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Wine Event and Tasting Opportunity

March 31, 2011

The Camden County Bar Charitable Foundation is holding a charity wine event. And no, it’s not that kind of bar, it’s the lawyers group. Bad jokes aside, it is a good opportunity to have fun on a night out, sample good food and wine and support a non-profit organization.

The event is Friday, April 8 2011 from 6-10pm at the Collingswood Grand Ballroom in Collingswood, NJ (an absolutely beautiful venue, by the way). Tickets are $50 per person or $90 per couple. No need for me to describe it, here’s their words:

Join us for a delightful evening of food, spirits and fun featuring area restaurants and eateries, and a fine wine tasting sponsored by Canal’s Bottle Stop, in support of the charitable and community service programs of the Camden County Bar Foundation.

Enjoy tempting tastes from Braddock’s Tavern, Booby Chez, The Apron, William Douglas Steakhouse, Kuzina by Sophia, Ponzio’s, Filomena Cucina, Filomena Berlin, Casona, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, Pretty Sweet Treats, Lucien’s Manor, Metro Diner, The Stone Grille, Cathedral Kitchen, Indulgence Cupcakery and more!

Browse silent auction tables – with the right bid you could go home with a terrific vacation getaway, sports tickets, gift baskets, sports memorabilia and more.

Purchase a raffle ticket for $10 and you could leave with an Apple iPad or Apple iTouch!

Call 856.482.0620 to reserve tickets.

Buying Good Wine – An Inside Tip for Imports

March 29, 2011

In wine classes I’m frequently asked how to find good wine in retail stores. Here is a great tip for selecting good imported wine, whether from France, Germany, Italy, Spain (or other Old World countries) or even from New World collections from Australia, New Zealand, Argentina or Chile.

The reason that this little trick doesn’t work for domestic wines is because it’s all about the importer. The importer is the company that buys wines from overseas, negotiates price, quantity and shipping and then brings it into the US. At this point, many importers then sell the wine to distributors who then sell it to the restaurants and stores in the states in which they are licensed to work.

This “Three Tier” system (importer, distributor and retailer) is much loved and much maligned by different sides of the wine trade, but is set-up by law to help regulate the sale of alcoholic beverages. There are some importers who are also distributors, sometimes in just some states and not others. Most importers aren’t in the distribution business at all, with it’s necessary infrastructure and knowledge of diverse markets.

Instead, they focus solely on doing what they do best: finding good wine and buying it from the source.

So next time you are contemplating the purchase of wine from overseas, turn the bottle over and look on the back label. There you will almost surely find the name of the importer. When you find a wine you really like, take note not only of the grape variety, the region it comes from and the price, but also who imported the wine.

It’s likely that if you like some of the selections from a given importer, you might like their style. This would allow you to explore some of their other imports, increasing your odds of finding other producers that you’ll like.

The other time when a little knowledge of importers helps is when you are faced with a couple of choices of similar wines (same region, variety and vintage) but you don’t know either producer or their style. When faced with this situation, I always look to see who the importer is. If it’s a name I recognize and respect, then my choice is made!

Most of the smaller importers that I look for are usually country-specific. Here are a few well-known and well-regarded importers and the country or regions for which they’re known:

Kermit Lynch – French wines

Becky Wasserman – Burgundy and Champagne

Micheal Skurnik – France, Italy

Terry Theise – Germany & Austria

Savio Soares – Germany & Austria

Domenico Selections – Italy

Wine Label Words: French Wines Part II (Deux)

March 11, 2011

In Part I we covered the basics of the French appellation system (AOC or AC wines), and we started to explore the major AOC regions and what grape varieties we find in each.

I should point out here that French wine laws weren’t developed just to confuse us, the consumer, but to behold the regions that produced the very best wines. The rules concerning what grape varieties were allowed in these regions were developed alongside the hundreds (sometimes thousands) of years of experience in growing grapes and making wine there.

So the idea behind a place name on the label, as opposed to the grape variety, is to highlight the special qualities that the region imbues on its wines. In simpler terms, the laws were inspired to help us think “Wow, what a great Burgundy!” as opposed to “Wow, what a great chardonnay!” We can get chardonnay from many wine regions around the world, but there is only one Burgundy.

French Wine Regions

Ok, this is the continuation of learning what grape varieties come with the French region name on the label. And remember that tasting the wine is still the best way to associate a place name with a grape variety. Taste is a powerful reminder!

Bordeaux:
Some of the great wines of the world come from Bordeaux. Despite the varied place names within the region, it’s actually quite easy to summarize the region.

First, the main red grape varieties are very familiar. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. There are some wines that are primarily one or the other, but mostly Bordeaux reds are a blend of mostly these two grapes. There is a river that cuts through the middle of the region, flowing from East to West (towards the Atlantic). To the left of the river, thankfully known as the Left Bank, the wines tend to be more Cabernet Sauvignon dominated. To the right, northern side of the river, Right Bank wines lean towards more Merlot.

Map of Bordeaux

There are no rules concerning the percentages of either variety used, accounting for the difference (besides location) for wines from one area or another. Also, winemakers are free to blend in some other varieties as well, though these tend to be in smaller amounts. Some wine may contain Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot (ver-dough), and to a lesser extent Malbec or Carménere, though these last two are really rare anymore.

Some typical Left Bank appellation names that you may encounter are Graves, Médoc, Haut-Medoc, Margaux, St-Julien, Pauillac, & St. Estéphe. The Right Bank places you’ll likely find on labels include St-Emilion, Pomerol, Canon-Fronsac & Fronsac. The smaller the place (see map) the more the wine will likely cost. It’s similar to the difference between a Napa wine or a Carneros wine (a smaller part within Napa).

White wines are made from Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and to a lesser extent a grape called Muscadelle. The wines made in the area between the two rivers, Entre-Deux-Mers, are all white wines from these grapes. Also from this region is one of the great dessert wines. Sauternes is found down near the bottom of the Bordeaux map, to the left side of the river. These lucious, sweet whites are made from the same white grapes, but the flavors are concentrated by a drying-out of the water in the grapes.

Rhone:
Here things are a little easier, except for the exceptions. The Rhone is split into two sections, North & South. In the northern Rhone, the red variety is Syrah. So whether it’s a Cote Rotie or an Hermitage, it’s the same grape. For whites it’s Viognier (vee-ohn-yay), Marsanne and Rousanne.

The southern Rhone is a little different, as we add a few other grapes to the mix like Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan. The whites are generally the same as in the Northern Rhone, but also Grenache Blanc or Grenache Gris (though these are less frequent).

Map of the Rhone Valley

So here’s where a little more geography helps. If it’s a Northern Rhone red, it will be all Syrah. The usual suspects here are Hermitage, Cote Rotie, Saint Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage and Cornas. Some of these places allow some white Viognier to be blended with the Syrah, which helps extract more color and, some say, adds depth. Famously, all Viognier whites come from Condrieu in the North, too.

If it’s a Southern Rhone red, or a Cotes du Rhone, it is typically a blend of grapes usually dominated by Grenache and Syrah but also featuring some of the other varieties mentioned earlier. Place names here include Gigondas, Vacqueyras and a newer entry called Rasteau. The exceptional exception here is Chateauneuf du Pape, which allows up to 13 different varieties, though as you might assume from the rest of the region, Grenache dominates.

Burgundy:
Now on to my favorite of French regions! Starting from the south, we first hit a region that is usually thought of as separate and has distinct soils, topography, and climate from the rest of Burgundy. But in fact Beaujolais is part of the Burgundy region, at least technically.

While there are some exceptions, the dominant white grape is Chardonnay and all of the reds are made from Gamay. The red Beaujolais are soft, light bodied and fruity wines, but the image of them as all like Beaujolais noveau would make you miss out on increasingly well-made and structured Cru Beaujolais. The town names you’re likely to see are Morgon, Brouilly (brew-yee), Julienas (jewel-a-nah), Fleurie (floor-ee) and and Chiroubles (sheer-ub-lah).

These names are important to know if you are sure you want a Beaujolais made from the gamay grape instead of a Burgundy made from pinot noir.

Just to the north of Beaujolais is the Maconnais, alternately the Macon. This area is considered the true southern end of Burgundy and is known mostly for its white wines from Chardonnay, though some red Pinot Noir can be found here as well. The commonly found names from here found on store shelves are the well-known Puilly-Fuisse and also St. Veran and Vire-Clesse. North of here is the Cote Chalonnaise, but these are less frequently found in typical stores here.

The heart of Burgundy is what lies ahead. The upper region in its entirety is called the Cote d’Or (coat-door), but that too is split into the upper Cote de Nuits (coat-deh-nwee) and the lower Cote d’Beaune (coat-deh-bone).

Here is where Burgundy shines the brightest. Primarily you’ll find red wines from Pinot Noir and white wines from Chardonnay. The many town names you’ll find along the way, starting in the northern Cote de Nuits are Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-St-Denis, Vougeot and Vosne-Romanee.

There are others, but we’re already into some pricey turf here, so if you’re perusing the Burgundy shelves looking for something along these lines, you’re spending enough to have either learned what you’re looking for already or should only buy from a shop that can assist you in some capacity. Again, the idea here is to know that the wine is from the upper part of Burgundy.

I haven’t forgotten about the southern neighbor, the Cote de Beaune. Especially because some of the finest white wines (chardonnay) are from here. Town names include Beaune, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Santenay and Savigny-Les-Beaunes.

Finally, though not least, Chablis is separated geographically from the rest of Burgundy, but it is part of the appellation. Chablis is to the north and west, closer to Champagne than to the Cotes d’Or. The whites of Chablis are from Chardonnay.

While this was a lot of information to process, exploration of these regions little by little can lead to some of the happiest wine experiences one could hope for. Whether a bold red Bordeaux, a spicy Northern Rhone, a Loire Valley white or (in my book) just about anything from Burgundy, a little information pays back huge dividends in future wine enjoyment.

Wacky Wine Pairing That Rocks!

March 6, 2011

Wine pairing can be tricky….yet easy. Simple, yet elusive. Here’s an interesting one that didn’t work at first, but then came back with roaring success!

Having prepared a dinner of baked trout with crab meat (ok, leftovers from Joe Pesce, a seafood restaurant in Collingswood) and stir-fried bok choy with mushrooms and garlic (home made this time!), I decided that a German Kabinett riesling would be good to try with the meal.

Now, I didn’t know whether this particular bottle was dry, a little off dry or a lot, which is partly why I was eager to open it and learn. It was a 2007 Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben ‘Erdener Treppchen’ Riesling Kabinett. (Yes, the Germans sure do love their long wine names. For simplicity sake, it’s ok to just call this the Erben Riesling Kabinett without too much fear of confusing it with their other labels. The Erdener Treppchen refers to the vineyard that produced this wine, and a well-regarded vineyard it is.)

2007 Christoffel Erben Riesling Kabinett

The wine was tasty, definitely off-dry to medium-sweet with a typical German Riesling flavor profile of tropical fruits (pineapple, kiwi, banana, maybe even a little mango), a touch of honey, and some sweet spice; medium- to full-bodied with a medium length finish.

The wine was fun to sample before dinner, and a very good example of what a Kabinett riesling should be. But I have to admit, not the best match to the meal. The wine was sweeter than I would have chosen for this particular meal, and I do have a couple of dry Rieslings in the house that I could have chosen, but I really was eager (over-eager?) to open the bottle and try out this wine. It wasn’t a complete failure, but not that great and certainly not memorable.

After dinner is where things really got interesting. There was a box of Pfeffernusse cookies in the cupboard, purchased recently at Trader Joe’s for only .99¢. These are traditional German Christmastime cookies, so I took advantage of the fact that TJ’s was off-loading the leftovers from the past holiday season.

Yep, TJ's Pfeffernusse cookies and a Kabinett Riesling!

These cookies are a little soft in the middle, with a definite crunch on the outside. They are covered with powdered sugar, so they have some mouth-pleasing sweetness, but one that is not too overpowering, and lets in some spice of allspice and clove (does a cookie have a ‘finish?’).

Hmmm, German cookies that are a little sweet with a solid streak of spice, and a German wine that is a little sweet with a touch of spice. You see? Food pairing is simple and easy! Just match flavors. And regional cuisine (are cookies considered cuisine?) with regional wine.

But the cookies and the wine together? Sublime, delicious, and dare I say A Perfect Pairing!

The cookies washed down wonderfully with the wine, clearing the palate of the spice, and the wine seemed less-sweet when matched with the sugary coating on the cookies.

You can find this and more of my articles on Wine Life Magazine, www.winelifemagazine.com

Tasting Opportunity

March 1, 2011

Tasting opportunity in South Jersey! A fun way to try a lot of different wines is to go to a wine tasting event. If you’ve never been, or if you’re an old pro, here’s one coming up soon that should be fantastic.

Grapes & Grain South Jersey
Friday, March 11, 2011
7:00 pm to 10:00 pm
Auletto Caterers, 1849 Cooper St, Almonesson NJ 08096
(easy to get to from Route 42 for you Philly people)
$75 per ticket, benefits the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

I know that there will be about 75 or more really nice wines being poured. Not a bad way to support a worthy cause, have a fun night out, and get to sample a whole lot of tasty wine (and beer) all in one shot!

Tickets: 610-325-6001 or online at delawarevalley.cff.org/grapesandgrainSJ

Wine Label Words: French Wines

February 15, 2011

Next in the series is French wines. Understanding French wine labels is really about understanding French wine regions. That’s because knowing the region will help you to know the grape and more importantly, the style – of the wine.

To be thorough, there is a French wine hierarchy based upon quality and similar to other European wine laws, many if which are modeled after the French laws. Unlike in Germany, we don’t need to memorize terms from a ripeness chart.

The main point to know about French wine laws is the AOC system, which is for Appellation d’Origine Controlée, which means ‘Appellation of Controlled Origin.’ This system proves the origin of agricultural products, from cheese and butter to chicken and honey, but is most widely used for wine. The easiest thing to know about the AOC system is, if it comes from a named region, then the minimum quality standards are good.

If a wine falls outside of a named region, or fails to follow the rules for the region it hails from, then the wine would be a Table Wine (or Vin de Table in French). Although plenty of this type of wine is produced, we see very little of it here (no sense in shipping really inexpensive wine across an ocean). The next level up is Country Wine (Vin de Pays). A lot of the inexpensive French wine would fall under this category.

Now we have Appellation Controlee, or AC wines. Generally, the more specific the place, the better the quality. But how do you know one town name (village in French parlance) from another, or a town name as opposed to a region name or even a vineyard name? Unfortunately, there is no short-cut. To best understand French wine regions, there is a certain amount of memorization that comes with the territory. The great news is, drinking the wines of a region is the best way to explore and learn about that region (short of traveling and seeing the region firsthand). Who knew studying would ever be this fun?

French wine regions

Ok, let’s focus then on a quick tour of the named regions around France and the grape varieties, styles or some sub-regions of each.

Loire Valley:
This is a long valley just south of Paris that stretches from about the geographic center of the country to the Atlantic coast. Starting in the western edge, we have a region that is best known for it’s sauvignon blanc. There are a few place names that you may already be familiar with or are likely to see most often in your local store, like Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé.

Loire Valley wine regions

In the central part of the valley, we start to see the red wines of Chinon from cabernet franc and whites wines from chenin blanc. The most commonly seen place name from here is Vouvray, followed by Saveniérres. Whites from chenin blanc from the Loire Valley can be dry, off-dry or sweet. still or sparkling. Getting to know a few producers is the best way to know what style of wine you’ve found.

At the end of the valley, near the shores of the Atlantic ocean is a part of the Loire called Muscadet. The wines from here are wonderful seafood wines made from an offspring of chardonnay. The variety is called melon de bourgogne (emphasis on the second syllable in melon), or just melon for short. The best examples of these are made by allowing the wines to sit “on the lees,” which are the yeast cells that fermented the wine and then settled on the bottom of the tank. Leaving the lees in with the wine, and especially with occasional stirring to really mix the lees with the wine, imparts a wonderfully creaminess on both the texture and flavor.

Alsace:
This is a much simpler region to get to know for the sole fact that this is the only French wine region that puts the grape variety on the label. The trick to finding good Alsatian wines is to get to know the producers. So, try a few out and remember the producers whose wines you liked.

The other key point to Alsace is to remember that Alsace is a cool region (it’s pretty far north) and right up against Germany geographically. Historically, Alsace has swapped between French and German ownership. So, it’s no surprise to see a lot of similar varieties between Germany and Alsace. And names that sound more German than French. like Hugel.

Two other things to know: the signature bottle for the region is the tall, slender flute. And the region is long and slender, with two areas (one North and one South), but it isn’t a necessity to learn the geography of the region to understand the wines. Enjoy it, because that is a rarity in Old World wines!

The varieties you’ll find, lightest bodied first, are: Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer, Riesling, and Pinot Noir.

 

Ok, we’re doing really well here so far, but this has already gotten quite long. Take some time to review these couple of regions we’ve encountered so far. And you remember the best way to learn about wine regions, right? Go drink some wine! Find some Loire Valley and Alsace wines and we’ll finish the rest of the French wine regions in Part II.

Diploma Course Wines: Burgundy!

January 26, 2011

I couldn’t resist the exclamation point on the title, because Burgundies are my favorite wines of the world. So hop on and have a quick tour of the region with the six wines we tasted for this unit. In fact, I was so happy tasting these wines that I forgot to take pictures of all but one (of the bottle that came home with me after class!). So label pics from the internet will stand in for my actual photographs this week.

Burgundy:

Wine #1:
2009 Henri Fessey Beaujolais Villages (Gamay grape variety) $12.50 – the color was typical of a young Beaujolais, bright purple. Cherry, black cherry and pungent licorice on the nose, with sweet scents of bubble gum and cotton candy. The wine is dry with low alcohol and low tannins, plenty of red cherry, raspberry, clove and a little herbal flavors of mint.

2009 Henry Fessey Beaujolais Villages

Wine #2:

2008 Chateau de la Chaize Brouilly

2008 Chateau de la Chaize Brouilly (Gamay) $15.99 – one step above is a Beaujolais from a specific town (village). This wine was more ruby in color with strawberry, raspberry and dried fruit followed by a floral or perfume character. Very youthful nose (lots of primary fruit). The wine is dry with just a little more weight on the body, with soft, medium tannins and flavors of similar red fruit to the previous wine but also with cranberry, black pepper and cinnamon.

Wine #3:
2008 Joseph Drouhin ‘Laforet’ Bourgogne Rouge (Pinot Noir) $14.99 – medium ruby color, youthful red cherry aromas with oak influence of cedar and vanilla. Tannins were medium and a little ‘green’ with cranberry, sour cherry, cedar, and a lit unripe flavors of white pepper and leafiness.

Wine #4:
2007 Louis Latour Volnay (Pinot Noir) $30.79 –  as with the Beaujolais, we’re getting higher up the scale in Burgundy. Ruby color with red fruit nose, primarily of strawberry, with a light touch of pepper, some oak aromas of cedar and an herbal aroma of menthol. Medium acidity, tannins and body with characteristic red fruit, cherry, feint cranberry flavors with some black pepper and a bit of savory gaminess. Overall, the nose showed riper fruit than what followed through on the palate, which seemed a little flatter overall with a tart fruit character that kept this wine in the ‘good’ rather than ‘very good’ category.

2007 Louis Latour Volnay

Wine #5:
2004 Fontaine-Gagnard Volnay ‘Clos des Chenes’ Premier Cru (Pinot Noir) $41.25 – garnet color with clear legs; red fruit aromas of cherry, strawberry, licorice with oak aromas of vanilla and cedar. This wine also was showing developing aromas of mushroom and a hint of a gamey or earthy note. The medium tannins were chalky with generous red and black fruit flavors of cherry, black cherry, pungent pepper on the medium-plus length finish. The wine was very good and should continue to develop maturing flavors and qualities for several more years, as judged by the depth on the nose, the concentration of fruit and balance on the palate. The chalky tannins were all that kept this wine from being deemed a wine of superior quality, again pointing to the improvement that a few more years of aging should lend to this wine.

 

Wine #6:
2005 Harmand-Geoffroy Gevrey Chambertin Lavaux Saint Jacques Premier Cru (Pinot Noir) $53.00 – clear, ruby color with dried cherry, oak, charred wood and gamey mushroom on the nose. Medium-plus acidity with cranberry, unripe strawberry, charred wood, hint of tobacco on the palate with a medium-plus length finish. The wine was very good with excellent fruit on the nose and palate, will continue to improve due to the intensity of the fruit and acidity.

2005 Harmand-Geoffroy Gevrey Chambertin

Can you tell that I had the task of reviewing wine #5? It’s easier to come away with more detailed notes when you have 10 minutes to write them rather than trying to jot down your own impressions and while listening to the other participants dissect the wine.

I’d love to expand more on how to find good Burgundies and the varying styles that can be found, even among the small number of varieties used there. But alas, that will have to be for another post…..and my glass of 2008 Benjamin Leroux Savigny Les Beaune (another Burgundy!) is empty.

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