Glory Be to the Blind Taster

I think this was taken around wine #20...

I think this was taken around wine #20…

The other night, one of my accounts spontaneously invited me to a blind tasting party at her house. It was a flattering gesture. I guess once people start inviting you to parties you really are part of the “industry.” Honor aside, I always jump at the chance to blind taste some wine. There’s a certain thrill in being able to determine more or less what’s in your glass based on nothing more than the sight, smell and taste of what’s been poured, especially if there are other people in the room and you’re determining it better than them.

Of course, like any test of wits, you can hedge the bets in your favor if your clever. Continue reading

Food, Reviews, Wine

My Dinner with Haggis

My friend invited me over for an honest to goodness Burns Supper the other night, and naturally my first thought was “What would be a good wine to pair with haggis?” I texted one of my wine friends asking for advice. Her response: “Don’t.”

It’s certainly an odd, maybe even blasphemous, thing to consider. The Scots aren’t known for their wine consumption, and their food certainly wasn’t developed with wine in mind (only someone drunk on Scotch could have ever thought haggis was a reasonable thing to invent). However, wine is a versatile thing and I figured if I was up to the challenge of eating haggis, there must be a wine out there up to the challenge of pairing with it.

Nothing says "appetizing" like ground organs bursting out of another organ.

Nothing says “appetizing” like ground organs bursting out of another organ.

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Savoie: The Anomalous Hold Out of Eastern France


One of the joys of being a sales rep for a Euro-centric distribution company (read: the greatest joy) is having access to all kinds of wine that ordinary people wouldn’t give two buns about. In my particular case, I get to choose a selection of wines to take out as samples each week, and this week I decided to throw in a couple wines from the Savoie region of France. Because seriously, when do you ever get to drink wines from the Savoie?

When I say so, that’s when!

In all seriousness though, I know absolutely nothing about the Savoie. Most people don’t, in spite of their reluctance to admit it. Most of those self-styled Sommeliers love to boast about the Cotes d’Or but rarely dare to venture any further South into France. With the Savoie, you’re not just venturing South, you’re venturing EAST! The most exotic of all cardinal directions!

Savoie Truffle

The Savoie (pronounced sa-vwah) is an oft overlooked region in the relative-far-east of France, butting right up against the French alps, more or less bordering Italy and Switzerland. The region is, as one should expect of a place near the alps, MOUNTAINOUS, and the wines produced there reflect these alpine conditions in a fairly direct way: dry, mineral rich, with unusual character and limited fruit. Classically, we’re talking about wines (primarily white) that exhibit lighter bodies, lots of acidity, and curious notes of pepper and herbs. To further complexify the situation (the word complicate wasn’t complex enough to convey this concept), the region almost exclusively employs varietals that you’ve never even heard of, that you never really see anywhere else in the world. Chasselas, Jacquère, Altesse for whites and Mondeuse for reds? I mean, that last one sounds like an exhuberent French exclamation, not a sub-species of Vitis Vinifera. Sure, you’ve got some Chardonnay, Marssanne, and Gamay to keep things a little familiar, but on the whole the Savoie isn’t interested in playing your familiarity game. They do wines their way and it’s worked out fine for them for the last couple centuries. So stand down!

What all of this basically translates to is: for the majority of wine drinkers, the Savoie is not a wine region you really need to concern yourself with. For us wine nerds, however, what could be more enticing? “A wine region that NORMAL drinkers don’t need to concern themselves with?” Sign me up!

Because you don’t walk into a De Beers outlet when you’re looking for diamonds in the rough!

So anyway, for samples this week I took out the two wines I thought would be most interesting/enticing to my customers: a white and a red that come in around $18-$22 retail each, respectively.

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Reviews, Riesling, Varietal, Wine Reviews

Wine Review: Anew Riesling


The primary tenet of capitalism is the notion that competition inevitably drives prices down while motivating innovation, thus benefiting both consumers and producers. Of course, the realities of our economic system mean that “competition” is often just “brand expansion” in disguise.

Enter Anew, a new take on Riesling from the makers of the Riesling you probably know best: Chateau Ste. Michelle (not that their name appears anywhere on the bottle). Evidently unsatisfied with the market share they already command, Chateau Ste. Michelle has launched this new brand with the specific intent of catering to the every day needs of the modern female, ages 23-45. It accomplishes this with a stylish, distinctly shaped bottle and a minimalist lotus logo supporting a confident, empowering title.

It also accomplishes this by being slightly sweeter than your standard Ste. Michelle Riesling, because, as we all know, women like sweet things. The wine itself is 88% Riesling, with 10% Gewurztraminer and 2% Muscat Canelli thrown in for some extra spice and floral tones. Indeed, there’s a decidedly “Moscato-y” element to the nose, with bright, ripe white peach, yellow apples, and fragrant orange blossom and jasmine.  Fruit and flowers are the dominant scents, with very little minerality to get in the way of that pure, feminine goodness. While the wine is a little sweeter than the standard Ste. Michelle Riesling, Anew still falls under the category of “off-dry:” the residual sugar is noticeable, but not enough to serve for dessert. As the nose suggests, there are lots of ripe apples and peach to greet you on that first sip, and while the wine doesn’t have quite as much acid as I prefer in a Riesling, the acid is definitely there, lending a bit of structure to what otherwise might have been a wine laid flabby by all that sugar.

All in all, the wine is basically what most people tend to expect a Riesling to be: semi-sweet, appley, and light bodied. For some, this is a good thing, and guess what: you’re the person this wine was made for. For the rest of you dry white drinkers, you already knew to stay away the moment you saw the bottle.

Of course, the real question is: at $11-15 a bottle, is Anew a better choice than Ste. Michelle’s standard Riesling, which is fully half the price? Given that Ste. Michelle’s Riesling is already a solid value in terms of flavor, complexity, and price, it’s hard to justify switching over to Anew for any reason other than “the bottle looks cool.” If you’re a Moscato fan who wants to tone down the sweetness, or if you like your Rieslings nice and floral, it’s worth checking out for curiosity’s sake. I just wouldn’t recommend sticking around for long. It’s just simple economics.

Beer Reviews, Cider, Reviews

Review: Stella Artois Cidre


These days, it seems like no brand is satisfied with being known simply for what they’re known for. Chambord has a vodka, Patron has it’s liqueurs, and Jack Daniels has it’s honey “whiskey.”  Many more iconic brands are following suit, diversifying their venerable portfolios with new, exciting, and sometimes baffling flavored infusions and lateral brand expansions. So it’s not too surprising that Stella Artois, a brand singularly associated with its mild, party-friendly beer, is now trying to corner the ostensibly lucrative cider market. Is this change-up the result of a bold new strategy of product diversification spearheaded by savvy corporate big wigs, or is it more akin to a sudden and inexplicable late-life identity crisis, ala your 55 year old uncle dying his hair blue and going to raves on the weekend?

Only time has the answer to that question. However, I do have the answer to the question “what does it taste like?”

Pale yellow in the glass with a distinctive orange tone, Stella’s Cidre certainly gives the appearance of bold flavor. And indeed, on the nose at least, the aromas are quite strong and definitely on the fruity/sweet side of things. Before I could even smell the apples though I was smelling banana, and an unusual scent which I later identified as Bazooka Joe. The apples are there if you can sense past that initial wall of banana esters, and those apples are decidedly red and sweet, with a hint of cinnamon spice lending a bit of complexity.

Flavor wise, the cider starts off with a mild tanginess, tasting like yellow and red apples with a hint of granny smith skins thrown in for good measure. As soon as you swallow though… the zing goes flat. Forensic investigation will uncover traces of that signature banana flavor still lingering in your mouth, but it’s not all that pronounced. Basically, this is a cider you experience in the moment, because once it’s gone, it’s gone from your palette too, forever (until you buy more).

Now, if my descriptions don’t sound all that enthusiastic, it’s because, well… I thought this cider was pretty boring. However, I’m the kind of guy who likes his ciders to be brimming with lots of green apple crispness that lingers long after every sip and gets the ol’ saliva glands pumping, and Stella cider wasn’t made for me. It was made for anyone who enjoys a slightly sweet cider that’s easy drinking and completely unpretentious. You know: normal people.

Basically, Stella Artois the cider is contiguous with the drinking experience of Stella Artois the beer, so figuring out whether or not to give Cidre a try is pretty straightforward. If you’re still confused, though, here’s a visual aid to assist in your decision:


Indeed, Stella Artois is a popular beer, and most of the people at the tasting enjoyed the cider too. I’d say I was disappointed by how mellow it turned out to be, but that would imply that I didn’t expect it to be mellow in the first place. The only thing surprising about Cidre is that it’s a cider made by a beer giant that isn’t really known for having a whole lot of options in its product line. Surprise is not the only spice of life, however, and sometimes it’s nice to just kick back with something refreshing and sweet and not sweat the little stuff.

Personally though, I think I’ll stick to the Ace Joker when it comes to cider…

Reviews, Wine Reviews

BevMo 2 For 1 Roundup Review Part 1: White Wine


It really pains me to advertise for Beverages & More (especially when I’m not getting paid to do it), but alas, being an employee for them means I end up tasting a lot of their wine. That said, there’s some decent stuff on the 2-for-1 Sale (or the 5 Cent Sale, if you live in California or Arizona) if you know what to look for, and with the sale wrapping up in less than a week on July 8, I figured I’d save you all the trouble of trying to figure out whether or not Wilfred Wong’s gratuitous 90+ point ratings are on the level and lend you a copy of my BevMo Cliff’s Notes, which I’ve been compiling over the last few years.

I’m breaking this thing up into two parts, so congratulations white wine drinkers: I’m starting with you.

Shrimp reviews upcoming.

Shrimp reviews upcoming.

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Wine: Eternal In Our Minds, Not On Our Shelves


I had a customer come in the other day looking for a bottle of Ridge Monte Bello. The thing is, he didn’t just want any old bottle. He was specifically looking for the 1995 vintage.

“1995?” I sputtered. “Yeah, you won’t find anything that old in our store. You’d be hard pressed to find it anywhere.”

The customer seemed confused. “A wine from 1995 is old?”

In the end, the whole endeavor was pointless, as we didn’t even have a current vintage of the Monte Bello available, but it illustrates a curious and commonly held misconception: that wine lasts forever. Much like the concept of “love at first sight” and astrology, these notions are deeply ingrained in culture, and difficult to root out.

I can tell you definitively, though: wine is not eternal.

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Chardonnay, Reviews, Varietal, Wine Reviews

Wine Review: Quimay Chardonnay 2012

photo (3)

Get down with the Southern Hemisphere.

Naturally, right after writing an article about how oak is not to blame for the butteriness of Chardonnay, I end up running a tasting with a buttery Chardonnay that is not oaky. Full disclosure: the wine is only available at BevMo, and I happen to work for BevMo (part time, retail wine specialist). Implied conflict of interests aside, I promise to be fair in my assessment of the wine.

The Quimay Chardonnay is full of both varietal rhyme and locational Q’s, hailing from the exotic-sounding and deceptively-easy-to-pronounce Argentine region of Neuquen (Wikipedia has directed me to pronounce it as “new ken”). This is the first wine I’ve had from the region, which is evidently arid yet cool–or at least cooler than its confederate Argentine regions–giving the wines produced there characteristics unique from your typical Mendoza wine.

And the Quimay Chardonnay is certainly unique. Right off the bat, you get a lot of earthiness and minerality off the nose, with wet hay and limestone coming up strong, along with a good dose of green apple, nectarine, and a decided yeastiness, which–according to the tasting notes–comes from the natural yeast fermentation used in the production of the wine.  Take a sip, and right away you notice how heavy and creamy the texture of the wine is, though in spite of that creaminess the wine still retains a medium-high acidity and is quite dry, with crisp green apple and grapefruit peel coming in hard and fast, along with a hint of lemon custard and pineapple. The finish is fairly long and mouth coating, echoing with hints of toasty meyer lemons. Visually, the wine sits rich yellow in the glass with a slight green tinge to it.

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Chardonnay, Commentary, Varietal

Buttery Chards: Who the Hell Are You Calling Oaky, Pal?



California is known for its big, oaky, B-52 Butter-Bomber Chardonnays, but lately there’s been an emerging shift towards the drier, more traditional (read: French) stainless steel approach. As this trend gains more and more momentum, the number of customers who come up to me and say “I hate big oaky Chards” has dramatically increased. However, lately I’ve begun to wonder:

Do they even know what “oaky” means…?

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