Thursday, March 31, 2011

Some Wine News Update for Newspaper Readers

There are many things happening in the wine world every day readers may not read but could find interesting. As a wine writer, I get e-mail updates of all types from various wine industry publications and newsletters.

U.S. House Legislation on Wine Shipping.
Wholesale wine and beer distributors stop at nothing to build and sustain their empires. There have been two bills introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in the last year that would be disastrous for wine consumers.

The New York Times published a story Oct. 18, 2010 concerning H.R. 5034 that demonstrates how passage of this law not only hurts wineries looking to serve their customers, but also dramatically effects retailers of wine too: “The bill, though, which is unlikely to come up for a vote until next year, would clearly mean a narrowing of choices for consumers.

Readers can find a wealth of information on H.R. 5034 online. Suffice it to say that wine consumers and wineries are strongly opposed to this contemptible legislation.

There was no real action on H.R. 5034 so the National Beer Wholesalers Association came back with H.R. 1161 this year. The details are slightly different but with the same effect. These stifling direct shipping laws and all of the efforts made to limit shipping prevent consumers from legally buying the wine of their choice and having it shipped to their home. Such legislation destroys free commerce and is job killing.

It’s impossible to go into detail here, but if you attend a local legislative breakfast let your U.S. Representative know you oppose any efforts to restrict direct shipping of wine.

The Silly Argument of Underage Drinking
The arguments about underage drinking and laws like the one above just don’t hold water. Proponents of laws like the ones mentioned consistently spread the fallacy they are trying to protect underage consumers.

Think about that for a second. I borrowed the following list from a fellow wine blogger. For an underage person to order wine online, and get it shipped to their door they must: 1. Obtain a credit card; 2. Obtain fake identification; 2. Order online and get past age verification services; 4. Wait a week or so for their booze to arrive; 5. Be at home when the delivery is made; 6. Convince the delivery person they are over 21; 7. Have a snappy answer ready when the parents find that cardboard box labeled “Contains Alcohol.”

Give the Lady a Drink
According to the Wine Market Council female wine drinkers have surpassed men for the first time since such data has been recorded. The report said 53 percent of ‘core wine drinkers’ are now women. Core wine drinkers are those defined as drinking wine at least once a week.

Future columns
I had the chance to visit with some of the top Paso Robles winemakers in October and ask some questions about Syrah. They have some strong opinions about why the grape never took off to be the “next Cabernet.”

Later this spring I’m planning to travel to Madison, Wisconsin to visit some of that state’s wineries. I did such a trip last summer in Michigan and really got a lot of material and learned about that state’s great cool climate wines.

I also have a tentative trip set for late July to Oregon’s Willamette Valley – home of some of the best Pinot Noir in the world.

Thanks for reading Grape Sense!

Send comment or questions to:

Monday, March 28, 2011

Just One Wine, but a Great One, for Review

The small number of wines I enjoyed over the past week were largely wines previously reviewed. So this week's reviews come down to one wine.

I did have a bottle of Durigutti 100 percent Bonarda. I've reviewed that wine before and this past week's bottle was just as good as the previous.

I also opened a bottle of Winderlea Pinot Noir over the weekend. Winderlea makes fabulous Pinot at the $40-$50 price range. A couple weeks ago I opened one that had been in my basement for a couple of years and it was beautiful. The one this past weekend, a 2006, had gone past its prime. I think that was accelerated by time in the basement.

Winderlea is a great bottle and I'd urge you to try it if you are anywhere that carries their premium lable. Here is a story I wrote in 2009 about Winderlea's owners and winemaking.

But let's get to this week's one wine for review because it was a really nice white wine choice.

Helfrich 2009 Riesling - I started drinking Riesling when I started drinking wine. My interest in Riesling slowly disappeared as I drifted more and more to big red wines. But a trip to Michigan last summer, and tasting so many beautiful cool climate white wines, re-ignited my interest in this old noble grape.

The Helfrich name is one of France's Alsace region icons. These wines are grown near the Vosges Mountains.

I had tasted a lot of American, and a few German Rieslings, lately and struggled with the sweetness in many. What I liked about the Helfrich was the nice crisp feel in the mouth with really nicely balanced minerality and acidity and hint of green apple. This wine is really a nice balance between dry and semi-dry. The nice balance of the long finish minimizes the bright fruit. What you end up with is a "not too sweet, not too dry" white wine.

The winemaker notes suggests trying Sushi, Asian foods, white meats, and smoked salmon with this wine. I think those are all fine suggestions. I had it this evening with some nice shrimp and pasta, gently seasoned with garlic and orange. The wine paired beautifully with food. It's not so dry you couldn't enjoy a glass alone.

(Helfrich 2008 Noble Varieties Riesling, SRP $14.99, Trade Sample, Highly Recommended)

Send comment or questions to:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Some Great Affordable Wine Choices

One of the challenging things in introducing wine drinkers to great value wine is directing them to find specific bottles of juice.

I review a lot of wine on this blog but not all are available where my Grape Sense newspaper column is published. And I do review wines on the blog at a higher price point.

So a few times a year I try to list a handful of wines that are widely distributed that I can confidently recommend.

Veramonte Pinot Noir – It’s very difficult to find an under-$15 Pinot. This Chilean Pinot out-performs most Pinot in the category. It has nice Pinot flavor with good dark fruit. I didn’t get much of the ‘dirt’ or earthiness found in higher-priced Pinot but this is very drinkable wine.

Veramonte is in many shops around the Midwest. But if you don’t find it, try a different Chilean Pinot. Many wine people believe the small South American country is the next ‘big thing.’ The Pinot vines are young but they’re only going to get better. Right now a lot of Chilean Pinot is finding its way into the U.S below $15. This one generally retails at $14.

flipflop wines – I’ll lump these wines together for a qualified recommendation. This is a value line of wines featuring a Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Moscato. They sell for $7, or less, and you might have already seen them in your supermarket. At the under-$10 price point, you just won’t find any better choices.

The company is also working with Soles4Souls, an organization that raises money to distribute shoes to needy children around the world. A portion of the proceeds from each bottle benefits the cause.

I tasted the Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio and was very pleasantly surprised. Remember to judge them for what they are - $7 wine. Not bad at all for the cost of a decent six-pack of beer!

Brassfield Estate ‘Serenity’ – This is a white wine blend from Northern California. The wine is a combination of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Gewurtztraminer, and Semillon. Wine drinkers shy away from blends but they should not. This is one of the most drinkable whites I’ve picked up in months. It has lovely pineapple, honey dew melon, and apple notes. The acidity is really quite mild. You can find it in wine shops at $10-$14.

Ortman Cuvee Eddy – Here is a red wine blend that is just making its way into Midwestern stores. I’ve become a big fan of Ortman wines because of the food-friendly style. This wine is fashioned, somewhat, as a French Cotes du Rhone. It’s a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Petite Syrah.

This wine has a jam-like blackberry flavor with a bit of chocolate. I like the spice. It is tremendous wine with food. It comes from California’s Central Coast region, specifically the Paso Robles region. It has a suggested retail price of $20.

7 Deadly Zins – Michael David winery’s Zinfandel should be very easy to find and even easier to drink. It’s definitely for the big red wine drinkers or a good introduction to bigger wines for the beginner. It offers up berry, pepper, spice and some earthiness that is just perfect at the $15 price point.

This producer also makes Zins which are much more powerful at a higher price. If you want a big Zin, try Michael David’s ‘Earthquake’ which retails for just over $20.

Send comment or questions to:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Three Great Wines for Review This Week

Monday is quickly becoming my wine review day. I like lumping all of these together on one day with a "recommended - or not" style rating.

I have two whites and a red for consideration at $14, $16 and $29.

E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone Blanc - I have been experimenting with Cotes du Rhone region whites and continue to find the wines just delightful alternatives to Sauvignon Blanc (I'm a big fan!) and Chardonnay (I'm not!)

The 2009 Guigal white is 60 percent Viognier, so you get all the lovely floral notes, with several other lesser-know Rhone white grapes. The strong floral characteristics would allow the adventerous cook to try something crazy like pair this wine with spicy food. (E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone Blanc, $12-$14, Recommended)

Thierry Germain Soliterre Samur - This 2006 Chenin Blanc just rocks! The wine is Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley in France. I got a deal on this wine and bought four bottles. It retails normally around $17.

The Chenin Blanc has really nice acidity with mineral, lime, pear, and floral notes. This is a wine that is better not chilled as much as you might other whites. I think the acidity and flavor profile of the wine would work nicely with rich or fatty foods.

One of the great glasses of wine I had in Italy - of all places - was a Vouvray. That's also a Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley. That was a 1997 bottle I tasted in very early 2010. I put one bottle of the Samur in wine storage at home and decided to keep that one a few years to see how it ages!(Thierry Germain Soliterre Samur, $16,95 Highly Recommended!)

Eberle Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah - The 50-50 blend of 2007 Cab and Syrah is a big glass of beautiful wine. You get the big plum of Syrah in a full bodied wine. I picked up hints of vanilla. I'd call the mouth feel on this big Paso red 'plush.' The marriage is a perfect blend of the Cab characteristics with the juicy fruit of a Syrah.

Eberle, the first to plant Syrah in the Californa Central coast region, is a Paso Robles icon. This wine won Best of Class at the New World International Wine Competition, Double Gold at the Lodi International Wine Awards, and a "best buy" designation, along with 90 points, from Wine & Spirits. (Eberle 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah, $29, Highly Recommended.)

Send comment or questions to:

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fun Evening at Ortman Tasting at Mass Ave

Ron Rawlinson, Ortman wines national sales manager, introduced Ortman Family Vineyard wines in Indianapolis Saturday night at Mass Ave Wine Shop.

Ron poured Chardonnay, Cuvee Eddy, and an unreleased '09 Sangiovese. The Saturday night group seemed to enjoy the humor, education, and the juice. Several bottles of Cuvee Eddy came off the wall after the formal tasting.

Here are a few photos I took during the evening.

The Cuvee Eddy, a near-Rhone blend, is exclusive to Mass Ave but the Chardonnay and other Ortman wines will turn up in other Indiana locations. Ortman is distributed in several midwestern states, including Indiana by Graybull wines.

It was great of Ron to pour the Sangiovese. I had tasted, and loved, the '08 Italian grape but it's sold out nationally. (Though, I have a couple of bottles in my private stash left.) Winemaker Matt Ortman bottled up some '09 barrel samples that were just as good or better than the '08.

I picked up and built the foundation of my wine knowledge by going to tastings like the Saturday night event. It's really a great way to expand your wine knowledge and palate. Jill Ditmire, Mass Ave Shop owner, hosts regular tastings every Tuesday.

In photo: Jill and Ron with Ortman wines.

Send comment or questions to:

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ortman Tasting Mar.19 at Mass Ave Wine, Indy

With a long career in journalism, I'm always thinking about credibility and objectivity when the very nature of a lot of wine blogging involves advocacy.

I am afforded the opportunity by desire and through trade samples and travel to taste a lot of different wine.

So I when I feel strongly about a particular wine or group of wines, I do think of these things. With that too-long-of-a-disclaimer, I note the Ortman Family wines are being poured at 6 p.m. Saturday night in Indianapolis at Mass Ave. Wine Shoppe. (878 Mass Ave, Indy)

I go through all the hand wringing because I love these wines. They are some of the best food-friendly wines I've tasted. I've had Ortman's Sangiovese, Chardonnay, Cuvee Eddy, Syrah and Petit Syrah. I haven't yet tasted the Pinot Noir.

I met Matt and Lisa Ortman during a wine press trip in October, 2010. I first tasted the remarkable Sangiovese which was okay by itself but opened and became so beautifully expressive with a pasta dish we were being served.

So I'm happy a series of meeting led to Ortman picking up an Indiana Distributor - Derek Gray of Graybull Wines.

Derek and Ortman's national sales manager will be on hand at Jill Ditmire's retail shop to pour Ortman wines and answer questions.

I wrote a feature for the national online wine magazine - Palate Press on Matt and his work with Sangiovese. You can see that here.

My employer, Wabash College, also used Ortman wines at a recent liberal arts symposium on food. See a short piece I wrote about that here.

If you like a full line of drinkable, and reasonably priced, quality red and white wines, I hope to see you Saturday at Mass Ave.

Send comment or questions to:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Friend's Visit to Lange Winery

If you want to see wine country and want a personal experience, go off the beaten path.

Off the beaten path you might run into the winemaker or winery owner in the tasting room. That just doesn't happen in Napa Valley. Now, if you've never traveled Napa or Sonoma it is a must see. But if you visit California's Paso Robles or Mendocino areas you'll get a more personal experience.

Wine tourism certainly seems to be growing in Oregon's Wilammette Valley, but you'll still bump into winemakers as a friend of mine recently found out. I don't talk much about my paying job on this blog, but I work in marketing at Wabash College. I get to know plenty of students.

Junior Drew Casey grew up in Portland and has a great palate for Pinot Noir for a 21 year old. During his spring break he visited a few Wilammette wineries. So I asked him to take a couple of photos (which I normally pay him to do at work) and write briefly about his experience.

Rainy Days and Visits to Lange Winery
A gravel road cutting through the Dundee Hills of Oregon, finally gave to Lange Estate’s sloping vineyards. Typical of a northwest day in March, sporadic down pours brought dark clouds and strong winds. Lange’s newly remodeled tasting room made for a great place to get out the weather.

Joanne Cramer-Brown, sales Czarina, graciously greeted me at the door. After quick introductions we got straight to tasting some of Lange’s elegant Pinot Noirs. It was a battle of titans right from the get go; a comparison taste test between Lange’s 08 Willamette Valley and 09 Three Hills Cuvee reserve bottles.

The 08, was a young but seemingly perfect Pinot, complete with classic gritty nose and slight oaky detection. The 09 was equally impressive, however with a slightly less sophisticated finish.

Jesse Lange, general manager for Lange Estate, even made an appearance on the tasting room floor, personally shaking my hand and questioning the integrity of his carefully crafted wines. The next pour was another comparison, this time between the 07 and 08 Estate Pinots (made from the oldest grapes on the property). Before tasting though, I received a personal tour of both warehouses, where hundreds of purple stained oak barrels sat, aging upcoming vintages.

But okay, back to the tasting, but now with a cleansed palate. There were really no fair comparisons that could be made between the 07 and 08 other than a slightly fuller body in the later vintage. Both had rich noses with remnants of deep plum and blackberry as well as wonderfully prolonged aftertastes. A relaxing atmosphere combined with down-to-earth attitudes at Lange made for an enjoyable tasting. The natural relaxation that stems from perfect wine and genuine hospitality, made this stop unforgettable. - Drew Casey

... maybe a wine writer in the making?

The best part is I'm tentatively planning a trip to Oregon for late July. Drew will be my host. I'm sure a trip up the hill to Lange will be on the itinerary.

Send comment or questions to:

Monday, March 14, 2011

Always Great Visiting Huber, Turtle Run Wineries

Wineries continue to pop up all over Indiana. As a matter of fact, a new winery opened about two weeks ago near Crawfordsville, IN.,where I live.

The state now has more than 50 wineries. Over the weekend I visited my favorite two, Huber Winery and Orchard and Turtle Run Winery.

Huber is a destination winery I've written about before, click here. Huber also turns up in several of my regular blog entries.

Ted Huber continues to push the boundries of what he can grow at his great location near Starlight, In., atop hills overlooking the Ohio River. He told me two years ago he had planted Petit Verdot and Malbec. He's now using the Petit Verdot in his red wine blends and bottling the Malbec for his club members only.

His latest Cabernet was simply the best Cab I've tasted from an Indiana winery. There is a lengthy list of choices in Huber's big tasting room. Make a trip in May and pick your own fresh strawberries or wait till June and pick red and black raspberries. In the fall it's hard to find a parking spot during festival time with trees full of apples and fields of pumpkins. And just down the road is Joe Huber's restaurant - perhaps the greatest fried chicken in the Midwest. Seriously!

I also ran over to Turtle Run winery and was able to spend a few minutes with Jim Pfeiffer. To say Jim is pusing the limits of Indiana wine isn't any stretch of the truth.

Jim has made Indiana's first ever Botrytis cinerea - or 'noble rot' wine. He calls it "Catherine's Blend," named for his daughter. This is for the wine geeks out there, think of Sauternes of France and the deep yellow, rich, slightly sweet wines with a full mouth feel. He also has done some really interesting things with the native Steuben grape. And of course, as I wrote recently in Grape Sense, he makes one of Indiana's few dry Traminettes.

What I didn't know is he makes a traditional stainless steel aged Traminette but also one he barrel ages. I'm not aware of anyone else doing that.

Turtle Run is an easy drive from Hubers. The two stops make an awesome one-day trip. And I have some video of Pfeiffer talking about his Catherine's blend and the Traminette I hope to get up on site this week.

I think I'm going to pour both wines at a group tasting with 'the Dudes" this week and do a little video to accompany Jim's comments.

Send comment or questions to:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Three Wines - Three 'Recommended' Picks

Going three for three in the major leagues will get you in the Hall of Fame. Going three for three in less than a week with wine might not be HOF material, but its upped my batting average of late!

I have been lumping my wine reviews together in the last month or so and that's proved to be an easier way for me to get them done. I've also added a generic word or two in way of the recommendation. I think the 100-point scale is just too much for casual, value wine drinkers. What does a five-star system get accomplished?

So from now on I'll simply stick with Not Recommended, Recommended, or Highly Recommended.

Veramonte 2009 Pinot Noir - I have tried several Chilean Pinot Noirs and the Veramonte was the first to really turn my head and tickle the palate. I was pleasantly surprised the $13.99 Pinot had smooth Pinot flavor, not much terroir (dirt), but nice dark fruit, a hint of spice, and a silky feel.

These grapes come from the Cacablanca Valley and make a Pinot that comes in at 14 percent alcohol after spending some time in oak. In release notes from the importer, the Casablanca Valley is compared to California's Russian River Valley.

I've traveled the Russian River Valley and didn't think this wine had the similar bold Pinot flavor you find in those wines. But it's very difficult to find a good Pinot under $15. The Veramonte hits the mark!(Veramonte 2009 Pinot Noir Reserva, SRP $13.99 Recommended)

Brassfield Estate Winery 2009 Serenity - This is one of the nicest white wine blends I've enjoyed in a long time. Brassfield's Serenity is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Gewurtztraminer and Semillon.

This comes from north of Napa, the High Valley Appelation. The wine has a distinctive pineapple and apple nose and taste. I didn't think of Honeydew melon until reading the tasting notes but agreed. I like this wine because it's so smooth on the plate without being sweet. It does not have the acidity of many white wines.

I think this is a white wine that most people will enjoy if given the chance. (Brassfield Estate Winery 2009 Serenity, $9.99-$14.99, Highly Recommended)

In Fine 2007 Rouge - This Southern Rhone red wine just rocks for the $11.99 I paid. If you like Grenache, you're going to love In Fine. The dark red Rhone is 80 percent Grenache and 20 percent Syrah.

It's rich and spicy with nice subtle dark fruits. The wine has a long finish for such an inexpensive wine. It comes from the Cotes du Ventoux region. It's very smooth on the plate, thanks to its 8 months aging in concrete tanks before its bottled.

There is even something of a rustic quality to this nice French wine. You get the feeling this is the type of red you'd get at a table in a small cafe in a little French Village along the valley.

Open this one up and chill it just a little before serving. It think this wine would work with most foods or just as a sipper. I'm not a fan of chilling most red, but it works with this one.

Impress your friends for $11.99 - you bet! (In Fine 2007 Rouge, $11.99, Recommended)

Send comment or questions to:

Monday, March 7, 2011

Paris Beacon My First Illinois Newspaper

The Grape Sense family is growing. Today I picked up the Paris Beacon-News, a small daily newspaper in Paris, Illinois.

From October of 2008, the column has been all about networking. I'm not sure I've confessed in writing my intent but I hope to do something in wine marketing, writing, or perhaps retail in semi-retirement. But that's still a few years off!

That's why I don't charge newspapers for the column. Paris becomes the 16th newspaper publishing Grape Sense and pushes the combined homes to more than 205,000.

I picked up Paris because the new publisher there used to work nearby.

I intend to reach out to small and mid-size dailies in Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois this year to build the network. I find few blogs and so far no print columns focusing on value wine and education.

I hope to keep it growing! I've written 61 columns since beginning and will pen the 62nd one this week. By the way, you can read them all - and who doesn't want to do that - on Grape Sense. I maintain that blog just as an archive for the columns.

I've written to this blog more than 400 entries since beginning Grape Sense.

Thanks for reading here and to those who see the columns!

Send comment or questions to:

Friday, March 4, 2011

Traminette: A Different View from Southern Indiana

Jim Pfeiffer’s Turtle Run Winery sits south of I-64, just west of Corydon, in southern Indiana. It takes a little effort to find his nifty tasting room, but the unusual blends and his off-beat sense of humor makes the drive worth the trouble.

Pfeiffer is a self-described blend-o-holic. It should come as no surprise then he has a different take on Indiana’s Signature Grape – Traminette - than many others. He tends to ask his own questions and provide the answers.

“Traminette is one of my favorite wines,” Pfeiffer said. “I really like the spicy "gwertz" characteristics. I'll always remember the first Traminette I tried, which was an experimental wine I tasted at the Indiana Wine Grape Growers Guild meeting in 1999. I loved the flavors, and immediately decided to plant the vines, which we did in 2000.”

That doesn’t put Pfeiffer in unique company. As reported in the last Grape Sense column, Indiana wineries are rushing to plant Traminette. As a matter of fact, the Indiana Agriculture Statistics Service at Purdue estimates Indiana has 600 acres in vineyards. The top grape remains Chambourcin but Traminette has grown from 26 acres in 2004 to 65, second highest, in the most recent statistics.

“Traminette has been planted in Indiana more than any other grape variety the past few years,” said Bruce Bordelon, Purdue Horticulture Department. “Growers like the performance in the vineyard and wineries love the wine quality. Much more is likely to be planted over the next few years as its popularity with consumers rises. It will likely be the most widely planted variety in Indiana within the next five years.”

Traminette has no bigger fan, but Pfeiffer makes his “signature Indiana wine” in a dry style instead of the more prominent sweet versions. “I tend to think this grape really delivers as a dry wine grape,” he said. “First, the balance of acids coming in from the vineyard is flat out perfect. The total acids are completely in line with the strength of the acids, or PH. When that is aligned, you can go dry, dry, dry. Additionally, and uniquely, like many red wines, this wine stays in balance and maintains its flavor with higher alcohol.

“Folks who try our Traminette are very pleasantly surprised to see a dry one on the market. I get a lot of excitement from Traminette fans who first taste ours. I see the Traminette market growing, due to Indiana pride as the state grape, and, obviously due to the flavors. Is there a limit? Certainly, its flavors are alluring to me but certainly not as much to my wife. I think it was a good decision to name this grape the Indiana state grape, since it can perform in a number of different terroirs.”

Pfeiffer lauded Purdue’s efforts to promote the grape. Most all Indiana wineries were quick to jump on the bandwagon. “There are people who are ‘Traminette-o-philes’ who specifically want to try our Traminette. This has been great. However, there are folks who simply do not like the flavors. So will Traminette take on the rage, of say, a California Cabernet Sauvignon? Definitely not. Will it have the broad, universal appeal of say Merlot or Chardonnay? Probably not either. Its distinctive flavors tend to torque people towards it or against it. Rarely do we hear, ‘eh, it's okay.' "

Turtle Run 2009 Traminette – I haven’t tasted Pfeiffer’s 2009 yet, but I have had the 2008 several times. It sells for $12. It’s aged only in stainless steel. His website describes the 2009 as generous lime, lemon, and a hint of grapefruit. And, keep in mind it won’t be the sweet Traminette you may have tried elsewhere. The dry Turtle Run Traminette is my favorite Indiana wine.

Send comment or questions to: