Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

What’s Wrong With Bordeaux? part 39

May 27, 2011

We all know Bordeaux has a lot of stupid problems, thanks to the English it is France’s largest and most fruitful wine region cranking out  70 million cases a year.  Catering mostly to douchebags in silk suits and small cocks, Bordeaux tries to outdo itself every decade by declaring about every other vintage “the vintage of the century!” It happened in 2000, it REALLY happened in 2005, 2009 and now REALLY, REALLY 2010!   Every new batch of juice invites critics to come and taste en primeur (tasting out of the barrel) before anything has been blended and put into bottle.  Then after a bunch of back scratching and masturbation all the First Growths (and Second Growths) get to declare how great their wine is and then proceed to ask ridiculous prices for their bottles (at least you get a cool wood case with the purchase of 12!).  Does this practice really indicate what the finished wine will represent?  Can these critics really get a sense of how the wine will age?

Eric Asimov of the New York Times just featured a tale of two exhatled critics disagreeing on the 2010 en primeur tasting of the famous Château Pavie of St.-Émilion.  Basically Robert Parker blew his wad on it and said something like “It is hedonistic and monumental! Two Gazillion points!”  John Gilman said something akin to “It sucks and I would not rinse shit out of my mouth with it!”.  Which critic is right?  Whose taste palette do you trust most?  How will you know if you should spend $200 bucks on a bottle of Château Pavie?  I think all of this arm chair wine rallying can be nonsense.  Don’t let these crusty old historic estates ruin your perception of France’s most famous wine region.  There are better ways to spend your hard earned inheritance.  Bordeaux has plenty of little guys making honest and true wine that won’t rape your bank account.

Here we have a classic right bank Bordeaux with rich, dark fruit and fat, structured round tannin.  The 2005 Château Villars of Fronsac.  The town of Fronsac is made up of mostly hillside vineyards on top of well draining soil with large amounts of clay-limestone on top of large amounts of chalk.  The Merlot grape is rightfully at home here producing tough guy and full bodied wines.  Château Villars is a 7th generation family estate growing pristine fruit and vinifying clean, delicious Bordeaux.  I had it with some Camembert and Gruyère cheeses on a Flour Garden baguette purchased from Belmont Butchery … and some roasted turnips tossed in brown butter, garlic, sage and thyme.  Perfect for a Wednesday evening.  There are many other great examples of thoughtful, hand made, traditional Bordeaux available to you right here in Richmond.  Leave the Latours and the Lafite-Rothschilds to the trophy hunters.

2005 Château Villars-Fronsac.

Imported by Wine Traditions

$24 at J.Emerson Fine Wine

Sulfites Will Steal Your Children In the Middle of the Night-BE AFRAID!

May 10, 2011

Sulfites are not dangerous or scary, this is still a myth in the wine world.  Sulfites  (sulphur dioxide, SO2) are natures antioxidant and are naturally produced when yeasts ferment.  All bread has them, grapes have them, dried fruits have them, anytime you cut into an apple you find them, even your own stomach produces them when it breaks down food.  Anything that rots produces them.  Those little juice boxes that kids drink have them as well.  

The Romans and the Greeks used to burn sulphur candles inside their empty wine vessels to cleanse and sterilize them.  This helped to keep the newly vinted wines fresh and stable.  Winemakers these days, in addition to naturally occurring sulfite compounds, use sulphur dioxide usually in gas form to prevent microbial growth so the wine will last longer and not just turn to vinegar.  It can be applied to just picked grapes so they don’t prematurely rot.  During the crush faze it can be used to keep ambient yeasts from burning off before commercial yeasts are thrown in.  They can be added to stop the fermentation process or to avoid malolactic fermentation. It is also used during bottling to help preserve the juice. If a winery is spotless and germ free and the resulting wines are consumed young the extra addition of sulfites are not completely necessary.

Sulfites do not cause headaches.  If you are severely asthmatic and have a severe allergic reaction to a sulphur dose 100 times more than what you find in wine then you will develop respiratory distress.  This affects less than 1 percent of the population. Headaches are most likely caused by dirty equipment used in the manufacturing of mass-produced wines, or perhaps over consumption. Have food and water with wine, this will help with the headaches, plus you will enjoy it more.

So go ahead and ignore the Reagan era “contains sulfites” phrase that appears on your wine label.  You can’t avoid the sulfites, the sulfites will eventually get you.

How to Decipher German Wine Labels

April 21, 2011

“I don’t read German!  How the hell am I supposed to know what I’m drinking?”

The Germans produce some of the best wines in the world and the language of their labels can give you a pretty good indication of what’s in the bottle.  It can be complicated and confusing but also endlessly fascinating, a wine region so vast and varied cannot be generalized by some kind of simplification.

For the most part you will encounter two categories of wines…

Qualitätsweine mit Prädikat (QMP)

“Quality wines with special attributes”

This refers to ripeness levels in grapes, or at what stage the grapes are picked.

Kabinett-lightest wines, first picked from the main harvest.

Spätlesea bit fuller bodied, means “late Harvest”.

Auslese-very ripe, “select harvest”,sometimes the grapes have the noble rot-super concentrated sugars (botrytis).

Beerenauslese (BA)-grapes are affected with botrytis, made into dessert wines.

Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA)-“dry berry selection”, overly ripe, dried up raisony grapes reserved for powerful dessert wines.

Eiswein-made from grapes of at least a Beerenauslese ripeness that have been naturally frozen on the vine.

Within this category you will see…

Trocken-meaning “dry” meaning all of the sugar has been fermented into alcohol.

Halbtrocken-meaning “Half dry” or not all of the sugar has been fermented into alcohol.

So you might see a “Kabinett Trocken” label indicating it is light and dry.  Or “Spätlese Halbtrocken” meaning full bodied and rich.  Sometimes you will come across “Auslese Trocken”, bone dry, tart and steely.

Qualitätsweine mit Prädikat (QMP) wines cannot have the artificial addition of sugar (chaptalization).

The other category…

Qualitätswein (QBA)

“Quality wine”

The wines are from a specific wine-growing region with approved grape types.  These wines may be chaptalized (the good producers don’t).  Generally meant for everyday enjoyment.  Trocken and Halbtrocken appear on these labels as well.

Finally got that all figured out but… “What about all that VDP nonsense?  What do those letters mean?  I don’t see the above stuff on those labels as much?”

Verband Deutscher Qualitäts- und Prädikatsweingüter (V D P)

“The Association of German Quality and Prädikat Wine Estates”

The wine growers associated with this group must practice organic and sustainable farming, only use grapes associated with the area, must farm low yields, cannot chaptalize, and can only use natural wine making techniques.  They are all about the preservation and acknowledgement of Germany’s finest vineyard sites.

You will find three catagories here…

Gutsweine (house wines), labeled with a proprietary, village or regional name.

Klassifizierte Lagenweine (wines from a classified/superior vineyard site), labeled with a vineyard site name.

Erste Lage (wines from a top site-Grosses Gewächs-“Great Growth or Grand Cru” look for the “GG”), labeled with a vineyard site name and the super vineyard site logo…

either in print or embossed on the bottle.

Some examples and some further notes…

“Selbach-Oster” is the wine estate. “Zeltinger” is the town, “Schlossberg” is a single vineyard site.  “Riesling” is the grape.  “Kabinett” is the level of ripeness.  You can see that it is a “Qualitätsweine mit Prädikat (QMP)” wine. “Gutsabfüllung” is a very important word, it means “Estate Bottled”.  “Weingut” means winegrower, also important. “D-54492 Zeltingen” is the address of the estate.  “L-AP. NR 2 606 319 011 07” is the official tasting number that indicates where the wine was approved, what village the producer comes from, the code number of the wine grower, the wine growers application number and what year it was approved. Then under that you see some shit about sulfites.  “Mosel-Saar-Ruwer” is the wine growing region where this wine comes from, Mosel is the main river, Saar and Ruwer are tributaries.  The “9,5 % vol” tells us there is some residual sugar in the bottle (a fully fermented dry wine will be around 11-12 %).

You can see the same language on Peter Lauer’s bottle.  “Steillage” means steep vineyard sights, “Handverlesen” means handpicked.  You won’t see these terms on many wine labels.  Peter Lauer happens to be a super star.  Notice “Qualitätswein”.  The “alc 12% vol” means this wine is not going to have much residual sugar.

“QMP”.  Müller-Catoir has been growing wines since 1744.  They are part of the VPD business.  This wine is labeled with a superior site name.

Emrich-Schönleber is also part of the VPD.  This is one of their entry level “house wines”.  “Trocken” means dry. “Nahe” is the region.

“Ratzenberger” is the estate.  “Steeger St. Jost” is a single vineyard site, “Spätlese” ripeness, “Trocken”, fermented dry.

“Feinherb”????  -A term that means the wine is trapped between Halbtrocken and Trocken.  You don’t see it very often.  Basically the wine has some sugar but the acidity is very prevalent.
Just for fun here is a Riesling from the French side (It’s all the same wine growing area).  “Alsace” is the place, in Alsace they alway label the grape varietal.  “Herrenweg” is a single vineyard site.  “Mis en bouteille au Domaine” or “Estate Bottled”, is super important in French wines, it means that the same person grew the grapes and made the wine.  You can also see Barmes’s address.  A real couple of people are responsible for this wine!

This wine comes from a place, “Rheinhessen” and has some guys name on it.  It tells you that it is “Refreshing Crisp” and “White”.  It doesn’t tell you much else.  What does “Sichels Superiour Vinification” mean?  What are they vinifying?  How are they vinifying it?  Blue Nun is sold in over 100 countries around the world.  The United Kingdom alone consumes 5 million bottles of the stuff a year.  This brand and several others like it have helped hurt Germany’s wine image.  Stay away from Blue Nun.

German wines are meant for people with higher IQ’s.  It is a fact.  Smart people drink them and by drinking them you become smarter.  When reading German wine labels– or any region’s wine labels– the most important thing to look for is who grew the grapes and where, and who turned the grapes into wine.


April 13, 2011

Acid in wine is essential if you want balance.  Acid means body in wine, the stuffing that holds it all together.  Healthy ripe grapes mean acids develop slowly and fully and are balanced out by an acceptable amount of sugar.  Sugar gets turned into alcohol during the fermentation process.  Grapes that are overly ripe with way too much sugar can not develop good acidity, leading to an unbalanced, flabby wine.  Too  much hang time on the vine, too much sunshine.

Grapes that are not fully ripe haven’t developed much acidity and not enough sugar leading to a tart, high toned wine.  Not enough hang time, not enough sun(or rain, or warmth, or whatever it is that makes fruit ripe).

Acidity is necessary to give a wine freshness, it also protects the wine from bacterial infection.  When people talk about acidity in wine it does not mean you are about to suck on a lemon.

Adjusting acid in wine is best done before and during the fermentation process.  It allows better integration of flavor and aroma and is easier to control the integration.  Tartaric acid (which is naturally present in grapes) is best added at the beginning stage because it  does not become susceptible to lactic acid (the milk, dairy, creamy textured acid) easily and will not lower the quality as much to a finished wine.  Too much tartaric acid will crystalize and separate from the wine anyway, leaving it split and hollow.  Citric acid is the cheapest and most prone to bacterial infection.  It can be added at the end of fermentation and stabilization to give the wine  a perceived “zippiness”.  Malic acid (also one of the natural acids found in grapes) is rarely added because for one it is expensive and it can easily become infected with dirty microbes.  Malic acid is very tart on the tongue but is desirable for wines that have plans to incorporate an inoculation of a bacteria to transform it into lactic acid (the milk, dairy, creamy textured acid) this gives the wine a round, buttery, soft mouth feel.

In a perfect world, in a perfect climate, in a perfect soil; responsible, healthy, fanatical farming will produce healthy ripe grapes and a wine grower will not have to deal with all this acid business.

All Natural Bargain

April 4, 2011

Heads up: If you have $9 or $14 or all together $23 then here is one bottle or another bottle or two bottles that you should not pass up this month…  Got that?

2008 Château d’Oupia Les Hérétiques Vin de Pays de Herault, $9.  Imported by Louis/Dressner Selections.

2009 Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie Clos des Briords, $14.  Louis/Dressner Selections.

Château d’Oupia is located in Minervois, a wine region that is part of the larger Languedoc-Roussillon located in the south of France.  Château d’Oupia is situated much higher than most of the flat, mass-producing wasteland of the Languedoc.  The higher elevation and cool winds from the Mediterranean helps give their wines a freshness that backs up the big style fruit most associated with the area at large. André Iché of the Family Iché (it says so on the bottle) has always bottled wine that he grew himself from old vines.  He used to sell his finished wine to a local négociant who would in return slap his own label on it and sell it off in bulk.  Back in the 80’s André was convinced to start selling his own wine under his own label and has since become one of the leading wine growers of Minervois.

Les Hérétiques (named after some part of the Crusades) is the perfect any night of the week wine.  On the table is it extremely versatile but shows best next to olive oil, tomato sauces, wild aromatic herbs and grilled meats.  Try it with boeuf à la gardiane.  Comprised mostly of Carignan and Syrah, the wine is full bodied, earthy and rustic.

You can find it at J. Emerson Fine Wines for $9.  A steal.

Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine is located in the Loire Valley of western, central France.  The Loire river that runs east and west through the valley splits off into two tributaries, one is called Sèvre Nantaise and the other La Maine, that is where this wine comes from.  Clos des Briords comes from a patch of vines that were planted in 1930.  The soil is deeper than most of the other vinyard sites and is composed of well draining clay and silica over a subsoil of granite.  The Muscadet area as a whole sees a lot of rain which can bring on rot, so unless you want to employ fungicide spray against mildew, good drainage is critical for grapes to reach optimal ripeness.   The vinification happens two hours after harvest in cool, stainless steel tanks.  The wine then ages on its lees (residual yeasts, leftover yeasts, spent yeasts, what Sur Lie means) for eight months before being bottled.  Drunk young it is very mineral and tight but with a few years aging it can really blossom, gaining power, weight and a floral bouquet.  It is showing lovely now. Of course Muscadet is the choice wine for oysters and all kinds of sea food.  The crisp, bright acidity also matches up nice with cream and butter based dishes.

You can find it at J. Emerson Fine Wines for $14.  Also a steal.

Check out the back labels, a sign of quality, if you are into that kind of thing.

Learn All About Sheep Cheese

April 3, 2011

Dany’s Cheese Class at …


Ellwood Thompson’s Cafe


Monday, April 4th, 2011

6-7 pm

5 dollars

Stemware: Why We Should Give a Damn

April 3, 2011

With all the gadgets related to wine and wine consumption the only real important component you need to spend your hard earned money on is good to great stemware.  Why don’t we just drink straight from the bottle?  Why are wine glasses shaped the way they are, and why are there so many different shapes? Before the wine enters your mouth the aromas need to enter your nose.  The bouquet of a wine is just as important as the taste. Great wine is complex and always changing, both in smell and taste.  You taste with your nose as much as you do with your tongue.  That is why the shape of your stemware is so important. You need that bell shape to capture aroma.  You need something that is large enough to make a swirl, introducing air into your wine to let it improve and wake it up from its slumber.   No you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on Riedel.

You just need something that is appropriate.   Just as important to white wines as it is to red wines.

You will see glasses for Bordeaux style wines…

meaning full bodied and tannic (including Brunello di Montalcino, Bandol, Priorat, Napa Cab, etc…).

You will see Red Burgundy style glasses…

meaning elegant, aromatic (including aged Barolo, Barbaresco, Oregon Pinot Noir, etc..).

You will see White Burgundy style glasses…

meaning full bodied Chardonnay (looks like a Bordeaux glass sort of).

You will see a Sauvignon Blanc/Riesling style glass…

meaning light, aromatic, zippy (Sancerre, Godello, Verdicchio, Arneis).

And of course a glass for bubbles…

meaning wines with bubbles (Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, etc…)

Of course it would be fun to have a different glass for every occasion, and nothing beats the elegant balance of Riedel or Spiegelau glass (both the same company by the way) but the shit is expensive, and fragile, and requires hand washing.  For red, white AND sparkling wine you just need something with this basic shape: a wide bowl at the bottom with a proportionately narrower opening…

NOT this!!! Note how this glass features a narrow bowl and flares to a too-wide opening, letting aromas escape prematurely.

Here in Richmond you can find affordable, good quality stemware from Schott Zwiesel available at your better wine shops.  Many restaurants use them as well.  From the cheap, dishwasher safe (but a little clunky) “Congresso” line… to the alien looking “Pure”… and super tall “Diva” line…  Expect to pay $8 to $15 per glass.  Well worth it to make your wine experience more enjoyable.

These restaurants have good stemware…

Bistro Bobette

Can Can

Secco Wine Bar

Cafe Rustica

Acacia (use to suck but they finally got the good stuff a few months back)

Amour Wine Bistro

Lemaire will give you the shitty glasses unless you ask for the decent ones, they will gladly accommodate  you.  Please ask for them when you go!  Let them take the hint.

The biggest offenders of the stemware situation are Mamma Zu and Edo’s Squid.  They give you those damn juice jars and expect you to drink Lodali Barolo from them?!  I get the whole relaxed, unpretentious, celebratory, comfort atmosphere they are going for, and maybe juice jars reflect this.  It is fine I guess if you stick to the simple, inexpensive Dolcetto or Valpolicella to wash down your pasta, but this place is supposed to be the altar of Italian eating in this city.  Have you been to Italy lately?  Every cafe, Osteria, Ristorante has the good stuff to drink from.

This is a subject that Richmond Wine Culture will return to again.  We will also discuss when to decant and when not to, what temperature should you serve wines, proper storage and handling, when to send a wine back.  The world of wine is never ending and hopefully this blog can be a little educational and enjoyable.  Thank you for playing along!

The Country Vintner Trade Show Tasting

March 23, 2011

This is a big month for distributor portfolio tastings.  Most wine growers are able to get away from their vineyards for a few days since a lot of the hard work is done, or in a waiting stage.  Most of the wines are resting in tank or in barrel and will be bottled come springtime.

The Country Vintner is one of the larger wholesale wine distributors here in Virginia representing about every wine producing wine region in the world.  They have a huge 170,000 square foot, temperature controlled (this is important) distribution center located in Ashland and a pretty huge 20,000 square foot center down in Florida.

Being in about every market, grocery store and restaurant here in Richmond they do deal with a lot of mass produced plonk.  They are however (with their deep pockets and heavy influence) able to bring in many of the elite and distinguished wine producers from many classic wine growing regions.

The industry only tasting (I was invited to sneek in) was held at the ever popular Boathouse Restaurant right here in Richmond.  It was packed.  Many people were bussed in from Virginia Beach and Charlottesville, it seemed most were in fact not part of the industry at all lending the function to feel as though it was a high class frat party.  I overheard one person telling Muffi Guilbert of Mas de Daumas Gassac that they didn’t like white wine. Another told Julia Gazaniol of Château de Parenchère they didn’t like Merlot.

There were quite a few beautiful wines to taste though.  The Country Vintner always opens a few sexy bottles from their portfolio, this time they included a 2005, Giacomo Conterno Barolo, and a 2007, Zind-humbrecht Gewurztraminer Clos Windsbuhl.

Not a fan of Billecart-Salmon but the Brut Rose was lovely.

My favorites were the wines of Isole e Olena.  The 2008 Chianti Classico will make you rethink your opinion of Chianti.  The 2006 Cepparello is one of the finest expressions of Sangiovese you will ever encounter.  Gorgeous.  They also produce a fascinating Chardonnay and a Syrah which accurately reflect the soil of Tuscany.  

Luca de Marchi was on hand pouring wines of Isole e Olena.  Along with his father Paolo they recently reclaimed their families estate Proprieta’ Sperino which is located  in Lessona, near Gattinara, above Barolo.  Think about elegant Nebbiolo wrapped in silk, mated with Gevrey-Chambertin and you can imagine what these wines taste like.

Alessandria Ciacci of Azienda Agraria Mocali represents early approachable Brunello di Montalcino and olive oil.  They also make value based wines from vineyards located south in Morellino di Scansano.  Very easy to drink.

Phillippe Blanck of Domaine Paul Blanck is a producer from Alsace new to the Country Vintner book.  The wines were classic examples, pure and focussed.  The 2007, Gewurtraminer’ Altenbourg stood out nicely as well as the baby 2007, Riesling Grand Cru ‘ Schlossberg.

Vittore Alessandria of Fratelli Alessandria has high quality and fair priced Barolo from Monforte and probably the coolest wine of the day the 2009 Verduno Pelaverga.  Light and spicy, very versatile with all types of cuisine.

Fattoria La Gerla makes powerful, structured, long lived Brunello di Montalcino and early enjoyable Rosso di Montalcino.  They also produce a modern style “Birba” from French oak barriqued Sangiovese.

Guiseppe Vajra of Azienda Agricola G.D. Vajra blends modern wine making with responsible vineyard stewardship to produce a wide variety of fascinating wines.  The 2009, Langhe Bianco “Petracine” is made from 100% Riesling and is meant for long aging, a noble wine that can translate the place from where it comes.  The 2006, Barola “Albe” is value priced and can be consumed early. It is always lovely.  Vajra also acquired the Luigi Baudana estate in Seralunga back in 2006 and now produces wines there with the estates original name.  The hills of Seralunga are known to produce the richest of all the wines of Barolo.

The tasting all in all was a nice showing with some great estates present.  These environments aren’t really the best way to evaluate wine.  Especially after mouth drying Bordeaux and mouth drying Barolo and mouth drying Brunello…It is a great way though to meet the people behind the wines and hear about the traditions involved in their farming and production.

Wine of the Week-Drink This Wine!

March 9, 2011

Marcillac! “Cuvée Vieilles Vignes” Domaine du Cros 2006

Here is a wine that tastes like no other and cannot be imitated.

Tougher than a cowboy and just as polite.  

Marcillac is the name of the place and lies in Southwest France a little bit below Bordeaux and west of the Cotes du Rhone.  The soil is red clay heavy in iron oxide, and boy you can taste it.  The predominant grape that is planted here is  Fer Servadou, or known locally as Mansois.  Fer translates into iron, did I mention you can taste it?  The summers are long and hot thanks to the Mediterranean influence, the winters though can be brutally cold.  The best sites for grapes come from sloping and terraced hillsides that look south.  The area gained AOC status in 1990 and only allows red and pink wines.

Domaine du Cros led by Philippe Teulier has been producing wine for four generations and has grown to become one of the largest independent growers in the region.  By largest meaning 25 hectares, about 60 acres, bottle production is around 7000 cases.  Pretty small compared to the local wine cooperative.  The Cuvée Vieilles Vignes (which means old vines, 80 year old vines!) is aged a year and half in old large chestnut barrels before release to soften its animal character.  It has big, bloody structure, ripe red, savory, peppery fruit and a beautiful balance.  Recommended to be drunk within 3-5 years but supposedly can last up to 10.  I say if you have a bottle, drink it now, if you have 2 bottles, drink one now and one tomorrow.  It is gorgeous.

I had it with a simple meal of Italian sausage from Belmont Butchery (so it is Italian sausage, still works, actually it is Italian style sausage made right here in Richmond from Virginia pigs so it can be called Richmond sausage) browned with a little butter, onion, garlic, rosemary, beans and some reduced red wine.  

$16, imported by Wine Traditions

“The Italian Way” Class at Ellwood’s Cafe

March 4, 2011

Here is a good idea, food and wine together!

“If it grows together, it goes together,”

someone said that somewhere.

Ellwood Thompson has a solid, well thought out little wine program so I expect there to be some very fine examples of wine from Italy.

From their website…

The Italian Way

Posted by admin on Mar 07, 2011
Community Classroom Classes


Monday, March 7th 6PM – 7PM


Ellwood’s Cafe


Dave Jones


Welcome to where it all began. In this class, the flavors of Italy will be explored while we visit and discover the tastes of some of the countries most famous regions. Expect wine and cheese pairings based on region and climate.





Register and pay for class

There is limited seating/availability for all classes and events and you must purchase your ticket ahead of time. Either stop by the store’s customer service desk or register and pay online.