Sunday, August 8, 2010

Wanna Know What To Try?

It's trite but true: there really are"So many wines, so little time." Even seasoned wine shoppers can become dazed and confused when faced with all the wines that are out there. And it's not just traditional varieties: now you're faced with varietal bottlings such as "Old Vine Mourvedre" and blends that include a seemingly endless selection of obscure grapes.

Here's a suggestion: go to one of the good wine review websites that are out there on the web. You can google the name of the wine, or better yet, try This site has plenty of helpful, fun to read articles and reviews. A few minutes with this site will make your next trip to the wine store a much more pleasant experience.


Friday, July 9, 2010

Good wine from Arizona??

Don't scoff, guffaw, or snort. Yes, there are good wines being made in Arizona -- wines that you could pour for any wine lover and get at least an approving nod. Or even a Wow!

The trick to making good wine in a state that we all think of as one big desert is that magical concept called Microclimate. Just like in California, where many areas are too hot to grow decent wine grapes, there are small areas where the climate differs from the norm. These regions are usually created by proximity to cool water (like Carneros' San Pablo Bay or the Pacific Ocean), but altitude also has an important moderating effect on temperature. If you remember your 6th grade science, you know that the temperature decreases three degrees for every 1000 feet you ascend. So climb to 5000 feet, like in southern Arizona, and you're way cooler. These high desert areas also have a decently large difference in daytime and nighttime temperatures (experts call this the "diurnal temperature variation"), which is important for creating structure in wine grapes (i.e. well-balanced tannins instead of an overly soft, flabby wine).

But enough of the theory. I've explored only a few Arizona wineries so far, but enjoyed what I tasted. My first excursion was to southern Arizona, where the towns of Sonoita and Elgin are the hub of the state's original wine region. At almost 5,000 feet of elevation, their topography looks more like California than desert Arizona. We visited a winery called Kief-Joshua, which was having a release party for its new Cabernet Franc. They also poured a Tempranillo and a Malbec that were medium-bodied and smooth, but the Reserve Malbec was our favorite. It was a real knock-out, with lots of extraction, rich red berry fruit, and vanilla.

They're very small production and the wines tend to be pricey (everything $20 or more), but there was a good crowd out, enjoying the party and spending money. We hope Kief-Joshua continues to do well.

Stay tuned for the further adventures of Deb and Chuck in AZ wine country. Cheers!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Great Bubbly from Where??

The first time we met these two guys at a wine trade event in Ohio, we thought they were a little wacky. They were pouring bubbly for anyone they could drag over to their booth, and their bubbly was made in...New Mexico! But their story was good, and their sparkling wine was even better. Since then Gruet has been our favorite domestic sparkler, and the one we now recommend to everyone we can drag in.
Their story goes something like this: they studied winemaking in world-famous Burgundy, and then came back to the U.S. to discover that the climate and soil in one area of New Mexico was eerily similar to France. It needs the elevation, of course, to cool the temperatures, but the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes they grew for their bubbly were world class.
But of course, the wine world told these guys they were nuts. They got no support from anyone, but set out to prove themselves and their wine. And in true Rocky Balboa, American Underdog tradition, they beat the big guys and carved out a niche in the domestic sparkler market.
So the next time you feel like drinking some bubbly, please give Gruet a try. It makes a tremendous aperitif (try it with some Boursin cheese and Smoked Salmon on a crostini), or as a solo sipper. Here's what I recommend:
Gruet Blanc de Noir -- Crisp and clean, with an undertone of delicate strawberry fruit (my favorite)
Gruet Brut -- Very clean and snappy, with a citrus-y undertone
Gruet Demi-Sec -- Semi-sweet but not sugary, for those who can't handle dry wines.
Give them a try, and please leave a comment to let us know what you think!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The (Not So) High Price of Wines

There's a bright side to our country's economic woes: wine prices have come down out of the stratosphere and into the reach of us average wine drinkers.

I noticed in the Fall of 2008 that the new releases of big name Cabs and Pinots were coming in at 15% or even 20% higher than the previous vintage. I'm talking about names such as Silver Oak and Opus One, which I could argue were already skating on their past reputation and wouldn't stand up in a head-to-head competition with less expensive up-and-coming brands.

Some of my customers reacted to the price increases by slamming their wallets shut, and refusing to buy brands they'd supported for years. Instead, they stocked up on great new brands that sell for half the price.

So fast-forward six months, after the bottom has fallen out of just about everything, except -- wine sales (and other alcohol). Now we're seeing the iconic brands such as Mondavi Napa, Sterling, even Chalk Hill, rush to discount their wines by $5, $10 or even $20 a bottle. It seems as though $20 is the new $50: it's now the upper limit of how much a wine can cost and still sell reasonably well.

And what about those Silver Oaks and Opus Ones? They're now gathering dust on retailers' shelves and restaurant wine cellars.

You'll hear some moaning out there in the wine industry, especially from high-end restaurants that used to mark up their wines three, four or even five times their wholesale price. As their over-priced wine inventory sits unsold, they blame the poor economy. They might employ a little introspection and ask if their current woes are pay-back for gouging their customers for too long.

So here's the good news for you: there are a ton of great buys out there! Head out to your favorite wine retailer (we hope it's a locally owned beverage shop) and stock up. Buy a few of those formerly expensive bottles you always coveted, and load up on great everyday wines for under $15 (sometimes WAY under).


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Why Artesa Winery is so cool...

I mentioned how much I enjoy Artesa's Carneros Chardonnay, but that's only one wine in a great line-up. We discovered many of them when we visited the winery recently, and fell in love with the place, the people, and the wines.

Artesa is a landmark in Napa/Sonoma. It sits atop a rolling hill in Carneros -- or actually, it IS a hilltop. To build this very contemporary winery and tasting room, they cut the top off a hill, put up a pyramid-shaped building, and then put the top of the hill back on. There is literally grass growing on the winery. Sounds weirds, but go to their website,, and see cool pictures.

Artesa is also known for having the best views in Napa. On a clear day, you can see San Francisco, as well as beautiful rolling hillsides and vineyards. And to gild the lily, there are wonderful gardens, fountains, and contemporary art all over the place.

OK, so it looks good. But it tastes good too:
* Artesa Carneros Pinot Noir has classic flavors of black cherry and smoke, with a velvety mouthfeel and soft finish.
* Artesa Elements is a Cabernet/Merlot blend that's rich with plum fruit and vanilla and a round, plush finish.
* Artesa Cabernet Napa/Sonoma uses grapes from both growing regions. The Napa fruit brings structure and depth to the blend, while the Sonoma grapes lend a rich chocolate undertone. Yummy!
* Artesa Tempranillo is very hedonistic. It's so jammy with blackraspberry and vanilla that it teeters on the edge of port-like. This would be a great wine to sip after dinner with nothing but a plate of milk chocolte and dark chocolate chunks.

All these wines are priced in the mid $20's, so while they're not everyday-cheap, they are great value for top-quality Napa wines. Please try one, and let me know what you think.


Monday, July 6, 2009

Speaking of popping corks in the freezer, which I admitted to carelessly doing in my last post, there's another freezer story worth telling. And it may just inspire you to many hours of frosty enjoyment...

I used my freezer again recently, when I brought home a split of room-temperature sparkling wine that needed a jump start to get it up to drinking temperature. The bottle was Gruet Blanc de Noir, which I believe is hands-down the best sparkling wine in its price range ($18 for a 750ml), and is carefully crafted in beautiful New Mexico. We'll be sure to blog more about Gruet later.

So while the split is chilling amongst the frozen green beans and sorbet, I ran out to do an errand. And as luck would have it, I ended up spending much more time away from home than I'd planned. By the time I tore back into the kitchen, I was expecting to find the old wine-cicle leaking alcoholic ice crystals all over my frozen food.

But the Force was with me. While the top half of the bubbly looked quite frozen, no damage had been done. My husband very gingerly pried off the champagne cork, and filled our flutes with an honest-to-God champagne slushy. And it was far and away the coldest, crispest, cleanest and most delicious sparkling wine I've ever had the pleasure to drink.

So here's the moral of the story: happy accidents can produce great results. But remember that we're pushing the outside of the envelope here: leave your bottle in the freezer too long and you're cleaning frosty foam off your frozen veggies. What worked for me was:
2 hours in a standard freezer for a half (375 ml) bottle.
For a full bottle, I'd increase your freezer time maybe another hour.

If any of you have the nerve to experiment with this, please tell me how it turns out. In the meantime, I'll raise my glass of bubbly to sparkling wine lovers everywhere.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Welcome to My Wine World

Hi! I just pulled a bottle of Chardonnay out of the fridge, and grimaced as I noticed the tell-tale cork-popped-right-through-the-foil. Yes, I did it again: left that bottle in the freezer overnight. Well, we'll drink it anyways.

This glass is a great prop for writing this post: it's from a winery I want you all to know and love. It's also a wonderfully rich, bold, well-balanced Chardonnay -- Artesa Carneros Chardonnay 2006. It's kind of unique among California Chard's because it uses a healthy dose of oak without tasting "woody", and tastes buttery without crossing the line into fat and flabby.

This may seem to be splitting hairs, but here's what I mean: too many California Chardonnays are aged in new oak barrels for many months, with the result that the wood tannins overpower the fruit and sipping the wine makes you think you're chewing on a 2 x 4.

At the same time, many California winemakers overdo malolactic fermentation. (Sorry to use "wine geek" talk. Malolactic fermentation is a secondary fermentation wherein the wine's crisp malic acid, which is like the acid in apples, is converted into lactic acid, which is the acid found in milk.) Long story short: all the snap goes out of the Chardonnay, and it leaves a taste in your mouth that's oily and heavy.

So back to Artesa. They didn't commit these wine atrocities on this Chardonnay. They made a well-balanced wine that has rich flavors but a snappy finish. The nice butterscotch undertones don't hurt it, either. In fact, esteemed wine publications such as Wine Spectator agreeed with me enough to give the 2006 a 90 point rating.

You may have trouble finding this vintage, because the 2007 has already been released. Not to worry -- it's the same style, and drinks just as well. It also got the magic 90 point rating...

So please go enjoy, and let me know what you think. In my next post I'd like to tell you about the rest of the Artesa line-up, and the absolutely amazing winery in Carneros. Cheers!