Saturday, September 26, 2015

Uncorking the truth about screw-tops.

Mr. Mike Ryan of Gulf Breeze Florida asks “Do any good wines have a screw-top or are they only used for “cheap” wines?”

Well Mike while it is true that many “cheap” wines use screw tops there are many really good “value” wines that also utilize a screw-top.

Cork has traditionally been used to seal a bottle of wine because it was one of the few natural products pliable enough to keep the wine in while keeping the air out.  As the price of cork has gone up and up many winemakers looked for alternatives to cork to help keep the price of their wine reasonable.  Screw-tops are one of those alternatives.  Other alternatives are corks made of synthetic material, compressed pieces of cork, or a combination of real cork and synthetic material.  

Cork has gotten so expensive odds are if you purchase a wine less than $30 you are buying a wine with one of the cork alternatives and not a wine utilizing a 100% natural cork.

In many ways a screw-top is preferable to cork or one of the other cork alternatives because it can be engineered to control the amount of air that gets into the bottle something that is next to impossible to do with any type of cork real or synthetic.  A screw-top also avoids the possibility of the wine being tainted by any disease that may be present in the cork.  It is also a heck of a lot easier to open a screw-top than it is to uncork a bottle of wine.

Some parts of the world have just about done away with corks altogether.  New Zealand and Australia are established wine regions that produce some outstanding wines that almost exclusively available only in screw-top bottles.  

Most white wines don’t need to age so your odds of finding a good screw-top white wine are better than finding a good screw top red wine.

So with all these advantages why don’t all wines utilize screw-tops?

Two main reasons.  The first is that for all of its issues cork has an excellent track record of helping wines that need it age properly.  Top tier heavier red wines that need to age such as Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Barolo are rarely if ever sold in a screw-top bottle. Screw- tops are too new and makers of those high end wines don’t want to take the risk that their wines will not age properly. Secondly, for some people, drinking wine is as much about the experience as it is about the wine itself.  The reality is that it is a  special experience watching your waiter uncork a bottle of wine and not nearly as special watching them unscrew it.  (Click here to read my post about the restaurant wine ritual).

So Mike, to answer your question if you want a quality wine that comes in a screw-top my advice is to try just about any wine from Australia or New Zealand, any white wine or Rose over $8 a bottle or any lighter red wines like Pinot Noir or Grenache over $15. There are exceptions but if you follow this advice you will be happy more often than not.
Please reply to this post if you have any question or would like to comment.  

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Two Great Value Wines At Costco

Costco believe it or not is one of the biggest wine retailers in the world.  Because of that they are able to leverage their size to get great great wines at great prices.  They have a rotating selection of wines, and depending on the drinking habits of the surrounding area the sell different wines at different locations. At my Costco they carry two wines that I consider to be great values that they always seem to have in stock.  

One is Chateau D' Aqueria Tavel Rose.  Tavel is an application in the southern Rhone region of France that only produces dry Rose.  It is one of the most full bodied rose wines you will ever experience.  I love to drink it by itself but I also pair it with Salmon.  $12.99 is an outstanding price for a wine this good.

My other favorite Costco wine is Villa Antinori Toscana red table wine.  

This highly rated wine is a Super Tuscan (a wine produced in Tuscany with at least some grapes not being Sangiovese) consisting of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.   I would never consider drinking this wine without food but is wonderful with meat sauces, braised beef, and pot roast.  You won't find a better $14.99 wine on the market.

Because these wines are always in stock at my location I'm assuming they are widely available so look for them on your next trip to Costco. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

League of Rogues Wines, in a league of their own.

Went to a wine tasting of League of Rogues wines last night and came away very impressed.  This Paso Robles winery has a Rose, a  Rhone Red Blend, and a Rhone white blend that retail for around $12,50 and a Zinfandel that retails for around $18.00.  All four are approachable, drinkable, and give you what you expect without being overpowering.  Amazingly well done given the fact that the wine is produced and marketed by a young couple, Jake Gottlieb and Jessica Leitch that graduated from Arizona State business school four years ago and got into the business 3 years ago.  They now produce about 1200 cases per year. They do not have a tasting room and are currently available at restaurants and small wine shops (for those of you in Arizona it is available at Phoenix Wine ) throughout Arizona and California and through their website and wine club. You can also get more information and order wine by going to the League of Rogues website: .

League of Rogues founder and winemaker Jessica Leitch

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Wine Tasting Near Seattle

Mrs. Wine Guy and I just got back from a wedding anniversary trip to Seattle (35 Years thank you) and as we usually do when we are in a wine growing region we took some time out to do a little wine tasting.  We visited 3 tasting rooms on Bainbridge Island (a half hour ferry ride from downtown Seattle) and 4 tasting rooms in Woodinville (a half hour car ride from downtown Seattle).  What follows is a summary of what we found during our wine tasting.

Woodinville is home to over 100 tasting rooms.  Much of the wine is produced there but most of the grapes are grown in Eastern and Southern Washington and shipped to the area.  A big reason for the number of wine producers in the area is Chateau Ste. Michelle, our first stop in the area. Many of the top winemakers in the area got their start at Chateau Ste. Michelle.  Chateau Ste. Michelle is known as a producer of value wines with many of its wines among the least expensive on the supermarket shelves.  Just because the wine is a good value does not mean it is poor quality.  A $10 bottle of Chateau Ste. Michelle compare favorably to wines costing 3 or 4 times as much.  They produce a large variety of wines with a number of tasting room options.  Because they are known for their Rieslings we opted for their Riesling tastings consisting of 6 Rieslings ranging in cost from $9 to $30.  The star of the show for us was the $10 2013 Columbia Valley Dry Riesling.  It had all the fruit you expect from a Riesling but with a crisp acidity instead of the sometimes overwhelming sweetness of some Rieslings.  We also enjoyed the $22 2013 Erocia Riesling.  It is slightly sweeter than the Dry Riesling but at more than twice the price there is no reason to go there.  Among the other sweeter non dessert Rieslings we enjoyed the 2013 Cold Creek Riesling ($20) but again why pay twice as much?   We thought the 2013 Columbia Valley Riesling ($9) drinkable but nothing special, pay the extra dollar for the dry version.  Among the desert versions we found the 2013 Eroca Gold ($30) slightly better than the 2013 Harvest Select Sweet ($10) but both were very good and there is no reason to pay more than three times as much for the Eroca Gold.  
Our next and favorite stop in Woodinville was Novelty Hill/Januik.  We have enjoyed Januik wines in the past and made them the focus of this tasting.  Our focus here was on red wines tasting two Cabs, a Cab Blend, and a Syrah.  Our favorite wine was the 2012 Columbia Valley Reserve Red ($65).  I don’t often buy $65 wines but this was so good I was tempted.  Primarily a Cab it also has a small amount of Merlot, Cab Franc, and Malbec that help soften the tannins and make this relatively young wine quite drinkable now.  What we enjoyed just about as much, and a wine that did make it home with us, is the 2012 Weinbau Vineyard Syrah ($30).  Smooth and rich a hint of pepper this wine would partner well with pot roast or other braised beef.  Also good were their 2012 Andrew Januik Stone Cairn Cab ($40) and the 2012 Red Mountain Cab ($40) they were both quite drinkable for young Cabs and would make the perfect complement to grilled meat.
We then went to DeLille Cellers a winery that specializes in Rhone style wine and Bordeaux blends.  We started with the Doyenne 2014 Rose.  We love ainDry Rose, particularly during the hot summer,  and have been drinking more and more of them.  Maybe it was the cold Seattle day in late May but we did not think this Grenache dominant Rose was anything special.  If we are going to pay $32 for a bottle of Rose it better be special and this one was not.  Also nothing special were the 2014 Doyenne Roussanne ($37) and the 2013 Metier ($46).  We were losing hope when we tasted the 2012 Delille Cellars D2 ($44)  Primarily Merlot this outstanding wine was complex, unique, and memorable.  Well worth the price.  

Our last stop in Woodinville was at Long Shadows.  They are unique in that they bring in a celebrity winemaker and market them with each of their wines.  They use this gimmick as justification to then price their wines 50% more than neighboring wineries. We tasted their 2012 Pirouette Bordeaux Blend ($60) 2012 Pedestal Merlot ($60) 2012 Feather Cab ($60) and the 2012 Sequel Syrah ($55).  All the wines were good to very good but unless you want to brag about the celebrity winemaker there is no reason to pay the premium these wines command.

Our trip to Bainbridge Island was really enjoyable.  The passenger ferry to the island was inexpensive and convenient and the Island is a nice break from city life.  The island has a handful of small production wineries a few of which have tasting rooms in the main tourist area, a short walk from the Ferry Dock.  The wines ranged from OK to pretty good with none worth the hassle of packing up and taking back with us.  We tasted wines by Eleven, and the Eagle Harbor Wine company at their dedicated tasting rooms and wines by Amellia Wynn and Fletcher Bay at the Island Vintners tasting room.  The two dedicated tasting rooms were pleasant the wine was drinkable and we are glad we did it.  The highlight of the visit however was the Island Vintners tasting room.  It was a highlight not because of the wine but because of the owner Sharon Wilford.  In addition to owning the tasting room she is also a co owner (with her husband) of the Fletcher Bay Winery and she also drives a school bus.  She was constantly interacting with her customers, telling stories, and making everyone comfortable.  If you ever go to Bainbridge this is a must stop.

With Washington only trailing California in wine production we only scratched the surface and hope to return to learn more about the area in the not too distant future.  Please leave a comment if you have any thoughts or questions.  

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Wine is not a Drug

When I first started this blog I thought I would incorporate some google generated ads to make a few dollars for my efforts.  My blog was rejected because google does not allow their ads to appear on sites that promote “drugs or alcohol”.  I recently took my car in for service and had my laptop with me to do some research for an upcoming blog post while I waited for the repairs to be completed.  When trying to access the web site of one of the wineries I was going to write about using the car dealers wireless network I was blocked from going to that site because the network does not allow traffic to sites that promote “drugs or alcohol”.   In both cases they lumped  wine into the same category as crack, meth, and heroin.

For me and the vast majority of wine enthusiasts that I know wine is a hobby and we rarely if ever drink to the point we are drunk or are impaired.  For many cultures wine in a integral part of a meal and it makes about as much sense to ban wine content as it would to ban content about potatoes, pot roast, or bread.  For us wine is not a drug it is a food. Sure drinking too much wine is bad for you but so is eating too many apple fritters.  

Wine is also a form of art.  A winemaker can take a grape vine and depending on where they plant it, how they prune it, when they pick its grapes, how they extract the juice from those grapes, where they store that juice, and how they process that juice they create something that has never been tasted before and will will never tasted again.  The reason we drink wine is the same reason we go to the museum, to appreciate this unique one of a kind creation.

All this also does not take into account that is it legal and because it promotes tourism and employs tens of thousands of people is a key part of the economy in many parts of the world.

I’m not sure who the cyberspace police are that make the decision on which content to censor but they must not be wine drinkers and obviously must be doing this out of ignorance.  Hopefully they will eventually use cyberspace to learn the facts.  

Monday, March 30, 2015

Live Your Life Like You Drink Your Wine

One of the things that bothers me most is people that put artificial barriers on the wines they drink.  It makes me cringe when I hear people say “I only drink reds” or “I only drink whites” or “I only drink Napa Cabernet”.  “You big dummies”, I think to myself, “you are missing out on so much good stuff and great experiences by limiting yourself”.   

I recently realized that I am missing out by not taking the same approach to life that I take to wine.

I recently flew back home for the funeral of my cousins wife.  A wonderful person whose loss was a major blow to my cousin and their son.  I wanted to be there to offer whatever comfort I could.  Following the funeral we were all invited to lunch at a nearby restaurant.  

As happens at weddings and funerals folks that don’t see each other that often get a chance to reunite.  It was open seating and I found myself sitting with a group of people that I had seen several times in my life but I had never taken them time to get to know.  I am first generation american and was born a year or so after my parents arrived from Sicily.  The majority of people attending were born in Sicily and most  were at least 6 or more years older than me.  Growing up I was always the youngest, and always the most Americanized.  I always used my age and the fact that I was less ethnic than they were as an excuse to shy away from them.  Consequently I knew a lot of people but I really never got to know them.  Because of that I was a bit uncomfortable sitting with my table mates and was a little worried about how to carry on a conversation.    

I did not feel uncomfortable for long.  These people treated me like I was one of their best friends and were genuinely happy to have me at their table. They told stories that were both heartwarming and funny, discussed serious issues from a well thought perspective, told me things about my parents and relatives I never knew in my 58 years of life,.  Their wisdom, intelligence, and depth of understanding on a variety of topics was impressive. I don’t remember ever having a more engaging, entertaining conversation.  After a while I opened up to them, was not afraid to be myself, and they seemed to enjoy me as much as I enjoyed them. After our final hugs and we said goodbye I remember thinking to myself “You big dummy why didn't you take advantage of the opportunity to get to know these people years earlier.  You have really missed out on a lot”.  

That's when it hit me that I should think about the people in my life like I think about wine.  

I have other people in my life that I shy away from and do not open up to.  I know folks that are more outdoorsy, intellectual, spiritual, more athletic.  I know this will be hard to believe I even have friends that know more about wine then I do. I’m a bit intimidated and am not always comfortable with these differences and use them as an excuse not to open up and get to know them better. Because of that both they and I are missing out. 

I can’t control what happened in the past but I can control what I do from this point forward.  And just like I want you to open yourself up to new wines and wines you are not comfortable around, I am going to work harder at getting to know new people as well as the folks already in my life that I am not comfortable around. The joy in discovering new and interesting things about the people in your life has to be one of the only things better then making a great new wine discovery. Lets you and I do a better job of experiencing both.  

Monday, March 2, 2015

Temecula the Sequel

I had Presidents Day Monday off of my other job (the one that pays the bills) and since Valentine's day fell on the preceding Saturday my Valentine and I decide to make the 5 1/2 hour drive to spend the weekend in Temecula to do some wine tasting and enjoy the area.  We made our first visit to the area last year. This trip we wanted to visit some of the smaller places we did not get a chance to try last year.  

Our overall impression of the wine was similar to what is was it was last year.  The wines, with some exceptions highlighted below, are for the most part drinkable but are not special and distinctive and do not justify their high prices.  The tasting rooms for most part are comfortable, interesting, some offering great views, and the tasting room staff at all the wineries we visited were friendly and helpful. Most of the larger wineries spend as much time promoting their banquet and wedding facilities as they do promoting their wine. I'm thinking half of LA and San Diego has their wedding reception in Temecula. The area features some great restaurants and things to do. It was a fun weekend and we plan to go back.

Our first stop when we pulled into town was Wiens Family Cellars.  This was the only repeat visit from last year.  We purchased enough wine from them last year to qualify as “virtual” members so that meant free tastings and if it is free I am there.  Members get to taste 8 wines each and they are not very careful about keeping track of how many wines you have tasted.  The pours were generous.  When we were done with Wiens we were done for the day.  We focused on the red wines and most of what we tasted was good but we did not find it all that special.  That changed when we tasted the 2012 Dualis, a mix of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Zinfandel.  It seemed a strange combination to me but after tasting several OK almost bland wines we were impressed.  The Zin softened the tannin of a young Cabernet as wells adding some fruit and acidity making the wine more drinkable.  It is delicious and highly recommended.  

Our first stop the next day was Vendemia.  They are a small boutique winery with a nice comfortable outdoor tasting room with great views.  Among other blends and varietals they produce Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah.  The whites we tasted on that list were all good, and the reds drinkable but with one exception unremarkable.  The one remarkable wine we did taste was their 2010 “More Cowbell” Zinfandel.  It had just the right combination of fruit and earth and would pair very with Mexican food or grilled meat.  

Our next stop was Lumiere. Just down the street from Vendemia they also a boutique winery. It features an outdoor tasting room with a fantastic view of the area.  Martha, one of the founders of the winery, did the pouring and was an absolute delight. She and her husband had the dream of starting a winery and Lumiere is the fulfillment of that dream. Following the death of her husband they turned over the reigns of the business to her son. They produce a variety of Reds and Whites and like most of Temecula the reds were drinkable but not very distinctive.  What was distinctive was their late harvest Sauvignon Blanc.  It is a sweet wine but not overly sweet or syrupy. If you like Sauternes you will enjoy this wine.  

Our last stop on day two was Falkner Winery.  Falkner features a large tasting room with both indoor and outdoor tasting.  The place has a hip happening feel to it and it was no wonder there were so many younger folks tasting wine there that day. With one exception we found their reds (you have heard this before) drinkable but unremarkable.  The one exception was their 2011 Rock Creek Vineyard Syrah.  It was unique among many of the red wines in Temecula in that you could taste the fruit but it was not the least bit jammy.  It was really good.  Another highlight was their Viognier.  I’m not a big fan of Viognier but I have to admit most of them we tasted on this trip were quite good and the one produced by Falkner was among the best.

Colleen and Scott Kline owners of  SC Cellars 
Day three started with our favorite stop SC Cellars.  The tasting room is only open to wine club members and even then they are only open limited hours on the weekend.  After repeated phone calls they agreed to let us visit. We are glad they did. SC Cellars is small even for a boutique winery. The winery originally starting out as a hobby for its owners Scott and Colleen Kline but they got so tired of friends and family asking them for wine they decided to turn their hobby into a business. They only produce about 400 of cases of wine with all of it coming from their three acre vineyard.   The day we visited them Colleen had made homemade truffles and from the conversations Scott and Colleen had with the others in the tasting room you could tell it was a close knit group.  They care very much about the wine they produce and you could tell in joy they took in explaining each of the wines to you as they poured.  Our favorite wine we tasted was the 212 Malbec.  The 2012 Chardonnay was the best Chardonnay we tasted on the trip.  They also make a Cabernet Sauvignon while very good it was not as distinctive as the Chardonnay and Malbec.

Our last stop was Europa Village.  Europa Village features a larger active tasting room with an outgoing and knowledgeable staff.  There is also a bed and breakfast on the property.  We enjoyed several of their wines the highlights being the 2014 Viognier, the 2012 Syrah, and our favorite 2012 Poco Roco. The Poco Rocco is a Spanish style blend consisting of 70% Garnacha, 25% Mourvedre, and 5% Tempranillo.  It is a light bodied wine that would pair perfectly with lean pork dishes as well as vegetarian pizza.

In summary the wine is not world class but the tasting rooms and the overall experience is worth a drive. You will have your best luck with Syrah and Viognier.  On this trip we focused on some of the smaller producers and thought they made more interesting wines then some of the larger produces that focus on the banquet hall business as much as they do on the wines they produce.