Monday, August 25, 2008

Back from my first day!

Yep, it's exhausting, but it's not bad! People are actually pretty nice overall, they love Riesling, and they don't mind ordering some. What do you know?!?

Things I have learned:

1. Sometimes offices are on the second floor.

2. It is hard to walk up stairs with heels on, carrying a bag of 6 bottles of wine.

3. It's not impossible, it's just scary to think about it after the fact, and it makes me seriously consider sticking to flats (flat shoes).

That's all my mental energy will allow me to put out right now. I hit over 13 places today, 5 of them appointments. The rest were just to pop in and say hi. Oh, yeah:

4. There are a lot of places (restaurants and retail).

I'll have my work cut out for me! No shortage of clients out there in the big wide world. Woohoo!

PS I had lunch at Wahoo's taco joint. It was good. Brought back memories. I used to live near that one up on Wilshire Blvd. Ah, back to the old stompin' grounds.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

T'is the day before going out on the road...

The fridge is all stocked with samples before my first appointments to clients in the wide world. Monday should prove an interesting day of driving around in Los Angeles meeting with wine buyers.

Last evening, I had the pleasure of having dinner with great friends and drinking a fantabulous old Riesling - not too old but just old enough: 1994 Wegeler Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese. What a beauty! Absolutely balanced, with plenty of fruit for a 14 year old, soft mature Riesling flavors of baked apple, pear cider, pie spice, and dried apricot. Sweet but definitely not too. A wine that wows and never fails to impress. A stunner at only $37.99. I'm going to plan on drinking this wine a lot more often.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rollercoaster Transition Week but Not Without Great Wine!

So it's my last week full time at The Wine Country as I transition to working for Rudi Wiest Selections selling exclusively fine German wines. I'll be back working at The Wine Country part time on the weekends so I can see my friends, have fun in the store, and hand sell wines from all corners of the world.

So when there's change, even when good, there's a bit more stress and anticipation, but all is good. I'm so happy to be in the wine business, you cannot imagine. It's just a lot of fun, it's my dream job, and if I had to create an ideal life, well, I have it, so that makes me infinitely happy.

Much of this has to do with the people, and I cannot emphasize how important that is. If you know the folks at The Wine Country, then you know what I am talking about when I say this is a genuine bunch of great people through and through. This sort of thing starts at the top, with great leaders who choose good people to work for them. I'm getting all sorts of warm fuzzies just thinking about it!

This week, being my transition week, I've had coworkers cook for me, drink Champagne with me, crack open magnums with me, drink 10 year old wines with me, share German wines and tapas with me in a gorgeous outdoor patio restaurant, buy me and my husband dinner... let me just say that in my former life in the health care business, there were good folks also - there are anywhere and everywhere - but the wine business is unlike any other business other than maybe show business? ... but with much, much better wine and food!

But it would all lose its luster without people to eat, drink and laugh with. This is the truth.

Meanwhile, my next step in the wine business awaits. This means excitement and intrigue. New territories and potentials for spreading great German wine. The wines that refresh and enliven the palate. Great stuff.

In the meantime, here are a few of my personal notes on some fantastic wines I enjoyed this week. Life is good.

Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs Non-vintage Champagne

Out of the magnum at coworker Amy's house. One of the best Blanc de Blancs ever. Grower stuff, meaning they don't buy grapes, they grow their own and make their own estate grown Champagne. 100% Chardonnay. Crisp, a touch yeasty, crunchy apple, the most refreshing stuff ever. Very easy to drink too much of it! A serious go-to Champagne for anyone that loves Blanc de Blancs! Comes in 750 ml bottles too of course, and if you want to go all out, get the vintage ones (1999 for example).

2004 Didier Dagueneau Pur Sang

Out of the magnum bottle, this is our wedding gift from Sam & Carl a couple of years ago, and as one of our customers comments, what goes around comes around! Shared also at Amy's house served with some rockin' homemade coq au vin done in white wine (Touraine, also a Sauvignon blanc). The wine was developed, with pie spices and autumn fruits on the nose, while on the palate, mellow, rich, a touch of celery seed. I commented that it seems like white wines such as this and white Burgundy and Riesling all converge on this one taste profile after some years and years in the bottle - Sam agreed and said it is a white wine oxidizing thing. Not to say it is completely oxidized or anywhere near but it does develop this developed white wine thing. Tasty, interesting, different!

1998 Zind Humbrecht Clos Windsbuhl Gewurztraminer

Alright, I had to check out Samantha's Blog (Samantha Sans Dosage, see blogroll) to get the right name of the single vineyard for this wine as I'm not very well versed with Alsacian vineyards. This wine was fabulous!! I love sweet wines, but this was not ordinary sweet wine - 10 years old and fresh as a daisy! Lovely botrytis flavors (noble rot, which gives wines that luscious honeyed aroma and flavor), minerally salinity, dried apricot and pears. Not too much of that typical lychee tropical fruit thing - this is one heck of an elegant Gewurztraminer, a wine I couldn't put down, and wish I could have a whole evening with. Arguable, this was my wine of the night, even next to awesome grower blanc de blancs and Dagueneau!

Thank you for sharing this Sam! And a signed bottle too, by owner when he was at The Wine Country almost a decade ago.

2006 Kunstler Pinot Noir

Brought this to dinner with coworker Ronnie and his lovely wife Madeline at one of their local neighborhood restaurants Black Sheep Bistro. Love this place because it reminds me of The Wine Country - proprietor-run, unique, quirky, and full of quality. I love the wines of Kunstler, especially their Rieslings as they are full of mineral and complexity, not to mention some of the best fruit around. But this is their Spatburgunder, now labeled for the American market "Pinot Noir" - this is a very Burgundian, light-colored Pinot Noir that hits your palate on the light side but then as the night progresses, the wine builds power somehow! There's a lot going on and in summary, it's a pretty red wine that goes well with food, especially something full of different flavors, like a plate of 12 different tapas. In other words, this is a versatile red that sings with food.

2006 Von Buhl Forster Jesuitgarten Riesling Spatlese

Von Buhl is an estate in the Pfalz that hit it out of the ballpark in 2006 with their fantastic Rieslings in a very difficult vintage. While many estates, including theirs, experienced a difficult harvest where a lot of fruit was lost to rot (due to rain and warm weather during those critical harvest weeks), Von Buhl had the manpower and the expertise to select, select, select the best grapes out of their top notch vineyards and made the most beautiful wines ever. Their 2006 Armand Kabinett is one such wine, and we have sold about 35 cases of that wine this past year. This Forster Jesuitgarten Spatlese sold a lot less, probably because the price point is higher, but this is a top-notch vineyard is a special one. Okay, the wine: gorgeous, weighty without being too heavy, fabulous fruit without too much sweetness. In fact, its degree of discernable sweetness was such that one would guess it was a Kabinett, but its concentration and complexity tells you its a Spatlese. Drinking lovely, this wine paired well with the tapas and main dishes that followed, giving another thumbs up for white wine with meat (I had lamb chops).

So that's it for now, a week with great wine, lots of excitement, lots of love from great people - I love it!

Hope you all had a good wine week too!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

This will get opened tonight!

Almost 2 years ago, we got married and received some of the most beautiful gifts. Some of these were gorgeous bottles of wine. Some of these wines have already been enjoyed on various special occasions. Tonight, we will enjoy this:
Significantly, we will be able to enjoy it with some close friends and coworkers, in particular Sam and Carl who gave us the magnum of 2004 Didier Dagueneau Pur Sang to begin with!
Thanks guys!
What a fun two years it has been.
I'll post tasting notes tomorrow...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Pfeffingen and Snails

Some times, you just gotta have snails. Snails done in the buttery garlicy goodness that is the Burgundian style, a style that makes you think that some wise French person in the countryside, centuries ago, found some critters in the garden and decided that since the lettuce and potatoes hadn't quite come in yet, it was time to bake these little guys in the oven and enjoy with some crusty bread and crisp white wine.

And that's what we did. The wine of choice was the dry, almostly lemony good 2007 Pfeffingen Dry Riesling from the Pfalz. For a great price ($15.99), this wine delivers! Lemon custard on the nose, followed by a palate of clean lemon zest and Granny smith apple. Went perfectly well with the hot and bubbly Escargot Bourguignon. Can one ask for anything more? Well, maybe another glass of wine and other 6 more snails, please!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

2006 Ravenswood Merlot at Dinner

Just a quick post here, not much time. But I just wanted to note that last evening I went out for dinner with a good friend, and she wanted to drink Merlot, so she ordered something off the list, the 2006 Ravenswood Merlot. I honestly do not remember the last time I had Merlot with dinner, but I thought what the hay. It was $29 on the wine list and my friend mentioned seeing it at Vons for about $15, so cool.

My impression of the wine at first taste was that it was good. Not oaky at all, full of juicy red fruit, and even a hint of acidity, and definitely tasting of Merlot, according to what I remembered. Definitely drinkable and probable worth the fare. I can see why people drink Merlot!

By the end of the evening, though, I did get somewhat tired of the flavor - the wine had not improved or opened up like the way the wines I like do - it had the same one-dimensional flavor that it had in the beginning. It wasn't bad but it didn't turn into anything ethereal either. As such, I didn't really finish my last glass.

But there you have it, my review a on domestic Merlot! Bottom line, good, but not great! But not bad either!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

8/8/08 Proves an Auspicious Date for Intro to German Wine Class

As promised, I'm blogging about the Introduction to German Wine class we had last evening.

It was GREAT! Fantastic enery, fantastic wines. A group of 25 people assembled to hear what I had to say about German wine, and to taste what I had to pour. We had 12 wines, and they showed beautifully, and almost covered the entire story of German wine. I say almost because it is true that I did not have any Weissburgunder or Muller-Thurgau or Scheurebe or Gewurztraminer to show, as I wanted to showcase a number of new 2007 Rieslings that had just arrived.

We started off with a couple of Spatburgunders, one from Heger (2005) and one from Furst (2006). Both showed well, with the Heger giving impressions of dried herbs in Beaujolais, and the Furst showing silky cherry fruit and just lovely texture. Out of the two Spatburgunder, Furst was clearly the more elegant and better of the two, and if I had to choose, I would definitely pay the $10 extra for the lovely Furst. Unfortunately, there was much confusion over the names since Furst was poured second, and people kept saying they liked the first/Furst one, whatever that was!

Next up was a flight of dry whites: 2006 Juliusspital Iphofer Julius-Echter-Berg Silvaner Kabinett Trocken, which was a lovely example of a very long German wine name and a naming system that perhaps is undergoing some revision toward the more simple, hopefully, someday, and 2007 Pfeffingen Dry Riesling, a gorgeous wine with a nice, short, Americanized name. The Silvaner was bone dry, but showed a beautiful perfumed nose that many in the group liked. But my favorite of the two was the Pfeffingen Riesling, something I tasted at the Rudi Wiest vintage tasting back in June and loved. For a mere $15.99, this Riesling is a true winner, with a great fruity aroma and a palate that is rich, textured, fruity and dry, all in one. A refreshing lemony goodness pervades this little humble Riesling, and for me, was the value wine of the night.

The next 2 flights were 2007 Kabinetts. The first flight showed two Kabinetts that were on the medium-dry side: 2007 Gunderloch Jean-Baptiste Riesling Kabinett and 2007 Selbach-Oster Estate Riesling Kabinett. Essentially, these are both estate Riesling Kabinetts, the first one, Gunderloch, from the rich, red soils of the Rheinhessen and the second one, Selbach-Oster, from the slatey inclined vineyards of the middle Mosel. Side by side, these two Rieslings showed their terroir very well. The Gunderloch Jean-Baptiste had lovely weight in the mouth, with nectarines dominating on the palate, without excessive sweetness, a focused wine made by the expert winemaking of Fritz Hasselbach. In contrast, the Selbach-Oster displayed zippy acidity in a lighter, very Mosel-characteristic frame, full of mineral and delicate fruit. Two very good wines, also showing the clean character of the vintage 2007.

Next up were two sweeter Kabinetts: 2007 Monchhof Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett and 2007 Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett. Two well-known Mosel producers and their single vineyard Kabinetts. The Monchhof showed a great deal of residual sugar and simply a bright sweet cling peach aspect, a perfect wine for having with some fantastic Thai or Chinese food. Meanwhile, the Fritz Haag, while slightly less sweet in impression, was long and rich on the palate, with fine minerality. Showed side-by-side, I would choose the Fritz Haag Kabinett as the more complex wine, but of course, the Monchhof offers great drinking value!

Then, onto a flight of Spatlese. We had two here, one from 2007 and one from 2006, both from the Mosel. It was 2007 Monchhof Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Spatlese and 2006 Milz Trittenheimer Leiterchen Riesling Spatlese. Both single vineyard wines from steep, steep vineyards. Scary is how I described how these vineyards were in their inclines. These two wines showed more the differences between the two vintages than the differences between the two producers and their vineyards. The 2007 Monchhof was clean and fresh and delicious in its own way, without a hint of botrytis, while the 2006 Milz was significantly darker in color, with a nose of honey and dried apricots and a palate to match. The group liked both wines for different reasons, and I agreed. In fact, the botrytised 2006 Milz was maybe a touch more enjoyable as it seemed a bit more complex with that botrytis, but I have been known on more than one occasion to enjoy that 2007 Monchhof Spatlese with it clean yet firm fruit. Both wines came alive and created explosions of ecstacy when the blue cheese was brought out and consumed with glee.

Finally, the Auslese flight. I asked everyone to inject themselves with some insulin, and on we went: 2006 Dr. Thanisch Bernkasteler Lay Riesling Auslese and 2006 Wegeler Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling Auslese. This flight was delicious. The Thanisch showed its middle Mosel goodness that included a great deal of minerality and complexity, while the Wegeler from the Rheingau was big and bold, with rich fruit and body. Again, explosive wines with the blue cheese. We finished the tasting on a very high note.

In all, the tasting was auspicious and no one was unimpressed with the fine wines of Germany. My co-pilot for the evening, Megan Cutler commented that everyone bought something that night, that no one left empty-handed! I'm always happy when sales are good. But not only that, it seemed that everyone was in high spirits, having a good time, enjoying each other's company in the presence of these lovely wines. And that made me a very happy camper.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Guilty of not having posted in almost a week!

Yes, totally guilty! But time has been running away from me, so that's why. I have been enjoying some nice wine with food lately, so here are some pics.

The above is a dry Riesling from the Wachau, Austria - 2006 Johann Donabaum Riesling Bergterrassen Federspiel. We had this wine with a delicious chicken done on the grill - the recipe courtesy of my coworker, Ronnie. The chicken was halved and literally roasted on the low heat side of the grill, after being marinated in olive oil, Dijon mustard, herbs de Provence, garlic powder, salt, black pepper. Wonderful! Also done on the grill were a couple of halved nectarines with some sugar, and some summer squash. What a meal!

Truthfully, though, a Riesling with some residual sugar on it would have paired even better. Especially with those great grilled nectarines!

Ah, here we go. Good ol' 2007 Monchhof Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Spatlese, shown here alongside some grilled vegetables: yellow and red tomatoes and Chinese greens doused with sesame oil and a dash of soy sauce. Yum yum.

Well, looking forward to a tasting tomorrow evening of German Rieslings, a release of the the 2007s that we have, along with some 2006s that I love. I'll be writing about that tasting here, so stay tuned!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Yes, I did have a great wine week!

I wasn't sure how I was going to begin to post about all that's been going on this week with me, until I read one of my favorite blogs, Rockssandfruit by famous blogger and former poster on the board which shall not be named (where I discovered him, posting with great passion about German wines), Lyle Fass. Lyle posted a short post, at the end of which he said he hoped everyone had a good wine week. Well, that stimulated me to say, why yes, I did have a good wine week, a whirlwind of a good wine week, and so I'll dive in now and report on the highlights.

First off, on Tuesday, my day off, I went to the restaurant Benley, where I met up with Rudi Wiest representative Allie Mitchell, to show owner and chef Fong the German wines that go so fantastically with his French-inspired Vietnamese cuisine. Now, this is a local Long Beach restaurant that I simply do not frequent enough. My coworkers at The Wine Country are huge fans and regulars that the staff know by name, but sadly, I have only been there for lunch once before. It could be that I am generally not a lover of Fusion cuisine, since I am Chinese by descent and North American by environment and a self-professed Europhile, so Fusion is what I do at home on a regular basis and it don't impress me much. I am much more into classic cuisine by one culture when I am dining out, since I find the mish-mash very similar to general creations I put on the table at home.

But I digress.

The point here is that we went to Benley and showed an impressive array of German wines, all at price points that warrant consideration as by-the-glass pours. For distributors of wine, when they deal with restaurants (as opposed to retail, where my work is), getting on a wine list is good, but being on the by-the-glass program is even better, because folks tend to order wine by the glass because it is so low-risk and potentially high-return. It is also low-risk and high-return for the restaurant, because they can move the product quickly. In sum, having a wine by the glass at a restaurant is win-win for lots of people. So Allie brought a bunch of these relatively inexpensive German wines to show to the Benley chef.

Among them, the wines with some residual sugar did the best, while bone dry wines, such as the 2006 Wirsching Estate Silvaner didn't exactly sing. Usually, the Silvaner is fantastic with fish dishes and even raw sashimi, but with the often fragranced and spiced dishes that were characteristic of Benley, residual sugar seemed more pleasing on the palate.

The wines that were most impressive were 2003 Milz Neumagener Nusswingert Riesling Kabinett, which showed a great mouthfeel, considerable acidity considering it was an 03, and a candy-toffee-like finish which may have been characteristic of the vintage; 2006 Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Kabinett, which showed richness and complexity, indicative of both the large old oak barrel aging and the super-ripe vintage; 2002 Milz Trittenheimer Felsenkopf Riesling Spatlese, which was so tasty and not too sweet at all but plenty delicious on the palate.

Finally, the last wine is not really a value wine, but one of Allie's favorites which she tends to bring out to many accounts just because it is so good, and I have had it in the past but did not pass up the opportunity to taste it again - 1994 Wegeler Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese, a gorgeous, rich, complex beauty that is 14 years old, and always blows people away as a white wine that is 14 years old, which is only an adolescent when it comes to German Riesling, but if you haven't tasted a bunch of 1971s and 1959s, then it always comes as a real nice shock. That effect did come upon chef Fong, and of course that was the desired effect, and he was pretty happy when Allie offered that he could keep all these great bottles to sample later with some of his food after he was done with the dinner rush. I hope he did take this 1994 Wegeler home to enjoy.

After the wine showing, Johan joined us and the three of us had a nice dinner where we shared, family style, three appetizers (a refreshing chicken slaw salad that was so aromatic, a tender fried cuttlefish which was like calamari but more delicate, and another dish that at this time I cannot recall) and three mains (the curry scented flattened chicken, the grilled salmon, and the short rib). Everything was superb and we enjoyed this with one of the bottles Fong didn't keep for later, the 2004 Von Hovel Kabinett Off-dry, which did go well with the food.

To sum up that evening, Fong is fantastically great person, very nice, very organized, and loves the restaurant business and being a chef with a passion, and it was a pleasure meeting with him.

Fast forward to yesterday (Thursday) and I had the opportunity to meet some people that were on my list of people to meet: Terry Theise and Helmut Donnhoff. In the process, I met some other people.

It was at this function here, where The Wine Country owner Randy Kemner and I went up to West Hollywood to attend a seminar on Terroir. Not really sure that that was the draw - I think the real draw for most people, not just me, was listening to Terry Theise speak and also meeting some of his producers from both Austria and Germany, and tasting some of those great wines in frankly a pretty nice atmosphere.

Interestingly, when we arrived at the venue, the hosts were in a bit of a tizzy because the hotel had not received all the wine they were supposed to for this event. ie. they were supposed to receive three cases of wine for the tasting, but only receive one case, and they didn't exactly let anyone know until the start of the event. A bit stressful for the hosts. Terry Theise was fabulously funny about the whole debacle, frequently using expletives to describe how **'d up the situation was. In fact, he intro'd the whole talk by saying that the original title to the seminar was "Why Terroir Matters" but the new title of the seminar was "What the Fuck?" Anyway, I found him genuinely funny and very nice, too. I did have a chance to talk with him personally for a bit before the start of the talk, and told him I enjoyed his catalog and his writing style.

So to apologize for the mix-up and the lack of all the wine they had planned on serving, Terry ordered Champagne from the list to take the edge off - Jean Milan Terre Noel Blanc de Blancs . This is a label I have seen before but never tasted, and it was GOOD! The nose was fantastically bright and fresh yeast and a zippy mineral quality. On the palate, it was fresh and zingy and as long as the highway to Vegas. Boy it was long! This is easily a wine to enjoy over the course of an evening!

Finally, through some logistical Plan B, some wine was delivered from a nearby wine store, which was from the producers present, but not exactly what they had planned on pouring, but at least it gave the audience something to taste while the producers spoke of their terroir.

So among those present were 2 Johanneses, Johannes Leitz, from the Rheingau in Germany, pictured standing in the first picture above, and Johannes Hirsch from the Kamptal in Austria, pictured above (our left, her right) sitting next to the standing Caroline Diel of Schlossgut Diel from the Nahe, Germany. The other gentleman next to Caroline is Terry Theise (our right, her left).

And above here is Helmut Donnhoff of the Donnhoff estate in Nahe, Germany. A very quiet man with a big reputation. This kind of reminded me of Bank from Lotus of Siam, a Thai restaurant of huge repute in Las Vegas, who has this huge reputation, but when I met him, he was so quiet! This was like Helmut Donnhoff. He spoke mostly German while Terry translated for us.

And last but not least, Christine Saahs of Nikolaihof-Wachau, where I have visited and met her son Nicolaus, the present owner, and his girlfriend. She spoke of the biodynamic way of making wine not as a way to make better wine per se, ie. she did not say that biodynamic wine is better than conventionally made wine, but that biodynamism is a way to understand nature better, and to have healthy soil and healthy plants first and foremost. And in that way, it points to the importance of terroir, in that taking care of the soil and its environs is of primary importance to the wine grower.
Some other notable quotes from the producers included:
From Johannes Leitz: "I don't see myself as a winemaker. I am a grapegrower and press-house worker." Basically, he is a minimalist when it comes to manipulation. It's about the land and pressing the grapes that come from the land.
From Johannes Hirsch: "We are in the third year of converting to biodynamism. We are now taking the make-up off. And we can see more clearly the problems. But that is good. No more hiding under the make-up."
From Helmut Donnhoff, as translated by Terry Theise: "I aim to make wines that are like a large symphony playing quietly." Which I believe alludes to not hitting people over the head with loud music, but soft music with so much complexity and tones.
From Terry Theise: Oh, where to start. "Grand Cru sites are the earth's erogenous zones." "My definition of terroir is a cause and effect explanation for the flavors in a wine. Not that the minerals in the soil go directly into the grapes, but that the soil components imprint the flavors into the wine. Respecting terroir is respecting the fact that something in the land imparts flavor to the wine, instead of treating the land as a production unit that you bend to your will to make the kind of wine you want to make from it. This is a different approach to nature where you work with nature instead of whopping nature into what you want it to be." "Low yield is not necessarily better. More intensity is not necessarily better - it can only be seen as better if the only factor you consider to be important is intensity - as though saying that all meat should be beef. We don't treat food this way, that we always want the most intense meat ever, and we don't treat music this way, as though all music should be heavy metal. Look at other qualities in the flavor."
Finally, the last thing I will mention about my wine week is that I have taken a position at Rudi Wiest Selections, selling wine in Los Angeles, starting in September. I am very excited about this opportunity. I will still work at The Wine Country on the weekend selling my beloved German, Austrian, and Southern Hemisphere wines, as well as the vast array of wines from around the world that are there at our fingertips. And I will get to see my friends on a weekly basis and still feel the kinship of the place that has taught me everything I know about wine.