Monday, September 22, 2014

My wines of August

People who say "you can never be too rich or too thin" have never read Stephen King. I'm here to tell you that you can also have too many wines.

For about a year, I got out of the habit of reviewing wines at home. If you read this blog, you know that wine reviews in a vacuum aren't my raison d'être. I like telling stories, and if I can tell a story about a bottle, I like to do it. I don't really like just posting tasting notes.

However, people don't strike you from their mailing lists for wine samples just because you don't post tasting notes for a while. During my year of not-really-reviewing wines, I probably averaged opening 50 wine samples a month at home, but that was just searching for something to drink. This was not a fast enough pace. By early August, the ocean of wine in the small apartment I share with my wife consumed three wine refrigerators, two closets and much of a hallway. I realized I had to start opening more than 100 bottles a month, just to make headway.

I haven't been very professional with my tasting notes for the last year. I got samples, I opened them, I drank them and maybe I tweeted about them if I loved them. That's how I like to drink wine: I'd rather have one bottle of wine I really love and drink it all the way through. Yet every night I did this, I felt guilty.

In August the guilt got to me, and I decided I needed to start clearing some of my backlog of samples. So I opened more wine and took more tasting notes. And then I had another conundrum: What to do with them? Because the problem is, when I post tasting notes, I'll get more samples. It's like Disney's Fantasia: I'll never keep up.

So with these notes, I send a plea to producers and importers: I'm not looking for more wine samples (unless I ask for a specific story, like this one.)  I'm not organized in how I taste, and I might never open your bottle. It's probably a waste of money to send it to me. I'm posting these this month, but I'm not planning to post any notes next month.

But I don't have the stories of these wines, and they were my favorites. And I do want to tell you some wines I loved, so ...

Peñalolen Casablanca Valley Cabernet Franc 2010 ($18 on Wine Searcher)
14.3% alcohol. Imported by Global Vineyard Importers
Very Franc-y, with fresh herb notes and red plum. Not as lean as a Loire version, but that should make it more appealing to a wider audience without losing the integrity of the variety. With food, this Chilean wine is a real winner: well-balanced, good freshness, and the herb note adds interest. I loved this more the more I drank it, and it was excellent 2 days later. One of my favorite wines of the month, and a great value. 93 points
I was surprised to find the 2009 in the New York Times Wine Club.

Stéphane Aviron Beaujolais-Villages 2012 ($13 on Wine Searcher)
13% alcohol. Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons
There's a mini-story here: I tasted three 2012 Beaujolais-Villages and liked all three, which I don't usually do. So maybe it was a great vintage for entry-level Beaujolais, but I can't say after just three wines. This was my favorite: Fresh red plum flavor with more length and body than some in this category. The savoriness and freshness really shine with food. 91 points.

Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages 2012 ($10 on Wine Searcher)
12.5% alcohol. Imported by Kobrand
Nice freshness, good cranberry fruit, lively. An excellent representation of entry-level Beaujolais: it's red, and will go with anything; it's fruity; it's light-bodied but not without substance. Not a lot of complexity, but that's not what one seeks here. Bravo for delivering what the appellation promises. 90 points

Next, the holy Grail, cheap Pinot Noir ...

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Berentzen Wild Cherry Liqueur: Play that funky music, German boys

I'm typing this post from a lowball liquor and packaged food convention where I'm not really supposed to be ... it's a long story. At the next couch, two people are preparing a bid for industrial vacuum-packed rotisserie chicken. There are sooo many bottles of scary-looking hooch designed for 99-cent stores. For "Sandman" readers, it's like walking through the production backstage of an alcoholic's nightmare.

There's nothing here I want to drink other than coffee and water. But back home, I still have half a bottle of Berentzen Wild Cherry Liqueur sent to me as a sample, and this seems the perfect time to write about it, because I can remember the flavor, and that will sustain me.

Berentzen has been around longer than the United States, making liquor in Germany since 1758. The company was in the Berentzen family for more than 200 years before going public in 1994.

The company claims it created a
nightmarenew type of spirit in 1976, when it blended grain spirit with apple juice. If this ended up evolving into the Appletini, they've got a lot to answer for.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Millenials vs. grocery store wines

Courtesy PsyBlog
Last month a wine buyer for a major northern California grocery store chain made this observation at Wines & Vines' packaging seminar.

"Baby boomers are still driving volume. They come in and buy six wines and don't ask about them," said Curtis Mann, wine & spirits buyer for Raley's Family of Fine Stores.

"When a millenial asks a question, it's usually, 'What is the difference between these 4 Italian Pinot Grigios?' The reality is there isn't much difference."
 -- Mann

A baby boomer would say, Meet the new Pinot Grigio; same as the old Pinot Grigio.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Wine Spectator, Advocate can now legally sell a 90-point rating

Can Wine Spectator now openly offer higher ratings to wineries that buy advertising -- and threaten lower ones to wineries that don't?

It appears that it can. So can the Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, CellarTracker, and any other site publishing ratings.

For years, some wineries have whispered that such practices might be informally happening, even though there has never been any evidence. Charging $10,000 to bump a wine from 89 to 90 points would be unethical.

However, after a horrible ruling last week by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, such a practice appears to be legal.

The court ruled that Yelp can legally eliminate positive reviews from its site for businesses that don't buy advertising, which would lower their overall ratings. It can also legally move negative reviews higher.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Three Napa Valley wineries where you can play games

The view from the deck at Cade Estate
The best way you can help Napa Valley rebuild from the earthquake is to visit. Tourism can take a hit after a quake, and that impacts a lot of local jobs. More than 95% of Napa wineries, restaurants and hotels are open and they want you to come and spend your money.

Here's a short list of wineries with games:

Cade Estate has backgammon and dominos

Ehlers Estate has a bocce court

B Cellars has croquet

Bonus winery in nearby Sonoma Valley: Hamel Family Wines has Cards Against Humanity and Jenga

A little more detail:

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Why mainstream media always wrongly assumes wine prices will go up

This story is so wrong.
A few days after the Napa earthquake, which I covered extensively for Wine Searcher, I was a guest on a southern California radio program. The host was mainly interested in how wine prices were going to go up.

I explained that Napa makes 4% of the wine in California, and only a part of Napa was affected. I estimated that of its 525 wineries, about 5% lost significant amounts of wine. And the wine they lost was from 2013, the largest vintage in California history. I've written all this before.

But the host kept pushing me to say consumers -- some consumers -- would pay more. What about fans of 2013 California wines? What about collectors?

I'm not alone in getting pushed to say that wine prices would rise after the quake. ABC News did a story. Men's Health did a story. The Washington Post did a story. These three got the story mostly correct.

But some didn't.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Wine shop owner catches Tequila thief with bag of meat

By day, Frank Pagliaro is a mild-mannered wine store owner. But then he goes into the back room, possibly sliding down some sort of pole, and emerges as Batman, Delaware edition.

Gotham City's Batman takes on the Joker and Bane and barely survives. Wilmington's Batman takes on the AssClown and The AssClown's Cousin Julio, and not only does he triumph, he posts video on Youtube.

Last week, one of the denizens of Wilmington's underworld attempted to shoplift a $75 bottle of Tequila, specifically Don Julio 70 Añejo Claro Tequila, from Franks Wine. But with the surveillance equipment in the FrankCave, Frank was able to get a clear look at the culprit and his neck tattoo.

"Love how these guys mark themselves for easier ID," Frank told me by email. "Criminals -- not the smartest bunch." I like to imagine him saying it with Christian Bale's throat infection.