Tag Archive: wine



Gold juice.

My goal was to dress up a meal of diner-style open-faced roast turkey breast sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy. That’s easy. Pairing is trickier than it seems because you want to avoid overt fruitiness and neutralize the saltiness of the dish while provding enough body richness to stand up to the full, earthy flavors. Fair roll of the dice, here.

  • Aroma: deep golden hay
  • Nose: beeswax, Bosc pear, lemon, delicate apricot
  • Taste: muted apricot and lemon pulp coated with (not-sweet) honey essence
  • Mouthfeel: viscous with a bit of mineral prickle cutting through a delicate waxiness
This is a classic Saint-Péray blend of of 50% Marsanne/50% Roussanne and all the requisite flavors and textures are here. On it’s own, many consumers might find this a bit too subtle fruit-wise and that is Marsanne doing its thing, providing the prevalent beeswax muting Roussanne’s fruity components. Paired against some salty food, though, the fruit pops beautifully while the wine retains its richness.
This is a lovely wine made from underrecognized varieties from an uner-the-radar Rhône region. Can be found in Maryland for $25-$30.

Black Falcon (Falco subniger)

One resolute bird.

Earlier this week, the Atlanta Falcons made a curious and rare decision to listen and respond to its fan-base (press release). Upon the opening of its new stadium, the NFL franchise will charge far more fair and reasonable prices for its concessions.

Long irksome for sports fans, the cost of concessions has reached a point wherein it can cost more for a beer than a seat on a given night. Increasingly, only those named Walton, Hearst, and DuPont are able to enjoy a family outing to the ballpark complete with sustenance through the often four-hour events. To be fair, concessions are luxuries—not truly necessary to the enjoyment of the game—but they are, and should be, part of the experience (and can be the key to maintaining a positive experience/sanity for those with children). But, at what point is it reasonable for a team or venue to dictate the terms of bankruptcy for a family to enjoy the ostentatious luxury of some dogs and sodas?

Atlanta Falcons CEO, Rich McKay, no longer believes those terms are reasonable at all. Why? Because research consistently showed that concession prices, quality, and wait times ranked as the worst of all fan experiences. This is across all leagues, teams, and venues.  The Falcons, who just completed a new stadium, had the opportunity to right that wrong and lead the charge on new paradigm.

What does any of this have to do with the wine/beer/spirits industry? Well…in short, everything. Recognizing and reacting to broken practices is key to any business’s health, particularly when relating directly to customers. The lessons from the Falcon’s decision are powerful. What McKay and his team realized is that doing things the old way just because that is “how it has always been done” is not a sufficient excuse for poor customer relations. Sure, there’s lots of money to be made on jacked-up soft pretzel prices, but is it worth the cost of a positive overall fan experience?

Alcohol beverage retailer—are you buying a 10-case QD deal on National Brand × Red Blend and still selling it at full markup? That’s fine, but you must give your customers enough credit that they likely know what the competitive price should be. Trust me, your customers may be loyal as a matter of convenience but they shop around.

The Falcons identified this need to treat their customers as knowledgeable consumers and not simply as cash machines. They realized that there was a long-term cost associated with overcharging their customers in the concession lines and that is that they would likely eat and drink at tailgates before the game and hold off on the second beer or soft pretzel inside the stadium opting instead to save the money and get a proper meal after the game. In the short-term, under the old model, they may make better margin but they will have significantly lower volume.

The difference for you is that you do not have the captive audience that a sports franchise has. If a ticket-holder wants a drink or food during the game, they have to pay the whatever the concessionaire charges. If a customer walks into your store and doesn’t like the prices they see on the products they like to buy, they can walk out and go somewhere else. The Falcons still made the decision to cut their concession prices even though they have a captive audience because the trade-off of lower volume over time coupled with constantly disgruntled fans was not worth the extra margin on the short-term. You need to think the same way.

Respect your customers. Listen to them. Find ways to appease them—be willing to cut prices on what should be high-turn products, trial run customer requests at less than standard mark-up to be competitive with the market at-large, etc., and be fair and reasonable in finding alternatives to your customers when it simply doesn’t make good business sense to do exactly what they want. You are in this business for the long-haul anyway—the short-term margin losses will be made up over time with greater volume and happy customers.

Remember: there are always ways to make up the difference in margin. You can never make up the difference in lost customers.


The Final Round

The Final Round


I spent all day yesterday with friends and colleagues tasting and judging Maryland wines. This is the fifth year I have been a judge in this competition and each year provides new insight into the direction Maryland wines are headed. After years of dominance by white wines in the competition, the last few years showed the current success and tremendous potential of red wines. This year, whites seemed to dominate again. There was no clear evidence to me that this was due to vintage conditions across the board, rather, some redirection by winemakers toward working with new or more historically successful varieties.
With red and white varieties sharing the stage on more equal footing in the enormous final rounds of gold medalists in this and prior year’s competitions bodes quite well for the future of wine quality on the whole in our state. Congratulations to all Maryland winemakers for their efforts to release the best possible wines.


That’s how you spend a day off.

 

 

Origin: Barossa, Australia

Composition: 66% Syrah/19% Grenache/8% Mourvèdre/7%Viognier

Appearance: ruby-violet with a black core and slightly bricked edges

Nose: eucalyptus, brambly blackberry, licorice

Palate: ripe mixed berries, tobacco, espresso bean, menthol

Mouthfeel: medium-full bodied with mouth-filling richness up-front, overall silkiness, wee mid-palate acid, and chalky tannins

Knew I was grilling a sirloin steak and wanted a wine built to handle it. Stopped by my old shop and found this bottling that I brought in a couple of years ago and pegged it as just right (also, at a price I was willing to spend $40–sorry St. Joseph, top-shelf Argentine blends, and vintage Rioja Reserva).

Twisted the screw-cap, set to grilling, and waited. About an hour later, sirloin topped with blue Stilton; grilled radicchio; and grill-sautéed green peppers, onions, and baby bella mushrooms were on the table next to a deep, dark glass of this Aussie classic.

Taut upon release and hiding under Stelvin closure, this wine has really come around. The nose and palate showed an almost Port-like something that had me a touch worried in conjunction with the slight bricking, but it turned out to be just the stewy fruit common of Barossa. The crush of ripe berry fruit was kept in check by a delicate mid-palate acid and the cooling menthol edge on the finish. At a stated 15% alcohol, this could have easily been boozy, but was quite well-balanced and surprisingly light and drinkable.

The pairing was on the money, too. The balance was apparent in not dominating the (admittedly, strong) flavors on my plate. The fruit and acid played beautifully off the fattiness and char of the steak and intense flavor of the Stilton. The radicchio and mixed veggies brought out fruit sweetness in the wine.

Next thing I knew, the wife and I had killed the bottle as we cleared our plates. No palate fatigue. No fullness after a glass. No concern about paying the price of over-indulgence. Just pure satisfaction.

Fine Wine?


A portion of my comments from a forum question about what constitutes “fine wine” on LinkedIn. This pretty much sums up my general philosophy on wine appreciation and belongs here as much as anywhere.

Fine wine doesn’t try to cowtow to our basest desires–it is what it is without compromise and doesn’t really care if you like it. A fine wine knows it is not for everyone but that it is for someone. It understands that its place is nestled on a retail shelf or wine list amongst myriad other products that exist under the same conditions just waiting for someone to chose it, love it, and cherish the memory of it long after it’s gone.

What is “fine wine” to you?

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All fine–all prices and styles


Hidden deep within the dramatic landscape of Roussillon, there is a power dismissed as rumour.

 

View from “The Disco Bus”. The last “real” thing I can confirm.

Layers of subterfuge and encryption prohibit a true understanding of the goings-on within what appears to be a simple garage facility from its unassuming front door. 

…and others may happen here


Some of the things that are said to happen happen here..

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are things said and done within Vingrau in the heart of Roussillon that I heard, and saw, and tasted that deny tradition, deflect rational thought, and defy all I have learned.

 

Confusing the senses.


 

There are things that may or may not be occurring in Vingrau that, like the elephant in the room, are undeniable but about which one does not speak.

 

Subterfuge of a mad scientist.

There was a man — a bright and genial, but shadowy, man — who spoke in clear and concise language of methods and intents. He told us of truths while casually diverting attention from facts.

 

Renaud Chastagnol (unconfirmed).

There are things happening in Vingrau…I felt them…there are things I can not comprehend, but I know them to be true. 


That’s right — more CdP! 

From the center of town we make a short trip to the property of Domaine de Chateaumar. Here, as with several generations before, father and son, Jean-Felix and Frédéric Souret, sustainably manage the vineyards and make the wine at the winery just steps away from the majority of vineyard plantings. 

The family business. Sly Bastien is next in line.


 

This is the most modernized facility we have visited so far. Pristine, and well-organized, it is a stark contrast to the ancient Roman structures on the property.

The entrance to the Chateaumar tasting room and winery.


Ancient Roman farm structure adjacent to the Chateaumar winery.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vines grown with no herbicides. The soil around the vines is turned frequently to discourage other flora from leeching off water and nutrients.


Here we see that the soil is clay-heavy, richer, and more forgiving than at Gradassi’s property. These vines produce generous fruit, much of which goes into juicy, lush, declassified wines at very attractive prices.

Today we tasted the 2011 and 2012 vintages of Châteauneuf-du-Pape As well as two custom cuvées made for Bourgeois Family Selections: “Bastien”, a 100% Grenache; and “Vincent”, a (very unusual for the region) 100% Syrah.

Discussing the 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape at the pristine, new winery facility at Domaine de Chateaumar.


I already carry the “Bastien” in the store and knew that it was a ripe, approachable expression of Grenache. This bears out through the 2011 and 2012 (barrel sampled and to be bottled in June) vintages. The surprise was the “Vincent”. It is fair to be somewhat leery of a Southern Rhône Syrah with expectations of high extraction and difficult alcohol heat. Fears were unwarranted as both vintages produced well structured wines that integrate the relatively high alcohol well. 

The Châteauneuf-du-Pape samples showed similar characteristics. Very ripe, jammy raspberry/blackberry fruit on both, but not at the expense of acid or soft tannins. Lots of spice and licorice show on both the 2011 bottling and the 2012 barrel sample. These will be wines that may not age too well and should be enjoyed primarily in their youth, but they are just so satisfying and fairly priced that none of that should matter.

All-in-all, these are wines with character and prices for all to enjoy made by a kind and friendly family. Its hard not to like that combination.


Charcuterie. Perfect pairing with Bourgogne Blanc at Domaine des Gerbeaux.

 

Domaine des Gerbeaux’s Solutré Chardonnay vines from the door to the winery.

 

Apparently, Pouilly-Fuissé goes great with ham (with Steve White of Click Wholesale Distributing, WA).

 

Brilliant four seafood entrée in a light cream sauce (immediately following the biggest hunks of foie gras I’ve ever seen, and just before the salad, killer cheese plate, and elegant dessert) at a roadside diner-looking family seafood restaurant in the Pierres Dorées in Beaujolais.

 

About to have a generously prepared home-cooked meal in the dining room of the Maillet family of Domaine de la Berthete.


Arc de Triomphe d’Orange from underneath the main arc


 

Arc de Triomphe d’Orange: an awesome bit of history.


A good, long drive from the Pierres Dorées to Orange for an after-dark arrival at Domaine de la Berthete marked this leg of the trip. Upon stepping out of the Disco Bus, we were all nearly knocked off of our feet by the bone-chilling Mistral winds. Probably about 35℉ with winds gusting at about 40MPH here this evening (which probably only seems unbearable after an afternoon of napping in a van).

Pascal Maillet explaining his winemaking methods.


 

Here, winemaker/owner of Domaine de la Berthete, Pascal Maillet, graciously gave us a tour of the vinification area adjacent to his home. Maillet practices as close to organic (technically “sustainable”) as possible in his vineyards planted to Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache Blanc, and Bourboulenc. His vines are planted in Côtes du Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages, and Principauté d’Orange and average over 30 years of age. Red wines are fermented in the large (60hL) stainless steel tanks seen above and whites in stainless steel and fiberglass tanks. Some of the reds then see up to a year in new French oak barrels. 

 

A cute display of the wines in the tiny tasting room at Domaine de la Berthete.


From here, we escaped the chill stepping into the tasting room adjacent to the winery offices. The tasting included three 2012 barrel samples (including Maillet’s first Châteauneuf du Pape bottling from a friend’s one-acre parcel) as well as a makeshift approximation of the 2012 “Sensation” red blend.

The rosé is a blend of, predominately, Cinsault, with Grenache and Carignan making up the balance. It is made in the Saignée method, which is, essentially, a bleed of the first gentle press of the grapes that will become red wine. However, this wine is a carefully constructed blend of the juice from those pressings rather than the afterthought that is frequently the case with such wines. The resultant wine is gentle, Provençal-style, pale salmon-colored with a a faint violet cast showing strawberry and peach on the palate with a soft, mouth-filling texture.

The Côtes du Rhône (normale) shows rich, dark wildberry fruit and licorice more or less belies the simple stainless steel vinification and aging. This will be a great little everyday wine when ready.

The Côtes du Rhône Villages (Plan de Dieu) will be a lovely wee beastie when bottled. Deep red with violet edges, this wine is carried by very ripe blackberry, a lively acid streak cutting through a velvet-soft mouthfeel, and a long licorice-tinged finish.

The 200 case-production Châteauneuf du Pape bottling will be a fine showing after about six more months in barrel and some time to settle in bottle. Translucent garnet with blueish edges; currently a very closed nose; palate of rich, floral wildberries.

 

The “Sensation” blend is a proprietary label for Bouurgeois Family Selections. It is comprised of all of the red varieties planted by Maillet in the Côtes du Rhône Villages region, aged up to 12 months in new French oak barrels, and then blended with up to 15% of the prior vintage’s wine. This makes for a rich, soft and ready-to-drink wine. Our tasting sample of this wine was approximated on the fly by Mr. Maillet in a graduated flask. Ultimately, this should end up a well-structured wine with a richness and oak-spice influence built for the American palate. I currently carry the 2011 in the store and it is one of our best-selling Rhône wines.

Upon conclusion of the tasting our group was invited into the Maillet’s beautiful home for a lovingly prepared home-cooked meal (highlighted by lentil soup with foie gras, and a ridiculous cheese plate). The welcoming nature and generosity of the family will not be forgotten. These are lovely people making wonderfully approachable wines priced for all to enjoy. 

We made our way back to the hotel in Orange with a quick stop to see the Arc de Triomphe d’Orange. Regrettably, I was too exhausted to make a trek to the brilliant-looking Roman amphitheater in Orange the following morning. Next time . 

 

 

 


Here are some extra visual goodies from my France trip:

Champagne Philippe Fontaine

A commitment to excellence expressed by pumps in the snow.

 

Nice place, but to heat the thing would be a bear.

 

Pruning on those slopes must be a difficult task.

 

A fairly small operation.

 

A cute display at the “HQ”.

 

 

Domaine Debray

Unassuming entry to another world.

 

Students of the game in the cave.

 

We’re we really there that long?!?

 

 

In the town of Beaune

The hotel and restaurant was open just for us. A lovely meal and a good night’s sleep.

Camaraderie building early.

 

Pre-food coma at Restaurant L’Horloge.

 


Terrine of awesome.

 

“When in Beaune, do as the Beauners do.” — Steve White

 

The Epoisse that nearly killed us all as it was almost too good to bear.

 

Disco Bus hits a snow-down.

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