Craft Beer Edition!

August 14, 2014

Richmond wine culture craft beer


There is a brand new beverage making the rounds here in Richmond, a beverage that is referred to as Craft Beer! “What is Craft Beer?” you might ask, “Is it different from the regular beer that comes in pitchers and cardboard suitcases?”

Craft Beer is about what’s in the glass, it teaches us history, geography, and culture one chug at a time.  Craft Beer is made by small, independent producers that utilize the finest purchased available ingredients. Craft Beer offers a multitude of flavors and styles that give the beer lover’s taste buds something to freak out about!  Enjoying Craft Beer allows the drinker to participate in something more important than themselves, America, community, camaraderie.


Recently I was invited to take part in a group tasting with like minded people who spend a lot of time together.  We were all asked to contribute some personal favorites to see how the different styles stacked up against one another.  This was a contest after all!  All styles of Craft Beer were there: Sweet Stouts, Session IPAs, Robust Porters, Ambers, Browns, Light Pales, Belgian-Styles, English Styles, Belgo-American styles, Barrel Aged, Hybrids!  Unconventional Brews with unorthodox additions, things like: chocolate, coffee, jalapeño, ginger bread, oolong tea, myrrh, marijuana, curry paste, salmon roe…the list goes on!

Here is a recap of the bottles I brought and my personal tasting notes with some additional Beer Whispering thoughts…

la perlette

Pascal Pibaleau “La Perlette”  11% ABV 25.36 oz.

1. Appearance

     *Color-SRM (Standard Reference Method): 15 SRM/dk. Amber with flashes of copper

     *Head: prickly bubbles, light and dance like (waltz?)

     *Carbonation Levels: natural, persistent

2. Aroma: clean, raspberry, clam shells

3. Flavor: coriander, orange peel zest

4. Mouthfeel: bright acidity, tart, refreshing

5. Overall Impressions: racy, perfect for picnics and horse shoes

Beer Whispering thoughts: Ancient fruitiness of a Belgian style, but not Belgian, something from a tradition,                                                                       honest and pure.  A fresh version of an old soul.  Misty virgin.


Bisson “Glera” Frizzante  11% ABV 25.36 oz.

1. Appearance

     *Color-SRM (Standard Reference Method): 3 SRM/straw

     *Head:  slight fizz, soft bubbles

     *Carbonation Levels: natural,  mermaid whispers

2. Aroma: clean, seaside lemon peel, Davy Jones Locker

3. Flavor:  mineral, plush peach, easy going, langoustine broth

4. Mouthfeel: soft acidity, broad citrus fruits

5. Overall Impressions: charming, honest,  incredibly refreshing

Beer Whispering thoughts:  Even the old man by the sea is capable of love.  While dreaming of an underwater affair he understood the mutual consent of pirate sodomy.

la roue qu tourne

Marie Thibault-Cabrit  “La roue qui tourne”  11% ABV 25.36 oz.

1. Appearance

     *Color-SRM (Standard Reference Method): 4 SRM/gold

     *Head:  firm, bubble pops, converting to fine mousse

     *Carbonation Levels: natural,  like a breeze from a doe and her fawn racing by

2. Aroma: clean, yeast, bread and biscuits, herbs, stone fruits

3. Flavor:  mineral, feltham beauty and magnum bonum apples, freestone peaches

4. Mouthfeel: bracing acidity, 40 second finish

5. Overall Impressions: wide ranging and rolling, adventurous yet versatile, dewy morning in a fairy forest

Beer Whispering thoughts:  People still use hotmail?



nouveau nez

La Grange Tiphaine “Le Nouveau Nez”  11% ABV 25.36 oz.

1. Appearance

     *Color-SRM (Standard Reference Method): 6SRM/deep gold

     *Head:  softly fizzy, unsweetened cotton candy texture

     *Carbonation Levels: natural,  old school propeller plane

2. Aroma: clean, fresh flowers, blackberries, golden raisin

3. Flavor:  mineral, subtly citrus, iron and earth,

4. Mouthfeel: full flavored but light and ethereal

5. Overall Impressions: unpretentious, easy and breezy, perfect as an apéritif or with chèvre cheeses

Beer Whispering thoughts:  “Are you going to finish that?  I might be done evaluating, should we talk about something else?”


Le Coste “Litrozzo”   11% ABV 33.8 oz.

1. Appearance

     *Color-SRM (Standard Reference Method): 9SRM/pale amber

     *Head:  scum, tangled filaments

     *Carbonation Levels: slight re-fermentation

2. Aroma: chalk, walnuts, dried apricots, little brettanomyces

3. Flavor:  basque cider, fresh valley stream, wheat beer, saison ale

4. Mouthfeel: volatile acidity, prickly, vibrant

5. Overall Impressions: strange, off-putting but fascinating, kept returning for more, best along salami and such, un-fined and un-filtered, sludgy

Beer Whispering thoughts:  Like a true craft beer, this one is also made in someones bathtub.  Untouched and un-messed with until time for bottling.


Next up, I visit a public Speakeasy to sample cocktails!



Pascal Pibaleau “La Perlette”  $18. A Vinotas Selection. Purchased at Saison Market.     

Bisson “Glera” Frizzante  $18. Imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchants. Purchased at Ellwood Thompson’s.

Marie Thibault-Cabrit  “La roue qui tourne” $24. Imported by Williams Corner Wine. Purchased at Barrel Thief. 

La Grange Tiphaine “Le Nouveau Nez”  $19. Imported by Potomac Selections.  Purchased at Ellwood Thompson’s.

Le Coste “Litrozzo” $19. Imported by Louis/Dressner Selections.  Purchased at J. Emerson Fine Wine.

I Hate Malbec

May 22, 2013

I hate malbec 1We use to order the House Red.  It didn’t matter what it was, we didn’t care, as long as it was cheap and juicy.  Then the House Red turned into Merlot.  It sounded exotic (the T silent), easy to say and definitely a French word.  Then Pinot Noir was discovered, even more exotic sounding (the T still silent) a little harder to say (not PEE-NO NO-er) and still definitely French sounding.  Usually you hear it shortened to just ‘Pinot’ (sorry Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot d’Aunis you never mattered).

i hate malbec 2

Somewhere and somehow in the last decade or so some shitty juice sneaked onto our wine lists and changed everything.  Enter Malbec.  It’s easier to say, has a strong accent on the second syllable, slightly mysterious and most importantly it’s really cheap and really juicy.

i hate malbec 3

Malbec (like Merlot and Pinot Noir) is actually a grape type that has been turned into a brand.  Straightforward, uncomplicated, sweet and plush,  Argentina spits out around 110 million bottles a year with the U.S. consuming a good chunk of it.  To meet our demand for fat, mono-chromatic, fruity and uniform wines, much of the Argentinian wine industry resorts to super high yield vineyard plantings where ultra-late harvests have sugar levels out of control.i hate malbec 4

To adjust the sugar levels, regular tap water is sometimes added to bring everything to an acceptable level for fermentation to start.  At some stage the wine has to be concentrated somehow, either through reverse-osmosis or evaporation.  Acidification is generously used to achieve a perceived sense of balance.  Cheap, industrialized wine production and a cheap U.S. dollar to Argentine Peso exchange rate will insure a constant flow of bland, viscous, headache inducing cocktail swill.  Even the expensive Malbecs are one dimensional, just gobs of more tutti-fruit and coconut oak.

i hate malbec 5

When a restaurant has a Malbec on their wine list it means that they are trying to insult you by underestimating your sense of taste.  Refuse their dumb offering and demand something better.

i hate malbec 6


Shut up Frenchy!  This has nothing to do with you!

Hold on a Second! You Tellin Me There’s Extra Special Wine Available In Richmond?

November 17, 2012

So I was out for my afternoon constitution when I came across this sign announcing a private tasting showcasing Virginia’s own all natural wine importer Williams Corner Wines.  I decided to sneak in.

The tasting took place at the popular eatery Acacia Midtown which was great because the wine list here could sure benefit from the incredible wines being showcased.

It all started with some delicate but assertive bubbles from the small seventh generation Champagne grower Laherte Frères.  A blanc de blanc (all Chardonnay) from a single Premier Cru vineyard… “La Pierre de la Justice”  got things going before a 2006 vintage 100 % Pinot Meunier (the third grape of Champagne) “Les Vignes d’Autrefois” and a 2004 “Prestige Millesime” came along and lovingly kicked my ass.  Laherte Frères organically farms just 10 hectares of vineyards spread over a crazy 10 different villages.  Each parcell is vinified separately.  Dosage is minimal, sometimes they allow malolactic fermentation to take place, sometimes they don’t.  They kind of simply let the wines be themselves.  

Look at this!  More Champagne from another wine grower!  This time a young 26 year old guy named Charles Dufour from the off the beaten path area of the Aube.  The Aube historically played second fiddle to the more famous northern areas of Reims and Épernay where a lot of the big production houses are. These days the Aube is home to more and more little grower producers that make distinctive and honest Champagnes.  First came an unusual 2009 Coteaux Champenois Pinot Blanc (Pinot Blanc is still allowed in Champagne but very uncommon these days), second a non-vintage Extra Brut “Ma Cuvee Maison” and third a no-dosage 2006 vintage Blanc de Blanc.  These Champagnes were spicy, wild and lush.

Moving along to some beauties from the Loire Valley… Fanny Breuil was on hand representing some wines from Genuine Wines showcasing selections from Domaine Marie Thibault-Cabrit that included a lovely, sprite rosé “Le Zeze”, a naturally fizzy Chenin Blanc “La roue qui tourne”, a reserve barrel fermented and aged Chenin “Premier Nez”, and the chuggable “Les grandes Vignes” which is a blend of Gamay and Côt (the local name for Malbec).  If you try these and love these you can email the wine grower, her Hotmail address is right on the label, how’s that for small production?

Then to Italy, Emilia-Romagna more specifically… some orange wines made an appearance.  The tiny 2 hectare white grape only estate Denavola specializes in tannic and chalky wines which are the result of several months long skin maceration.  Complex, weird and powerful they are sure to anger your dinner party.  Absolutely awesome.  The only thing cooler than a crowd pleasing wine is a wine that freaks crowds out.

If you like the funk…the 2004 Vino Da Tavola Rosso “Protoasciutto” from Tenuta Grillo provides plenty of it.  “Protoasciutto” is 100% Dolcetto from Monferatto, unlike any other Dolcetto I have tasted.  It was savage and robust, atypical hence the table wine designation.  I would love to take a bottle home if someone in Richmond actually carried it.  Retailers, restaurants, order some for the people.

People love wines from Hungary and people love cool labels, the high altitude Alpine wines of Peter Wetzer come from vineyards comprised mostly of black volcanic soil.  The 2009 Soprani Gemischter Satz “Sag” is made up of several different white grapes that are fermented together.  The red 2009 Soprani Kekfrankos (called Blaufrankisch in Austria) tastes of Autumn with fresh pepper and citrus.  The second red “Silberberg” is also 100% Kekfrankos and comes from old vines.  If you are looking for something different but still tasty you can’t go wrong with these cool weather honeys.

Cool, check it out!  The wines of Domaine du Pech from that area in Southwest France, Buzet, which is west of Toulouse and south of Bordeaux.  The three wines included La Badinerie du Pech which is an aristocratic blend of foot crushed Cabernet Franc, Merlot , and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Smooth, harmonious and exhilarating.   Maybe this is what Bordeaux kind of tasted like 300 years go?

Kevin McKenna was down from NY to help with the tasting representing wines from the Louis/Dressner portfolio (which he co-owns).  The portfolio started by the late Joe Dressner was one of the first ever to feature small production, all natural and traditionally farmed wines.  They are still carrying on his mission and thanks to Williams Corner we are able to enjoy their wines down here in  Virginia.

The big surprises of the day came from the active volcano Mt. Etna in western Sicily.  Salvo Foti is one of the leaders of the natural wine movement there crafting distinct wines from indigenous grapes Nerello Mascalese , Nerello Cappuccio, Alicante and an unknown hodge-podge mix of vines known as Francisi.  We all think of Sicily as being sun drenched and hot but in fact the high altitude area around Etna gets bitter cold in the winter.  The grape growing season is long with harvests taking place in October and early November.  The wines are traditionally and illegally made in Palmentos which are old stone structures where you basically take the grapes to a top level, crush them on the stone floor and slide them through a trap door into old wooden casks to let them ferment.  No electricity involved, only natural gravity.  There are hygiene concerns working this way but it contributes to the natural yeast that is present and adds to the character of the finished wine.  Don’t worry, healthy grapes that have healthy acidity will keep away the bad stuff.  There was 2010 Etna Bianco “Vinujancu”, a blend of Renano,Grecanico, Minella Bianca and Carricante which was complex, wild, and teeth shattering fresh, the two reds included a 2008 “Vinupetra” and tasted of bottled smoky meat.  Elegant and graceful.

Old favorites were here, energetic and meaty Côtes du Rhône Brézème , aromatic and grippy black fruited St Julien en St Alban both from Eric Texier.  Everyday chuggin “Frappato” from Tami, Friday night sippin “Il Frappato” from Occhipinti of Sicily.  Incredible and richly textured white Gambellara (Soave’s neighbor in the Veneto) from La Biancara di Angiolino Maule.  Crazy Slovenian Orange wine from Radikon…

and check this out!  A slightly fizzy Costadila 2010 Rosso dei Colli Trevigiani which comes from a Prosecco producer and happens to be 100% Merlot from vines that were ripped out last year.  The wine will no longer exist after the 2011 vintage.  You have never tasted a Merlot like this.

Also pouring was the big guys son, Jules Dressner.  He walked us through slick Valpolicello Ripasso and thick Amarone Classico from biodynamic producer Monte dall’Ora, more Etna Rosso from stunning Romeo del Castello and he also let us know about the return of 2 awesome German wine estates Knebel and Clemens Busch, both from Mosel.  These guys were part of the now defunct Mosel Wine Merchants portfolio and have found a new loving home at Louis/Dressner.  Both of the wines being sampled were bone dry, steely Trocken Rieslings, pretty minty and refreshing after the dense and powerful Amarone.

Well here we go again, more wines from Sicily!  Back to Mt. Etna, I Custodi produces only 2 wines, a white from Carricante, Minnella, and Grecanico called “Ante” (Etna spelled backwards, those clever Sicilians!) and a red “Aetneus” which is fat, ethereal and savory.  Also from Etna, a bianco and rosso from Ciro Biondi.  People compare the terroir driven wines of Etna to Burgundy but in reality they are their own beast.  They do have in common the finesse, mineral flavors and structure making them ideal to pair with all sorts of food.  Clean and balanced.  Speaking of volcanoes…Lipari, the island is part of a volcanic archipelago north of Sicily and home to Tenuta di Catellaro and soil heavy in pumice and obsidian.  The white made from Malvasia delle Lipari and Carricante grapes taste what I imagine pumice might taste like: stony but with a dose of fresh orange and lemon citrus.  The red from Corinto and Nero d’Avola Grapes is pleasantly ashy, tasting of red-rasberry fruit.

And bringing up the rear the final wines of the tasting were also from Sicily (!) this time the same place that the Italian-American Chicken Marsala recipe comes from…Marsala!  The western most point is home to the non-interventionalist wine growing of Nino Barraco.  The 4 wines represented were all 100% varietal wines…whites are Catarratto, Zibibbo, and Grillo, and the red from Pignatello.  All wines undergo spontaneous fermentation with indigenous yeasts without temperature control, a second malolactic fermentation sometimes happens, some of the wines rest on their lees and none of the wines are filtered or clarified.  Pretty exciting stuff.

Acacia had some good finger snacks and they showed well with the variety of wines,

The place was packed proving that Richmond wants honest wines from responsible vineyard stewardship.  We are lucky to have an importer/distributor like Williams Corner bring in these special reflections of viticultural heritage.  I guess our little city is pretty wine savvy after all.

Big Election Coming Up…Who Will Be King of Nebbioloville?

October 29, 2012

Transcript of the Oct. 2 debate between King of Italian wines, the 2008 Vietti Castiglione Barolo and its Chaptalized challenger, the 2008 Barboursville Nebbiolo Reserve, moderated by Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

Governor Bob McDonnell: Good evening, and welcome to the first and only Only Virginia Wine matters debate sponsored by the Commission on We Will Prove that Nebbiolo Grows Here. I’m Bob and I am honored to moderate this debate between two wines that are clearly in the same league.

At the beginning of each segment, I will ask both candidates a question, and they will each have two minutes to answer. Then I will encourage a discussion between the candidates with follow-up questions. By coin toss, it has been determined that the 2008 Vietti Castiglione Barolo will be first to answer the opening question.

We have a wonderful audience here tonight. You will no doubt celebrate the winner at the end of the debate and right now as we welcome the 2008 Vietti Castiglione Barolo and the 2008 Barboursville Nebbiolo Reserve. (Applause.)

Very nice to see you. Very nice to see you.

Governor Bob McDonnell:  The first question is for you 2008 Vietti Castiglione Barolo.  Top-down one-size-fits-all decision making should not replace the personal choices of free people in a free market, nor undermine the proper role of state and local governments in our system of federalism. As our Founders clearly stated, and we Governors understand, government closest to the people governs best. And no government program can replace the actions of caring Americans freely choosing to help one another. Can you get unemployment to under 6 percent, and how long before we have a reasonable amount of poor folk?

2008 Vietti Castiglione Barolo:  What the hell am I doing here?  Why do I need to defend myself from you people?  Jesus Christ why on earth would you think that you can even compete with a wine and a place that is steeped in centuries of tradition?  Barolo comes from the steep Langhe hills in Piemonte in Northern Italy.  Its cool weather and poor soils make the longest living of all Italian wines, dark, tannic, ethereal and haunting.  The wines take at least a decade to soften up, they will change your life!




Governor Bob McDonnell:  Bag of Sugar added 2008 Barboursville Nebbiolo Reserve your response?

2008 Barboursville Nebbiolo Reserve:  Wine critics have come to this estate in the conviction that Nebbiolo should not be grown outside of Piemonte, only to express disbelief that we are in North America. We are fortunate in the Virginia Piedmont’s Piemontese attributes; in our Piemontese winemaker’s second-generation sophistication in this grape’s demands in cultivation and in vinification; and in his associate winemaker’s experience in Nebbiolo vinification with one of Piemonte’s leading producers.

2008 Vietti Castiglione Barolo:  Holy mother of god!  Barolo comes from a special place, the grapes have a long growing season, they need a long time to ripen, no green flavor here!  We don’t have to add artificial tannin or acidify our wines.  Fuck!  We are the king of wines and the wine of kings!  Why don’t you stick to your indigenous Norton grape?  It is a little more mildew resistant than all the other crap you try to grow.  Who wants to drink wine made from pesticide sprayed vineyards?

Governor Bob McDonnell:  I want to move the questioning along…

2008 Barboursville Nebbiolo Reserve:  …we embrace the 60-gallon barriques of our Piemontese cooper, Gamba, crafted of the choicest oak from France’s annual forest auctions, air-dried for at least 3 years before coopering.

2008 Vietti Castiglione Barolo:  Again, another attempt to cover up shitty fruit with a lot of makeup…


Governor Bob McDonnell:   (Inaudible.)  Moving on…Besides the healthcare bill being unconstitutional and a great expansion of federal government, I think if it does not respect people’s individual religious views and makes groups or individuals do things that are contrary to their deeply held beliefs, there is going to be a visceral negative reaction.  How will you stand by and support Israel and at the same time secretly reassure our nation that you do in fact hate Jews?

2008 Barboursville Nebbiolo Reserve:  By all means, there is vigorous structure, gratifying complexity, telling varietal typicity, elegance, palate suavity, longevity and demonstrable beauty in the wines you will taste from this estate.  And there is history, too. This amiable, hunter-fisherman-soccer parent enfant terrible of viticulture in Virginia saw it coming, like destiny, flung as happily to stain a T-shirt as to make its mark in viticulture.

2008 Vietti Castiglione Barolo:  Barboursville is owned by the Zonin family out of Italy, they are the country’s largest wine company producing some 25 million bottles of wine yearly, most of it forgettable swill meant for the grocery stores.  Just because you can kind of grow Nebbiolo in Virginia why would you?

Governor Bob McDonnell:  I think the more we embrace the culture of life and respect life, the better that we do.  I don’t think the objective of an abortion clinic is to try to talk women out of having the procedure. That obviously would not be positive for their bottom line.  Informed consent is required for every invasive medical procedure, from getting your ears pierced to having an abortion.  When we say that “we believe marriage is a union between one man and one woman” don’t we really want to say “we hate fags!”?

2008 Barboursville Nebbiolo Reserve: Barboursville tirelessly studies the selection and preparation of vineyard sites; identification of rootstocks, grape clones, and trellising systems; and techniques of year-round canopy management, with the result – frankly – of establishing the most vintage-versatile vineyard in the region. Readying the vineyard constantly for the best conceivable season, has only meant dramatically enhancing every vintage.  Mi chiamo Paschina, Luca. And I am a Virginian.

2008 Vietti Castiglione Barolo:  I am sorry, you seem like nice people and all but I can not agree with what or why we are debating here.  Barboursville is not Barolo, shit it is not even Valtellina!  I don’t think you understand what Barolo is, or have never tasted Barolo in a proper context.  Sweet, soft, flabby, vanilla fruit flavors will always win over dry, earthy and structure in a blind taste test.  Why not sit down with a bottle and enjoy it over the course of an evening with some braised beef and a rich polenta, perhaps decant it.  Buy a case and check in with it every year for 12 years, it will evolve nicely gathering weight and intensity, developing a complex bouquet as it ages.

Governor Bob McDonnell:  Well then this will conclude this debate. Vietti forfeits so Barboursville clearly is the winner.  I’m Governor Bob Mcdonnell. I do hope all of you go to the polls. Have a good evening. (Applause.)

Perfect Pairings

September 10, 2012

When it comes to wine and food pairings you need to study the art and science of sophisticated flavor components to be able to  comprehend all the complicated systems required for the enjoyment of fine dining.

Be very aware, for this is in fact something similar to rocket science.  Thankfully rigorous guidelines have been developed to facilitate successful wine-and-food pairings.

In this case we are examining the chemical make up of the worlds most popular Chardonnay based beverage: Rombauer!

The Carneros sourced Rombauer Chardonnay is the style of wine that the majority of Americans gravitate towards.  Its honeyedew, yellow peach and fig body supported by vanilla and carmel frame make it nearly impossible to pair with haute cuisine.

Thankfully the pain reliever Vicodin (a combination of two analgesic products hydrocodone and paracetamol) is a natural and available narcotic that binds opiod receptors in the brain and spinal cord that pairs beautifully with the tropical fruit laden oak menace that is Rombauer Chardonnay.


Whether a special occasion with that someone you thought was special 8 years ago or after a busy day pretending to play tennis,


Rombauer Chardonnay and Vicodin fuse together the same way  an intended parent recruits the help of a young, healthy gestational surrogate egg donor to create a family.

The rich and lush and buttery and silky fruit-forward Rombauer Chardonnay is the perfect counterpoint to the desirable effects of euphoria, drowsiness, depressant effects on the central nervous system and slowing of the pulse which are all positive components of the semi-synthetic opioid analgesic Vicodin pill.

The constipation, dry mouth, decreased appetite, yellowing of eyes and skin, bruising, stomach pain, dizziness, decreased sex drive and muscle twitches side effects of Rombauer Chardonnay should be no deterrent to the powerful zing of the orally taken or crushed up insufflated snorted or liquid extracted rectally syringed Vicodin pill.

If no Vicodin or second rate  analgesic or recreational heroin is available to you; science has also concluded that a late night viewing of “Gladiator”can be a reasonable substitute.

Speaking of Bubbles… Part Two

July 13, 2012

There is a lot of average to shitty Prosecco out there.  That is ok I guess since most Prosecco is meant for aperitivo hour in Italy, just something to casually drink alongside little finger snacks at the local bar before sitting down to dinner where the serious wine drinking and eating begins.  Some people even desecrate Prosecco by pouring peach purée into it, something called a Bellini, supposedly this is a popular cocktail around the world, I don’t believe it.  Prosecco should be meant for better things.

To review, Prosecco is a sparkling wine from Italy, more specifically the Veneto area in the Northeastern corner of the country (where Venice is).  Most of the production takes place in the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, just south of the Alpine mountains.  Prosecco is not Champagne, Prosecco is Prosecco.  Prosecco is made mostly from Glera grapes, also known as Prosecco grapes.  The bubbles in most Prosecco happen when you add sugar and yeast to still wine and let it re-ferment in a pressurized steel tank.  The yeast eats the sugar making alcohol and that gives off  CO2 gas which cannot escape the vat and it is all bottled under pressure.   This is called the Charmat Method or Metodo Italiano or Metodo Charmat-Martinotti (Named after a French guy who perfected an Italian’s invention).  This is a quicker, easier way to make sparkling wine and it is cheaper, and it can be done on a massive scale.

There are many great examples of inexpensive Prosecco produced in the Charmat Method that everyone should chug down, but I want to tell you about an extra special Prosecco that is made the old fashion way.

Christian Ca’ Dei Zago of the farm Ca’ Dei Zago crafts some of the coolest Prosecco from just 4 hectares of vines.  His idea is to guide the grapes from harvest to bottle with no extra energy.  This means no pesticides in the soil, no machine harvest, no extra sulphites are added, no commercial yeasts, all the wine is gravity fed.  The secondary fermentation takes place in each bottle (which Christian bottles by hand) with no dosage (sugar and yeast).

Instead the wine is bottled with a bit of residual grape sugar that eventually re-ferments on its own making lightly textured bubbles.  There is no filtration and no disgorgement (where the sediment is removed and an additional sugary-syrupy mix of wine is added and a cork is shoved in).  This sparkling wine is lively and chalky, lemon zesty and bone cracking dry.  You could start a meal with it for sure but it would easily carry all the way through a butter and cream rich meal.

Delicious, delicious noble lees, embrace them.  Think of them as flavor crystals.

Ca’ Dei Zago “Col Fondo” (with sediment) Prosecco di Valdobbiadene . $20. Imported by Williams Corner Wine.

How Do Those Bubbles Get in There? Part One: The Champagne Method

June 21, 2012

Trap an angel, close them in a bottle of still wine, their last gasp of air will create bubbles.  This was the traditional way to do it before running completely out of the heavenly creatures.  Nowadays there are basically 3 ways to get fizz into a drink…

1. Dissolve carbon dioxide gas into liquid and bottle it under pressure (soda pop, sparkling water).

2.  Add sugar and yeast to a big pressurized and sealed vat of still wine to induce a secondary fermentation then bottle it under pressure (Prosecco and other inexpensive sparkling wine).  Called the Charmat Method.

3.  See below!

Take healthy grapes that you or someone else grew…

Crush them somehow…

Add yeast, whether it’s ambient (living on or around the grapes, that white powder stuff on grapes is yeast) or commercially prepared…

Get the fermentation going, yeast strains eat the sugar in grapes and turns it into alcohol giving off carbon dioxide.  Carbon dioxide escapes into the air…

The resulting wine can rest for a while…

Once the still wine is finished it can be bottled with the addition of…

A mixture of syrupy beet or cane sugar and another yeast strain…

Cover it with a crown cap (like on a soda bottle) to trap the secondary fermentation.  The sugary syrup turns into alcohol and the resulting carbon dioxide gas cannot escape!…

The yeast strains that get turned into alcohol turn into sediment and cloud up the wine.  Sometimes it is removed by the process of Riddling.  This is when bottles are placed into this A-frame thing and gently turned and rotated over a few weeks time to get the sediment into the neck of the bottle…

Sometimes the neck gets quickly dipped into frozen salt water so that the sediment holds together in one nice clump…

Then either by hand or with a machine the crown cap is popped off quickly (Disgorgement) and the sediment shoots out from the trapped gas…


Sometimes the bottle is quickly topped off with the same wine or a mixture of wine and more sugary syrup stuff (called Dosage) to balance out the dryness…

Then a cork is shoved in…

A little wire cage protects your eyes from getting accidentally poked out…

Then the bubbles get transferred into you making you happy.

Rosé-a-Palooza at J. Emerson Fine Wine

May 25, 2012

“I have full confidence in your pink, devotion to pink, and skill in pink. We will accept nothing less than full on pink. Good luck, and let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty pink upon this great and noble tasting.” ~General Dwight D. Eisenhower giving the P-Day order.

The invasion has begun.  Pink wine is flowing in all the fine establishments throughout the city.

J. Emerson Fine Wine and Cheese dropped the pink bomb recently with their 6th annual Rosé-a-Palooza wine tasting.  A total of 16 wines were being poured representing about every wine producing country.

The staff was victorious in converting the non-pink drinking masses with generous pours of fine-dry, elegant and aromatic examples.  There are still preconceived notions out there that all pink wine is sweet.  Some of the standouts were the Schnaitmann Evoé! rosé trocken from the German region of Württemberg.  Württemberg is Germany’s fourth largest wine producing area with most of the production there being red.  Evoé! is a blend of Spätburgunder, Schwarzriesling, Trollinger, and Portugieser.  It was linear and citrusy, focussed and complex.  Evidently the wine completely sold out that night, there is no more left in the country.  Also being poured was one of my favorite go-to producers, Domaine des Terrisses of Gaillac produces a rich and gamey pink wine that is great with grillin.   An assemblage of Syrah, Braucol, Duras, this wine delivers a lot of character and is a great value.

David of Potomac Selections was there helping out with some of the heavy hitters from The Neal Rosenthal portfolio.  One of the prettiest being Domain du Bagnol’s rosé from the Mediterranean village of Cassis.  The wine could transport you to the tiny fishing village with its salmon colored hue, berry, mineral and silky mouthfeel.  Also Domaine du Bagnol’s Provençal neighbor was hanging out, Commanderie de Peyrassol is one of the more historic estates in the area dating back to the 13th century.  The wine is a classic example of Provence and one that should be on tap at your home.  Full bodied, briskly alert and energetic.

Perhaps the most polarizing pink wine of the event was the Gigondas rosé from Domaine du Gour de Chaulé.  The village of Gigondas, located in the southern part of the Côtes du Rhône was long considered the poor man’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  Gour de Chaulé uses traditional wine making methods and minimal intervention to produce wines that are classic and true to the Gigondas appellation.  Big, bursting dark fruit that is brambly and bawdy, this wine needs saucisson or chipolatas to tame its structure.  Not a sissy rosé .

Jeff from all natural Williams Corner Wine was also pouring and knows all about great, honest wine.  Domaine Les Fouques from the  Maures des Massif, part of the Provence coastal ranges, is a biodynamic estate that grows wines that are in perfect harmony with stars, earth, and animal poop and they are delicious.  The Rosé Tradition is balanced by soft fruit and a refreshing, chalky minerality.  Probably the most obscure wine region being represented was Fiefs Vendéens which is situated where the Loire and the Aquitaine regions meet.  J. Mourat is a large organic estate that produces a wide variety of wines.  Their Collection Rosé is a lovely blend of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Négrette.  Everyone seemed to enjoy its pleasant bitter cranberry and black currant quality.  Also how could one resist the weird shaped bottle with the cute owl on the label?  The other standout was from Château Cambon which I guess is sort of in Beaujolais, located in a no man’s land between the crus of Morgon and Fleurie.  The property was bought by Marcel and Marie Lapierre  with Jean Claude Chanudet of Domaine Chamonard back in the 90’s.  The Lapierres and Chanudet are Beaujolais all stars that helped veer the region away from crappy Duboeuf nouveau by incorporating organic farming and natural grape vinification to make wines that really express a sense of place.  The wine is feisty and smells of tobacco and plums, throw a chicken in the oven!

Stock up on pink wine now before it is gone, all the cool kids are drinking it.

Dogs love it as well.

J. Emerson Fine Wine 

5716 Grove Avenue

Richmond, Virginia 23226

Let Us Have Date Night…At Garnett’s!

May 23, 2012

The bestest, most charming dining room in Richmond has one of the bestest dinner deals.  Garnett’s Cafe serves some of the great sandwiches of the city all day and all night, you and your date can enjoy two of them with a solid bottle of wine for 30 bucks.  The wine list is short, versatile and appropriate.  3 whites, 1 pink, 3 reds.

Virginia is represented with a couple of chaptalized offerings.  Never had anything from Gabrielle Rausse so I can’t turn my nose up at them but The Wineworks Viognier  from Michael Shaps is charming and fresh enough to enjoy alongside a Turkey and cheese sandwich on that ass kicking Boston brown (molasses) bread.  Michael Shaps is kind of a Virginia wine making hero, he also oversees wine production in a famous wine growing region in France, a place called Burgundy, more specifically a place in Burgundy called Meursault.

From the Languedoc: Sensation Gourmande is a varietal bottling line from Domaine de Bellemare, the Chardonnay is clean and correct and can happily be drunk alongside some Scuffletown Chicken Salad.

For pink they did have the Prieuré Saint Hippolyte Rosé from the wine coop Les vignerons de Fontès for a while.  Refreshing, mineral and fruity, also from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, great with…well anything.

Staying in the Languedoc (wow, great values and easy drinking fun, people take notice!) more specifically Saint-Chinian, Calmel + JJoseph produces fruit forward resinous wines with plenty of woodland aromas.  Saint-Chinian wines are great with the Roast beef and Anchovy sauce.

Domaine Mucyn grows Syrah which is the most manly grape in the world and blends it with the most woosy Gamay grape to make a wine that can be enjoyed by everyone. Vin de Pays Collines Rhodaniennes refers to wines produced in a sub-area around the Rhône river valley.  Domaine Mucyn has vineyards located in St. Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage in the Northern part of the Côtes du Rhône which neighbors the home of some of the best Syrah wines in the world.  The wines smell like smoked meats and herbs and are perfect with The Big Daddy!

Who doesn’t want 3 different kinds of animals (plus bacon) piled between toasted bread for dinner?

A little Bordeaux from Château Lestrille rounds out the list if you want to partake in the Meatloaf sandwich.  Get it with the garlic aioli.

Garnett’s has had some other fun wines that are great to dine with: Ventoux from Rhône producer Xavier Vignon, Merlot from the organic estate Château de Brau, and chuggable terroir driven wines from Laurent Miquel.  They have done a nice job with keeping their wine selection affordable and adventurous yet easy enough for the non-wine geek to find something that would make em happy.  Take your date out on a weeknight for a casual eating and drinking experience, drink more wine with dinner.

There are free mints available so your spouse won’t suspect a thing.

Garnett’s Cafe


2001 Park Ave.

Richmond, VA

Damnit Can Can, Think of the Mission!

April 12, 2012

Richmond is lucky to have its own Brasserie. Can Can is lovely, the zinc bar is fun to hang out at, it’s a great pick up joint, the baguettes are good, food is solid…The wine list?  The selections are top notch, esoteric yet crowd pleasing, adventurous in covering lesser known regions and traditional by representing the classics.

There is one thing that Can Can could do better, get rid of their ridiculous wine list markups!

Here is how a restaurant markup generally works (and we all expect to pay a bit more as compared to a retail wine shop) a bottle is purchased at wholesale cost from a distributor (at the same price a retail shop would buy it-Virginia law) then a restaurant marks it up by 3 times.  This markup is accepted because you are paying for that wine to be stored and served.  Richmond has an added  dining tax of 11%. You also pay for restaurant ambience and wine markups help substantiate food costs.

Can Can’s markup is 4 to 5 times the normally accepted average.  This should be unacceptable, hardly even New York City or D.C. tack on that much to wines.

Here are some examples from their online list…

2010 Marcillac “Lo Sang Del Pais” fer servadou (Phillipe Teulier)….34

One of my favorites, I can buy it retail for 12 bucks.  I bet wholesale is around $8.  8 x 3 = 24.

2010 Côtes-du-Rhône Domaine Roger Perrin……42

Entry level, basic lip smacking beauty from Roger Perrin, you can find it for $15 at multiple retail spots.  Probably wholesales for $10.  10 x 3 = 30.

2008 Crozes-Hermitage “Les Galets” Domaine des Haute Chassis……70

Elegant and spicy red from the northern Rhône.  At shops for $25, probably wholesales for $17.  17 x 3 = 51.

2009 Vin de Savoie Jongieux jacquère Eugène Carrel…..34

Crisp, easy sippin and versatile white wine.  Look for it for $10!  Wholesale for perhaps $6-7?  6 x 3 = 18, 7 x 3 = 21!!

2009 Beaujolais Blanc “Terres Dorées” Jean-Paul Brun…..49

Jean-Paul Brun, superstar in all natural Beaujolais.  $16 retail, $11 wholesale.  11 x 3 = 33.

and so on….

Sure, we can ask “Can Can is always packed, why should they tinker with their pricing?” or  say “The space is gorgeous and in a high rent district”, but I bet if they had fair pricing they would move twice as much wine.  Regular folk would be more inclined to try wines from less familiar areas, Can Can wouldn’t sit on over the hill vintages (a lot of their wines should be consumed on the younger side), people would discover wines like Marcillac and open up a whole new world for consumer taste making our little city a sophisticated and wine savvy paradise.

Next time you dine at Can Can, write on the little comment card that they give you with the bill,

“Love your cozy restaurant and your food is swell, but your wine list markup is way too much.” 

Or something to that effect.