Thursday, January 5, 2017

Top 10 Wines of 2016

Here is the list of my ten favorite wines I tasted in 2016

1)  2010 Binomio Montepulcian d'Abruzzo Riserva  $52 - 93 Points

Rich, silky, dark, plum, cherry, smooth tannin with the perfect fruit intensity. Wonderful with my veal chop

2) 2012 Ayoub Pinot Noir Thistle Vineyard $45 - 92 Points

Wonderful!! The perfect combination of cherry and earth. Very smooth with an outstanding finish. Wow!

3) 2011 Renieri Brunello di Montalcino $38 - 91 Points

Smooth and Lush, blueberry, dark stone fruit, and leather. Wonderful balance. Paired wonderfully with marinara sauce and Italian sausage.

4) 2012 Ayoub Pinot Noir Memoirs $45 - 91 Points 

Fruity but not jammy, smooth, medium body. Cherry with a hint of pepper at the finish. Nice!

5) 2013 Joesph Phelps Pinot Noir Freestone Vineyards $44 - 91 Points 

Outstanding wine that starts out a bit muted buy builds to an amazing finish. Red cherry, with a bit of leather and mushroom. Elegant and refined. Loved it.

6) 2013 Demetria Syrah Santa Ynez Valley $34  - 91 Points 

Luscious black fruit, smoke, gentile tannin, fantastic wine.

7) 2014 Amici Cellars Chardonnay Sonoma Coast $21  - 91 Points 

A hint of butter, a hint of oak. Balanced acidity to go with a variety of meals. Pineapple, lemon, and peach. Wow this is nice. Outstanding value at $21.

8) 2012 Fratelli Perata Bambino Grande (Sangiovese Blend) $29 - 91 Points

Black Cherry, Cola, controlled tannin, nice acidity,vanilla, smooth finish. Great with tomato sauce based dishes.

9) 2013 Robert Renzoni Sonata (Red Blend) $42.00 - 90 Points

Absolutely wonderful. Deep rick black cherry, oak, controlled tannin.. Proof that it is possible to make some great wine in Temecula.

10) 2013 Januik Red Wine $18.00 - 90 Points

Well balanced Blackberry, cherry, and oak with strong tannin that soften when you let it open up a bit. Very Nice and very tasty.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Does Cost = Quality?

A lot of the questions I get asked are about the cost of a bottle of wine.  What makes a $40 wine worth $40?  Is a $50 wine twice as good as a $25 of wine?  How come two buck chuck is so cheap?  

Let me first talk about the cost of wine.  A lot goes into the cost of a bottle of wine.   

Chateau Margaux - One of the most expensive wines in the world.
First off the land that the grapes grow on impacts the price.  Using California as an example, an acre of land in Napa will cost several times what an acre of land in Livermore County costs.  The taxes on that land are also much greater.  That additional cost works it's way into the price of the wine.   

The cost of the grapes works its way into the price of a bottle of wine.  Because they are considered some of the best grapes in the world grapes grown in Napa are some of the most expensive grapes in the world.  Because they don't have much of a reputation grapes from Livermore county cost much lessReally cheap wines like "Two Buck Chuck" buy bulk grapes or overstocked grapes from anywhere they can find them to make their wine and that is why they cost less.   

How the grapes are picked impacts the price.  Wines made from grapes that are harvested by automated machines that are not selective about the grapes that are picked cost less.  It is more expensive to hand pick grapes and use only the best ones. Obviously that makes a bottle of wine cost more.  Wines like "Two Buck Chuck" are not hand picked and they are not very selective in the grapes that they use.   

Where the wine is aged and how long it is aged adds to the price of a bottle of wine. A lot of wine has traditionally been aged in oak barrels before the wine goes into the bottle.  As a general rule wines that are aged in oak barrels, particularly new oak, cost more than wines aged in stainless steel or cement.  In order to recover the cost of a new oak Barrel you need to add at least $5 to the cost of a bottle of wine.   Oak is desirable because it adds a smoothness as well as vanilla and spice flavors to the wine.  How is it that you can get a bottle of wine with that oakey taste for $5 or less?  By not aging it in oak barrels but by adding oak flavoring or making up a huge teabag with a mixture of glued together oak sawdust that floats in the stainless steel tanks with the wine prior to bottling.   If that bottle costs $10-$20 chances are it was not aged in a barrel but they added wood chips or  barrel staves (one of the strips of wood that makes up the barrel) to the wine as it ages in a stainless steel tank.  If a wine costs more than $20 chances are it was aged in an oak barrel.   

And that is where all logic and reason ends when it comes to wine pricing.   

The rest of wine pricing has to do with less tangible factors like the reputation of the area.  Since Napa has a better reputation than Livermore they charge more and people are willing to pay more.  Marketing.  A winemaker that heavily advertises their wines has to charge more for the wine to recover the marketing costs and since people are more willing to pay for a wine they have heard of (because of the marketing) they are willing to pay it.  Scarcity.  People are willing to pay more for something when it is hard to find or there is not much of it so small boutique wineries, or small production wines from large wineries, command a higher price.  There are also several other factors such as the reputation of the winemaker, wine ratings, celebrities associated with or endorsing the wine, and other factors that impact the price of a bottle of wine.   

"Two Buck Chuck" - one of the least expensive wines in the world.
All of this brings us to answering the question is a $50 wine twice as good a $25 bottle of wine?  I'm going to answer that question with the official "Gasper The Wine Guy" rule of wine pricing and quality.  This is based on my experience drinking wine and my work as a Wine Guy and as far as I know these are my thoughts and my thoughts alone.   The rule is this: A $10 bottle of wine is 50% better than a $5 wine.  A $20 bottle of wine is 25% better than a $10 bottle of wine.  A $40 bottle is 12.5% better than a $20 bottle.  An $80 bottle is 6.25% better than a $40 bottle.  As you can see way the rule works is that every time the price of a bottle of wine doubles the incremental quality difference in the price of the wine does not keep pace.  If I had continued the example above a couple more iterations you would have seen virtually no quality difference.  (If I can get a mathematician out there to draw me up a formula for this it would be most appreciated).

So why do people pay hundreds even thousands of dollars for a bottle of wine when there may not be a huge difference in quality?  A lot of the less tangible factors outlined above play into it.  People want the thrill of drinking a wine that few other people will ever have the opportunity to drink or that was produced by a rock star winemaker Because they can.  People like to celebrate their success by drinking wines other people can't afford.  It’s the same reason people by Maserati's and Bentley's, it makes them feel good and they can show everyone around them that they have made it.  It is a hobby.  Just like people are fascinated by collecting coins, collecting art, or collecting cars, people collect wines.  They may may not ever drink the wine but they get a great deal of pleasure out of going into their wine cellar and knowing that they possess a  particular unique, rare, and expensive bottle of wine.  It is an investment.  Like the stock market, flipping houses, or buying rare collectibles investors buy wines in hopes of the price of those wines appreciating in the future so they can then sell the wine at a profit.     

This is just scratching the surface but I hope it helps you better understand why a bottle of wine costs what it does and how to make a better decision on how much you want to pay.  

Monday, May 23, 2016

Yes Virginia They Do Make Great Wine Outside of Napa and Sonoma

One of my favorite things about being a wine guy is making new discoveries and sharing those discoveries with others.   In order to make those discoveries I often need to get out of my comfort zone and drink wines I have never heard of from places I am not familiar with.   There is some risk associated with trying new things, I often taste wines that I do not like at all (a wine variety from Arizona called "Symphony" comes to mind), but finding new wines that I would have not otherwise enjoyed more than makes up for any bad experiences.   

Most of the time when I go out to dinner with friends, because the majority of our friends are not wine guys, they ask me to pick the wine.  Most of them only drink a few brands from California or play it safe by always ordering wine from Napa or Sonoma.  I can see the look of fear and bewilderment in their face when I end up ordering a white wine from Spain or a red wine from Washington State.  Napa and Sonoma make wonderful wines but what my dinner mates can't comprehend is that they don't make the only wonderful wines.  They approach the first glass of this non Napa/Sonoma wine as if someone had just put a glass of pickle juice in front of them to drink.  It used to bother me (like "how dare they doubt the wine guy!!!") but I learned to wait for the payoff, the "boy this stuff doesn't suck, it is actually pretty good" look on their faces after they take a sip.  When they take a picture of the label or pick up the bottle to read the label I know I did my job, and did it well.  

Because in all likelihood we will not be going to out to dinner together and because what I have mentioned above has sparked an adventurous spirit in you I am going to give you some suggestions on how to step out of your Napa/Sonoma comfort zone.    

If you like Cabernet Sauvignon: Try one from Argentina of Chile or Washington State.   They are every bit as good, often better, at a fraction of the price.  If you want to burn some extra cash try a French Bordeaux, or a Barolo, Barbaresco, or Amarone from Italy.  They are big and complex like the top Cabernet Sauvingnon's are, complement the same foods, but will take you places you have never gone before.    

If you like Chardonnay: Try one from Oregon.  As a rule they are less buttery or oaky but are bursting with fruit flavor.  From France you might want to try a White Burgundy (rich and smooth) or a Chablis (fruity and crisp).  To step out even more try a Riesling from Alsace region of France.  They are bone dry but have a lot of amazing fruit flavors.   You may also enjoy Viognier as it provides a lot of the fruityness of Chardonnay with a bit more earthiness.   

If you like Merlot: Try one from Washington State.  Again the quality is amazing at a fraction of the cost. To step out even further try a Shiraz from Australia.  It has the same smoothness with even more of the dark stone fruit you love about Merlot.   

If you like Pinot Noir: Try one from Oregon.  Often more complex than Sonoma Pinots they are among the best in the world.  You might also try a Red Burgundy.  Burgundy France is the birthplace of Pinot Noir and if you are willing to pay for the experience you will be rewarded with some of the most amazing wines you will ever taste.  If you want to try something completely different you might try a Gamay or a Crus Beaujolais from France or a Pinotage from South Africa.  Both are light and approachable red wines similar to Pinot Noir.   

If you like Zinfandel: Try a Primitivo from Italy or a Malbec from South America.   They are big, rich, and zesty like the best Zinfandels but will provide you with a different experience.  You might also try Cotes du Rhone  from France, or any number of red wines from Spain.  Many of them have the richness and spiciness people love about Zinfandel  and offer a unique mouthwatering experience.  

If you like Sauvignon Blanc: Try Albarino or other white wine from Spain or a San Gimignano white from Italy.  They give you the same crisp green apple/citrus that you get from California Sauvignon Blanc but throws in a number of flavors and characteristics unique to their wines.  You might also try a White Bordeaux wine that combines Sauvignon Blanc with Semillon  producing a crisp, smooth, fruity wine. You may have noted I did not recommend a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand (Kim Crawford may come to mind).   In my mind pickle juice is preferable to New Zealand Sauvignon blanc and may be a greater threat to mankind then global warming or the zika virus.  Because of that I did not recommend it as an alternative but because many other wine guys disagree with me you may want to give that one of those a try as well.  

There you have it my field guide for stepping out of your comfort zone. Please let me know your experience trying any of these suggestions or if you have any questions or comments.   

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Temecula Part III

For Mrs. Wine Guy and I Temecula is sort of the Seven Eleven of wine regions. It is overpriced, the quality is mediocre, but since iis so darn convenient (only about 6 hours from home) we keep going back.  This was our third trip to the area if you want to find out about our first two trips you can click one of the following links:  Trip1, Trip2.

As convenient as it is for us it is only an hour or two from LA or San Diego so it is only a day trip for those folks.  Add to that the fact that most of the tasting rooms range from very nice to spectacular, there are great restaurants, the views are magnificent, and that many of the tasting rooms feature music and other entertainment, it is no wonder it is a lot of fun even if the wine is so so.

This trip  we visited Ponte, Baily, Robert Renzoni, and Oak Mountain for the first time, and revisited Wiens, SC Cellars, and Europa Village.  While we were not impressed with most of the wines there were a few standouts.    

Our first stop driving into town before checking in at our Bed And Breakfast (The Inn at Europa Village...Fantastic!!!) was Wiens.  We have enjoyed some of their wines in the past and because they can’t ship to Arizona they made us “virtual” members” because of our past purchases.  They have a spacious contemporary tasting room that was able to accommodate the crowd that had gathered to taste. One of the perks of membership is that they give you 8 free pours each and throw in a couple of more for the fun of it.  Because of that it was our one and only stop of the day.  Most of their wines were undistinguished but we were impressed with their Sangiovese.  It was rich and flavorful and was a welcome relief from the bland wines that preceded it.  Their Alberino was also quite nice and their Ruby Port would pair nicely with chocolate or a cigar.  

Our first stop the next day was Ponte.  Their spacious tasting room was packed wall to wall with people paying an extra ordinary $20 to taste very ordinary wine. Their restaurant had a two hour wait. People love it. I don’t get it. None of what we tasted was worth half the $35 a bottle or more they charged for any of their wines.  Nothing we tasted was worth recommending. We walked away empty handed.  

We then went to Baily.  They are Temecula wine pioneers and based on some friends recommendations, their impressive castle like tasting room, and generally good online reviews we had high hopes.  Our hopes were dashed once we tasted the wine.  There was probably something wrong with us but it would be kind to say their wines were mediocre.  They tasted oxidized and were borderline undrinkable.   Again we walked away empty handed. On a positive note they have a casual dining restaurant on site that made one of the best Ruben sandwiches I have ever had.

After those two less than pleasant experiences, and the fact we had only one more stop left in us,  we needed to find a sure thing.  We did that with our visit to our old friends at SC Cellars.  Run by Scott and Colleen Kline, SC Cellars is a small winery that produces about 400 cases per year.  Carol is an artist (she hosts art and wine sessions on occasion) and has designed wine labels for some of her neighboring wineries. They are only open on weekends and then only for a few hours.   We enjoyed all of the wines we tasted there and walked away with their crisp 2013 Chardonnay and their 2011  Cellars Tapestry.  

The next day turned out to be much better.  Our first stop was Robert Renzoni.  Very modern well appointed tasting room with a large on site restaurant. They also had a ridiculous $20 tasting fee but at least the wine was good. We particularly enjoyed the 2014 Cantata a blend of Pinot Grigio and Viognier and their Sonata, a Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.  

Our next stop was Oak Mountain . The $15 tasting fee seemed like a bargain after a couple of other places  Nice tasting room that I would describe as contemporary rustic. Friendly service.  Most of the wines were nice and we walked away with a bottle of their  2012 Temecula Hills GSM blend.  It was complex,  flavorful, and would go well with any spicier beef dish.   

Our last stop was Europa Village.  It is called Europa Village because it has distinct brands for their French, Italian, and Spanish varietals (C’est La Vie, Vienza, and Bolero).  It’s tasting room is about to be demolished and replaced with three tasting rooms, one for each of the brands and that's probably a good thing as their current tasting room is hard to navigate when crowded.  They have one of the largest tasting menus in the area, and most of the wines if not great are pretty good especially when you compare them to much of the local competition.  Our favorites were their 2015 C’est La Vie En Vie Viognier, their 2013 C’est La Vie En Vie Rhone Blend, the 2013 Bolero Libito Rojha blend.  

Will there be a 4th visit?  Probably.  The place is a lot of fun and tasting mediocre wine is better than tasting no wine at all.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Arizona Wines- Ready for Prime Time

Several years ago friends visiting us at our Arizona home brought Mrs. Wine Guy and I a bottle of Vino del Barrio from Page Springs Cellars as a gift. The wine was bottled in Arizona and made from grapes made in Arizona.  Prior to this I did not know that you could grow grapes in Arizona let alone make wine.  I had never tasted an Arizona wine, was not looking forward to it, and was more than a bit surprised when the Vino del Barrio did not suck.   

That experience motivated us to make several wine tasting trips to Arizona wineries to dig a bit deeper.

At first there were very few wines that we would classify as outstanding (a Barbara produced by Javelina Leap Winery comes to mind), several were drinkable, and several more that had some serious flaws and had a way to go to catch up to wines from the more established wine regions.  

After each subsequent trip we found more wines outstanding and drinkable wines but still found several that were still a bit funky which reinforced our preconceived notion that Arizona was still in the minor leagues of winemaking.    

That all changed after we went on a recent wine tasting trip to Willcox, Az.  Willcox is where over 70% of Arizona grapes are grown.  (The two other major wine-growing regions in Arizona are  Sonoita, and Yavapai County ).  We tasted over 40 wines (relax we are not embarrassed to spit) and did not find a single wine we would not be willing to try again.  We found the vast majority of the wines outstanding.  

We were a bit shocked but in hindsight if you look at the pioneering spirit of Arizona winemakers and their focus on making quality wine  we should not have been.  

The Arizona wine industry started to get some notoriety after the release of the 2010 Movie  “Blood into Wine” (available on Netflix) which details the partnership of Maynard Keenan, leader of the heavy metal band Tool, and Eric Glomski, the pioneering winemaker who many credit with being the father of the modern Arizona Wine industry, in forming Caduceus Cellars, arguably the leading Arizona wine brand.  The movie brought a lot of aspiring winemakers and entrepreneurs out of the closet and jump-started a series of events that saw the Arizona wine industry grow from a dozen or so wineries 15 years ago to over 80 today.  Further evidence of that transformation was the recent creation of the Southwest Wine Center and the Viticulture (growing wine grapes) and Enology (making wine) programs at Yavapai college in central Arizona  The center and programs were started in large part through donations from Keenan, Glomski, and several other winemakers.  In addition to learning the science of growing grapes and making wine the program emphasizes hands on experience and features an on campus vineyard, winemaking facility, and tasting room.       

During our recent trip to Willcox we visited several wineries whose operations have come on line during the last decade.or so.  

Southern Arizona Sales Manager Catherine and Sam 
Our first stop was Pillsbury Wine Co. founded by Sam Pillsbury the man I now know is who I wanted to be when I grew up.  A native of New Zealand (he still has a home there) among his many accomplishments have been filmmaker, writer, home builder, drama professor and now winemaker.  Sam produces 14 varieties and his wines have won several awards. Our favorites were his white wines particularly his Chardonnay which, unlike most other Chardonnay, is not aged in new oak and does not go through malolactic fermentation resulting in a Chardonnay where all you taste is the fruit and not the vanilla and butter you taste in most other Chardonnay.

Dan Pierce

Our next stop was at Bodega Pierce.  This is a family affair. Dan Pierce handles the business operation while his son Michael Pierce who is in charge of the wine making. Michael does double duty as the department head for the Yavapai College enology program.  They bottle wines under the Bodega Pierce and Saeculum Cellars brands.  Among our favorites was their Saeculum Cellars “El Coraje” Tempranillo.  Tempranillo is one of the varietals that seems to grow especially will in Arizona as well as the Rhone Varietals such as Grenache, Viognier, Mourvedre, and Syrah.

Rhona MacMillan
Next door to Bodega Pierce was our next stop Zarpara.  Zarpara which is Spanish for setting sail something owners Rhona MacMillan (yes she is from Scotland) and Mark Jorve felt they did when they embarked on their winemaking adventure. Founded in 2009 Zarpara still makes some wines with grapes sourced from other states but is transitioning to 100% Arizona as their vineyard becomes more established.  We were particularly impressed with their 2013 “Origen” a blend of Arizona grown Garnacha, Syrah, and Monastrell. A medium body wine that we are looking forward to trying alongside some Mexican food.    

Jan Schaefer (center) with tasting room staff
Our first of two stops on our last day was Keeling-Schaefer.  In business for over 10 years it is owed by the husband and wife team of Rod Keeling and Jan Schaefer.  Rod had a number of jobs over the years including being a traffic reporter for a local radio station and a pilot.  He and Jan met while they were involved in economic development activities for the city of Tempe Arizona. They focus on mostly Rhone Varietals and we were extremely impressed with their  2013 Viognier.  

Robert Carlson and tasting room manager Roy
Our last stop was Carlson Creek.  Founded in 2008 Carlson Creek is truly a family operation with the parents, Bob and Liz Carlson co-owning the operation along with their children Robert, Katherine, and John  The children run the business with Robert in charge of sales, Katherine in charge of marketing and events, and John in charge of wine-making.  We brought home their “Rule of Three” a GSM, a combination Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre.  

All this means that if you live in Arizona you no longer need to travel to California, Oregon, or Washington to taste quality wine and for all of you that don't live in Arizona but planning to visit you now have something else to look forward to.