Thursday, September 27, 2012

Two Easy-to-Find. Big-Flavored Red Wines

Don't just walk past those brands you see everywhere, because some are really worth your hard-earned dollars.

Ravenswood Zinfandel has seemingly been around forever. You can seemingly find it in groceries, liquor stores, and most wine shops. Ravenswood has a nice line of value wines and and even better line of vineyard designate and higher priced bottles.

Ravenswood 2009 Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel - This is a step up from Ravenswood basic entry level Zin and it's dynamite wine for the money.

It's rich, smoky, big fruit and nicely balanced red wine. You'll get the dark fruit, maybe chocolate, and other rich flavors from this wine. It is like most California Zins in that it will hit you with 14.9 percent alcohol. But the fruit does a nice job holding up on the front of the palate. This $15.99 bottle doesn't quite have the peppery finish I love of slightly higher priced Zins, but it will be a great pairing with your BBQ or pulled pork.

Ravenswood 2009 Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel, $15.99 SRP, trade sample, Recommended.

Kokomo Winery 2007 Cabernet Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma - Indiana native Erik Miller has made a name for himself in Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley with Cab, Zin, and even his ever-improving white wines.

His 3007 is a nice Cabernet that you will find priced a bit all over the ballpark. I found it ranging from $31 to into the $40s on a net search; but I picked it up on one of the flash internets sites for just under $20 a bottle.

The wine is a big fruity, spicy Cabernet that may not be complex as some but very satisfying. I enjoyed the Cab with a ribeye off the grill and found myself quickly 'quaffing' down the Cabernet.

It does have a nice long finish and one you could decant and serve to most wine fans. Serve it with a well-peppered steak and its sure to be a hit.

I liked this wine a lot for what I paid for it and think it's still a good buy at just over $31.

Kokomo Winery 2007 Cabernet Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, $32 avg price on net, Highly Recommended as value buy for California Cab.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Kokomo Native Makes City Name Successful Brand

Growing up in Kokomo, In., and earning a management degree at Purdue University seems an unlikely path to a successful boutique winery in California's Sonoma Valley.

But Erik Miller has achieved the unlikely career path with the success of Kokomo Wineries, named after his Central Indiana hometown. It's a story of two Purdue roommates and a fourth generation Sonoma grape grower combining their passion.

"I had a buddy who moved out to Sonoma County when we were at Purdue," Miller said. "I came out and visited him and just fell in love with the place. It was really weird for a guy from Indiana to come to San Francisco and all you have is public transportation. Then I saw Santa Rosa and thought it would be big enough to support a career and still small enough for me to fit in and be comfortable."

Miller talking about his winery earlier this year.
But Miller's start in the wine business wasn't instant for the transplanted Hoosier. He took his Purdue degree in Organizational Leadership, and Supervision and went to work in the financial services business. But he wasn't happy.

He accepted an offer to do harvest work for a California winery. "That's how I became passionate about wine," he said. "I worked with grapes in the outside and watched the winemaker working. I put all my effort then toward that career - being in the wine industry."

Miller's love for Kokomo made naming the winery easy. Working with his college roommate Josh Bartels and grape grower Randy Peters gave him a team to direct the winery's success. He also thinks being a Hoosier has its advantages.

"I think there is one thing we have in the Midwest and it’s this stereotype that we're hard workers," Miller said in the modest winery offices. "That has been a connection with me and Randy and some of the other farmers out here that we're down to earth, salt of the earth kind of people."

Peters, on the other hand, is a fourth generation farmer. His family produced fruit and wine grapes for decades. "We didn't have much money growing up," Peters said. "We were growing fruit and wine grapes but working on a low margin. My dad had a second job."

Peters credited Miller's hard work and integrity for their 'handshake contract' and shared success. "The honesty and integrity of Midwestern people is true," he said. "Growing up here I've always had a passion for raising the fruit but now I can see the end result."

Growing up Peters would watch the family harvest be sold off to very large producers and dumped into 10,000 gallon tanks with fruit from all over the region. Now his grapes to go vineyard designate wines that represent his work as well as the winery.

Miller makes wines widely available in the Midwest. His Cabernet Sauvignon is a big fruity but well-balanced wine that can be found in many wine shops.

"Maybe people will try the wine because the name is comforting too them," Miller said. "We don't spend extra money on the showboat things, the tasting room and winery but we will not take shortcuts on the equipment it takes to process grapes. We use the best oak we can buy, and make sure we're sourcing the best possible grapes."

Miller may have Midwestern industrial roots growing up in Kokomo but his wines have been lauded by the biggest competition in the world, The San Francisco Chronicle's annual wine contest. 

Note: In four years I've not done a two-part column. But if you want to learn a lot about wine, talk to a winemaker. Next time Miller will talk about some of his wine-making philosophy.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Three Rose' Wines Worthy of Consideration

Have you spent a summer looking through Rose' colored glasses? If not, it's never too late.

Sales are really exploding in this country for Rose' wines - that happy middle between whites and reds. The beautiful dry Rose' wines will please almost any palate.

Here are three worthy of your consideration.

Chaeau La Tour De Beraud 2011 Rose - The Costieres De Nimes region of Southern France produces many nice Rose' wines. This was one of the most enjoyable I tasted this summer. This Rose was 50 percent Grenache, 30 percent Mourvedre, and 20 percent Syrah.

A simple primer on the grapes is that Grenache will give it great fruit flavor, the Mouvredre will add a little color and the Syrah adds body and mouth feel to the wine.

The wine had delightful fruit and balance. Rose' done right is always very drinkable wine and this one was one of the best. It was in limited supply when I bought it several weeks ago in Indiana. If you find the wine, buy it.

Chateau La Tour De Beraud 2011 Rose, $11-$14, Very Highly Recommended.

Borsao 2011 Rose' - One of my first really great Rose' wines was a Spanish Garnacha-based wine. During my last trip to the wine shop, I realized I hadn't had one this year! So I picked up a very affordable Borsao 2011 Rose.

Before any wine geekiness - the Borsao Rose' can be found for $7-$12. At that price, you should buy a case.

The Garnacha (same as French Grenache) makes beautiful and fruity wines - especially Rose. The wine had nice balance but pretty mild acidity, perhaps too mild for some tastes. But it kills the drinkability test.

The differences between a Spanish Garnacha Rose' and a blend from Southern France will be slight for many but worth the exploration.

Borsao 2011 Rose', $7-$12, Recommended

Cuvee des Messes Basses Ventoux 2011 Rose' - A Grenache blend Rose that is easily the lightest of the three reviewed here. Now, that does not mean it's flavorless. But the fruit is mild, its soft on the palate and the acidity is barely detected.

Many wine writers/critics would hate this wine for all of those reasons. I like it for all those reasons. I like big bold wines, light bodies wines and wines which fall everywhere in between.

It's delightful, non-complicated wine that's easy to drink. Isn't that what most of us are looking for on most trips to the wine shop?

Cuvee des Messes Basses Ventoux 2011 Rose', I couldn't find what I paid for it but under $15, Recommended.

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A Tasting Room Delivered to Your Front Door

The internet has revolutionized the wine industry just like many other businesses. In the last decade or so, wineries have improved their websites, embraced blogging, Facebook, and even new platforms like Twitter and Pinterest.

Around the time of the 2007-08 economic downturn wine flash sales sites exploded onto the scene often offering premium wines at heavily discounted prices. Many of the sites have come and gone but some have become very successful. Earlier this year, Forbes reported Lot18 hauling in an average of $2 million a month in revenue.

A standard bottle, TR bottle, wine from the TR bottle
One of my personal favorites is Wine Till Sold Out or These flash companies approach wineries and buy inventory that was over produced, or not moving quickly enough to meet the demands of the winery’s cash flow expectations.

The upside to such sites is consumers have the ability to buy much better wine at discounts consistently around 30-40 percent and often up to 50-60 percent.

But there is another internet wine site that has gotten lots of press and causing a buzz bringing sampling to your living room. sells six-packs samplers of wine in 50ml or 1.7 oz. bottles. While that sounds like a dribble it is enough wine for two or three tastes to determine if you like the wine.

Then you can buy a full bottle from the site at near regular prices. The novelty here is you can taste before you buy much like a tasting room. The six packs are packaged by the wine type or region or by celebrity endorsement. The six packs range from $19.95 to just over $30. You can sample wines by the grape, region, celebrity picks, a single winery and more.

Tasting was the brain child of Tim Bucher. He started developing a system to sell the 50ml bottles for trade and press samples. He was never interested in the discounted flash site approach.  He told Wines & Vines he had no interest in selling normal sized bottles for less calling that “a race to the bottom.”

He developed a proprietary system to transfer wine from the traditional 750ml bottle to the smaller samples.

The small bottle provides a reasonable pour for tasting.
The company got its start in 2009 and has been remarkably successful, so much so they added higher end wines to the lineup earlier this year. The created a Wines by the Glass program that offers 100ml bottles with wines from Silver Oak, Duckhorn, Patz &; Hall, Williams Selyem, Hess, Coppola, and others. 

Wines are sold individually in the Wines by the Glass format or in boxes of four single servings. So in other words you can buy wines from this internet site three different ways – in samples, by the glass, or in full size bottles. The business model is different because they are not selling discounted wine but a chance to taste before you buy.

My personal experience was with a six-pack sampler – the Michael Chiarello (celebrity chef) Holiday Pinots selection. The six wines were all from California. The labels were Domaine Carneros, Fess Parker, Papapietro Perry, Patz & Hall, Laetitia, and Lucas & Lewellen. I was able to taste the six different wines for less than any single bottle would have cost. The six wines I sampled ranged from $23.99 to $53.99. They were well preserved and tasted great.

The real beauty of a site like this is a chance to expand your palate. To taste the six wines above you’d have to travel to California or shell out more than $225 to buy the six 750ml bottles.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Grape Sense Newspaper Column Grows to 20 Papers

When I began the wine writing almost four years ago, I began with a goal. It seemed if I could get 20 newspapers to carry the column that it would be a success.

Well, today I picked up my 20th publication and I'm thrilled.

Grape Sense will start appearing in Off the Water, a weekly publication produced by four different daily newspapers in Southern Michigan. So not only has Grape Sense grown to 20 papers but expanded to a third state!

Off the Water is a weekly entertainment publication produced and distributed by the Niles Daily Star, Dowagiac Daily News, Cassopolis Vigilant, and Edwardsburg Argus.

It's also pretty cool to think that the column now reaches more than a quarter-a-million homes in the Midwest!

So I guess the next goal is 30 newspapers and grow the column in surrounding states! Sure, why not? Thanks to all of you who read Grape Sense here and in print!

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Huntington Newspaper Becomes 19th With Grape Sense

It's been awhile since I've added a paper to my newspaper column lineup so I was thrilled last week to hear from Megan Greve, Editor of the Huntingburg Herald-Press in northwestern Indiana.

Megan had read Grape Sense in a couple of the sister papers to the Herald-Press and wanted to add it to her paper's lineup.

That brings my roster up to 19 newspapers with a combined circulation now close to 240,000.

Thanks Megan!

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Three Very Different French Wines

There are wineries to remember, regions of the great wine-producing countries to remember, and I'd suggest a few importers to remember.

I've written about Eric Solomon before and continue to recommend his wines without reservation.The Languedoc's Gerard Bertrand is another name I've come to really appreciate and recommend. The third wine was disappointing.

Domaine La Garrigue 2009 Vacqueyras - This great Rhone blend is dynamite French wine for under $20. It's a blend of 70 percent Grenache, 15 percent Syrah, 10 percent Mourvedre and 5 percent Cinsault.

It's a dark-colored wine with floral hints, dark fruit, and the wonderful freshness often found in Grenache-driven Southern France wines. I like the spice and the depth or multi-layered flavors found in this Soloman wine. The wine got 90-93 points from Robert Parker.

This winery has been run by the same family for six generations. Check the Rhone section of your favorite wine shop.

Domaine La Garrigue 2009 Vacqueyras, $17.99, Highly Recommended.

Gerard Bertrand 2008 Chateau L'Hospitalet - If you like a richer white wine the Bertrand L'Hospitalet is for you. Many Southern French whites can be quite light on flavor and the palate. This wine is for those who like just the opposite.

The wine comes out of the bottle more yellow than most suggesting you're in for bigger flavor and more viscosity. I thought there was peach and pear flavors but also a unique hint of cooking spices.

The wine has a beautiful long finish for a French white that will pair wonderful with seafood dishes.

Gerard Bertrand 2008 Chateal L'Hospitalet, $19.99, HIghly Recommended

Domaine Du Garde Temps 2011 TourbillionI have raved on and on about French Provence Rose for years and tasted some dynamite salmon-colored wines. Unfortunately, this wasn't one of them.

I split four bottles of this wine with a Rose-lover friend. We almost always agree on the ones we liked. But not this one. He loved the wine from the moment he opened it. I disliked it and found it flat, no freshness, missing any reasonable acidity,  and uninteresting. After talking to my Rose-loving pal, I thought maybe it was a bad bottle or my palate was out to lunch. So the very next day I opened the second bottle with similar results.

I think the exercise just goes to show that even if you have a wine drinking friend and find yourself often agreeing on the things you like, there are no guarantees.

The Rose' is a blend of Cinsault, Black Grenaches and Mouvedre. I wanted to love it. I didn't.

Domaine Du Garde Temps 2011 Tourbillon, About $20 but has been on flash wine sites for as low as $11, Not Recommended.

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