Glen Manor Vineyards 2013 Raepheus. The Most Memorable Wines of 2017

I didn't truly expect to find world-class wine in Virginia.  Good wine?  Probably.  A beautiful country and a great time visiting a friend?  Absolutely.  In a year filled with extraordinary dessert wine experience, I would not have expected that a Virginian Petit Manseng would be one of the most memorable.  But it was.

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The wine is liquid gold, done in the style of Southwest France's Jurancon.  It has been described as the 'apricots of the gods with the soul of raspberries."  One of the few dessert wines that blends the complexity of fine Sauternes with the delicate character of Eiswein.  It slides across the tongue like a sword cutting snow and then reveals absolute beauty beneath. 

Raepheus is not only the finest wine made in Virginia.  It is quite possible the best dessert wine made in the United States.

Glen Manor Vineyards is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the views are stunning.  More importantly, the terroir and climate of the vineyards provide a freshness and acidity that doesn't exist in most other Virginia wines.  Steep slopes and high elevations are also keys to the success.

For five generations and over 100 years, the family has owned the property.  It was not an easy life and for a long time the family operated as subsistence farmers.  In 1995, the realization came that less fertile land is ideal for vineyards.

I visited the humble tasting room.  I saw the beautiful property.  I also saw the hands and faces of the owners and winemakers. Glen Manor Vineyards is truly what many wineries pretend to be; a wine made in the vineyard.  That isn't easy, but it is kind of righteous.

What ever else the winery may be, they made the 2013 Raepheus.  One of my most memorable wines of 2017.


You Don't Need Expert Advice to Pair Wine with Thanksgiving Dinner.

You really don't.  If you are struggling to pair the "correct" wine with your Thanksgiving Dinner, you are maybe missing the point of Thanksgiving.  And perhaps also the point of wine.  Please allow me to explain...

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There is a deluge of Thanksgiving wine pairing articles are easy to write and easy to read, but the sheer number of them can make you think that pairing wine with your Thanksgiving table is somehow difficult.  It isn't.  It might not even be that important.

Thanksgiving is at its core a harvest celebration.  We give thanks for the bountiful crops of the summer and prepare for the lean times of winter.  The table abounds with a overabundance of meat, vegetables, and more.  And that is what makes the concept of wine pairing with it so irrational.

Precision wine pairing - finding the perfect pairing - is simply not relevant during a celebratory feast.  For most of us, the Thanksgiving meal isn't a crisp progression of courses.  It is a delicious free-for-all of flavors, family, friends, and probably football.  There are too many flavors in play, making a mouthwatering mingle of meat and vegetables.

Plus the flavors are relatively nondescript.  Turkey, potatoes, stuffing, corn, noodles, pumpkin pie!  These are some of the most versatile wine pairing foods in the world.  At most, you'll get a splash of sweet acidity in the cranberries and dark savory in the dark meat of the Turkey.  The neutrality of most of these flavors make wine pairing a cinch!

Love sweet white Riesling?  That will pair with Thanksgiving.

Love aged French Bordeaux?  That will pair with Thanksgiving.

Love explosively fruity Shiraz or Zinfandel?  That will pair with Thanksgiving.

The dirty secret is that almost anything will.  Better yet?  You can have all of the above at the same time.  If you enjoy a wine, you will enjoy it at your Thanksgiving Table.  But do not forget why you have gathered.

Celebrate the abundance of the harvest.  We have never had more choices.  The world of wine comes to our wine shops in a diversity that the kings of a few decades ago could never have experienced.

Time is fleeting.  Life is fleeting.  Family is fleeting.

Eat and drink and laugh and love with Thanksgiving.  Just don't stress out about the "perfect pairing."


7 Ways to Consistently Drink Bad Wine.

The wine world is difficult for anyone trying to drink truly bad wine.  The rampant flaws that plagued the wine world only a few decades ago have been mostly wiped away.  Modern wine-making techniques, refrigerated shipping containers, and a demanding wine trade have eliminated the vast majority of these issues.

Still, the modern world has gifted to us a new way of bad wine.   Bland, boring, corporate zombies of wine.  Wines made from irrigated deserts, high yields, and chemistry sets in the wineries.  And thankfully, these wines are slowly taking over our wine shops and restaurants.

To tide yourself over until the inevitable victory of boring wines,  here are seven ways to consistently drink bad wine.

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1.  Pick the 2nd cheapest wine on a wine list.

Sommeliers and restaurateurs know that most people don't want to appear 'cheap' and so the 2nd cheapest wine on a wine list is often one of the best sellers.  This is often where the restaurant puts its highest margin wine.  Frequently, this isn't a very good wine either.

2.  Buy wine in a big box store.

People love to buy from big box stores.  They think they are getting a great deal.  On most things they are right, but not in the wine aisle.  Any wine available in the kind of quantities that can service a big retail chain isn't going to be anything close to hand-crafted.

3.  Buy wine from a store without anyone in the wine department.

This is similar to number two, but is even more important.  If a wine store hasn't invested in qualified wine personnel in their wine department, you can bet that they are letting the ultra-large distributors run the show.  Those guys are going to put their corporate junk that "has to move" front and center.  You can count on the quality being sub-par.

4.  Buy wine from a wine club connected to a entity that doesn't normally sell wine.

I'm not talking here about that wine club from the winery you visited on vacation.  That wine is probably pretty good.  Nor am I talking about the wine club run by your local wine shop.  That is likely exceptional. 

I'm talking about the wine club run by a newspaper or some organization that promises discounts that are too good to be true.  They are correct.  The wine is consistently bland and boring.  It is also likely generic "custom crush" juice, since no one in the industry ever recognizes the labels they are selling.  This is a great choice for getting a bad wine on a regular basis!

5.  Buy any wine that you recognize.

Are you a wine expert?  Probably not, since they tend to want to drink good wine.  If you aren't an expert, please assume that reason you recognize the wine is because some large corporate wine company has dumped barrels of money into marketing to make you remember it.  They wouldn't do that if there wasn't hundreds of thousands of cases that they needed to move.  These wines are reliably awful.

6.  Buy a cheap red blend from California  (without doing copious research first).

Cheap reds blends are an important part of the wine world and a favorite of people that like good wines.  Just not cheap red blends from California.  The economics just doesn't work.  With the high costs of land and labor, you aren't going to get the value for money offered by a red blend from France, Italy, or Spain.

Also, most of these wines are sold on brand identity, not vineyards or regions or anything that denotes quality.  They are marketed like soft drinks and many of them have 'secret sugar' that makes your 'dry wine' anything but.  A great choice for bad wine.

7.  Buy Cheap Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir is one of the greatest of all wine grapes.  Maybe the very greatest.  It is capable of wines of incredible finesse, elegance, purity, and complexity.  But you don't want any of that, and that's why you bought a cheap Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir is such a finicky grape that it requires premium (expensive) land and skillful (expensive) cultivation.  This does not make for an inexpensive bottle of wine.

Cheap Pinot Noir often contains the minimum amount of actual Pinot Noir that is allowed by law.  Many California Pinots can contain up to 25% other grapes and they don't have to tell you that on the label.  Most of the popular cheap Pinot Noirs have so much blended into the wine that there is truly no hint of Pinot left in the flavor. 

It is perhaps the best way to get a truly awful wine in the modern wine landscape.


Video: L. Mawby and the Rise of Sparkling Wine in Northern Michigan

Larry Mawby of L. Mawby / M. Lawrence discusses the rise of Sparkling Wine in the Leelanlau Peninsula of Northern Michigan.

This is Episode #53 of the Understanding Wine with Austin Beeman video podcast.

The History of Growing Sparkling Wine in Northern Michigan.

Larry Mawby:

"We've been growing grapes here for just a little over 40 years and I'm the second person to plant a vineyard here, so this is a young grape growing area by international standards. Even by U.S. standards, it's pretty young. When we started, we had no idea whether grapes were possible to grow here. We had no idea what kind of wines we could make. We had no idea whether we had any customers that would care and be interested.

There was a lot of experimentation at the beginning and there still is a lot. When we started, I planted all French-American hybrids, because those were the varieties that were available, that there was some experience from the Finger Lakes, New York, that was similar climatically to us. We thought we had a good chance that they would survive the winters and that they would ripen in the length of growing season that we had.

Then, we started to plant Vinifera. We started with French hybrids in 1973, and in 1981 I planted the first little bit of Vinifera. Those were vines that I got from Oregon. At that time, I was really interested and my role model probably was Burgundy. I love red and white burgundies, and I thought if we grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir here, and make a credible table wines from those that would be a great thing.

We got cuttings from Oregon because they were the most serious producers of Pinot Noir in the U.S. in a climate that was anything like ours. California, doesn't make a difference what you do in California; we don't have that kind of climate.

We started growing those vines on a small scale in '81, and in '84 I decided to start making sparkling wine. Mostly at that point because all my experience, which was only 10 years of growing grapes and about 5 years, 6 years of making wine here commercially, was that we had short, relatively cool growing seasons, really quite cold but snowy winters, and that in cool growing seasons we struggled to get Chardonnay or Pinot Noir ripe enough to make a table wine but we always got them ripe enough for sparkling wine.

 The Brix levels that you want for sparkling wine are substantially lower, and because it's a relatively short growing season, because of the typical weather in the last month or so of the growing season, we get really good flavor to all of them at low Brix, which is really important for sparkling wine. That's one of the challenges that a lot of the California sparkling wine producers have is to get the Brix low enough to make a balanced sparkling wine, they have to pick really early in the growing season and there's no flavor development, so you end up with these awkward wines that have the technical parameters that you'd like but they don't taste right. That's why the really good sparkling wines in California are in the really coolest parts of the state.

We have naturally that kind of balance of sugar acid and flavor and aroma that develops, and it was pretty clear to me that sparkling wine was something that we could consistently do every year no matter whether it was a really warm year or a really cool year, we got the kind of flavor development that we wanted in the grapes to make nice sparkling wines. It was also clear to me that we had critically we had people from around the country and European sparkling wine critics had tasted the wines and said, "These have some real promise. You should continue do this sort of thing."

It was also clear to me that at that point, sparkling wine was only 15% of our total production. We weren't focused on it. We were making table wines mostly and we would make sparkling wine. It seemed to me that the real future was focus on sparkling wine, concentrate only on that, grow everything in the vineyard knowing that you're going to make sparkling wine from it, harvest it, ferment. Everything is about sparkling wine if we don't do table wines.

 By the time we started making sparkling wine in the mid-1980s, there were 5 wineries in this area. If a visitor came from, let's pick an Ohio, if they came from Cleveland or Cincinnati and wanted to visit the wineries here, they could come up and visit everybody in a weekend. It was doable. Well, by the mid-1990s, we had about 15 or 20 wineries, and we were adding a couple wineries every year or two. Today, we have 40, and so it was clear in the mid-90s that there were going to be enough wineries that visitors had to start making choices. They couldn't just come for a short period of time and see the whole wine region. They had to make choices.

What I wanted to do was to have them make a choice and have the people that walked into my tasting walk in interested in what I was doing, not just walking in, looking for cherry wine. I don't make cherry wine. We have other folks that do. We'd like people who want cherry wine to go to the wineries that make cherry wine and find that. It seemed to me that there was a possibility for us to specialize, but it took 4 years to eliminate 85% of my sales.

We make sparkling wine. If you're interested in sparkling wine, you think about us. If you're not, you think about somebody else."

Video: The Meaning of Wine with Larry Mawby of L. Mawby / M. Lawrence

Larry Mawby of L. Mawby / M. Lawrence answers Austin Beeman's signature question.  "What does wine mean to you?"

This is Episode #52 of the Understanding Wine with Austin Beeman video podcast

Austin Beeman: "What does wine mean to you?'

Larry Mawby:  "What does wine mean? Wine is an essential component of civilized life. It's like another food item. It's food for the soul as well as the body. It's a part of the civilized discourse around the table.

It's a lot more than that but that's the critically important piece.  For me, it's the way I make my living. For most consumers it is a tangible connection to a place.

A lot of customers vacation here.  Say, they live in Cleveland and it's January in Cleveland.  They open a bottle of my sparkling wine and they can be instantly transported to the time that they were here in Leelanau Peninsula in July and had a great time on the beach, in the water.

It's a great way for an urban dweller to connect to the rural, agricultural heart of the human experience."

 

Video: Going Deeper into Willamette Valley's Terroir. With St Innocent Winemaker Mark Vlossak (part 3)

Get ready for a master-class on the specifics of terroir in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  If you ever wondered why Oregon is so exciting a wine region, this video will make it very clear.

Join us for eleven minutes with St. Innocent Winery's Mark Vlossak.  It's well worth your time!  Vlossak discusses the intricacies of terroir and how New World Wineries - such as those in Oregon - deal with discovering and using it.  The focus is on why factors influence terroir.

This is episode #49 of Understanding Wine with Austin Beeman.

This is part three of a five part video with Mark Vlossak.

Pontet Canet 2007 & Pontet Canet 2008. A 'Vin de Plaisir' & a 'Vin de Garde.'

Jean Michel Comme holding court in full view of the vineyards of Pontet Canet.

Jean Michel Comme holding court in full view of the vineyards of Pontet Canet.

Jean Michel Comme pours his 2007 Pontet Canet.

Jean Michel Comme pours his 2007 Pontet Canet.

It was a brutally cold, windy, and rainy day in Pauillac when I visited Chateau Pontet Canet with other students from The Wine & Spirits MBA. But as I stood in front of a big picture window listening to Vigneron Jean Michel Comme speak about his struggles to create a biodynamic wine in Bordeaux's Left Bank, it was obvious there was something very special in this quietly humble man and the wines he oversees.

Obviously, I'm not the only one who thinks so.  Robert Parker, the great wine critic, has given Pontet Canet some of his highest accolades ever, including back to back 100 point (Perfect) scores for the 2009 and 2010 vintages.

Those aren't the wines we're discussing here.  We're discussing the 2007 and the 2008.  We're also discussing the French concepts of 'Vin de Plaisir" and "Vin de Garde."

2007 was the year that challenged Jean Michel Comme and Pontet Canet.  The weather conditions conspired against biodynamics and Comme felt like he had squandered the opportunity given him, but the owner of the vineyard.  And yet the wine is magnificent.  Why was he so disappointed?

Chateau Pontet Canet 2007 Pauillac.  $129.99 OH Retail.  "A purity to the red fruit that is almost magical in its beauty and intensity.  A pretty jellied richness marinading fresh cut herbs and bright fresh fruits.  A long finish is well cut tannins that lasts almost a minute."  95 points.  

2008 was a tight classic vintage in Bordeaux that didn't get a lot of respect in its youth because the wines were tight and need considerable cellaring.

Chateau Pontet Canet 2008 Pauillac.  $129.99 OH Retail.  "A beautiful red crimson color.  Dense, brooding, and primary.  Almost opaque in its power and tightness.  A forever wine meant for the cellar and consumption and lifetime from now."  95 points.

Here is the interesting question and the crux of this article.  How can two vintages of the same wine, using identical winemaking technique, have such completely different taste profiles and yet be the same quality?

It comes down to Plaisir vs Garde.  The French parse all wine down to two categories.

Plaisir (or pleasure wines) are ones that give immediate enjoyment.  They are often fruit-forward, generous, and hedonistic.

Garde (or 'to keep') are wines that will benefit from considerable time in the cellar.  They often produce more classic, traditional flavors and profiles.  Cellar wines also achieve a longevity and levels of complexity that Plaisir wines can't approach.

Which is better?  As usual, it depends.  Garde wines often reach higher levels of technical proficiency and complexity, but require time and proper cellaring to get there.  Plaisir wines can be enjoyed tonight.

What's the takeaway here?  When you are seeking out a premium high-quality wine (and spending some serious money,) vintage won't necessarily speak to the wine's quality.  It will, more likely tell you something about which style of wine you are going to get.

 

Experience More....

  1. Video Interview with Randall Grahm on Biodynamic Wine Making
  2. Video Interview with Rebecca Work of Ampelos on Biodynamics vs Organic

 

5 Values in 2008 Bordeaux

There is a real chance that the 2008 vintage in Bordeaux is our last opportunity to get premium Bordeaux for under $100 per bottle.  It was a good quality vintage that was massively overshadowed by the glories that were 2009 and 2010.  At the time, the wines seemed quite expensive, but then the new Chinese wealth started flowing into Bordeaux and pushed prices into the stratosphere.  All the wines that I mention took a 200% or 300% increase in price for the 2009 and 2010 vintages.

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If you are in Ohio, please buy these wines from me at Walt Churchill's Market.  If you are elsewhere, support this blog by clicking 'Buy Online."  The wines are reviewed in the order that I tasted them: from lightest to richest.

Chateau Carbonnieux 2008 Pessac-Leognan Blanc.  $59.99 OH Retail.  "A delicious and easily findable Bordeaux Blanc.  A beautiful golden color.  Luscious aromatics of orange and lemon-infused honey.  Gorgeous richness of flavor and texture while never neglecting a serious commitment to acidity.  Long finish."  90 points.   Buy Online

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Chateau Grand Mayne 2008 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru.  $49.99 OH Retail.  "Dark crimson color for the only Merlot-based Bordeaux in the mix.  Smokey oak.  Dark red plum skins.  Sexy and sophisticated at the same time, but just when you think it is all hedonism, crushing powerful tannins drop on you."  93 points.

Domaine de Chevalier  2008 Pessac-Leognan.  $49.99 OH Retail.  "A beautiful red color.  Attractively classy in the purity of the red fruit.  It really keeps the hard stones of the appellation submerged - for now.  Minerals, red apples, and pleasant acidty.  Can easily be enjoyed now, but still has a long life ahead of it."  90 points.Buy Online

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Chateau Cantenac Brown 2008 Margaux.  $69.99  OH Retail.  "This wine changed dramatically over the five hours it was open.  It started a delicately, smooth interpretation of Cabernet Sauvignon, but moved quickly into becoming the wine I now describe.  Classic nose of black cherries and tar.  Tannics and young with a powerful grip that punishes you for opening a wine like this so young.  Still poised and graceful with black, blue, and red fruits.  Nice mouthfeel on a serious wine."  93 points.

Chateau Branaire-Ducru 2008 Saint-Julien.  $69.99  OH Retail.  "Red fruit in the dusty aromatics. A dark rich brooding wine with tight flavors and even tighter tannins.  Hard, cold, black fruits."  91 points. Buy Online

Okay, so none of these wines are inexpensive.  But you don't look to Bordeaux for inexpensive.  You look to Bordeaux for classically-styled wines of high quality, impeccable breeding, and reliable aging potential.  Value is a plus - if you can find it.  And you can find it in 2008 Bordeaux

If you want to learn more about Bordeaux and how Chinese money can drive prices dramatically upward - check out this phenomenal documentary called Red Obsession.


5 Impressive Wines for Rediscovering Rioja, Spain

Spain produces the finest value wines in the world.

If you've been paying attention over the last 15 years in the wine business, you've seen the rise of 'modern-style' Spanish wines.  This rich and flavorful reds and white wines are notable for two major characteristics.  Luscious international-style wines and stunningly low prices.  In fact, if you are drinking wine under $10 a bottle, it is criminal if you don't buy mostly these wines.

And then there is Rioja.  Strong, austere reds that taste of tobacco, leather, and the entire spice red with a touch of red fruit.  This is Spain's classic region and the wines are as old-school as you can get.  

Here are 5 wines worth seeking out from top producers in Rioja.

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The Spanish tend to age their wines before release, so all of the following wines are available in the American market with these vintages.

Muga 2009 Rioja 'Selection Especial' Reserva.  92++/100 points.  $44.99 Oh Retail.

Very young with a long life ahead.  Strawberry jelly and gentle mocha on the nose.  Caresses the mouth with light toffee, cream, and spicebox.  Cherry fruit that darkens and becomes more tannic as it stays in the mouth.  Great for grilled meats.

Ramirez de la Piscina 2001 Rioja Gran Reserva.  93/100 points.  $39.99 OH Retail.

The value wine of this list.  A superstar vintage and a wine with 10+ years of bottle age.  Tawny colored rim with a red pitt.  The tobacco of a nice cigar with baking spices on the nose.  A light Rioja with finesse.  Gentle, elegant, feminine fruit.  Seduction.

Muga 2001 Rioja 'Prado Enea' Gran Reserva.  96/100 points.  $69.99 OH retail.

A masterpiece!  One of the finest Rioja's I've ever tasted.  Very spicy with an almost port-like intensity to the plum fruit.  Rich red color.  A complex series of flavors in a velvet texture that also is supremely spicy.  Classic.

La Cueva del Contador 2002 Rioja.  92/100 points.  $105.99 OH retail.

2002 was a very difficult vintage throughout Rioja and this is a very impressive wine considering what Contador had to work with. Dark color and dark plums and dusty aromas.  A smooth jelly of green pepper and red plums.  Very impressive body and richness with a dash of spice on the finish.

Remirez de Ganuza 2004 Rioja Reserva.  93/100 points.  $96.99 OH retail

Dark, smoked black fruit in a layered and opulent package.  Enough barnyard aromas to remind me of funky old Burgundy.  A blue/black smokiness finishes off this excellent wine.

 

These wines lack the fabulous low prices of the more modernist Spanish wines, but there is an argument to be made for classic, aged wines of very high quality.  In fact, if you compare the prices of old Rioja to that of ten-year-old Bordeaux or Napa Valley Cabernet, you may decide that these are still some of the finest values in fine wine.

But save me some 2001 Prado Enea.  I really liked that one.