Category Archives: Staff Picks

Baseball and Wine: The race to the pennant

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There is a saying every spring when it comes to the boys of summer: “Hope springs eternal.” Doubtful that 18th century English poet, Alex Pope, imagined that his words would be immortalized in baseball “hall of fame” expressions, but we hope he’d be proud. Baseball, the great American pastime, runs from the beginning of March to early October. Most teams have World Series dreams that begin early and  fade or grow as the season heads into the home stretch.

While many turn to beer and other beverages, more and more sports fans are taking the wine route as they root, root, root their teams to their pennant berths. I had a friend of mine, a San Francisco Giants fan, who always broke out a bottle of Sonoma County zinfandel for good luck. As the season came to its crescendo, she would go for the more expensive stuff. Baseball and wine, like any good match, goes together quite well. Here are my picks for the best wines with baseball that I will be pouring as my team heads into October.

I’d like to start with a bubbly, not too expensive but plenty good to whet the appetite and get the rooting lungs going. Just imagine watching the pre-game warm up with a glass of Domaine Chandon Brut from California. Elegant and tasteful, with sharp crisp acidity, this one would match well with sashimi, raw oysters, caviar and the like. Of course, one could just drink it by itself at the sound of the National Anthem. The first pitch is a strike. “What, the ump called it a ball!!!” Let the games begin. Real fans know that the first three innings are a dance between the pitchers and opposing lineups.  As more food comes to the buffet table,  I always make sure to have Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon on hand. You may say, “Wilfred, you are so boring.” Well, I just want to be pragmatic and if I don’t have these two on the back bar, someone will ask for them, I can guarantee that!

Dollars play a part in what I choose and this is the kind of event that I don’t really want to overspend.  Everyone will pour their beverages and plate their food with their eyes glued to the tube or, more likely, there will be a baseball argument of some sort. Food and wine play a supporting role here. My Chardonnay choice: The 2012 Veramonte Chardonnay from the cool Casablanca Valley in Chile. This wine is very good and quite affordable. You can even buy a few bottles extra, in case the game goes into extra innings. Cabernet needs to be easy to drink, yet definitive in its flavors. For this season I recommend the pert and clearly defined 2011 Penley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from the Coonawarra area of Australia. Now get ready for the final leg of the pennant chase. May the best team win!

Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon: Elegant, Wonderful and Timeless

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My first cab? I think it was a mid-1960’s Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve. My dad always enjoyed a glass of BV Georges on special occasions and somewhere around the age of 15 I must have taken a sip or two when he wasn’t looking. When I started drinking wine on my own, I discovered the 1968 BV Georges and the 1967 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard. Like all top wines of that era, they were elegant and stately. Over the next three decades California  ratcheted up of the power in this varietal. By the mid 1990’s, California Cabernet Sauvignon had evolved into monsters of the midway. Decidedly full bodied and tannic, they commanded attention and could overpower meals they were supposed to support.  Only the finest producers knew how to tame the new-age Cabernet Sauvignon, which leads me to Jordan Vineyards & Winery.
The winery comments, “When the first vintage (1976) of Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon debuted, it was an immediate success due to its elegance and early approachability, as well as its affinity for food.” As a retailer in San Francisco, I saw the first-hand reactions by my customers as they told me how much they loved this wine. The winery knew the style of wine that this area was destined to make and never wavered in their efforts to be true. While some wineries went bigger and bigger, Jordan maintained its balance. This is why I have always been a big fan of the Jordan Cabernets.

In a recent staff tasting at Wine.com, I poured the 2010 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon. I found the wine elegant and full of finely-tuned red fruit aromas and flavors. Aside from breaking the wine down into its components, the most important aspect of the wine was its completeness. It was not imposing or over-the-top. Isn’t providing pleasure one of the goals of a wine? As with this moment in time, I have never poured a Jordan Cabernet that was not appreciated by all. I had been drinking California Cabernet for more than a decade before the 1976 debuted in 1980, and while it may not have been my first Cabernet, it is what I am drinking and serving as often as I can. The Jordan Cabernet is elegant, wonderful and timeless.

Aussie Wines Rocking My World

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What do we really know about Australia and the wines made there? Maybe less than we should! Not only is Australia a huge country (sixth largest in the world) but it’s also the source of some of the world’s most spectacular wines. If you still equate the country with large-production value Shiraz and not much else, it’s time to take a closer look.

I got a full immersion into the wide variety of Australian wines when I judged in the Sydney International Wine Competition in 2012. As one of three Americans, I was treated to an Australian wine education by the Aussies, Kiwis and Brits. I was just a bit surprised by the complex methods used at this judging. The organizers brought in a top level chef to create dishes to match the categories. We were asked to write complete thoughts as well as recordings of our findings on tape.  In addition to participating in an incredible  judging event, we enjoyed wines from the cellars of many of the participating judges.

In the last month I’ve had two exciting Australian wine encounters that rocked my world. First, Michael Twelftree – Proprietor & Managing Director of Two Hands Wines – visited the Wine.com offices. Listening to him as we tasted his wines was simply amazing. The intensity and passion he conveyed made the tasting an experience of a lifetime. I learned that Twelftree was very adamant about producing wines of integrity and elegance in order  to shed the preconception that Aussie wines are mostly big and brawny. Three weeks later, I attended a presentation by Sue Hodder – Senior Winemaker of Wynns Coonwarra Estates – and found the wines equally remarkable; they were wonderfully rich and well-balanced. Both winemakers had succeeded in convincing me that their country produces truly world class wines.

While Shiraz remains high on my charts of Australian wines, I am taking a new path and seriously looking at Cabernet Sauvignons. Two of my current favorites are the super-rich 2012 Two Hands Sexy Beast and the elegant yet persistent 2012 Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon. Try either of these wines with a juicy steak and prepare to have your world rocked by Australia too!

Make Way for the 2013 Rombauer Chardonnay

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With the highly-anticipated release of the 2013 Rombauer Chardonnay, I got to thinking about how this varietal became what it is to the US wine drinking public. Like Cabernet Sauvignon, domestic Chardonnay kicked into high gear in the 1970s and really it has never looked back. When I started my competitive wine judging career in the late 1980s, judges felt rewarded when a competition gave them Chardonnays. It was the most coveted category in those days because it was the hot new superstar. Now, decades later, Chardonnay is the best-selling wine varietal in the United States because it is so consistently good.

At all price points, from under $10 to the-sky-is-the-limit, Chardonnay performs well. And not just those from California, but from all over the world, this wine clearly attracts the whole range of consumers.

Since 1982, Rombauer Vineyards in the Napa Valley has produced one of the state’s most sought-after Chardonnays. In all channels, from retail to restaurants, Rombauer is a leading performer. Because of its crowd-pleasing style and inviting flavor profile, it’s the perfect wine to sip on a sunny deck or serve to wine-loving guests.

I serve Chardonnay often because my family, friends and neighbors enjoy it, and Rombauer is one my top choices. The new release 2013 Rombauer Chardonnay, made from the winery’s estate-grown grapes in the cool climate Carneros District is another winner. It shows ripe tropical fruit and high quality oak in admirable balance. The 2013 vintage was nearly ideal in northern California and without question, this Chardonnay benchmark shows it.  Let’s celebrate the release of the 2013!

Wine Bloggers are here to stay

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One of the hardest groups to wrap our heads around is Wine Bloggers. Who are they? What do they do? What effect do they have on the wine business? In the old days, newspapers were the only venue, followed by wine newsletters (circa 1970). An aspiring writer had to have a column somewhere. Whether it was a small town paper, an urban newspaper or a syndicated column spanning lots of turf, writers were only considered bona fide it  someone thought they were good enough to be in print.

I attended my first Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland, Oregon two years ago. I met an array of writers from the simple enthusiast to the serious reviewer. Whether they wrote once in a while or often, I assumed that all of them could write, it was simply a matter of how big their audience was and whether they would grow. Recently I attended Wine Bloggers Conference 2014 (Twitter handle: #wbc14) and was even more impressed than I was in Portland. Perhaps because I had become a participant in the wine blogger world and now had a better understanding of what that meant.

The weekend proved extremely educational and enjoyable. Zephyr Adventures, the organizers of this event, put together a tremendous conference that included a little bit about everything. They covered a wide variety of topics, including an insightful presentation (The U.S. Wine Consumer: Who, What & Where) by Michael Osborn, founder and vice president of merchandising at Wine.com, and an incredible tasting of Santa Barbara County Syrah (Syrah Territory: Ballard Canyon hosted by Ballard Canyon Grower Producer Wineries).

As I completed my summary of the weekend in Buellton, I highlighted the Live Wine Blogging – Whites & Rosés as the most exhilarating of all. Two years ago, I poured wines. This time, I joined the bloggers and was seated at a table ready to taste, photograph and tweet. Some wine tasters might regard speed tasting as totally crazy and not productive, but I found that my palate could actually perform well in the ten minute window of chaos that each wine presenter was given. While I tasted and quickly recorded many wines, it was the 2013 Ferrari-Carano Fumé Blanc that I remember most. Aromatic and pure, with notes of citrus peel, melon and grass, the wine’s easy-drinking yet crisp palate stayed with me for a long time following the event.

How will wine bloggers figure in the business of wine? One doesn’t really know; some will blog once in a while and have little research to back their findings, others will write at the level of the great wine writers, most will be somewhere in-between. One thing is for sure: They are here to stay.