Monday, July 30, 2012

Farewell (for now) to One of Our Dudes

Dude Patrick!
For more than two years a group of friends have gathered nearly every 2-3 weeks to sip wine, compare thoughts, and tell each other that they have no idea what they're talking about.

We tasted all sorts of wines at low price points, high price points, and from countries around the world. We've done dinners, blind tastings, and a couple of videos for this blog.

After all, isn't that what friends do? We dubbed ourselves "Dudes on the Porch." That's because it all started on my front porch when I lived near the center of town in grand 100-year old home. I've moved to a newer condo, Dude Mike has moved away because of his wife's career, and tonight we lose Dude Patrick for a year as his Professor Wife goes on sabbatical.

So tonight we're opening some wines. I'm going to update throughout the evening. We've sort of pledged to bring different wines but only good ones!

I'll udpate with the wines, some thoughts and a few photos as we go along. This is sort of a "live blogging" night!

We started with a wine I carried back from Wisconsin last year - Ledgestone 2009 Le Crescent. Le Crescent is an Elmer Swenson creation. Swenson was a grape-development pioneer at the University of Minnesota. He developed the slightly better known Frontenac as well.

Le Crescent combines another of Swenson's grapes, St. Pepin, along with a clone from Muscat Hamburg. What you get is a refreshingly tart white wine with strong apricot and tart citrus. It's quite refreshing. Winemaker Tim Abel talks up the varietals and this wine delivers. The $22 price point is higher than a lot of white wines but worth it to discover these unique varieties you've probably never tried nor heard of before.

Next up was a Burgundy Patrick brought along. We enjoyed a rather big Domaine Larue Saint-Aubin 2008 1st Cru Sur Le Sentier du Clou.

"This has bigger, darker fruit than you get from Burgundy," Patrick said. Indeed, the dark fruit was much bigger than most Burgundy (think bold cherry flavor) but it had great acidic balance for a great mouth feel.

Patrick snatched this $50-plus wine from Cinderella for just under $30.

Our last wine was John Bojanowski's Clos du Gravillas Lo Vielh - or 100 percent Languedoc Carignan. This wine stands out as one of my favorite finds from a week-long visit to France's Languedoc region in January.

The Lo Vielh - which means old one - is big, earthy, and bold - the perfect way to send Patrick off to Tennessee. John doesn't make much of this wine so the fact it made its way to Indiana is even more amazing. Thanks go to our friends importer Paul Chartrand and Derek Gray of Graybull imports.

The wine features grapes from 101-year old vines on John's small property in the Languedoc. Clos du Gravillas is also certified 100 percent organic by French laws. John has personally taken Carignan on as a personal cause. It's grown widely in southern France but most often used as a blending grape. It has a wonderfully stinky nose and might be off-putting to some until you tasted. If you can find the Le Vielh, because most sold out on the first shipment, expect to pay $25-$35.

All four of us present Monday night really liked this unique bottle of wine. I briefly met John at the Millesime Bio in Montpellier then had the chance to talk with him a bit during a spring visit to Indianapolis promoting his wines. The Kentucky native is an interesting guy making some really unique wines worth seeking out.

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Some Really Nice Recent Wines for Review

Time to finish catching up on wine reviews with a few more notes from the desk, bottles on the kitchen counter, and memories before they fade.

All of these are value wines which aren't that tough to find. So here we go!

Clayhouse 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon - I'm always looking for a nice drinkable Cab under $20 and now I've found another! An under-$20 Cab isn't going to have huge tannins and big fruit but I don't want that at this price point - and/or it's not going to be well made.

Clayhouse Adobe is a great value line of wines from Clayhouse owned by Middleton Family Wines. I've had several of their wines but never the Cabernet. I opened their Malbec recently and was a bit underwhelmed considering how good their other wines have been. The Cab was a good bounce-back for one of my favorite value Paso Robles labels.

This was rich and drinkable Cabernet. It had beautiful dark fruit, some herbal hints and enough acidity to balance the tannins enough for ribeye (which I consumed with it) but still smooth enough to sip with chocolate or some snacks. This does see a reasonable amount of oak, spending 12 months in American and French oak before bottling.

The wine is 80 percent Cab with the remaining 20 percent Petit Verdot to give a fruit kick and color! Oh, it comes with a screw cap too! There are a handful of good Cabs at this price point in your neighborhood grocery or liquor store but few are better than this one for the price!

Clayhouse 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, SRP $15, Trade Sample, Highly Recommended for the price.

Chateau de Segries 2011 Tavel -  For years the Tavel region of the Rhone Valley has been known for the world's best Rose wines. Provence, the southern Rhone, and the Languedoc now hold equal footing in some folks eyes but the Tavel Rose wines are well worth seeking out.

The first thing you'll notice is the deeper red color of Tavel Rose. For the most part, they are often in the hues of a cranberry or even deep red raspberry color. This wine was a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah. This is a dry Rose with a bit more punch to the flavor than the delightfully more delicate Provence Rose with the salmon pink color.

This wine has bright cherries, raspberries and very restrained acidity. The Segries Rose has been generally well regarded garnering 91 points from Robert Parker for the 2010 vintage.

I love Rose and this was a nice change of pace. I sipped it alone and with some simple salad shrimp on a hot day. If nothing else, see out a Tavel Rose at your wine shop to compare to the other style Rose wines of France.

Chateau de Segries 2011 Tavel, $14.99, Grape Vine Cottage, Zionsville, Recommended.

Obra Prima 2007 Reserva Malbec - Malbec was the 'next great thing' for what seemed like the better part of a decade. If you read wine trade publications, that time has come and gone. But Malbec often delivers better wine for an affordable price point than other varieties.

I liked this big red wine with a grilled steak a lot! The wine had big red fruit  like black raspberry or blackberry and maybe even a hint of really dark chocolate. The acid and tannins were smooth and held up nicely to a New York strip I had prepared on the grill.

This is not a wine for wimps, it's big red for big red meat. It's available in Indiana and perfect for that beef sizzling on the grill. This was one of better Malbecs I've tasted in a long time.

Obra Prima 2007 Reserva Malbec, $16.99, Grapevine Cottage, Zionsville, Highly Recommended.

Sineann 2010 Red Table Wine - This was probably one of my top finds thus far this year. Sineann is a very well-known Oregon Pinot Noir producer. So when I saw the wine was a blend of Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Zinfandel, and "dashes" of Cab Franc and Melot .... let's just say I was skeptical. You just don't blend Oregon Pinot Noir with ANYthing! In most years the blend is approximately 50 percent Pinot.

I was wrong with my preconceived notions. I didn't want to like it because I'm one of those wine geeks that believe great Pinot doesn't belong in any blend. But most wine drinkers will find this to be one of the most enjoyable and drinkable reds you'll come across in 2012.

This is clearly a 'kitchen sink' wine. They throw everything in it and it works remarkably well. It's drinkable, sippable, quaffable, and more. If you find it buy it.

Sineann 2010 Red Table Wine, $17.99, Cork & Cracker, Indianapolis, Highly Recommended.

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Drouhin's Oregon Pinot Noir One of Very Best

The Oregon Vineyards of Domaine Drouhin

Most wine drinkers have a bottle or two - or many - stashed away for a special occasion. While much can be said for popping one open on a Tuesday night just because you ARE special, we do tend to squirrel them away with a purpose.

I had such a purpose this week for a friend who will be moving out of town for a year. Patrick is my best wine buddy. We normally taste something at least once a week so he will be missed.

In Patrick's honor I went to the storage system and snooped around and decided on a Domaine Drouhin 07 Laurene Pinot Noir. I picked this up in the summer of 2011 while visiting the Willamette Valley and the gorgeous Drouhin winery.

Here are some photos from that day in the valley. Photos include stops at Domaine Serene, Winderlea, and Sokol Blosser, three more great Oregon wineries

Simply put, the Laurene was one of the best Oregon Pinots I've ever enjoyed. I think Patrick might agree. The 07 Oregon vintage has gotten a lot of press for its up and down quality as its aged. But tasting the 07 wines last year was a real job. I was actually in Oregon when most of the 07 vintage was released and there wasn't much to like, though I didn't visit Drouhin.

Last summer the 07 Pinot Noir really came to life. The 07 Laurene is Domaine Drouhin's top bottling. It doesn't come cheap at $75 a bottle, though I did find it as low as $57 on the internet.

The wine had wonderful complex fruit much more pronounced that some wines of any vintage. There was lovely dark cherry but with a bright freshness you only get in the best Pinot wines. It had strong but well-balanced acid which would have been perfect for some sockeye salmon or steelhead trout. But when I open a Pinot of this quality I just want to sip it. Maybe a little matching chocolate with this Pinot but it should be savored.

I didn't even have to look to guess the critics liked this wine, but I did. Josh Reynolds of Tanzer gave it 90 points. "Brisk, finely etched red fruit flavors carry no excess weight and gain intensity with air. The lingering finish echoes the strawberry and blood orange notes." That geeky enough for you?

Robert Parker scored the wine 91 points, Wine Spectator agreed with the 91 score, and the Burghound jumped it up to 93 points.

Again, the price point will scare off many and I understand that. But this is a great example of you get what you pay for.

Domaine Drouhin 2007, SRP $75, Very Highly Recommended

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Good, Bad, and Great Value

Behind again on wine reviews so going to do my best to catch up over the next few days. Let's start with a couple of Rose' wines and a great value Bordeaux white.

L'Esprit De Sainte Marguerite 2011 - This is typical salmon-pink Provence Rose that satisfies. It was a light and refreshing Rose with a fresh berry taste that I enjoyed with some grilled shrimp.

It's a combination of Grenache and Cinsault. Decanter, the well-respected British publication and website, gave the 2011 Rose' four a possible five stars. This Rose, though a bit pricer than many I've enjoyed this summer, was far from the best or worst I've tasted. At this price point, I expected a bit more but it's not disappointing.

L'Esprit De Sainte Marguerite 2011, $19.99, though I found it a little cheaper on some internet sites. Recommended.

Chateau Margui 2010 - I can only give this wine mention. It was clearly past its prime when I drank it a couple of weeks ago. It's available here in Indiana and wine ratings I found were positive. I picked it up at a higher price point than normal thinking it would be something special. The wine had not gone bad, just past it's prime.

The fruit was gone and the wine was flat. The finish was borderline unpleasant. I've asked a couple of retailers about the aging of Rose and all have said the higher end wines should age nicely for a few years. This is the second $20-plus Rose I've opened recently and been very disappointed. I won't criticize the wine because I don't think I tasted it at its best. Let's just say I won't be buying any more 2010 Rose this season. I'll stick to the current releases of 2011.

Chateau Margui 2010 Rose, $26, No Recommendation.

Chateau Haut Rian 2010 Bordeaux Blanc - Here is a wine to bebunk critics who say you can't buy a drinkable and enjoyable wine for under $10.

This is mostly Semilion with Sauvignon Blanc and I loved it. I got plentiful grapefruit and maybe a hint of lime on this light and minerally white wine. It was delightful with a swordfish steak I seared on the grill.

It normally retails around $12 - a great, great bargain. But I found cases of it at Carmel's Vine & Table for $9.99.

Chateau Haut Rian 2010 Bordeaux Blanc, $SRP $12.99, Highly Recommended.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Gray Views Distribution from Little Guy's Eyes

With more than 6,000 U.S. wineries and around 20 distributors in Indiana it should not come as any surprise only a small number of wines reach the Hoosier state.

That was what struck Derek Gray, Graybull Organic Wines, back in college when sipping wine at Oliver Winery with some buddies. He realized there could be some money made in the wine business. He started as a home winemaker then moved toward a distributorship.

“A lot of wines were not available in Indiana,” Gray said. “I thought there was a business opportunity. I’ve always wanted to own my own business since I was a kid.”

So he started as a distributor hoping to sell 50 cases a month to cover his warehouse cost. He was starting his business while working at Eli Lilly in Indianapolis. He still does some work for the Indy drug company. A distributor is the middle man in the three-tier system. He buys from wineries and importers then resells to retail outlets.
Derek pouring at a private tasting.
Gray started in 2006 and cut back at Lilly in 2009. His business growth has been steady and impressive. “Even if you’re growing at 20 to 40 percent a year all of your money is going back into the business.” The business has grown 30 percent already in 2012, he said.

Starting a new distributorship is like staring down the neighborhood bully in Indiana. “Restaurants are horribly difficult to get into especially if they’re established with one of the big distributors,” he said. “The big boys will use everything they can to shut out everybody else. They will print menus for free, which is legal. They will give them corkscrews. They give them all sorts of stuff.

“They use the economic power they have and then put grocery store wines on those wine lists and they get away with it.”

Gray wanted to operate his business and portfolio differently. “We have an eco-friendly niche,” he explained. “We work hard on customer service. We now have retailers coming to us because they’ve heard about our customer service.”

Gray carries 400 labels in his portfolio. He stresses customer service and getting the details right for his customers. “I would argue our wines are solid across the board. If they don’t sell I weed them out. They are family-owned wineries, many are highly rated, and most get 85 points (from critics) or higher.”

Gray targets smaller retailers and wine stores.  He sought out the best organic wines in the U.S. and works with importers to get the best organic wines from abroad.  Gray admits organic wines are not going to be age worthy but for wines at the $10-$14 retail price point the wines will be fruit forward, easy to drink and low to no sulfites.

The business has grown from that necessary 50 cases to thousands each month. It recently led Gray to partner with another distributor to represent his wines. 

“I was an amateur wine maker. A bottle of wine is a living thing; it’s an experience. It is a connection to the land and connection to nature. To me, that’s the big part of the fun in the wine business. People in the wine industry are eccentric and interesting.”

Derek’s Picks:
The wine distributor enjoys a beer after work but when it comes to wine he recommends Washington State’s Columbia Valley to New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. “The red blends of Washington come from great family wineries, small production, and they are really great wines at a great price point. The New Zealand Sauv Blancs used to be all grassy but are more complex now.”

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One Great Day in Southern Indiana Wine Country

Ted Huber pours wine for the both of us to taste in the Huber tasting room.
A day in Southern Indiana to attend the Uplands Wine Trail "Uncork the Uplands" event was educational, informative, and productive.

I'm working on a story about Indiana wine for Palate Press - the National Online Wine Magazine. So I had daytime appointments with Ted Huber at Huber Orchard and Winery along with Jim Pfeiffer of Turtle Run.

I'm obviously sitting on most of that material for Palate Press. But the overwhelming feeling of the day was Indiana's improving wine business. NHuber and Turtle Run are certainly two of the very best in Indiana so it's not like I was hitting up a few Southern Indiana wineries I have panned in the past.

Check out photos from my day at Huber's and Turtle Run.

Huber's, which I've probably written as much about as any Indiana winery, really is a good benchmark for quality. Ted Huber is quick to point out the family considers themselves farmers first. The property, dating back well into the 1800s, has 600 acres of most every fruit and vegetable imaginable. Just 80 acres of the massive operation is in vineyard. That allows Ted and his winemaking team to produce about 50,000 cases of wine annually.

I've talked with Huber on several occasions but our 30-minute appointment Saturday quickly turned in to two hours. Huber talked about reducing the sweetness in Indiana wine and guiding the sweet wine consumers to a better quality product. We talked about the industry in general, the weather's impact on his vineyards, and more. And plan plenty of extra time if you want to ask about Ted's brandy operation. It has become his passion. And though I admit to not being a big spirits fan, the 10-year aged Applejack Brandy was absolutely amazing!

Pfeiffer in his vineyard near Lanesville, IN.
Jim Pfeiffer is one of my favorite wine people in the state. His unbridled enthusiasm and willingness to break molds - well heck, Jim doesn't break them he never used popular molds any way. But the man knows his chemistry and winemaking.

The thing that struck me was the similarity in thoughts and efforts between Pfeiffer and Huber. Both are moving their wines away from higher residual sugar while maintaining pleasant fruit Hoosier like and higher quality juice. The wines are far more approachable than the uber-sweet Concord, Niagra and similar wines which have been Indiana's calling card.

I'll have much more on these two in coming weeks.

Uncork the Uplands is just in its second year but already a great wine event, marketing idea, and should be a can't miss for Indiana wine fans. The word Saturday is next year's Uncork will be in Bloomington, In. That is a bit easier for Central Indiana folks certainly than the long drive down to Starlight atop the hills overlooking the Ohio River.

The Uplands wineries all pour a selection of their wines while Hoosier food product companies show off their edibles. The $75 admission is well worth the price when you consider a portion of the proceeds help several charities.

I didn't make it to every winery's table nor every food booth. But I did taste lots of interesting goodies that made the trip just that much more fun. I thought I'd share business names and links here for people always looking for good Hoosier food products. These were some of my favorites;

Peacetree Mountain Truffles - Dark chocolate and Chambourcin do mix! The truffles were to die for! Certainly many wine fans know the almost magical powers of a good red wine and dark chocolate. If you're one of those fanactics check out the website.

Yours Truly wine cake
Yours Truly Foods - This company is making cake mixes which will be sold at wholesale to wineries. The samples were a hot commodity Saturday. I loved the rich dark chocolate. The owners Diiana Chamness and Betty Davis came up with the mixes and make a recommendation on types of wines to add to the mix. Unfortunately their website is very incomplete. But you can look for the product coming soon to an Indiana winery near you.

Steckler Grassfed Cheese, poultry, beef & lamb - This new business emphasizes pasture-raised products. I had the aged raw-milk cheddar and found it to be a great pairing with red or white wine. Not a fan of the pepperjack, but hey - I don't/can't like everything! Ha

Grateful Greens - While Greg Graft's business is largely a wholesale operation based in Clarksville, Indiana, the basil pesto he served up with fresh mozzarella on a cracker was world class. It was one of the best things I had at Uncorked.

Fermenti Artisan - is an Indianaplis company that "puts the culture in your diet." They specialize in artisan cultured vegetables, nutrition education, and urban farmers. Fermenti provided the Kraut on a marvelous small bite of Rene Bakery sour dough, along with Smoking Goose black truffle bologna! (Fermenti doesn't appear to have a traditional website, but the link will take you to their Facebook page.)

de Tours Indiana Wines - Kyle Marcum introduced himself while I was scurrying about Saturday night. Marcus has started an Indiana wine country tour business. He offers a luxury limosine experience that would be great for groups not wanting to drive and taste. Packages vary in price but start at a reasonable $315 for up to 8 people.

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Great Visits with Two of State's Best Winemakers

Ted drawing/pouring Brandy for me
NEW ALBANY, In. - "Best" is always a label best used infrequently but few in the know would argue Huber Wines and Turtle Run are among some of the best and most interesting wines in Indiana.

Tonight is the Uncork the Uplands food and wine event at Huber Orchard and Winery and I'll be hitting it up in just a short bit. But I took the opportunity to come down early and spend some time with Ted Huber and Jim Pfeiffer of Turtle Run for a Palate Press story about Indiana wines.

I found Ted in a talkative mood and eager to share the processes he uses to make some of Indiana's best wines/. We talked about the evolving consumer demand and palate for lighter wines, lower alcohol, and a bit less sweet. That's right - Indiana consumer trends in tasting rooms are showing a developing palate for wines not as sweet as the typical concords and niagra wines of the past.

Pfeiffer shares that passion for less sweet wines as a winemaker and as a health concern. Pfeiffer is more mad genius than Huber's calculating step by step wine making but both turn out bottles of wine that would stand up to many others not just across Indiana but the nation.

Huber also has an over-the-top passion for brandy. Before today I believe I had tasted Brandy one time while in Germany. Today I barrell sampled brandy in oak for two months, two years, five years and the final product with more than 10 years aging. I admit, that old stuff is pretty tasty!

Pfeiffer picking out wines I should taste
Pfeiffer is an enthusiastic guy that go on and on about the chemical properties of wine - glucose vs fructose - and then more. But he makes a compelling case about reducing sugar in wines which not only are more palate pleasing but healthier.

Jim makes interesting blends and is part Picasso and half mad scientist with some crazy blends that come out tasting like magic.

Both winemakers produce the best Chambourcin I've had ever. When done correctly, Chambourcin has Pinot Noir like qualities with nice body, a light mouth feel, and pleasing fruit. When done poorly, as it often is in the Hoosier state, it comes out smelling like an old musty shoe.

It's off now to Uncork with Upland Wine Trail wineries, Hoosier food producers, Bloomington Chef Daniel Orr, a mixologist, and more.

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Indiana's Uplands Wine Trail Event Saturday at Hubers

For Hoosier, there is a great Indiana wine event in southern most Indiana Saturday, July 21. The second-annual "Uncork the Uplands" food and wine pairing event is set for Huber Winery.

The event features food from south-central Indiana paired with wines from the nine Uplands Wine Trail wineries.
Chef Daniel Orr

One of the highlights this year is featured guest Chef Daniel Orr from FARMbloomington restaurant. He will be doing a presentation during the evening's events.

We are thrilled to rpesent "Uncork the Uplands" once again this year, an entertaining experience for the wine and food lover in all of us, said Kim Doty, President of the Indiana UPlands Wine Trail and owner of French Lick Winery. She added in the press release, "the selections we will present from the wineries of the Uplands Wine Trail are notable  ... we look forward to sharing them all, along with out wonderful regional food offerings."

The Uplands Wine Trail includes Best Vineyards, Brown County Winery, Butler Winery, Carousel Winery, French Lick, Huber, Oliver, Turtle Run and Winzerwald.

Tickets can be ordered in advance at the Uncork the Uplands website but are also going to be available the day of the event. Tickets are $75 per person.

A portion of the evening's proceeds will go toward Ivy Tech of Southern Indiana's Viticulture Enology Sciene & Technology Alliance and TheFARM Fund raising future culinarians at Ivy Tech in Bloominton.

Olinger Indiana, Monarch Beverages, Indy Wine Competition, Ivy Tech, Innovative Labeling Solutions, The Sunnyside of Louisville, Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Monroe County Convention and Visitors Bureau are sponsors.

To to the website and check it out. Huber's Winery is worth the visit any time of year but this special event makes it doubly worth your effort.

As of now, I plan on attending. I hope to see you there.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Understanding Bordeaux - Matter of Right or Left?

It's time to discuss Bordeaux. Of all the world's wine regions it's probably the most legendary and mystifying. It's not easy to understand France's iconic wine country but it's possible.

The French, of course, make it difficult to understand any of their wine regions.

The French labeling system tells you the producer, the appellation (region) where the grapes were grown, and the vintage but those darn French don't tell you what grapes are used for the wine. That's old world wine making and you'll find the same from Italy and Spain. Burgundy isn't Burgundy at all it's Pinot Noir. The Loire Valley is Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc. Champagne is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and some minor varietals

Vineyards of Saint Emilion
Bordeaux is largely Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. There are other grapes but we'll get to that.
If you know just a little about Bordeaux it’s probably all the confusion over left bank and right bank. Let's try to simplfy. The area is divided by the Garone River running about 375 miles through the southwest region of France and a bit of Spain. The river divides Bordeaux right down the middle.

The left bank is the one closer to the Atlantic Ocean. The soil has gravel allowing for good drainage - ideal for Cabernet Sauvignon. The right bank has limestone and clay soils which act like a sponge when it rains keeping vine stock roots moist long after the rainfall. That is perfect growing conditions for Merlot.

If you can remember those simple facts Bordeaux gets a lot simpler. We've mentioned Cab and Merlot but the area also grows Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Carmenere, and Malbec. Bordeaux wines are driven by the two dominant grapes but almost never 100 percent Cab or Merlot. So remember Bordeaux is always going to be a blend.

Now, let's say you've seen Sideways one too many times and you're convinced you don't like Merlot. That is probably because the only Merlots you have ever tasted was crappy Merlot. The right bank wines of Bordeaux which are Merlot driven will surprise you. The blends are big and rich and might even make you think you're drinking Cabernet.

The left bank wines, and particularly the areas of Medoc, Haut-Medoc, and Margaux are where the insanely expensive French wines are produced. But that still leaves more than 15 other appellations on the left bank for you to explore. There are more than 20 appellations on the right bank, perhaps the best known is Saint Emilion. And those wines are beautiful.

The French love regulations when it comes to making wine. Let's just say what grapes grown, how long those grapes are aged, and virtually every step of the process has some government regulation.
It's highly unlikely you're going to find Bordeaux wines in your neighborhood supermarket or neighborhood shop. But retailers with larger inventory and shops catering to wine enthusiasts will definitely have Bordeaux wines. But with just under 10,000 wineries how do you decide what to buy?

I'd suggest you start with your preference of Cab or Merlot and go from there. There are plenty of good Bordeaux wines at value price points.  But keep in mind that Bordeaux’s high end goes to thousands of dollars per bottle for the world's best wine.

Grape Sense has always focused on finding a small wine shop where the proprietor knows wine. That's never more true than when buying Bordeaux.

Having visited Bordeaux recently, it’s not as complicated as it seemed before. We can argue if Bordeaux makes the world's best wines. But it’s a region wine enthusiasts need to sample and understand.

Au revoir!

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, IN., writes Grape Sense every other week for 18 midwestern newspapers.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Getting the Price Right Makes a Difference

Time for a quick update. One of my great finds during a January visit to France's Languedoc wine region was Kentucky native John Bojanowski's Clos du Gravillas wines.

I attended a spring tasting in Indianapolis while John was in the US to work with distributors and promote his wines. I wrote about it for an April/May newspaper column that goes out to 18 Midwestern newspapers.

I quoted the price from the wine establishment which was a mistake. I've written here numerous times about the restaurant/bar markup on wines and, frankly, should have known better.

Gravillas' signature wine is its 100 percent Carignan. I paid over $50 to take a bottle home that night and referred to the price in the $50-plus range. I heard from John today who quickly noted he was unaware of the price charged at the tasting until after the fact.

You can find his beautiful Carignan wine - something new for many wine drinkers - at a far more affordable retail price in the $25-$30 range. Obviously, you'll pay more in restaurants.

The Carignan and John's top blend 'Le Rendez Vous du Soleilis' are available in Indiana. He also wrote he just shipped more wine to the U.S. so the reception must be positive. If you haven't tried Carignan, you should.

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Re-visiting Ladies at Republic of Jam in Willamette Valley

Any travel to wine country turns up some real gems when you look beyond the glass and check out the businesses around the tasting rooms and what wine country has to offer beyond the juice.

Lynnette talking jam with me.
One of my best all-time non-wine discoveries in wine country occurred last year in the Willamette Valley. At the insistence of a wine writing friend, Ryan Reichert, I made sure to stop at the Republic of Jam in Carlton.

 I had a bunch sent home and have found some great uses for their unique products. The jams will work on a piece of toast but best when used more creatively. The jams are not your traditional sweet jams. For example, I love to put their Spiced Strawberry Pinot Noir jam on a dab of goat cheese on a cracker.

I wrote about the experience the day I visited, which you can read here.

But I also did a quick video interview I had hoped to use as part of another project that never materialized. I've been posting of few of those videos here in recent weeks. This is the last of those vids.

Check out Lynnette Shaw and Amy Wilder's chat about Republic of Jam.

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Two Very Nice Rose Hits and a Big Miss

Yesterday I posted some "catch up" reviews and I'm still catching up! Now let's go through a couple of very nice and one naughty Rose.

Chateau Ollieux Romanis 2011 Rose - This Corbieres region of the Languedoc almost always offers up nice wines in a very drinkable style.

The Rose is made from 60percent  Grenache gris, 30 percent Cinsault, and 10 percent Grenache Noir. It's a beautiful light salmon color typical of Southern France Rose. I got floral hints and herbs and a really nice and refreshing glass of wine for $15.99.

When I found the average price on the internet at $11, I'm not sure I liked it as much! But at either price it's a great summer sipper.

Chateau Ollieux Romanis 2011 Rose, $11-$15.99, Recommended.

Coteaux D' Ancenis 2011 Rose - Okay, I bought this for the novelty. The Rose was certainly more of a red than pink or salmon and it caught my eye because its made from the great Beaujolais grape of gamay.

I'm not sure if it was the gamay, the wine making process, or what - but I ended up pouring it out. The wine had not gone bad but not to my taste at all.

Coteaux D' Ancenis 2011 Rosm $12.99, Not Recommended.

Lachini Vineyard 2010 Rose of Pinot Noir - Wow! I've had a lot of Pinot Rose and this one was easily the best ever! I'm a huge fan of most of Oregon's Willamette Valley Pinot Noir so it holds to reason some of those wineries should be knocking Rose' out of the park.

And this Rose, is a triple crown winner - fruit, balance and acidity is everything you'd want in a well-made white/Rose' wine. It's crisp, clean and bold enough cherry fruit to make most Rose' fans happy. The finish was nice and it really made me re-think Rose' of Pinot.

Lachini Vineyard 2010 Rose of Pinot Noir, $19.99, Highly Recommended

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Catching Up on a Bunch of Good Wines

Whenever I'm looking for something on my desk and keep stumbling across notes on wines I've tasted, it's time to write some reviews.

Some of these wines span back a few weeks but I always make a few notes on what I thought. I'm not ever excited about reviewing wines and not sure how important it is to readers. But I do figure if someone reads the blog regularly and finds my recommendations favorable to their palate, then it's worth doing.

So let's catch up ...

Clayhouse 2010 Syrah  - I'm a Clayhouse fan and have written that before. This value line under the Adobe label rocks and is widely available. I don't drink Syrah often but when I do I drink Paso Robles. Hmmm, sounds familiar?

This wine has the stereotypical dark berry and fruit flavors of plum and caramel. I liked the full mouth feel and nice long finish. This juice gets just 10 month in oak making that long finish smooth instead of tannic. It's a relatively low 13.8 percent alcohol wine.

Clayhouse 2010 Syrah, SRP $15, Trade Sample, Recommended

Valdubon 2003 Crianza - Beautiful red wine from the Ribera del Duero region of Spain which always rocks my juice palate.

I tasted pronounced black raspberry and vanilla with that wonderful silkiness you get with well-made and aged Tempranillo-driven wines. But this 100 percent Tempranillo was bolder than some. It was beautiful wine.

Even with additional press in recent years, Spanish wines remain a great value delivering superior quality for the price.

Valdubon 2003 Crianza, Around $20, Trade Sample, Highly Recommended

Jigar 2009 Pinot Noir - This Sonoma Pinot Noir is a California keeper. It comes from the Pinot-rich region of the Russian River Valley.

It's a more full-bodied Pinot than many you'll pick up but with good balance. It's rich with nice minerality and acidity on the finish. There is some dark cherry on the palate. It's really delightful wine.

Jigar 2002 Pinot Noir, Retails around $30, I got a buy under $20 at Zionsville's Grapevine Cottage. Recommended.

NOTE: I have a few more reviews to post as well and hope to get those up Tuesday night.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Photo Albums From Bordeaux Now Posted

You can now scan through the posts below and see photo albums from each day of my trip to Bordeaux. Or, simply click on the photo at the right labeled "My Wine Travel" and see the three photo albums and others from previous wine country trips.

It takes a little time to get these done and it's usually pretty difficult on the road with wireless internet in old European hotels. All that being said, they're now posted.

I have lots of stories to tell from the trip. The first challenge is sorting out the material - a big challenge! But the trip was worth every minute of frustration from my travel to France and back. My knowledge of Bordeaux is still limited compared to many but so much further along after this trip.

Enjoy the photos. I'm going to write a generic Bordeaux column for the newspapers which is due to go out tomorrow and catch up on a bunch of wine reviews.

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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Fellow U.S. Wine Writers From Bordeaux Visit

 Me, Janelle, Denise, and Pam - wine writers all!

Getting to tour the great wine regions with other writers/bloggers is a great opportunity to meet people with a similar interest. But it's also interesting to hear what others are doing with their blogs and writing. Everyone also brings different levels of wine expertise.

There were plenty of wine writers in Bordeaux for the Fete le Vin. The sponsoring organization had groups from several countries. We often mixed and matched during the three days which made it fun.

This is the first of several "catch up" posts. I have a full Sunday of travel to get home and will post this one or whatever else I can. The U.S. contingent consisted of two midwesterners, a west coast representative and a U.S. native living in England.

Texas native Mary, owner of Decanter Tours
was such a help with her years of knowledge
about the Bordeaux wine region.
We spent Saturday morning together on a boat with great seafood, wine, incredible scenery, and great company.

Janelle Carter works out of Chicago. She is a former attorney who has gotten serious about her wine. You can learn more from her blog, the Cork Chronicles. Janelle and I shared a similar plight of delayed arrival and lost luggage.

Pam Mandell has a great attitude as a wine novice but great experience as a travel writer. Check out here NerdsEyeView blog.

Denise Medrano considers California home but now lives in England. Her wine blog is The Wine Sleuth.

NOTE: I started writing this post this morning during a layover in Nice, France. My flight was delayed which means I missed my connection to Indianapolis when I arrived in New York. So I'm in airport hotel tonight and will fly home tomorrow. The travel fun just never ends!

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