"Wine is water come of age." - Father Capon

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Importers are your friend

When choosing a bottle of wine few people think to look at who the importer is. It's a big mistake. Wine importers act as screening agents, combing through the vast world of available wine to find jems to grace their portfolio...and thus your table. According to Mark Oldman, wine importers' effect on quality wine is enormous. "They have the ability to influence producers to make wine of the highest integrity and then export it with the utmost care. And producers listen...Appearing on the back label of imported wine bottles, an importer's name is one of the great clues to a good wine, though few casual drinkers even know to look for it. The name of a high quality importer acts like a seal of approval - a sign that a fastidious expert has secured the best possible wines under the best possible conditions." Here is a list of quality importers for you to take to your local wine shop.

Eric Solomon/European Cellars - Eric Solomon is a justly famous importer of wines from Italy, France, and Spain. As the owner of my local wine shop put it, "if it's from Eric Solomon, I buy it."

Grateful Palate/Dan Philips - Grateful Palate sources "distinctive wines of pleasure" from Australia. As well as gourmet bacon and coffee.

Jorge Ordonez/Fine Estates from Spain - Jorge Ordonez is to Spanish wine, what Warren Buffett is to investing. That is to say, iconic. He is especially known for his affordable selections. Watch an episode of WLTV featuring Jorge here.

Peter Weygandt/Weygandt-Metzler Importing - Peter Weygandt is another fabulous importer of European wines. Watch a double feature of WLTV with Peter here and here

Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant  - No list would be complete without the iconic importer of French wine, Kermit Lynch. Find the WLTV series with Kermit herehere and here. Kermit has also written a famous book about his journeys as a wine buyer available here

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Thoughts on value

I love great wine, but I can't afford great wine.There are moments when I fantasize about being invited accidentally to a first growth Bordeaux tasting, but short of a miracle I realize that my chances of tasting such exalted juice are pretty close to nil. But, I was reminded yesterday that with a little savvy and patience, you can drink great wine on a budget. You are not condemned to drink Woodbridge and Barefoot forever. On Sunday we enjoyed the Sabbath at one of our dear friend's home. She treated us to a simple but magnificent dinner of lasagna made with lots of marscapone and fresh noodles, drown in rich red sauce and crisp Italian sausages. It was heaven. I supplied the wine. We drank three bottles, a Washington Cabernet from the Waluke Slope, a small production Syrah from California, and a dolcetto/nebbiolo blend from the Piedmonte in Italy. The combined value was around 80.00. I paid 25.00 (8.00 vs. 27.00 a bottle). That's lower than supermarket prices for mediocre wine. All three of them were distributor closeouts that I found at my local wine shop and at our Grocery Outlet. What's more, they were all fantastic wines. Deals like this don't grow on trees, but they are consistently to be found, especially in our economy. Read how a place like Grocery Outlet gets great deals here Bottom line, you don't have to drink bad wine just because you can't shell out 20-30.00 for a bottle. Beat the system. Think of wine shopping like you do yard sales. Keep your eyes pealed for the overlooked gem and then pounce.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Casa Marin Lo Abarca Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005

This was another of those crazy Grocery Outlet deals. The Casa Marin Lo Abarca Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005 is a serious wine. It scored 92 points in the Wine Advocate (#171, Jun. 07) and sells for 30.00+. At the GO it was 16.00. When my father and I opened the bottle and poured our first glass, we were impressed by the vivid strawberry, cranberry, and smoky nose. There was a hint of funky tire rubber that blew off with a little air. The palate was really seductive - powerful and intense layers of red fruit (unusually strong for a Pinot) surrounded by smoke and bacon fat. It was so smooth and seamless. Over the next two hours it changed as we drank it and got even better. Wow, this was good. Unabashedly new world in its profile, but with integrity and seamless integration. It would go superbly with boeuf bourguignon or a tenderloin.

Dolcetto d' Alba

S and I had two wonderful wines this week from the Piedmonte region of Italy. They were both based on the grape varietal Dolcetto. The Piedmonte region is known for the big wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, which are as expensive as they are famous. Dolcetto may be less famous, but it is a wonderful grape and more affordable than it's bigger brothers. It's name means "little sweet one" and it ripens faster than nebbiolo or barbera, making a rich wine that is deeply violet colored and low in acidity. Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch describe it this way, "with aromas of violets and black fruits, and usually a tinge of licorice and even coffee on the palate, dolcetto might be best described as part of a vinous color scheme. Barabera and nebbiolo tend to produce more "red" red wines - flavors of fresh dried cherries, red raspberries, and then a variety of earthy, spicy, leathery notes. But the dolcetto grape is more a purple or black wine, as evidenced not only by its deep color (something nebbiolo in particular lacks) but its black-fruit flavors. It is the juiciest and fruitiest of the Piedmont reds; the more full bodied, barrel-aged versions taste like a spread of blackberry jam on toast. Depending on the level of extraction a producer goes in for his dolcetto - a function not only of viticulture but the length of time the wine spends on its skins during fermentation - the wine may be light, soft, and almost Beaujolais-like in character, of plumper, rounder, with silty-sweet tannins and a sappiness reminiscent of California merlot." 
The Bricco del Drago, made by Poderi Colla, is a DOC classified blend of 85% dolcetto and 15% nebbiolo. We discovered the 2003 at the Moscow Wine Co. for an incredible 8.00 (online from 25.00-40.00)! It was a beautiful wine - the rich red fruits of the dolcetto were balanced by the dusty dry tannins of the nebbiolo, giving the wine more structure and power than dolcetto alone. It was perfect with pasta and red sauce with sausage. The 2006 Bricco Bastia Dolcetto D' Alba (again from the Wine Co.) was also a lovely wine. Loaded with dark fruits (blackberries especially) and licorice, it was fresh and rich all at the same time. Perfectly balanced too, with very little tannin. It paired especially well with the figs, olives, bread and cheese we enjoyed for lunch. These are really great wines and superb values. If you are in Moscow, you should stop by the Wine Co. and get a bottle to have with your next antipasti craving, and if not, ask your local wine shop for a dolcetto they recommend. You won't be sorry. 

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Cassiodorus on good food

"It is quite appropriate for monks to cultivate gardens, to plough fields, and to rejoice in the harvest of fruits. For it says in Psalm 127: 'You will eat hard-earned bread, you are blessed and it will be well for you'. If you are looking for authors on tis subject, Garfilius Martialis has written most beautifully on gardens and also carefully described fertilizers for vegetables and their properties. By reading from his comentary, everyone with the Lord's aid can be fed and kept healthy. I have left this book to you among others. Columella and Aemilianu among others are equally praiseworthy writers on the cultivation of fields, the raising of bees doves and fish....When these things are prepard for pilgrims and for the sick they become heavenly although they appear earthly. What a wonderful thing it is to refresh the weary either with sweet fruit or nourish them with baby dove eggs or to feed them with fish or soothe them with sweet honey. Since the Lord commanded us to give 'even cold water in His name' to the poor man, how much more pleasing will it be to give the sweetest food to all the needy in return for which you can receive on the day of judgment the resultant reward multiplied. One must not neglect whatever activities can profitably aid man." - Institutions of Divine and Secular Learning