Monday, January 26, 2009

Tasting 1400 bottles of wine

That’s how many bottles I will be surrounded by this week. No, I did not buy them (as if I have that much money). These are the wines that we have collected for a comprehensive review of Chile by Josh Raynolds, wine critic for the International Wine Cellar.

This is going to be one hell of a tasting. The first day is going to be spent simply taking inventory of the wines that are here, and putting them in order for Josh to taste. Each wine taster is different, and each has their own particular style of tasting wines. For instance, Jay Miller, critic for Robert Parker’s The Wine Adocate, likes to taste each individual wine for a single winery before moving on to the next winery. Josh likes to taste by varietal order and then by price, which means we will be starting with sparkling wines on Tuesday, through all the whites and onto the reds.

It’s the “by price” that always gets me. In order to organize a tasting where the critic tastes by price, we put a number on each bottle of wine. After the numbers are on the bottles, we put them in number order. Knowing which sticker goes onto each bottle requires a lot of research on each wine long before the bottles show up. We have a VERY long spreadsheet, which lists each wine, their brand name, their vintage, their varietal composition, the appellation each wine comes from, and the price of each wine. If you want to learn appellations and brand names, there is no better way than by putting this list together.

Some people have asked me how long do I think this tasting will take. We have scheduled four days of tasting. I mean full days, starting at about 7:00 AM and finishing between 5:00 – 6:00 PM. Josh usually averages about 180 wines a day, Jay did closer to 200. We prepare Carrs Crackers, water, and regular breaks for the tasters, allowing them to go at their own pace.

Can these tasters really taste anything after the 137th wine? Well, the last time we held this review for a critic I tasted with them. As an amateur taster, I was still able to able to distinguish defining characteristics in different wines through my 80th wine. After about that I had to re-energize my taste buds by walking away for a while, eating something, drinking some water. For a professional, such as these critics, I really have no reservations about putting as many wines in front of them as they wish. Each critic takes the same focus of attention for each wine, be it the first one or the 151st one.

There is another thing I like about these tastings. Besides allowing me to continue my wine education by having the opportunity to taste more wines, there is a lot of wine left over. Since it is only one person tasting, there are only a few ounces missing from each wine. That leaves a lot of wine remaining that needs to find a happy home.

Superbowl party anyone?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Wines of Israel Tasting

First, my apologies for this station break to hear from our sponsors:

My company is putting on a tasting for the Wines of Israel. For those of you that work in the wine industry, are members of the press, or feel like you should attend because you know me... take a look at the invitation below, follow the links to the Wines of Israel blogspot post which will the lead you to the RSVP page.

If you have any questions feel free to ask me.

La chiam!

Israel Economic Mission to North America

cordially invites you to a


February 3, 2009

11 AM - 4 PM

George Ballroom

15 East 27th Street, New York City


12 - 1 PM and 2 - 3 PM

led by:

Mark Squires, Wine Critic for Robert Parker's Wine

Victor Schoenfeld, Chief Winemaker, Golan Heights

RSVP:  212.499.5624


Barkan Wine Cellars Ltd.

Bazelet Ha Golan

Binyamina Winery

Carmel Winery

Dalton Winery

Domaine du Castel

Ella Valley Vineyards

Flam Winery

Galil Mountain Winery

Hevron Heights Winery and Noah Winery

Margalit Winery

Pelter Winery

Recanati Winery

Tabor Winery

Teperberg 1870 Winery

Tishbi Estate Winery (Baron Wine Cellars, Ltd.)

Tulip Winery

Tzora Vineyards

Yarden Inc. / Golan Heights Winery

Yatir Winery



Saturday, January 24, 2009

An old Champagne House

During this month’s wine club meeting that I started at my company we decided that just after the New Year is the perfect time to buy some bubbly and do a tasting. Already the wines are discounted and retailers are trying to get rid of their inventory, a great time to stock up on vino.

One of the Wines we tried was the Deutz Brut Classic Champagne NV. Deutz is made in the village of Äy, nestled between the slopes of the Montagne de Reims and the river Marne. Äy claims to have been renowned for longer than any of Champagne’s other famous wine-producing villages. The grapes, which are sourced mainly from vineyards that are owned by Deutz, come from the village Äy in Montagne de Reims, the Côte des Blancs, and the Vallee de la Marne. In Champagne the only grapes allowed by law are Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. While the exact Cuvée changes from year to year, depending on the yield and the quality of the harvest, this wine relies heavily on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

The Deutz Champagne house was founded in 1838 and was family owned and managed for five generations. With all of the upgrades of modern technology, Deutz currently makes approximately two million bottles per year.

As a general rule, I am not the biggest fan of sparkling wines (although Muscato D’Asti tickles my sweet tooth). My guess is that the bubbles add a slight harshness to the taste that I am not fond of, however I am always willing to give things another chance.

And this sparkler came through and surprised me! It was so fresh and pleasant without being overly citrusy, bitter or with that yeasty taste. On the nose was some soft kiwi, apple, pear, with a nice floral perfume. When I put the wine in my mouth it was a little bready, but not too much. There was some lime and a smooth creamy feel. One of the people tasting with me said marshmallow, and I would have to agree. Really, quite pleasant.

Just another lesson that my mother would be ashamed if I had not learned it yet: Always give something a try, it may turn out to be green eggs and ham.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Great Blood of the Bull

The name Torres is well known around the world. Not only for the wine they are making in Spain, but also for the foreign investment that the company has done, specifically in South America. With roots back to 1870, Torres is now run by Miguel A. Torres and has kept the company family run.

The bottle of Torres I picked up was the Gran Sangre de Toro 2004. The wine is made from 60% Garnacha Tinta (Grenache), 25% Cariñena (Carignan), and 15% Syrah. The grapes were picked from mid to late September. I was able to find the tech sheet for the wine, so I know that it was aged in 20% new oak for a year, which made me believe that the expected vanilla and toast notes would be soft and integrated with the wine. We’ll see…

I popped open the wine with my friend Julie in preparation of the restart of our weekly watching of House. The wine was not tasty. In fact, I will go so far as to say I do not want to have that wine again. It hit me with a blast of butter and vanilla and by hit I mean wacked me across the face. I was completely wrong about any thoughts of integrated and subtle hints of anything.

The alcohol was also definitely present as the heat of it almost bubbled out of the glass. The taste was almost watery before it jumped around in my mouth like a pinball. There was a lot of tar and burnt toast with something that was trying to be fruit, but didn't quite make it.
All that being said, it wasn't unpallatable. There is just so much better wine out there that I cannot forsee myself ever coming back to this one.

The wine felt like a lonely guy at a party, the one that laughs too loud and tells jokes at the wrong time. He makes too much noise and at the end of the night everyone wishes he would leave. Don't be that guy and feel free to avoid this wine.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Tasting 170 Wineries? A drop in the bucket…

How many wines do you think you can taste in four hours? And I don’t simply mean, stick it in your mouth and push it down your gullet. I am talking about stop for a moment and savor the wine, talk to the winemaker, perhaps get the reaction of your friends that are with you. Think you can do 170?

At this year’s New York Wine Expo there will be that many wine producers, probably with more than one wine to show, making it a superhuman feat to taste them all. That and I still have not met the person able to imbibe that much alcohol without needing a rush visit to the ER to get the BAC checked.

There will be wine at the NYWE from the Old World (the countries of Kings and Queens), the New World (the countries that were ruled by the countries of Kings and Queens), and of course New York, Oregon and California (which seems to be a country of its own…).

The NYWE will be happening on February 27th, 6:00 pm – 10:00 pm and February
28th, 2:00 pm – 6:00 pm. So if you are more of an afternoon “taster” head there on Saturday, but if you are looking for a kick-start to your evening, try the Friday night special. There will be hundreds of wines to taste, knowledgeable people to talk to and dancing (well, not technically. But lets be honest, its New York and the only criteria to get in is if you buy a ticket… there will be dancing).

(You will never believe how many photos on the internet are labeled "Drunk Dancing")

Tickets are $85 ($75 if you order early). To order go to

My personal best is still 100 wines. I’ll be there, will you? Let me know!

As a personal aside:

Its a big weekend...


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wine Blogging Wednesday #53 – Vino with Eggs and Bacon

This WBW topic, hosted by El Jefe at El Bloggo Torcido, the blog for Twisted Oak Winery, is Wines for Breakfast.

The Rules:

-Must be dry still wine.
-Nothing Sparkling
-No Rosé
-No dessert wines
-No mixers (mimosa)

This was my first real jump into the wine blogging world. I mean sure, I’ve been blogging for a few months now, but I thought that I could really stretch and see what I could do with this one. Boy, did I bite off more than I could chew.

What I did was this; I asked the PR pool what they thought. Not only did I ask, but I asked on December 23, hoping that I wouldn’t get a billion responses, since I’ve heard the gripe plenty of times from reporters that they always get tons of inquiries about things they don’t care about.

The response was great! I had about 10-12 people send me suggestions, fact sheets, prices, winemaker notes, the works! A source of good information at my finger tips. Not one to rely on, since some of them promised me more than they could deliver, but enough of a source that I feel comfortable going to it again.

So, what did I learn? EVERY WINE GOES WELL WITH BREAKFAST! Or so the masses of PR people would have me believe. Mostly I received white wine suggestions, but I still had plenty of people tell me that Pinot Noir, Barbera, even Malbec were good pairing choices. I probably could have asked some buddies of mine and they would have said they would be more than willing to test out any wine before 9am…

My favorite response was from Sharon Hobson, Wine Director at Damariscotta River Grill in Damariscotta, Maine:

"Breakfast and wine sounds like a naughty luxury only hedonists would encourage. Hogwash! You've got to drink something.”

Sharon then went on to give me several suggestions, one that I was thinking myself.


I happened to have a bottle of Essence Riesling 2007, made by S.A. Prüm. The wine comes from the Mosel region of Germany and is 100% Riesling. The bottle says 11% alcohol, so it probably has a slight amount of residual sugar. The winery claims: “S.A Prüm is a family-owned wine estate nestled on the banks of Germany’s serene Mosel River, at the heart of the country’s celebrated Mosel-Saar-Ruwer growing region. Here, the Prüm family has cultivated vines for over 200 years. The estate has been in the hands of Raimund Prüm, owner and winemaker, since 1971 when he assumed full management. Under his leadership, the property has become one of the region’s most successful wineries, boasting an international reputation for the production of exquisite Rieslings.”

The wine was nice, slightly spritzy with a bouquet of green apples and flower petals. The taste was very racy, with pineapple, green apple, and apricot in the forefront. Really nice freshness with some citrus, a good OJ substitute. Overall, a good wine, not amazing but something I would have enjoyed drinking as an aperitif.

For the breakfast meal (which I ate at dinnertime by the way), I made some French toast with syrup, eggs, bacon, and a chocolate pop-tart. A lot of sweet, a bit of salt, some pepper on the eggs and I’m in business. Your (reasonably) average breakfast.

I liked the sparkly combination with the salty bacon. The citrus cut through the syrup and left it refreshing but undemanding in my mouth. The pepper on the eggs somewhat overwhelmed the wine. Ah well. Overall it was nice. Pleasant. But I would have loved a Bloody Mary instead.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Who drinks this stuff?!

I am a research junkie, probably stemming from the time when I was a math major in college. Of course, my math grades weren’t all that great, but that’s not what I want to talk about.

One of my clients just purchased data from Information Resources, Inc. (IRI) showing the top wine brands sold in Food stores. I took a look and the top wine is the Kendall-Jackson Reserve Chardonnay. In fact, the top 4 wines are Chardonnay and the next two are White Zinfandel. I am not talking volume either, since we know most of these come in 1.5 liter bottles. I am talking sales. The K-J sold close to $69 million worth of wine through November. That’s a LOT of wine.

Who drinks this? Are you out there reading this? Please, for my own sanity, explain to me why you buy these wines? Maybe for a future post I’ll spend the money and get a magnum of each of these wines, just so that I can taste them and make sure I can back up what I am talking about.

I must admit, I’ve never tasted the K-J, Woodbridge, Clos Du Bois, Sutter Home, or Yellow Tail. (I will put up a guilty hand at having drunk the Beringer White Zinfandel in my fraternity, but I’m not proud of it) I suspect that they taste like nothing. Maybe a little sweet, but the rest is all water and alcohol. Do people not grow out of it in college? I mean, I can understand going to the store and buying a big jug of wine for $5. In college (when the point really isn’t to taste the wine) this is economical and will do what you want it to do.

But why would people out of college continue to buy these wines? A lack of adventure? A desire to hold onto what they know? Not enough money to spend $5 more to get a better wine?

Maybe I’ve moved over to the dark side and am now a snob. I do not drink $100 Bordeaux, but I also do not drink $3 Beringer White Zinfandel (well, anymore). If you are reading this and you have a glass of Little Penguin in your hand, put it down. Please? For me? And try a Rosemont. Try a Ravenswood. Go that extra step to unbend yourself from reaching to the bottom of the shelf and see what it is at eye level.

If this is being a wine snob, then I never want to go back.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Big Bad Bodegas Borsao

In my search for new and more interesting wines I found these on the shelf of my local wine shop. A friend of mine gave be a taste of the Borsao Tres Picos 2004 and I was impressed enough to go find more.

At In Vino Veritas I found the Tres Picos Garnacha 2006 and the Borsao Red Wine 2007 on their shelves and decided to try them. I looked online to look up the winery and found the Borsao website and I found two. Seems that they do not yet have a US focused site, so all I know is that the winery is based in a place called Borja and that the winery is spread over 2,500 hectares (over 6177 acres). I actually have no assurance that the data there is up to date, but oh well. I know just how hard it is to keep a website updated, even though it should be a simple once a year (at least) event.

The label has the stamp of approval from Jorge Ordonez, one of the largest importers of Spanish wines to the US. His company’s name is Tempranillo Inc. and I have searched high and low for a website of theirs. If you have found one please feel free to show me that I did not search hard enough. I guess I could look on the business card of one of the reps I have met that work there, but I feel that must be cheating.

The first wine tasted was the Borsao Red Wine 2007. It is the lower line than the Tres Picos and should be drunk young. I found it to be a little sharp for my tastes. The wine is 75% Garnacha (Grenache) and 25% Tempranillo, although I felt it definitely sided over with the bright Tempranillo flavors rather than the spice and pepper I expect from Garnacha. The nose was very bright, promising a lot of acidity with plenty of vanilla thrown in. The taste was close to sour with a blast of fruit up front and then cleaned out by a shot of acidity. For me, this wine was slightly overbalanced, but I only paid $8.99 for it so I am not too upset. There were 15,000 cases imported, so there should be no problem finding this wine.

The other wine I had, the Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha 2006 is another extremely approachable wine. When I tasted the 2004 I found it peppery, nicely balanced and very enjoyable to drink. The 2006 was just as balanced with rich roasted meats in the nose and mouth. It is 100% Garnacha, started its fermentation in steel tanks and then spends 3-4 months in new oak. One note that stuck me was smoked bacon, all over the place. There was also some nice cracked pepper and blackberry. I would definitely suggest finding this wine, especially for $17!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Bubbles and all its glory

As the New Year has come, the proper way to celebrate the moment between one year and the next is to break open the bubbly.

And so this year I found myself with a bottle of Prosecco. Prosecco is an Italian wine – generally a dry sparkling wine – made from a variety of white grape of the same name. The grape is grown mainly in the Veneto region of Italy, traditionally in an area near Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, in the hills north of Treviso.

Champagne is the traditional sparkle of choice to bring in the new year, or get rid of the lingering memory of the old year. Champagne however has become extremely expensive, and more party hosts have chosen more alternatives such as Cava from Spain, Sekt from Germany, sparkling wine from California or Prosecco from Italy. Many examples of each of these bubblies are very tasty and perfectly good substitutes for any New Year’s Eve party.

Prosecco is made sparkling by the Charmat method, where the second fermentation (the one in which the bubbles are created in the wine) occurs in steel tanks as opposed to the Champagne or traditional method of having the second fermentation occur in the same bottle in which it will be pouring into your glass.

The Prosecco I tasted was from Cinzano. The grapes were from the Colline trevigiane region in the Veneto appellation of Italy. The Cinzano company started in 1757 with two brothers, Giovanni Giacomo and Carolo Stegano Cinzano. They started their business in Turin, creating vermouth. According to their current importer (Palm Bay International), the Savoy monarchs requested of the Cinzano’s that they create a sparkling wine to emulate French Champagne in the early 19th Century. That resulted in the creation of Cinzano Sparkling wines in 1850. Gruppo Campari currently owns Cincano, having purchased the company in 1999.

I opened the bottle on New Year’s Eve with Julie and Leah and it was a beautiful wine! We opened the bottled at 5 minutes to midnight so that we could toast at the appropriate second and I do not think we could have brought in the new year with a better beverage. It had very pleasing small to medium size bubbles and the nose was a tantalizing pear and yellow apple. The taste was light and crisp in the mouth, just begging for another taste and another and another.

Full disclosure, I received this wine as a sample.
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