Archive for December, 2008

Aimee’s birthday wines

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Aimee’s birthday was a week ago Sunday, so of course we had to break out some great wine! She got the day off with friends while I worked at the shop; she came in around 5 and some other friends met us for a small celebration. We started off with some Champagne that I had chilled, the Duval Leroy Paris Cuvee. It was a nice wine that the occasion made much better. Totally serviceable Champagne, but nothing overly memorable on its own. All Champagne is good, though, so I set a high standard. Not distinctive enough to carry in the shop, but again, the occasion made it great. Talk turned to sabering Champagne, which is a fun party trick that I love to do. My champagne saber was at home, so I found a chef’s knife (the back of any heavy knife will work just as well), grabbed a bottle of Gran Sarao Cava (you don’t want to use anything expensive, since you’ll lose some in the process) and we trekked outside for the demo. Everyone was duly impressed. (like I said, good party trick – visually impressive and once you know how, easy to do.) After we had the Cava, we headed home for a birthday dinner of Jing’s Chinese food and a special wine that I brought home from France.

I visited several domaines when I was in Burgundy in February 2007, and fell in love with the white wines of Morey-Coffinet – they’re a very small producer that I got hooked up with because I’m friends with the people at Martine’s Wines, their US importer. Michel Morey is a young guy who is utterly unassuming and almost shy about his wines, but they’re stunning. I barrel tasted all the 2006’s when I was there and then most of the ’05s in bottle. I brought back the 2005 Chassagne Montrachet Les Caillerets 1er cru. (Out of all the 1er crus, I thought that was the most accessible in youth, and thought I would be drinking it shortly after I got back; I didn’t plan on cellaring it until now.)

We opened it up with dinner, and it was magical. I just love white Burgundy – at its heights it’s the greatest white wine in the world. Great complexity – primary fruit, minerality, integrated spicy oak, creaminess from lees aging and malolactic fermentation, good acidity, very long finish. Simply lovely; a great way to end the day.

A related note about Morey Coffinet – when we started up the shop, I immediately contacted Martine’s to find out who their WI distributor was so I could carry the portfolio. Turns out they didn’t have one, but my interest helped facilitate them getting one. We’re just about the only place in the state thus far working with their portfolio, since I had the advantage of being familiar with many of the producers. In addition to a Bourgogne Rouge from Christophe Perrot Minot (rising superstar who I also visited; his wines are highly sought after, and I snapped up Wisconsin’s entire allocation of the Rouge – a whopping six bottles!) we now carry three stunning wines from Morey Coffinet – a Bourgogne Blanc, a Chassagne-Montrachet “Blanchots-Dessus” 1er cru, and a Puligny-Montrachet “Les Pucelles” 1er cru.

Sparkling Wine Extravaganza Notes

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Last week’s sparkling wine tasting drew a great crowd, which was especially encouraging given the snowfall. (Just like the week prior, when we had four people. This tasting we had 27. Go figure – I guess there’s a quick adjustment period!)

The tasting went really well – we did 7 wines from around the world, and each showed good regional and varietal typicity, with not a dog in the bunch. (I’d tasted all these several times before, though, so felt fairly confident in putting together the line-up.)

First wine was Cantine Riondo’s Prosecco. Prosecco is both the name of the grape and the region in northeast Italy. Made in the tank method (where the secondary fermentation occurs in a pressurized tank, as opposed to in the bottle as with Champagne), which results in frothier bubbles and less lees character. Prosecco is known for crisp, lemony flavors. It’s slightly sweeter than brut Champagne, at about 20-25 g/L residual sugar compared to 10-12. The Riondo has gread lemony fruit; it’s one of the most concentrated I’ve tried, and really nice balance. It was one of the more popular wines, with lots of people buying bottles.

Next up was Gran Sarao’s Cava. I had put it after the Prosecco because it’s got more depth and structure, but in retrospect, I should have put this one first, since it’s drier than the Prosecco and the sweetness of the Prosecco made this one taste a little more austere than it really does. The Sarao, like all Cava, is made in the methode Champenoise (secondary fermentation in bottle, extended lees aging), from native grapes Parellada, Xarel-lo, and Macabeo, with the addition of a little Chardonnay for fruitiness. It has 18 months lees contact (lees are the dead yeast cells and other solids left after fermentation, which gives richness and a yeasty, briochy character), so some structure and richness, though not as much as Champagne. Very clean and well-made, great everyday sparkling wine.

Third was Jaillance’s Cremant de Bourgogne. Cremant is the French term for sparkling wine not made in Champagne; this is from the non-Champagne region of Burgundy, so it shares the same grape varietals (in this case, 90% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Noir).  From a warmer part of Burgundy than Champagne, so the acidity is a bit lower and there’s not as much time on the lees, but it’s a beautiful poor-man’s Champagne. Good introduction to French sparkling wine.

Domaine du Margalleau Vouvray Brut, France ($16.50)
Vouvray is a region in the Loire Valley in France, and is 100% Chenin. Chenin is a great grape – it’s one of the few in the world that makes world-class sparkling, still, and sweet wines. One reason it can do so is that it can get quite ripe yet still retain its high acidity; it’s also known for its honeyed, nutty flavors and rich mouthfeel. Made in the methode Champenoise, the Margallou still showed strong varietal character while also displaying the rich yeastiness of lees aging. This wine was divisive – some loved it, others not so much. Then again, that’s true with Chenin Blanc, which is a very distinctive grape. If you like Chenin, you’d like this wine; it’s a great example of sparkling Vouvray.

Moving on, next was Gloria Ferrer’s 1996 Carneros Cuvee, which is the most Champagne-like non-Champagne I’ve had.  From the 1996 vintage, this wine was disgorged in 2005, so it spent almost 8 years on its lees. Creamy, briochy, yeasty, toasted hazelnuts, rich and lush in the mouth. Just delicious. Very attractive bottle, too.

Sixth on the list was Montaudon Brut Champagne. The last two were true Champagne – I chose the Montaudon because it’s the best Brut I’ve found that retails for under $40, and I wanted to keep all the wines under that price point. Nothing sticks out about this wine, which is a good thing – it’s seamlessly integrated, rich yet smooth, which a long finish. A blend of 50% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Meunier, with three years aging on the lees. The red berry fruit comes through initially, with creamy yeastiness and a lemony finish.

Finally, we had the Charles Lafitte Rose Champagne, France
The best value on this list, (We loved it, bought it all, got a great deal. Normal retail would be about $10 more than its actual $34.95), and in my mind the best wine. A blend of 40% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir, 30% Pinot Meunier, with 16% red base wine added in to create the rose color. It showed really well – creamy, rich, red fruits, amazingly long finish. I wish more people would try rose Champagne – people think of it like it’s white Zin and sweet, but it’s got all the good things of Champagnes with the addition of the red berry fruit flavors to add depth and complexity. Almost everyone at the tasting flipped over it, though, so that’s 20+ converts!

Store Re-org

Friday, December 19th, 2008

Big changes in the store this past week – we tripled our beer selection and moved just about every bottle of wine around.

We wanted to capture the beer sales that Sheridan’s has been doing, so knew for the last few months that we’d need to expand that. The challenge was how to do it. When we were designing the store we thought the bar in the retail side would be a nice asset, letting people look out the window as they had a glass of wine. It ended up being just dead space, though, mainly used as overflow for our paperwork or random bottles. So, a couple of weeks ago we had our carpenter (the fabulous Greg Beaupre of Willow Design) come in to cut the bar down significantly, allowing for another wine rack along the back wall.

On Tuesday, we got in another double beer cooler to put next to our existing cooler; we moved the wood shelving that had been there to the corner near the retail cash register; and moved the wine rack that was there to the newly created space along the back wall. So far, so good.

What we’ve also been noticing, though, is that our wine racks were leaning forward, and it was starting to freak me out. (All that inventory crashing to the ground, plus potential liability….) The manufacturer recommends securing them to the wall, but when we started up the shelving units were several weeks late in arriving and I needed to put them together and get the wine in them ASAP so we could open, and the way the space is configured there was no easy way to secure them. They seemed sturdy enough, so I hoped they’d be fine.  They weren’t. Rather than risk losing several thousand dollars worth of inventory, I had Greg come in on Wednesday morning to fix it. Tuesday night after the sparkling wine tasting we pulled down all of the bottles in the racks (fortunately, there was some sparkling wine left over from the tasting, which made the late night more tolerable). I got back to the shop at 6 on Wednesday morning to help Greg pull back the racks, install 2×4s by the windows, and secure and align the racks. They’re upright and rock solid now, and Greg secured them to each other so that when you look down the row, it’s a smooth unbroken line instead of being herky-jerky like it had been. Little things like that make me inordinately happy.

We also took the opportunity to reorganize all of the wine – the US had been all over the place, with California red in one section, white in another, and WA and OR still another. We unified the US (if only the real world was that easy) and created a more logical flow. (imagine, OR Pinot next to CA Pinot!)

A busy week, but a definite improvement.  It’s hard and all-consuming now, but if we just keep plugging away and working to improve all the time, I know it’s going to pay off.

California Cab tasting notes

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Who knew people in Wisconsin would let a little snow affect their plans so much? After the great response for last week’s Bordeaux blanc tasting, I thought a California Cabernet tasting would be huge, but with light snow throughout the day (we ended up with only about 3-4 inches, though I think outlying areas got hit worse) the market was quiet during the day, and we got only 5 – that’s right, 5 – people for the tasting. Terry and Mary, Roger and Todd, and Richard, we thank you for braving the elements.

The theme was Napa vs. Sonoma – we did four wines 1 from each region at $15-$20, one at $50ish. I’ve always been biased towards Sonoma, finding them more elegant and balanced, and when tasting the wines Tuesday preferred both the Sonoma wines. (Of course, I liked the Napa wines as well; I’d tasted them and thought them each great exemplars for the style and a good value for the price, otherwise we wouldn’t carry them; they’re just not what I personally prefer drinking.). To be completely honest, though, I think California Cabernet is really boring. The wines showed well, and the Cinq Cepages was excellent, but none of them excited me. If I could get people to try high-end Spanish wine or Cab-based blends from Bolgheri in Tuscany, I’d happily cut down my Napa Cab section to a sliver. But it’s not about me, it’s about what people want and finding the best and most distinctive wines of that style.

The wines:

First was Pavilion’s 2006 Napa Valley Cab. Sauv ($13.95): As with just about all moderately priced Napa Cabs, this is sourced from several vineyards, depending on what’s available. Very easy drinking for a Cab, medium-bodied, brighter red fruit (as opposed to black fruit) than I’d expect, not a lot of tannins.  Good balance, a definite crowd-pleaser. Varietally correct enough for those who like Cab, accessible enough for those who dont.

Next was Hobo 2006 Alexander Valley Cab ($19.95). A definite step up. More structured and sophisticated, but with moderate alcohol and not a lot of overt wood. Rich, yet clean. We do well with this wine, and the quality shows. As far as I know, we’re the only place that has this wine: I’ve liked it since we opened, and when I found out the distributor was running low a few weeks ago I bought everything they had.

On the high end, we started with the Chateau St. Jean 2004 Cinq Cepages Cabernet from Sonoma County ($44.95). I got a great deal on this wine; normally I’d have to sell it for about $60 (the winery currently offers it for $75), but because we’ve got a tavern wine license (because of the wine bar) we have access torestaurant-only deals. This is a sneaky wine – on first sip it doesn’t overwhelm you, but it’s got a lot going on and keeps getting better in the glass. Dark fruit, licorice, spicy oak, a hint of leather, good acidity, and exquisite balance. In a comparative tasting, this might not show as well as the Faust because it doesn’t leap out in a crowd, but if I were going to share a bottle, I’d much rather have this. As I said, I don’t drink much CA Cab when I’m off the clock, but this is a very nice wine for its ilk.

Final wine: Faust 2005 Napa Valley Cab ($49.95). The second label of Quintessa, Faust is meant to be an expression of the grape (whereas Quintessa is an expresison of terroir, at more than twice the price). It’s full-throttle Napa Cab, with big dark black currant flavors, spicy oak, and a rich mouthfeel. Very well made for the style; if you want a big Napa Cab at $50, I think this one offers the most bang for the buck.

(And we’re really, really hoping that people  will still be wanting $50 wines, at least once in a while.)

Bordeaux Blanc Tasting Notes

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

Last week’s tasting of Bordeaux blancs was probably our most successful yet – highest attendance (which, quite frankly, surprised me, given that a) it’s white wine and b) it’s relatively obscure); best set of wines (both for quality and drinking pleasure and for showcasing the region); and from our make-enough-money-to-stay-in-business perspective, people enjoyed the wines enough to buy a fair amount of them.

A quick primer on white wines from Bordeaux: the main grapes are Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, with Muscadelle a distant third. Most wines are a blend of the first two, with occasionally a bit of Muscadelle thrown in. It’s a good mix, since Semillon is everything Sauvignon Blanc is not, so the two are complementary: SB is high-acid, aromatic, and can be very angular on the palate. Semillon is low acid, not aromatic, and gives great palate structure and weight, almost a fatness of texture in the mouth. On the lower end of the price & quality scale, SB usually dominates and the wines are unoaked; as you move up the latter, you see more Semillon and more oak, which adds ageworthiness, complexity, and depth. Muscadelle adds a bit of tropical fruitiness to the mix. The wines:

Chateau Lestrille 2007 Entre Deux Mers ($14.95). Entre deux Mers is the region in Bordeaux; it’s known for producing cleanly made, excellent value whites. This wine is 90% Sauv. Blanc, 5% Semillon, and 5% Muscadelle, with no oak aging. Very crisp and exceptionally fruity for a Bordeaux – several people commented it could easily have been a New World wine. I thought it was delicious; clean on the palate yet rich; blows away any CA or New Zealand Sauv Blanc for the price.

Chateau Graville Lacoste 2007 Graves ($20.95). 60% Semillon, 35 Sauv. Blanc, 5% Muscadelle. (Or thereabouts – hard to get accurate info on this wine). Same vintage as the first wine, yet the presence of more Semillon gave it a depth and weight that the Lestrille didn’t have. Still crisp and high acid, with grapefruit flavors dominating, but with a fatness of texture from the Semillon. Barrel fermented, but in neutral oak so there wasn’t any oak flavor, but it contributed to the texture. Not a ton of overt Semillon flavors; I think that will develop with a year or two in bottle.

Chateau Respide Medeville 2005 Graves ($29.95) 49% Semillon, 49% Sauv. Blanc, 2% Muscadelle. This wine was phenomenal; along with the Lestrille, the top quality to price wine in the tasting. Same region as the second wine, but with a couple more years of age on it. The Semillon was very appararent – flavors of fig and honey, with a lanolin texture in the mouth and great richness. Long finish, impeccable balance, just lovely.

Chateau Teyssier 2005 Clos Nardian Bordeaux Blanc ($89.95) This wine is actually from a single vineyard in St. Emilion, but St. Emilion is a red-wine-only appellation, so the wine has to be labeled Bordeaux blanc. Only 250 cases made each year, from 40 year old Semillon and Sauv Blanc vines (40% of each) and 70 year old Muscadelle vines (20%). Barrel fermented and aged in new French oak for 7 months with frequent lees stirring.  This is a stunning wine, as it should be for the price. Overt oakand a very creamy mouthfeel, yet the fruit has enough concentration to balance it out. It almost resembles a top white Burgundy in mouthfeel and texture, but with a different fruit profile – the sauv. blanc gives it a tangy citrus quality, along with Semillon’s honeyed character. Lovely now, but I think it will improve for 4-6 years. It was fun to open – I hadn’t tried it myself, and I really enjoy giving a lot of people the chance to experience something they might not be able to buy.