Thursday, March 29, 2007

8 Drinkers, 13 bottles and a BevWizard

So here’s a quick list of tasting notes after a business dinner I hosted last week in my home. A total of 7 guests, 6 folks in the wine trade, 1 drummer and Henley my black lab (he hung out under the table hoping someone would drop a piece of beef tenderloin). Also, we tested the BevWizard, so I’ve included our thoughts and results. Here’s how things broke down – sans the food (oh but the food did turn out delicious!).

2004 Storrs White Riesling: “Why does is say white?” was one of the first questions after smelling rose petals on the nose. So the answer – it’s just an old – really antiquated way of labeling Riesling – the Germans use to do so. The mouth feel was full of lychee fruit and honeysuckle. Great acidity to boot as well, a nice wine.

2004 Handley Cellars Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc: this wine has always been a favorite white wine of mine, and was an eye opener for the group since this was the first time many tried this wine. Overall - very crisp, bold fruit – a tinge of mandarin orange, some minerality and a quick hint of lemon peel. The Handley Sauvignon Blanc would pair perfectly with sushi no doubt.

2004 Handley Cellars Anderson Valley Chardonnay: this Gold Medal Winner can be summed up in 4 words: soft, creamy, lovely chardonnay. I hope to God all the women who are hooked on La Crema will find this wine on shelves soon. This wine exhibits many of the characteristics you have come to expect from Handley’s Estate Chardonnay: baked apple, mineral, and pear, with elegance and balance.

2004 Storrs Santa Cruz Chardonnay: The 2004 vintage has tropical overtones, with hints of tangerine and pineapple. Just a few hints of French oak really made this Chardonnay a winner. Great length and mouthwatering chardonnay for us all.

2002 Fort Ross Reserve Chardonnay: I close my eyes and think of John Coltrane and Duke Ellingtons “In a Sentimental Mood” every single time I sip Fort Ross Chardonnay’s. Our group rarely has the opportunity to drink such a distinguished tasting white wine from California. I think we could have just stopped here – oh but we had way to many amazing reds to get to next…

2004 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir: Oh yeah! This was drinking awesome! Spice and super rich dark fruit with an amazing amount of finesse in each sip. We were a bit surprised since Handley’s pinot is usually a bit lighter – this drank more like their Reserve Pinot - just gorgeous. I kept going back to this bottle all night.

2002 Fort Ross Symposium: utter silence. The bottle was passed around counter-clockwise and started making heads shake from side to side. This is an unbelievably good bottle of Pinot Noir and Pinotage from the California Sonoma Coast region. Another great wine that we rarely have a chance to enjoy – only a few hundred cases produced, thinking on splurging on a case of this incredible Fort Ross Pinot for myself.

2002 Fort Ross Reserve Pinot Noir: now we are talking smooth, this bottle was opened at 7:00pm and tasted around 10:0pm and finished off by midnight. Another delightful reason we all choose to be in the wine business. It tasted like our first sip ever of a sensual, sexy, classy pinot noir. Notes of wild savory spices with lush berry fruit were oh so well balanced.

2004 Duchamp Slaughterhouse Syrah: By this time, the group was discussing “who’s your favorite guitar player”…which complemented this Syrah from Dry Creek perfectly. This syrah is full bodied and supple. Robert Parker gave this 88pts last Fall, I bet it’d score over 90 now that it’s had more bottle aging time. Oh - Jeff Beck was and is by far everyone’s favorite guitar player – give or take a few votes for Dave Navarro and a few other’s not worthy of mentioning here.

2004 Storrs Rusty Ridge Zinfandel: think back to the old Batman and Robin television show “Wham”, ‘Pow”, “Bang” , exactly how the fruit popped in our mouth during the first sip! Many agreed this bottle was “Wine of the Night”. This Rusty Ridge Zin held up to it’s reputation, a hedonistic red wine, full of curves and smooth moves in all the right places.

Wines tested with the BevWiz:

2003 Château de Cugat

OK - we first tasted this bottle with the Bev Wizard, then a second pour withhout. First remark – from the drummer – “Yeah, absolutely smoother, not tart at all.”. This $11 a bottle Bordeaux blend imported by Charles Neal, is my house red. It’s usually better the second day after opening, so I thought this would be a perfect “test bottle”, and indeed – it was fascinating how smooth the wine tasted after passing through the BevWizard. It basically took away harshness on the nose and in the mouth and allowed the fruit to shine.

2003 Susana Balbo Malbec

This Malbec retails for about $45 and was pulled out of my winecave to compare with the Cugat on the fly. The group chose to taste this one opposite, first without the BevWiz. Ahh, Susana makes such lovely Malbec, right out of the bottle still a little too chilly even – the first sip was exhilarating - like taking your first flight on a private jet, everything you imagine a luxurious experience to be. So next, we placed the BevWizard on the bottle, once again, the wine became a bit smoother and more fragrant on the nose.

We also tested the BevWizard on a 2004 Chilean Carmenere, the group decided even after the BevWizard made some improvements to the wine that Carmenere just sucks. Our overall conclusion regarding the BevWizard, “it works, this is a great accessory to have in our arsenal of wine tools”. Cheers - Ali

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Well, Speaking of Fort Ross Wines

These are the first scores ever given to Fort Ross by the Wine Spectator - not too shabby I say! Check out what I said over a year ago on the blog in January 2006 (link on the right). Cheers - Ali

Tasting Highlights: 2004 and 2005 California Pinot Noir
More great wines as vintages shift gears

James Laube

Posted: Friday, March 23, 2007

Three years ago, if someone told you there would be dozens, even hundreds of outstanding California Pinot Noirs to savor, you might have raised a skeptical eyebrow.

Here's another wave of Pinots for your consideration, from the 2004 and 2005 vintages. While there are stylistic differences between the two years, both offer plenty of exciting wines.

The 2004s are well balanced and deep in fruit and are generally riper and richer in flavor than the 2005s. The 2005s are generally more elegant, subtle and refined, yet still ripe, concentrated and flavorful. It's one of those win-win situations.

Alcina, Dain, Fort Ross (with four bottlings) and Zepaltas are among some of the newer brands gaining in quality.

FORT ROSS Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Reserve Fort Ross Vineyard 2004
92 POINTS - $49
Deep and complex, with wonderful earth, clay, spice and earthy berry flavors that become more expansive on the palate, with dense, chewy currant, mineral and anise. Ends with a long finish and ample tannins. Drink now through 2012. 370 cases made. J.L.

FORT ROSS Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Symposium Fort Ross Vineyard 2003
92 POINTS - $32
Ripe, plush and deep, with complex plum, blackberry and wild berry fruit that's supple and polished, finishing with a long, intense aftertaste that keeps the fruit at the forefront. Drink now through 2011. 688 cases made. J.L.

FORT ROSS Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Fort Ross Vineyard 2004
91 POINTS - $39
Fragrant, spice, wild berry, black cherry and floral notes. Intense yet supple, polished and elegant, ending with a delicate fruity aftertaste that lingers. Drink now through 2011. 953 cases made. J.L.

FORT ROSS Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Fort Ross Vineyard 2003
91 POINTS - $37
Supple, rich and polished, with smooth blackberry and black cherry fruit that's focused and long on the finish. Drink now through 2011. 600 cases made. J.L.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Howdy Fort Worth!

Ahh, Put a Cork in it... is featuring the Fort Ross Symposium pinot noir in their tasting bar this weekend! Here's the scoop - what a great way to sample this GORGEOUS bottle of wine!

Friday and Saturday - 3pm to 9pm

Put a Cork in it
2972 Park Hill Dr Fort Worth, TX 76109 817.924.2675

Thursday, March 22, 2007


So you flip open your Wine Spectator this month to see a large chunk of content devoted to Sake - well, Texas - we've caught on in the Lone Star State - Sake sales are off the charts this year!

How exciting to be representing such a high-profile portfolio of artisan sake
from Japan - check them all out after you read the following excerpt from the Wine Spectator this month...Cheers - Ali

Seduced by Sake

Americans are learning to embrace Japan's noble beverage

By Mitch Frank
From Wine Spectator magazine, April 30, 2007 issue

Beau Timken calls it the "eye-opening moment." As the owner of True Sake, a San Francisco store that carries nothing but the Japanese beverage, Timken knows that an important part of his job is educating customers who have never tried premium sake before. "People are stunned, and they come back after the first bottle," says Timken, who carries 200 labels. "Their eyes are opened to how incredible this stuff is."

Sake is no longer just a novelty in America, the stuff in the exotic bottles behind the sushi bar, or even worse, that cheap, hot firewater in the wooden cups. Wine lovers are realizing that Japan's traditional rice beverage is as nuanced and subtle as wine, and foodies are waking up to how useful it is to have in their arsenal for pairing with cuisine. The common theme is that sake is nothing to be scared of—it's a drink to sip, savor and study. "People say sake is a fad," says Timken. "If so, it's a 1,000-year-old fad. It's been around, but we're just starting to grab onto it."

The embrace, while gradual, has been an enthusiastic one. The United States imported almost $26 million worth of sake from Japan last year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. That's 4.3 million liters, a 14 percent increase from 2005, and a 170 percent increase from a decade ago. Sake sections are sprouting up on restaurant wine lists and bar menus, and not all of those restaurants serve Asian cuisine. You can choose from multiple sakes at both of Thomas Keller's top spots, the French Laundry and Per Se. At New York's Chanterelle, sommelier Roger Dagorn regularly includes sake among the wines in the restaurant's tasting menus...(more)

Look for the following Sake highlighted in the article - all bottles are available in Texas...look for the Vine Connections Logo on the back of the bottle!

Moon On The Water

Kanbara Bride Of The Fox

Mantensei Star Filled Sky

Rihaku Dreamy Clouds Nigori

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

First Day of Harvest - Mendoza, Argentina

Ahh the beautiful grapes at Mendel...Thanks for the picture Jonas!

A big toast to the 2007 Vintage! - Ali

Monday, March 19, 2007

SXSW Wine Report

Sorry - didn't have time to post anything last week thanks to running TexaCali Wine Co. full blast, catching SXSW shows each night and hosting out of town guests! Last week was superb, found out that I had many Gold and Silver Medal winners in the Dallas Morning News competition (to be officially announced in April), tasted almost every Sake in the Vine Connections portfolio with new restaurant friends at the HOTTEST new account in Texas, and I finally received my order of Davis Family Vineyards Rose in the mail!! OH YEAH!! (image by Jeremiah Garcia)

Keeping with the theme of super great music last week - here's what I thought of during a few shows...

While seeing MuteMath - they are just like BenMarco Expresivo - this bottle from Susana Balbo and her husband Pedro is killer on the inside with a handful of varietals mixing it up and totally wicked looking on the outside. MuteMath was the most amazing live show I've seen in years, it was like The
Fray meets Blue Man Group, with a little Stomp thrown in them which explodes into Cold Play's best melodies.

While seeing
Austin's hometown STARS - porterdavis - Jo Pithon wines came to mind - Jo Pithon is producing some amazing eclectic wines from the Loire - his wines are mind blowing, and a total party in the mouth for those tasters who are into experiencing a new twist to old wine. porterdavis is as entertaining and mind-boggling to see live, old blues with 2007 style so tight that they should be the house band for Sak's 5th Ave. Spring Collection shows.

I waited a few hours to see Amy
Winehouse at the BBC showcase - her music is like sipping on the sexiest bottle of red. She took center stage while surrounded by a dozen men - backup singers, groovers and members of her band. I'd play her music at ZAP - you know the big Zinfandel tasting - pull out a few of my own bottles - Davis Family Zinfandel from the Russian River Storrs world famous Rusty Ridge Zin, Teira Zinfandel from Dry Creek and Pellegrini Eight Cousins Zin that's grown just a few rows away from the legendary Olivet Lane Vineyard.

Another one of MUTE MATH just a few steps away - what is it with drummers? HOT.

Here's this to click around too....Cheers - Ali

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Small World

WOW - I'm really tired this morning. The last week was non-stop, full of meeting new folks in the wine business and strengthening ties with current ones. Dallas is on fire right now, a bit of Times Square going on where the new W Hotel stands. I had the pleasure of dining at Craft with a group of wine folks too - probably the best meal I've had in Dallas in years. I'm very excited to go back soon!

Friday night ended in Fredricksburg, Texas - porterdavis played to a crowd of Friday Night Lighters at Hondo's. Nice patio - will have to do a big Texa
Cali Wine Tasting there soon. Connections all week long of "use to live", "use to work there" and "use to drink"... Ames is in town for a wedding - hoping to show him a bit of where we go to find wine around here.

More later - must have coffee now - Cheers - Ali

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Root of Innocence - True Sake Newsletter - San Francisco

Thanks to Beau from!

Interview with Yasutaka Daimon - Brewery Owner and Sake Good Guy

Mukune, Root of Innocence In early February I had a chance to take one of my favorite "sake guys" to dinner in SF. Yasutaka Daimon is the owner of Daimon Shuzu in Osaka - makers of the Junmai Ginjo called Mukune or "Root of Innocence." (I will put a Mukune review at the end of the interview.) Little did he know that I was going to spring a 3-page questionnaire interview on him, but the trade off was very tasty as we went to Chez Spencer the "pound for pound" most underrated French restaurant in the Bay Area. (Yasutaka wanted to go "French.")

As I am always on the sake prowl, whether it be drinking or "experimenting" with sake, I surprised my subject by bringing a bottle of Mukune to Chez Spencer to see if what I preach on a daily basis actually is close to reality. Yasutaka's eyes opened wide when I produced his brew in such a splendid environment and even he said, "Will this go with French food?" So for you foodies I will confirm the "what I consider to be the obvious" realization that sake does go with rich flavors and deep layers of French attitude. (By all means please replace French attitude with Italian, Peruvian, Russian etc when it comes to sake - it all works!)

I'll be brief but let it be known that we paired each of the following flavors with a very well known old vine Chardonnay and a very "crowd pleasing Australian Sauvignon Blanc." The first dish was a poached oyster, which overwhelmed the two grape beverages, but was really enhanced by the smoothness of Mukune. Then a course of Bouillabaisse was placed in front of this libation dissection, and Yasutaka thought for sure that it would blow away his Ginjo, but in reality the Chardonnay and S.B. turned far too acidic, while Mukune mellowed the entire play. It was a surprising yet highly effective pairing. Lastly, the ugly-duckling little Japanese Ginjo from Osaka was paired with a superb roasted duck dish and let it be known that the other two "contestants" went the way of too far acidic backlash, whilst Mukune pulled out the richness and smokiness of the duck.

Now onto the real sake thoughts of a sake pioneer:

BT: How is the sake industry doing now compared to 5 years ago?

YD: Depending on the specific brewer you will get many different answers. Some of them are doing well while others are not doing well at all. What is obvious is that futsu-shu is dying rapidly. (Futsu- shu is common or table sake, which is milled/polished to less than Junmai levels - roughly 20% removal.) Bottles that used to cost 1,400 yen are now selling for 500-600 yen, and there is no margin whatsoever. Lowering prices has killed the market.

BT: What does this mean to the size of the industry?

YD: It means that we are losing so many breweries a year to closure. There are 1,800 licensed breweries, but only 1,200 are brewing. Last year we lost 50 breweries, and we can expect to lose 300-400 in the next five years at this current market rate.

BT: What is the silver lining in this destruction?

YD: The good news is that the shochu boom is over. That bubble of popularity has burst, and the sake industry has to look forward to a far more compact era. Also, a lesson that has been learned the hard way is that small breweries - Jizake - have come to realize that there has to be far better relations between family and sake makers. (Meaning that the owners and their families must have far better relations with the hired sake makers.) The result of this difficult time will be better for the future of sake making, as families and brewers will have a more unified relationship.

BT: How well do your retailers in Japan sell sake versus shochu, wine, and spirits?

YD: Well, I wish there were many True Sake's in Japan. There is such a disconnect between retailers and brewers. They know nothing about sake today. If they knew as much about sake as True Sake we would be the dominant beverage in Japan. They don't care. They want the fast money. The easy sell. They don't care about sake, they care about money.

BT: What about the costs associated with making sake?

YD: (puts hand to head) The oil costs are so high. The energy to make sake is more expensive than ever. But we are seeing a reduction in the price of brewing rice, which accounts for the most expensive aspect of making sake. Overall the costs of making sake have remained roughly the same, but have been increasing a little each year.

BT: In terms of the big picture, what is the greatest weakness with the Japanese Sake brewing industry?

YD: Like you said the skill of the presentation of the greatness of sake. We have no idea how to convey the essence of sake to the consumer. The retailers don't. The wholesale system is dying. The message is lost. And the media does nothing at all to help. There is much room for improvement.

BT: There is very little exposure to Osaka Prefecture sake in the US - tell me a little about the Osaka sake market:

YD: There are 16 breweries in the guild, but only 11 are currently brewing. There is a vast perception in Japan that Osaka cannot make good sake because it is so industrial. They don't think that we have water, mountains, a freshness like other prefectures. This is not true.

BT: How do you define Osaka sake? What is that certain quality? (I call it a layer of excitement.)

YD: Very significant quality that reflects the amazing taste of the cuisine in the region. Kansai people know the subtlety of freshness -the umami - of flavors, the simplicity that is not too salty or overdone. We do not make overly dry sake or completely pristine sake. Don't expect us to be like other prefectures that make clean and dry sake. We appreciate a complex sweetness called Kamigata that is ours and ours alone.

BT: Have brewing methods changed in Osaka and the rest of Japan in recent years?

YD: The biggest change has come in the form that the original Toji system is going away. (Toji system brewing has historically been very driven by guilds and a sense of brewers being separate people from the owners of breweries - BT) Today the kuramoto (owner of the brewery) and the Toji (head brewer) must be on the same page - there is no room for feuds or run-ins. We are seeing the dawning of a new generation of a more integrated system between owners and makers. The families are having more of their children come up through the brewing side as opposed to the operating side.

BT: In terms of drinking sake, what do you think of the palate of American drinkers?

YD: Surprisingly it is not that different from the Japanese sake drinker's palate. This is really hard to believe. The Americans have shown a sophistication that many average Japanese consumers do not possess. It is so surprising that they are not so different. Perhaps this is because of all of your hard work?

BT: What percent of your sales does the US and overseas market account for?

YD: This last year the overseas market represented 35% of our total sales. And next year we expect that to be about 40%.

BT: On a personal note what did your father say to you when he handed the family brewery over to you?

YD: He said that he "didn't know what to do." The sake industry was so in flux, and so destined for trouble that he felt that we needed a change. He saw me as a needed change to the entire system. He felt and relayed to me that his years of experience didn't work any more that a new time had come and a new direction was needed. I was expected to provide a new direction.

BT: What will you say to your son when the time comes?

YD: Sake brewing is not so easy. It is so complex. I want him to know what a healthy kura feels like. I also want him to know that there is no separation between workers and owners - the generational obligation to kurabito (sake workers) - that we have an obligation to support them in their way of life.

BT: Before we speak about you're amazing Ginjo called Mukune - if you didn't own a brewery what would you be doing in life right now?

YD: I would be a wandering priest in India - crazy! (Laughing) Just joking! (In a serious expression) My black sheep days have benefited me as I am now so focused on making excellent sake.

BT: Lastly what do you like about your Junmai Ginjo called Mukune?

YD: The body and acidity. The harmony between the umami and the acidity. Not too light, not too heavy, just a certain contentment.

BT: Thank you my sake brother and herewith is my review of Mukune that we sell for $18/300ml and $39/720ml:

Mukune "Root of Innocence"
Osaka Prefecture.
Junmai Ginjo.
SMV: +2 Acidity: 1.8
Mukune is a mysterious sake made for those looking to explore big flavors and disappearing acidity acts. This thick and rich sake has an acidity that says goodbye before hello. With an amazing nose of ripe melon, raspberries, honey, balsa wood and flowers, it drinks like a dream. If you close your eyes you may very well find a vein of strawberry and anisette flavors too. A magical Ginjo that "explains" the concept of sake. Think "Biblical" and imbibe.
WORD: Complex
WINE: Full bodied reds/ White Burgundy
BEER: Huge ales/Soft stouts
FOODS: Salty and savory fare, shrimp dumplings, sautéed filet of sole with lemon, oily fried food. (And of course some serious French fare)

Friday, March 02, 2007

5 Bottles to Spice up your weekend

Crios Syrah Bonarda – this is a killer red wine from Argentina, perfect with anything grilled or dark chocolate brownies. It’s widely available in Texas $15

Pellegrini Eight Cousins Zinfandel – I tasted this again last week, I swear to you it’s as smooth as a rose petal. One of the most artisan bottles on the shelves. Central Market, Beverage World, Centennial on Preston @NWHY and The Austin Wine Merchant carry this lovely Zin. $25

Handley Cellars Pinot Noir – hard to believe this bottle is under $50, uncork it and let it breath a bit, it’s such a beautiful Pinot Noir from the cool climate of Anderson Valley – it will take you there! Corner Wines in Plano is a big supporter as well as many of the Centennial and Central Market stores throughout Texas.

Storrs Merlot – currently being poured by-the-glass at the North Dallas Houston’s restaurant location. This fruit filled merlot is new to Texas, ask your favorite retailer for it – there is a pile sitting in the distributor’s warehouse in Texas right now! $22

Fort Ross Chardonnay – WOW. This bottle will ensure romance no doubt this weekend! Such a elegant and beautiful bottle of chardonnay – get your girlfriend off the damn La Crema and into something a little more sexy!! Far Pointe Cellars is currently pouring this buy the glass! $30

What am I drinking??? Duchamp Slaughterhouse Syrah tonight - paired with a stuffed pork tenderloin! YUM - Cheers - Ali

Thursday, March 01, 2007

New Release - do you like Dry Creek Vineyards Wines?


ORIGIN: Dry Creek & Russian River Valleys: Sonoma County, California
Northern Russian River Valley & Central Dry Creek Valley, near Healdsburg
Bill Knuttel & Dan Donahoe
ANALYSIS: Alcohol: 13.9% pH: 3.85% T.A.: 5.8 g/L V.A.: 0.072 g/100ml TASTING

NOTES: Ripe black cherry, blueberry and black currant with hints of vanilla and black pepper on the nose. On the palate, elegant flavors of ripe black cherry, currant and creamy spice are complimented with hints of dark chocolate. These flavors are well integrated without being overpowered by the alcohol - balance and finesse are the key descriptors for this wine.

AGING POTENTIAL: Drink this ripe, delicious Zin now and through 2011.