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Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes

Date: Thu, Dec 24, 2009

Name: Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes
Grape(s): Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle
Color: White
Appellation: Sauterns Bordeaux
Maker: Chateau d'Yquem
Vintage: 1995
Cost: $300.00
Occasion: Christmas open house
Comments: Bob Garlington was extremely generous to share this remarkable wine at Christmas. I have to admit to drinking more d'Yquem last night than I have in a very long time. d'Yquem is a wonderfully sweet, succulent, desertwine with the distinctive note of apricot caused by the process of it becoming sauterns. We're probably not going to run out and buy a bottle, but we can live vicariously through Bob.

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Mumm Sparkling Wine Uncorked

Date: Sat, Dec 5, 2009

Name: Mumm Cuvee M Sparkling Wine
Grape(s): Chardonnay
Color: White
Appellation: Napa Valley California
Maker: Mumm
Vintage: Non-Vintage
Cost: $20.00 at Spec's
Occasion: Thanksgiving breakfast
Comments: A noticeably sweet sparkling wine with notes of peaches and vanilla. It went well with eggs and other holiday breakfast fare.

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Martini Cabernet Uncorked

Date: Sat, Dec 5, 2009

Name: Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon
Grape(s): Cabernet Sauvignon
Color: Red
Appellation: Monte Rosso Vineyard, Sonoma Valley California
Maker: Louis Martini
Vintage: 2004 (current vintage is 2007)
Cost: $13.00 at Spec's
Occasion: Lunch with friends
Comments: This is an inexpensive but very drinkable Cabernet Sauvignon. Light, fruity with soft tannins. We had lunch with a non-Cabernet drinker who liked this wine.

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Gifts for Wine Lovers

Date: Wed, Dec 2, 2009

If you have a wine lover on your gift list, then hopefully this column will make your life a little bit easier. I’ve been asked to do a gifts for wine lovers column for several years, but I’ve always resisted. It's too easy to throw a bunch of generic gift suggestions out there and not care much about whether a wine lover will really like them or not. It’s much harder to try to find specific gift suggestions, wine related things that I would like to have, that I hope other wine lovers would really appreciate.

Well this year I caved to the pressure, so here are my all too well researched suggestions for gifts for wine lovers. By the way, anyone who has been waiting to give me a gift because they didn’t know what I wanted, feel free to gift me with anything on this list.

Wine related gifts fall into five categories, wine, glassware, accessories (I’m including gadgets in this category), storage (that would be racks, refrigerators, cellars, etc.) and books. I’m going to suggest gifts in only in the accessories category, but I’ll comment later on the other four.

Wine Accessories

Ravi Wine Chiller: This is a clever gadget I ran into while researching gifts for this column. It is a silver tube about 3 inches long and an inch or so in diameter. You keep this thing in your freezer until you need it. Then when you open a bottle of wine, you stick this gadget in the bottle like a cork and pour the wine through it. As the wine passes through the tube it is chilled. Cost: About $35. If no one gives me one of these, I’m going to buy one.

Screwpull Lever Pull with Foil Cutter: This is one of those lever style corkscrews that I have resisted buying (but I appear to be the only one on the planet without one). This is probably the simplest and most easy to use of all of the many kinds of corkscrews. You clamp it on the bottle, move the lever down and back up and the cork is out. Move the lever down and back up again and it ejects the cork. It also has a foil cutter. The thing that attracts me to this particular brand and model is the design. It’s not as large or awkward as some of the designs, which has always been my major complaint. Cost: About $150.

Arvind Group Thermal Champagne Bucket: Even if you don’t drink much Champagne, you need a Champagne bucket. I use mine all the time to chill or maintain the chill on white wine (especially on the patio) and to bring down the temperature of a too-warm red wine. This is an attractive bucket, as Champagne buckets go, but its real attraction for me is that it is double walled. That means it won’t sweat all over the table when filled with ice and water. Cost: About $75.

Insulated 2-Bottle Wine Tote: These things are really handy, and another of the accessories that gets a lot of use at my house. It seems I’m always taking wine somewhere and this is the best way to do it. Not only does it maintain the temperature, it also stops all that clanking that wine bottles do in paper bags. There are two models that I like: one from CC Home Furnishings that is faux suede and another from Brunello that is made from Neoprene fabric. About $30 an $20 respectively.

Bottle Coasters: These are essential if you are a red wine drinker. No matter how successful you are at pouring wine without dripping it on the table, some of those abated drips are now running down the side of the bottle and end up where ever you sit it down. Wine bottle coasters keep you tables and table clothes from getting stained (not to mention your light colored granite counter tops). Again I’ve selected two models, the first is the Jakob Wagner Bottle Coaster (set of two) which has a clean, modern design. The second is the Michael Aram by Waterford which is much more formal. Cost: About $40 and $90 respectively.

Painted Wine-Glass Charms from the Original That Wine is Mine collection: You can’t have too many of these things (literally). These are tiny little charms that you fasten to the stem of your wine glass at a party so you can keep track of which glass is yours. (My secret is that I never put my glass down.) These are a wine motif but come in about every imaginable motif you might want. Cost: About $15.

Cork Jester’s Wine Teasers: This is something like a wine trivia game, but there’s more to it. Wine Teasers combines questions, hints and the occasional diabolical maneuver to make learning about wine fun. Yes, its educational, but buy it anyway. Cost: about $13.

I found all of the items at Amazon.com and have put links to each on my blog at www.virtualwineknow.com/. Look for Wine Accessories under Giftsfor Wine Lovers.

As for gifts in the other four categories. Here are a few comments. Glassware is always an appreciated gift, but some wine lovers are going to be more particular than others. If you decide to buy glassware, go to my blog at www.virtualwineknow.com/ and read the tutorial on stemware before you go shopping. You should be able to buy acceptable glassware for between $10 and $15 per stem. There’s also an area on my blog where you can see stemware that I recommend.

Buying a bottle of wine for someone who knows something about wine is pretty risky, even if you’re willing to spend a lot of money. Tastes vary and your wine lover might not like the Pinot Noir that Wine Spectator gave 98 points. Wine books have the same set of pitfalls, it will just a less expensive dust catcher. Wine racks, refrigerators and cellars are the kinds of things that your wine lover is going to want to select for themselves.

I wish you a safe and joyful holiday season!

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Ridge Zinfandel Uncorked

Date: Mon, Nov 30, 2009

Name: Ridge East Bench Zinfandel
Grape(s): Zinfandel
Color: Red
Appellation: East Bench, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County California
Maker: Ridge
Vintage: 2006
Cost: $30.00 at Spec's
Occasion: Dinner at home
Comments: One of many fine Ridge Zinfandels. Medium body, low tannins, complex flavors.

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Wines of Italy

Date: Fri, Nov 27, 2009

When you look up Italian Wine in the dictionary there is a picture of this squat little bottle of Chianti in a basket-like holder. Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it is unfortunately how many of us think about Italian wines. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with Chianti. On the contrary, many of my favorite Italian wines are Chianti Classico Riserva. My point is that many Americans equate Italian wine with Chianti, and not very good Chianti at that

Italy is among the world’s largest wine producing countries with more than a million vineyards, more than any other country. Most of the common grape varieties grown in the United States are also grown in Italy, but most Italian wines are produced from grape varieties distinctive to that part of the world. These unfamiliar grape varieties make dealing with Italian wines more challenging for Americans. That’s unfortunate because Italian wines are very food friendly.

There are hundreds of varieties of grapes unique to Italy, but fortunately only a few responsible for the wines you and I are going to see on the shelf. The most prevalent of these are Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Montepulciano, Corvina and Barbera for red wines, and Trebbiano and Pinot Grigio for white. These grape varieties are responsible for the commonly seen Italian red wines Chianti Classico, Barolo, Barbaresco, Montepulciano, Barbera, Valpolicella, Amarone and the white Italian wines Trebbiano, Soave, and Pinot Grigio.

Sangiovese (san-joh-VAY-zeh) is Italy’s most famous red-wine grape variety, but you may not be familiar with the name. Sangiovese is the predominant grape variety of Chianti Classico (Key-AHN-tee Class-e ko), probably the most well known Italian wine. Sangiovese is also produced as a varietal wine. If you like Chianti Classico you may want to try one of the many Sangiovese varietal wines, some produced in California. Sangiovese can also be blended with other varieties to produce non-traditional blends called Super Tuscans.

The Nebbiolo (Nay-BYOH-low) grape is used to produce Barolo (Ba-ROE-loe) and Barbaresco (Bar-ba-RES-coe) wines. Wines produced from Nebbiolo are known for their elegance and bouquet of wild mushroom, truffle and roses.

Montepulciano (Mon-tuh-pul-CHEE-an-no) is one of the most widely grown grapes in the coastal area of Abruzzo. Montepulciano produces wines that develop silky plum-like fruit, food-friendly acidity, and light tannins.

Barbera (Bar-ber-AH) is the most widely grown red grape variety of Piedmont and Southern Lombardy. The wine has bright cherry fruit, a very dark color, and a food-friendly acidity.

Corvina (Cor-vee-nah) is the principal grape variety of Valpolicella (Val-pole-e-CHEL-la) and Amarone wines. Valpolicella wine has dark cherry fruit and spice. Amarone (Ah-ma-ROH-nay) wines, because of different production techniques, are elegant, dark, and full of fruit.

Trebbiano (Treb-YAH-no) is the most widely planted white varietal in Italy. Trebbiano wines are typically pale, easy drinking wines. Soave (SWAH-vay) is one of the top selling wines in Italy made from Trebbiano. It is a straw-yellow color, delicate and light, with a hint of almonds and flowers.

Pinot Grigio (PEE-no-GREE-jee-oh) is probably the best known white-wine grape of Italy. Pinot Grigio (a.k.a. Pinot Gri) is a crisp white wine, usually delicate and mild although in the right hands it can be full-bodied and complex.

Italy produces modern wines, based on an ancient tradition, with flavors and aromas that cannot be experienced in wines from anywhere else. Italian wines are very easy to drink, reasonably priced and common on restaurant wine lists and by-the-glass lists. So why not try a Chianti Classico, Barolo, Barbaresco, Montepulciano, Barbera, Valpolicella, Amarone, Trebbiano, Soave or Pinot Grigio. I think you’ll become a fan as I have.

Cellar Notes

I had the pleasure of visiting Simposio Ristorante one evening last week for their first annual Fall Wine Tasting and Food Pairing featuring food and wine from Tuscany, Sicily, Piemonte and Friuli-Venezia Giula. Simposio has been in Houston for many years, but in their new location at 8401 Westheimer between Fondren and Hillcroft for only two. The new restaurant provides a beautiful and sophisticated backdrop to some truly outstanding northern Italian cuisine.

We sampled more than a dozen menu items paired with an equal number of Italian wines. My favorites were the Funghi del Bosco (wild mushrooms on crisp, grilled polenta) and Agnolotti di Coniglio (ravioli stuffed with rabbit). This innovative use of traditional ingredients by executive chef Riccardo Palazzo-Giorgio created a memorable tasting experience. In the spirit of full disclosure I need to say that I was a guest of the restaurant on this evening. However, my wife and I already have plans to return as paying customers.

Here are two of the wines we sampled that evening, a Sangiovese and Barbera, that I liked and that you might want to try when you visit the restaurant. Since I’m not sure these wines are available at retail, I’ve also included a reasonable priced Chianti Classico Riserva that you will find at some grocery wine departments as well as at Specs (but not at Simposio).

Name: Tenuta La Braccesca Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano
Grape: Sangiovese
Producer: Aninori Tenuta (estate) La Braccesca
Appellation: Nobilie di Montepulciano – Tuscany
Flavors of black olive and black cherry. Savory, rich and full bodied.

Name: Pio Cesare Fides Barbera d’Alba 2005
Grape: Barbera
Producer: Pio Ceasare
Appellation: Barolo – Piedmont
Flavors of cherry, chocolate and ripe fruit.

Name: Riserva Ducale Oro (gold)
Grape: Sangiovese
Producer: Ruffino
Appellation: Chianti Classico
Spec’s $30 – $35
Flavors of plum, blueberry, black cherry, blackberry and vanilla.

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Wines of Italy

Date: Mon, Nov 23, 2009

Wines of Italy When you look up Italian Wine in the dictionary there is a picture of this squat little bottle of Chianti in a basket-like holder. Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it is unfortunately how many of us think about Italian wines. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with Chianti. On the contrary, [...]

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Best Wine in the World

Date: Sun, Nov 22, 2009

There’s good news and then there’s bad news. The good news is that the Best Wine in the world, according to the Wine Spectator, is a Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington State that costs less than $30 a bottle. The bad news is that we can’t get any. It’s all been sold. Read more in this [...]

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Best Wine in the World

Date: Sun, Nov 22, 2009

There’s good news and then there’s bad news. The good news is that the Best Wine in the world, according to the Wine Spectator, is a Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington State that costs less than $30 a bottle. The bad news is that we can’t get any. It’s all been sold. Read more in this article from the Seattle Business Journal.

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GIve Up Singing

Date: Fri, Nov 20, 2009

“If a life of wine, women and song becomes too much, give up the singing.”


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Give Up Singing

Date: Fri, Nov 20, 2009

If a life of wine, women and song becomes too much, give up the singing. Anonymous Posted in Unwined

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Freemark Abby Uncorked

Date: Mon, Nov 16, 2009

Name: Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Sycamore
Grape(s): 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 6% Cab Franc
Color: red
Appellation: Rutherford Bench, Napa Valley California
Maker: Freemark Abbey
Vintage: 2005 is the current vintage, we drank a 2003
Cost: $66.00 @ Spec’s (It looks like they have some 2003 in stock)
Occasion: Dinner with friends at Ibiza Restaurant
Comments: This bottle was worth every penny. Flavors of blackberry, currants and dark chocolate with great structure and complexity. It went extremely well with the braised lamb shank.

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Freemark Abbey Cabernet Uncorked

Date: Mon, Nov 16, 2009

Name: Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Sycamore Grape(s):  83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 6% Cab Franc Color:  red Appellation:  Rutherford Bench, Napa Valley California Maker: Freemark Abbey Vintage: 2005 is the current vintage, we drank a 2003 Cost:  $66.00 @ Spec’s (It looks like they have some 2003 in stock) Occasion:  Dinner with friends at Ibiza Restaurant Comments: This bottle was worth every penny. Flavors of [...]

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Keep It Simple

Date: Sat, Nov 14, 2009

People frequently ask me “how can I get started learning more about wine?” My advice is always “keep it simple.” The easiest way to learn about a lot of wines is to learn first about a few. What I mean is that you first have to learn how to learn about wines and the best way to do that is to start with only a few. Using your experience with those few will help you learn about others and so on. Confused yet?

I suggest that you limit your initial effort to three or four grape varieties from a couple of geographic regions. For instance you might select Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc as your white-wine grape varieties, and Zinfandel and Merlot as your red-wine grape varieties. A huge number of wines are produced from these four grape so you will have a wide variety of styles of wine to explore.

It is good to remember that grapes are fruit and the climate, terrain and soil (known as the terroir) where they grow effect their flavor and other characteristics. Zinfandel grapes grown in one part of Napa Valley will be different than Zinfandel grapes grown in another part of Napa Valley. As you would expect, the wines made from these Zinfandel grapes will also be different. You might like Zinfandel wines from one geographic area but not from another. So adhering to our “keep it simple” mantra, you will also want to limit yourself to grapes grown in only one geographic region (known as an appellation).

The smaller the appellation you select the more similar the wines made from the same variety of grape will be. So, again trying to “keep it simple”, I suggest you start with a couple of well known areas in California, Alexander Valley and the Central Coast. Alexander Valley is in northern Sonoma County in northern California and the Central Coast area extends from Santa Barbara County in the south to the San Francisco Bay in the north. This is a good choice because both areas produce a great deal of wine and they are diverse in geography and climate.

So now we’ve picked the kind of wine we’re going to concentrate on and the areas in which it is grown. The next step is figuring out if you like any of the wine from these areas and if so, why. The best approach is to expose yourself to as many wines from these four grapes and two areas as possible. Order wine by the glass at restaurants. Buy different wines every time you shop. Hit up your friends for a glass of wine if they have one of these you haven’t tried. Select wines from as many different makers as possible. The idea is to get as broad exposure as possible to the four grape varieties you picked in the two geographic areas you picked.Now the hard part. Pay attention to what you’re drinking. This takes a little effort. When you find a wine that you enjoy, note at least the following characteristics. In order of importance:

  • Grape variety (e.g. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel or Merlot)
  • Geographical origin, (e.g. Alexander Valley or Central Coast)
  • Vintner (the wine maker or brand, e.g. Beringer, Mondavi, Sterling, etc.)
After a time you will begin to see patterns in what you like. You may see that you enjoy Zinfandel from two or three different wine makers and Merlot just from one of these. Or that you like every Merlot you’ve had from Alexander Valley but only Zinfandels from the Central Coast. This is the beginning of really understanding what you like.

Armed with even this basic understanding you will have less fear of wine lists and wine stores. If you can’t find the specific wine you are looking for you will know that there is a good chance you will like any Merlot from Alexander Valley or an unknown Zinfandel from the Central Coast. After doing this for awhile, and eventually expanding your selections outside of these four grapes and two geographic areas, not finding a wine you are familiar with won’t be a problem, it will be an opportunity to something new.

Cellar Notes

I tasted these wines last week at a wine dinner at Raffa’s restaurant. Chef David Welch was lauded by those present for the wonderful pairings that he presented for these wines. You always hope the pairing for every course is going to be perfect, but it rarely is. This dinner was one of those rare occasions where the food and wine of every course worked perfectly. Hats off to Tony Raffa for hosting the event and Robert Gilroy with Majestic Fine Wines the parent company of Murphy-Goode.

Sauvignon Blanc
2008 Sonoma California
Spec’s $10.00 – $15.00

2007 Sonoma California
Spec’s $10.00 – $15.00

2006 Alexander Valley California
Spec’s $10.00 – $15.00

Liar’s Dice Zinfandel
2007 Sonoma County California
Spec’s $10.00 – $15.00

Cabernet Sauvignon
2007 Sonoma County California
Spec’s $10.00 – $15.00

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