Sips: A chance encounter with Chalone's '09 Monterey County Pinot Noir

It’s the kind of event I usually dread, at least as far as wines are concerned -- an awards dinner in the ballroom of a big hotel with hundreds of people in the room. We’ve all been there. The wines served at such gatherings are usually mediocre at best and pretty much undrinkable at worst. But last night I was pleasantly surprised at such an occasion. While the white, a Chilean sauvignon blanc, was on the ordinary side, the red was a real find and proved that relatively inexpensive California pinot noir doesn’t have to taste generic or hot from high alcohol. Chalone’s 2009 Monterey County Pinot Noir suffered from neither and was an excellent pairing with beef short ribs accompanied by mashed sweet potatoes and caramelized onions. With dark cherry and blueberry notes, excellent balance and refreshing acids, it’s also a real value at $14 or $15 or so. Now, if only it hadn’t taken so long to flag down a waiter to pour me another glass.

Royal Wedding menu revealed, Champagne confirmed

Just in: details of the Royal Wedding lunchtime reception menu and at least a bit of information about the wines -- confirmation of Pol Roger Brut NV as the Champagne, but still no details of the other wines.

From the official Royal Wedding Web site:

Guests will be served a selection of canapés, including:
  • Cornish Crab Salad on Lemon Blini
  • Pressed Duck Terrine with Fruit Chutney
  • Roulade of Goats Cheese with Caramelised Walnuts
  • Assortment of Palmiers and Cheese Straws
  • Scottish Smoked Salmon Rose on Beetroot Blini
  • Miniature Watercress and Asparagus Tart
  • Poached Asparagus spears with Hollandaise Sauce for Dipping
  • Quails Eggs with Celery Salt
  •  Scottish Langoustines with Lemon Mayonnaise Pressed Confit of Pork Belly with Crayfish and Crackling
  • Wild Mushroom and Celeriac Chausson
  • Bubble and Squeak with Confit Shoulder of Lamb
  • Grain Mustard and honey-glazed Chipolatas
  • Smoked Haddock Fishcake with Pea Guacamole
  • Miniature Yorkshire Pudding with Roast Fillet of Beef and Horseradish Mousse
  •  Gateau Opera
  • Blood Orange Pate de Fruit
  • Raspberry Financier
  • Rhubarb Crème Brulee Tartlet
  • Passion Fruit Praline
  • White Chocolate Ganache Truffle
  • Milk Chocolate Praline with Nuts
  • Dark Chocolate Ganache Truffle
Guests will be served Pol Roger NV Brut Réserve Champagne with a selection of other soft and alcoholic drinks.


Some of today’s top Tweets about wine

Here’s something different I’m trying out – a short collection of some of the more interesting wine items I’ve come across today on Twitter, ranging from the clever to the informative to the entertaining (but not the blatantly commercial).

John Gillespie

@WineOpinions John Gillespie

Breaking - wine kills oral bacteria on contact: http://bit.ly/ii9ifQ - Which is why I gargle with Albarino in the morning


W. R. Tish

@TishWine W. R. Tish

Suckling Strikes Again! Or, How Not to Write a Wine Article: http://t.co/IBswBYR // Youch!


Louise Hurren

@LouiseHurren Louise Hurren

via @winecurmudgeon survey to find answers to Qs like how do #wine bloggers make money? http://bit.ly/l4Gmay #socialmedia


Fake Wine Reviews

@fakewinereviews Fake Wine Reviews

Notes of pencil lead, coffee, Tums®, restraining order, binder clips ... and I've run out of things on my desk. #lazy


Doug Cook

@ablegrape Doug Cook

Here's why you, a winery (or any website) owner, shouldn't let your domain name expire: This *was* Calon-Ségur: http://www.calon-segur.com/


Let’s leave it at that for now. Comments, suggestions welcome.


SWIRLS: Royal wedding wine update, AHA wine and health survey, French riot police demand their wine

SWIRL: With less than 24 hours before the Royal Wedding, the wine world waits to see which wineries made the cut. Two English producers are said to be in the running. Camel Valley in Cornwall tells Decanter.com of an unusually large order, while the Daily Mail says a white from the Chapel Down Winery in Kent,  the chapel down largest of Britain’s 109 wineries, will be served at one of the  receptions, at Buckingham Palace. (Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but Chapel Down offers best wishes on its home page to Prince William and Kate Middleton). Pol Roger Brut NV was previously reported to be the Champagne of choice.

SWIRL: Do you know how much wine is healthy? A new survey by the American Heart Association of 1,000 Americans shows that while two-thirds think that wine can be good for the heart, only 30 percent know the AHA’s recommended limits – two glasses of wine a day for men and one for women (eight ounces and four, respectively).

SWIRL: And we saw this one coming. French riot police are “up in arms” over plans to ban them from drinking wine and beer with their meals while on the job. “Over the top,” says an official of one police union. “Simply absurd,” says another union. Read the full story in the Los Angeles Times.


Book review: Evan Dawson’s memorable ‘Summer in a Glass’ on Finger Lakes wine

World-class riesling is produced in the Finger Lakes. Wine people know that. But to much of America and the world, the region is a wine outpost, a remote area in west-central New York a couple of hundred miles or so from New York City and, consequently, well off the radar of most consumers, retailers, restaurants and wine writers – in NeSummer in a glassw York and beyond. Evan Dawson’s splendid new book, “Summer in a Glass: The Coming of Age of Winemaking in the Finger Lakes,” (Sterling Epicure, $19.95) is likely to change that.

I have to admit that before I received the book for review, I wasn’t particularly drawn to the region. One can find Finger Lakes wines here in New York, but they compete for shelf space and attention with wines from the rest of the world and are not well promoted (the wines of eastern Long Island do slightly better in this regard, benefiting from the region’s proximity to the city). Now, however, I look forward to a deeper exploration of the region and the wines.

Dawson, a television news reporter and anchor in Rochester and an editor of New York Cork Report, a wine Web site, chronicles the evolution of the Finger Lakes as a serious wine area through the experiences of a dozen winemakers and growers who have shaped – and are shaping – the region. Most of the stories begin with a clever narrative device, a flashback to a turning point that put the winemaker on course for the Finger Lakes. There are pioneers of the region such as Hermann J.Wiemer, the German who disdained other Finger Lakes winemakers and who, by simply putting the word “dry” on his labels, changed the perception of riesling as only a sweet wine; and Dr. Konstantin Frank, the Ukrainian immigrant who introduced vinifera grapes to the cool-climate region and became obsessed with trying to eradicate its old hybrid varieties.

Then there’s Sam Argetsinger, a woodsman and grape grower on Seneca Lake who embraces Iroquois culture and its respect for the land. “I was about to find out,” Dawson writes, “that Sam Argetsinger’s grapes tasted unlike any other wine grapes in the Finger Lakes. He spoke of them like they were his children, and he couldn’t understand why most growers douse their vineyards with chemical sprays and fertilizers. ‘Think about that,’ he said as he picked a bunch of Riesling grapes. ‘We’re killing five or ten things to make one thing grow. You think that’s balance? That’s not balance – that’s crazy.’” We also hear about Tom Higgins and his quest for the perfect piece of limestone-based land on which to grow his pinot noir, and Tricia Renshaw, a novice whose gifts of taste and smell were discovered by the veteran winemaker Peter Bell of Fox Run Vineyards, who made her his assistant and an overnight wine prodigy.

Dawson weaves into these tales a good deal of drama, some suspense and, here and there, just the right amount of explanation about wine making. On a practical level, the book will serve as a guide to some of the best wineries and wines in the Finger Lakes and will be a great read while traveling and tasting  in the region. (One small criticism: there are repeated references to Champagne as “French Champagne,” which is, of course, redundant, but also an unnecessary nod to the outdated practice  by some wineries in the region of calling sparkling wine “Champagne.”)

“Summer in a Glass” is a compelling tribute to a region’s visionaries whose passions, struggles and small triumphs make the book about much more than wine.


Swirls: Wine and bubbly, of course, but don’t ask for a cold beer at the Royal Wedding reception

As just about anyone who has organized or taken part in a wedding reception knows, there are certain guests for whom nothing hits the spot like a beer or two after the blessed event.  And there are those who simply don’t drink wine, preferring beer instead. With that in mind, it’s pretty standard practice to have generous amounts of beer on hand for those who can’t wait for that first cold one after sitting through the formalities.

This, however, will not be the case at this Friday’s Royal Wedding. We know that Pol Roger Champagne and wine will be prince-charles_080502 served at the reception at Westminster Abbey, but beer, it turns out, will not be offered even though William’s father, Prince Charles, and his brother, Prince Harry, are known to have enjoyed a pint. This was a big story in the British media, including the Daily Mail, over the weekend as more details of the wedding emerged and was even picked up on NPR this morning. One source was quoted as saying that beer “isn't really an appropriate drink to be serving in the Queen's presence at such an occasion.” Caterers, by the way, are said to be preparing 15,000 canapes, including quail's eggs with celery salt, mini Yorkshire puddings with roast beef and mini sausage rolls (this is a British wedding, after all).

The really fun part of the story, however, lies in the comment section of the Daily Mail article:

“What??” asks one. “ No pints to go wiv the mini 'amburgers and mini 'otdogs. That's it - I for one won't be attending!”

Says another: “What rubbish! Many beers have a royal warrant. To pick just one from our cellar: William Worthington's White Shield brewed 'By Appointment to HM The Queen’.”

What do you think?


Swirls: From “Flasq” to the Food Network to “Mommy” wines, thoughts on wine packaging, branding and gimmickry

Almost every day, the wine business brings us news of a new kind of packaginFLASQ-Merlot-Chardonnay-wine-Aluminum-bottleg, branding gimmick or commercial tie-in. This week I read about FLASQ Wines, which bills itself as “the first domestic  wine sold in 100% recyclable and quick-chilling aluminum bottles.” Would you be at all surprised to learn that the wines were developed “to suit active, highly mobile lifestyles and Mother Earth herself?” (Check out the Web site, especially the “Any Time” category with its heavy emphasis on boating, in which DWI happens to be a significant  problem.)  Ah, yes, and then there’s the wine itself. “No doubt,” says a press release, “FLASQ’s Chardonnay and Merlot varietals taste great, hailing from California’s prominent  Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties.” The wines are priced from $5.99-$7.99 for a 375 ml (half bottle). I have little doubt about the environmentally friendly qualities of the aluminum bottles cited by the company, JT Wines of St. Helena. But at its heart, this seems to be yet another example of a company coming up with a wine “concept” in which the wine itself almost plays a supporting role. It joins a growing list of wine bags, wine boxes, wine bladders, and other motley containers entering the crowded wine space. If any small, artisanal producers have turned to any of these packages, I haven’t heard about it.

Then there’s the line of wines, due out in August, announced last week by the Food Network, a powerful brand that will undoubtedly push sales of the wines far. The wines are (again) from California, this time from Wente Vineyards. They’ll be called Entwine and the project, we are told, was in development for 18 months. And what did they come up with? A a pinot grigio, a merlot, a chardonnay and a cabernet sauvignon, all priced at $12.99.

Before this week, I had no idea that there were two wine brands that appeal directly to overworked moms and capitalize on the word “Mommy.” Yes, there’s “Mommy’s Time Out,” which includes a garagnega-pinot grigio blend and a primitivo from Italy, and “Mommyjuice” from Clos Lachance Wines in California. It turns out, as Reuters reported, there’s a trademark fight involving the two brands, which, if nothing else, should send sales through the roof – and for far less money than any marketing campaign.


Swirls: Royal wedding wine, climate change & vineyard shifts, giving up in Australia

SWIRL: Decanter appears to have broken the news about the sparkling wine to be served at next Friday’s wedding of Pol rogerBritain’s Prince William and Kate Middleton. And the winner is … Pol Roger  Brut NV. No surprise that Champagne is the beverage of choice given the nature of the event, or that Pol Roger was selected given its long association with British aristocracy. Read the full story here. But wouldn’t it have been nice if they had included one of Britain’s sparkling wines, which have been getting a good deal of critical praise? The two could have been served together, which would have been a nice gesture for the home team. What do you think?

SWIRL: The issue of climate change and wine, which I have written about here before, is discussed in a fascinating article on the impact in South Africa. A wine executive describes how some companies are planning to move their vineyards to cooler areas within the Cape region (to another side of a mountain, for example). He notes in Independent Online that the 2011 vintage “marks the third consecutive year characterized by higher temperatures outside the regular parameters, unseasonal rains, dry spells and excessively strong winds.”

SWIRL: The woes of the wine business in South Australia, from catastrophic weather to currency issues, are forcing some producers to give it all up and sell out – if they can – after many years in business. For others, salvation might be found in the  ever-expanding Chinese market. Read more here.


Sips: Mondavi’s Classic “To Kalon Vineyard” Fumé Blanc Reserve

For those who don’t mind spending $40 on an excellent California sauvignon blanc, Robert Mondavi’s 2009 Napa Valley “To Kalon  Vineyard” Fumé Blanc Reserve hits it out of the park. The just-released neMondavi labelw vintage of this Napa classic sets a standard for barrel-aged California sauvignon. Extravagant yet beautifully balanced (even with alcohol at 14.2 or 14.5 depending on whether you read the fact sheet or the label). It’s complex yet effortless to drink. Pear, apricot, flower and herb notes are framed in subtle oak with Meyer lemon on the finish. The wine is rich but not overpowering thanks to bright acidity. The blend is 98 percent sauvignon and two percent sémillon. Though 100 percent of the juice was barrel fermented in French oak, only one quarter of the barrels were  new, averting the dreaded sauvignon-dressed-in-chardonnay-clothing quality. A natural with the brininess of Easter hams or richer seafood sauces. Quite irresistible. About 1,800 cases produced. (Fumé blanc, by the way, was the name Mondavi invented years ago for its barrel-aged sauvignons.) Received as a press sample.


Wine war of words on Twitter: Dressner v. Dexheimer on full disclosure

Anyone who Tweets about wine knows that there is a great deal of interesting content and comment to be mined on Twitter. The site is also a repository for self-serving, promotional and, yes, conflicted material being put out there in 140 characters or less. I use it to point out my stories on this blog, as do many other twitter_newbird_boxed_whiteonbluewine writers vis-à-vis their Web sites, blogs and other outlets. (Then  there’s the whole commercial side of the business that’s also vying for attention.) Transparency, of course, is key to one’s credibility in wine or any other kind of journalism. And Twitter is at least a quasi-journalistic vehicle, a place where writers, including professional journalists and many others, are disseminating information for public consumption.

But Twitter, like other social media forums, is not governed by editors, as traditional news and information outlets are. This lack of oversight is liberating on one hand but problematic on the other in that it is harder for the audience -- “followers” on Twitter – to known exactly where the writer is coming from. Yes, one can (and should) look at a “bio” on Twitter to understand the perspective and background of the Tweeter. But the bios only go so far, and the more I read about wine on Twitter, the more I feel that greater disclosure is needed, even in 140 words or less or, perhaps more to the point, precisely because a Tweet is 140 words or less.

What got me thinking about all of this was a fascinating exchange of Tweets in recent days between Joe Dressner, the well-known New York importer, and Fred Dexheimer, a master sommelier who is also a spokesman for wine trade groups, including Wines of Chile and the wines of South West France. (Full disclosure: I know both of them, having written about many Dressner wines over the years in my MSNBC.com column, and having moderated, for a fee, a panel discussion on the wines of South West France that included Fred Dexheimer.)

What appears to have started the exchange was this Tweet from Dexheimer:

FredDexMS (Juiceman)

@FredDexMS FredDexMS (Juiceman)

RT @astorcenter: Get recommendations on new and noteworthy warm weather wines from a Master Sommelier (@FredDexMS) http://bit.ly/fJJGH0

It quickly drew these Tweets from Dressner:


@joedressner joedressner

@FredDexMS Maybe it would be useful to note that you're being paid to write how awesome all these wines are?


@joedressner joedressner

@FredDexMS @astorcenter A Master Sommelier who is being paid by the producers to give the recommendations.

To which Dexheimer responded:

FredDexMS (Juiceman)

@FredDexMS FredDexMS (Juiceman)

@joedressner @mmWine Always transparent. Chile, SW France, Toro & many others r clients I work with. I even tweet about nonclients... ;-)

It continued:


@joedressner joedressner

@FredDexMS All I see from you is how awesome the wines are from producers that are clearly your clients, without you noting so. Shame.


@joedressner joedressner

@FredDexMS Where on the web does it say you are being paid for your commentary. Imagine, you bragging that you even recommend non-clients

FredDexMS (Juiceman)

@FredDexMS FredDexMS (Juiceman)

@joedressner I am the speaker for Wines of Chile (90 wineries) have been for 2 years now. I educate & promote 4 whole country! #lovemyjob


@joedressner joedressner

@FredDexMS Wow! Global domination! What other countries! All 90 wineries have good wine? Hard to imagine.

FredDexMS (Juiceman)

@FredDexMS FredDexMS (Juiceman)

@joedressner @joedressner I am the speaker 4 Wines of Southwest France (10 AOP's) have been for 2+ years now. I educate & promote #lovemyjob


@joedressner joedressner

@mmWine @FredDexMS Just be up front that you are being paid to give endorsements. That's all you need to do to keep your credibility.

It was one of the more healthy exchanges I have seen on Twitter, a useful reminder that when it comes to wine, as in many other things, it’s important to know where the Tweeter is coming from.

Sips: From organically grown grapes, an impressive line of $10 wines from Argentina

To be honest, I don’t taste a lot of $10 wines that get me excited, and so I had only modest expectations on opening a shipment of new releases the other night from Argentina. But Trapiche, the big  Mendoza winery, has done something right with the inauguration of a new brand called Zaphy. The wines, all from the 2010 vintage, are  made from organically grown grapes and zaphy include a torrontes, a malbec and a cabernet sauvignon, each with a suggested $9.99 retail price, which means it’s likely that you’ll find them for a bit less.

The torrontes is impressive and should be a hit among those looking for lighter but distinctive wines for summer drinking. Citrusy, with lemon and lime, a touch of vanilla and subtle flower and herb tastes, it’s especially noteworthy for the minerality on the surprisingly long finish. For Asian foods, especially sushi, salads and as a zesty aperitif. Alcohol is 13.5 percent.

The malbec, after a little aeration, shows lovely red berry fruit notes set against a subtle frame of oak with good complexity and tannic structure. Young and fruity, it’s style reminds me of Beaujolais. It should compete easily with comparably priced malbecs like the popular Altos Los Hormigos. Alcohol is 13.5 percent.

The cabernet, while a bit more generic, offers blackberry and spice aromas, a decent tannic structure and is preferable to many California cabs at this level. I am an advocate of organic and biodynamic methods, and these wines show how the power of a big winery can be harnessed to produce impressive results at a very modest price. And in case you were wondering about the word “zaphy,” it’s an indigenous word for “root,” “beginning,” or “origin.” Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, New York. Wines received as press samples.


Sips: A tasting reveals some exciting white wines from France’s Languedoc

I stopped off briefly yesterday afternoon at a media and trade tasting here in New York featuring the wines of Languedoc in southern France, the world’s largest wine-growing region. Languedoc is making a concerted effort these days to increase awareness of the region, which, despite its vast size and production, doesn’t enjoy the stature or popularity of many other French wine regions. And yet, the more I taste the wines – at least those beinlimouxg showcased in this country – the more I believe that consumers and the trade should pay more attention to them given their quality and attractive pricing.

At tasting events like this one – there were more than 60 wines  being poured – I like to zero in one or two appellations with an eye toward finding a few memorable wines. And so I made my way over to a table featuring the still white wines of Limoux, which is best known for its sparklers (Blanquette de Limoux and Crémant de Limoux). Most of these still wines, which are part of a new Grand Cru level in Languedoc, were chardonnays and reflected a range of styles, from crisply refreshing, lightly oaked examples (my preference) to those with a much more pronounced wood influence that will benefit from some bottle age to bring them into balance.

When I looked up the wines I liked on winesearcher.com, most  were under $20 and one was under $10, making them real values given their quality. Alas, availability seemed quite limited for these wines, but hopefully that will begin to change as they become better known. The first wine I tasted was actually not a chardonnay but a chenin blanc, Château Rives-Blanques 2008 “Dédicace,” $17, which was crisp, lemony and refreshing and would be a perfect accompaniment to shellfish. The chardonnays I preferred included a delicious 2008 example from Domaine de Mouscaillo, $22, which was racy with lime and exotic spice notes; Vignerons Sieurs d’Arques’ 2009 Toques et Clochers “Océanique,” $17, which showed citrus, green apple and vanilla notes; and the real bargain of the group, Domaine Astruc’s 2009 “d’A,” a subtle and complex blend of 95 percent chardonnay five percent mauzac, which I found listed for $9.

Selling these largely unfamiliar wines to a broader audience here in this country is going to take some work, but with their quality and attractive prices, the effort should be worthwhile and consumers will be the winners.


Swirls: A defense of genuinely cool-climate wines from a pioneering winemaker

Back in the 1970s, Louisa Hargrave and her husband Alex were the pioneers of wine on Long Island, proving that very good wine could be grown in the cool, maritime climate of Long Island’s East End, particularly the North Fork. Since then, a thriving  Hargrave-label2 industry has developed, with some 60  wineries growing grapes on thousands of acres that were once farmland. I partly attribute my own interest in wine to occasional visits to the Hargrave Vineyard in Cutchogue over the years and to tasting and enjoying many vintages of Hargrave wines.

A good number of the older wineries and vineyards in the region have changed hands, including Hargrave, and newer wineries have established roots in the region, perhaps most prominently Shinn Estate Vineyards in Mattituck, which is now producing some of the area’s most exciting wines and is a pioneer in its own right as the first Long Island property to move toward organic and biodynamic  farming.

As for Louisa Hargrave, she is now a consultant and writer (her 2003 memoir, ‘The Vineyard,” is worth reading), and what got me thinking about all this again was her most recent column in the Suffolk Times, the local North Fork newspaper. In it, she makes a compelling case for cool-climate wines from such regions as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Collio in northern Italy, the North Fork and genuinely cool-climate areas of California, where the so-called diurnal shift between the day’s hottest and coolest temperatures is least pronounced.

It is in these regions, she reminds us, that the most balanced wines are produced over long, even growing seasons -- wines not dominated by massive fruit (and alcohol), wines with good natural acidity that doesn’t require adjustment in the laboratory. Although “big” wines “often score high points with wine critics,” she says, “I often find something lacking in them. What’s lacking is energy — the very element that makes wine come alive on the palate, that makes it evolve as you drink it.” For me, such wines have what I like to call “soul” and provide a life-enhancing connection to the earth and climate from which they came. You know these wines when you taste them. They are robust but not overpowering, complex yet elegant, refreshing and also interesting. They are, in a word, irresistible.


Swirls: Wine news roundup -- resveratrol, India, Hong Kong, plastic bottles and poisoning Romanée-Conti

Indian wine

SWIRL: An update on the science of resveratrol. Benefits? Yes, but only  to a point. Wine Spectator.

SWIRL: India’s wine market explodes, with consumption projected to almost triple by the end of next year from  2008. Most of the wine is domestically made; importers are waiting for more favorable excise policies. Commodity Online.

SWIRL: There’s “auction fever,” meanwhile, in Hong Kong as Sotheby’s starts an eight-day sale, with more than $5 million spent on the first day. It all has a kid-in-a-candy shop feel. Bloomberg.

SWIRL: Bottling wine in plastic is growing in France to meet a perceived market demand, but there’s a huge debate over the practice from region to region. AFP has a good, in-depth look.

SWIRL: The plot to poison the world’s most famous vineyard is chronicled as a thriller in Vanity Fair.