Mens March Wine Council Looks at five “Sweet Spot” Wines

March 22nd, 2012

Story and photos by Linda Kissam

March 2012 Lineup

The March Mens Wine Council tasted wines in the $13-$25 range.  This seems timely as retail customers are spending less for a bottle of wine than they did two years ago. In 2009 the $25 – $35 range was selling well.  New research tells us $15 to $20 is the new sales sweet spot – often producing a quality experience the wine lover will gladly shell out for.

This is great news for consumers everywhere. The new focus on wines in the $15-$20 has resulted in a kind of renaissance in the category, with more — and better — bottling’s available than ever before. Take a stroll down your favorite wine shop; you’ll see what I mean.  A local Long Beach, CA wine owner said he recently brought a few better-known, less-expensive “supermarket” brands into his store as an experiment, they went largely untouched. His customers preferred the experience and lifestyle tastes in the $15-$20 range, even if they had to spend a few more bucks to enjoy them.

2012 Tasting Group

You might also be interested in knowing that hundreds of people were recently given blind taste tests and asked to identify whether wines were cheap or expensive. Participants were right about half the time—the same odds as if flipping a coin. The cheaper wines do the trick just fine for most of us; the flip side is that few people even seem able to tell apart the cheap from the expensive stuff. And, as my Council members say every time we meet, “If you can’t tell a difference, why in the world would you pay extra for one wine over another? “

In this tasting of five wines, two really were stars, right in that $15-$20 sweet spot, and are worthy of your cellar.  Below are the groups rankings, first to last, food pairing winners, and my reviews of the wines.

Graffigna Reserve Malbec – Deep red with violet highlights. Expect aromas of very ripe dark berries, a touch of black pepper, and spice. On the palate delicate ripe tannins and complex finish with hints of coffee, vanilla and toast.  Suggested food matching:  Lamb ossobuco, salami, Stuffed Anaheim Chiles (*recipe on CityRoom Gourmet), garlic mushrooms, and bacon lettuce tomato appetizers.  An outstanding wine to serve with any brunch: Spicy and sassy.    $16

Brancott Estate Pinot Noir, ’09 – Deep garnet, exhibits cherry, plum and blackberry fruits. It has a jammy mid-palate displaying ripe cherry, subtle spice and rich tannins, with fruit weight carrying the full length of the palate to its finish. Let it sit 10 minutes before you taste it, or better yet, use a Soiree aerator.  Tastes best in a Riedel Vinum XL Pinot Noir glass ($59). Pair with tamales, pork, lamb, and dishes that incorporate mushrooms. $13

Robaliño Albariño  - This wine is very food friendly and lends itself to a smooth mouthfeel experience. I loved the citrus, grapefruit, lemon peel and white peach flavors, with pronounced floral and almond notes. Light, elegant, fresh and mouthwatering. This Albariño goes well with Tortilla Espanola, and Stuffed Anaheim Chiles.  $17

’09 Jacob’s Creek Reserve Cabernet.  This wine is deep crimson red with purple hues showcasing fresh blackcurrant and dark berry fruit which are typical Coonawarra characteristics. We thought we could detect hints of black olive with nuances of cedar and vanilla from French oak. Generous ripe cassis flavors with tobacco lead to a rich, smooth finish. An ideal accompaniment to bacon based dishes, salami, garlic mushrooms, ossobuco, beef rib roast or mature cheeses. $16

‘09 Dry Creek DCV3 Sauvignon Blanc – 100% Sav Blanc.  Pineapple fills the glass with pear, kiwi, and a hint of subtle ginger notes. On the palate, the wine is smooth, yet fat with more tropical fruit displaying a crushed minerality and refreshing acidity. Matches well with seafood.  Could be aged 3-5 years.  $25

What a Difference a Glass Makes! We’re Talking Riedel, of Course.

March 20th, 2012

By Maralyn D. Hill & Michelle M. Winner

Even in a good glass, the wine tasted much better in the right glass.

We grew up knowing that, just as coffee and tea taste differently from porcelain versus ceramic vessels, wine tastes better in crystal versus glass. Have you ever been at a great wine tasting and ordered the wine, only to have it taste different when you served it at home? It may well have been the glass. Of course, there are other variables, but the glass, its shape and construction make a huge difference.

Thomas Leman from Riedel Crystal (Photo by Michelle M. Winner)

At our International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association Conference in Las Vegas, we were fortunate to have a presentation by Thomas Leman from Riedel Crystal. We both have some Riedel, but not the Vinum XL grape variety specific. During his symposium, we tasted the difference and even those without highly developed palates shared a wow moment.

Let’s explore a little history first and save the tasting for last.

The Riedel family has been in the lead crystal business for over 250 years, with an eleventh generation Riedel leading the way into the future. In the 8th generation, Walter Riedel and his son Claus J. Riedel reopened a glass factory in Kustein, Austria, specializing in mouth-blown glass. They had lost all during the war and to their long-time friends, the Swarovski’s, offered Walter and Claus what was necessary to start again.

Ninth generation, Claus was the first individual to recognize how shapes affect alcoholic beverages, which changed the appearance of stemware. Tenth generation, George J. Riedel took his company worldwide in 1979 by continuing to operate the Austrian company and opening Riedel USA. He then moved forward to Canada, Germany, Japan, Australia, China and UK.

According to Leman, “Claus laid the groundwork for stemware that was functional as well as beautiful, and made according to the Bauhaus design principal: ‘Form follows function.’ In 1961, Riedel featured the first line of wine glasses created in different sizes and shapes. But it was the Sommeliers series in 1973 that achieved worldwide recognition. A glass that turns a sip into a celebration – a wine’s best friend – (became) fine-turned to match the grape.” At this time, Robert Parker’s, The Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, Decanter Magazine and well-known winemakers of the world were on the bandwagon and Riedel developed into the world’s leading wine glass company.

All Riedel wine glasses are dishwasher safe, which in our homes is a huge factor as well as in restaurants. However, mouth-blown pieces were cost prohibitive for average consumers. Enter Vinum Extreme, machine-blown lead crystal, which hit the market in 2000. Now, Riedel was affordable. When Americans were breaking stems and wanted something convenient, “O” was introduced in 2004. These stemless wine tumblers are still varietal specific. They are constructed with stems, which are then cut off and and the base polished.

Set up at the Riedel Symposium (Photo by Maralyn D. Hill)

In 2006, Riedel introduced its GRAPE varietal specific stemware, machine-blown in Bavaria, Germany. VITIS followed in 2007 and Vinum XL in 2009. Thomas said The Vinum XL, used in our tasting, was developed for big, bold and concentrated wines.

Now, we move on to the fun. At each of our place settings, we had a joker glass (rolled rim bar glass), Riedel’s Riesling Grand Cru, Pinot Noir, Oaked Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, comprising a Vinum XL tasting set.

Thomas told us, “To appreciate the different grape varieties and subtle character of wines, it is essential to have a fine tuned glass shape. It’s the shape that is responsible for the flow of the wine and where it touches the various taste zones of the tongue. The initial point of contact depends on the shape and volume of the glass, the diameter of the rim, and its finish (whether cut and polished or rolled edge), as well as the thickness of the crystal.”

With the first swirl, we could fully appreciate the bouquet. Thomas described the moment perfectly by saying, “When your wine glass reaches your lips, your taste buds are on alert. Once the tongue is in contact with the wine, three messages are transmitted at the same time: temperature, texture and taste. Wine is composed of different elements: fruit, acidity, mineral components, tannin and alcohol. It’s the sense of smell and taste that leads into the flavor. It is the glass shape which is responsible for balance and harmony of flavor, and Riedel was first to discover the concept: ‘The content commands the shape!’”

We did get into the look of the wine, with clarity, color, liveliness and acid, as well as its scent and scent of the swirl. Believe it or not, the four varietals we experienced had a different look, scent and taste, depending on the glass. There was a room of seventy attendees, saying, “Wow, I really can taste the difference.” Even the skeptics came around.

First came Grans-Fassian Riesling. After taking in the nose, we tasted as it went down the center of our tongues. Then we poured it into the joker glass and the nose was not at all the same. Next, we compared a sip in the joker glass with rolled lip to the Riedel glass without a lip. In fact, it was difficult to pick up anything in the joker and its taste was just “okay.” Pouring wine back into the Riesling Grand Cru glass brought back its aroma and delicious experience.

We moved on to Matanzas Creek chardonnay in a Montrachet glass. We had used this glass at home for red wine. What a difference it made, sipping chard in a large bowl glass.

A Cambria Pinot Noir in Riedel Riesling glass was another great example of the difference design makes. Even in a good glass, the wine tasted much better in the right glass.

With Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon, we used the Montrachet glass as the second glass. It too did not bring out the excellence the Cab-varietal-specific glass did.

We took our set of glasses home and have been tasting labels we favor, now in the proper glass and we are experiencing the “wow” factor. While most of us cannot store all the varietal specific glasses, if you wanted to start with three different glasses, we’d suggest: Riesling Grand Cru for floral white wines where aroma and tastes are dominated by the grape juice; Oaked Chardonnay glass where aroma and taste are dominated by yeasty fermented grape juice and oak influence; and Cabernet Sauvignon glass for bold oak-aged red wines with an oak influence.

So here’s to truly enjoying your wine and tasting influences and nuances the winemaker intended by creation and fermentation. We consider ourselves wine appreciators, not experts. But we learned what a difference a glass makes. Cheers!

Gérard Bertrand Awarded European Winery of the Year

March 14th, 2012

By Steve Mirsky

Gerard Bertrand at home in his vineyards

Up until recently I had no idea what the wines from France’s Languedoc-Roussillon region tasted like. I had my first taste at Tilghman Island Inn in Maryland’s Talbot County during a game & wine pairing dinner. I was impressed by its unique flavor profile. Lo and behold, a few months later I was alerted to the fact that Gerard Bertrand, an innovative and sustainable winemaker based in this same region was awarded “European Winery of the Year” at Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s Annual Wine Star Awards.

Gérard Bertrand inherited the passion of wine making at the early age of 10 from his late father Georges, a legendary leader in the French wine industry. “At that age my father said, “You are very lucky. When you are 50 you will have 40 years of experience.” After a successful career in professional Rugby, Bertrand was ready to dedicate all his energy to advancing his father’s legacy. Over the last 25 years, he has acquired 7 estate vineyards collectively totaling more than 900 acres, much of the land prized as having the most prestigious Languedoc-Roussillon terroir.

Gérard Bertrand not only produces a top quality portfolio of wines, he is a true Ambassador of the Mediterranean Art de vivre. His

Gerard Bertrand Cellars

2,000 acre carbon neutral Château l’Hospitalet in Narbonne serves as his headquarters and celebrates the region’s rich culture and unique gastronomy throughout the year with events like a Contemporary Art Festival (May), Jazz festival (August), and a Truffles Festival & Hunt along with a Christmas Market in December.  Culinary tourists can book a stay in one of the property’s magnificent rooms overlooking vineyards and the Mediterranean Sea.

According to Lauren Buzzeo, Assistant Tasting Director at Wine Enthusiast, several factors lead to Gerard Bertrand’s award this year. “Gérard is a true regional leader, working hard to transform the reputation of the Languedoc-Roussillon from an area known for mass-produced yet drinkable wines to those of exceptional quality, complexity and class.” Another factor is his commitment to fully biodynamic operations. He uses no pesticides or environmentally damaging farming practices. “We have an obligation to our children to preserve our land”, says Bertrand. Bertrand’s dedication to increasing market exposure here in the States helped as well. “Over the past year, Gérard has worked hard to increase his distribution and restaurant exposure by hiring and deploying more brand ambassadors. This not only helped him blossom over the past year, he is well positioned to gain substantial market share in the years ahead” says Buzzeo.

It also doesn’t hurt that Bertrand’s Gris Blanc, Rose and Muscato, all screw cap and under $15, have been a hit with millennials, the next untapped generation of wine connoisseurs. I am so looking forward to tasting more and discovering what Gerard Bertrand brings to us in the next few years!


Photos courtesy of Gerard Bertrand

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