Friday, November 27, 2015

Great Books To Help You Learn More About Wine

I have read a lot of books to help me learn more about wine.  Three (two old friends and a recent acquaintance) that I have found most useful are as follows:

The two old friends are:

Drink This - Wine Made Simple by Dara Moskowitz Grundahl (Click on the title to go to it's Amazon page).   Published in 2009 it highlights useful information about the most popular types of wine and wine regions in easy to understand language. It's 12 chapters cover the nuts and bolts of drinking, buying, and tasting wine, 9 chapters on each of the most popular varietals (the type of wine), a chapter on the relationship of the cost of wine and how much you will like it, and a chapter on how to order wine in a restaurant.  Each of the chapters on the type of wine will also give you some hints on how to identify the wine you are drinking, and how to host a wine tasting for that type of wine.  An easy enjoyable read that dispenses lots of useful information with a lot of wit and personality.

Kevin Zraly's Complete Wine Course. Published in 2011 it goes much more in depth than "Drink This" but is none the less easy to read.  It is written for those with little or no prior wine knowledge.  It also has a number of high quality photos and can do double duty as a coffee table book.  It calls 8 of it's 11 chapters classes, 7 of which focus on the types of wines grown in various wine regions with one "class" focusing on Champagne, Sherry, and Port.  It also has an introductory chapter on wine, one on less well known wine regions, and one going through a variety of other wine related topics including frequently asked questions.

My recent acquaintance is:

Wine Folly, The Essential Guide to Wine by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack.  Published in 2015 I use this more as a reference as opposed to something to read cover to cover.  How the book is formatted is pure genius. It uses graphics to explain fundamentals, styles of wine, and to explain the various wine regions.  Since I purchased the book whenever there has been something I have not quite been sure about I have been able to quickly find the answer using this book.

Please let me know if you pick up any of these books and if you found them as helpful as I have.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Thinking Inside the Box (Are Box Wines any good?)

Mr. Dave Orth of Washington D.C. writes, “Hey Wine Guy you did such an incredible job of letting us know that screw top wines can be good I was wondering if the same thing was true for Box Wines?”

Thanks Dave that is a very insightful question and I feel blessed to have received it, as any insight coming from Washington D.C. is indeed rare.

Before I answer your question let me tell you about the box.  The main advantage of wine in a box is that it has a membrane inside the box that holds the wine.  As you drink the wine the membrane shrinks around the wine minimizing the contact that air has with the wine.  Air causes wine to go bad so the less air that touches the wine the longer it will last.  A refrigerated, half empty bottle of wine sealed with a wine stopper will last 2-3 days before going bad. A half empty box of wine will last two or three weeks.  

The tap attached to the box makes if very convenient to use. Box wine is more convenient the bottles if you are having a gathering.  A box generally holds three liters of wine while standard bottles hold ¾ of a liter.  Box wine may also be good for folks that live a live alone or live with a partner that does not drink wine (you should seriously consider breaking up but that is a topic for another day), don’t care much about the quality of the wine, and only drink a glass or two a day because the membrane will extend the life of the wine so that it will stay good for the week or two it will take you to finish it.  

That’s the good news.  The bad news is that an unopened bottle of wine, depending on the type of wine, could stay good for several years.  Because an unopened bottle lets in significantly air then an unopened box you should plan on drinking any boxed wine ASAP after purchasing it.  As a general rule you should never store a boxed wine for more than a year before drinking it.  Some more bad news is that box wine is at best so-so as most box wine is massed produced wine with boxed wine producers marketing the packaging as much if not more than the wine inside the package.   

So Dave if you value convenience, don’t plan on finishing the wine in 2-3 days, and aren't all that picky about the quality of the wine, than wine in a box may be an option for you.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Wines you probably don't drink but should: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

I was looking at an inexpensive red wine last week and tried a bottle of $9.95 Montepulcano d’Aburzzo to have with some pizza.  It was outstanding.  Despite its deep red color it was smooth, flavorful, and not the least bit tannic.  Went perfect with the Pizza.  

A couple of days later Mrs. Wine Guy and I were out to dinner at an Italian restaurant with fairly high wine prices but I was able to find a $29 bottle of Montepulcano  d’Aburzzo ($29 at a restaurant equates to $8 to $12 retail).  Again it was very drinkable and went very nicely with all of our meals and we all enjoyed it. 

Aburzzo is a less well known area of Italy just north of Rome.  Usually when a wine is imported to the United States from a less well known area of Europe it is because that wine drinks better than it's price point.  Because of this buying wines from less well known areas is a good way to find great value wines. 

Like other European wines look for the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo designation on the label and worry less about the brand or producer.  If it has the d’Abruzzo designation on the label it means that it has to conform to certain production standards and grape varieties.  In the case of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo that wine has to have at least 85% Montepulciano and no more than 15% Sangiovese and must be aged a minimum of 5 months in wood barrels before being released.

I’m going to buy a few more bottles and make it my go to Pizza wine. 

If you try it let me know what you think.  

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.