Some Wine Notes from the Aspen Food & Wine Festival

The Aspen Food & Wine Festival takes place every year in June. It’s a weekend full of much wine and food (sometimes too much) with seminars by celebrity chefs and wine folks, grand tastings with wineries from around the world and all around imbibing by all. As one chef put it this year, this is the place where people use the term ‘altitude sickness’ instead of hangover. Luckily, after doing this a bit, I’ve learned that the key is pacing yourself. By doing this, I made it to the early seminars, enjoyed some morning runs and hit every grand tasting, where I discovered some cool producers and some even cooler packaging (which I’ll report to you in a future post).

Champagne – One of those early 10am seminars covered Prestige Champagne. Prestige Champagne is the top cuvee of a Champagne house – often the best of the best. As expected, my favorite was Krug. Always said that if Champagne houses were sorority houses, I’d pledge Krug. I was also very impressed with the 1996 Pommery Cuvee Louise. The 1996 vintage was one of the best of the decade and the wine is still extremely fresh and bright, indicating the potential to age further. But the wine that most impressed me came from producer Alfred Gratien. The NV Alfred Gratien Cuvee Paradis Rose Brut was delicious! This brut rose is aged in bottle six years before release and production is under 20,000 cases/year. The nose showed raspberries & strawberries and the palate was full of bright fruit and crisp acidity. Yet the wine is medium to full bodied. This is definitely a food Champagne – would be perfect with salmon, roast chicken, or, as the panel recommended, BBQ! This prestige Champagne retails for about $130, one of the lower prices of the tasting. Later that evening, we tasted the Alfred Gratien Brut Rose NV. This was a lovely wine as well – not as complex as the Cuvee Paradis, but another great food wine and summer sipper (but not out of a plastic cup).

Grand Tastings – Four Grand Tastings, each only an hour and 45 minutes long, hundreds of booths = too little time to do it all! But I was able to do enough to find a couple of gems.

Hall Winery – I’ve long been a fan of Kathryn Hall Cabernet Sauvignon. While so many Cali Cabs are charging upwards of $150 a bottle, the Kathryn Hall sits at $70. It’s a mix of sweet spice, black fruits and super smooth tannins. Very approachable now, this is a wine for those who like big, fruit-driven California Cabs. Plus, Kathryn Hall herself is gracious and lovely. The discovery wine at the table for me was the Hall 2005 Bergfeld Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Oh yeah, this was big & smooth. It looks like it’s only available at the winery right now (though I’m looking into that) and retails for $100. I’d still pick the Kathryn Hall Cab, though, as it’s got that great price tag and those sweet fruits & sweet spices – warms the soul…

Benziger – Yes, I’ve tasted Benziger before, and really enjoyed it. But I had not yet tasted the Signaterra brand… WOW. All these wines were really amazing. Benziger is 100% biodynamic, and while some practices may be slightly wacky, the wines are  pretty incredible. The Sauvignon Blanc from Russian River is probably my new favorite SB from California. It’s intense but elegant and so well balanced. The Pinot Noir is also delicious. But the Three Blocks, the Cabernet/Merlot blend, blew me away… This was fantastic. Big with great structure and layers of flavor. Complex. Love this line of wine. Stay tuned as these wines will be in stock shortly!

These are just some of my newer discoveries. A few consistent favorites:

Penley Estates – the Chertsey is a great Bordeaux blend, and the Hyland & Phoenix are excellent as usual – also great values!

Innocent Bystander – Great label, great wine, great value. Cool climate wines (from Yarra Valley) are some of my favorites.

d’Arenberg – I really do love just about every wine they make. Had a chance to taste the Dead Arm. Lives up to the standard – delicious.

Mulderbosch – Yes, love the Sauvignon Blanc, Rose &  the whole line up.

Rhone Valley Wines – the trade organization was pouring quite a few, including D’Aqueria Tavel, Guigal Condrieu and Perrin Vinsobres.

Look forward to hearing your favorites!

Wines that taste good from a plastic cup

It’s summertime, and the drinking is easy… and more often – we’re sipping wine during the day at BBQs and parties, in the sun and occasionally out of a plastic cup. I think of wine as seasonal and this is the season for crisp whites, juicy reds, and of course, the ultimate summer drink, rose! A good number of these wines are ideal for summer’s most popular container – the plastic cup.

Some of my favorites that fall into this category:

Sauvignon Blancs Sauvignon Blanc is a perfect summer wine, particularly on those very hot days. They are excellent when served superc old, and their acidity is so deliciously refreshing. It makes a day gone bad become good. Chile and New Zealand are doing some excellent wines right now- some of my favorite producers include Santa Rita Floresta & Seresin.

Rosé – I am a rose junkie. From about April to September it’s what I like to keep constantly stocked in the fridge. Just can’t get enough of the dry pink drink. Crisp and refreshing like a white wine, but with lingering characteristics of the red wine it never became.  California, Australia, South Africa and France are my favorites for dry rose. For specific producers, check out Mulderbosch, Bonny Doon, Chateau d’Aqueria, and Angoves.

Riesling – Riesling is too often overlooked because it’s the feared “sweet” wine. Not in every case! Not even in most cases. And the wines that are slightly sweet are balanced by a searing backbone of acidity, which gives it balance – something a good white wine needs. Add this to the reasonable alcohol level and you’ve got a perfect wine for BBQ food and long days in the sun. Try Pewsey Vale from Australia or Dom. Schlumberger from Alsace.

Off the Beaten Path Whites – I love cool and different grapes, like Albariño, Torrontés and Grüner Veltliner. Try something new if you have not yet done so, as you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Beaujolais – Juicy is the best word to describe Beaujolais. I like to serve it slightly chilled and it goes great with lots of food styles. Duboeuf is a classic producer of Beaujolais.

Rhone Reds –Rhone wines are great all year round, but they are delicious for pairing with anything off the grill, which makes them perfect summer reds. The Delas St-Esprit CDR is particularly good.

Zinfandel – Jammy and fun, Zinfandel is the typical wine for BBQ. It’s got the fruit, spice and tannins to match all that spice & sauce. Just watch the alcohol, it can be dangerous… Some great Zins are made by Murphy-Goode, Kenwood and Ridge.

Wine Recommendations: Week of June 15th

My wine recommendations for this week are White Rhone blends.  

White Rhone blends are wines made from the white grapes used in France’s Rhone Valley. They include Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Picpoul, just to name a few. What’s great about these wines is their adaptability to food. They typically have great acidity, balanced by stone fruit flavors and a medium body, giving the wines a bit of weight. But, because these wines are always blends, they differ in composition. Add that to the difference in geography (we’ve got white Rhone blends from France, the US, Australia & more), and you have quite an array of wines.

Here are some of our favorites. A few on the everyday side, or under $20, and a couple on the splurge side, over $20. 

  

Everyday Whites

Splurge Whites

Gift Tips for Wedding Season

It’s wedding season. We’re travelling coast-to-coast, from destination wedding to hometown celebration, watching friends and family tie the knot. Sometimes we have more invitations that we can get to, but wedding season does mean one thing – gifts for the couple. If you’re like me, you’ve already been to a few weddings this year, but have not yet gotten the gift. This always puts me in a pickle because when I check the registry, it seems completely picked over and I can’t imagine my friends REALLY want yet another set of crystal glassware. I mean, it’s crystal. When do we ever drink out of crystal?

I wanted to share a few ideas for you, wedding friends, that are sure to make any wine-loving couple happy.

Two words – WINE CLUB. Such an easy, perfect gift. You can do anything from three months to a year, with an entry-level club or a high-end club. The gift that keeps giving… and while you can have too much glassware, you can never have enough wine to drink out of them! We’ve also got a great list of wedding gift ideas from our wine and gift selection.

Wine Registry – encourage friends to join our community & create a registry wine list with all the wines they love! Again, you don’t have to worry about someone else buying that same wine, as you can never have enough of your favorite! To join our community, just go to www.wine.com/v6/community, create a profile page and then create a list. You can add any wine you want to that list and share the link with your friends.

And… we’ve just launched our wedding services, which include free wine consultation for your wedding wines – just e-mail weddings@wine.com with your theme, budget and state and any other pertinent information – we’ll get back to you with some answers!

What it means to be GREEN

Sustainable, organic and biodynamic are the current buzz words coming from wineries across the globe. Wineries and winemakers are making big green strides in the vineyard, as well as the cellar by utilizing these practices. Here’s a bit about all these concepts and what they mean for the wine you’re drinking, particularly what it means when Wine.com calls a wine GREEN.

Sustainable Practices

Sustainable can be defined by three main goals – environmental stewardship, economic profitability and social and economic equity. That means that sustainable farmers are doing their best to give back to the environment and to the community, while also furthering their business. Sustainable farming may occasionally use synthetic materials, but only the least harmful and only when absolutely necessary. The goal is a healthy and productive soil that produces healthy vines and will continue to do so for future generations. Most certification organizations cover organic or biodynamic practices only. Because sustainable winegrowing is a broader term, there are less certification bodies for it. A few that do certify sustainable wineries are: LIVE (Low Input Viticulture & Enology) and the just-launched Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine, who promptly displays the tagline “Sustainability is a movement, not a buzz word,” on its landing page. Both are based in Oregon, the state that seems to be leading the sutainable certification process. We do think that more certification bodies for sustainable winegrowing and winemaking will pop up in the future, but at the moment there are not as many as the organic movement. Some sustainable producers I like: Argyle, Benton Lane, Domaine Drouhin, Willakenzie Estate, Willamette Valley Vineyards and Ponzi. Note that some of these producers may not have the green symbol because, while they practice sustainable agriculture, the wines are not specifically certified. Future vintages that do have certification will be green.

Organic

Organic farming is one step up from Sustainable. Farmers use no synthetic materials, but rely on natural fertilizers and pest control systems; the winery uses minimal filtration and fining materials and natural yeasts. The key here is excluding the use of any synthetic materials in the vineyard – no fungicides, no pesticides. Instead, crop rotation, cover crops, compost and biological pest control are used for the vines. Most wines termed “organic” are made from organically grown grapes. For a wine to be deemed fully “organic” by the USDA, it must contain no added sulfites. Sulfites act as a preservative, and while most producers using organically grown grapes use sulfites minimially, any addition of them deems the wine unworthy of the USDA’s “organic” label. But there are lots of other organizations other than the USDA that certify organic wines. Some of these organizations include California Certified Organic Foundation and Oregon Tilth. Some US organic producers that are delicious- Frogs Leap, Hagafen Cellars, and Sokol Blosser. Note that Sokol Blosser Evolution is not organic.

Biodynamic

While trendy now, the biodynamic movement started almost a century ago in the 1920’s. In response to growing concern among European farmers regarding crop vitality in an industry increasingly dominated by chemical materials, Dr. Rudolf Steiner gave a series of lectures presenting the farm as a self-sustaining, living organism that needed to follow the earth’s schedule rather than the farmer’s. In 1928, the organization Demeter was formed. Demeter International is still around today and is the only certifying body for Biodynamic wines. Biodynamic practices use herbs, minerals and even manure for sprays and composts. They also plan vine care and harvesting schedules according to the astronomical calendar. The way Demeter so accurately sums it up: “Biodynamic® agriculture is an ecological farming system that views the farm as a self-contained and self-sustaining organism. Emphasis is placed on the integration of crops and livestock, recycling of nutrients, soil maintenance, and the health and well-being of the animals, the farmer, the farm, and the earth: all are integral parts that make up the whole.” If you look at some of their practices, such as using a spray made from manure buried in a cow horn for a year, it may seem a little hocus pocus, but all you need to do is taste the wines… the end product is usually stellar, and more and more wineries are starting to move towards these practices. A few producers who are certified biodynamic by Demeter USA: Benziger, Bonny Doon, Grgich Hills and Robert Sinskey. While their wineries are certified, not all of their wines are, since some grapes are sourced. We try to be as accurate as possible when calling a wine green so you may not see green symbols next to all these wines.

It’s also important to note that there are many organic and biodynamic wineries in Europe who have been practicing this type of farming for decades or longer, but they have not been certified due to the cost or bureaucracy involved. Some of them just don’t see the point – they dont’ care about it for marketing purposes and are just doing what has always made the best wines. Some green folks overseas who are certified include: Vietti, Chateau Beaucastel, Chapoutier, Seresin, Muga and Di Majo.

For finding “green” wines at Wine.com, look for our green wine icon. This represents those wineries using one of the above practices. Let us know which vineyards you know of who are practicing being green!

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