Wednesday, June 23, 2010

One Tequila, Two Tequila

by Rob Bralow, Wine Post Editor

Drinking tequila to excess is the quintessential American rite of passage. At bars across the country, 20-somethings are giving each other cheap shots of Jose Cuervo or Sauza. However, the super-premium category of tequila has grown by almost 33% since 2002, which means more people are thinking of tequila as a premium liquor and not just as a binge drink.

The base fruit used to make tequila is the blue agave, a spiky succulent (a plant that retains water. eg. a cactus) that is related to the yucca plant. The plant requires between eight and fifteen years of growing before it is ready to harvest. When you consider how much tequila is consumed at frat parties, there must be an extremely large area where the blue agave is grown (some people call it Mexico).

Tequila has several types that it comes in:

Blanco ("white") or plata ("silver"): clear spirit, aged less than two months in stainless steel or neutral oak barrels and then bottled
Joven ("young") or oro ("gold"): is the result of blending Silver Tequila with Reposado and either Añejo or extra Añejo Tequila
Reposado ("rested"): aged a minimum of two months, but less than a year in oak barrels
Añejo ("aged" or "vintage"): aged a minimum of one year, but less than three years in oak barrels
Extra Añejo ("extra aged" or "ultra aged"): aged a minimum of three years in oak barrels

Like Spanish wine regions, Mexico has a governing body that oversees the production of tequila called the Consejo Regulador del Tequila. The Consejo enforces the regulations regarding the aging and labeling of all tequila and allows the use of its mark, which is the letters CRT inside of a box, to show that the tequila has met the requirements for how it is labeled (Blanco, Reposado, etc.).

So how is tequila doing? Just fine I think. I sat down with two expert taste specialists with many years of tequila experience, Leah and Heather. That might be over stating the truth slightly, but regardless we had some interesting insights. For this tasting we did not have a very wide selection to taste from, but I thought you might be interested in our notes. Each of these tequilas we tasted by itself with a splash of water (<1 oz) to release flavors and aromas.


1800 Silver - Our first thought was, "yup, that smells like what I remember." Sweet tropical fruit on the nose, with the taste being very 'hot' from the alcohol. Similar to a sugared lime flavor.

Partida Blanco - A much lighter style, with a good deal of mineral aromas. It reminded me of the smell of rain. The flavor was earthy, with a smooth heat that added another enjoyable level to the flavor.

Dulce Vida Organic Blanco - Tropical fruit smells with a nice minerality in the background. The taste was rounder, with more mineral and grassy flavors than the other two.


Partida Reposado - The nose had great candied apple, rich with caramel and an overall floral background. The taste was smooth and light, confirming on the palate what was on the nose.

Dulce Vida Organic Reposado - Layered with caramel, cedar box, and lighter mineral aromas, carried by a smooth heat. The taste was a little hotter as the alcohol began to show through, but the caramel overture was well integrated.


Partida Añejo - Here the alcohol started to take over. The smell was all hot caramel and toasty aromas. The flavor was much sweeter, showing caramel, vanilla, and slightly singed sugar.

Dulce Vida Organic Añejo - Here the fruit came out. Passion-fruit and sweet melon, with more barrel toasty aromas. The palate confirmed the nose, giving up lots of melon and caramel.

Flavored - It was almost unfortunate, but I was sent several flavored tequilas, obviously to be used in mixed drinks.

Tanteo Jalepeño - Spot on the money, with a big whiff of jalepeño on the nose. The taste was a little sweeter than pure jalepeño spice, but there was just enough spiciness to make my mouth heat up.

Tanteo Tropical - Hello fruit! Not sure what fruit, but definitely tropical. The taste was a very muddled grouping of sweet fruitiness.

Tanteo Chocolate - The smell was dried chocolate, like the powered mixes from Hershey's or Nestle. The flavor was like a weak Nestle Quick.

Premixed Products Probably the worst group we tasted, the premixed margarita substitutes, for when you don't have time to put the ingredients in a blender and would rather pull it directly out of the fridge and into your mouth.

SkinnyGirl Margarita - What is skinny about alcohol? Not a whole lot, but evidently the SkinnyGirl Margarita wants to appeal to the Sex and the City wannabe demographic. I thought this was absolutely disgusting, but the two girls I tasted it thought there was nothing wrong with the drink. Maybe I forgot to rinse my mouth out from the last tequila I had tasted, but this was not a pleasant experience. Maybe I just prefer 'Fat Ass Margarita' instead.

El Jimador Margarita - First of all, this came out of a can. Now, I enjoy things that come out of cans just fine, but I was skeptical to begin with for this product. I poured it into a glass and took a smell. Nothing. Then I tasted it. Slightly sugared fizz. Seriously, this could be the most dangerous binge drinking product I have ever seen. Completely odorless and tasteless with 5% alcohol (roughly a beer).

El Jimador Paloma - Same as above, with a slight tendency towards egg cream soda. If you have never had an egg cream, you are definitely missing something, but perhaps you should try one not out of a can and not made with tequila.

El Jimador Spicy Mango Margarita - Seriously, same as the first margarita from El Jimador, with maybe a hint more citrus. In a blind setting I am not sure I could tell the difference.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

PlumpJack Winery and its little brother CADE

by Rob Bralow, Wine Post Editor

I sometimes think that I should put some serious limits on how I am treated by wineries, especially since I am now making some of the buying decisions for the wine store.

However, when a winery asks me to lunch at Del Frisco's Steakhouse it becomes somewhat impossible to turn them down. I wanted to tell you this up front so that you can decide for yourself if the food effected my experience of the wine. Let me tell you, you haven't had a Fillet Mignon until you have had a Del Frisco's Fillet on-the-bone. Delicious. I was there with several other wine writers from various publications, but wine specific and other lifestyle magazines.

At Del Frisco's I met Tony Biagi, winemaker at PlumpJack Winery and CADE Winery. One of my favorite parts of this business is meeting the different people and their different personalities. Tony was the type of guy you want to grab a beer with (or a glass of wine, I suppose). Down to earth, sports fan, easy to talk to, and knows his stuff when it comes to Napa Valley.

The main purpose of the lunch, besides tasting the wines, was to talk about how PlumpJack Winery and CADE Winery were converting to sustainable practices. During lunch the representatives from PlumpJack told us their Estate Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards had been certified Gold Sustainable, meaning that vineyard had achieved an almost completely harmonious balance as part of what could be a natural ecosystem. Of course this is not completely true, since vines would never have grown in such an organized way but the fact that fewer pesticides and chemicals were entering the system is definitely a positive thing.

The wineries, both owned under the PlumpJack Group by Gavin Newsom, are both well reviewed by the major wine reviewing publications. The PlumpJack brand has been around since 1992,  starting as a retail store and then growing to include an inn and two restaurants. The PlumpJack Winery did not exist until 1997, and the CADE Winery not until 2007. With the continual expansion in slightly less than two decades, I wonder if they are done growing. I would suspect not, especially if the group continues to produce quality products and experiences such as I had with their wines. Their biggest challenge will be to weather the current climate of value buying among consumers, until a time when the country is ready to buy wines above $100 again.

2008 CADE Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley - The nose was crisp and soft, with nice grassy notes and a little lime citrus. A pleasant wine until I heard it cost over $20.

2008 PlumpJack Reserve Chardonnay, Napa Valley - As pure a Chardonnay as you will find from Napa, with the tiniest touch of Oak. This is definitely my kind of Chardonnay as tons of pear and apple flavors poured through a herbal wintergreen overtone.

2007 PlumpJack Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville - A floral, smooth and light blueberry aroma, this wine was a pleasure to drink. The acidity was so well balanced that instead of feeling weighted by tannins and fruit the wine was fresh and vibrant. I would love to see if it ages as well, but it is too rich for my wallet.

2007 CADE Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley - If the last wine was floral, this wine was all earth. White truffle and earthy rich aromas, lightly peppered with cassis and blackberries, this was a powerful wine.

2007 CADE Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain - This is a beautiful wine and obviously the star of the show. One of the things I crave when I am tasting Cabernet is a feeling of velvety smoothness while also enjoying an experience of fresh fruit and light earthy tones. I look for it wherever Cabernet is made, be it Bordeaux, Napa, or some other region of the new world. This wine is an experience, although an expensive one. Sometimes the price tag is well worth it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Back from Vacation

by Rob Bralow, Wine Post Editor

Wow, hi everyone. I have been WAAAAY absentee and most of the reason was getting ready and then going on a vacation to the Caribbean. I went to Roatan, an island off the coast of Honduras with my incredible and talented girlfriend. We went scuba diving for a week and I saw some incredible sights. I know none of this is wine related, but I figured it was interesting anyway.

Some of the highlights of the week:
  • Getting my open water certification, saying I can go dive anywhere, anytime I want and then missing the boat for my first solo dive without an instructor
  • Seeing some beautiful hummingbirds
  • Hot days with the trade-winds keeping me cool
  • Being the first to spot a giant crab, a lobster, and literally swimming with the fishes
  • Meeting, petting, and then being bitten by a dolphin
  • Seeing my first wild spotted eagle sting ray with a four foot wing span and a twelve foot tail
  • Meeting a ton of great people and learning a lot about the 'diving culture'
I could definitely go diving again.

If you are interested, here's a slide show of my photos. Watch if you like, but don't blame me if you become insanely jealous...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Guest Post - Long-Term Planning: Think Ahead, Enjoy Later.

by Lisette Bralow

The whole process of making, buying, keeping, and sampling wine is kind of a long-term exercise. Back in the old days, wealthy people “laid in” a case of this or a case of that at their mansions in the country, so they would always be able to find something at the last minute to have with supper. Thus came about the habit of having a wine cellar in one’s home, so the butler had a place to hang out.

In more modern times, most of us do not possess these “grand” houses and our basements are filled with old bicycles, old clothes, old projects we will get to someday. If we even have basements—new houses are built on slabs, so people use the garage for storage while parking on the street. And if you live in an apartment, you know all about space limitations. A wine cellar is still a luxury for the wealthy.

Still, if you do have a corner to pile up a case or two, you can start a wonderful family tradition. After our children were born, we went to a top wine store and we bought a case of very good Bordeaux for our anniversary year, and one for each of the children’s birth years. As it happened, our anniversary year—1978—was not a great wine year. And Rob’s birthday year—1983—was okay. But our younger son, Michael, was born in 1989, which was a banner year in France.

We bought good wines that we thought would hold up for 30 years: ’78 Chateau Talbot, ’83 Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste, and ’89 Chateau Talbot. We stored them carefully in a cool basement. And over the years we have pulled out a bottle here and there for special occasions, special birthdays, graduations, and other major family life events.

What we found is that even in the not-so-hot years, a very good winemaking tradition produces very good wine. All three have held up well, as we opened delightful, full-bodied, delicious wines. I have no doubts that the ’83 and the ’89 will prove to be excellent at upcoming 30th birthday parties and even beyond, if any bottles are left.

Our family has had many wonderful years tasting our “anniversary” wines. If you are starting a family, think about creating a legacy for your young children that you can teach them to appreciate as they mature. As with all other things, if you make some wise investments early on, you’ll enjoy a terrific and fun payoff.

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