The Daily Sip: what’s wrong with a “grapey” wine? A seductive wine from Italy’s Calabria defies the connotation

In many years of reviewing wine, I don’t think I’ve described a wine as “grapey” more than once or twice. What is it about the word? Does it connote simplicity when good wine is supposed to be complex? Is it reserved for more proletarian grape products such as humble table grapes, grape jelly or grape soda? Perhaps. And yet, for the last two evenings, I’ve been tasting an unusual wine from Italy for which “grapey” immediately springs to mind in a most attractive light.

Savuto is an obscure appellation, or DOC as they call it in Italy, from Calabria in the far south of the country. Calabria makes up the “toe” of Italy and almost touches Sicily, which is 800px-Savuto_Valle_da_Scigliano separated by just a couple of miles of sea. Since the early 1990s, the Odoardi family has been farming about 170 acres of vines in the Savuto River Valley, right, and has been putting some lesser known indigenous grape varieties back on the map. Odoardi’s 2005 Savuto is a blend of Gaglioppo (45 percent) with lesser amounts of Greco Nero, Nerello Capuccio, Magliocco Canino and Sangiovese. See what I mean about obscure grapes?

The wine, for which I paid $15 in New York, has the aforementioned grapey core but with much more, including notes of black cherry, dark plum, vanilla and a touch of eucalyptus. There is both a bright fruit and candied quality, which may seem like a contradiction but which somehow works in a wine that, at first, suggests something quite simple but that turns out to be surprisingly complex. Alcohol is 14 percent. For al kinds of meats, pastas and pizzas. Imported by Jan D’Amore wines, Brooklyn, New York.


The Daily Sip: An off-dry California riesling made for a classic chicken dish

An old friend and former colleague I have always called “The Boss” emailed me the other day, expressing good wishes and then asking for a wine recommendation, as he has done on occasion. The Boss being a man I admire, I started thinking about his request without delay. The wine was for Chicken Marsala and, after a few minutes, a new release I tasted just the other night came to mind. But first, let’s consider the dish.

Chicken Marsala is full flavored and rich with its  infusion of Marsala wine, herbs, mushrooms and often a good deal of butter. I would definitely want a white wine, but one that wkendall rieslingould not be  overpowered by the sauce, which often takes on a fairly thick consistency. I decided that an off-dry riesling (one with a bit of residual sugar) might do the trick. And so I told The Boss about a California wine, Kendall-Jackson’s 2009 Vintner’s Reserve Monterey County Riesling, which carries a suggested price of $12.

Right now, inexpensive rieslings from California and Washington are among the real white-wine bargains, and this one only underscores the point. It’s full of tropical and stone fruit, including pineapple and apricot notes, honey, minerals, wet pebbles and an impressively long finish. The more I think about, the wine seems made for Chicken Marsala. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it and am hoping The Boss will pass on his recipe. Received as a press sample.


The Daily Sip: for a top California zinfandel, it’s all in the balance

I often have a visceral reaction to the prospect of very big wines, something akin to the thought of getting on the wrong side of the school bully in my youth. I usually try to avoid them. So the thoughquivirat of a zinfandel weighing in at 15.1 percent alcohol would normally give me pause, except if its from a property like Quivira Vineyards and Winery. Quivira makes exceptional, well-balanced  wines in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley, and the reds draw attention to themselves for that fact rather than for their alcoholic punch.  Quivira’s 2007 Wine Creek Ranch Zinfandel makes the point beautifully. Made from biodynamically grown grapes (the blend is 92 percent zinfandel and 8 percent petite sirah), this elegant wine shows concentrated blackberry and blueberry notes, mocha and dark chocolate, minerals and chewy tannins that persist on a very long finish.  Drinking well now, it will continue to develop over several years. For grilled meats , duck, game and ragus. The suggested price is $34, and 375 cases were made. Received as a press sample.


Swirls: “When my glass of wine arrived, it smelled like pesticide and tasted pretty much the same.”

The other day a reader, “Bro. Dave,” related a story about his experience ordering a glass of wine in a restaurant and asked for some advice.

“It was one listed on the menu as the manager's recommendation and was one of the higher-priced wines by the glass,” Dave wrote. “When my glass of wine arrived, it smelled like pesticide and tasted pretty much the same. I was not pleased.

“But how does one send back a glass of wine? I know wired winene tastes vary from person to person, even region to region. Perhaps the people around there enjoy wine that tastes like RAID! When my steak is over-cooked, that's simple to identify. But with a (bad) glass of wine, what does one do?”

It’s a question that countless wine drinkers must ask themselves, and several thoughts come to mind. First and foremost, it is perfectly acceptable to tell your server that the wine has an off taste. You would do this, obviously, if you were tasting a wine before accepting a bottle, and I think it’s appropriate to do the same with wine served by the glass. In fact, it is fine to ask for a small taste of a wine even before ordering a glass.


Swirls: use of Facebook, Twitter explode in the wine industry as recession hits the business, wine consumers hard

As in many other fields, the use of social media is exploding in the wine business, and a new survey documents just how important it has become.

The survey was conducted among 109 California wine professionals by the Wine Industry Financial Symposium Group and the University of California-Davis Graduate School of Management. More than half the participants were wine producers, the rest wine grape growers, distributors, retailers and others.facebook

In 2009, for example, 46 percent of them were using Facebook in their businesses. This year the number had grown to almost 83 percent. Twitter? While just 21 percent were “Tweeting” in 2009, 64 percent were doing it this year. A year ago, only 18 percent had a company blog; now it is almost 52 percent.

And with good reason. While the jury is still out on social media’s effectiveness, employing Facebook and Twitter and blogging to get your message out is relatively inexpensive, and the growing use of social media has coincided, not surprisingly, with the continuing hangover of the recession being felt in the wine business.


The Daily Sip: a notable dry riesling from Alsace

As I’ve noted here recently, there’s still a good deal of confusion among wine drinkers about riesling; many still don’t realize that riesling is not just a “sweet” wine, but is made in a full range of  styles, depending on thelfrichhe region and the winemaker. For crisp, dry  rieslings, France’s Alsace  stands out, and Helfrich’s 2009 Riesling shows just why. This superb wine has beautiful fruit, including notes of mandarin, lime and green apple skin punctuated by a burst of mouth-tingling minerality. It’s Helfrich’s basic riesling and sells for about $12-$15, a real value and an excellent introduction to what dry riesling is all about. Serve with seafood, Asian dishes or as an aperitif. Imported by Underdog Wine Merchants, Livermore, California. Received as a press sample.


The Daily Sip: an outstanding California sauvignon blanc

Today, I’m formalizing a core component of  Vint-ed, what I’m calling The Daily Sip – one notable wine (or two) that represents excellence and value in its class. Since I started writing about wine in 2002, and over the course of 350 weekly columns for MSNBC.com and now Vint-ed and Reuters, I’ve considered this my main mission. I will, of course, continue to bring you wine news and commentary as well.

A lot of 2009 California sauvignon blancs have been released in recent weeks and they demonstrate a continuing frei 2 trend: California sauvignons are getting better and better. I’ll be  pointing to a number of them in coming weeks, but one that  particularly stands out is Frei Brothers’ 2009 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc. With a $20 suggested price (I’ve also noticed that sauvignon prices are creeping up), this one is light, expressive and perfectly balanced, which is everything I look for in sauvignon, whether from California, the Loire Valley, New Zealand or Chile. It shows lemon-lime and green apple notes with an underlying minerality. Part of the wine received “sur lie” aging for a couple of months, which helps provide an impressively long finish. For fish and shellfish, salads and other lighter dishes and for sipping as an aperitif. Alcohol is 13.9 percent. Received as a press sample.


Sips: for fall, notable new red wines from Argentina, Tuscany and Oregon

SIP: For several years, I’ve been a fan of  Susana Balbo’s wines from Argentina, and for me the latest standout is her 2008 “Signature” Malbec from Mendoza. I liked its youthful, concentrated fruit, which shows notes of blackberry and plum with an underpinning of well-integrated oak. I cooled it slightly from room temperature and found it delightful. For all kinds of grilled meats. Wine-searcher.com has a wide range of prices for this wine, from about $19 to $28. Imported by Polaner Selections, Mt. Kisco, New York.

SIP: From Italy, Ruffino’s 2004 Romitorio di Santedame is an outstanding Super Tuscan for special occasions. We enjoRomitorio3yed it recently with friends who came over to help celebrate my  older son's 15th birthday, and we were not disappointed. This is one of those wines that seems to get better with every sip. A blend of 60 percent of the indigenous colorino and 40 percent merlot, it started off a bit enclosed but was notable for its ample acidity, which signaled that this was going to be a refreshing wine. As it opened up it revealed notes of blueberry and plum along with cedar, earth, tobacco, leather and bittersweet chocolate. Supple tannins help make the overall effect refined and elegant. It matched well with our grilled herbed chicken breasts but also the tomato pasta sauce my son ordered me to make for the occasion. The suggested price, $70, makes it a wine, as I said, for special events. Imported by Icon Estates, St. Helena, California.

SIP:  Angela is a relatively new vineyard in the six-year-old Yamhill-Carlton District, a sub-appellation in the northwest corner of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  Angela’s 2008 Oregon Pinot Noir “Clawson Creek Vineyard” is an impressive, $50 offering that shows a Burgundian elegance that is sometimes missing in big, fruit-driven American pinot noirs. From young vines, it displays opulent red and dark berry fruit, some toasty oak and vanilla notes and excellent acidity. Alcohol is a restrained 13.5 percent. “Angela,” by the way, is Angela Beck, who owns the vineyard with her husband Antony. He is part of the family that owns Graham Beck Wines of South Africa. Wines received as press samples.


Sips: some favorite late-summer wine values from Spain, Chile and Italy

SIP: The weather has cooled slightly, but there’s still lots of time for rosé, including Julián Chivite’s 2009 Gran Feudo GF_Wines_Rosado Rosado from the Navarra region of Spain.  It had been a few years since I tasted this wine, and I was reminded the other day just how delicious it is for all of $10 (that’s what I paid for it, but I’m sure you can find it for even less). Made from the garnacha (grenache) grape, with notes of cherry, cassis and spice. It’s great on its own and will match with lots of foods, including chicken, duck, tuna and bluefish. Alcohol 13 percent. Imported by Spain Wine Collection, Congers, New York.

SIP: Natura is a line of wines made with organically grown grNaturaapes by Viñedos Emiliana in Chile’s Valle Central. The other day I got  around to tasting the 2008 Natura Cabernet Sauvignon. This is superb, inexpensive cabernet (Wine-Searcher.com lists it from $8 to $12) and is superior to almost all cabs from California at this price. It’s 85 percent cabernet with 10 percent carmenere and smaller amounts of cabernet franc and malbec. It shows good varietal character with notes of blackberry, black cherry, mocha and some herbal overtones. Well balanced, moderately tannic and ready to drink (I enjoyed it slightly chilled). Alcohol 14 percent. Imported by Royal Imports, Old Brookville, New York. (Received as a press sample.)

SIP: With Italian-style tomato sauces, I am partial to Italian wines, and one of my recent favorites is Fontanafredda’s 2008 “Briccotondo” Barbera from the Piedmont region. briccotondo I’ve bought it twice recently in New York and Long Island, paying $15 each time. The other night we enjoyed it with a simple sauce created from a big bag of “seconds” tomatoes I bought for $2 at one of the local farm stands, some basil and parsley. I tossed the pasta into the sauce in a cast-iron skillet,  sprinkled some grated mozzarella cheese on top and then broiled it for a few minutes to create a wonderful crusty top. Our whole meal (for six people) cost about $10 or so and the Briccotondo was the perfect accompaniment with its ample acidity and notes of cherry, blueberry and earth. A good, inexpensive barbera like this one is just made for simple, fresh tomato sauces that we are lucky enough to make at this time of year. Alcohol 13.5 percent. Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York.


Swirls: English bubbly takes top honors; airline wine secrets; keeping opened wine fresh – for weeks!

SWIRL: If wine and England seem oxymoronic, think again. The British have been distinguishing themselves in recent yeabottle_2004_grosvenorrs by making some very good sparkling wines in the south, which,when you look at  the map, is not terribly far away from Champagne.   The latest proof comes from a little known producer in the South Downs of Sussex, Ridgeview Estate, whose 2006 Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs has won a Decanter International trophy as the world’s top sparkling wine, beating out more than 700 entries in the category, including some top Champagnes. Read the full story in the Telegraph.

SWIRL: Most of us can only pretend we’re drinking good wine when we’re flying; those little bottles, most of them plastic now, are usually filled with generic juice, whether from Bordeaux, California or elsewhere. The class system of the airlines applies to wine as well as cabin real estate; the higher you go the better the wines get. Lettie Teague in the Wall Street Journal takes a look at what you get for your first- or business-class ticket on five carriers. Beyond the wines themselves, the well-researched piece offers a number of things I didn’t know about airline wine, including just why both the reds and the whites are so cold when you get them.

SWIRL: I’ve often sung the praises of day-old wine (okay maybe even two- or three-day-old wine). Alder Yarrow in his Vinography blog goes one step further, making the case that many wines stay good for weeks if re-corked and stored in the refrigerator.  With the reds, you’ll have to let them warm up a bit, but I’m curious to see how they hold up for extended periods. One thing I do know: when reds are left on the counter at room temperature, they may open up nicely after a day or so, but then start to decline quickly with oxidation.


Sips: with its ‘Layers,’ Australia’s Peter Lehmann produces a distinctive white blend

In the late-summer heat wave we’re having in the Northeast, any white wine that has a relatively low 11.5 percent alcohol is going to be at least be worth a try, which is why I pulled Peter Lehmann’s 2009 “Layers” White out of the wine raLayers_White_134x541ck here at our place in the  country. Beyond the heat, I’ll admit that I’ve been distracted in the last couple of days, which is why this is the first post of the week . (The chief distraction is an eight-week old puppy, a  cute little Lab/Pointer mix we adopted over the  weekend from a rescue program.)

But back to the wine. “Layers” is made from grapes from the Barossa Valley and Adelaide regions of South Australia and is a blend, which is, one may conclude, what they’re getting at with the name, although you might not know it because the bottle provides no clues except for images of five grapes on the front label. Peter Lehmann’s website reveals a mix of semillon, chardonnay, pinot gris, gewürztraminer and muscat. I had thought there might be some riesling in the mix. Oh, well.

The wine shows lots of component parts for  the suggested price of  $16 – a good deal of lemon-lime plus white peach, apricot, honey and some baking spices. I thought it might pair well with one of my favorite pasta dishes -- broccoli rabe sautéed with sweet and hot Italian sausage – and it did, providing a refreshing wash-down to this not unsubstantial dish, especially on a very warm night. It’s easy to drink with nice complexity – a winning combination for casual drinking and a range of white-wine foods. Imported by The Hess Collection New World Wines, Napa, California. (Received as a press sample.)