Wrestling with Rieslings – How to Decipher their Labels

DrLoosenWSTBA-375ml_labelDoes reading a German Riesling label leave you scratching your head and running for the beer aisle? Too much information on a label can be daunting especially when the words are in German. What the heck does “Kabinett” mean anyway?  Thankfully, there is a method to the madness.   The many designations on the label are designed to be helpful so that you can select something that you will like.  Once you crack the code you can be confident in what you are buying and even (to some extent) what it will taste like.

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A Tale of Two Pinots

Last night in muggy DC, I tasted two Pinots, both from Oregon. One, a delicious ripe & lively Pinot Gris from King Estate and the other, a savory yet delicate Pinot Noir from Eyrie Vineyards.

2007 king estaeKing Estate Pinot Gris– showed very ripe fruit aromas and flavors, including peach, kiwi and other such tropical fruits. Bordered on being slightly off-dry, but the zippy acidity kept it crisp and lively and balanced that ripe fruit perfectly. A delightful aperitif wine or with a chicken or pasta dish. We enjoyed it with an arugula salad with cherries & procuitto. A definite keeper for the rest of the summer. King Estate is a great place to visit, too, if you ever get the chance. Really beautiful winery!

eyriaSecond wine – 2006 Eyrie Estate Pinot Noir– Always a fan of Eyrie, this wine was a huge disappointment when first opened. I poured the wine into a decanter and put a bit in my glass to taste. The odor was terrible – acid reflux is  the best way to put it, and while I thought it may be reductive, it was unlike any reduced wine I’d had before. I changed glassware and re-swirled, only to find the same odor. The palate seemed lovely, but I could not move past the acrid smell. Luckily, my husband had more patience. As I moved on to a bottle of Syrah, he continued to swirl it around in the decanter letting more and more air into the wine. About 45 minutes after my first sip, I was given another glass. Thank goodness I took it! The odor blew off and the savory, delicate aromas that replaced it delighted my senses! Cherry, red and wild berry aromas, with a touch of spice. The palate had a good acidic backbone, with bright red fruits, some spice and a touch of meatiness to it that gave the wine the “savory” character I like. Wonderful with grilled pork (or what was left of it after the Syrah). Good length and excellent structure. Good thing we’ve got a few more of this wine left as now that I know the drill, I’ll be sure to open it well in advance and decant. I also think it will get better with a few more years in bottle. I highly recommend this wine, but give it time – both in bottle, and in the glass.

The story behind the wine- Eyrie Vineyards:

David Lett had an idea. He believed the the soils and climate of the Willamette Valley of Oregon were well suited to make exceptional Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and other Pinot varieties. In the mid-1960s, he planted his first vines in an old fruit orchard just outside Portland. His theory eventually panned out and people took notice when his 1975 Eyrie Pinot Noir showed well in an international competition that included the top Burgundian Pinot Noirs of the time. Oregon was on the wine map, and Eyrie’s performance in the competition even brought Burgundian winemaker Joseph Drouhin to Oregon to check out the scene. Seeing potential in the land and the wine, Drouhin founded his own Oregon winery, Domaine Drouhin, which resides near Lett’s Eyrie Vineyards.

Eyrie Vineyards produces wines that have character and a sense of place. You will taste that in both the Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris –they truly represent the Oregon terroir.

Eyrie lost its founder in October 2008. Lett earned the nickname, “Papa Pinot,” as his pioneering spirit opened up the doors for the Oregon Wine Industry.  The winery is now run by his son, Jason.

Can Trading Down lead to Trading Up?

A recent Gallup poll noted that the recession has not stopped consumers from drinking. Numbers are even from last year, with 64% of the population saying that they drink, the other 36% claiming abstinence. There were other stats listed of course, showing consumption differences between men and women, young and old. But one thing the poll admitted it could not adequately estimate was wine sales. Sales may be flat in numbers, but it cannot attest to volume vs. price point. As Gallup put it, “the recession may give people more reasons to drink, but less money to do it with”.

This is what we’ve noticed at Wine.com as well. During this recession, instead of seeing sales drop, we’ve seen people buy at a lower price point, but with a higher number of bottles per order – an increase in volume, a decrease in average bottle price. Why is this? The news continues to report that people are choosing to eat in more and out at restaurants less. Perhaps the rise in numbers of bottles per order reflects that choice. Or maybe people are in fact drinking more. Hard to say.

The interesting point to make here is that the trend of consumers trading down in wine has created  created an opportunity for these same consumers to trade up.

Here’s how that works: The recession has hit people’s wallets. Instead of eating out at restaurants, they are eating in. If they are eating out, chances are they order a less expensive wine than they did a year ago. Restaurants, in turn, are ordering less from distributors. Wine once allocated only to restaurants now sits in the distributors’ warehouse. Needing to move product, distributors offer the wine to retailers, often at a hefty discount. This discount is passed along to the consumer and there you have it – the opportunity to trade up has arrived.

So while you may have had to go from $15 to $10 on your everyday wine, you can now snag some $100 bottles for $40 and a few $40 bottles for $15. The savings are huge.

It’s a good time to be a wine consumer.

Pairing Wine with Fireworks

As with all fun, festive celebrations, beverages are key to your Fourth of July party.  And because you’re celebrating our nation’s birthday, keeping the wine American is a nice tribute. After all, our wine industry has come a long way since Mr. Jefferson’s attempt at vine growing in Virginia. As we gear up for the grill and what will go on it, I’ve been pondering the question – What to pair with it all?

Here are some wine picks for some typical 4th of July grills – some are common matches, but that’s because they work so well!


Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah – my pick for meat

So these choices are slightly typical. But We’ve got a great deal on the Rubicon Cask Cabernet Sauvignon ‘05, and it’s one of my favorite California Cabs (organic grapes, too!) – it’s perfect for a small gathering as it’s a more pricey wine. It would be amazing with a grilled ribeye with just a little salt & pepper. Yum…

For larger get togethers, you’re going to want fun AND affordable – stock up on Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon ‘06 – good producer for under $20.

Love Syrah with meat. I’m often torn between peppery, spicy Syrah vs. Juicy, fruit-concentrated Syrah… It’s great to find a wine with both and the Havens Hudson Vineyard Syrah ‘04 does just that. But it’s also on the more pricy side, at the $40 mark – but SO worth it! If you’re really adventurous, try pairing it with grilled leg of lamb.

For the everyday (under $20), crowd-pleasing Syrah, try Bonterra’s Organically Grown Syrah ‘06 or Bonny Doon’s Le Pousseur Syrah ‘05.


Oregon Pinot Gris– my pick for chicken and/or veggies

Oregon Pinot Gris is so delightful in the heat. It’s refreshing, but also so aromatic and lovely to sip over a summer evening. It’s hard to recommend producers as I have not yet had an Oregon Pinot Gris that I didn’t like! Some favorites include Adelsheim, Elk Cove, Willamette Valley Vineyards, Eyrie, Willakenzie Estate and King Estate. Most are on the ‘07 vintage, which was a cool vintage so the wines are nice and crisp. 2006 was warmer and that vintage produced a richer style of wine.


Rosé My pick for pork, chips & salsa or anything with a spicy kick!

Rosé can be a great aperitif before the dinner, but a hearty one will go great with pork or another meat, especially if you have some spice on it. From lighter style to heavier style & from dry to sweet – Etude, Bonny Doon & Red Truck’s Pink Truck are nice matches. Note that the Pink Truck is off dry, so some spice is nice (try salsa on the pork).


ZinfandelMy pick for burgers

The great American grape. With the great American food. The sweet fruits & spice are a great match to a juicy burger. Bogle Old Vines or Gnarly Head are great value Zinfandels. If you want to go a bit higher, try the Murphy Goode Liar’s Dice – it’s got some kick to it. Ravenswood is a reliable producer with lots of different single vineyard wines to try and Ridge is a classic – the Three Valleys is a great burger pick.


Bubbly –  My pick for fireworks

Okay, so you’re not grilling fireworks, but you definitely need some bubbles when you watch them! At the $20-ish mark, I love the Roederer Estate, Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs and Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut Rose. Also a great choice is the Argyle Brut – best bubbly in Oregon! So pop the cork and watch those fireworks sparkle.


 

Some not-so-common whites you shouldn’t miss this summer

“Off the Beaten Path” wines, or OBP as we call them, are some of my favorites to talk about. If you think about how many grape varieties there are, most would classify as “off the beaten path,’ since the average wine drinker only recognizes about 10 – 20 different varietal wines. When consumers do see varietals they don’t recognize, they often pass them over since they are unsure of what to expect.

Here are some less-common white grapes to look out for this summer and a bit about their flavor profiles:

Torrontés – This grape hails from Argentina (although its DNA roots are likely from Spain or another Mediterranean country). It is fresh & aromatic, with a nose full of white flowers and ripe pear or peach. The palate typically has crisp acid with citrus, floral and peach or pear flavors. It’s refreshing, but also has an almost creamy texture. Crios de Susana Balbo is a classic Torrontés, consistently good year after year.

Grüner Veltliner – The great grape of Austria is increasing in availability! Hurrah! Grüner (sometimes called GRU-VEE) is a wonderful grape. The aroma and flavor of white pepper is a telltale sign of a good Grüner, and adds a spicy kick to the wine. This spiciness is backed by ripe fruits and an excellent acidity. Very good food wine and at it’s best, can be very complex.

Chenin Blanc – Once over-planted and over-produced in California, Chenin can make a bad wine. But it can also make fantastically delicious wine! Wines from Chenin Blanc range from very dry to very sweet, come from France, South Africa & California, and are really worth trying! In blind tastings I often mistake Chenin for Sauvignon Blanc. The dry style has zesty acid and crisp citrus notes, but also some tropical fruit and a touch of honey, especially if any late harvest grapes were used. If you want to try the dry styles, go for Chenin from South Africa of a Savennieres from the Loire. A touch of sweetness can be found in Vouvray, Coteaux du Layon, some other Loire regions.  California Chenin Blancs can vary. so find out about the producer’s style before you buy. Dry Creek Vineyard is an great Chenin producer in the dry style.

Arneis – Hailing from the Piedmont region in northern Italy, Arneis makes interesting wines. They are nutty in aroma and flavor, with medium acidity. They can become oxidized after a few years, so drink it young. That said, the wines are delicious with peach and pear and sometimes a bit of chamomile. This wine can hold up to some food. Vietti makes an excellent Arneis and is one of my favorite producers of all things Piedmont.

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