added to boost aromatics a la the Cote Rotie wines of France’s Rhone Valley.

Nils Venge made his reputation making wines for Sterling, Villa Mt Eden, and later made the aforementioned wine that earned the 100-point score for Groth. Nils also made wine for years under the Saddleback label from his family property on Oakville Cross Road and the best of the family wines were released under the Venge Vineyards Reserve label – consisting of 100 to 150 case lots of often hand-bottled and hand-labeled wines. For the past several vintages, Nils’ son Kirk has been carrying the Venge family torch and making some fabulous wines from his Calistoga property. Kirk has picked up where his father left off and the wines certainly show their pedigree.

In this same family tradition of only the best, comes Big Crush Distribution. Founded about a year ago by a father and son from SW Florida, this company searches out high quality, boutique wines for distribution here in Florida. In addition to the Venge Vineyards wines mentioned above, they also currently distribute wines from Amizetta, Del Bondio, Enkidu, Jessie's Grove, Talisman, Wellington, and more. They are personable, enthusiastic about the wines they represent, and eager to share the treasures they have discovered. It is interesting, we think, that a father and son distribution team with a quality mantra is representing a similarly disposed father and son winemaking team.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Motley Cru

A ragtag band of collectors, bound together by their common love of wine (and in some cases, food), have, over the past 14 years, been gathering at Antonio's Cafe (Maitland) on Fridays for the express purpose of stumping each other re wine knowledge. It is a brutal affair. You are expecetd to identify the grape varietal, vintage, country of origin, and vineyard, all while absorbing verbal (good-natured) abuse from your fellow tasters.

The process is as follows. Everyone brings two bagged bottles of wine with one designated primary and the other backup. Each wine is tasted in turn with everyone taking turns at identifying it. If your primary bottle gets a Bronx cheer from the peanut gallery, you turn to your backup bottle. If your backup bottle elicits the same result you are banished to the aisles of Antonio's wine shop to retrieve a more suitable bottle. The preference in the group is for older wines and persons bringing wines of very recent vintage are referred to as "baby killers."

Preparation for the "battle" is intense and varies from person to person. For example, one participant gets a massage before every event to "clear his palate." I am more worried about his liver.

Depending on the time of the year, the group can range from six to sixteen. We normally buy lunch at the cafe, the price for them putting up with us. The group is drawn from various backgrounds with a core membership of about eight people: a dentist whose palate is as finely tuned as his vocabulary and whose biggest concern is whether your wine was properly stored or not; an environmental engineer who locks up until you return his corkscrew that you borrowed; an IT security specialist who does not smile until after his fourth drink; a very casual defense contractor; a radiologist with an eye on the next bottle; an extremely good-natured obstetrician; a doctor who made you feel like a genius because he only brought Burgundies and you could identify his wine as soon as he came through the door (he has switched and made life more difficult for us); a Help-Desk professional who is susceptible to Caymus Special Select; and me.

If you happen to be passing through the Maitland area on a Friday afternoon between 2:00 and whenever, do not be afraid to join us. Bring wine.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wine on the "in the House"

Or as Gigi would say, "... in the ___ house."

Adam and Gigi Chilvers are proprietors of, a one-of-a-kind business in metro-Orlando-area wine retailing. Wine on the is a virtual business with 100% of its orders coming in either online or via telephone. The Wine on the Way business proposition is simple and easily explained. They sell 90+point wines that are delivered to customers by Fed Ex, if they are out of the area, or by Wine on the Way personnel if local. The wines they offer are primarily of domestic and South American origin and run the gamut in price from the low double digits to cult-acquisition digits (Most of the high-end domestic wines that I hold in my cellar have been sourced from Wine on the Way. In the interest of full disclosure it should be noted that Adam and Gigi are social friends of the author.).

Lack of brick and mortar facilities, and reduced inventory carrying costs, puts Wine on the Way at a competitive advantage vis a vis more traditional rivals and customers reap the benefits of those advantages. The company invariably has some breathtaking deals which are not advertised broadly on its website but is made available to members of its mailing list.

The company's web marketing revolves around top placement on for specific wines as well as seeking high placement on national search engines for the business as a whole. The local marketing effort is much more direct. It consists of outfitting Gigi with killer sunglasses, putting her in a Smart car emblazoned with the Wine on the way logo and colorful wine bottles, and having her drive around town nibbling seductively on her fingernails. The lucky (targeted) customer also gets his/her wine delivered by Gigi.

It is very easy to do business with Wine on the Way. The website has one-click inventory display and ordering is a breeze. The technologically challenged has nothing to fear here. If you click on the category called Cabernet Sauvignon, you are able to scroll through all available Cabs. The number of labels offered is tightly focused on quality wines that they perceive will be of value to the customer. Adam and Gigi bring a welcome passion and focus to the business of virtual wine retailing.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Global Factors Affecting the Wine Supply Chain

Here in metro-Orlando, as was the case in much of the U.S. and the rest of the developed world, the bursting of the real-estate bubble, and the attendant financial crisis, has resulted in significant job loss and, for those still employed, a reluctance to spend. These tectonic forces in the broader economy have had significant shaping influence on the wine supply chain.

The wine supply chain has demand and supply components which, in a perfect world, should be in equilibrium (Doesn't happen ever.). The supply side of the chain is comprised of wineries, winery reps, distributors, wine shops, and restaurants all working to get the appropriate product to the customer in a timely fashion. While not an element of the formal supply chain, there are a number of entities that seek to exert influence over the customer buying decision by professing knowledge or expertise not possessed by the customer. An example of such an "influencer" is The Wine Spectator.

With the audience for high-end wines either laid off or reluctant to spend, there is a significant degree of sluggishness in this aspect of the market ( The publication Western Farm Prices ( sees the target market for high-end wines changing their buying practices or leaving the market entirely. This market shift on the demand side is being reflected in portfolio reshuffling on the supply side and the changes in the direction being given by influencers. For example, the average price per bottle for the top 10 wines in The Wine Spectator's top 100 lists over the past six years were as follows: 2004 - $95.80; 2005 - $115.80; 2006 - $62.50; 2007 - $99.80; 2008 - $68.80 and; 2009 - $47.50. The data show that the average price per bottle in 2009 was the lowest of any of the years examined and asks the question whether the influencers are really impacting buyer decisions or whether the reverse is actually true.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Clash of the Spanish Titans

In what they are billing as the "Clash of the Spanish Titans", The Wine Barn ( will be welcoming David Espinar of Emilio Moro and Juan Muga of Bodegas Muga for a private tasting event on Thursday, February 4th at 5:00 pm. The tasting will feature '05, '06, and '07 vintages of selected Moro labels and '01, '04, '05, and '08 vintages of selected Muga labels. The cost of attendance is $25 and additional information can be obtained by calling Gary Tupper at 407.704.8816 or visiting the aforementioned website.

By the way, I have just learned that Fidel Palenzuela, one of the leading wine experts in town, has joined the Wine Barn staff as of last Monday. Fidel will have responsibility for The Wine Barn's online business and marketing activities.