Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Screaming Deals And Things That Make Me Want To Scream!

Guarding my wine buy like any good prepper!

I hear from all over that one of the things my readers like the most is when I tell you about some really screaming deal.  Well, here is one thing that you won't want to miss.

My son got married about a month ago, and believe it or not, we ran out of wine at the rehearsal dinner!  Oooohhh!!  Bad wine guy!  (Truth is people were stealing the bottles because they were custom labeled with my kid's cute pictures on them.  The wine was pretty good too, but not good enough to steal.)

The wedding was in  Uniontown, Washington, just down the street from Pullman.  Well, being a good host, I ran down the highway back to Pullman and into the WalMart store.  As I quickly perused the shelves I found a couple of bottles of Columbia Crest Vineyard 10 blend for $2.97 per bottle! 

Hmmmm...I thought.  Well, WalMart is known for screwing up prices on things.  When prices are entered in Bentonville by some data person there, the scan tags for the prices come up in the store thousands of miles away.  Even though the distributor and the managment may scream, the price may remain off for months before they can fix it.  Believe me, I've sold truckloads of stuff that way in my past life as a distributor.

So, when I came home I made my way into the wine isle in my own WalMart and found the price to be the same.  Bwaaahaaahaaa!!!  I bought the shelf clean.  (This is really good juice by the way.)

A week later I walked to the back of the store to get some half and half for my french toast and found an entire end stack of this wine at that price.  Now, it is starting to make me think that something is going on.  I purchase a case and resolve to do some homework.

I talked to my friend Sabrina Greever, who manages Mid Columbia Wine and Spirits in Richland.  She said that there was a wholesale clearance on the stuff and they had brought in several cases on a bulk buy.  Their retail was running at $2.95 (cheaper than WalMart by 2 cents.)

I called an inside source at Columbia Crest who told me that indeed Ste. Michelle Wine Estates was clearancing the label for Vineyard 10 blend and had blown all of the wine out of their warehouses in an unprecedented sale.  The wine no longer exists at Columbia Crest and won't exist again. 

So, what's a self-respecting wino supposed to do?  Run to the stores and buy some of this stuff up. 

This is a wine that sold for $11.99 a few months ago.  The retail is several dollars cheaper than the wholesale was just a few weeks ago.  (Did I mention that this is awesome juice???)  The catch is you better buy it right now or forever hold your peace.  When the Zombie Apocalypse occurs you will be left without!  I picked up a few cases myself and am guarding it with my pitbull and AK47.

Now, onto crap that makes me crazy. 

Over the past few months, and increasing over the past few weeks, I have been receiving a ton of spam crap through my blog.  Somebody with really crappy english is trying to get you to look at their penis enlargement webpage by posting compliments on my blog.  What a bunch of lowdown scumbags. 

I only tell you about this because if you comment on my blog and it doesn't pop up for a few hours or days it is because I'm investigating every blog comment.  I've never really been one to care if you agree with me or not.  I don't even care if you tell me my blog is full of crap or you hate me.  (example:  my last blog about Grocery Outlet.) 

You just need to know that whatever you post, it will get read first and deleted if it's a spam.  I figure if anyone is going to buy a penis enlargement tool from anybody it needs to be from me.  By the way, you can use a wine bottle as a vaccum pump by heating it up, attaching it to the area you wish to suck, and running out into cold air.  It could work.  Just not willing to experiment on myself.
Love and Cheers!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Where Good Wine Doesn't Come From

Beautiful places in the world may be fun, but don't expect
them to have awesome wine.  If grapes don't grow there,
you're probably not going to find great local wine. 
Sometimes things are just a little more evident than you want to admit. Things like just knowing that you should tie your shoes so you don't trip and fall. Another example that I learned at an early age is that you probably shouldn't trust canned food that doesn't have a label on it. Otherwise, your canned beans could actually be tuna.

In the wine world there are things that aren't so obvious on the surface, but when you really think about it you realize that wine that comes from certain parts of the world probably isn't the best wine. Chances are, it probably isn't even good wine.

I only say this because as I travel around the country, and see wine news and information from around the world, I see lots of places where wine probably shouldn't be getting made. I don't want to mention any particular wineries or specific regions, but let's think about this for a minute.

At the same time, wine grown and made in certain parts of the world really make sense. A few of those regions of success are Napa, Sonoma, Walla Walla, and Dundee. If you look at a label and it has one of those places noted on it as the area of origin you are pretty much looking at a good wine. Granted, bad wines happen from any area. But, the odds are in your favor.

What I'm talking about here is those times that you are driving through North Dakota and suddenly you see a roadside sign for Chateau Fargo. I'm not telling you to not stop. Heck, it probably is going to be a lot more entertaining than some giant ball of twine. However, please remember that you haven't just pulled into a farm in Bordeaux. You can't expect some deep dark Cabernet Sauvignon with lots of depth and structure.

Really, the same holds true of all the wineries that you experience as you drive along the British Columbia and Washington State coasts. So many times, when I'm in those areas, I see hundreds of cars pulled into these tasting rooms and lots of cases walking off the properties. When the wines are tasted though, the wine just simply lacks the ability to be called great. I know I'm going to get a lot of hate mail and letter bombs for saying this, but frankly you can't expect anything great from these wineries.

What can you expect from a winery from one of these areas? An “experience”. Nothing more and nothing less. You can't expect great wine. However, when you do experience great wines from these places you should shout about it.

One such vintners that I luckily found a couple of years ago was San Juan Vineyards. The Merlot there is time and again as good as any wine in the region. At the same time, I've found wineries such as the NOLA winery in New Orleans that offers great fruit wines from anything but grapes.

So, the next time you're traveling through Pennsylvania and you see road signs for a winery, go ahead and make a stop. I'm sure that the Amish make great wine from some alfalfa or something. Just don't expect the wine to taste like a fine Rhone. If it does, get the winery to send me a bottle. I'll taste it and if I agree I'll eat my words!


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Nicola’s Redmark Makes An Exciting Mark


I’ve known my friend Crista Whitelatch and her husband Bob for a few years now. We’ve done many different projects together, and I’ve been a big fan of their main label, Claar Cellars because they make a “back labeled shiner” bottle that allows me to put my own custom labels on for clients from time to time. It is a great wine for the price, and allows my clients the ability to have custom labels for a reasonable price legally.

The Whitelatches also own Le Chateau, a Walla Walla label, as well as Ridgecrest, a label for the on-premise market. All together, the family produces a lot of good juice for the market of this region.

Crista shared with me a few months ago that their partners in Le Chateau had left the business. She also shared with me that they had acquired a new label as well called Nicola’s Redmark. I took this information in one ear and out the other, not really giving it much attention.

This week I had the opportunity to have a meeting with Crista, where she was able to explain the Nicola’s brand to me a little. I did a little digging, and searching their website, and found it to be a very youthful brand indeed. The advertising video that opens their website definitely makes me feel young and want to drink Nicola’s with my wife really soon. You’ll have to check it out for yourself.

Nicola’s is named after Nicola Metrione, who had a habit of marking his possessions with bright red paint. He immigrated from Italy in 1891 to New York, where he dug subway tunnels for $1 an hour. He made wine in his tiny Bronx apartment, and dreamed of someday owning a real vineyard and winery. The name is a legacy to his memory.

Nicola’s Redmark comes in four varietals currently, with some promise of expansion in the future. There is a Red Blend, a White Blend, a Reisling, and a Pinot Gris.

I was gifted with a Red Blend and White Blend bottle to write up and share with you. You will have to try the Reisling and the Pinot Gris and let me know what you think of them.

The White Blend is a mixture of Columbia Valley Chardonnay at 60% and 40% Columbia Valley Reisling. Treated with 100% stainless steel, the wine is crisp with fruit and acidity. I loved the light straw color in the glass. Peaches, pears, and passion fruit meet the nose and lead to a spicyness and minerality on the mid palate and finish. I would suggest this wine on a hot late summer evening, or with grilled ahi.

Nicola’s Redmark Red Blend is a rather complex Tuscan styled blend of 35% Merlot, 33% Sangiovese, 12% Barbera, 10% Nebbiolo, 5% Dolcetto, and 5% Mourvedre. I think this blend is probably the way Nicola would have made wine. Mixing a little of this and a little of that to come up with something his friends would really like.

Wide open and full of fruit on the nose, the wine features lots of dark fruit, mocha, and baking spices. A very gentle wine, it is full bodied yet softly voluptuous on the palate.

I’ve been seeing lots of Nicola’s lately in higher end grocery stores and establishments. You can also get it online at www.nicolasredmark.com . You probably want to go check out the great site anyway and plan your own quiet evening at home. A great way to kick off football season!

Monday, August 20, 2012

What Makes A Good Wine Shop Great?

A distributor prices and places bottles on the shelves.
The place was hopping at 10a.m..
This week I was out in Port Townsend as part of my day job, acting as the Director of Evergreen School of Professional Photography. As I’ve mentioned before, one of the things I love most about traveling out of town is the idea of going to new wineries and wine shops where ever I’m visiting. While in Port Townsend I found what I consider to be a “great” wine shop named the Wine Seller.

In talking with the shop’s owner, Joe Euro, I was totally enthralled with his story. Joe, a highly acclaimed guitarist was traveling the world, playing in resorts, and waiting tables. He was brought back to Port Townsend out of a “homesickness” that he just couldn’t shake. So, in 1982 he opened the shop on a shoestring.

Being out on the edge of nowhere, Euro had to make weekly trips into Seattle to actually pick up wines for his shop. It was tough. Selling wines back in the 1980s wasn’t an easy or kitchy thing to do like it is now. There were few wines from the northwest region, and people in general weren’t really into it like they are now.

Jumping thirty years ahead, you would never know that Joe had ever struggled. His shop is a virtual adult candy store with thousands of bottles of wines stacked carefully in every nook of the store. There is a full cooler in the back with awesome craft beers from the region, and a great selection of cheeses and meats in another cooler. I was there at 10 a.m., and the store was bustling with customers and distributors.

Joe Euro talks on the phone with a customer looking
for a hard to find wine.
What makes this store so great isn’t really a secret. It is the result of a dream and a lot of hard work. It is the result of a willingness to invest in success.

So many times I walk into a wine shop where there are one or two bottles of some wine, and a minimal selection. Wines from only the Northwest, or wines that are cheap and can be purchased in any grocery store for about half the price. Those store owners are running on a scarcity mentality, and a fear of failure.

What struck me was the enormous selection of wine. Everything from cases stacked high of Crane Lake at $2.99 a bottle in the front, to wines in locked cabinets ranging in the hundreds of dollars per bottle. The shop doesn’t just have a bottle or two of Leonetti. There are entire flights of the stuff, and cases of different vintages. Bottles of three, five, and seven liter magnums were available.

One of the ways you know you’ve entered a “great” wine shop is what you see when you walk in the front door. A “great” wine shop has a feeling of walking into a market place, with boxes stacked around on the floor in front of the shelves. Signs telling you what the wines are, and the great price you’re going to get on those bottles. The store feels almost overwhelming and exciting. You can’t wait to purchase a few bottles and come back tomorrow for more.

If you want to visit the store while in the area you’ll find it just off the ferry dock on Water Street downtown. You can also find out more, and actually buy wines on their website at www.ptwineseller.com.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Few Good Uses For Bad Wine

With as much wine as I drink, and report, you can only imagine how much bad wine I get to taste. You will never know which, because my no-scorched-earth policy doesn’t allow me to write bad stuff. (For those who want to know which wines not to drink just look for the ones I don’t write about.) Nonetheless, I do get to taste some pretty nasty stuff from time to time.

So, the question really comes up about what to do about a bottle of bad wine. What do you do with stuff you don’t drink? Well...I have a few suggestions. You can use them or toss them any way you see fit.

First, there needs to be a discussion about “bad” wine. There is a big difference between “bad” and “BADDDDD!”. My first rule of thumb is to never do anything except dump and throw away wine that has a barnyard odor or flavor. If it tastes or smells like the working end of a cow, throw it away. It is likely to have a bad bacteria that may or may not make you sick.

Also, if a wine is strangely bubbly it is likely struggling with a bad bacteria. One way to know if it has this problem is if the cork is pushed out from the pressure inside the bottle. I’m not talking here about sparkling wines. I’m talking about wines that shouldn’t sparkle when you drink them. Once again, dump them or take them back to the place you bought them.  Of course, my dear departed grandmother would have suggested that you rub that vinegar on your body to relieve arthritis and joint pain.  (Don't knock it.  She lived to her 90s!)

Now that we’ve talked about the crap you can’t do anything with, let’s talk about what you can work with. In most cases we’re talking about wines that are either too hot from a high balance of alcohol, wine with too much sulfur dioxide, or wines that are old in the bottle or oxydized by too much air from an opened bottle.

Wines that have been sitting in the bottle for many years will often open up a little skunky initially. They are old and have been sitting a long time. Much like an old root cellar or closet they just need to get some air. I recommend that you just decant the wine or use an aerator to infuse air into it.

Wine that smells like eggs when you open it happens quite often, especially in wines that are from other countries. They have had to infuse extra sulfites during bottling. Just like old wine I recommend decanting. In both cases if the wine is still skunky...Cook it!

A wine that just can’t be consumed even after you have tried to fix it, or one that you got too tipsy and forgot to vacuum or preserve from the night before are great wines for cooking.

One of my favorite uses of red wine is to make spaghetti sauce. Another is my wine reduction barbecue sauce. For whites, they are great for poaching fish or using in soup stock.

My spaghetti sauce is easy. Brown Italian sausage in olive oil over medium heat. Put in garlic, onion, mushrooms, and peppers. When the meat is crispy and the veggies are tender pour in a bottle of your favorite brand of canned spaghetti sauce. Rinse the bottle with about 1 cup of your “bad” wine. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour. People will think you and Uncle Guido worked at it for hours!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Brilliant Mercenary Winemaker Claude Gros

Do you ever wonder how a new winery can suddenly open their doors and have all of their wines be absolutely fantastic right off the starting line? Even more, you look at the winemaker’s name and know that you’ve never heard that name used before. Doesn’t it make you wonder just a bit?

Also, have you ever wondered how some wineries just seem to get it right every time? Year after year, that brand wins awards and sells out just in time. They are the ones who get 95 + scores consecutively even though the year may not have been that great in every other tasting room in the region.

As Clint Eastwood said, “A man has got to know his limitations.” In every business there are owners and managers savvy enough to own up to their weaknesses. They may have a passion and a certain level of expertise to do their craft reasonably well, but without someone behind them to provide guidance that takes them to greatness. Think of any great athelete. I don’t know of a single one who didn’t get coached to the top.

That is where a man like Claude Gros comes in. Considered to be one of the great Oneologists of this generation, Gros not only makes his own wine, but hires himself out all over the world as a consultant winemaker for those who want to win at the wine business.

Gros hails from Languedoc-Roussillon, the southern most tip of France that adjoins to Spain. His winery, Chateau Negly, is famous for its 96-100 scores. Little did I know about this area other than they grow a huge amount of France’s volume of wine grapes. I learned that the area has been one of the most politically embattled parts of Western Europe for centuries.

I consider myself to be lucky to have gotten the chance to meet Claude at a recent tasting at Sun River Winery in Kennewick last week. He consults for the owners and Greg, the full-time winemaker to ensure that their wines are the best they can be.

As we tasted through a Semillon-Sauv Blanc blend, Merlot, Cabernet, Syrah, and the winery’s fantastic Port style wines one thing that held true, as they had in past tastings, was that the wines were consistently elegant and beautiful.

I spent a lot of time listening to the conversations in the room. Most importantly I wanted to hear what this brilliant but quiet man had to say about wines in this region as well as wines throughout the world.

A few things fell out of the conversation that I think you, my dear readers, might find interesting. First, and foremost, “great wines come from the vineyard”. It happens so often that poor growing conditions, poor soil, and poor watering practices make juice that has to be fixed. Gros, and other top winemakers want it right in the vineyard so they don’t have to use oak and sulfites to fix the wines.
Also, one of Gros’ biggest criticisms is the making of Rose’, my favorite summertime beverage. Claude says, which I know to be true, that most regions make Rose’ as a fallout from extra red grapes in the press. They treat it as a red until it is on the crush pad. “Really great Rose”, says Gros, “comes from growing the grapes specifically for that purpose.” Hmmm...something to contemplate.

To taste local wines by Claude Gros, you won’t have to go far. His local wineries are Bookwalter and Sun River. You should check them out!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Justin Wine Knows Its Place

Justin Winery Tasting Room
There are many times, being a boy from Southern Idaho, you know where your place is in this world. For me, I wasn’t raised to be some skinny jeans wearing guy with a Rolex. I was raised to be good, old fashioned working stock. Certainly, I clean up pretty well from time to time, but I know where I sit in the world.

The same goes true for some in the wine business. I was sitting in a discussion the other night with a very famous winemaker from France (subject of another article). He brought this up about wines from our region, and many other regions around the world. Simply, some varietals are just meant to be grown in certain conditions and climates. You can grow them in other areas, but it isn’t the same.

What I like about Justin Winery and Vineyards is that they do know their place in the world. Located in beautiful Paso Robles on the Central Coast of California, they aren’t as high faluten as you’d find up north in Sonoma or Napa. But, they like me aren’t ashamed of it. They’re damned proud.

Started in 1981 by Justin and Deborah Baldwin, Justin winery is located in the Adelaide Valley just to the west of Paso Robles. Known for its remoteness, this is one part of California that is known more for its wildlife than it is for its people.

The Baldwin’s story isn’t much unlike a lot of other successful winery owners out there. Both were very successful in the investment banking industry and chose to come to the simpler life. The Baldwins had a real love for Bordeaux wines, and really bought into the dream of making their own California wine paradise.

With the help of master winemaker Fred Holloway over the past 20 years, the winery continues to grow and flourish. Holloway has been very active in California wines from small wineries to some corporate wineries such as LaCrema. He has several 95 to 100 rated wines in his career.

The biggest thing to know about Paso Robles, and Justin for that matter, is that they are close to, but not included in the psychosis that is Napa. They have the tools and staff available, without the high costs.

This week I enjoyed a beautiful bottle of the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine initially opens up in the bottle like a pair of tight pants, but after getting a few minutes of air it is like getting your stretchy pants on and sitting down on the couch. This is a sign of a superior wine that will age very well over the next 10 + years.

The aroma of the wine is full of currants, with notes of cherry and blackberry. Spices such as vanilla and anise are richly interlaced with the fruit. The flavors are as rich as the nose suggests with plenty of currant, cherry, anise, and cedar. There is a nice acidity to the pH which balances the soft tannins and fruit.

There are a lot of ways to get ahold of this wine. You can get it through many higher end wine shops in the Northwest, as well as through the Justin Wine website at www.justinwine.com . I would also suggest if you are going through Central Valley staying at the bed and breakfast on location. You can check it out on the website as well.