Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Tasting

Last Friday, we hosted a Mosel-Saar-Ruwer tasting to a full house. That in itself is exciting because we are getting such a following for German wines that we can do special regional tastings and still get a crowd who is interested. A crowd who knows the difference between Mosel and Rheingau and wants to taste just one region. Completely awesome. We're getting to almost that level reached by France and Italy, where people will flock to us to just taste Rhone wines, or Bordeaux, or Burgundy, or Tuscany, or Piedmont.

We started the tasting off with just one wine, a Qualitatswein by Saar producer Zilliken, the 2006 Zilliken Butterfly Riesling Medium-dry. This was just an intro wine to get people's palates adjusted to what they were about to experience. I didn't get much of a reaction from the audience on this one, just a general acceptance. I had a feeling this crowd was looking for much more tonight than some estate Rieslings, and I was right. Medium-dry Qualitatswein was not why they ventured out in the cold story night tonight. They were looking for Spatleses. Fortunately, I had 6 of them ready to be tasted.

But first, Kabinett wines. We tasted one from the Mosel and one from the Ruwer. We compared 2006 Schloss Lieser Estate Riesling Kabinett with 2006 Karthauserhof Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg Riesling Kabinett. Two very different wines. The Schloss Lieser was full and rich and sweet with peaches and red apples and almost a bit of strawberry. The Karthauserhof was like light mineral water with a spritz of nectarines. This showed the difference between the warmer Mosel and the cooler Ruwer.

Next we had 3 flights of Spatlese. The first flight paired two wines from Piesporter Goldtropfchen, the 2006 Reuscher-Haart Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spatlese and the 2006 Reinhold Haart Piesporter Goldtropfchen Erste Lage Riesling Spatlese. This was to demonstrate (a) there are many different owners of a piece of Goldtropfchen, (b) why Reinhold Haart reigns supreme here, among all these different owners, (c) why Haart is in both names (the Haart family has been in Piesport for 600 years) and (d) the similar flavor profile (though different intensity) of these two Rieslings from this same famous vineyard. Needless to say, the Reinhold Haart stole the show. I thought there might be one or two tasters that would argue that the Reuscher-Haart at half the price was a better bargain, but no one said this; more said that though they appreciated the Reuscher-Haart, they could tell why the Reinhold Haart was much, much better. More integrated, more beautifully put together, with a mouthfeel that went on and on, delivering a lot of good stuff.

Next flight was two Fritz Haags - the 2006 Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Spatlese versus the 2006 Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese. Both showed great, but the Sonnenuhr was a bit closed on the nose and probably needed some decanting (which I didn't do with any of the wines.) Both wines were well received, as they showed sweet fruit along with great structure and roundness, lots of extract.

The final Spatlese flight was two Joh. Jos. Prum wines: 2006 Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese versus the same wine but 3 years older - 2003 Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese. There was some disagreement among the tasters as to which wine they preferred, the one with more age on it or the newly released one. It seemed there was slightly more in the group who preferred the 2003 with its slightly more developed character. The 2006 of course had that characteristic sulfury aroma, though it was not overpowering, but it was so young it didn't show too much of anything. This flight didn't seem to blow anyone away nor did it seem to show anyone the magnificence of J.J. Prum wines so perhaps it was a bust and a waste to open these - but hell, it was fun anyway. And a learning experience.

So after 6 Spatleses, we moved onto a flight which included an Auslese and an Auslese Goldkapsel (GKA). We had 2006 Monchhof Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Auslese and 2006 Milz Trittenheimer Leiterchen Riesling Auslese GKA. Both were nice with blue cheese and pate, but did not really stun anyone in the audience. There was good botrytis in both wines and a whole lot of sweetness, but maybe not the mouthfeel folks were looking for. I tend to agree. I think up until this point, more people were impressed with the Reinhold Haart Spatlese and the Haag Juffer Spatlese.

Finally, the final wine of the night was to be revealed. It was the 1979 Karthauserhof Eitelsbacher Kronenberg Riesling Auslese which is pictured above. I asked the group to remember the taste of the Karthauserhof Kabinett that was wine #3 earlier when they tasted it, so they could compare what this house did with this wine which is 29 years old now. The aroma of this wine filled the glass with pie spices, celery, honey, mandarine orange, and toffee. On the palate, the wine is medium-full in body, rich in flavors, medium-dry, fresh, developed, and complex. The wine reminds me a bit of old white Burgundy. This was turning out to be the Wine of the Night, with the crowd going wild and really savoring this very different wine. It was great fun to show this wine after an evening of new releases. This wine could be enjoyed with a great meal featuring foie gras, pheasant, sweetbreads, wild boar or all the above - it could hold up to those.

All in all, it was a great night of stunning wines from a magnificent region. We'll have more of these regional tastings, the next being Wednesday March 26, when we taste wines of the Rheingau region, and have guest speaker Karina Stuhler from Weingut Robert Weil lead us through a tasting of the world-renown Robert Weil Rieslings.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Argentine Wine Dinner

I hosted 2 successful wine events this week, and the first of those was the Argentine Wine Dinner at our local restaurant Delius. Partnering with Delius owners Dave and Louise Solzman, as well as importer Susie Sykes of Mendoza Wines, and Mendoza Wines representative (and wine country customer) Abbe Rabenn, we put together a show of magnificent proportions.

It was a 6 course prix-fixe dinner, paired with 6 Argentine wines, served in the restaurant's prix-fixe dining room, which is a cozy, romantic, secluded room within the restaurant's newly remodelled interior. Thirty diners showed up to see what we had up our sleeve. Many were regular customers of The Wine Country.

We started off with a delicious mini empanada, which was a bit like a delicate puff pastry (as opposed to a fried pocket), and this was paired with 2006 Terza Volta Sauvignon Blanc. A very nice start. Clean, crisp wine, but as someone in the audience commented "not too crisp." For those who don't love an excess of acidity, like found in some New Zealand whites, this was the perfect solution - an easy-drinking Sauv Blanc with citrus but without too much of a bracing aspect. Worked well with the appetizer #1.

The second course was my favorite - a diver scallop served with an orzo/proscuitto saute - very savory and perfect on the palate. I could just have had that course, a bit plateful. The scallop was cooked a pointe - just cooked on the inside - Chef Louise just has this impeccable timing it seems, with the cooking times of her food. This was paired with 2006 Terza Volta Malbec Rose which sang with the dish, as there was acidity, a gram or 2 of residual sugar, and some body in this rose, which some in the audience commented was as good as a Provencal rose. A great compliment!

The third course was a soup: a creamy mushroom soup with a hint of curry - very fresh, rich, earthy and creamy, with some depth in the flavor which belied the brandy hidden within. This paired well with the 2003 Maestre de Campo Merlot, a red wine with soup, which is no easy feat, but it was achieved. At this point, my husband, who was attending with his parents, who were all enjoying the meal and the wine pairings, asked if we selected the food for the dinner first then found the wines to go with it, or if we did it the other way around. I answered that we chose the wines first, and the chef made a menu to go with the wines. Which is quite interesting, and I shared that I think this is what good chefs do - they can actually cook for specific wines. A case in point was this soup, which, if it were a thin soup with a watery base, would be so awful with red wine, but because it was not, it worked very well.

The 4th course was a pork tenderloin served on white beans and roasted onions. Succulent and delicious would be how I would describe this pork dish. Again, the meat was cooked a pointe - just cooked - showing some pink which is perfection. A very savory dish that paired well with the wine of the night for most present: 2004 Terza Volta Malbec. The Malbec really was the star, and it showed the point we were making, which was that Malbec is the red of Argentina. While the other wines were good, let's just say you could arguably find other Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon or Rose or Sauvignon Blanc from other countries and regions, but you will not find a better Malbec than the ones they produce in Argentina. This wine stole the show, and if this was the only wine we were pouring that night, that would have been just fine for most present. Rich and flavorful in the glass, the wine keeps giving, and is major bang for the buck at just $14.99 a bottle.

The fifth course was rack of lamb, a clear winner at the outset, expertly prepared, again, medium rare, perfect, not bloody but tender and juicy. This course paired with 2 wines, 2004 Terza Volta Cabernet Sauvignon and 2003 Bates Red Wine (Malbec, Merlot, Syrah). There were fans of the Cabernet, which is silky and easy to drink, but probably runner-up wine of the night was the Bates, which, incidentally, is approximately 70% Malbec - this too was rich and layered and the finish went on and on. A great wine with a meat like lamb, and of course, would sing with beef.

The final course was dessert, which was paired with coffee, and by this time, everyone was satiated and starting to fill out their order forms for wine, which I happily collected, along with comments about how great and affordable these wines are. Definitely great quality-price ratio on wines from Argentina, especially small production stuff like what we were tasting.

It was definitely a successful evening, and a testament to how great it is to work directly with importers who will partner with you to promote wines they personnally have selected halfway around the globe. There's nothing like it. Because at the end of the day, passion is the whole thing behind wine. If there's not passion, it's just another beverage that gets you wasted, and that's no good at all.

You gotta have passion.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Beauty of the E-mail Blast

I used to think that no one read e-mail blasts, but I was wrong - people do.

Today I crafted an e-mail blast to our customer base, telling them about our older vintage Rieslings (a 1979 Karthauserhof Auslese and a 1992 Wegeler Rheingau Auslese) and our newly arrived Spatburgunders from Rudolf Furst and Friedrich Becker. Within 30 minutes of sending out the e-mail, we received an order for a couple of bottles of the Wegeler Auslese; within 2 hours we received an order for 4 bottles of Becker Spatburgunder; and during this time, a coworker of mine saw my e-mail and said, "Oh, you have a 1979 Karthauserhof Riesling? I didn't know that!"

So people do read e-mails on wine. Fantastic.

This week, I'm attending several wine events. Tomorrow evening, a tasting of Barolo and Barbaresco put on by my coworker; I'll be attending as a guest. The following evening, a wine dinner featuring Argentine wines - this one I'll be working, pouring, along with the importer. Hopefully we'll sell a lot of wine. We should. They are wonderful wines and Argentina is hot hot hot!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Great Wine Week

Today is Sunday, and it's morning, I've got house guests and they are all sleeping, so instead of annoying them with the tap-tap of fingers on keys, I decided to treat myself to a jaunt out of the house (it's a respectable 8:30 am) with a Starbucks coffee, a blueberry muffin, and a half-hour or so at Kinkos for a little blogging fun.

What a week! I was stressed out for most of the week, unfortunately, because planning a party for 40 or 50 people apparently does that to me! A little overwhelmed. Fortunately, the party last night was a HIT and my hubby, for whom the party was for, was very happy, and so were the guests, I am told. We ate nice food (oysters freshly shucked by friend who flew into town for the party; a variety of seafoods and rack of lamb, barbecued burgers - in January! gotta love Californian weather) and drank nice wines (non-vintage Agrapart Blanc de Blancs was a hit as always - this Champagne just over-delivers every time; readers of this blog are surely tired of hearing me wax poetic about how great Agrapart et Fils is!) Great party. Belgian beers (which our store, The Wine Country carries a great selection of) were being poured from double magnum (3 Liter) bottles, along with Double Bastard from Stone Brewing Co., which of course was a lot of fun. And the company, the people, were the best, including hubby's parents, who flew in from out of the country to be here, everyone totally enjoying and having a good time, which in a gathering, is just the best. That's something that money can't buy. I love our friends & family!

So that was last night. I'm working backwards through the week here. My Wine of the Night was actually not a wine I provided, but a wine that owner Randy Kemner brought for me/us: 2005 Milz Trittenheimer Felsenkopf Riesling Spatlese - my God, I could not put this wine down! It was just perfection. I could not stop sipping/drinking this wine - it was pure quality in a glass. I think Randy bought my last bottle of this wine, since we are onto the 2006 vintage for Milz. The flavor was fresh and pure and delicate and ethereal, and in the words of importer Rudi Wiest: "Hey if you can find me peaches and pears and apricots that taste like this, I want it!" Rieslings from the Mosel go beyond fruit juice. They simply possess an indescribably beauty - my first sip, and I told Randy, "Wow, that brings back memories!" Yeah, memories of riding up that steep vineyard in Trittenheim with Marcus Milz in his motorized gizmo that takes pickers up that 90 degree grade of a hill covered with Riesling vines. That ride that made me realize I *do* have a fear of heights - who knew?? At any rate, you don't need to have been to the Mosel to appreciate how utterly fantastic these wines are. Sigh.

So that was Saturday. A success. In more ways than one.

Back up to Thursday. We had a fun tasting of wines from the Teusner winery in the Barossa Valley, Australia. This was a consumer tasting in our store, and we featured The Grateful Palate importer representative David Townsend, who comes up all the way from Temecula to do a tasting for us. Distributor Henry Wine Group's representative Pete Stolpman was also there to show his buddy Kym Teusner's lovely wines. Great stuff. Unfortunately, we only had a turn-out of 29 people for a tasting we should have seen 50. I think Australian wines have fallen out of favor and people have turned against them. Too bad. There are many gems there. Many gems that are not the overblown out of balance alcoholic creatures people have come to hate. There is elegance in some wines, and these Teusner wines have it. We featured the Joshua and the Avatar, both Grenache, Shiraz, Mataro blends, and The Riebke and the Albert, both 100% Shiraz. What makes these wines fine is that they are made from old vine fruit, and the winemaker's style is toward a more European/French/food-oriented style, which is nice. They are not fruit bombs, though of course there is lush fruit on them. My favorite of the bunch that day, the one that showed fantastically at the outset was the Avatar, aged 18 months in old oak barrels. This was the 2004 vintage by the way. Lovely, right out of the gate, such mouthfeel and complex layers. The second favorite was the Albert, also a 2004 vintage - what a Shiraz - the last bits in the bottle were the best - I'm assuming this wine needs some air, some decanting. At any rate, it was a great tasting.

Still earlier in the week, and I believe it was Tuesday, my day off, I got invited to a wine lunch. At first, I really wanted to decline - I want to be away from the whole wine thing for a day out of the week if possible, but I relented and ended up going to L'Opera, a beautiful Italian restaurant in downtown Long Beach, where I know the G.M. I was invited by Estate's Group representative Mosha, and we were meeting with Stacy and Chris from the people that represent Angove's from Australia. This is an old winemaking family business that has expanded widely because they established early and owned a great amount of vineyard property. I have had experience with their wines and liked them, also for the similar reasons that I like Teusner's wines - they tend to be on the elegant, lower alcohol side (eg. 13%), not oaky, not over-the-top. At any rate, I enjoyed a nice lunch, sampled their 2007 Nine Vines Rose, 2005 Vineyard Select Clare Valley Riesling, among other wines such as their Vineyard Select Shiraz, Chardonnay and Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, of which I have now forgotten what the vintages were. Overall, nice wines, very user friendly with food. We'll likely bring some of these into the store in the near future, to join the 2006 Angove's Nine Vines Viognier which I currently have in stock.

There was another Australian tasting I did this week, and that was the portfolio of Grant Burge. I'll be honest and say the only one I liked was their 2002 Grant Burge Holy Trinity (GSM) which I have tried before and we were carrying in the store. That's a wine with some complexity that I enjoyed, plus the name is great and the label is great, and I'm starting to think this is really pretty important if you want your wine to sell.

Well, that sums up my wine-intensive week! This coming week will be pretty intense also. I've got a wine dinner featuring Argentine wines for Thursday, and a Mosel-Saar-Ruwer tasting that I'm hosting on Friday evening, during which time I will be given the opportunity once again to go on and on about one of the most beautiful places on earth, while savoring its sumptuous products. I really do love my job.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Hansjorg Rebholz bought his wine from our store!

This was the highlight of my day. German winemaker Hansjorg Rebholz bought his Grosses Gewachs Im Sonnenshein Weissburgunder from our online store to send to someone in the U.S.A. How cool is that?

My wish is to grow our German wine department into a well-known one. It's still relatively un-well-known. Too bad. We will grow it. The wines are so awesome and awe-inspiring and delicious, plain and simple. No need to talk yourself into liking them. No need to burn or drench your taste buds with them. They sing, they dance, they tempt, they seduce. But in a good way, not in a bad way!

This entry does not do them justice. Suffice it to say, German winemakers know our store (Hansjorg has been to our store), and they know where to find their wines in the U.S.A. Yay!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

New Year Post

It's already the 9th of the year and this is only my first post. Haven't been writing much. Hmm. Been drinking a lot of wine but not much to write I suppose. Plus I have been busy. Planning a party for 40 people that will go off in about 10 days, working almost nonstop, writing for our newsletter when I do have any time off, and sticking to a sort-of new year's resolution to run at least 3 miles a day 5 days a week...

Also, our running group website manager asked me to write something about nutrition for the running club newsletter, which sounds good, but I need to get that rolling as well.

There's an idea. I could get that rolling here.

I want to start that article by saying that yesterday I heard on the radio that they did yet another study on this subject and found that the people who drink moderately and exercise are the least likely to suffer from coronary heart disease, that is, less likely than those who drink moderately and don't exercise, and those who exercise but don't drink, and definitely less likely than those who neither exercise nor drink moderately.

Having been a dietitian/nutritionist for 12 years prior to my recent stint as a wine buyer and seller, I always chuckle when they release yet another study on something that has already pretty much been proven again and again, and pretty much sounded like common sense in the first place.

Like when I heard about a month ago that they did a study, and people on the Atkins diet, even though they might have lost weight on it, are more likely to die from heart disease than those not on the Atkins diet. Say it isn't so! Don't tell me now that eating bacon and eggs for breakfast, steak and mayo for lunch, and meat and salad for dinner is bad for you!!!! But I asked for no bun on my burger!!!!!

People often have no common sense when it comes to food. Or lifestyle. That's why I left that frustrating and often depressing life for a life in wine. The fun life.

At any rate, if I were to advise people today on how to life a healthy life, I would keep it simple. No calorie counting, no fat gram counting - none of that really counts. Look in the mirror and ask yourself: does it make sense that I can drink 5 cans of energy drinks per day and stay healthy? (My contractor was doing this and was recently told by his doctor: "No more energy drinks for you!" Shocking, I know.) Ask yourself, is it healthy for me to drink a whole bottle of wine every day? (hint: that's probably a little more than moderate). Ask yourself, should I be exercising more? (hint: probably - we are a sedentary lot in this country, or at least in the part I live where we have our cars on a leash. Look at places like Paris, etc, NYC maybe even. People have to walk their asses off everywhere they go.) Should I stop eating so much fast food? Um, yes! Should I start cooking myself more often, incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables? Um, yes! Should I pack myself a lunch and resist the temptation of the taco truck/burger and fries/chips etc.? Yes!
So that's all I have to say about nutrition.

Let's get back to partying. Next week, party. We're serving oysters and some other great appetizers. It's a celebration so we're going to have say 10 bottles of Agrapart 7 Cru Blanc de Blanc (non-vintage). Good stuff. Maybe not as ethereal as the vintage Mineral which I have described in earlier posts, but the non-vintage 7 Cru will do just fine in this party situation. Just fine!

For reds, I have already picked up 2005 La Cabotte Cotes du Rhone and 2004 Zenato Valpolicella. These are two great wines about $10 a piece, a steal really. Great party wines, and if there are any left over, I'll be happy to drink them any time of the week.

For white wines, I will probably pick up a few bottles of Sancerre, though I haven't decided which one. Stay tuned!