SWIRLS: Plastic wine bottles, 7-Eleven, supermarket wine

SWIRL: Letplastic wine bottles’s just admit it. The idea of plastic wine bottles is  kind of gross (as pretty as the photo makes them appear), unless you’re on a plane or a train and there’s no choice and you have to take what wine you can get. That said,  plastic does leave less of a carbon footprint because it is so much lighter than glass and burns less fuel in shipping. And it’s catching on in some corners of the wine market. Europe’s biggest manufacturer reports a major increase in production of PET plastic bottles this year over last, with the Japanese market one of the biggest sources of growth, most notably for 2010 Beaujolais nouveau. (Beveragedaily.com)

SWIRL: 7-Eleven expands its list of proprietSeven elevenary wines with  Cherrywood Cellars, offering a chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and merlot priced at between $7.99 and $8.99. 7-Eleven sells other wines from $3.99 to $9.99. (Convenience Store News)

SWIRL: Buying cheap wine in a supermarket might be everyone’s cup of tea, so to speak, but The Guardian has a useful guide on how to increase your odds of getting a decent bargain bottle. Among the  advice: avoid “funny” labels, look for “private brands” and try less popular grape varieties such as chenin blanc and grenache “before people catch on.”


Thanksgiving wine lists: what Randall Grahm and others in the business are thankful for

There is no shortage of Thanksgiving wine advice out there, so instead of joining the pack, as I have for most of the last decade with my own pronouncements about Thanksgiving wine pairings, I decided to do something different this year. What were some of my friends and colleagues in the wine businThanksgivingess planning to serve or recommend – from wine styles to regions to individual bottles? A set of email queries prompted a quick response and a broad range of possibilities, which included wines from California, Oregon, Washington, many parts of France as well as Italy, Austria, Germany and Chile. If one theme emerged, it is this: when it comes to Thanksgiving, there are very few rules about wine. Like the stuffing or the gravy, everyone’s tastes and preferences are going to be different. I would add (and the responses largely bear this out) that the wines, whether red or white, will work best when they are on the leaner and less  alcoholic side. Beyond that, my friends seemed to gravitate toward wines with finesse and individuality, as you’re about to see.

The most enviable response came from Joshua Greene, editor and publisher of Wine & Spirits Magazine, for which I occasionally serve on tasting panels. Josh said he would raise a glass, in absentia, from Spain, where he will be meeting on Thursday with the owner of one of the great Rioja producers, R. López de Heredia. “Will think of turkey, native Americans and pilgrims,” he said, “as I toast with a 1981 Gran Reserva Viña Tondonia.”

Randall Grahm, the founder and self-proclaimed president-for-life of California’s Bonny Doon Vineyard, put Thanksgiving in the context of his own wine evolution (or is it revolution?). He wrote: “These days – and I’m more or less counting on this being a semi-permanent state of affairs – I’m pretty much only interested in wines that might be called vins de terroir: wines that express a sense of place, but also wines that exhibit a quality of minerality or life-force (two sides of the same coin). As it turns out, I do think that these sorts of dynamic ‘vital’ wines are in fact a great foil to turkey, which is itself, shall we say, somewhat static.” Among whites, Randall is thinking about a dry riesling from France’s Alsace, perhaps an older example from Fréderic Emile, or one from Austria’s Wachau, or a grüner veltliner, perhaps a Prager Grüner Alte Reben. For reds, he said, “it will most likely be infanticide of an ’05 red Burgundy,” perhaps from Fourier, definitely decanted, or maybe a Cornas from the northern Rhône. As an apéritif, he’s going to try to get his hands on some of Eric Bordelet’s Poire “Granit,” a pear cider from Normandy.


The Daily Sip: from France’s South West, an outstanding red value

As I noted here last month, France’s South West region offer a range of original wines at affordable prices, and one that especially stood out for me in a broad recent tasting of the wines was a red from the Gaillac appellation, just north of Toulouse. Drotieromaine Rotier’s 2007 Gaillac “Les Gravels” is as pretty and elegant a wine  as you’ll find in the region, full of expressive fruit and complexity. As I sipped the wine over a couple of evenings, the tastes ranged from dark fruit, including blackberry and black cherry, to red fruit notes, especially raspberry, with black pepper, herbs and minerals rounding out the picture. I wrote in my notes that the wine would be a great Bordeaux substitute, at least as far as inexpensive reds are concerned.

In fact, South West has lived and struggled  for years in the shadow of its famous neighbor to the north. For about $12 or so, Domaine Rotier’s Gaillac offers far more interest than most Bordeaux you’ll find at this price, with a real sense of place, or terroir. The wine is a blend of duras and braucol (also known as fer servadou), which are two indigenous varieties, and  syrah, grown on gravelly soils near the surface and ancient marls below. Aging is without oak, which gives the wine a fresh fruitiness that I really enjoyed. In fact, Domaine Rotier’s Web site says that “wines from this terroir are not cellaring wines, they are at their best when drunk as young wines.” For red meats, duck and game. Alcohol is 13.5 percent. Received as a press sample.


Swirls: A new wine commerce site, by invitation only

SWIRL: Lot 18 is a new wine and specialty food Web site that matches its members with producers offering small quantities of their products at substantial discounts. Membership is by  invitation only, and members can invite others to join the site. Lot 18’s founders are Philip James, founder of Snooth, and Kevin Fortuna, a technology entrepreneur. The well-designed site includes appraisals by established wine publications and by Lot 18’s own reviewers. So far, the offerings have focused on California wines. Flat rate shipping is $9.99. Lot 18 completed a $3 million round of venture funding last week. Mashable.com has a profile of the site.


The Daily Sip: for Thanksgiving pies, a superb dessert wine from Washington’s Pacific Rim

One of the best sweet dessert wine values out there has to be Pacific Rim’s 2007 Vin de Glaciere Riesling from Washington statpacific rim glacieree, which showed beautifully at the end of a dinner with good friends the other night and is a shoe-in for pairing with  Thanksgiving pies. Actually, this is a tale of two dessert wines – Pacific Rim’s, with a suggested price of $14  for a half-bottle, and a well-known California wine, also in half-bottle, that sells for $80 or more (yes, you heard right). After a crowd-pleasing main course of beef Burgundy, one of my wife’s signature dishes, served with plenty of red wine, it was time for her apple tart, made from apples grown down the road at a local farm.

The Pacific Rim wine, from the Selenium Vineyard in Washington’s Yakima Valley, was a superb accompaniment, providing a refreshing lift that counterbalanced the sweetness. Orange is the dominant note, joined by orange peel, honey and lime with a high level of underlying acidity that made it effortless to drink and a perfect companion to the apple pie. Alcohol is a modest 10.5 percent. With demand among our friends now high for more dessert wine, I opened a second bottle, the aforementioned California wine. Though perhaps more complex, it was also more syrupy than the Pacific Rim and lacked the riesling’s refreshing zip. It was also considerably higher in alcohol and would have been better with fois gras or other rich foods. Pacific Rim’s Web site has some interesting notes on how the wine is made. The winery, by the way, makes a range of rieslings from dry to sweet and has developed a useful “riesling scale” that makes it easier to classify ripeness level in the wines. Received as a press sample.


The Daily Sip: with local and delectable bay scallops, a memorable chardonnay from Clos du Val

On eastern Long Island, ,where I spend a good deal of time, one of the most anticipated autumn events is the opening of the scallop season, which took place this past week. The area is famous for its Peconic Bay scallops – small, sweet and succulent and among the most delectable foods you will ever eat. Men on small boats are seen slowly plying the waters of the bay at this time of year, happily tolerating the wind and the cold as they comb the bottom with theirclos du val dredges, hoping for a successful harvest. I have, on occasion, been among them and I can tell you that scalloping, when you are successful at it, is a most satisfying form of hard work.

Alas, we bought a pound of them the other night at our local fish  market, and while the price, $17, might seem high, it actually suggests that there are plenty of scallops out there right now. The price will inevitably rise through the season, which lasts through the winter, and in scarce years I have seen them for almost twice as much. Although they lend themselves to all kinds of recipes, they need almost no enhancement, and I like simply rolling them in flour and sautéing them in olive oil and butter until they are lightly golden, which is exactly what I did the other night.

As for the wine (white, of course), this is a case where a little oak will work wonders, complementing the slightly nutty quality of the scallops. After tasting several California chardonnays, the clear standout was Clos du Val’s  2006 Napa Valley Reserve Chardonnay. This is decidedly not one of those buttery California chardonnays that some people like. Rather, it was a model of restrained elegance, as most of Clos du Val’s wines are. With a few years of bottle age, the melding of fruit and oak was seamless. Pear and green apple tastes were joined by subtle notes of vanilla, orange peel and cinnamon. There was also a nice mineral quality that reminded me of  Burgundy. Alcohol is listed at a moderate 14.1 percent. With the scallops, I couldn’t have asked for a better match or a more memorable first dinner of the season. The wine, which was released some time ago, is listed in only a couple of stores on wine-searcher.com for about $43-$45. For me, the lesson here is in the value of letting good chardonnays age for a couple of years before drinking them. Received as a press sample.


Swirls: World Series wine, Facebook, Twitter & wine, Tunisian wine, Chicago Tribune columnist’s farewell

SWIRL: For the record, the San Francisco Giants poured, or mummshall we say, sprayed, Mumm Napa Brut Prestige at their World Series Victory celebration the other night. 

SWIRL: Wine PR and marketing firm Benson Marketing rolls out “Mission Control,” a social media program for wine and spirits producers that want to extend their brands through Facebook, Twitter and other sites. Cost: $1,500 a month.

SWIRL: Here’s something I didn’t realize. Tunisian wines, which have a French influence, are now being exported to the United States. Wine Enthusiast interviews a New York-based importer who is promoting them.

SWIRL: Bill Daley of the Chicago Tribune bids farewell to wine writing with some final thoughts on the experience and some last tips for wine lovers.


The Daily Sip: Thanksgiving wine tip – from Oregon’s Erath, a superb pinot gris

Oregon's Erath Winery, which used to be known as Knudsen Erath, is one of the Willamette Valley's iconic brands, having been erath pinot grisamong the pioneers of pinot noir in the region. Today it offers a  broad range of pinot noirs and other wines, including a relatively inexpensive line bottled under the "Oregon" appellation that sources grapes from various vineyards. Among them is Erath's 2008 Oregon Pinot Gris, an excellent example of what has become the state's signature white variety.

This is a superb value at $14, far more interesting than many California wines you'll find at this price. Crisp and complex with lime, white peach and floral notes, it will be a classy and refreshing accompaniment at the Thanksgiving table with its mouth-tingling acidity and will also match well with fish, chicken and pork dishes. But as I tasted it over several nights I kept going back to the Thanksgiving theme and how this one will work so well as an easy-to-drink but interesting wash-down wine, at a price that will make it easy to pour it generously to your guests.