Saturday, June 30, 2012

Final Day in Bordeaux Highlights Tourism

We had several plates - several - that looked like this one.
ARCACHON, France – Fresh oysters, shrimp, langostines, crab, snails, and a few other things I didn’t recognize was Saturday’s highlight of my three days in France.

I have been here as a wine press guest of the CIVB, or Bordeaux’s professional winery association, marketing group and producer cooperative. But those are my words and not the association’s description.

See photos from Friday's Bordeaux visit here.

Today was our final day in Bordeaux with all three U.S. wine writers facing an early day tomorrow and the long flight home. It’s hard to quantify the amount of knowledge I’ve absorbed about Bordeaux in three short days.

Today was about seeing other things the area has to offer and, frankly, enjoying ourselves. We headed out of town at 9 a.m. toward Arcachon on the French coast. The bay is known as one of the best oyster regions in all of Europe. It’s also known for its charming small town, fabulous beach, and incredible homes of the rich and famous along the shore lines.

The trip wasn’t all wine all the time like many of these press trips or the three previous ones I’ve joined. This trip all accentuated the wonderful things to do in the Bordeaux area besides wine. And I bought it enthusiastically. The Arcachon area is good as beach life gets. It was fun seeing kids playing a handball/beach volleyball combo game as we walked to our boat. The town was charming.

The boat captain was a great sport and toured us around the bay on a three hour cruise. It just doesn’t get much better than that – but then add the fresh seafood and representatives of two Bordeaux wineries pouring white, Rose’, and red wine and it was quite a morning. Arcachon may be new to many but is a fabulous vacation area.

Another highlight was a quick visit with Alfredo Ruiz, the only Latino-American winery owner in France. He had a restaurant at the Fete le Vin and we visited for a good 45 minutes. We heard his story and tasted three of his wines that I thought were some of the best I tasted at the value price point. He sells his white, Rose, and red for 10 Euro so under $15 with the U.S. conversion. He’s trying hard to expand his U.S. market. It’s really a great story. I intend on telling that story in the near future in one of my wine writing venues.

I finally had a small bit of time to walk through the Fete le Vin wine festival after that interview. It's one cool event that draws a half million visitors in three days. There is constant live music, food, and all that Bordeaux wine. Each evening wraps up with a  really sophisticated light show and then big fireworks.

We then had a couple of hours off to do that ‘last day’ shopping. Bordeaux really is a great food city to go along with the wine, and a great shopping city. I bought French milled soaps, chocolate, Bordeaux’s favorite dessert, a t-shirt and other odds and ends to take back home.

We finished up our trip at a café in the city’s grand Opera House on the Place de Comedie – or the old theatre.

I have photo albums from Friday and Saturday to get up on the blog but it will probably be early in the week. So, please check back. We’re in a charming little hotel near the riverfront and the wine festival but the internet access is quite slow.

I’m like many people and have always found Bordeaux a bit intimidating. After spending just three days here, noting it was a pretty incredible three days of experiences, it’s now demystified. Bordeaux should be on any oenophile’s bucket list!

I have a very early flight tomorrow to Nice and then on to New York before Indy. I hope to do some work on the plane getting more photos up and such!

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One Sweet Ride Down the Garone River

A view of the ;festival as we pull away from the river bank.

BORDEAUX, France - A long Friday in wine country ended with a leisurely cruise down the Garone River and back in time to see the light show and fireworks capping each night of the Fete du Vin.

Talking sweet wine with Perromat
Producers of sweet Bordeaux wines joined us on the cruise telling us about their family history, production, and more about this unique product. Many people have heard of Sauternes but there are 11 appelations in Bordeaux, left and right bank, producing sweet wines. The region is about 30 miles south of Bordeaux.

See Friday photo highlights here.

While many people think of the wines as dessert, Guillaume Perromat of Chateau d'Armajan told me he thinks they make a better match with appetizers.

At first I found most of the wines a big sweet for my palate but in the latter pourings, we had 10 wines and a matching small bite to try, the acidity was more prounced and the sweetness of the Sauvignon Blanc, Semillion, and Muscadel was more balanced.

Some of the Bordeaux sweet wines make it to the U.S. but not much. Most better wine stores usually have Sauternes. The chef on board our boat paired it with a couple of seafood options and other combinations. While too sweet for my taste, I think sweet Bordeaux would be a big hit with many wine lovers with a palate on the sweeter side.

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Friday, June 29, 2012

Beautiful Day for Visiting Iconic Saint Emilion Region

The vineyards of Saint Emilion's Chateau Franc Mayne
  SAINT EMILION, France - Even for those with little detailed knowledge of Bordeaux wines many have probably heard of Saint Emilion, the small village on a hill of limestone known for its beautiful Merlot-driven wines.

Francophiles with a taste for Bordeaux will know it for its elegant and silky wines that have been around for centuries.

Our Friday was shared with a Brit and a couple of German bloggers for a visit to Chateau Franc Mayne and the village. This is not unusual. We were joined by Chinese bloggers, another story or blog late, at dinner last night. Tomorrow morning French and Belgian bloggers will join our small U.S. group.

Our tour guide for the day was Mary Dardenne of Decanter Tours. Mary has more than a dozen years leading tours in the Bordeaux region and started her own agency, Decanter Tours, just three years ago.

On the ride out to Saint Emilion, Mary gave us great background on all of Bordeaux, some history of the region, of the wine growing, soils, and of the wine classifications of Saint Emilion. Mary was Texas born but has been in France for many years though she still maintains a Brewster, MA., address as well.

We spent a good portion of our time asking Mary questions about wine tourism in Bordeaux. For many, the area has always seemed unapproachable but that is changing. You still can't drive up to wineries and taste their wines but French Chateau owners are beginning to embrace tourism as a new revenue stream. I also did a video interview with Mary about tourism that I'll use for a future story.

James Capon of Chateau Franc Mayne pouring two wines.
We were met at Chateau Franc Mayne by native Brit James Capon who works in exporting for the winery. James gave us a walking tour of the winery and a look at the beautiful accommodations of the Chateau. They have a handful of rooms at the Chateau just a few miles outside Saint Emilion. It is a boutique experience staying at Franc Mayne but looks worth the 200E-380E price. There are beautiful views of the surrounding village, a natural swimming pool, beautiful grounds, and we had a fabulous lunch.

Unquestionable, one of the day's highlights was a tour of Franc Mayne's underground quarries. They have nearly two hectares, or about four acres, of underground quarries that provided limestone for the iconic buildings of Bordeaux. Franc Mayne's Belgian owners also understand tourism. They have built a light and animatied tour throughout a portion of the quarries for future visitors. They tested it on our press group but did not allow us to take photos.

The winery owners hope to have the animated tour up and running soon. The tour provides narration about wine aging in the caves and gives a dramatic presentation on the history of the Saint Emilion region.

I detail much of the visit the accompanying photo album. I've written before during wine travel that one such trip will increase your wine knowledge and understanding of a region far more than any amount of reading.

We then headed off to the village of Saint Emillion where a tourist office guide walked us through the catacombs of the old village and through the monolithic church which has been delcared a World Unesco Heritage site. There are more than 173 acres of catacombs beneath the city.  Saint Emilion lived below ground here in the 8th century for 17 years.

The church was carved from solid limestone removing 15,000 cubic meters of rock to create the church. It is a stunning site.

The charming and acient little village clearly is a tourist attraction. There seemed to be 3-4 wine shops per street with small bakeries selling macroons in between.

Fellow U.S. bloggers Pam and Janelle with
Saint Emilion tour guide.
As good as yesterday was with a visit to a small village it just seems to get better. Tonight we board a river boat and cruise the Garone River for dinner as the Fete du Vin hits high gear with huge crowds, fireworks and a light show. We should have a front row seat from the river.

Tomorrow morning it's off to the Atlantic to tour an inland bay where oysters are harvested. Plenty of white Bordeaux is on the menu as well.

This is really tough work - really - but someone has to do it.

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Great Afternoon, Lunch in Charming French Village

ST. GERMAIN du PUCH - Our press troup visiting Bordeaux is still anchored in the city at the heart of the world's best-known wine region but the highlight of the day was a great lunch at a small cafe in this little town outside Bordeaux.

The first full day started with a short class on Bordeaux basics and ended with another fabulous dinner and one of the best parties alonge the Garone River at the Fete du Vin!

The highlight though was spending much of the day with Martin Fuego who manages tourism and some marketing for Chateau Lestrille in Saint Germain du Puch.

See photos from Thursday in Bordeaux here..

We visited his small village and the family winery and boutique gift shop at mid day. We tasked his great white wines and reds over a memorable lunch at L'Atmosphere in the center of town. It was the conversation about wine and food and the French wine industry that made it the highlight of the visit thus far.
We learned about Martin's in-laws who have produced grapes for five generations at Chateau Lestrille. Martin's wine Estelle has taken over for her father in recent years as winemaker to become the fifth generation.

Fuego told us how his estate, and others in Bordeaux, want to produce more white wines because of demand. He read the French menu for us and we feated on lamb, local pizza, a beautiful tuna tartar and scallops. It was a relaxed way to learn about French food, wine and culture that you can't experience without being here.

Fuego acknowledges that getting more people 'here' is one of the big challenges for Bordeaux. The world's best-known wine region is a latecomer to wine tourism. They are taking big steps, especially in the city of Bordeaux, but have a long ways to go to rival the Wine Disney World that is Napa.

We also talked at length about the challenges though. Martin and his wife have opened the small boutique, pictured at right, to welcome visitors/. He believes visitors who find the small French villages are reluctant to come up to a winery or even a tasting room if it doesn't have the appearance of a normal shop. They carry plenty of wine accessories, some French milled soaps, and some food products as well.
Martin returned to Bordeaux with us to give us a walking tour of the cities shopping, restaurants, history and culture in the early evening. We dined at the festival at one of the restaurant's booths. I hope to be able to post a full photo ablum that illustrates that and more of the day Friday or Saturday. Typical of most small European hotels, ours is nice but internet access is a bit spotty.

We then rushed off at 11 p.m. to the Bordeaux Sweet Wine Cocktail class complete with DJ. It might been one of the coolest parties in the world for a Thursday night. We slid under a rope line, just like the celebs - ha, and learned to make a sweet wine, peppers, champagne, mango cocktail. And it was pretty tasty.

The video below is a little rough considering, but it might show a small fraction of the fun

And just as we had shaken the cocktail and started sipping the nightly firewords lit up the Garone River and Bordeaux's incredibly beautiful river front area.

Not a bad first full day in France.

On a negative note- still no luggage. The kind front desk staff tracked my luggage to the Bordeaux airport but they did not deliver it. Staff members for the CIVB, the local wine organization, are going to try to retrieve it for me Friday morning. While shopping for jeans and a pullover this morning I was reminded in the most humbling of ways that european men and boys tend to be tall and skinny. Enough said!

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Traveler's Tale of Woe Getting to Bordeaux

BORDEAUX, France – The first post from Bordeaux was supposed to be all about arriving at mid afternoon and walking the beautiful city streets. Our group of wine journalists was scheduled to have dinner together at what apeared to be a really nice French restaurant.

Instead, I’m starting this post from an Air France jet Lyon to Bordeaux. There will be lots of incredible Bordeaux wine over the next few days as a guest of Bordeaux producers. But right now I’d hurt someone for just one glass.

Travel woes are not new to anyone who even occasionally flies. But the industry out-did itself Tuesday/Wednesday. My flight from Indianapolis to Detroit went fine. It was all down hill from there. After two glasses of wine I wrote about below, our flight from Detroit to Rome (not at typo) was delayed for about an hour because of a fuel leak and fuel smell in the cabin. That fixed we boarded the plane and set for a good hour and a half for something never described beyond calling it an anomaly.

We finally backed away to the applause of already weary, if not jaded travelers, and made the wonderful nine-hour flight to Rome. Of course, we were too late for my connecting flight to Bordeaux.

That’s when the real fun began. Upon entering Italy, like most countries, passengers are to gather up their luggage and go through customs. My suitcase didn’t appear, didn’t appear and didn’t appear. And knock on wood, I’ve never had a piece of lost luggage in my travels.

I asked a number of airline attendants at the luggage pick up and they assured me there would be more. When there were no more people I found a nice woman with a clipboard who assured me it had already been checked through to Bordeaux (on my missed flight) because of the delays.

Three different stops at Italian airline kiosks and a very nice man found me an evening flight of Rome to Lyon and Lyon to Bordeaux. While not ideal, it should get me into Bordeaux by 9 p.m. and to our downtown hotel by 9:30 or 10. That means, start to finish, I left Indy at 2:20 Tuesday and arrived in Bordeaux 9 p.m. (local time) Wednesday night.

I’m hoping my lonely suitcase is there in the lost luggage department waiting for me. If not, I will have angry to add to very tired, a bit hungry and dry, and just a little stinky upon arrival at my destination.

Hopefully, all other posts through Saturday will be about this wonderful wine experience and not the author’s whining about travel when someone else is paying the bill!

UPDATE: Arrived in Bordeaux at nine. Luggage did not and will be delivered tomorrow. Airlines stood up though and said they would reimburse up to 100E so I could buy fresh clothes tomorrow. Taxi into town was 55E; I think I got ripped off.

This city is gorgeous and all abuzz for the Fete le Vin to kick off tomorrow. Hopefully alll good news tomorrow. I"ve been up something like 40 hours straight and calling it quits. No pics for this entry but tomorrow it's off we go immersed in Bordeaux wine!

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Just Discovered Vino Volo a Rocking Wine Bar

DETROIT, Mi. - In midst of one of the nicest layovers of any overseas trip. I'm at Detroit airport waiting on flight to Rome and then on into Bordeaux mid-day tomorrow for Bordeaux Fete le Vin - or wine festival.

Moving my way down a people mover I noticed Vino Volo and how attractive it looked for an airport winebar. I found my gate to note everything was on schedule and figured what better way to prepare for 9 hours on a plane! Ha!

My waiter told me the concept is new but already in 19 U.S. Airports. Thanks to WiFi and iPhones I've attached a couple of pics and a link to the company's site above. But this place rocks.

The menu inlcuded three sets of eight different type wines along with a "Taste of all Three" option. I started with an Andrieux and Fils Provence Rose. It was silky and smooth with a wonderful pomegranite flavor. A nice glass of Rose at an airport for $10? Not bad!! If we were doing the 100-point thing, the Rose' was a strong 90 points.

Then with nearly an hour before boarding why not try the Antonin Rodel Cotes de Beaune 2009 Burgundy? One of the neat things this chain does is provide a little paper coaster with more about the wine you're drinking with tasting notes and the cost per bottle.

The Burgundy could have used a slight chill but was a very nice glass. It had nice cherry and you picked up a hint of oak. It was a bit spicy and really had nice second level characteristics. Not cheap at $15 a glass but worth it to numb the airport experience.

They also offer some very nice small bites, small plates and sandwhiches. You can also buy wine by the bottle. It's a great concept! I'll definitely be looking for Vino Volo on future trips. I'm impressed.

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Off to France for Bordeaux Fete le Vin

I'm off to France Tuesday to visit the world's most famous wine region, Bordeaux.

An invitation arrived just a few weeks ago to join a press contingent of about 15 worldwide journalists as guests of the CIVB, or Bordeaux's wine council. The group represents about 10,000 Bordeaux wineries and negociants. And yes, in the sense of full disclosure, it's important to note they pick up all expenses to bring journalists to the event.

Every other year, even numbered ones, Bordeaux celebrates its iconic wines with this festival.

Depending on what web site you wish to believe, the Fete le Vin will draw between 300,000-500,000 visitors this week.

Saying I'm excited is a big understatement. I really enjoyed a wine trip to Southern France earlier this year and it left me with a desire to learn more about French wines. I'm not sure whether to admit or admit with some embarrassment that of all the wine regions in the world Bordeaux presents the biggest challenge. I have certainly consumed some Bordeaux wines but not much. And my knowledge base of wine regions is the thinnest when it comes to France's iconic Bordeaux.

The Garone River runs through the heart of Bordeaux.
We will be participants in the festival which features wineries from Bordeaux's 80 appellations, a nightly light show and concert, and plenty of culinary specialities sure to tantatlize the taste buds.

A good portion of the trip seems to be devoted to shining a light on tourism.. Bordeaux certainly is no Napa when it comes to welcoming the outside world. I look at that as perhaps the most interesting story to come out of this visit. We'll see.

I hope to be Tweeting throughout the day and will blog each night. I will try, as access and time permit.s, to put up a photo album on the blog each evening.

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Fleur Cardinale is Great Introduction to Bordeaux

Through the years I've purchased and consumed a few bottles of Bordeaux. But it was always the lower end stuff and I'm not sure if I'd even purchased a Grand Cru.

I'm leaving for Bordeaux Tuesday for the Fete le Vin wine festival. So a week ago I thought picking up a decent bottle was a necessary step in preparation.

I was in Indy's Kahn's store on Keystone Ave. and Jim Arnold, the store owner, happened to come by and make comment about a bottle I was holding. I told him I was headed to Bordeaux and would be visiting the Saint Emilion region and wanted to buy a bottle.

He suggested the 2007 Fleur Cardinale Grand Cru at about $45. I opened it Sunday night with some big ol Cowboy Ribeyes and it was just fabulous.

Arnold suggested there are often great values in off-vintage years. Wine Spectator gave the '07 vintage an 86 rating compared to the standout '05's  99 points. The 2006 was rated 89 points, the '08 was up to 88 while the '09 vintage scored a 96.

The wine shop owner suggested looking for an off-vintage wine that has gotten good reviews. The Fleur Cardinal scored a 90 from Robert Parker so that was good enough for me.

The wine was excellent with deep, dark fruit flavors, and really nicely balanced tannins. The wine was 75 percent Merlot, 15 percent Cabernet Franc, and 10 percent Cabernet. It was really elegant and silky wine perfect with the grilled ribeye. While $45 for a bottle is well above the price point I normally write about on Grape Sense, it's fabulous wine for a special occasion.

Arnold sells more Cardinale by case than any other Bordeaux.

Fleur Cardinale 2007 Grand Cru, $45, Very Highly Recommended

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Wines to Go; Summer Sippers Abound

Wine by the glass is a novel concept that has nothing to do with that expensive pour you recently had at a restaurant.

Perhaps you’ve noticed the displays in your local town’s pharmacy. Single-serving wines are now available at some of the major drug store chains.

The Oregon based company behind the little glass to go is Copa Di Vino, or wine by the glass. The glass is made of recyclable plastic. It has a plastic cap and a foil seal.

Founder James Martin got the idea while in France, according to the product’s website. Martin was traveling on a high-speed train in when he first saw wine bottled by the glass.

Locally, the pharmacy had the Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Merlot. But the company also offers Riesling, and White Zinfandel. You can buy it by the case for around $36 or individually for about $3.

I tasted the Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio for this column. The Cab was a typical under $10 a bottle Cabernet. The wine was varietally correct with a bit of unpleasant astringency. But it also was not unlike many under $10 Cabs I’ve tasted. The Pinot Grigio was equally okay. I thought it was a bit on the tart side for the normally mild mannered wine .

Would I recommend either strictly based on taste, no way. But for convenience knowing, what you’re going to get, perhaps.

Obviously, the idea is to enjoy a fresh glass of wine without opening an entire bottle. You can do the same thing though with the much-improved boxed wines now available.

But who is the target audience for this product? If the family is headed out on a picnic and you don’t want to mess with cups, glasses, a bottle and opener then it makes some sense. Do we need wine by the glass at the corner drug store? I’ll leave that for consumers to decide.

Great Summer Sippers – Summer time is white wine and Rose time. Here are a few I’ve sampled lately that are widely available and very affordable: Santa Barbara 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, $12, light wine with good acid; Clayhouse Adobe White, $14, a rich smooth blend ; Arona Sauvignon Blanc, delightful with crisp acidity; Gerard Bertrand 2010 Gris Rose’, $14, wonderfully dry Rose’, Bieler Pere et Fils Rose’, $11-$14, Southern France blend that tastes like expensive wine.

Off to Bordeaux – Check out my wine blog ( between June 27-30 for updates from France during the Bordeaux Fete le Vin or Bordeaux Wine Festival. I’ll be there as a guest of Bordeaux producers for the every other year celebration of the world’s most famous wine region’s wines. I usually blog each night during such trips and try to post lots of photos. This festival draws more than a half million visitors. Our press group will be visiting a couple of Chateau in the Saint Emilion region near Bordeaux and learning about the burgeoning wine tourism.

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, IN., writes about wine every other week for 18 Midwestern newspapers.
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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Vidon One of Oregon's Great Boutique Wineries

A few weeks back I started posting a few of the individual videos I had shot while in Oregon last summer.

Don Hagge .. Apollo Engineer and now a winemaker.
These were videos I shot for a full Oregon feature for a national online site that didn't pan out. I wrote several pieces about my visits, the winemakers, the region, and the wine. But the videos sat untouched until earlier this year.

I have two more and should have gotten them up by now. These two are arguably the most interesting stops of my four days in the Willamette Valley.

First up today is Don Hagge of Vidon Vineyards. I wrote about meeting Don the day we met him. He has such an interesting background story that I mention in that blog post. He also makes some of the most fabulous Pinot Noir you'll sample in the valley.

What really got us on our trip is we asked at two or three different wineries what spot we should visit not on our agenda. Nearly everyone, knowing we were seeking small boutique wineries, said we just had to go see Don.

The video is most unedited - just clipped at the beginning and end. It gives you more of a feel for being there and chatting with the winemaker.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

It's National #SauvBlanc Day - Really!

Indeed, National Sauvignon Blanc Day will be over before you know it. It's sort of like waiting for Christmas and then 'poof' it's gone.

Okay, a tad too much sarcasm. I actually like these national (fill in the blank) wine days. It's a chance to read bloggers and wine writers musings on a particular varietal. I'm not sure anyone outside the wine world knows there is a National Sauvignon Blanc day, or Cab, Merlot, or Chardonnay Day. But there are such holidays.

Correct label, but I drank the 2009
This is largely the creation of social media wine writers. That's those of us who dally regularly in Facebook, Twitter, and blogging. If you search the tag I've put in the headling #SauvBlanc you'll find Facebook postings, blogs, and Tweets all about Sauvignon Blanc today.

Who could come up with this but self-absorbed, narcissistic, attention-seeking wine writers? Well, I guess those adjectives are all redundant. But it is sort of fun.

I opened a really great Santa Barbara Winery 2009 Sauvingon Blanc from the Santa Ynez Valley in Central California. I paid $11.99 at Cork and Cracker in Indy for this dynamite and lighter-bodied SauvBlanc.

The wine has strong citrus with floral hints, and a pretty mild acidic finish. But it's a nice change of pace from the bigger more powerfully acidic Sauv Blanc wines. And at $12 it's a crazy good value. This is wine that would be fabulous with white fish and really light summer dishes. And the mild acidity makes it a perfect sipper for hot days.

I'd give the wine a Highly Recommended rating as a value and delicous Sauvingon Blanc.

Oh, Happy Sauvignon Blanc Day!

I wonder if there is a National Table Grape day?

Hmmmm ........

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Wine by The Glass A Good Idea?

Perhaps you've seen it lurking in the corner of your neighborhood pharmacy.

There by the Gallo, Fetzer, and Cupcake you might have seen little tiny glasses of wine that called your name or confused you.  It confused me.

Copa di Vino is the company behind single serving glasses of wine now being distributed across the country. Go to the website and you'll see how the owners of two wineries were riding a train in France and saw the idea there.

A small taste taken in the video below was "ok Cabernet." The next day it was undrinkable.

Check out the video.

POST SCRIPT: Two nights later I found this 'glass' of Cab in my fridge. I did take a sip - nasty. But after two days a lot of Cab would be nasty. I wouldn't recommend these to anyone wanting wine for wine's sake, but for convenience it was drinkable.

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Video: Playing Around With Wine Glasses

For some time I've felt like a few video posts would be fun and add some variety to the blog. Or, call it channeling my inner Gary Vaynerchuk.

It seems to me these should have a purpose beyond the usual stuff. I've posted videos on many occasions before interviewing winemakers and such. I will use video largely in the future as a bit of education or fun for the novice wine drinkers.

Does the size of the glass matter? For the first time ever I tried a large and small glass with some French Rose'. Frankly, there wasn't a big difference. But check out the video for the whole story.

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Friday, June 15, 2012

Rosso di Montalcino a Great Wine Buy

Wine made from the Sangiovese grape may be the most diverse in the world.

The little black grape is closely associated with Italy and rightfully so. But it is also grown in Argentina and California. But in Italy, Sangiovese is king – the most widely planted grape in a country that ships more wine to the U.S. than even France.

Perhaps some readers have never heard of the grape? But if you’re a regular wine drinker it’s highly probably you have consumed wines made from Sangiovese.

That popular 60s and 70s bottle with the basket covering – that’s Sangiovese. If you’ve ever consumed a Chianti or Chianti Classico in a restaurant or bought a bottle – that’s Sangiovese wine.  Perhaps you’ve picked up a Rosso di Montalcino or the high-end Brunello. Both of those wines are Sangiovese.

A view of the hilltop town of Montalcino
I recently returned from Italy on a business trip and had the opportunity to drink a good amount of Rosso di Montalcino, or ‘baby Brunello’ as some will call it.

But first, let’s do some geography for novices. Florence sets in the north central region of Italy. Tuscany starts north of Florence and runs down through Siena. Just south of Florence you find the Chianti region of Italy and at its heart is the Chianti Classico designation. Remember, old world wines from France and Spain are named by region and not the grape.

Italian law dictates the blend for Chianti and Chianti Classico has to be 75-100 percent Sangiovese, up to 10 percent Canaiolo and up to 20 percent  of any other approved red grape variety such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Syrah.

A little farther to the south you enter the Montalcino region, centered around the lovely hilltop town of that name crowned by an ancient castle. The grapes there are also largely Sangiovese. Montalcino is the region for Sangiovese’s best representation in a bottle, Brunello wines.

Brunello is 100 percent Sangiovese and must be aged in oak at least two years. The wine tends to be silky smooth and full-flavored with considerable acidity which makes it perfect for food.

A photo I took from atop a castle tower in Montalcino
The problem with Brunello for many consumers is you can barely touch a bottle in the U.S. for $50.
The better alternative for most will be Rosso di Montalcino. The differences are, frankly, easy to understand. The winery owner or winemaker selects the very best grapes from their vineyard to make Brunello. The remainder of the crop goes into the Rosso which is often referred to as ‘table wine.’

Rosso di Montalcino is aged for just one year so you get a wine that is less tannic. The Rosso is richer and easier for wine novices to drink than it’s big brother Brunello.

I’m nearing the conclusion that Rosso di Montalcino might be the best value-for-the-money wine that you can pick up off a wine shelf. You can find Rosso wines anywhere from $15-$30. There are plenty of great selections at $15-$20.

You’ll get a great food wine but also a wine that can be sipped. The taste will have a smooth and often silky flavor. It will feature a recognizable cherry flavor from the great Chianti-styled Sangiovese wines. It will be less tannic and more rewarding for novice wine drinkers.
Sangiovese wines are great with red sauce Italian dishes, pizza and red meats.

Rosso di Montalcino is a wine you might never find in a supermarket and few liquor stores, but it’s worth the search. Most wine shops with a good selection of Italian wine will have a few bottles of Rosso di Montalcino.


Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, IN., writes every other week about wine for 18 Midwestern newspapers.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What Drinking Organic Wine Really Means

Late last year I met one of the real iconic figures in importing organic wines to the U.S. Veronique Raskin has been fighting the good fight in the name of organics since 1980. She helped arrange my inclusion on a January press trip to France's Millesime Bio trade fair in Southern France. I got to meet Veronique during a March trip to California. She has written this piece about organics. So for the second time in a week, I'll share this as a guest column.

Veronique Raskin, The Organic Wine Company - You have been eating organic food faithfully all these years but, you may not have yet added to your organic meals what many cultures do: a glass of wine. The time may have come.

When you go pick up a bottle of organic wine to accompany your organic meal, part of your problem may be in not knowing exactly what an organic wine is. With all these terms getting thrown around like eco friendly, "NSA", sustainable, green, natural, truly organic, etc., who could blame you?

Having founded The Organic Wine Company in 1980, I am certainly one of the elders of the organic wine movement. I have been actively involved in the developments of organic wine standards and even I am frustrated and confused, so I can imagine that you are just about ready to throw in the towel. So, let me offer some pointers for you based on thirty years of observation and experience in this industry.

Veronique and I during a delightful lunch meeting in her home.
What is really critical for all of us in choosing an organic wine is to make sure that they’re made with  certified organically grown grapes. That’s the key. Inspect the label and be sure that an agency has certified the vineyard’s organic practices. Do not be content with vague terms like sustainable, natural, and green; they can be misleading). When it comes to your health, the workers, and our planet’s longevity, 100% certified organic grapes should be your number one criterion. The rest, in my opinion, is well-meant misinformation, poor science or straight up propaganda for commercial purposes.

If you wish to buy wines that promote the health of our planet and every creature on it (including yours), then the clear choice is a wine made from third-party certified 100% organically grown grapes. The rule of thumb is that if it doesn’t say it on the label, don’t buy it. Organic wine, like organic carrot or orange juice, is made from grapes grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers.

In the USA, the two types of wines typically bundled in this category are “Wines Made With Organic Grapes” and “No Sulfite Added Organic Wines.” Wines made with 100% organic grapes are made with just that and an additional preservative (elemental sulfur dioxide), so the wine has structure enough to last the journey to your table. No Sulfite Added wines (or NSA wines) are produced without this preservative and are made by only a handful of winemakers. In Europe and Canada, organic wines are called “vins biologiques”; they are made with certified organic grapes and may contain up to 100ppm added SO2.

We want to bring to your family table highly drinkable, affordable wines, with structure, character and personality. Wines that are reflective of their terroir (a deep and mostly untranslatable word describing the soil and land in which the grapes are grown.) Wines that are pleasurable to your palate and  promote the health of your body, the workers and our planet. I am extremely proud to say that our portfolio represents the work of many passionate, deserving wine makers from around the world and include vegan and biodynamic wines.

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Summer Drinking - Two Whites & a Rose'

Summer time is lighter wine time for most of us and I've definitely been going down that path in recent weeks.

The more wine I've consumed in recent years, the more I've come to appreciate really well-made whites. I might argue the learning curve is accelerated because of the red wine dominance on my wine rack. Many will disagree, but for me it's a little easier to identify the characteristics of red wine. White and Rose' is more nuanced.

Enough of the geeky stuff. Here are three easy-to-find wines I purchased in Central Indiana - all under $20.

Clayhouse Adobe White - The Adobe line of Clayhouse wines from California's Paso Robles are really great value wines. I just received samples of the 2011 vintage with a couple bottles I've not previously sampled. These wines clearly taste above the price point, are nicely balanced, and are available at great prices. The suggested retail on the entire line is $14 or $15.

The tasty blend is 49 percent Viognier, 26 percent Sauvignon Blanc, 19 percent Grenache Blanc, and 6 percent Princess. Princess is often called a table grape and is said to resemble Muscat in flavor. It was a new one for me. I have found Viognier I've loved and hated - it's very floral and fruity normally. I remember last year's Adobe White and was put off just a bit by the Viognier. The 2011 blend is a perfect mix.

The wine has floral, identifiable orange, peach, and honey flavors. Portions of this wine are barrel fermented, but not aged, resulting in a real creamy feel on the palate. The alcohol comes in at 12.8 percent.

Simply, this is a great summer sipper or white for lighter meals.

Clayhouse Adobe White, SRP $14, Trade Sample, Highly Recommended

Arona 2010 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc - Sauv Blanc from New Zealand often takes a hit for the big acid, over-the-top fruit, and that 'grassy thing" many wine drinkers don't like.

Check out Arona Sauv Blanc if you are one of those folks. I tried this wine at a tasting conducted by Derek Gray of Graybull Wines. I loved it.

This wine is much lighter on the palate than many NZ Sauv Blancs. It still had the crisp acidity which would make it perfect for lighter seafood dishes, particularly white fish. Think passion fruit, pineapple, and aroma-pleasing citrus.

If you like NZ and California Sauvignon Blanc but want a bit lighter mouth feel, grab a bottle of Arona.

Arona 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, $13.99, I bought this wine at Mass. Ave. Wine Shop in Indy. Highly Recommended.

Gerard Bertrand 2010 Gris Blanc Rose' - I've been on a real Rose' kick and this one is different as they come. First, Gerard Bertand is one of the most respected winemakers in Southern France. His wines offer great value for the price point.

This wine is a blend of Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris. Most notably, is the very - very pale - salmon color often associated with Provence's fine Rose' wines.

I got peach and maybe hint of a red raspberry. The wine is lighter on the palate than many but it does have pretty serious acidity. It's also seriously dry Rose'. It would be another choice for white fish, shell fish, or a summer salad.

I picked up this unique Rose' at Vine and Table in Carmel.

Gerard Bertrand 2010 Gris Blanc Rose, $13.99, Recommended.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Look at Vintage Indiana through Younger Eyes!

I don't write much here about my real job too often but one of the joys is getting to know so many interesting young people who are students at Wabash College. Tyler Swaim, a young man who worked for me as a blogger his freshman year, was at Vintage Indiana a week ago. My schedule prevents me from attending each year. He recalled my blog and asked if I'd like him to share some impressions! I thought it was a great idea. So here is Guest Blogger Tyler Swaim, Class of 2013. He's from Indy's southside.

Tyler - I got got my hands on a few of the featured wine lists and we (he and girlfriend) visited about half of the booths, so I can recall some of the more interesting selections, but for us the main enjoyment was found in meeting new people. 

Upon arriving at the festival, we took a few minutes to get oriented with the aid of a map and soon jumped into the shortest line we could find. All things considered, the first line we waited in seemed like the longest line of the day, although perhaps the progression of our wine tasting adventure granted us more patience. The first lady we met was a frequenter of wine and beer festivals and, taking note of our "festival virginity", soon explained all the ins and outs of sneaking in line, including a cunning tactic for beer festivals which involves having the girlfriend politely ask inebriated men to jump ahead in line and then inviting the boyfriend to join her when she gets to the front. Although we did not take advantage of her well-learned advice, the conversation itself set the tone for several others we had with strangers throughout the day, including a discussion with an older couple regarding their trip to New Orleans. 

As we moved from booth to booth, we discovered we both favor semi-sweet wines to sweet wines and that, with a few exceptions, do not like dry wines. Having only recently turned 21, we were both new to wines in general and looked at this event as an opportunity to learn more about our tastes than about the specific wines. We were both surprised at the variety of wines Indiana has to offer. From mango and pomegranate to blackberry and cider, the bouquet of flavor was overwhelming. I made a point of trying the Chambourcin at each booth as a means of gauging differences between wineries and found that, while I liked the White Chambourcin at Indian Creek Winery, there were very few others that satisfied my taste as effectively. Overall, there were three wineries that really stuck out: McClure's Orchard, Carousel Winery, and River City Winery. 

McClure's Orchard specializes in hard ciders, but the variety within that class alone was vast. In particular, they had a jalapeno cider which was unlike anything I had ever tried, and to be honest I didn't know what to make of it. The sweetness was very characteristic of a cider, yet the smell of jalapeno was thick and robust; it was as if I were eating a piece of apple pie with a piece of melted pepperjack cheese on top. To be sure, it was a far stretch from the Woodchuck I have come to know and love and probably something I will never try again, but the lesson learned was that wine, unlike most alcohols, has the potential to be anything. 

Carousel Winery on the other hand, was a far more traditional taste, though again very eclectic in flavor. Included in their vast selection were mango and pomegranate wines that did not disappoint, but for me the crown jewel was called Lady Luck. For fans of the Harry Potter series, this wine is what I imagine the felix felicis potion to look and taste like. To assign it any traditional flavor description would not do it justice, so I describe it as thus: the golden liquid caressed my palate, gently holding it in an embrace where time stopped. I never thought I'd speak of a taste as such, but the wine definitely did justice to the name Lady Luck.

Although River City Winery offered one of my favorite selections of wine, including a dry red blend very aptly named The Robert E. Lee and sweet red blend called Colonel's Legacy, the main point of interest was in the winery itself. From the brief conversation we had with the volunteer school teacher serving wine samples, I learned that the winery is owned and operated by a couple in New Albany. The wife is a teacher as well and the husband is a police officer. It was at this point in the day that I began to really understand how unique Indiana wineries are. Unlike my previously held stereotype of wine aficiondos as being exclusively rich snobs (no offense, Howard), I began to see a side of wine that included a class of small business owners and community fellowships. This is a group that devotes extensive time, energy, and resources to providing a drink which in turn brings people together. Above all, this is what I learned from the Vintage Indiana Wine Festival. 

Upon entering the festival, everyone received a souvenir wine glass which many were wearing on a lanyard around their necks. Although I thought this was a neat idea, the woman we met in the first line seemed to view them as a stigma for identifying alcoholics, suggesting that only that group of people would consider carrying the glass in their hands as too much of a burden.
While waiting in line for one of the wineries, we were approached by a reporter for Hoosier TV on Comcast and interviewed. We were asked a few questions relating our shared interest in wine to our interest in each other (e.g. What one word would you use to describe both your favorite wine and your significant other?) and then we played a game called "Wine or Not a Wine" where we were given several names and asked if it was the name of a wine or not. Being new to wine, we did not fare so well in the game.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Nothing Like the Food and Wine in Italy

I'm just a few days removed from a week in Italy and still basking the the culinary afterglow.

Anyone who has been there knows the feeling. Italy is such a beautiful country with so much art, history, and culture it sends the senses into overload.

I was in Siena and Assisi for work and not wine writing. Frankly, I had hoped to have a little time to do some wine work but it just didn't happen. I work at a small private liberal arts college and was there on an alumni travel trip.

Federico Pieri, Cantina del Brunello
We had some fabulous meals and great wine throughout the seven days I was on the trip. Much of that experience is detailed in this related photo album.

But a few conclusions, obvious and not so much. Italians make the best pasta in the world; pizza - not so much.

The Rosso wines of the Montalcino region far surpass the Chianti Rosso wines. As a matter of fact, I'm nearing the conclusion that a good bottle of Rosso Montalcino might be one of the great wine buys in the world.

I was fortunate to taste a lot of Brunello. But with a spread of Italian meats, cheese, and bread, nothing beats wines from the Montalcino region. I'm not sure if it matters whether your drinking a $40-$60 bottle of Brunello or $20-$20 bottle of Rosso, the atmosphere, scenery, and wonderful Italian people combine for moments to remember.

I did have two wonderful finds. I was on the trip for just one day in Assisi in the Umbria region. I returned early while the rest of the trip had another week. We had a marvelous dinner in Assisi which included ravioli with truffle, penne pasta with veal and more.

But it was the two wines that knocked me out. We had a Grechetto and Rubesco. I have had  Grechetto on a previous occasion and just loved it. It is often blended with other white grapes though our bottle didn't offer any additional information.

So maybe we got a little sloppy pouring!
The Rubesco was a new experience and I found it  delightful for a value-priced wine. It is Sangiovese (70%) and Canaiolo (30%) which has been designated a proprietary blend for Lungarotti. If you find it and like Italian food and wine, buy it.

I found two wonderful wine shops while in Siena. Federico Pieri who owns Cantina del Brunello along one of the winding streets not far off Siena's famed Piazza del Campo. His sign out front said "80 Brunellos" and there must have been at least that many.

The other shop La Cantina Dei Tolomei Prodotti Tipici (and I need to double check the name Thursday in the office) was my absolute favorite. I found it two years ago and returned. A young proprietor named Paulo and his girlfriend run the great little shop. It's on the one of the main streets which eventually runs right down behind the Piazza del Campo with exits directly onto the amazing space.

Now it's getting back to the wine writing routine.

I may have a really exciting trip coming up later this month. But I need to be assured of final details before going into it here.

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Monday, June 4, 2012

Not Your Granny's Pink Wine Any More

Those silly looking pink wines in your favorite wine shop or liquor store are gaining respect through robust sales. Rosé is perfect for the summer’s hot weather and sales are even hotter.

The numbers are staggering. Since 2009, overall consumption of Rosé wines has increased 160 percent.

Arguably, the best Rose’ in the world comes from Southern France. Exports of rose’ wine from the Provence region to the U.S. grew 62 percent in volume last year compared to 2010. Value of exports for the 2010-2011 period increased nearly 50 percent to a record high of nearly $10 million Euro.

The booming growth can be dated back to 2003 when Provence exported 146,000 liters of Rosé to the U.S. Last year that number easily passed 1.7 million liters.

Bethann Kendall, Vine and Table
But the U.S. isn’t the only major importer of the salmon-pink Rosé wines. Sales have also increased significantly in Brazil, Russia and other countries.

“What we’re seeing in the U.S. market reflects a global trend,” said Julie Peterson of the Vins de Provence U.S. office, which provided the statistics above. “Those who appreciate great wine and the Mediterranean lifestyle are turning to Provence rosé for its versatility, food friendliness, and gold standard quality.”

Midwestern wine retailers have also noticed the explosion in growth.

“Rosé sales increase more and more very year,” said Bethann Kendall, wine buyer at Vine and Table, Carmel, IN. “Last year was probably almost three times more than what I sold my first year here.  And right now, in May, I’ve already sold more than what I sold all of last year. It’s looking great. It’s going to be a huge increase probably 15-20 percent.”

Provence Rosé is made from a blend of basically six grapes. Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvedre, Tibouren, and Carignan can be found in Provence’s signature wine. But around the world you can find Rose made from just about any grape varietal imaginable. Oregon, home of some of the U.S.’s best Pinot Noir, makes great Rosé of Pinot Noir wines.

For years “pink wine” was soiled in reputation by white zinfandel but no more. “I think there is still a huge misconception on Rose but we taste it every Saturday,” Kendall said. “I’m always opening a bottle to try to sway people in the right direction. It’s not all sweet. I tell them if they don’t like Provence Rose they’re just not going to like it from any region at all.”

Howard’s Picks:
2011 Bieler Pere et Fils Rosé - Simply Unbelievable Provence for a miserly $11-$14. This dry delicious Rose is a blend of 50 percent Syrah, 30 percent Grenache, and 20 percent Cabernet. Bigger than some Rose' but the cranberry color and wonderful taste of red raspberry makes it a real must buy. “I was excited to finally get it into Indiana,” Kendall said. “It sells out every vintage and it’s just true to the area with very beautiful strawberries and raspberries and a nice chalky texture which comes from the soils of Provence.

2011 Mas de Gourgonnier - Cherry and classic Rosé strawberry with hints of spice make this Rose a real treat for around $15. While a little lighter in style than the Bieler, it's equally dry. This wine is 60 percent Grenache (my favorite) with a 40 percent blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, and Cabernet. This is a perfect hot weather wine and gorgeous pairing for lighter foods.

More choices: Chateau Revelette Provence Rose' (Wine critics: 89-90 Points and the best I’ve tasted this year); Acrobat Oregon Pinot Noir Rosé, $15; and closer to home Butler Winery’s Rosé of Chambourcin, $14-$15.

POSTSCRIPT: Rose has been in the news a lot lately. Here are some links to additional stories about Rose.

From SFGate, San Francisco, another from the San Francisco Chronicle, from the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune,  

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