Friday, December 25, 2009

Joys of Christmas

It is truly amazing that no matter how many times I come home, there is always something for me to do. There are always things only someone who is a 6'4", twenty something, male could possibly do. It is a shame my little brother will never make it past six-feet tall. All those light bulbs that could have been changed by someone else...

Then sometimes I get to play in my mother's basement, which in the past few years I have begun filling with wine. The moment I arrived home I went into the basement, built the below wine rack and put the four cases of wine away. There are always good things about the holidays...

Happy Holidays everyone!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I Want You to Tell Me

It is the season for "best of," where everyone has a list of who they think is the best at what they do. There are plenty of top 100 lists, best events, most influential, craziest, funniest, most delicious, etc.

One group that does not get much recognition are the thousands of public relations professionals that are behind the scenes bringing you the events, the samples, the information you crave about the wine industry. Jeff at gave PR people a shout out, recognizing that for wine bloggers there is more wine available than ever before. Samples are spilling off every shelf, and information is being distributed liberally.

And that is who I want to recognize. But I do not want to tell you who I think is best. Being a wine PR guy, I don't think that would make sense. I want to find out who you think is best.

So, for all my wine blogger friends: Click here to take survey and tell me who you think are the best wine regions at promoting their wines, who is the best winery at spreading the word, and who are the best people you would trust if you wanted to get the news out.

Notice For PR Reps/Wineries/Wine Regions

My shipping address has changed. If you would like to send samples please send them to:

Rob Bralow
Wine Post
455 E 83rd Street, #2A
New York, NY 10028

Also, please send me an e-mail to before you send.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Vodka - The Other White Wine

By Rob Bralow

Oh man.

I need to take a deep breath. I do not do vodka tastings very often and switching gears from wine to vodka is not easy. The tastes are just as subtle and the intrigue of finding vast (and I mean VAST) differences between producers and styles is still lots of fun.

But that alcohol is a kicker!

If you have not done a vodka tasting, I would suggest it. You'll be surprised how different each one can be.

I received several samples in the mail and I was psyched to taste them. I received a bottle of Finlandia, Karlsson's Gold, and Chopin. Finlandia is a barley vodka and Karlsson's and Chopin are both potato vodka. Not even close to fair to compare them all together, but really I have no idea what I am doing with vodka, so I thought I'd just have fun and see what happens.

I did almost exactly what I do when I taste wine, except instead of bowl shaped wine glasses, I put them all in rocks glasses. I am so glad I did, otherwise I would have been hit with a wave of alcohol. The rocks glasses gave me enough air to smooth everything out.

The Finlandia was grassy and light, almost a little sharp. I wanted to mix it with something, which is not a bad thing. There is a reason why there is a healthy mixology culture currently in the US. Mixologists (don't call them Bartenders) need a wide range of products to continue to produce tastes and experiences. Finlandia is definitely an ingredient.

The Chopin was earthy and smooth. This could easily have been a drink by itself or something to mix with. I thought the balance between the grassy notes and earthy minerals was nice.

The Karlsson's Gold was my clear favorite. This was dirty earthy with exciting minerals, and a smooth soul. The taste was rich and almost creamy in texture. This is no mixing vodka. This is what my grandfather would love to have in a rocks glass while sitting on a porch.

A great experience. Now I need to go breath some fire...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Happy Hannukah

Quick Taste: Mirassou Wines

I get so excited about opening every wine. Who knows what might be inside? It might be green eggs and ham (although I'm still not convinced that those are worth the risk of eating). The wines might be life changing!

Or not. I received three wines from Mirrasou, a Riesling, Pinot Grigio, and a Pinot Noir. I must say that I did not like any one of them. I found them to be a bit strange, unlike the varieties printed on each label, and unpleasant.

Will you find them that way? Only one way to find out.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Holiday Season that is still Sparkling

by Rob Bralow

This is the season to drink the bubbly. No really, there has never been a better time to spend money on sparkling wine. You will never get a better deal on the wine that is out there. A friend of mine who works in retail told me recently that the price wars on under way from the wineries who have the marketing dollars.

Are you having a holiday party this year? Maybe a New Year's party? The way the trends have been going lately, I would be surprised if most people will be going out and renting out bars, clubs, or restaurants for their parties. I foresee more home parties this year, more people spending less for their party, and more sales at the retail stores. Sparkling wine has taken a beating this year, Champagne especially. The producers that are going to survive are going to get behind their brands and give deals to the retailers selling the wine or have the prestige that an off year will not hurt them in the long run.

We'll see what happens.

The wines below I received as samples I recommend all of them. If I happen to receive more samples of sparkling wines between now and New Year's, I will do my best to taste them and review them before it is too late to buy them.

Saint-Hillaire Blanquette de Limoux Brut 2005, France - Bright and lovely, this French wine is so fresh that I can't imagine not enjoying this at any time of year. There is a bright and grassy quality to the nose and the taste is fresh green apple with wonderful dryness. Not enough to make me pucker but just enough to make me want to take another sip. And another. And another.

Vranken La Demoiselle de Champagne Tete de Cuvee Brut NV, France - Creamy and mild, with pear and a little bread. The taste is such an enjoyable combination of creamy pear and yellow apple with a little bit of brine to keep it balanced.

Vingna Dogarina Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Brut NV, Italy - Smells lightly lime and salt with a little bit of apple and bread. The yellow apple comes out in the taste, with a little lime, pear, and salt. Tastes like heaven when combined with a little bit of dark chocolate.

Marco Negri Moscato d'Asti 2008, Italy - I have to admit, I have a soft spot for Moscato d'Asti. With just a little bubble, a high sugar level and an inversely lower alcohol level, these wines are perfect for after dinner sipping. This one in particular is delicious. The smells in the glass remind me of perfume, lavender, and candied apple. The taste is sweet, but balanced with plenty of acidity.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Quick Taste: Chronicle Wines

By Rob Bralow

Of course, hard on the heels of yesterday's post on interspersing interesting commentary in my reviews of wines, I am here today reviewing a group of wines. Or perhaps I am peppering my interesting commentary with wine reviews...

Chronicle was started in 2006 and released its first vintage in 2008. The winery is a boutique winery, which is understood to mean that the winery does not make any more than 500 cases of each wine. The proprietor of the winery says that the next vintage will be release in the Spring of 2010. I received four of these wines to taste and my reviews are below:

Chronicle Pinot Noir 2006, Sonoma Coast, California - There is something really interesting about this wine, reminds me of smoked bacon. There is rich raspberry there as well, but the overwhelming sensation is heat. The taste hits me with dark cherry flavors, lots of upfront fruit that has just a wall of heat sitting on it. It is a good wine and might cool off with more age, but the heat really bugs me.

Chronicle Cerise Vineyards Pinot Noir 2006, Anderson Valley, California - A nose of caramel, cherry, and toast. In my mouth the fruit is HOT, streaked with pepper and toast in a blackberry jam. The heat is intense and becomes the only thing I can focus on.

Chronicle Old Vines Zinfandel 2006, Russian River Valley, California - Here is a good wine. There was a great balance of black currant, toast and black pepper. I tasted blackberry, black cherry with a nice balance and good structure.

Chronicle Bacigalupi Vineyards Zinfandel 2006, Russian River Valley, California - I found blackberry, rosemary, and pepper in the glass of this wine. In my mouth I found black pepper, caramel, toast, with blackberry fruit, but not enough to handle the mouth drying structure and the overwhelming heat.

Maybe I am just not used to California wines, but I thought that the alcohol ruled these wines. There is a lot of potential in these wines. I hope I get to taste next year's vintage to see how the evolution progresses.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Reading the Blogs

by Rob Bralow

Last week I was on Jury Duty for most of the week. It was long and boring, and it allowed my Google reader to pile up with posts. When I got back to the office on Thursday, I found over 600 blog posts waiting for me to read them.

Oh yes, I took a look at every one of them. But I really did not read most of them. The vast majority of the posts were wine reviews. Are they interesting? Not really. Seriously, reading the tasting notes of 200 people over 7 days is almost worse than sitting in a windowless room deciding the fate of another person.

It is just that tasting notes from someone else do not really mean anything to me. There are a few bloggers that I might ask for a Zinfandel recommendation, because they live in the heart of Zinland. If I did not turn to my friend who works at Sunset Corners in Miami (she's a bubbly fanatic) there are one or two bloggers that I might ask for advice.

But what are people writing about right now? The answer is whatever marketers are sending out samples of. And that is low priced, high volume wines that everyone has named "value" wines. So far I have tasted many of these "value" wines and I value very few of them. Therefore, I am not really interested in the majority of reviews of these wines. Whenever I see a review of a wine I have tasted, I stop a moment to see if they author agreed with my taste. I have found more and more that I find glowing reviews of wines that I do not think are worth the price of the glass the wine is in.

What I do read are the commentaries that very few bloggers write about the wine industry and their experiences. Not necessarily the review of the wines, but their view on how the wine industry is moving. These are interesting and incite my curiosity. I want to know what these writers are thinking. I want to see if I agree or disagree. I want to know how their ideas will become the next evolution of new media, of wine sales, and of how all of us think about wine.

I will definitely be one that writes reviews of wines I have tasted, because that is what I do, it is the reason why wineries send me their wines. But hopefully I will intersperse nuggets of interesting commentary throughout my wine reviews to keep you interested in my writing.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Jury Duty - Like a Fine Wine

I have been quite absent lately because I had Jury Duty. I was selected by the lawyers to sit on the jury for the case they were trying.

I found the experience to be interesting. This was the first time I had ever had Jury Duty, and the first time I was on a jury.

I had plenty of time to think while sitting on this jury. Lots of sitting in rooms with no windows either listening to witnesses testify or alone with 13 other people, not allowed to talk about the case so instead we were all just silent. The more I sat there the more I recognized the players in this drama to be very similar to wines I have had.

The prosecution: A clean, clear-cut New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The prosecutor was bright and vibrant, but sharp and acidic. There was plenty of zest, but also a clearly defined structure with no chance of finding more outside the lines.

The defense: A cheerful Chilean Merlot. Smooth and sleek out of the bottle, this is everybodies' friend. That is until you leave it over night when it becomes more harsh and angular. Plenty of variety and creativity, but very volitile.

The judge: A well known and well liked Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Perfectly contained and balanced, with a well defined structure but also the age and experience to easily transition from one flavor profile to the next.

The defendant: An unknown quantity, perhaps a Pinotage from South Africa, or a Cabernet Franc from Ohio. You are not really sure what you have, but you are willing to give it a try. Why not?

The officers of the court, the clerk, the court reporter: The glassware that allows the wine to reach your lips, the corkscrew that opens the bottle, the cooler that keep the wine at a perfect temperature.

The jury: Well, that's me! I mean, you! I mean... the taster. Through all the intructions, the moving, the sitting, the standing, the sitting, the moving, it is the jury to decides guilty or not guilty.

Have you ever served on a jury? Did you find a similar experience?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

When Bloggers Get Fooled

By Rob Bralow, Editor

I want to start this blog post with an apology to Randy Watson, The Wine Whore. And I apologize, because I have to call him out on a recent blog post of his.

Currently there are hundreds of wine bloggers. There has been an explosion of wine writing on the Internet and there are now more voices than ever giving people advice, relating experiences, and generally spreading the word about the virtues of wines and their producers.

One of the main topics of conversation among blogs and other bloggers is the dominance of the reviewing publications. The main five are (in alphabetical order) International Wine Cellar, Wine & Spirits, Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, and Wine Spectator. There are other internationally recognized publication such as Decanter and Penin Guide, but by and large those five are the only publications in the US that retailers use to sell their wines.

There is plenty of argument on the use of the scores of these publications, and on scoring in general. There are many discussions on the marketing towards these publications and the influence of marketing on ratings. There was also a lot of navel gazing regarding the ethics of receiving samples, advertising, press trips, meals, etc. by wineries. The US government has even posted new interpretations on the laws of advertising specifically for bloggers (something I wrote about back in April, before it hit the wine blogosphere... goes to show how important I am in this community).

That is all well and good. Everyone has decided where their ethical compass points them.

So then I came across a post by Randy, giving praise to a winery that told him that they do not submit their samples to "corporate tasting panels, yet still looking for online reviews and general presence..." Randy, a self proclaimed whore for wine samples, praised this winery for not feeling pressured into submitting to these reviewing publications and how honest and genuine this winery is. You can read Randy's entire write-up for yourself.

I am in the marketing business, I work in public relations for several wine companies and regions. When I hear that a winery does not submit their wines to the reviewing and rating publications, I get somewhat curious. Why not? You can always tell them no when they come begging for advertising revenue. I also get curious to see if what they say is actually true and that their wines are in fact NOT submitted to the reviewing publications. So first I looked on the winery's website and found this:

Our winery "does not submit to professional competitions, nor do we submit our wines to for-profit corporations seeking advertisement revenues (in exchange for numeric scores.)"

Fair enough. That seems to be completely consistent with what Randy reported. In fact it seems that this winery has done a great deal reaching out to bloggers and other online reviewing outlets. There is a long list of blog posts discussing the wines (probably in positive tones, although I have not read them all). The prices of the wines are all standard prices for Russian River Valley wines. Nothing too pricey, but in the $25 - $40 range.

I then went to the reviewing publications (since I have subscriptions to all of them). In the International Wine Cellar and Wine Advocate I could not find the wines listed, which surprised me because neither of these publications accept advertising. I then checked the Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator (both publications that accept advertising and send their reps out with a vengeance) and in both of these publications they had their wines rated, as recently as last year's release in Wine Enthusiast, although the late rated wine in Wine Spectator was several year's ago. This entire process took me less than five minutes.

So what happened here? Did Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast purchase these wines, just to give them mediocre reviews? I think there is probably enough wine out there that neither Spectator nor Enthusiast need to be purchasing wines.

I am not writing this post to call out the winery. I am sure this type of thing happens all the time and there might even be a very good explanation of why these reviewing publications have ratings of these wines. I really wanted to relate that my experience has been that bloggers rarely do the research to verify the marketing of the samples they get. If you want to be taken seriously as a wine writer, do your research, ask questions, take nothing for granted just because the winery told you so. Perhaps this makes my job harder. But it also means that I need to be more authentic. It is my job to be an educator, to teach the writers, reviews, bloggers, and everyone else about my clients. One of my favorite parts of this industry is that there is always a story to tell.

Randy said he did not get any marketing materials, only a nice hand-written note with his samples. I would argue that he did get marketing materials. And evidently they were rather persuasive.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Quick Taste: A Little Syncopated Rhythm

Music and wine can definitely be combined. Just ask Katie. So when I received a few samples from R&B Cellars, I thought the marketing people had found something wonderful.

The label is classy, the concept simple and the language musical. Each wine has a clever name and what's in the bottle... is ok. One thing I found really strange about these wines that I only equated with Idaho wines, a slight bitterness in the finish.

2007 "Serenade in Blanc" Sauvignon Blanc, North Coast, California - There was such a great helping of vibrant lemon and mandarin orange citrus in this wine that I had high hopes to go out and find some oysters. The taste was creamy and started with a lively lime citrus but degenerated into a bitter rind finish. Could do worse for $13.

2006 "Saxy Syrah" Syrah, North Coast, California - Sweet plumb and blueberry on the nose. Then again with the strange bitterness. What was even weirder for me was that after the bitterness was a really pleasant raspberry finish. It was to the point where I just wanted to get past the initial taste to enjoy the ending.

2007 "Swingsville Zinfandel" Zinfandel, Lodi, California - My favoirt of the bunch. Ripe and smooth fruit, centering on fleshy blackberries. The taste was almost sweet at first with spicy tannins coming to give the wine some backbone.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Value Brands

Value is quickly becoming a codeword for cheap and totally destroying the meaning of the word value. Two years ago the word was quality, and everything was the best, supreme, highest quality in whatever section of the world, coastline, river, valley they were in.

Today the word is value, for obvious reasons. Everyone wants to spend less money, they WANT the cheaper wine. It's ok to say it. CHEAP! Let's all say it together like a bunch of little yellow canaries. That reminds me of one of my favorite jokes that was told to me by the one and only Sophie Eustis.

So now, every "Value" brand wants to get people talking about them, get reviews, get bloggers interested in promoting their brands for them. It is exactly what I would do if I had one of those brands as my client. As a blogger, I have been getting a flood of these wines. I received a bottle of Martini & Rossi Asti and Rose for review on this blog.

If you are unfamiliar with this brand, you probably had the brand's vermouth in your last martini. They make a lot of "Value" sparkling wine from Italy, most of it from Asti in the Piedmont region. These two sparkling wines were sugartastic, as one would expect of a sparkling Moscato d'Asti. What these wines did not have was anything else. Really it was Coca Cola with jolly rancher flavoring instead of cola syrup. For someone looking to get drunk, this wine will get you there. However you will have to drink the entire bottle because there is more sugar than alcohol in the wine and you will also have to deal with the headache in the morning...
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