Monday, March 23, 2009

Italian Epiphany

Have you ever had a wine epiphany? It's a moment when you are tasting or drinking wine and suddenly all the stars in your palate, mind and emotions align. Epiphanies rarely happen in a classroom-style tasting, or in a sales meeting, when 30 or so wines are forced upon you in less than an hour. They often happen while tasting at a winery or in a vineyard, sometimes during an amazing meal, and most often in the company of people you enjoy. I clearly remember my Burgundy epiphany. It was about ten years ago at a wine dinner hosted by Jacques Seysses, of Domaine Dujac, at the Little Nell, in Aspen. The food was great, the company was fun and fascinating, and the wines were simply singing. Suddenly, I got it. I understood why people lose their minds (and their life savings) for great Burgundies.

I had an Italian wine epiphany last week. I was dining at Barolo Grill, in Denver, with my co-workers (whose company I enjoy immensely), and our Italian wine importer. We started with the Ca' Rugate Monte Fiorentine Soave Classico, 2007, a single vineyard wine that has received the Tre Bicchieri award, the most prestigious Italian wine award, for the past four vintages. If you think Bolla when you hear Soave, well, as my Italian relatives would say, "Fugghetaboutit!" This wine has intensity, body, depth and was delightful with my Hamachi Crudo con Calamari appetizer. We tasted several reds from regions as diverse as Abruzzo, Campania and Piedmonte, all wonderful. My epiphany began to really kick in with the Moroder Rosso Conero 2006, a wine made from the Montepulciano grape from a small region in Marche. Maybe it was because I had it in my glass as the entrees were served. It paired perfectly with my Gnocchi Verde con Agnello, spinach gnocchi with braised lamb shank and broccoli rabe. The wine was dark and complex; it made every bite of food taste better and the meal made ever sip of the wine taste better. That, my friends, is what food & wine pairing is all about! Then, we moved on to the Barolo. Barolo, I think I can safely say, is the Italian wine that probably hands out the most epiphanies. When you talk to Italian wine fanatics, you find that almost without exception, they are in love with Barolo. It had been coming all night, but while drinking the Andrea Oberto Barolo 2004 at the end of my meal, once again, I got it. Oh yeah, I got it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

If You give a Man a Bottle of Wine....

I've been asked by several people to do a blog recommending wines that are good values. Not surprising, with the economy such as it is. I certainly don't mind recommending specific wines, but what I'd like to do today is go with the old Chinese proverb, "If you give a man a fish....," and suggest some easy ways for you to find your own values. With a few simple guidelines and the courage to leave your comfort zone, you can drink delicious wine every night, without spending more than $15 a bottle. Ready?

  • Stay away from California. In the world of wines, California wines, especially good ones, tend to be pricey. While there are plenty of cheap wines from the Golden State, you may have to drink a lot of mediocre ones before finding a great value.
  • Read shelf-talkers. Those little pieces of paper hanging from the shelves under the bottles can give you a wealth of information on wines. One thing to watch for: make sure the vintage described on the shelf-talker matches the vintage on the bottle. Occasionally it doesn't; if a previous vintage got a better review than the current one, the shelf talker matching the better review sometimes mysteriously stays up. Whether this is deliberate deception or simple laziness on the retailer's part is up for debate.
  • Get to know your wine merchant. Don't be afraid to ask for recommendations. A knowledgeable retailer can help you find just what you are looking for.
  • SPAIN - SPAIN - SPAIN. Shall I say it again? Spain. Spanish wines, are, in my opinion, the best bang-for-your-buck wines available. Try a Verdejo from Rueda if you're a Sauvignon Blanc drinker, a Garnacha from Calatayud if you like Syrah, or a Tempranillo from Carinena for an all-around red. Have a Garnacha Rosado on a hot summer day for a yummy porch-pounder. Look for the little-known Mencia from Bierzo in fine wine shops.
  • Try Argentina, and table wines from Portugal. Lots of great values come from these countries as well.
  • Be cautious when shopping Australia. While oceans of inexpensive wines come from down-under, many are mediocre or worse. Remember, no matter how cheap something is, it is not a value if it's just plain bad. You can get great values from Australia, as long as you do your homework.
  • Buy wines rated 85 - 89 points. Getting a score of 90 or above is license to jack up a wine's price by at least 20%. You can find great values just under that mark.
  • Be a little bit wine-geeky. Really, it's OK. Take notes when you taste, write down ones you like, ask your friends what they like.

Now, get to your local wine shop!!

P.S. If you're not familiar with the aforementioned Chinese proverb, it is, "If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime." Now, you are ready to find wine values for a lifetime!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

I'm Back!

Hello Dear Readers!

Apologies for the long absence. As most of you who read my blog know, I'm now back in the wine business. And it seems that the number one rule of blogging is that, if you write about anything that involves your job, you WILL get into trouble. So, what's a blogger to do? Can I poke fun at the wine industry when I'm part of it? Can I review the wines that I sell? Sounds like a conflict of interest. Can I write about my couple of days selling with Steve Reynolds, one of the coolest, nicest guys in Napa? Maybe. Can I write about food? Print recipes? Yoga? Sure.

The answer is, I don't know exactly what I'm going to write about or what direction this blog will take. Maybe I can write about the wines I sell; after all, it's not like I'd say anything negative! But the truth is, I've missed my blog and I want to keep writing it. Although I must say, in the absence of blogging, my novel has been coming along quite nicely. But, that's another story! So, expect more regular posts - subscribe if you haven't yet. I can't tell you what they will entail, but hopefully, you will find them interesting.


Alexa B.