Monday, June 27, 2011

Moving Day

For the last year and a half, I’ve been fortunate enough to write the Uncork Life blog for Wine Chateau. During that time, readers have had the chance to delve into the world of wine, with news, opinions, reviews, and the occasional shot of spirits coverage.

Starting today, however, I will re-focus my efforts on a brand new blog, The Food, Drink & Travel Report. My relationship with Wine Chateau is still intact in other regards, but The Report will be my own. And while readers can absolutely expect the same high level of reporting as they did at Uncork Life, the coverage at The Report will be expanded to include spirits and beer, travel, commentary on new food and beverage books and films, and reviews of restaurants around the country and around the world (contingent on my travel schedule, of course).

Finally, I’d like to offer a hearty thank you to all of the loyal readers of this blog. It’s been a pleasure covering the world of wine here for you, and I look forward to seeing you over at The Food, Drink & Travel Report as well. It launched this morning; please click over now to

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Wine of the Day: Taylor Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Taylor Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley

What a wildly evocative nose--one that you could easily get lost in, smelling it through dinner and forgetting to eat. It speaks of warm graphite and cedar, a cigar humidor opened on a hot summer day, flowers a day past their prime and grown funky and sweet, and crushed black currants: Majestic and complicated. It tastes of black raspberries, high-cocoa chocolate, vanilla pods, melted black licorice, and espresso. This is a deep, rich, infinitely rewarding wine that shows classic Napa exuberance, Stags Leap District’s approachability at an early stage of evolution coupled with its ageability, and a plush fruit character that demands attention. What’s amazing here is the balance of acid, alcohol, fruit, and tannin: It’s both masculine and feminine at the same time. This could go for another 8 - 10+ years, but why wait? It's absolutely gorgeous.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

The PLCB, Wine Kiosks, and Your Morning Dose of Ridiculousness

Typically, this blog focuses on issues that directly impact the wider wine-drinking public: Important developments and news items, big-picture trends, items of interest for specific regions, tasting notes, and more. But today, I’m breaking with what we normally deal with to cover a news item that, really, only impacts those of us who live in Pennsylvania (I’m based in Philadelphia): The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

For those of you who don’t know, PA is one of the precious few states in the nation that maintains complete control over sales of wines and spirits within its borders. That’s right: No private enterprise like, say, Wine Chateau, could exist here. Rather, if you want to purchase wine, you have to visit one of the PLCB’s notorious so-called “state stores,” which, aside from a handful of more aesthetically pleasing outposts occasionally staffed with people who possess a modicum of wine knowledge (there are exceptions, of course), are generally rather Dickensian spaces with often uninspired selections peddled by employees whose deep-level knowledge of wine is comparable to my understanding of the elusive Higgs boson. (Check out this post, by the excellent Joe Roberts of the 1WineDude blog, regarding a PLCB employees’s insane denial of the existence of the cabernet franc grape variety...)

Anyway, so much for background. As you might have heard, last year the PLCB rolled out automated wine kiosks that would facilitate sales of wine in grocery stores, which is otherwise not permitted in our fair commonwealth. And though this may sound like a reasonable step forward in automated sales, it proved, in fact, to be a terrifying, not-even-vaguely Orwellian exercise in Big Brotherness. As this link from WGAL Channel 8 in Scranton shows, purchasing wine involves inserting your ID, having your image checked against the photo by some nameless, faceless drone on the other end, and then blowing into a breathalyzer to ensure you’re not drunk. If you pass all these tests, you’ll have the privilege of buying a (likely overpriced) bottle of uninspired wine from the state’s oh-so-esteemed selection.

Creepy, no?

Well now, after constant technical glitches and mounting customer frustration, Wegman’s, the high-end supermarket, has recently asked the PLCB to remove all such kiosks from their PA stores. As WGAL reported late last week, Wegman’s sent a letter “to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board...The letter states that kiosk sales have been lower than expected, that the machines have not met expectations, have had a ‘high rate of operational issues and malfunctions’ and have actually been detrimental to stores.

“‘The most weighty factor in our decision, however,’” the letter continued, “‘is the significant volume of … complaints that our store management is receiving...’”

As a Pennsylvanian, as a believer in free enterprise, and as someone who loves wine, I can’t help but smile at this development: It’s yet another blow to one of the most antiquated, ridiculous government bodies in the country, and highlights yet again how absurd and out of touch its leaders are to even have gone down this crazy kiosk road. Anytime I hear of another PLCB failure, I’m reminded of a wonderful German word: Schadenfreude. It means the taking of pleasure in another’s misfortune or suffering. And having been forced to suffer at the hands of the PLCB’s crazy rules and regulations for so long, anything that highlights their ineptitude beings me enormous personal and professional pleasure.

I’ll gladly raise a glass to this latest chink in the PLCB’s armor...just not one poured from a bottle that’s been purchased at a malfunctioning kiosk.

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Back from Austria

Coming home from a wine trip and adjusting to more normal life again is always a difficult process. After all, over the course of the four or five or more days that you’re traveling through a different part of the world, eating great food, tasting more wine than most people do in a year, and spending your days and nights with colleagues from all over the planet--well, it’s easy to lose track of the more ordinary aspects of your life back home. (It’s always good to come home, of course, but also very easy to get spoiled while you’re away.)

I spent this past week, as I mentioned in my blog post the other day, at the bi-annual Wine Summit, sponsored by the remarkable Austrian Wine Marketing Board. The specific leg of the excursion I was on focused on Burgenland and Carnuntum and, as such, leaned heavily on the excellent Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch they produce.

The trip started in Vienna, which is actually home to one of the world’s best wine regions located within a major city’s boundaries. (The photo above, in fact, is taken from the Rotes Haus, where our first night’s festivities began. You can see the city itself in the background, behind the vines.) After that, we headed south to Carnuntum, where we focused on Austria’s famously spicy Zweigelt, and then to the huge Lake Neusiedl, which does so much to moderate the temperature of the surrounding areas.

West of Lake Neusiedl (or locally, Neusiedlersee), we tasted in what proved to be one of my favorite spots on the trip--Leithaberg DAC, whose fresh, food-friendly Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and crisp Blaufränkisch were some of my top wines throughout. These are bottlings that sing with a bright minerality that screams out for food--just my style.

Later that day we were treated to a fascinating, eye-opening blind tasting at the Esterházy Palace, where I had one of the best Pinot Noirs I’ve sipped in a while, the 2008 from rising star producer Claus Preisinger: Fragrant, balanced, age-worthy, and delicious already, like some sort of fabulous Gevrey-Chambertin. That night, four colleagues and I celebrated Memorial Day with a barbecue just shy of the Austria - Hungary border, at Weingut Hans Igler in Deutchkreutz, with winemaker Clemens Reisner and his father manning the grill. They were generous enough to open not just the current-release wines they were planning on, but also a number of older bottles that demonstrated how beautifully Austrian reds can age. (Their 2006 “Biiri” bottling, 2001 “Ab Ericio,” and 2000 “Jewel” were show-stoppers.)

More wines followed in the remaining time on the trip, including focused tastings of wines from Mittelburgenland DAC and Eisenberg DAC, both of which demonstrated decidedly different aspects of Austrian wine. This country, like all of the best in the wine world, possesses a wide enough range of terroirs and winemaking talent to be able to call itself home to a huge range of styles and expressions. That diversity is what makes a national wine culture exciting, and Austria, as I’ve said for years, is among my favorite in the world.

We ended the trip back where it started--in Vienna--with a closing-night party at the famous Prater, with live music and more food and wine than a group twice this size could have consumed. The night was highlighted by crowd-rousing musical performances by the AWMB’s Managing Director Willi Klinger and wine writer and budding wine-travel impresario Ben Weinberg. Between Willi’s “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” Ben’s “Stormy Monday,” and the glass of Grüner Veltliner Ice Wine I sipped afterward, I cannot think of a better way to have ended this spectacular experience.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be posting tasting notes and impressions of specific wines and regions. Keep your eyes open for them. In the meantime, start stocking up on the great wines of Austria.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Greetings from Austria!

I've been on the road in the absolutely beautiful springtime Austria, and, as with last time I visited, have found myself utterly impressed by the quality, range, and expressiveness of the wines here. And as always, wine-region travel is one of the best ways to see some of the most beautiful parts of the planet. To that end, though I'll be posting more extensive tasting notes and impressions later this week, after I return, I wanted to post this photo of one of my "offices" this week. It was taken yesterday morning, at our tasting of wines from the very impressive Leithaberg DAC. And yes, the tasting table is in the middle of the slope among the vines. Great way to start the day!
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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tasting Notes, and Heading to Austria

Before we get to the wine reviews today, I wanted to remind readers to check in over the next several days: I’m heading to Austria for a trip sponsored by the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, and will be touring and tasting in a number of the country’s most exciting regions, with a focus on Burgenland and Carnuntum. This trip constitutes a part-two of sorts to the one I attended in 2009, and, if the first one is any guide, I expect it to be a seriously eye-opening--and palate-tingling!--experience. Stay tuned for news, tasting notes, photos, videos, and more from one of the most exciting wine-producing countries in Europe.

In the meantime, while I finish packing my bags and gearing up for the jet-lag, take a look at the tasting notes for wines I’ve enjoyed recently, and which I definitely recommend you give a try.

Dow Vale do Bomfim 2008, Douro

Lots of primary cherry fruit and cherry-creme on the nose, limned by licorice, chocolate, and spice. Really jumps from the glass and possesses a bit more punch than expected: I like it a lot for that. On the palate, that cherry and spice follow through, with the spice picking up some real speed and character along the way and lingering through the finish. Surprisingly complex given the wildly affordable price point, and the quality of vineyards, as always, comes through. Drink now - 3 years.

Ruffino Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie “Lumina” 2010

A notably sweet pear and citrus nose, with hints of orange, orange blossom, and something that reminds me a bit of bubble gum, define the nose. Interesting, unexpected, and pleasant. On the palate, it shows similar sweeter fruit, with a perfumed twist to the mandarin-orange oil. A hint of honeysuckle emerges on the finish, which is crisp and mouthwatering and tinged with a sense of minerality. Drink now, preferably with a plate of sliced ham, a scattering of olives, and a hard cheese.

Kutch Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Coast

A gorgeously translucent garnet color presages a nose of utter classicism: Cherries and sous bois just after a rain and a touch, a flutter, of cola, though this isn’t sweet so much as it manifests its savorier notes. There’s also creaminess and a touch of brown spice to the nose. I could smell this for a long time and be perfectly happy. On the palate, it’s an amazing pleasure to drink, and owes more, perhaps, to Burgundy than it does to its Sonoma Coast brethren. It’s a food wine at heart, and plays up its beautiful mushroom and sous bois notes here with elegance and restraint: A California pinot for francophiles. With air, hints of tiny fraises de bois, spearmint, and maybe even some chamomile peek through, lending the wine balance and an alluring sense of complexity. This is, in the very best sense of it, a thoroughly grown-up wine, confident enough to eschew flash and find its footing, instead, in far more restrained, seamless, and classic notes. Excellent now, but will be even better in 3 - 4 years, and continue to improve until around 2020. Delicious, mouthwatering, and screaming for food.

Kutch Pinot Noir 2009 “McDougall Ranch,” Sonoma Coast

On the nose, this wine is practically vibrating with intensity, which is incredible given the detail and nimbleness of the aromas: There’s nothing plodding here at all. Like some sort of California Echezeaux equivalent, it’s singing with high-toned cherry and spice, a hint of licorice, sage, and violets. The oak, which still needs to be absorbed more fully, lends it all a nice vanilla and brown-spice character, and the 40% stem inclusion adds an almost birch-like note. On the palate, its youth becomes readily apparent: This is still fairly tightly wound, with a serious tannin structure kept fresh with well-calibrated acidity, but it’s clear that this is a wine for the cellar. There’s some sous bois in here, as well as pronounced spice and ripe black and red cherry, a touch of dried garrigue spice, and a seam of appealing minerality. It’s all quite mouth-watering despite the youthful tannins, and the cedar- and sandalwood-tinged finish drives along for a solid 45 seconds. Best from 5 - 14 years. This is going to be excellent. It already is.

Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay 2009, Carneros - Napa Valley

A very subtle nose of creamed fig and pear, as well as something a bit floral, quietly come from the glass: This is a confident, grown-up chardonnay, content to express itself without relying on too much flash. With air, the wood comes out a touch; this will integrate nicely with some more time in the cellar. There’s really pretty sweet fruit on the palate--ripe green apples, fresh figs, white peach--all punched up with fresh acidity and honey blossom, and carried on a texture that manages to gingerly coat the tongue while at the same time remaining lithe. Fascinating juxtaposition, and fabulous to drink. It’s all still tightly would, however, and will be best from 2 - 8 years.

Argyros Assyrtiko 2009, Santorini

Really appealing almond-apricot nose, with a high-toned citrus component. The perfume is subtle, but present nonetheless, and lends this wine’s aromatics a real sense of depth. There’s a touch of white flowers, too. On the palate, this white is crisp and mineral: It tastes of the sharp sun slanting off the Mediterranean and, with its lemon and mineral notes, begs for seafood, especially something oily like sardines. The finish shows a bit of that slightly underripe--and very appealing--apricot, too. A dangerously gulpable wine, and a great go-to for summertime fish preparations.

Spirit of the Week: Brugal Ron Añejo, Dominican Republic

For all the focus on single-malt Scotch, small-batch Bourbon, artisanally distilled gin and the like, rum still suffers from a bit of an identity crisis among far too many consumers. This, perhaps, is a result of the highly successful marketing of a handful of mammoth brands whose focus on the lifestyle aspects of the spirit eclipse and often overwhelm discussion of the rum itself. This is unfortunate, because good rum has the potential to be one of the most enjoyable, evocative spirits around.

I recently was sent a sample pack of Brugal Ron Añejo, a blend of 2- to 5-year-aged rum the color of a beautiful whiskey. From the moment you pour it into your glass, it becomes apparent that this is a rum that, while well-suited to high-end cocktails, is also fantastic to sip on its own. Aromas of coconut, chocolate, and dried tropical fruit drift from the glass and perfume the air around it. When you swirl and really focus on the rum, a spine of aromatic brown spice and vanilla emerges, lending it a sense of aromatic structure and throwing the sweeter tones of the nose into sharper relief. On the palate, tongue-coating but never viscous, there is a savory caramel and coconut character, as well as something that reminds me of a not-sweet root beer, that are flat-out irresistible. On the finish, there is a hint of saltiness that works in gorgeous opposition to the sweeter tones of the nose. It lingers on pleasantly, gradually growing more subtle until it finally recedes into a delicious memory. Excellent rum, and a spectacular value.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Twitter Tasting: Wente Vineyards

Just a reminder to check out the TasteLive Twitter Tasting this evening with Wente Vineyards, including Karl Wente, at 5:00pm Pacific, 8:00pm Eastern. We'll be tasting a number of wines, including bottlings of Tamas and Murrieta's Well, and I expect this to be an exceptionally interesting, educational experience. Click right here to sign up.
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Steven Spurrier, The Wine Media Guild, and Ravenswood

On June 13th, Steven Spurrier will be inducted into the Wine Media Guild’s Hall of Fame, reported. I’ve been a member of Guild for several years now, and currently serve as membership chair, and it’s an honor to be able to include Mr. Spurrier in a group of colleagues who have been inducted in the past, including Jancis Robinson, Michael Broadbent, and many more professionals who have changed the way we all drink and consider wine.

The ceremony itself will take place during a gala dinner at New York’s Four Seasons, an event I’ll be reporting on in the days following it. If it’s anything like last year, the tasting notes I post here could range from wines that are merely great all the way to the kind of legendary bottlings that most of us have only read about before.

Also, click over to John Mariani’s Virtual Gourmet. I have a piece in the current issue on the fantastic single-vineyard zinfandels of Ravenswood. If you’ve never tasted them before, I can’t recommend them highly enough: They have the potential to change what you think American’s great grape is capable of.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Pinot Noir Discussion

I've been tasting some great California pinots lately, and will be posting my tasting notes on them next week. So the timing was perfect when I came across this excellent discussion on with two seriously up-and-coming winemakers from Burgundy, the French home of the great grape: Alexandrine Roy and Thomas Bouley. Click here for the full interview; there's a lot of information in there, so make sure you have something to sip while you're taking notes!
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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Drinking with the Devil

It’s not quite drinking with the devil, as the old rock and roll tune has it, but it’s close. Yesterday, Morell & Co. Fine Wine Auctions sold through every one of the lots that were up for sale in an auction of the wine and booze of Beelzebub himself, Bernie Madoff.

“All 59 lots, ranging from fine Bordeaux to the types of small bottles often found in hotel minibars, found buyers, with 54 selling above the highest estimated pre-auction price,” reported The Daily Mail today. “The winning bids exceeded the roughly $15,000 to $21,000 the auction...had been expected to raise.” Proceeds from it will go to the victims of Madoff’s massive Ponzi scheme.

As for the bottles themselves--well, aside from a few trophy lots and individual wines, let’s just say that Madoff didn’t spend his (not-so-hard-earned) money on the kind of things most wine lovers would. Sure, there was the case of Mouton-Rothschild 1996, as well as some other big-name bottles, but there were also airline-sized shots of spirits that some poor sap paid $300 for. (I repeat: $300 for mini bottles!) quoted Ray Isle, Executive Wine Editor of Food and Wine Magazine, as saying about the collection: “‘It doesn’t strike me as a cellar of a guy who cared much about wine...The collection is so random. It’s a lot of individual bottles, the sign of a guy who received a lot of bottles of wine as a gift.’”

The moral of the story? Billions of dollars don’t necessarily make you a great wine collector, just a rich one. And, in the case of Madoff, a jailed one. I’ll toast to that...with a mini-bottle of booze from his now-sold collection.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

It's Here!

After months of planning and construction and anticipation, today marks the beginning of a new era in how you buy wine. The massive, beautiful, 14,000 square foot Wine Chateau Metuchen is open for business, and you won't believe what you find there, from new technology to luxurious touches that only could come from the team at Wine Chateau. Make sure to stop by and check out what we've all been waiting for!
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Monday, May 16, 2011

Weekend Reading for a Monday

Here in the east, it's a rainy, drab Monday--perfect for catching up on any wine reading you missed this weekend. Here, then, are a few articles of note to get you through the day, and perhaps inspire what bottle you pop open this evening after work. is reporting that Michel Chapoutier, highly regarded Rhone Valley winemaker, "is looking for land to make wine in England." This comes on the heels of a number of awards and accolades that the English wine industry has garnered lately, and seems to be another step along its road to international recognition and respect.

John Mariani, in this week's edition of The Virtual Gourmet, has a fascinating article on the benefits of large-format wine bottles, which are always a treat to open, and make any occasion a bit more remarkable than it otherwise would have been.

Then there are two articles I wrote that ran recently--one on the connection between wine and the people who are responsible for its creation, from Affluent Magazine, and another on a particularly memorable food and wine pairing I recently enjoyed, which ran on

And, finally, something a bit different than what we normally cover here--a great article on pairing sake with food, in the new issue of Sommelier Journal.
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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Gerard Bertrand, the South of France, and Per Se

Yesterday, I had the very good fortune to attend a magnificent wine tasting and lunch, featuring the gorgeous wines of Gérard Bertrand, at New York’s Per Se. As always when I post a brief accounting of a tasting here, I’ll point out that more in-depth coverage will be posted or linked up here in the coming weeks. However, despite the brevity, I thought it was important to cover it here today.

As far as the wines, this was the second tasting and lunch I’ve attended in the past month or so featuring the absolutely stellar ones of southern France--the previous one focusing on Roussillon, and this one on the bottlings produced by Gérard Bertrand from a number of appellations in the south.

And while each of the 10 wines we enjoyed with lunch was unique, expressive of different terroirs and grape varieties, they all shared one very important characteristic in common: They were, each of them, exceptionally food-friendly. The Viognier Réserve Spéciale 2010, for all the classicism of its nose, sang with a vivd acidity that is far too often missing from this typically tricky grape variety. It brought out the sweetness in the halibut, whereas the biodynamic Cigalus White 2009, on the other hand, highlighted the fish’s more savory aspects. Its warm-souled notes of vanilla, lemon cream, and nutmeg were amazing compliments to the San Marzano tomato marmalade accompanying the fish.

Then there was the Corbières 2009, a classic grenache-syrah-mourvedre blend that was vivid with peppercorns, purple berry fruit, and a touch of game--perfect with the ribeye, as was the more subtle Pic St.-Loup “Grand Terroir” 2009. And you’d have a hard time finding a better pairing for the perfectly caramelized king trumpet mushroom than the Château L’Hospitalet Réserve Rouge 2009, its own perfume of warm plums and peppercorn adding remarkable depth to an already dizzyingly delicious dish.

The trio of wines we sipped alongside the cheese course each picked up a different component of the plating. From the concentrated black raspberries and slicing acidity of “La Forge” 2008, to the dustier tannins and red plums of “La Viola” 2007, to the mouth-coating, sappier fruit of L’Hospitalitas 2008, these were almost dangerous in the flat-out drinkability and enjoyment they provided.

Finally, a wine that I’m not embarrassed to say I dreamed about last night: The “Legend Vintage” Maury 1929, a stunner of a wine bursting with figs, dried apricots, tobacco and minerals, as well as an unexpected note of savory caramel. M. Bertrand called this wine “the soul of the Roussillon area,” and I couldn’t agree more. It was mature and profound, of course, but also amazingly bright, a wine that still has time left.

I just wish I ate and drank this well everyday.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Vinho Verde!

As a wine professional, I hear the comments all the time: Many people tend to assume that sommeliers, wine writers, consultants, and the like spend our days drinking $100 bottles of prestigious wine, sniffing and swirling and slurping well into the night. And while many of us certainly do have the chance to taste some remarkable bottlings, we often seek out surprisingly undemanding wines for personal consumption. In this regard, it's like chefs who love burgers and wings and fries when they're not searing up slices of foie gras and opening up oyster shells.

To this end, I heartily recommend Vinho Verde, Portugal's great, inexpensive, supremely refreshing wine that, now that the springtime's heat has arrived, is a perfect refresher on its own and delicious with the lighter foods of the season. Check out this primer, linked up right here, from The Wall Street Journal this weekend. It covers everything except the best pairing (in my opinion) you can have with it: Fresh grilled sardines with olive oil, preferably eaten outside at a cafe somewhere, just like they do in Portugal. I had a chance to experience this a few years ago, and have been longing to get back and do it again ever since.
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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Wine Review Wednesday (On Thursday): The Wines of Xavier Flouret

The wines of Xavier Flouret represent something new and altogether wonderful in the world of high-end wine. According to their web site, which lays it out more succinctly than I can, “Xavier Flouret Wines is a curated portfolio of high-quality, boutique wines from generations-old family vineyards around the world.” As such, and considered individually and as a collected whole, they represent both the unique vision of Mr. Flouret and his team, as well as a fascinating, individualistic view of what’s possible when small, dedicated producers around the globe put their minds and their efforts to crafting the best wines they can from the land and grapes they know so intimately.

I met both Mr. Flouret and his partner, Vincent Renault, at Italian Wine Week in New York this past January, and was impressed by how enthusiastic and determined they are to keep on finding these fantastic producers and bringing them to the market. Below are my tasting notes on three of their more recent releases--all of them, as expected, excellent.

Xavier Flouret Chenin Blanc “Fynbos” 2010, Produced and bottled by Mooiplaas Wine Estate, Stellenbosch, South Africa

The nose here is so evocative of honeycomb, peach, beeswax, and apricot--the complexity is fabulous, yet worn with a remarkable sense of lightness: No heavy-handedness here. With time, pineapple, lemon, lemon verbena, and toffee emerge too, as well as brown Southeast Asian spices. On the palate, it shows plenty of fresh and baked pear, quince, and a sense of lemon-blossom honey that also manifests itself in the texture. There’s so much depth here, so much nuance and concentration, all of it livened up perfectly by acidity that’s astoundingly balanced. Just a gorgeous chenin blanc, its hints of sweetness attenuated by a savory quality. Fabulous.

Xavier Flouret Quattro Canti IGT 2007, Produced and bottled by Fantascià, Sicily

There’s a notably warm, comforting nose here, with notes of fig paste, smoked plums, and chocolate-cherry caramels. On the palate, an intriguing balance between the velvety feel and the lighter body than that texture implies. It’s surprisingly complex, too, with flavors of dark cherry, more fig paste, tobacco, and, on the finish, an iron-like sense of minerality. Really well-made and complicated, with a beautiful interaction between two grape varieties that you don’t typically see together (nero d’Avola and cabernet franc). Lovely and exciting. Very well-integrated and rip tannins, solid structure, and sexy right now, though the cocoa-powder tannins on the finish, and nicely fresh acidity, promise a life of 5 - 7 more years.

Xavier Flouret uQamata 2007, Produced and bottled by Amani Vineyards, Stellenbosch, South Africa

What a nose on this wine: Sweet roasted green bell peppers that are perfectly ripe and expressive, chalk, sweet cigar tobacco leaf, and plenty of spice: Complex, integrated, and varied. Wow. On the palate, all of the notes of the nose come through with crystal clarity, and are joined by mouth-watering acidity, perfectly harmonious and sweet tannins, and flavors of cherries, wild raspberries, birch bark, licorice, and subtle minerality. The finish shows oolong tea and chamomile, and the grip here is unexpected and perfectly balanced, and makes this wine amazing right now and super-promising for another 5-7 years. Cabernet franc, merlot, malbec, petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Back from LA!

I'm back from Los Angeles, where Wine Chateau yet again poured and discussed wines for some of the brightest stars in entertainment--this time at the GBK celebrity gift lounge at the George Lopez Celebrity Golf Classic at the Riviera Country Club. Keep an eye out in the coming days--or next week at the latest--for photos from the event. Everyone from Jimmy Jam to Andy Garcia to Kevin Nealon to Cedric the Entertainer stopped by for a glass. And the best part is the cause: The event was held to benefit the Lopez Foundation, whose mission, according to its web site, "is to create positive, permanent change for underprivileged children and adults confronting challenges in education and health, as well as increasing community awareness about kidney disease and organ donation."

Not a bad way to spend a Monday!
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Friday, April 29, 2011

Best Sommelier 2011

Break out the Champagne: Last week, the American Sommelier Association crowned the best sommelier in America for 2011--Alexander LaPratt of DB Bistro Moderne in New York. It’s a fascinating competition, with test-taking, blind tasting, and service components. There’s even a cigar-pairing requirement! Check out the video below, and make sure to read some of the articles at the bottom of the ASA’s page linked right here.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wine Review Wednesday: April 27th

It’s been a while since I’ve posted notes for Wine Review Wednesday, so we’re back today with a number of wines that have really hit their mark lately in my tastings.

Pali Chardonnay “Charm Acres” 2009, Sonoma Coast

Smells like apricot cream and brown butter, like pear and baking spices: Delicate and evocative at the same time. There’s also homemade caramel corn here, as well as baked pear and vanilla, all of which stretch out from the mid-palate through to the finish. Rich, very drinkable, and appealing. Nicely made.

Robert Mondavi Winery Fume Blanc “To Kalon Vineyard I Block,” Oakville

A vivid, beautiful rich gold color presages a nose of buttered popcorn with white grapefruit, cashews, peppermint, and cedar: This is a massively rich, aromatic style, yet still with its feet firmly rooted in the terroir and varietal. With air, flowers come out too, as well as dried pineapple, smoke, and charred earth. On the palate, this small-production white demonstrates amazing concentration without a heavy-handed texture; flavors of sweet citrus, papaya, sun-warmed hay, persimmon, and a touch of honey flash throughout. The oak sweetens it up, especially on the candy corn- and mango-tinged finish, but this is a wonderfully integrated whole with impeccable balance. This is that rare sauvignon blanc that’s easily age-able for another 5 - 6 years, but it’s almost too tempting to not pop open right now. Still, another year or two will really allow all the moving parts to come together even better than they already do. Delicious, soulful, and worth the effort to find it.

Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Oakville

What a beautiful, glass-staining garnet color, even 6 years into its life. The nose shows lots of deep, dark currants, black cherries, licorice, birch bark, and a touch of bonfire. On the palate, this is a plush pleasure to drink, with that licorice, birch bark, smoke, black tea, and dark cherry coming through, and evolving to baseball glove leather, dried brown spices, and menthol on the nicely complicated finish. This is starting to take its turn to a more secondary expression of itself, and it’s wonderful for it. Still, I’d recommend holding it for another 2 - 3 years in order for it to really complete its evolution into a fully mature wine. Excellent.

Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2007, Napa Valley

Astounding from the first sniff. The nose is wildly expressive yet still gives a full impression of the structure it shows on the palate. It smells of some kind of mythical graphite cream, of crushed wild berries, currants, cedar, licorice, and cherry liqueur. On the palate, its structure for longevity is fully apparent--the tannins sweet and ripe--promising 20 years of life. Smoky plums, grilled berries and cherries, sappy fruit that’s perfectly balanced by acid: The fruit here is addictively sweet, but never devolves into caricature; it’s just exuberant and lush and detailed. On the finish, there’s an almost floral whiff, a beam of minerals running down the spine, these fleshed out with cherries. This is amazing, and nearly irresistible right now, though I’d drink it from 2013 - 2025. One of the best vintages of this wine I’ve tasted in recent memory.

Michael David Winery Old Vines Zinfandel “7 Deadly Zins” 2008, Lodi

A nose of smoky oak and cherry, coupled with licorice root and cream, lead to a palate of sweet vanilla-infused wild-berry creme brulee, lingering sweet spiciness, and wild summer berries flecked with a bit of thyme. Big and packing a punch, it’s a surprisingly lithe wine for all its power. Perfect for barbecue. This is another excellent value from this producer.

Tamas Estates Double Decker Red 2008, Central Coast

Pleasant juicy oak and ripe berry fruit define the nose here, and are softly complicated by big ripe strawberries and vanilla. The palate is consistent with the nose, featuring lots of sweet strawberries, a bit of boysenberry, milk chocolate, and vanilla. Straightforward, gulpable, and a nice wine for when you really just want something to drink. Light and pleasant.

Cecchi Bonizio Sangiovese di Maremma 2009, Toscana

Primary cherry, green olives, and oregano notes--a very nice table-wine style, and a classic expression of Italian sangiovese with its balance of fruit and earthier notes and its vague hint of flowers. The palate is as straightforward and pleasant as the nose, with fresh, food-friendly acid balancing out the ripe fruit (cherry, strawberry) and gentle, subtle wood notes. Fun, and perfect with pizza.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Cocktails are for Grown-Ups

I received a terrifying email from a colleague of mine in the Wine Media Guild this past weekend. Grub Street San Francisco, just this past Friday, reported on what it’s calling “a newish category of lite booze...‘vodka,’ ‘rum,’ and ‘tequila’ made from orange wine and agave wine.”

It continues: “The so-called advantage? These babies clock in under 24% alcohol, or 48 proof — the legal limit for a beverage served under a beer-and-wine license in California and a number of other states.”

Every week, I personally receive dozens of press releases about new fermented products, and the majority of them are pretty interesting: Specialty spirits, artisanally distilled concoctions, and the like. But once in a while, I’ll receive information about a product that would never pop into existence without the evil-genius work of some food and alcohol scientist with a will and a really bad idea. These low-alcohol concoctions seem to fall into the category of the latter.

My personal opinion is pretty straightforward: It’s a crime against nature and your liver (not to mention your poor, abused taste buds) to subject them to these lab-created abominations. Drink a grown-up cocktail, or order a Shirley Temple and get on with your meal.

Hemingway, Sinatra, and every other respectable devotee of the cocktail are all spinning in their final resting places as a result.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Jess Jackson

Yesterday, one of the giants of the wine world passed away. Jess Jackson, who had more of an impact on American wine than almost anyone in the past 50 years, died at 81 years old in California. As reported, “During nearly three decades, Jackson launched or acquired more than 30 wine brands in California, Italy, South America, Australia and France. Combined, they currently produce more than 5 million cases annually. In addition to Kendall-Jackson, the labels include La Crema, Stonestreet, Cardinale, Arrowood and Matanzas Creek in California, Villa Arceno in Italy, Yangarra in Australia and Château Lassègue in Bordeaux.”

It’s impossible to overstate his importance to the development and growth of the California wine industry, and his contributions will continue to be assessed for years to come. The Wine Spectator has an excellent piece on Jackson, as does his own Both offer comprehensive, moving portraits of a man who will be missed by wine lovers everywhere.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Napa Valley, Wine Travel, and Your Personal Goals for Winery Visits

There’s a thought-provoking article in today’s New York Times Food Section on the nature of tasting wine in Napa, as well as of the juice itself. Jay McInerney reports that, although “it's the most familiar, most visited wine region in this country, it's also a place where much remains hidden—shrouded, if not in mystery, then by thousands of acres of Cabernet vines.”

The range of experience that visitors can have in any wine region that’s also a popular tourist destination, Napa included, poses a number of fundamental questions about what you want to accomplish with the visit. As with anywhere, it’s possible to bounce from winery to winery, swallowing the pours of each wine you’re offered, and learning little beyond how well your liver can handle the onslaught of juice.

The other experience--and the one that Napa does so well if you make the effort to take advantage of it--is both educational and emotional: Tasting on location, with the people responsible for the various bottlings, can be one of the most illuminating wine experiences you’ll have. The trick is to make sure you avoid the pitfalls of the former and take full advantage of the latter.

With springtime finally here, and vineyard visits looking more appealing than ever after the winter so many of us have slogged through, it’s an important distinction to keep in mind.

Note: Next week, we’ll return with Wine Review Wednesday, and focus on a number of high-end Napa bottlings.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Santorini on Screen

I recently received two wine samples from Santorini, and will be posting my tasting notes on them in the next couple of weeks. But for now, I wanted to link up an interesting news item that appeared on last week. They report that “a new film about the Greek island of Santorini has been selected for the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival”...yet another instance of wine finding itself ever more the interest of the wider population, as opposed to just oenophiles.

According to the report, it deals with “a small winemaking community on the island and its battles to stop vineyards being sold off for development.” A link to the film’s web site can be found at the bottom of the Decanter piece and right here.

As an aside, the wines of Santorini--and so much of Greece, for that matter--are very much on the up-swing, and I expect you’ll be seeing and hearing much more about them in the coming years. I’ve had the chance to taste a number of them, and have been very, very impressed with both their expressiveness and food-pairability. (My report for John Mariani’s Virtual Gourmet can be found right here.) If you have the chance, seek them out; they will more than reward the effort.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Weekend Homework Assignments

For your weekend reading, a few highlight articles, columns, and blog posts from the past week.

The Wall Street Journal reported on a recent study that seems to imply that most people, when tasting blind, cannot really tell the difference between cheap and expensive wine. The Journal reports: “The blind taste test served more than 570 [people] a range of cheap and expensive wine, including merlot and chardonnay, and found that only 50% of those asked could identify correctly which ones were expensive (around $50 a bottle) and those that were budget wines (around $6 a bottle).”

There are, of course, huge problems with a study like this one, and massive assumptions that have to be made by its very nature that will always skew the results in the desired direction. has a great rebuttal, linked up right here.

Then there this fantastic article in Sommelier Journal about Late Bottled VIntage Port, one of the more misunderstood yet immediately enjoyable and food-pairable styles of the great sweet wine of Portugal. It’s a longer read, but well worth the effort. Best, as always, to work your way through it with a glass of Port by your side.

Finally, The Wall Street Journal’s wonderful piece on vermouth is a must this time of year. Their opening salvo says it all: “If you think you don't like vermouth, you're wrong.” Click here to read why, and have a great weekend.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

En Primeur Discussion

I just came across this piece on It's an excellent discussion about the nature of en primeur, and the ways in which it affects everything from popular perception of the wines to their prices to the relationship between the producers, the trade, and the press that covers them.
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Monday, April 11, 2011

Glenmorangie Tasting Notes

Last Thursday evening, Wine Chateau Piscataway hosted a spectacular tasting of Glenmorangie single-malt Scotch. It was, as expected, a de facto master class in the range and expressive power of some of the best single malts, a tutorial in how different woods affect the finished product, and a reminder--as if we needed one--of what makes single-malt Scotch, and Glenmorangie itself, so exciting. My tasting notes are below.

Glenmorangie Original 10 Years Old

Moderate smoke and cocoa notes on the nose, a touch of seaweed, and warm cream. On the palate, it’s bracingly fresh and spicy, with dried fruits and a finish that speaks of smoke, grilled bread, and spice.

Glenmorangie Lasanta 12 Years Old

More brown spice, cinnamon, and a hint of nutmeg aromatics. With air, creamy, nutty milk-chocolate emerges. On the palate, it’s sweeter initially, but then the spice comes around. There’s an appealing finish here with an unexpected whiff of red berry behind the salty, spicy Sherry flavors that linger nicely.

Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban 12 Years Old

Nose of sweet cream and hints of the vaguest sensation of Raisinettes, honey, and toffee float above the glass. These lead to sweet-souled flavors of honey, just-baked pralines, and cloves. A great single-malt for a cold day.

Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or 12 Years Old

Very pure and clean on the nose, with a linearity to the honey notes, as well as a hint of orange blossom, orange oil, and lemon-jelly candies. The flavors here are so overtly delicious that it’s difficult not to throw back the first glass as a shot. It sings with toasted multi-grain bread on the finish, orange creme brulee, lemon honey, and fresh nuts. Effusive.

Glenmorangie Astar

Smells just like cinnamon cream and the burnt-sugar top of a perfect creme brulee, cut nicely with a touch of dried tropical fruit and iodine. Smoky seaweed defines the palate, and leads to a salty and iodine-y finish livened up with a touch of caramel. Very complex and rewarding.

Glenmorangie Finealta Private Edition

Looks like liquid amber. Really peat-y on the nose, with a touch of nori and rubber (but in a very good way). There’s nothing flashy here, just a beautifully self-possessed single malt. This broad-shouldered Scotch is wildly complex once you get into it, with everything from smoke and seaweed to honey nougat and pink peppercorns. All of these more masculine notes, however, are given a reprieve with a pronounced florality on both the mid-palate and finish, as well as dried pineapple and orange blossom. Just amazing.

Glenmorangie Signet

Very fruity nose, yet with a sense of restraint born of long cask-aging, just like the best long-aged Ports and Sherry. The perfume of dried tropical fruit, whole-grain bread with honey warmed up in the toaster oven, as well as warm cream, leap to the fore, and lead to a fresh, wildly complex palate of brown baking spices, whole vanilla pod, cardamom, and honey-whipped butter. There’s a touch of seaweed on the finish, along with milk chocolate, toasted nuts, and praline. Gorgeously balanced, subtle, and dangerously easy to drink.

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