Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Tuscan Tasting

We interrupt our regularly scheduled coverage of this month's wines from Friuli to bring you some other Italian wine news from Tuscany. ("Wine Pour," by KatieW)

I recently attended a tasting of Tuscan wines at the invitation of domaine547 (you can read more about our wine adventure here), and it was a wonderful chance for me to deepen and broaden my knowledge of wines from Italy while focusing on a single region. Sponsored by Winebow, this event had some great producers and some terrific wines were poured. Here are some of my impressions:

1. Super Tuscans may rock, but Sangiovese rules. I know that some folks love powerful Super Tuscans, with their blends of Cabernet, Merlot, and other grape varieties, but as far as I'm concerned, give me Sangiovese. Some of the Super Tuscans I tasted were indistinguishable from Bordeaux reds, others could be mistaken for Rhone wines. They were yummy, well-made, and many of the other tasters seemed to like their power and pizazz. I like my Sangioveses, thank you very much, such as the 2005 Fanti Rosso di Montalcino made with 100% sangiovese and full of aromas and flavors of plum, prune, and cherry. These are great food wines. And I've found it online for between $16 and $20.

2. Italian wine can be REALLY expensive. I was absolutely stunned to see the prices. Not that there weren't good buys (see #5) but all in all, Tuscan wines will put a dent in your wallet. and the declining dollar is not going to help. So if Tuscan wines are your thing, start saving up and economizing elsewhere because the good stuff is going to cost you--especially if it's a Super Tuscan. The 2005 Tua Rita Redigaffi, for example, while excellent, retails for between $170 and $300.

3. Leather? Yes, it's in there. If I had a lot of money, I may well put it into Brunello. If you've never had a Brunello, you owe it to yourself to have one before you die. They are some seriously sexy wines, with their luscious fruit, aromas of aged leather, and more than a hint of mystery. Some of the Brunellos that stood out for me were the 2000 Salicutti Brunello di Montalcino, with its heady aromas of blackberry and leather, pure flavors, and long finish. ($66-110), the 2003 Altesino Montosoli Brunello di Montalcino's perfumed plum blossom, lavender, and leather bottling that had beautiful silkiness and a berried palate ($138), and the 2003 Fanti Brunello di Montalcino ($80), which was also beautifully perfumed with layers of fruit, spice, and tobacco in the aromas and palate.

4. Tuscan wine varies--a lot--from vintage to vintage and maker to maker. We had the opportunity to taste different vintages of the same wine next to each other, and wines made from grapes grown close to each other by different makers. The contrasts were sharp--and alarming. Tuscan wines are not homogenized. As a buyer, you need to be aware of that and make your purchases carefully.

5. Tuscan--whites? Why, yes. One of my favorite wines from the tasting was the 2006 La Parrina Ansonica Costa dell'Argentario ($13), which had sea spray, floral, and citrus aromas and flavors. I also liked the 2006 Terre di Talamo Vento Vermentinto IGT Maremma Toscana ($17-21) which had a nice roundness in its melon and citrus flavors and a well-balanced finish.

6.There are great values to be found, but if you can buy wines that you've tasted first--or from a wine merchant whose palate you trust. Sangioveses can be a bit harsh and acidic in some vintages and in the hands of some winemakers, so go to tastings in wine shops and drink glasses of Tuscan reds in restaurants when you get the chance to find some of the names, vintages, and blends that you like. My bargain pick without question was the 2004 Castellare Chianti Classico, which had surprising depth for a wine that only costs $19-24. Notes of leather, herbs, and plum were wrapped up in a silky-textured package. Great wine, great winemaking--and a great price, too.

I had a great time at the Tuscan tasting, so thanks to domaine547 for asking me along for the ride.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Pair of Pinots from Adelsheim

Regular readers will know that I don't drink as much wine from Oregon as I should (or Washington, either). Living in California as I do, my state's wines tend to push other West Coast bottlings to the side, there is surprisingly little on the store shelves. In the past this has left me wondering about what I was tasting in some of the wines I drank. Comments left by readers on the site convinced me that sometimes what I was tasting was a problem with the specific bottle, and so I was delighted to accept samples of recent Pinot Noir and Pinto Gris vintages from the well-known Oregon producer Adelsheim to help me put some of my recent tastings in better focus.

The wines were a Pinot Noir and a Pinot Gris from the 2006 vintage. What I observed about both wines was their freshness and a purity of taste that can often be lost in warmer weather versions of these same varieties. They reminded me much more of Old World wine than New World wine, but at the same time they were unlike anything else I've ever tasted.

The first wine I have to recommend, the 2006 Adelsheim Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, is clearly at the beginning of its life. (available from online sources for between $20 and $30). Though it's drinking beautifully now, it will only improve over the next 12-24 months. It poured with a clear, bright garnet color and there were aromas of smoky cherry and a bit of earth. The fresh fruits made the first taste impression, with flavors of raspberry and black cherry. As the wine opens a bit, there is some spicy cedar and a bit of earth in the finish to keep things interesting. Very good QPR and if you can manage to hold on to it until next fall, you may discover that it can be even notched up a bit into the excellent category.

The second wine, the 2006 Adelsheim Pinot Gris Willamette Valley, was a revelation. (available online for between $13 and $20) If this is Pinot Gris, what have I been drinking until now? It was a clear, pale straw in color and had delicious aromas of peach, honey, and a kiss of carmelized sugar. There was lots of acidity in the wine,w hich kept the peach and apple flavors in mouth-watering balance. During the long, luscious finish the back of your throat filled with honeyed, peachy aromas--which sent you straight back to the glass for more. This was a dry yet intensely aromatic wine and represented excellent QPR.

We drank both wines with the same meal, and it was a toss-up which was better with it--a real testament to the food-friendliness of both. I made a simple poached salmon and served it with Indian cucumber raita, a side of saffron rice pilaf, and some Punjab eggplant (from a packet at Trader Joe's, I'm afraid, though you can make it from scratch). Both the red and the white wine worked beautifully with the full array of dishes and neither were overwhelming nor overwhelmed by any one dish.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

When Words Get in the Way of Wine

An interesting discussion broke out on Twitter a week or so ago among a band of wine bloggers. The topic was wine jargon--which terms did you use, which did you hate, which didn't make any sense to you. It was an interesting exchange, all the more so to me because I realized all over again that words--the currency of the wine writer--often get in the way of the wine we are trying to write about when we pick up a pen or hit the keyboard. (photo "Seduction," used with the kind permission of mofo)

It became even more interesting when people started to question the use of the term "brambly" in describing wine and labeled it "jargon." This didn't seem to me to be jargon, but something else entirely--I just didn't know what to call it. So I talked to some folks that know linguistics. It turns out that wine writers use three kinds of confusing words: jargon (technical terms about wine), dialects (terminology common to a group of wine writers), and idiolects (terms that a single wine writer comes up with; if sufficiently popular, idiolects can get shared and become dialects). So, we can confuse readers three different ways. No wonder people think wine geeks are, well, geeks--and that wine writing is often impenetrable.

Take wine jargon. Wine jargon can run from wine-making terms like malolactic fermentation to the technical words associated with tasting (such as attack, mid-palate, and finish) and with taste (extracted). QPR, incidentally--a term I use on this site all the time--is jargon, too, since it is the technical term for "quality to price ratio" in winespeak.

Wine dialects
include terms like those on the tasting menu in the picture: lush, fruity, soft tannins, juicy. These are short-hand terms that wine writers use that they think have a consistent meaning, but which are sufficiently subjective that no one knows for sure. We use them anyway because they are the shared language wine writers use to talk about wine. After sufficient time reading and writing about wine, we feel comfortable invoking litchi fruit and passionflowers to describe a wine even if we wouldn't know either if we fell on top of them. A term like "brambly," is an example of wine dialect that may have the most meaning among wine writers of British descent who have tried to pick blackberries in hedgerows and found that the only ones the birds hadn't eaten already were under-ripe and a little woody in flavor. Still, wine writers all over the world (even those who haven't picked blackberries in a bramble patch on a July afternoon in Chipping Norton) use the term if they look it up and find that it matches the flavors that they are tasting.

As for idiolect (please note: no "t" after idio), one of the great recent examples can be found in the tasting notes of Gary Vaynerchuk on WLTV. His unique tasting vocabulary started off as an idiolect, but the popularity of the site is now turning his terms into a shared dialect among hundreds of loyal WLTV viewers.

You might be wondering why I am going on about this. The answer is that getting to know wine includes learning some new vocabulary, including jargon and dialects. This is true of lots of activities from sailing to running to swimming. Imagine being on a boat where a sailor tells you to lash the sheet to the mizzenmast and responding "speak English, you geek." No, you would expect to learn and perhaps even come to use proper sailing terms when you learned to sail. Learning the language of wine can be as important as learning the taste characteristics of Cabernet. And if you are a fan of a particular wine writer, you might need to develop an understanding of their unique wine descriptors, too. If you don't, you could find yourself stumped about a wine with a "metallic attack and lean mid-palate" or a "great QPR red with a brambly finish."

I try to use as little jargon as possible, but I use a lot of wine dialect and I'm sure some idiolect, too. But there are resources on the web to help you learn this wine vocabulary, so if you meet a term you aren't familiar with, Google it or look it up in a dictionary. Words may get in the way of enjoying your wine, but unless you go to Chateau Petrogasm I'm not sure there is an easy fix. Besides, it may be better to learn about the terms that you don't understand. What do you think? Do you think I use too much jargon/dialect/idiolect? How about wine writers in general? And, are there any particular terms that either stump you or annoy you?

Monday, January 28, 2008

GWU$20 News

Just as I'm about to head out for a Burgundy tasting (report to follow) I got the heads-up that Jill from domaine547 posted an interview with me about my recent tasting of Tuscan wines (full report on that here at GWU$20 this Friday).

I was lucky enough to be asked to go along for the ride with domaine547, and tasted some great wines both within and well outside my normal price brackets. It was fun and instructive--and packed with wine buyers from across LA.

Jill also announced that I put together a "round the world" blogger pack for them, which is now available in the store. Turns out that picking great affordable wine from a bewildering range of options is harder than I thought--thank God there are folks who do it for a living, so we can spend less time choosing and more time drinking great wine. I'll be interested in hearing what you think of the lineup of wines I picked--there are some beauties in there, including a fairly hard to find chenin blanc. Jill will have more information on the blogger pack later in the week, and I will too, but if you can't wait you can certainly go ahead and check it out now--3 great wines for $45 + shipping to wherever you are.

Grape Variety #91: Ruche

Ruche is one of those great Italian varietals of unknown origin that has been a local favorite for a long time and has recently been "discovered" by the rest of the world. Usually, this happens only after most of the vines of said grape have been ripped out to make room for some more familiar variety (like Cabernet). Today, between 30 and 40 producers in the hills near Asti in the Piedmont region of Italy grow enough Ruche to make about 10,000 cases of red wine. A fraction of that production goes into making a sweet, dessert version of Ruche using the passito method in which grapes are dried in the sun to concentrate their sugar before fermentation.

Enter Randall Grahm, the man behind Bonny Doon. For the past few years--before he started selling off chunks of the business to focus on biodynamic viticulture--he's been importing Piedmont wines made by Luca Ferraris and selling them with Bonny Doon labels. Ferraris provided a number of wines to Bonny Doon, including a red table wine made from Ruche, Barbera, and Syrah (check out Smells Like Grape's tasting notes on this wine), and one of the region's Ruche passito wines.

The 2005 Bonny Doon Vineyard Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato Passito Ferraris was one of the best dessert wines I've had from Bonny Doon. I paid around $19 for this through the wine club, but it's on sale for $22.00/375 ml, direct from the winery. Often I find their dessert wines so sweet they are downright undrinkable (the botrytized Roussanne is an exception). This wine reminded me of port in its sweetness and flavor palate, but it was lighter in texture and felt less heavy on the tongue. Where this wine really stood out, however, was in its aromas of roses and raspberries. They were so clear and distinct that it was easy to track those flavors as the wine slid over your tongue. It was perfect on its own, and equally delicious with a piece of dark chocolate cake.

Italy continues to amaze me with these indigenous varietals that have so much character, and are so infrequently seen on US wine store shelves. Based on my experiences so far, I have to recommend that if you see an Italian wine made from a grape you've never heard of, you should definitely try it. There are some great grapes out there, and the wines are often very good value.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Feeling Creative? Wine Blogging Wednesday Needs a New Logo

Lenn Thompson of Lenndevours, the creative juice behind Wine Blogging Wednesday, has decided that it's time for a new logo for the internet-wide tasting event.

He has announced a Wine Blogging Wednesday Logo Contest, which will run until March 31, 2008. At any point during that time, please submit your logo idea via email to Once the submissions are in, Lenn plans to post them to Flickr and let everybody vote for their fave.

Official prizes? None so far, but Lenn points out that you will win the love and respect of the WBW community--for what that's worth. Have prizes you want to bestow? Let Lenn know and something can be arranged!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Winery Watch: David Coffaro Wine

An ongoing series of Friday posts highlighting California family wineries. You might not be familiar with all of these vineyards and winemakers--yet--but they produce wines that speak with the voices of this state's people, places, and history. They are worth seeking out. These posts will be longer than most posts on the blog, but I hope you will find them perfect for leisurely weekend reading and internet browsing. To read previous posts in the series, click here.

If your image of a person who buys wine futures is limited to rich men in cravats smoking pipes and reviewing Bordeaux and Burgundy en primeur catalogues, think again. People like you and me buy futures, too, and some of these futures are purchased from a winery and estate vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley that was started by David and Pat Coffaro. If you've never heard of the David Coffaro Estate Vineyard, that may be because they produce only around 5000 cases a year, and sell the vast majority of their wine through the "Crazy Coffaro Futures Program." But if you are a fan of luscious blends and interesting grape varieties at attractive prices, you need to know about this cult favorite among California wineries. (picture of the 2007 Dry Creek Valley Passport Weekend at Coffaro, from David Caffaro Estate Vineyard).

The Coffaros came to the Dry Creek Valley in 1978, and began planting a wide variety of grapes in their estate vineyards. These included not only the more popular plantings in the area (like zinfandel) but some varieties that are just beginning to catch the American imagination (like the Portuguese grape varieties Touriga, Alvarelho, and Souzao) and those that have yet to make much of an impression here but are popular in Italy. To get some hint of the range of grapes Coffaro grows, here's a vineyard map (to enlarge, click on the vineyard map here).

When you visit Coffaro, the free-spirit shown in the futures program and the planting scheme for the vineyard is also found in the tasting room, which is where you can find wine barrels, art, sports memorabili, a sofa, and a wide-screen for broadcasting various things during Coffaro events. The tasting room is a bar with a kitchenette attached in the corner of this vast space. Not surprisingly, tastings at Coffaro are fun and low-key.

And what great things there are to taste. Below are some of the highlights of my trip to Coffaro in November. Coffaro wines can be found through some retailers, but the best selection can be had when dealing directly with the winery. I've indicated the retail price of the wine were you to purchase it through the winery. As always, the price you pay may be higher or lower.

2005 David Coffaro Fresco Dry Creek Valley ($22). This has all the flowery and spicy aromas of a Portuguese red table wine, which lead into a plate of red and black berries with more spicy accents. 36% Alvarelho, 34% Peloursin, and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Dry Creek Valley. Excellent QPR, and very interesting.

2006 David Coffaro Petite Sirah Dry Creek Valley ($28). Expressive petite sirah with aromas of cocoa, espresso, and cherry. 100% Petite Sirah, this has a good grip of tannins that hold on from the first sips of the wine all the way to the aftertase. A candidate for short-term cellaring, with very good QPR. (FYI: 2007 Petite Sirah futures available through 3/31/2008 for $17/bottle).

2005 David Coffaro Zinfandel Price Family Dry Creek Valley ($26). A meaty zinfandel, with aromas of thyme and blackberry, the flavor palate reminded me of lavender flowers and cherries. Lots of tannin thanks to the 13% tannat that has been blended in to the wine. A distinctive zin, and I suspect it will improve with age. Very good QPR.

2006 David Coffaro Carignane Dry Creek Valley ($25). A spicy red with good acidity and a nice meatiness. Blackberry fruit notes predominate the aromas and flavors, with spice coming into the finish. Good QPR. (FYI: 2007 Carignane futures available through 3/31/2008 for $17/bottle).

2005 David Coffaro Sangiovese Alexander Valley ($26). There is nice spice in this sangiovese, along with varietally typical cherry flavors and aromas. Smooth and balanced, with good and medium/heavy body. Good QPR.

If you buy more than 2 cases from any single vintage, you are eligible to join the Vintage Circle for Coffaro regulars that earns you a $2 discount per bottle on all futures, and 30% off of all bottled wines. Coffaro points out that this is not a wine club, but a way of saying "thank you" to their regular customers.

Should your travel plans take you to the Dry Creek Valley, be sure to stop in at Coffaro and have a taste of their wines. My guess is you will leave clutching all the information on the Coffaro Crazy Futures program.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Wine Retailer Nobody Talks About

After wrestling with my conscience, and despite the certain knowledge that some of my wine-loving friends won't talk to me after I reveal this (especially not the ones who told me about it in the first place), it is time to let readers in on one of the biggest open secrets among wine geeks: Garagiste, the Seattle-based wine retailer who only sells wine futures to a mailing list. They have a website, but the only point of it now seems to be that you can sign up for the mailing list there.

Jon Rimmerman, the brain behind Garagiste, buys wine direct from producers all over the world and then announces it is for sale to list of wine lovers so enthusiastic that it sometimes takes less than 5 minutes from the time the email gets sent for them to sell out of a wine. Yes, I said 5 minutes. Just you try getting some limited production demi-sec Vouvray from Garagiste--you'd better type fast. Wines on offer through Garagiste range from $10 bargain finds to wines that are many thousands of dollars, and they appeal to every consumer niche from Aussie Shiraz-lovers to those who like obscure old world bottlings from the South of France.

The thing to remember before you go on a wild buying spree is that Garagiste ships wine twice a year--in November/December and in March-ish--and they stockpile your order in between in their storage facility. Then they ship it to you by the case over the course of several weeks. Because these wines are futures, there is no guarantee exactly when you will receive them. Some of the wine I bought in May still hasn't arrived in the warehouse, never mind at my house. Still, the wine that I have received has been in perfect condition, and they back everything with a limited guarantee--although if you buy lots of wine, I'm not sure how you could open it all and test for cork taint in a week. Still, it pays to do a careful inspection of the bottles to check for seepage, label stains, and popped out corks. I've never had a problem, but you want to exercise all possible caution.

If you don't check your email regularly, Garagiste can be an exercise in frustration, since several calls for orders go out every day and the wines will most likely not be available for more than 24 hours. Usually, they are available for far less time than that. However, if you like weird varietals and are an intrepid drinker, you can get some genuinely wonderful wines. Recently, I picked up a Nerello blend from Sicily's Mt. Etna appellation made by Frank Cornelissen that is hot pink due to the significant amount of sediment that the winemaker leaves in the wine. This is not something you're likely to find at BevMo. You will see some reviews of Garagiste wines on the site in upcoming weeks that I purchased to fill in my Wine Century, so you can be your own judge as to whether Garagiste wines are likely to be of interest to you.

Should you take the plunge, KEEP TRACK of your purchases because a bottle or two here or there really adds up over the course of six months and you can find yourself having uncomfortable discussions with your bank manager and/or your loved ones to explain how you spent so much money on so much wine that now has no where to live and must be arranged in colorful "displays" on every surface in your house.

You can head over to the website to sign up, but don't expect much information there. It's all done by email. "You've got mail" never tasted so good.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Red from Friuli: Schioppettino

Last week wine bloggers pulled the corks on a variety of white wines from the north-eastern Italian wine region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. This week, I turned to the red side of the wine spectrum, and opened a bottle of wine made with the Friuli indigenous grape variety Schioppettino.

Schioppettino gets its name, some say, from the fact that when it is bottled young, the wine completes its fermentation in the bottle and can get slightly fizzy. "Schioppettino" means "little crackle" in Italian, and probably refers to the sensation of snap, crackle, and pop that you get when you drink this wine. Some, however, say the same "little crackle" comes from the Syrah-like pepperiness that you can taste on your tongue. Schioppettino is also known as Ribolla Nera, and can be traced back in the records to at least the 13th century.

The 2005 Ermacora Colli Orientali de Friuli Schioppettino is made from this indigenous rarity. (K & L Wines, $14.99) When I opened it and poured the first glass, the characteristic fizz was there and I have to say I didn't quite know what to do with it in a dry, red wine. It wasn't as fizzy as lambrusco, but it was definitely there, prickling away at your tongue. When it first opened up it had a funny smell of bandaids, pine and cherry. The bandaid mercifully blew off, leaving pine and sour cherry. The cherry sweetened up in your mouth, and turned to a happy, Bing cherry note in the aftertaste. I drank this over two nights to see what would happen to the fizz, and it wasn't until the last dregs of the last glass on day #2 that the fizz disappeared.

This wine, for all its strange qualities, does fit the wine's varietal profile and at just under $15, represents very good QPR for those who are Schioppettino fans. For those who aren't, you may feel this wine is a tad overpriced for a simple, quaffable red. I'm glad I had it for my Wine Century, and that I will be able to recognize it if I ever see it on a wine list, but I'm not sure I'll be ordering a case any time soon! Schioppettino experts, I'm looking forward to your reactions to this post, along with any tips about aging the wine, decanting, etc., that you may have.

Wine Blogging Wednesday #41 and #42

First, Jack and Joanne from Fork and Bottle, have posted the impressive round-up of tasting notes from WBW #41, which focused on the whites of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. People clearly had a wide range of experiences with these hard-to-find white wines. Some loved them and will be drinking more of them, others found the bottles they could get their hands on quite ordinary. Still, the turnout was great and many WBW tasters drank several different bottles, and tried some new Friuli grapes, so do head over to the round-up and then on to the web for the full details.

Second, Andrew from Spittoon will be the host for WBW #42 in February. He asks us to drink an Italian red. Any Italian red. Whew, you're thinking. That's not rough. Wait for it. Then you need to review it--in just seven words. This should be seven words that make a sensible sentence, wine name and other data not included. Confused? Head over to Spittoon for full details. Taste your wine and post your notes (and photographs!) by Wednesday, February 13.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Decanting Young Wine

Decanting is one of those subjects that has far too much mystery associated with it. When to decant, why to decant, and how to decant are some of the most pressing issues facing you when you think, just as you stick the corkscrew into the cork, that maybe you should dig in the cupboard and find that decanter you've had for years and not used.

Today, I'm going to talk about decanting young red wine. Young reds can really benefit from decanting because the process adds oxygen to the wine. This is what happens slowly over time as wines sit in the bottle, and while decanting compresses the time frame it can't exactly duplicate all the complex changes that come with cellaring a wine. Nevertheless, if you've got a red wine that you can't wait to drink, decanting may bring out some of the wine's character that you would have missed just pouring it into a glass.

What follows is a photo essay with captions and tasting notes for my decanting experiment. My subject was the 2004 Bonneau Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County ($31.99) that I received as a sample from WineQ. You definitely could have had this wine right out of the bottle if you like your cabernets to have substantial grip from tannins, but I wanted to soften it up a little bit, so decanting suited my purposes perfectly.

Step #1: Assemble equipment. If you're going to do this, it's helpful to pull all the stuff you need out of the drawers and cupboards before you begin, and work on a clear flat surface. You need a wine glass, the wine (of course), the decanter (check for dust if you haven't used it for a while!) the filter, the foil cutter, the corkscrew, and a funnel. Because this is a young wine, you don't need the filter, so you can move that to the side. I got this decanter/funnel/filter set from Wine Enthusiast this Christmas, and I love it. It's affordable (currently on sale for $39.99), not too huge, and has everything you need to perform decantations in your own home.

Step #2: Taste the Wine. This is the biggest mistake people make, I think. Just as you don't want to salt food before you taste it, you don't want to decant a young wine before you've tasted it and seen what it's all about first. Maybe it doesn't need decanting. Maybe it needs twice the time you thought it did. You'll never know until you try it, so pull the cork, pour yourself a it, and see what you think. When I opened this cabernet, it tasted kind of tight--which is wine speak for a wine that has flavors that seem compressed and so coiled together that you can't easily distinguish one from the other. This is a classic description of a young red. I tasted some blackberry and a bit of baker's chocolate, but suspected that there was a lot more going on. So, I decided to decant it.

Step #3. Decant the Wine. First, you have to get the funnel into the decanter. You can use any kind of funnel that you want that isn't reactive--i.e., don't use an aluminum one, since that can react with the acids in the wine and impart a metallic taste. If you have a wine funnel, like the one pictured here, it may angle the tapered end towards the side of the decanter. That's so that the wine hits the glass, and slowly slides down into the globe of the decanter, maximizing the infusion of oxygen into the wine.

Here's the same decanter, filled with wine, and you can see from the frothy purple foam on top that the process has worked. That foam (which will quickly subside) is the sign that the wine has taken on some oxygen. Now, all you have to do it wait.

Step #4. Check the Wine. Between 30-50 minutes after you decant, go pour yourself another splash of wine. After 50 minutes in the decanter, I felt like the Bonneau was ready to strut its stuff. There were now pronounced aromas of plum, dark chocolate, and espresso. These aromas were present in the first taste of the wine when it hit your tongue, and as the wine passed through your mouth there was a nice, fresh lilt of cranberry that added freshness to the richer plummy, chocolatey flavors. The texture was smooth and silky, and the tannins were present but not overpowering. This was a fruity wine, but the more bitter chocolate and espresso notes held it in nice balance. I think this wine would develop nicely in the bottle, and I would consider buying a few bottles for short-term cellaring (ca. 1-3 years).

Step #5: Put Leftovers Back in the Bottle. If you've got wine left over, don't leave it in the decanter. Instead, put it back in the bottle, using the funnel to make sure it doesn't end up all over the counter. Use your favorite preservation strategy, and enjoy some the next night, too.

In a few weeks, I'll decant an old red--a nine-year old Australian shiraz that I know has lots of sediment in it from other tasting notes on CellarTracker. The basic technique is the same, but the reason for decanting is different and so there are a few important changes to the process. Meanwhile, find your decanter and give it a try with one of your wines. Track how decanting changes the aromas and flavors. You won't want to decant every wine you drink, but at least you'll have a better sense of which ones are worth the little bit of extra effort.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Grape Variety #89: Fernao Pires

Captain Fernao Pires de Andrade was a sixteenth-century Portuguese apothecary who somehow managed to have a grape name after him. Pires was sent to China to foster diplomatic relations between the Ming dynasty and the Portuguese crown, and I can't seem to ferret out why he ended up being the namesake of this grape. Apothecaries like Pires were often interested in plants, and they often used wine as a base for medicines--perhaps that's why. Perhaps it was a grape he brought back with him from his travels in the Mediterranean and Asia. Or maybe he was the first to identify it as an indigenous variety.

However the grape got its name, it is an indigenous rarity that you don't see very often on US wine store shelves. In hot pursuit of my Wine Century, I snapped this up when I saw it appear on the domaine547 website for just $9.99 in the form of the 2006 Quinta do Alqueve Fernao Pires.

As with all grape varieties that you've never had before, one of the things that happens when you taste it is that you start grasping for similar taste experiences. Here, the best way I can describe it is that it's like a more aromatic verdelho on steroids. The wine was pale straw in color, and had abundant aromas of white flowers, lime blossom, lime zest, and chalk. The flavors remind you of these aromas, and as you sip it the wine picks up nice mineral inflections that talk the chalk into a more stony direction. Very good QPR for this price, and it would be a great substitute for verdelho or even a dry riesling if you are looking for a dry but aromatic wine.

This wine would be perfect with fish, seafood, or moderately spicy cuisine. We had it with a traditional Spanish dish, Shrimp Pil-Pil. In Pil-Pil, shellfish are quickly sauteed with garlic, olive oil, salt, and lots of smoky-sweet paprika. After just a few minute, this all gets poured into a bowl and you serve it with a fresh salad and lots of crusty bread to mop up the sauce. Shrimp pil pil seemed made for this wine, with the lime and flowers providing a nice counterpoint to the paprika an garlic, and the stone and lime working nicely with the shrimp's brininess.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Today Is Good Grape Day

Today's been a Good Grape day at my house. For those of you who aren't regular readers, Good Grape is the informative, beautifully designed wine blog that belongs to Indianapolis-based wine blogger Jeff Lefevere.

First, I picked up the new Good Grape blogger pack from domaine547 that features a three-bottle selection of Alsatian-style riesling and white-blend wines from the Oregon winemakers Brooks and Amity for $52.99 + shipping. Blogger packs are unique to domaine547, and they put bloggers in the position of guest buyers who select a variety of wines that they think their readers might enjoy. The Good Grape blogger pack is third in the series, and it was delivered a few days ago. This was the first chance I had to get my hands on the box--it usually doesn't take me three days! As with previous blogger packs I've purchased, this one looks just terrific--it comes complete with tasting notes and explanations from Jeff himself--and is going to introduce me to some new producers. You can get one, too, as long as supplies last. The wines are all small production, so there's only so much to go around. If you're interested, head on over to d547 and nab yourself one. (Jeff even includes a hot crab dip recipe that I'm looking forward to trying).

Second, Jeff is the latest subject of Tom Wark's "bloggerview" interviews on Fermentation. So if you're at all curious about the man behind the blogger pack, head over there and learn about his work for Inertia Beverage Group, his stints on Winecast with Tim Elliott, and his own blogging philosophy. Incidentally, domaine547 also interviewed Jeff, and had different questions for him, so swing on over there and check out what their interview revealed, as well.

A Perfect, Pink Dessert Wine: 2007 Innocent Bystander Pink Moscato

Dessert wines come in all shapes, sizes, colors, intensities, and prices. From thick, aromatic vintage ports to half-bottles of Sauternes with their honeyed sweetness, to fizzy moscatos, there's something for everybody. This year I'm going to make it a point to try some new dessert wines, because they are so often the perfect thing to top off a weeknight meal or a special dinner.

My first find for the year is the 2007 Innocent Bystander Muscat ($9.99/375ml, domaine547). What a great dessert wine, with its beautiful pink color and aromas of juicy peach and strawberry. You pop the crown cap on this little bottle, and everything about the experience is light, summery, refreshing, and fun. The flavors keep up this playful spirit, continuing with the peach and strawberry but adding some clementine to add some zing and freshness. This is a dessert wine that retains its crispness, and is not too sweet. For $9.99 this is a perfect wine to share with someone you love in the evening, or drink over several nights by yourself. I used a champagne stopper to seal in the bubbles and it remained pleasant to drink over the course of three evenings. Excellent QPR, with its great balance between sweetness and crispness and its fruity flavors.

You don't really need to eat anything with this wine, since it's going to satisfy all your post-dinner urges for something sweet and indulgent. But if you must, have it with a dark chocolate dessert, or with something very simple like madeleines, shortbread, or a bowl of berries.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Teaching Your Children About Wine

Every Friday night during my suburban Philadelphian childhood my parents ate dinner by themselves, shockingly late (by an 8 year old's standards) at 9:30 pm, at a table lit with candles. Food that my brother and I would not tolerate was prepared for these meals, and the house often smelled of exotic Indian spices, unfathomably slippery entrees like Coquilles St. Jacques, and homemade split pea soup. On the Friday closest to their anniversary each January (right about now, actually), my beautiful British mother would get into her damask wedding dress which miraculously still fit her after two children. There were approximately 1000 (or so I remember) covered buttons on the back, and I was allowed to fasten them. My handsome American dad would put on his wedding bow tie made from the same fabric as my mother's dress. It all smacked of grown-up sophistication, and this annual ritual was something I looked forward to for months. ("Eat, drink, and be merry," photo from jwlphotography)

With these Friday night dinners, there was always wine on the table. I remember bottles of Mateus (can't mistake that shape), straw-covered Italian reds that were then recycled into candleholders on family spaghetti nights, and German white wines with black cats on the label. I must admit, this was a pretty cosmopolitan selection for the suburbs of Philadelphia, ca. 1970.

It may have been the 70s, and cocktails may have been big, but on Friday nights it was wine all the way. And the wine that I remember so vividly from those Friday nights was also served at more ordinary dinners during the week, with tacos and hot dogs, chicken cacciatore, and all the other culinary delights of the times. My mother and father cooked nearly every meal I ate as a kid. There was nothing I "didn't eat" except, for a brief time, lobster.

These Friday night dinners and daily food and wine experiences shaped my love of wine, way back when I was only drinking milk and apple juice. I associated wine with home, with comfort, with family, with conversation, and with food. I wonder if that's why I was never tempted to down huge amounts of alcohol as a teen or a college student. I never saw much point in that, and it had no frame of reference for me. Where were the candles? The nice glasses? The ritual? The food? When I was old enough to buy my own wine, it was always in connection with a meal, a friend, a dinner party. In my parents household, wine was never something to be had to muffle desperate aloneness, as a sleeping aid, or to make something possible that otherwise would have seemed impossible--three reasons that a lot of people drink (and drink too much).

Every time you drink wine, you are teaching your children what to think about it, and shaping their attitudes. When you drink it, how you drink it, with whom, and why--these soak into your children's worldview in ways that you can't even imagine. Drink only on Thursdays? Chances are your children will see wine as an occasional, special thing that they can take or leave. Drink too much all the time? You may want to think about that--for your sake as well as your kids' sake.

Here in America many of us (myself included) wish that there was more of an "everyday wine culture." But the only way to build such a culture is to put wine on our tables, to treat it as something to be had with a meal, and to take it from a "special occasion" item and transform it into a far more regular--but no less ritual--occurrence.

All the important things about wine I learned from my parents. Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad. And thank you for the love of family, the love of food, and the love of wine that you shared with me. You taught me well.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wine Blogging Wednesday #41: the Whites of Friuli-Venezia

Wine Blogging Wednesday, the monthly online tasting event started by Lenn Thompson of Lenndevours, goes Italian for its 41st installment. Hosts Jack and Joanne from Fork and Bottle asked us to try a white from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. When many of us think of Italian wines we think hearty reds or sparklers, but Italy has a great tradition of white wines which range from crisp, unoaked whites that are perfect for calamari to rich wines made with rare, native varieties aged in barrels. The white wines of Friuli-Venezia Giulia can fall in either side of this divide, and be arranged at various points on the spectrum in between. It's one of the reasons that I'm really looking forward to the round-up when it's posted.

For those of you wondering where Friuli-Venezia Giulia IS, it's a north-eastern Italian wine region sandwiched between Slovenia and the Veneto. As I learned from the the first chapter of the February Wine Book Club selection, Vino Italiano!, this geography explains, in part, the great variety of wines made in the region, since there is everything from wild, mountainous terrain to frontage on the Mediterranean. Some Friuli wines go great with fish; others are perfect partners for prosciutto di San Daniele, and other cured pork products. (map from

My pick for this WBW was the 2006 Blason Tocai Friulano from the Friuli Isonzo appellation. (K&L Wines, $9.99) For those keeping track, this is grape variety #88 towards my Wine Century, since once upon a time I think I had a glass of Tocai Friulano at an Il Fornaio regional dinner, but cannot recall the experience with enough clarity to put it on my form! One thing to know about Tocai Friulano: the name has been contested in Europe, since Hungarian winemakers fear that people will confuse the grape with Tokai. The litigators are still sorting out what the grape-formerly-known-as-Tocai-Friulano is to be called, but odds are it will become Friulano.

So what did I think of it? The 2006 Blason Tocai Friulano was a nice clean wine, that reminded me of a lightly-oaked, super-structured sauvignon blanc. It was straw-colored, and had abundant acidity which made it very refreshing. Jack recommended decanting 2005 and 2006 vintages and this really helped to open up the delicate apple and pear notes that were at first hiding behind lots of citrus flavors, and the merest hint of white flowers (the smell reminded me of a chestnut tree in bloom) that was also first hidden by the oak. At this price point it would be perfect for parties. Jack recommended that we shoot for a wine that cost $18 or more in order to really experience the specialness of Friulian whites, I must say I was pretty satisfied with how I spent my $10. This wine did not reach the heights of "unforgettable," but it is definitely one that I'd buy again, in part because this was such a great food wine and so very easy to enjoy. Very good QPR.

The grapes for this wine were grown just four miles from the Slovenian border, so I decided to make some panini stuffed with prosciutto, asiago, mozzarella, basil, and tomato to go with the 2006 Blason Tocai Friulano. I liked the way the salty richness of the prosciutto played off against the acidity in the wine, and the way that same acidity kept the mozzarella from tasting vapid. And the wine picked up some interesting herbal notes from the basil in my grilled, pressed sandwich.

Giovanni Blason is known for making top-quality, well-received wines at highly afffordable prices, so he's a name to watch out for when you're in the store. Thanks to our hosts for setting such an interesting theme for the first tasting of 2008. As always, I'll have details about WBW #42, and the roundup for WBW #41, as soon as they are posted.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What's Your Wine Style?

There's a new wine retailer in South Pasadena on Mission Street: Wine Styles. This is the latest franchise in a chain of stores that hopes to break down the mystery of wine purchasing by focusing on styles of wine (mellow, spicy, crisp, etc.) so that consumers who think "I only like Chardonnay" may actually be motivated to try Albarino instead. (interior of Fresno Wine Styles franchise from

I have to admit I was deeply skeptical of this concept, and was braced for the worst when I entered the local outpost. I left pleasantly surprised.

Kathy Bergstrom (who owns the store with her daughter) was warm and welcoming and let me browse to my heart's content. The shop has stucco niches for the wine (very old world, and it makes the most of the deliberately small store selection), and I was struck by the fact that many of the wines were not on every other store shelf in the LA area. Sparkling German Riesling? They've got that. Portuguese table wine--of the sort we were all searching for a few months ago?--yeah, that, too. Smaller labels like Anglim? Yes. A great selection of Italian wines, like the Di Majo Norante Ramitello and bottlings from Renato Ratti? Absolutely. And a good selection of 2000-2005 red Bordeaux for under $40? Check. They've also got their own line of Clos la Chance "style" bottlings, but I'm not sure why you'd go for them when they have so many interesting options under $20.

One of the real enticements for those strolling through South Pasadena is the tasting area, which is 1/2 of the store. Cozy leather chairs, tables, and tall bar stools provide ample room for sitting down and enjoying the wine and nibbles they feature at their wine tastings which are held Thursdays from 5-9, and Friday/Saturday 5-9:30. Even with all that seating, the place can get crowded Fridays after work. The cost for tasting 5 wines varies by selection, but is usually $10-$15. Last Friday, for instance, they had a lineup of California Zins for $10, including the 2003 Red Horse Ranch and the 2005 Klinker Brick Old Vine.

Wine Styles does have a wine club, which gets you two bottles of wine for $34.99 a month as well as discounted tastings and purchases.

If you are local, or visiting Pasadena, check it out and see what you think. This is not a chain like BevMo, with an enormous stock. The selection is small, but nearly every wine I saw was interesting and tempting. Well worth the stop, if you are in this area.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The More It Costs, the Better It Tastes

My friends up the road at CalTech have proven that the amount a wine costs shapes your response to the wine. In brief, the more it costs, the better you think it tastes. This theory was tested on 21 volunteers who tasted 5 cabernets 15 times. For the study, a $95 bottle of cab was given a $10 price tag, and a $5 wine was priced at $45. They discovered that the "rewards center" of the brain showed more neural activity when the price stick was higher, even if it was the same wine.

I have long suspected that this was the case. In a culture that tells us every day to spend more on things we can't afford, that only the super-rich (and super-thin) are having real fun, and that it's better to die in debt than to deprive yourself of any of your entitlements to consumer goods during your life, this comes under the "sad but true" news department.

According to the story that appeared in the Australian newspaper, The Age:

The study found that inflating the price of a bottle of wine enhanced a person's experience of drinking it, as shown by the neural activity. Volunteers consistently gave higher ratings to more expensively labelled wines.

"What this study shows is that the brain's rewards centre takes into account subjective beliefs about the quality of the experience," Professor Rangel said.

"If you believe that the experience is better, even though it's the same wine, the rewards centre of the brain encodes it as feeling better."

So, there we have it. Your response to a wine is subjective. One of the things your brain takes into account when making its subjective judgments about a wine is the cost. So I guess there was no point in telling you to try that $12 Zweigelt. Even if it's just as good as an overpriced $45 Pinot Noir, you will still tend to think that the Pinot is better, because of that pesky price tag.

My brain must be wired funny, because I get the biggest tingle in my "rewards center" when I drink great wine and discover it only cost $8. Maybe I need a good electrician.

Grape Variety #87: Zweigelt

Drinking Zweigelt is like drinking the color purple. There are flavors, to be sure, but those flavors are somehow all subsumed under the color purple.

This was my first Zweigelt, and the 87th grape variety towards my New Year's Resolution to qualify for the Wine Century Club. Zweigelt is an Austrian grape developed in 1922 when Blaufrankisch was crossed with another native variety, St. Laurent. I had Blaufrankisch a long time ago, and I remember it as a funky, pinot-like grape. I was eager to try the Zweigelt, and to see how much it resembled it's Blaufrankisch ancestor.

The 2005 Anton Iby Zweigelt Classic did indeed smell like a young, tight Pinot Noir. (K & L Wines, $11.99) It had aromas of sour cherry, earth, and just a bit of alcohol. As the wine sat in the glass the alcohol blew off, and the flavors were of pronounced sour cherry. The depth in the middle of the wine tasted like the color purple to me, and the finish was earthy and relatively short. Zweigelt doesn't have the silkiness of Pinot Noir on the palate, but otherwise it's very much like a pinot in character. And at this price, I think it would be a great substitute for Pinot Noir when your wallet is feeling a bit pinched. Very good QPR, considering the nice balance between earthy and fruity notes.

When looking for a food to pair with your Zweigelt, pork is an excellent choice. We had it with a roasted pork tenderloin and blue cheese polenta. The pork was topped with some mushrooms in a pan sauce, and the polenta and mushrooms had a nice earthiness that picked up those notes in the wine, while the sour cherry fruit and the blue cheese were super together. And because it was a Rachael Ray creation, it didn't take very long to make so it was perfect for an after-work supper.

If you haven't had a Zweigelt, try one. I think you'll find it's like a Pinot Noir--only purpler.

Friday, January 11, 2008

How I Cross-Trained My Palate

A month ago I reminded readers that they could be the unwitting victims of palate fatigue if they didn't remember that palates, just like everything else, need cross-training to remain sharp. I encouraged everybody to do something outside their wine comfort zone in order to get their palates tingling and ready for 2008.

What did I do? I turned to Cabernet Franc, which (like Gatorade) is my training liquid of choice. Why? Because nothing wakes your palate, and the aroma sensors that co-pilot it, like Cab Franc. It's not like other red wines, in that it often tastes green. It challenges you to think outside the fruit-forward box, and appreciate the herbal things in life. And it is grown in places as diverse as Bordeaux, the North Coast of the US, Hungary, and Argentina. It is one of the world's most classic, and least appreciated, grapes. And I don't drink it all that often, so it made it perfect for cross-training purposes.

What was it like? The 2004 Lang & Reed Red Shed North Coast that I opened met all of my cross-training expectations, since patience, persistence, and an open mind were required to fully appreciate this very good QPR wine. (domaine547, $17.99) It had pronounced aromas of aromas of green pepper and cassis upon first opening it, and these elements made up the dominant flavors, too. I immediately felt challenged. It was not Mt. Kilimanjaro, but it was like facing one of those rock walls with the fake toe-holds in it. Something scary and not scary at the same time. So I waited about an hour and tried again. A nice, silky plushness had emerged which helped to keep the green pepper (which hadn't gone away) in check. I tried it with food, and felt like I was beginning to hit my stride with this wine. It cried out for one of those louche meals of my suburban childhood: pepper steak with white rice. I had it with a burger instead, but I kept thinking of pepper steak.

I corked the rest of the bottle, and decided to try it again the next day. I didn't use any preservative or vacuum pumps, because I wanted this wine to get some air into it. I'm glad I did, because it was very different. One thing remained: that lovely plushness, which reminded me of an old silk-velvet opera coat that belonged to my grandmother: silky, soft, and deep. I tasted black currants and plum, and the pepperiness was more rich than green but retained a nice freshness. On night two I had it with a Rachael Ray chicken chili and it was a terrific pairing, with the wine standing up to the tomatoes and peppers in the dish without overpowering them.

After I drank my cab franc, all the white wines I tasted seemed fresher, the red wines fruitier. At the same time, I felt tuned into the herbal, grassy, and forest notes of these wines in ways that I hadn't been before. Instead of things tasting "green" they tasted of tarragon, thyme, and pine. My impressions were indeed sharper, and more specific. Cross-training is definitely worth it, based on this limited attempt.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Pronto! Italian Wines Calling

This year one of my resolutions is to learn more about Italian wines. I'm only ten days into the adventure, and I'm already finding out just how much there is to know. With twenty wine regions, dozens of native grape varieties found nowhere else, and a complicated system of appellations, it's enough to make anyone's head spin. (click on map from Siena Imports to enlarge)

Rather than tackling the situation from every direction at once, I've decided to focus on one or two appellations a month, and try to drink at least one red and one white wine from each region, as well as either a a sparkler or a dessert wine. What's up first? In January, I'll start out in the far north-east corner in Friuli-Venezia. For February we'll make a diagonal sweep to the south-west and visit Sicily. And in March we'll head north just a bit to Campania. Where next? Well, that depends. It's not that easy to find wines from Molise in LA, as it turns out, so the next stop will be determined by what I can get my hands on. As always, I'll be seeking out wines that are distinctive and show lots of varietal character but are less than $20. With the declining power of the dollar and the relative rarity of some of the wines, this may not always be possible--but I will try.

If you are also interested in learning more about Italian wines, here are some resources that I've found helpful the last few weeks:

1. Vino Italiano!, also known as the February Wine Book Club selection, is chock full of reference information, contains lists of Italian native grape varieties, and lists of producers. The chapters are very readable, too, so if you've been on the fence about joining in and reading along with the rest of us, I highly recommend it.

2. Two blogs are well worth subscribing to: Terry Hughes's Mondosapore, and Alfonso Cevola's On the Wine Trail in Italy. Both of these blogs contain lots of reliable information about the region's wine, but what's more they convey that in Italy, wine is part of life--not something for scorecards. If you can manage Italian, add Aristide,, and Vino al Vino to your reader while you're at it. Been planning to learn Italian? Here's your chance.

3. About learning Italian. Italian wine names can seem like a mouthful. Tasters A and B from the blog Smells Like Grape led me to an online Italian Wine Pronunciation Guide at WineIntro, as well as to a glossary of Italian wine terms. Kudos to the Tasters for finding these resources. Now everybody can go back to #2 and actually try reading some Italian wine blogs. Seriously, Americans are not the world leaders in foreign language skills. Why not TRY to expand your linguistic horizons, all in the cause of learning about some great wine?

4. Those labels. If you can figure out how to read an American label, you can figure this out, too. Wine Library has a great article that gives a simple explanation of the DOCG/DOC/IGT system of appellations and defines some common label terms. The Wine Lovers Page has a side-by-side comparison of US, French, and Italian labels so that you can see it's not that complicated, it's just different.

5. That appellation system. Yes, it takes a bit of getting used to, but there is a helpful article with diagram at Zigzagando. The reason it's a bit tough is because it's so quintessentially Italian, with lots of fuzzy areas and overlap, not to mention escape hatches for those creative individuals who don't want to grow approved grapes in their vineyards. This mixture of regulation, deliberate fuzziness, and creative side-stepping is what makes Italy great. How else did they manage to jumpstart the Renaissance? If none of what I just said made sense, go read the article. You'll come out realizing that great wines can be found at every appellation level, and you'll feel better about your chances of drinking great Italian wine.

So if Italian wines are calling you, don't get all anxious. Just shout "Pronto!" and get started.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Drinking Wine Before Its Time

Sometimes, you just gotta do it. You get a bottle of wine, you're dying to try it, you know it's probably too young to show itself at its best--so you open it anyway. We all drink wine before its time. What is important is to be able to drink it for what it is--a young wine--and to figure out what it will become if you give it some time to develop.

The 2005 Twisted Oak Syrah-Viognier ($24, directly from the winery) was just such a wine. I love syrah-viognier blends, with their spicy richness serving as a foil to delicate, often ethereal aromas of white flowers. I was dying to try it, and since I had two bottles on hand I decided to commit infanticide and drink one of them now. I couldn't wait.

What was it like? A teenager--all awkward angles and stuff that doesn't quite hang together. Yet. But who would want to be judged now on their 8th grade report card? So I kept careful track of its development as I drank it over the course of several days. I became convinced that in another 12-24 months this is going to be a bombshell of a wine.

The first night, I was struck by its dark, inky plum color and its huge nose of brambly berries and spice. Flavors of berries and pepper dominated, with just a bit of a lift in the mid-palate (that part of the wine's taste that comes when it rolls through the middle of your mouth). Nice, but it hinted at so much potential I didn't want to walk away from it yet. So I recorked it without any preservative, and left it on the counter overnight.

The next night, when I pulled the cork I found that the wine was already really opening up and developing as it got some more air. The viognier was much more prominent on the second night, with aromas of gardenia and jasmine dominant, rather than berries and spice. These syrah aspects were there, too, but the impression you had now was one of a spring garden, not a berry patch. The berries had become more distinctively huckleberry at the core, with the spice really coming through as you headed towards the finish line. Very good QPR, with its layers of fruit, flowers, and spice.

I liked this wine both nights, but the way that it bloomed in just 24 hours convinced me that it has great potential for short-term cellaring over the next 1-3 years. If you can't wait and have to open a bottle now, try decanting it or at least uncork it a few hours before you want to drink it. Like all teenagers, this deserves some time to grow out of its youthful exuberance and into a well-rounded and complex wine.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Wine Lovers: It's Time to Rethink the Little Black Book

There are lots of jokes out there about "little black books," the pocket-sized notebooks where you could list all your romantic triumphs, phone numbers, and seduction strategies. But I think it's time to rethink the little black book from a wine-loving perspective.

If you are a wine lover, you probably have wine information written on the back of your driver's license, on post-it notes, Trader Joe's receipts, ATM slips, and (if you are me) occupying lines in your check book that are supposed to keep a tally of your (diminishing) bank balance. What you need instead is a little black book that will become your mobile wine operations center and can be used to record everything vinous in your life.

It is imperative, I think, that the book be sturdy enough to survive being tossed into the trunk, your purse, or the stress of being sat on. It needs to be attractive enough that you don't feel like a complete dork carrying it into a tasting, and small enough that you don't leave it home rather than schlep it across town. I've found that the pre-fab "wine journals" never fit the bill, because they think I want to keep track of stuff I don't give a hoot about.

Instead, get yourself a Pierre Belvedere faux-leather notebook ($21.95 at Jenni Bick Bookbinding) which comes in a range of colors including (if you must) burgundy. Mine is black, and I carry it with me everywhere. This book is small without being minute at 4 1/2 x 6 1/2 inches. It has ruled pages that are relatively thick (no bleed-through), and the pages are perforated so that if you make a shopping list you can tear it out if you want to and throw it away. There is a handy little sewn-in bookmark to keep your place. And the covers are stiff without being bulky and slightly padded so they are easy to hold. This is a book that doesn't slip out of your hands.

What can you put in your little black book? Here's a sampling of what's in mine:

the number for the best local pizza delivery
menus and wine pairings for the week
a list of recipes I want to try from Nigella Lawson's Express cookbook
lists of wine moved up to Sonoma; list of wine moved to LA
wines I think I want to try from Trader Joe's to check on Quaffability
list of the next 12 wines coming up as "ready to drink" in Cellar Tracker
list of recommended champagnes
Wine Book Club ideas

The possibilities are endless, and once the book is filled up it can sit without embarrassment on your bookshelf, a permanent reminder of how far you've come in terms of your wine knowledge and enjoyment. If one of your resolutions for 2008 was to keep better track of your wine information, get yourself a little black book. If you use it faithfully, it will become the most frequently consulted "wine book" you own.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Grape Variety #86: Romorantin

Romorantin is a grape of kings. King Francis I loved wines made with the grape. He brought vines with him to his favorite residences in the Loire (Chambord, Blois) so that he could have an ample supply of the wine on hand. Many plantings were pulled out to make room for more popular varieties like chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, but in a tiny Loire appellation called Cour-Cheverny a small clutch of romorantin vines have been preserved.

One of my New Year's wine resolutions was to finish drinking the last 15 grape varieties that will qualify me as a member of the Wine Century Club. Dedicated to wine lovers who have tasted their way through at least 100 different grape varieties, Romorantin is grape variety #86 for me. As a dedicated history buff it seemed like the perfect wine to start off my countdown, given its sixteenth-century origins.

Wine tastes change over the centuries. What was popular in the 16th century may not go down so well with 21st-century palates. The 2004 Domaine Phillippe Tessier Cour-Cheverny Domaine Blanc is a testament to this fact. (K & L Wines, $12.99). Made with 100% romorantin grapes, its aromas and flavors of damp canvas, grapefruit pith, and soil will not be to everyone's taste--but I'm here to tell you that they are correct, varietally speaking. This bottle of wine was not corked; that's what romorantin tastes like, unless it's been made in a sweeter style. There are demi-sec and botrytized versions of romorantin wines, and my guess is that's what Francis I drank. They had quite a sweet tooth back in 1519, and old wine recipes and instructions often advocate dumping honey, cinnamon, and other additives into white wine (usually from Gascogny) to make them more palatable and taste like "German wine" which was considerably more expensive.

With these rarer grape varieties, it's difficult to sort out QPR. How many examples of romorantin is anyone likely to drink over the years? So I consulted the archives of some wine blogs that I just knew would include reviews of romorantin wines. Sure enough, Spittoon's Andrew Barrow served romorantin wines to a lunch group and discovered that romorantin's "complex oil, nut, carpet flavours, oddball aromas and high acidity didn't find many friends." Bertrand Calce of Wine Terroirs mentioned the wine's "peculiar aromas" but also noted that the wines typically needed some age on them to really show at their best. Closer to home, Brooklynguy had a demi-sec romorantin last year and liked it a lot, noting its citrus oil qualities. Ultimately, I decided this wine represented very good QPR judged by the romorantin varietal yardstick.

I'm not sure romorantin is going to be a frequent visitor to my table--at least not in this dry style. I'd like to try a demi-sec, and see whether that's how this grape really shines. But that will be some months down the road. Have you ever had a romorantin? I'd be interested to hear your experiences with it.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Wine Book Club: the First Edition

In the spirit of the New Year, a group of bloggers decided to start an online Wine Book Club. Many of us want to read more--hands up if you've got a stack of books sitting on your bedside table with an inch of dust on them--and anyone reading this blog probably wants to learn more about wine. So let's give it a go in 2008 and actually read some wine books together. (potential logo for the Wine Book Club to the right, complete with a bottle of Bordeaux and a wine book from 1927 sitting on my dining room table)

Inspired by Lenndevours' Wine Blogging Wednesday, the Wine Book Club will be an opportunity for wine lovers around the world to read a book and then post reactions and discuss them on their blog. No blog? You have two options (three, if you are willing to start a blog): while you're reading you can use one of the public sites and discussion forums that are already set up on Shelfari and Facebook; or you can hop around the web and respond to the discussions that will be taking place in the comments sections of your favorite blogs. The host will post a round-up of contributions after the dust settles, and thanks to the generosity of Tim Elliott and Ryan Opaz we will also make use of a central website for announcements, roundups, themes, etc. When it goes live it will be at, but there's nothing there yet.

Unlike Wine Blogging Wednesday, however, we're going to start by meeting every other month. Baby steps are the name of the game when it comes to New Year's resolutions. New book selections will be announced on the first Tuesday of March, May, July, September, and November. The Wine Book Club will reconvene for reactions/reviews/discussions on the last Tuesday of the following month (so February 26, etc.) If there is a lot of interest in the club, and people want a book a month, we can move to that format in 2009.

The host of the very first Wine Book Club is David McDuff, the intrepid wine retailer and blogger who leads readers down McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. And the book we're reading? It's tied into the Wine Blogging Wednesday themes for January and February, to give it some extra momentum. So head over there to see the title. Locate your library card or start alphabetizing the wine books you already own but haven't read, because this first book might be on your shelf already. Interested in hosting an upcoming event? Let me know, and we'll put you down on the list.

To keep everyone motivated between club meetings, Dr. Vino suggested we might play "Spin the Bottle" and invite wine bloggers to contribute reviews on books with more specialized content. When the bottle stopped spinning it pointed in two directions: Tim Elliott of Winecast and me. So look for coordinated reviews of the same book later this month, and if you see me in your inbox be warned: the bottle stopped at you this time. Have an idea for "Spin the Bottle"? Let me know that, too.

I'd like to extend a special invitation to those of you reading this from somewhere other than the US/Canada/UK: please set up a chapter where you live and let's make this an international, polyglot event. I would consider it a triumph if there was a Spanish Wine Book Club, a French Wine Book Club, an Italian Wine Book Club, a Greek Wine Book Club, an Israeli Wine Book Club, and even (yes, I know you are there, my Finnish readers!) a Finnish Wine Book Club. You may have to select different books, but it would be great.

We're just starting out, so there are bound to be glitches along the way (not to mention confusion). Let me know in the comments or by email if you have any input, questions, or concerns. Please publicize this new event on your blogs, and please consider participating. I am thrilled that so many bloggers are already on board with this event, and I want to thank them for the enthusiasm and generous help that they have given and continue to give as we get this up and running. So thank you, in alpha-blog order, to: Behind the Vines, Catavino, Celebrate Wine, domaine547, Dr. Vino, el Bloggo Torcido, Indiscriminate Ideas, LENNDEVOURS, McDuff's Food & Wine Trail, My Wine Education, Passionate Foodie, Through the Walla Walla Grape Vine, Wannabe Wino, West Coast Wine Country Adventures, Winecast, Winehiker, and the Wine Scamp.

Given this group, we're in for a fun time. Why not join us? Check out what we're about at one of our sites on Shelfari, Facebook, and Make room for the wine books on your nightstand, and get reading!