Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Notes on Wine Blog, Chicago Event

A few random thoughts before diving into some notes on a couple of bottles I want to review!

The Blog: I like fidgeting with the look and feel of Grape Sense once or twice a year. I blog on Google's Blogger. It's a free platform and not bad but I'm considering a big change this summer. So I have been playing a bit lately.

Blake Gray
I changed the look and simplified all the colors a few weeks ago. I always list some blogs I read in the right hand column but like changing those periodically. Blake Gray's blog is the only one remaining at the moment. He's a well-known name in writing circles. Blake speaks his mind and isn't shy about ticking people off, if necessary. He's a bit irreverant, which I like a lot. But he does his homework and writes without a  dose of geeky wine overkill. He also isn't afraid to poke fun, jab a stick in your eye, or call winos out for being pretentious.

I've removed the others I had listed for a long time. I want to add a few new ones and have a couple in mind. If you like wine, it's nice to see what some of the writers with an influential voice are saying about the wine world. If you have a blog you read regularly drop me a line at the address below and I'll give it consideration.

New Indiana Winery Page: I finally got a tab started at the top of the blog for Indiana wineries. I've only posted notes on two so far but have quite a few more to add to the short profiles. I'll be updating that each time I visit an Indiana winery.

Oregon's best: I'm really looking forward to Willamette Valley's "Pinot in the Windy City" Mar. 7 in downtown Chicago. There are public tastings, trade shows, and all sorts of wine events in Chicago regularly. If I wasn't three hours away I'd attend more.

I've been to the valley three times and expect to meet some of the folks I've visited during those trips. More than 60 wineries will be representing Oregon. The trade tasting for wholesalers, retailers, and wine press, is in the afternoon. But there is a public event that night with all wineries pouring and small bites provided by City Winery on Randolph St. The cost for the evening public event really isn't bad at $65. If you consider the cost of visiting a handful of wineries while in Oregon, the $65 is pretty good bang for the buck.

My only disappointment about the Pinot event is that Provence producers will also be in town the exact same afternoon. I'd love to taste and talk to France's great Rose' producers.

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Pioneering Indiana Winery and Pioneer Wine Figure

INDIANAPOLIS, IN. - It's hard finding good wines, meats, bread and cheeses in small town middle America. Fortunately, such things aren't far away. A drive of an hour or less to Indianapolis pays off with lots of good food stuff.

Chateau Thomas tasting room just off I-70, south of Indy airport
I had such a great day today while really just running errands. It's worth sharing! I had to be on the city's west side for what turned out to be a missed appointment. Then realizing I was very close to Chateau Thomas, one of Indiana's oldest wineries, I headed over.

Dr. Charles Thomas has been making wine for more than 25 years. He takes a different approach though than most Indiana winemakers. Many Indiana wineries by fruit or juice from other states. Dr. Thomas buys all his fruit from California, Washington, and Oregon. It had been approximately 10 years since I had last visited. The tasting room has doubled in size.

I'll write something more specific on the winery tomorrow or early this week and take a more detailed look at the wines. But I was very pleasantly surprised just how good the Carneros Pinot Noir, Amador County Cab Franc, and the Primitivo proved to be once tasted. The good doctor has quite a wine list. He also has pioneered, with a patent even, Slender wines with no carbs and only the calories generated by the alcohol. And guess what - I tasted one that was pretty good. I was warned it would be sweet, but it was not coylingly sweet at all.

The second part of my day was planned. That was a stop at Mass Ave Wine Shoppe downtown to meet of the most significant pioneers of Indiana wine - Dr. Richard Vine, previously of Purdue University. Dr. Vine is known across the country and has helped many wineries, especially in the Midwest, with site selection, terrior and grape decisions, and certainly winemaking and more.

He was promoting a book of wine stories, which I was happy to buy a copy of for a mere $20. You can read a review of the book here.

Dr. Vine and I had a great chat about Indiana wine and how he has seen it grow from non-existence to many Indiana wineries making serious and viable wines comparble to any in the world.

I'll certainly have more soon from Dr. Vine!

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Chance to Meet Indiana Wine Icon Saturday

For readers in Central Indiana there is a great chance Saturday (Jan. 26) to meet one of the real icons of Indiana wine. If that was posed in the form of a question many would rattle off the names of Oliver, Easley, Huber, or Thomas - and they would be right.

But Dr. Richard Vine, Purdue University Professor of Enology, Emeritus, deserves to have his name along side those winery pioneers. He helped guide and steer the Indiana wine industry for decades.

Dr. Vine, and you have to love the irony of his last name, has a new book titled "The Curious World of Wine." It's a collection of stories, facts, and colorful tales.

He will be selling and signing copies of his book from 2-4 p.m. at Mass Ave. Wine Shop in Indianapolis.  You can stop in buy a book, get it signed and pick up a bottle or two from old friend Jill Ditmire's "Wall of Wine."

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Indy's Tastings Wine Bar a Fun Evening

The concept of the pay card and two-ounce pours at wine bars isn't a new one. But it is relatively new in Indianapolis.

Though I had visited Indy's Tastings wine bar once previously for a winemaker event, I had never had the full experience until Monday night. In summary, it's fun and a real must-do for wine lovers. It's not expensive but certainly not cheap either.

The concept is simple enough. Your waitress or waiter will provide you a plastic charge card with as much credit as you wish to put on the card. There are nearly 100 wines available to taste in a two-ounce pour format. Now, two ounces really is a pretty nice, though small, glass of wine. It's plenty to determine whether you like the wine or not. The photo at right is one I took before writing this post. The smallish glass is sitting with a standard size bottle with about two ounces of wine.

There is a wonderful menu of small plates. I had proscuitto and fresh mozzarella on a crostini for $9 and it was better than good but not great. It was well worth the nine bucks.

I was meeting a young friend who wanted to expand his palate for job interview purposes in the wine industry.

We tasted the following wines:

 - A New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that was $3.30 a pour and $24 a bottle.
 - A French Grenache-Syrah Cotes du Rhone for $4.15 pour or $30 a bottle
 - A California Lodi Zinfandel for $3.15 and $23 a bottle.
 - A French Chinon, or Cabernet Franc, at $4 a pour or $29 a bottle
... then I splurged and bought my friend the last glass ... A prominent California Cabernet from a prominent maker at $9.65 a pour and $70 a bottle.

Now, about those prices. I didn't have much objection to the pour price but if you consider that there are approximately 25 ounces in a 750 ml bottle, at two ounces a pour they certainly are making some money.

Let's use the California Cab as an example. At $9.65 a pour, assuming 12 pours to the bottle, you get a nifty $115 gross. That's not bad for a bottle they're selling for $70. It's really profitable when you consider the Cab's retail price averages $45-$50. The other wines had similar mark ups.

Yes, the bottle mark-up is similar, if not quite, high-end restaurant prices. Tastings is a beautiful place, fully staffed, on the ground floor of Indy's Conrad Hotel. In other words, for the uniformed, this is not the low rent  district.

Would I buy a bottle there? No, I wouldn't.

But put $25-$30 on a card and taste 4-5-6 wines with friends and taste new things? It's is absolutely worth the investment. I'll definitely go back!

Similar wine bars continue to pop up all across the country.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Enjoying a Nice, Unusually Smooth, Petite Sirah

Petite Sirah can be overwhelmingly big, bold, astringent, and other describers good and bad. But when the wine is done right it can also be very satisfying for big red wine drinkers.

I'm working my way through several sample bottles of California Petite Sirah. I'm just on the second label and so far been surprised at the smooth and lighter style employed by these winemakers.

Tonight, (Jan. 15) is my second night on a bottle of The Crusher, 2001, from Don & Sons. Now if Don & Sons doesn't ring a bell it should if I give away the fact their last name is Sebastiani.That family is an iconic name in Sonoma County wine dating back nearly 100 years.

The 'grower's selection' Petite Sirah had the beautiful dark purple of Petite along with the ripe plum, licorice, chocolate and a hint of herbs. The alcohol is in check at 13.5 percent. The wine did not have a lot of finish and would not have enough tannin for some drinkers.

One man's loss is another man or woman's gain. The Crusher is pretty easy to drink wine. If you've never had Petite Sirah it would be a good introduction to the grape. And because it is the Sebastiani family, it's widely distributed. I've actually seen it in a couple of Indiana wine shops since receiving the sample.

I had the wine on night one, when the fruit was more pronounced, with some beef roast and was excellent. The second night the wine had really leveled out with the fruit going a little softer and finish softer yet. That was ok with a quick pan of pasta with seasoned tomatoes.

The Crusher would be a killer selection for easy drinking or the Petite Sirah novice.

The Crusher,$18, Trade Sample, Highly Recommended.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Latest 'Thing" Not Always That Interesting

Writing about the latest wine topic is a sure way to drive blog numbers. Wine seminars, veteran wine writers, and more advise the first step for building an audience is writing about the lastest wine news and trends.

I do that some, but not as often as I know I should.

As a former news guy, I get it. But the wine writing community, through my limited exposure, spends too much time writing for each other and not enough time writing for the consumer. And, some of the current topics aren't all that interesting to me nor do I believe they'd be interesting to the average wine consumer.

The latest fuss is about a Canadian wine writer who allegedly re-published other writers' wine reviews and required wineries to subscribe to a pay website for their wines to be reviewed.

I could use the name, everyone else has,
but hey - the writer stiffed me - twice!
If either of those charges are true, and I'm certainly not here to substantiate or deny, it is really bad practices and worthy of some outrage. But I've found too many wine writers more than a little self-serving, self important, and plain ol' spoiled.

The Canadian writer reached out to me about a year ago promoting a new book. Value wine is a frequent topic for the writer so I agreed to a phone interview. The writer has a significant national profile and name recognition so my thinking was it would be good for this blog or my newspaper column. An appointment was made but no phone call came that day. A second appointment was made, and astonishingly, no phone call came. That was my first introduction to the self important wine community too busy to keep their own appointments.

Wine writers are flown around the world at no cost to be wined and dined in a first-class manner. On one European trip last year I witnessed a fellow wine writer - with national profile - be very rude to our hosts, our guide, and the rest of us on the trip.

Going on these free junkets shouldn't mean writers are hacks or mouth pieces for the marketing agencies that arrange the trips nor the wine regions paying the bill.  I learned a bit about the ethics of such trips from a guy I really respect who also happens to be a lawyer. His advice was to go on the trip, make no promises, and be a good guest.

When approached for a wine press trip, and full disclosure is I traveled to France three times last year on press trips, I promise nothing. But I also note I have four writing outlets and if I go to any wine region I can't imagine NOT writing about the wine, the region, and the experience.

The ethics of wine writing comes back to the first great piece of management advice I've ever received - "just do the right thing."

The real reward of wine writing!

So yes, the free trips to wine regions isn't a bad gig. But there are other rewards far less tangible but just as memorable.

Over the weekend I had a utility issue to resolve and went to the office where I could get it fixed. While getting my bill corrected, a young man struck up a conversation about wine not knowing I was a wine writer. When I told him about this blog and my newspaper column, his excitement over a little advice and direction reminded me of the joy of sharing what I do know about wine.

I gave him some recommendations and guidance, a wine business card, and he was one darn happy camper.

Sometimes the little things are just as much a reward as the big things.

Maybe some of those veteran wine writers need to be reminded of that!

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Taste, Taste, Taste to Learn More About Wine

Wine tasting sounds like something for wine snobs. Consumers who buy wine at groceries and liquor stores should do a little more wine tasting to expand their palate and knowledge.

Often novice wine drinkers shy away from tastings and wine events because of lack of knowledge. Still, human nature suggests learning more on a topic increases the enjoyment.

There's nothing wrong with buying your wine in the aforementioned retail outlets. But to increase knowledge and expand the palate a wine shop is the best 'next step' for wine beginners or those who want to learn more.

"Go to a wine store where they have a person to help you," said Dean Wilson, an Indiana-based distributor and former retailer. "A real wine person will educate you. Somebody in the retail market, who learns your palate, will guide you into other things to try.

"It is like Education 101, don't be afraid to taste new things. Trust your wine professional and go to as many tastings as you can."

Wilson suggested American consumers are actually hungry for wine knowledge. Sales figures over the past 15 years show significant increases in American wine consumption. And, there has never been a better time to try more and different wines.

"Consumers want a good deal," Wilson said. "Consumers realize they don't have to spend a lot of money on a bottle of wine. If they try something new and like it, then they can start trying different (price) levels of that wine."

Dean Wilson
As a distributor, Wilson knows the wine market. He said the bulk of wine sales rests in the $9-$15 price range. The market "sweet spot" was just under $10 in the 1990s and then increased. The 2008 economic collapse dropped the sales point back below $10. Today, consumers are willing to pay $14-$15 a bottle.

You can expland your palate and education with a wine professional or a group of friends who enjoy wine. How many people do you wish to invite? Do you want wine education or enjoyment? Do you want to do specific wines or just have everyone bring a bottle?

You can make any wine event more fun by trying to pair wines with just the right food. Or have everyone bring 100 percent varietal wines in a brown bag and then try to guess the varietal. You could come up with geographical clues from the wine region to make the game even more fun.

If you have a friend who really knows wine or maybe you know a wine professional, give them a call. Most wine retailers, wholesalers, and wine journalists really enjoy sharing what they've learned from their experiences. 

Drink wines at your normal price point. But maybe throw in one bottle of something special, and a little higher priced, near the end of your gathering.

"It's like we tell our kids, 'How do you know you won't like it, if you don't try it?" Wilson suggested. "That's also true on wine."

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Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Great Saturday Night Bottle of Wine

A lot of value wine is featured in reviews, and even more in the newspaper column, on Grape Sense. But like most people I save the 'good stuff' - which can also be interpreted as more expensive - for friends or the weekend.

Grilled Angus ribeye, onions and a Peterson Zinfandel - in January!
With rare warm weather, near 60 degrees, it seemed like a good night to grill a nice Angus ribeye. So with steak getting friendly with the sea salt and fresh ground pepper, it was time to rummage through the wine rack.

A Chilean Cabernet perhaps? Maybe, a big California meritage-style wine would be a great match with the steak and evening sipper. On the third shelf of the rack was two bottles of Peterson Dry Creek Sonoma Bradford Mountain Zinfandel. It was a gift through a work contact. That sounded great so one was opened and decanted a bit.

It was big and beautifully rich red wine that really hit the spot. It is a blend with mostly Zin, and just sa splach of Carignane, and  Mouvredre. It has pretty serious alcohol at 15 percent.

Rich red fruit, chocolate, and a nice spicy/pepper finish makes the Peterson Zin a California (Sonoma) classic. If you like big and rich, the Peterson Zin really hits the spot. I liked the big smooth fruit that didn't clobber my palate like some Zins. And, frankly, was suprised to see the alcohol was 15.3 percent. I didn't get any burn on the finish.

The quality of small production wines are tough to beat. Peterson made just 375 cases of this wine from the 2010 vintage.

I visited Peterson briefly during a spring 2012 visit to Sonoma. It is in the same hilltop location with Indiana's Erik Miller's Kokomo Vineyards and a couple of other tasting rooms.

Peterson Winery, Dry Creek, Bradford Mountain Zinfandel, $38, Very Highly Recommended.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Deano Back Doing Wine Tastings

I've written about the importance of tasting wine, exploring wine, and if at all possible attending wine tastings to expand your knowledge!

Tonight (Jan. 9) I reconnected with one of the people who really stoked my passion for wine - Dean Wilson of Indianapolis.

Dean works now for a distributor, but has worked for restaurants, owned his own restaurant and wine shop, and wine shop alone.

Dean is great at these because he doesn't just pour the wine. He talks about the winery, country, region, and educates his audience every step of the way.

Tonight, at Augustino's Italian Restaurant on Indy's southside, we tasted Proseco, Pinot Grigio, and two Chianti wines.

There are other tastings around the city and a good chance one near you - no matter where you may live. There is no better way to learn than taste, listen to someone knowledgeable, and ask questions.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Mmmm - Some Wonderful Big Red Wine

It's winter and cold outside and there's nothing better than hearty food and some big red wine! I've had a couple this weeks that just knocked my socks off. The three range from a dynamite and impressive Washington Blend, an Italian classic, and a bold California Cabernet!

Columbia Crest Horse Heaven Hills Les Cheavaux - Indeed, it would not be a crazy mistake to mis-identfy this Merlot-driven blend as a Bordeaux wine. While not as nuanced as inexpensive Saint Emilion, it has the fruit characteristics to make you look twice at the bottle. It also has a price that doesn't look anything like what you'd pay for a right-bank Bordeaux!

Lets start with the blend which is 80 percent Merlot, 13 percent Cabernet, and 7 percent Syrah. If you like big bold fruit, you're going to love this wine. Big fruit, big tannins from 18 months in oak, and enormous value. Dark fruit, dark chocolate, some spice, plenty of earth, and a big finish makes this a great wine for hearty meals.

I'm excited about this wine because of the price point. You just can't find wine this big and this balanced for $10-$20 - and that exactly the price range you'll find Horse Heaven Hills in at your favorite wine shop. The national average is $15, duh, and I found it for a bit less!

Oh, did I mention I'm not the only crazy for this wine? Wine Spectator scored this wine at 90 points - and as one of 2012's outstanding values!

Horse Heaven Hills Les Cheavux, $15, Very Highly Recommended.

La Palazzetta 2009 Rosso di Montalcino - Long one of the best values out of Tuscany, the Rosso di Montalcino wines seldom disappoint.

While this one was a bit flat on the fruit the freshness of the wine was still a defining characteristic. Good Sangiovese has acidity, certainly, but the better-drinking Sangiovese-based wines bring a clean fresh fruit to the palate.

This wine is even a bit floral and incredibly pleasant. I've had better, but not many.

La Palazzetta 2009 Rosso di Montalcino, $19.99, Cork+Cracker, Indy, Recommended.

Fontanella 2008 Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon - Oh my! This is darn fine wine. This bottle was a gift I had been saving for a nice occasion and a medium-rare roast with herbs and a friend made for good enough excuse.

After a nice two-hour decant, the Fontanella was silky smooth yet big Cabernet. I absolutely loved the rich mouth feel. Certainly has dark fruit and some hints of wood. It's a big mouthful of very drinkable California Cabernet.

Truly outstanding wine! 91 points from Wine Spectator!

Fontanella 2008 Mt. Veeder Cabernet, $50, Very Highly Recommended.

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