Thursday, May 24, 2012

Off to Italy for Work, Maybe Some Wine

Tuscan winery I visited two years ago on Colleg trip
Working in communications and marketing does have a few perks. My work at Wabash College in Central Indiana affords me the opportunity to do some travel with college programs.

I'm leaving this morning with an alumni travel group headed to Italy. (I know, tough work, etc, etc. - trust me I've heard it all.)

It actually is work but I'd be lying to say it's not a pretty cool assignment. A communications person accompanies some of these trips to blog, take photos and document the trips to help promote future alumni travel and our classroom-based immersion learning programs.

Great little wine and meat shop in Sienna
I hope to post here, probably brief updates, throughout the next week. It's a two-week trip but I'll be along for just the first week. We'll land in Pisa Friday morning, then spend five days in the charming city of Pisa, just south of Florence. The group packs up and heads south again to Assisi for a four day stay but I'll be off to Rome and back home during the second day in Assisi. The travel group continues on to Florence before returning home.

Besides enjoying the great food and wine of Italy, I'm really looking forward to Tuesday when we visit Montalcino, of course the center of all things Brunello.

So throughout the week I'm going to try to do quick wine posts and some photos. I will be writing daily for a work blog and that takes first priority. If you want to see what alumni travel looks like you can follow along on the blog I'll be maintaining during the trip - Cartolina dall' Italia - or Postcard from Italy.


Send comment or questions to:

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Turmoil at a Beautiful Hilltop Mendocino Winery

There are so many hidden gems in places like Paso Robles and Mendocino county that after my trips there in 2010 and 2011 I was not sure I did them all justice.

Maple Creek Winery was one of the most interesting stops of the visit but it just didn't fit into the stories I wrote after the fact. I did write about the beautiful area, fabulous lunch, and great story of Tom Rodrigues.

Here is the blog entry I wrote the day of our visit.

Tom had some interesting varietals and wines and fascinating personal story. But you never know what's going on behind the scenes. A fight over his winery and property is underway.

See the full story here.

Send comment or questions to:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Early Winner: Wonderful, Light Provence Dry Rose

For some time I've been trying to group my wine reviews but once in awhile a wine comes along that demands immediate attention and sharing.

I've started into my annual summer obsession with dry rose' and, in particular, Provence Dry Rose.

Tonight I opened a beauty! Chateau 2010 Revelette Coteaux d'Aix en Provence has that incredible light salmon color that is the calling card for Southern France.

The genius in wine making from German winemaker Peter Fischer is using largely Cabernet and Syrah to create one of the lighter and most delicious Rose' wines you'll find under $20.

Despite the lighter feel on the palate the Revelette is a complex wine that is herbal, floral, and has a soft lingering finish.

I have some Rose' stashed away with higher price points but this beauty is the early summer Rose' champ!

Stephen Tanzer gave this wine 91 points. Wine Spectator rated it at 88. I just recommend but I'd be closer to Tanzer's rating.

Chateau 2010 Revelette Coteaux d'Aix en Provence, 2010 vintage found at $13, 2011 vintage $17, Very Highly Recommended.

Send comment or questions to:

Monday, May 21, 2012

Story Behind Michael David's 7 Deadly Zins a Tasty Tale

The story behind one of the best tasting and most successful value wines has good winemaking, gratitude to terrible sweet wine, and a long family history of fruit production to credit for its success.

7 Deadly Zins is one of the easiest to find value wines in the $10-$15 price range. It’s 100 percent Zinfandel and consistently a favorite of critics and fans. It’s made by Michael David Winery, Lodi, Ca., an area best known for its full-flavored Zinfandel.

“I was in the winery making wine and I wanted to taste what other vineyards tasted like for Zin,” Michael Phillips recently told me. “So I bought some grapes from my seven growers and put them in barrels separately. You could taste the difference between those seven old vine vineyards. The grapes were grown by my uncle, neighbor across the street, cousin down the road, and my best friend from high school. We had a couple old vineyards next to the winery. They were all different to a certain extent.”

Michael Phillips during a recent Indianapolis visit.
Phillips recognized a distinct taste of Lodi in all seven wines but knew his winery couldn’t bottle seven different Zinfandels and expect success. 

“So I said lets combine all seven and call it 7 Zins,” Phillips said. “So I went to my brother (David), who was doing more of the marketing at the time and gave him my idea. He said let’s tie it to the seven deadly sins we learned in grammar school. We made 800 cases that first year and sold out in two months.”  

To say the wine took off is a bit of an understatement. The 2002 release of 7 Deadly Zins was gone in no time and the brothers knew they had found something special. The Michael David Winery today produces nearly 300,000 cases of wine annually with more than 200,000 cases under the 7 Deadly Zin label.

Back when it all started in the 1980s the winery was simply known as Phillips but there were other Phillips wineries in California so the brothers put their first names on the bottles to become Michael David Winery.

The family story actually goes back much further. The Lodi family farm has been producing fruit of all sorts since the 1860s.

The brothers have fun with the names and labels marketing wines under the names of Earthquake, Incognito, Rapture, and even Freakshow. But it’s that $9-$12 Deadly Zin that makes the fun possible.
Zinfandel has been called “California’s grape.” As opposed to Cabernet, the Zin vines thrive past 100 years old and produce deeply flavored grapes.

“That’s what put Zinfandel on the map,” Phillips said. “It’s that taste of spice, the fruit and it’s easier to drink than tannic Cabernet.”

Oddly, California’s old vine Zins were probably saved by what many consider the bane of the wine Zin industry – white zinfandel. “Whie Zin helped those vines survive,” Phillips said. “When Sutter Home wanted all that white Zin in the 70s it kept those old vines from being ripped out and planted to whatever Gallo wanted at the time.”

Zinfandel is one of those wines that is sometimes targeted for its over-the-top fruit and alcohol. Phillips fights right back.

“We have a style it took me time to develop,” he said. “The longer we let the grapes hang on the vine the better  quality gets. The alcohol is going to be a little higher, but if you handle it right it’s not a negative. You get better color, more body and basically that’s our Michael David style.

“Fruit is good. People want fruit. Now, it can’t just be fruit and it can’t just be high alcohol. It can’t just be big tannic wine either. That’s why Napa buys so much of our Lodi fruit because it has a fruit component they don’t have. That’s the kind of stuff they don’t want you to know or tell you about but fruit is the key. People like fruit, and so many people are switching to that style – and Lodi has it.”

Howard Pick’s:

7 Deadly Zins – This easy to find value bottle can be found at $9-$14 a bottle. It is consistent and easy to appreciate. It has a bold in-your-face dark fruit flavor on the palate that pairs well with food.

6th Sense Syrah – This French-style 100 percent Syrah is beautiful wine that’s stunning for the $15 price point. It has a huge rich nose, dark purple color with hints of licorice, juicy dark fruit and a very pleasant and lingering finish.

Send comment or questions to:

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dynamite Under-$20 Pinot Noir & More

The wine geeks among us have many quests. One such quest is usually to find a really good under 420 Pinot Noir. They're really hard to find and can be inconsistent from vintage to vintage.

After a few thoughts on my Pinot find how about more Pinot?

Gauthier Sonoma Coast 2008 Pinot Noir - Simply put, the Gauthier is one of the best under-$20 Pinots I have ever found.

It had really nice red berry fruit, a smooth, smoke, spice and a balanced feel in the mouth and moderate acidity. Pinot at the price point isn't always a true representation of the grape but this one sure was. It even had a richness in flavor.

All too often $15 Pinot, give or take a couple bucks, can be flat, acidic, or tasteless. The Gauthier is none of those things.

Now a caveat, I picked this wine up on clearance for about $17 but it does normally retail for near $30. So perhaps this review should have an asterik.

But if you get to know your wine retailer, the proprietor is going to point out these great deals to their best customers.

Gauthier Sonoma Coast 2008 Pinot Noir, $17-$29, Highly Recommended.

Acrobat 2011 Oregon Rose of Pinot Noir - At the start of each summer I go on a Rose binge. I have explored Rose from different countries and different grapes since I got into the wine writing.

Unfortunately, too many people still see pinkish or off colored wine and think of white zinfandel. There is no better summer sipper than dry Rose.

I'm partial to the Provence region of France and their really great salmon-colored Rose. But I still like exploring. There is a lot of Rose made from Pinot. The Acrobat comes from critic favorite King Estate Winery in Orgeon.

The Rose is a bit darker than many but really packs a dry strawberry/cherry punch. It certainly has a bigger fruit component and bigger flavor than many Rose wines. But I liked the balance and bigger flavor. It held up to chocolate and salmon off the grill.

Acrobat Rose is pretty easy to find and generally $14-$15.

Acrobat 2011 Oregon Rose of Pinot Noir, SRP $15.00, Recommended.

Send comment or questions to:

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Phillips' Winery Making Impact Value Wines

I never take meeting a winemaker or winery owner for granted. Getting to meet these people and learning about wine and their personal story is my favorite part of wine writing.

Unfortunately, most wine drinkers don’t get these opportunities unless they go to high-ticket wine dinners or have a networking connection in wine country.

Michael Phillips with his signature Seven Deadly Zins
Michael Phillips, of Michael David Winery, is visiting Indiana this week and his PR firm offered me the chance to taste some wines and talk with Michael. I jumped at the chance because my schedule allowed it to work.

While you may not have heard of Michael David Winery, it’s a safe bet you’ve seen its flagship wine if you frequent wine shops. The winery produces around 300,000 cases of wine each year with the bulk of that being Seven Deadly Zins. And if you’re more than a casual wine drinker you may be familiar with the Earthquake label as well.

Michael, and his brother David, are family winemakers living off land farmed by their family since the 1860s. I’m going to transcribe my chat with Michael for a future newspaper column but wanted to share the experience here through the blog as well.

Michael David Winery is a big success story in recent years of plenty of bust. They make great value, big-flavored wines for under $20.

The family farm is in California’s Lodi region which most people know as Zinfandel country but the area produces lots of different wines.

Phillips filled in plenty of the backstories of his wines, family history, and winemaking approach. He personally gave up the winemaking a few years ago but still sits in on the final blending processes.

I’ll comment on the wines I tasted in the newspaper column but I’ve always been a fan of the two mentioned above. Monday evening I tasted their Incognito red and while Rhone-style blends. I loved the white and thought the red was okay. The very reasonably priced 6th Sense Syrah is one of the best value wines at $15 I’ve tasted in ages.

I also was treated to Michael’s personal project and favorite, Rapture Cabernet. This is a beautiful Bordeaux style $65 cab that would stand up to anything out of Napa at the same price point. It was a double gold medal winner at the 2012 S.F. Chronicle wine competition. It was gorgeous Cabernet.

 Send comment or questions to:

Monday, May 7, 2012

Oregon's Chardonnay one of Next Big Things?

Occasionally, I'll post a wine-related news story here that I think even the most casual reader might find interesting.

The Wines & Vines story posted Friday is all about Oregon's emerging Chardonnay wines.

It particularly caught my eye because when I visited the Willamette Valley last summer I remember asking Don Lange what's new, what's next for the region. Don replied without hesitation that Chardonnay was the next big thing.

The story is interesting. If you're a Chard fan, check it out.

Send comment or questions to:

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Long Road Louisville to Saint-Jean-de-Minervois

It’s a long path from Louisville, Ky., to Saint-Jean-de-Minervois in Southern France. But that’s the journey Brown University graduate John Bojanowski took in transformation from literature major to Languedoc winery owner.

Bojanowski was recently in Indianapolis to promote his Clos du Gravillas wines and visit family in Kentucky. His journey is an interesting one as is the unique Languedoc wine he champions.

The wine event was at Tastings in Indianapolis at the Conrad downtown.

Bojanowski attended prestigious Brown University in Providence, RI., and wanted to travel. He landed a job in the computer industry that took him to 50 countries in five years. During that time he met Nicole who wanted to be a winemaker. They went in search of just the right property to open their winery. 

John Bojanowski at Indy's Tastings
“When my wife started she wanted white limestone gravel, which is what our soil is because you get freshness and minerality out of that to balance what the sun does to the grapes,” he explained. “But Carignan was what we started with because that’s what she was able to buy. “
Their property included Carignan planted in 1911. Carignan is an often-maligned grape. It is a dark-colored and strong flavored wine. Some will even call the nose offensive and the taste can be strong. But the old vine Carignans can produce deeply flavored and rich wines. Small amounts of Carignan is consistently found in most Languedoc blends.
“We discovered that Carignan could be more than just okay. It can be really, really good. We’ve made it our purpose to tell everybody about it.”

Clos du Gravillas is a small production winery featuring wines made from 15 different grapes. “So it’s sort of like being an artist with 15 different colors on the palette. We try to figure out what each of those grapes are best for and how we can make it the best wine.”

The Languedoc is the largest wine-producing region of France.

“The Languedoc is on the Mediterranean. It’s between the Rhone River and Spain. Our winery is three hours form Barcelona and six hours from Paris. It’s sunny, beautiful and rain free almost all summer. You find very different terrain when you go a half hour drive in any direction from sea to flatlands to plateaus to mountains. It’s a beautiful place and wine grapes have been grown there for 2,000 years.”

The warm weather, the region averages 315 days of sunshine a year, produces ripe fruit. “We pick the grapes ripe which means a certain amount of sugar, a certain amount of alcohol, so they’re not little wines. We practice very natural and organic farming and then natural non-interventionist winemaking, and fermentations.  We try not to do too much besides getting really great grapes, putting them into the tank and letting them become wine.”

Clos du Gravillas wines are available in some Indiana restaurants and fine wine shops. John’s wines are above the value price points usually featured in Grape Sense. His wines are in $30-$50 range.

Languedoc wines are widely available in the $12-$16 range. Finding a 100 percent Carignan isn’t impossible but could be difficult; it will be worth the effort.

Howard’s Picks:
Le Rendez Vous du Soleil 2007 - This is a nice extracted blend of Cabernet, Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Counoise, Tannat, Terret Gris, and Carignan. This is big rich red wine that is beautifully balanced with big dark fruit. (SRP $42)

Lo Vielh Carignan 2007 - This is the real star in John's stable and the supply alloted Indiana has already sold out. This is the 100 percent Carignan from vines planted more than 100 years ago. Its a big incredible wine that has a smoothness unlike many Carignan wines. It's outstanding fine wine. ($25-35)

Send comment or questions to: