Cahors Malbec, So-called “Black Wine,” is Being Rediscovered

Sonoma-based vintner and wine consultant Paul Hobbs had success in Argentina in the 1990s with Malbec and decided to try his hand at the grape variety in its birthplace of Cahors in southwest France. It was 2009 and Hobbs was surprised by what he saw there. Whereas Cahors suffered from a reputation as too cold and too wet to produce good Malbec, he found this a myth. "The region is warmer and drier than Bordeaux," Hobbs says today.

He saw problems, though, in an insular culture in Cahors that boasted of mouth-blasting tannins, didn't prioritize sanitation in the cellars and had fallen behind in technology and viticulture. "It was like Rip Van Winkle. The place went to sleep for awhile, but eventually it woke up. Now the winemaking is up to world standards."

There is a new dynamism in Cahors, and it springs from a convergence of developments: recognition and appreciation of the Malbec grape in overseas markets, thanks to Argentina's success, a smaller market among the French as they consume less wine than their parents, and a younger generation of winemakers and proprietors making their marks with modern methods. 

To read the rest of this story as it originally appeared on winesearcher.com, click here.

January, 2019

Hard Cider: Not a Hard Sell

Hard cider is a fast-growing segment of the beverage market these days. After little exposure to this delicious, satisfying and low-alcohol beverage, I was suddenly given the opportunity to taste it everywhere I went in the last year or so. I tasted local bottlings in Southwest Colorado at a weekend festival, in France with Bretton-style galettes (savory buckwheat crepes), and in Germany at Christmas market stalls.

Handcrafted, small production ciders really highlight the fresh taste of the quality apples used in them. Many, like several I tasted recently in Normandy, France, are dry and elegant with no cloying sweetness.  

Some wonderful heirloom apple varieties are being used in today's artisinal ciders, such as the centuries-old Gravenstein variety, Pink Pearl, Burgundy and Akane varieties. 

Alcohol levels run lower in imported ciders than in domestic, so you can find one to suit your tastes and requirements. Prices are reasonable for ciders too - from 5 Euros ($6) in France to $12-14 for California bottlings.

Posted: 08.10.18



The Bloody Mary

There may be as many stories of how the Bloody Mary came into being as there are recipes for this must-have mid-morning drink. Bloody May fan and expert creator Patrick Laguens, former food and beverage director at Telluride’s Hotel Madeline and now director of the Telluride Wine Festival, subscribes to this one: Comedian George Jessel was the first to order tomato juice with vodka as a regular pick-me-up at the 21 Club bar in New York. But in 1934, bartender Fernand Petiot of the St. Regis Hotel spiced up the combo with Worcestershire Sauce, lemon, salt and pepper, dubbing it the  “Red Snapper,” -- “Bloody Mary” being too course for the sophisticated King Cole Bar.

Laguens believes the Bloody Mary endures because “it screams for innovation. After the vodka and tomato juice, you need to get your Fernand on and get creative. Every bartender I know has their own secret recipe,” he says. And there are countless regional recipes that take their cues from local flavors, ingredients and traditions.

The West: The SMAK Mary
Laguens created the SMAK Mary at the Hotel Madeline in 2012 (“smak” is Swedish for flavor). His Colorado Rocky-Mountain-style Bloody highlights the state’s lauded beef and lamb:  A 16-ounce curvaceous glass rimmed in smoked celery salt and filled with housemade tomato juice based on beef stock, topped with a skewer holding three stuffed olives (jalapeno, blue cheese, and pimento), pickled okra, a baby corn cob, pickled green beans, pickled asparagus, celery, pearl onions, lemons, limes, pepperoncinis, and two strips of bacon. Topping it off are two sliders, a cheeseburger and a lamb burger.  And no, there isn’t a vegetarian version.

The Southwest Bloody Mary
Prepared with tableside theatrics and made-to-taste at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess in the  Ironwood American Kitchen, the resort’s main dining room. This regional version uses handcrafted Tito’s vodka from Texas, raw horseradish, fresh vegetables, Worcestershire, tomato juice, and a “secret” blend of southwest spices, including crushed green peppers, garlic, dried horseradish, pepper, and onion.  Each guest who orders it is given a packet of the secret spices wrapped in red satin to prepare the cocktail at home.

The South: West Paces Mary
Since the New York St. Regis launched the Bloody Mary, it has become a practice of its properties around the world to infuse the original recipe with local flavors, transforming the drink into a reflection of different cultures. The West Paces Mary, served at the Atlanta St. Regis, adds spices and a Southern twist: the pungent and briney pickling liquid from a jar of okra and a garnish of tomolives, a pickled green tomato that looks like a green olive.

New Orleans: the Gumbo Mary
Good times are sure to roll from another of Laguens’ creations: the Gumbo Mary. He starts with a Bouillabaisse and adds his basic Bloody spices. “I put the holy trinity of New Orleans cooking in (celery, green pepper, and onion), a skewer of shrimp, crawfish tails, an Andouille sausage stuck between bay leaves and a piece of okra, then I drop in an oyster and sprinkle with Choctaw Indian File powder to honor the native people of Louisiana.”

The Mid-West: Classic Wisconsin Bloody Mary
At Will’s Northwoods Inn in Chicago, the classic Wisconsin Bloody Mary is only part of the regional experience patrons take in. With taxidermy from Wisconsin and zeal for the state’s professional sports teams, this is the largest “Wisconsin bar” in Chicago. The spicy Bloody Mary here comes with generous amounts of vodka, a sidecar of Leinenkugel, a Wisconsin beer, and a submerged dill pickle.

The Northeast
As every New Yorker knows, everything is bigger and better in their hometown: at midtown eatery Prune, there is a Bloody Mary menu with a dozen different renditions of the drink, many of them regional, including a Southwest (with tequila, chipotle peppers and lime), a Green Lake (with vodka, Wasabi and a beef jerky swizzler) and Chicago Matchbox (with pickled Brussel Spoouts, baby white turnips and caperberries).

Greening of the Wine Industry

Some of the most exciting aspects of the wine business these days involve the environmental issues of growing, vinifying, packaging and transporting wine for consumers. I have been following these issues avidly for a few years now; what is being discussed and accomplished these days at all levels of the wine business is both dynamic and encouraging.

Some information that came out of the second annual Green Wine Summit held recently in Santa Rosa, California, that I found interesting:

  • Consumers and the wine trade are confused about the myriad of environmental claims appearing on labels.
  • The sales of organic wines are outpacing the rest of the market
  • Winegrape growers are at the forefront of water conservation efforts.

Keynote speaker Gil Friend, Founder & CEO of Natural Logic and author of The Truth About Green Business told his audience of more than 300 wine industry leaders: “Green wine champions understand that you don't have to choose between making money and making sense. The truth is that businesses, from vineyards and wineries to retailers and high tech companies, can build profit and reduce risk -- and contribute to a better world -- by learning from four billion years of R&D within nature’s living systems.”

The list of wineries serious about environmental issues just in Northern California alone, where I live, is too long to mention – which is good news. But two have come across my desk recently -- from as far away as Bordeaux (Vignobles LaCombe) and as close to home as Sonoma (Merry Edwards) -- that really impressed me with their efforts.

I recently tasted some lovely wines from Vignobles Lacombe of Bordeaux’s Medoc region, and discovered that owner Remi Lacombe in 2007 became the first wine producer in Europe to market his wines as “carbon neutral.” Although the wines were good enough for me to recommend, I felt even more drawn to them when I discovered what Lacombe has been doing to be an environmental steward in his very, shall we say, “traditional” part of the world. Lacombe acknowledges that many stages of wine production release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. So he examined closely what he could do to reduce emissions while still continuing a viable business, and worked to offset carbon emissions he couldn’t reduce. La Combe used ClimatePartner, a German consulting firm specializing in climate protection, to calculate the wineries’ carbon emissions. “When you produce around 365,000 bottles (about 30,000 cases) of wine a year like we do, it gives you 1,000 chances a day to send a message to consumers and give them a chance to do something for the planet with us.”

That's the old world. At the western edge of the new world, Merry Edwards, the highly respected Pinot Noir specialist, sent her recent 2007 wine releases to wine writers with a wonderfully articulate tale – minus any promotional hype! -- of how her winery has dedicated itself to sustainable practices. I’m going to take the unusual step of reprinting it here because I think it describes simply and eloquently her commitment to sustaining a healthy environment.

“My first job as a young winemaker was at Mount Eden Vineyards, high in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Living and working in this remote location taught me firsthand lessons about conservation. Water for two homes and a winery was sourced from a tiny spring which dried up each summer and then had to be trucked in. For years after leaving that mountain, I could not bear the sound of a faucet running.
I brought in winery supplies and hauled out wine shipments, as no delivery company would make the arduous trek up the steep mile-long dirt road. Everything was recycled or composted – a trip to the dump was rare. The barrel and wine cellars were located underground with no refrigeration necessary. A huge garden supplied most of our fresh produce, while a flock of ducks, geese and chickens supplied eggs, meat and sentinels for guard duty.

Flash forward to 1998… to avoid fumigation at the Meredith Estate vineyard site, I hired a company to dig up and box thirty-two oak trees alive. This strategy removed nearly all large roots and associated oak root fungus, thus allowing the trees to be recycled as landscape features. The soil was then raked using a harrow, followed by a team of workers to remove remaining roots. Conserving natural soil microorganisms gave the young vines a healthy start.

A pond was developed to collect rainwater runoff from the steep hillside. It provides water for irrigation and frost protection, while supporting a variety of migratory waterfowl. Within site of the pond are owl houses and hawk perches to welcome these feathered hunters. The remaining gophers are trapped by hand – no poisons are ever used. Our deficit irrigation practices require minimal applications of water, by drip, late in the season.

Our modern vertical trellis system uses stakes formed from recycled car bodies, while the end posts had previous lives as drill stems in oil wells. Vines trained in this manner require far less chemicals than farming methods of thirty years ago. In partnership with our neighbor Gourmet Mushroom, we use the spent oak-based growing medium they generate as a nutrient-rich compost application for our vineyards. Processed grape skins, seeds and stems are also used to replenish the soil.

We continue to use renewable natural cork which in itself is recyclable. Our new winery facility, completed just last year, incorporates many green features. The solar system supplies a substantial part of our electrical needs and soon we hope to be 100% solar powered! A new style of industrial fluorescent fixture has cut lighting needs by fifty percent. Hot water is supplied by efficient, brainy, stand-by gas heaters plumbed in sequence, generating only enough hot water to meet demand. The parking lot is paved with permeable concrete, which allows rainwater to flow directly through this normally impervious surface. Our offices are not painted; instead the interior walls were coated with green certified Tobias Stucco. Our efforts continue – please join us in creating a sustainable future for us all.” (Posted 12.09.09)


I’m calling the following finds "oddities," but I don't mean the term in a pejorative way, as in “strange,” but rather in a positive way as in “unusual and intriguing.” We all know that the popular wines in America are Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, but that doesn’t mean you should only drink those fine wine varietals. Chicken is delicious, too, but does that mean you eat it every night for dinner? There are over 200 wine grape varieties, for instance, in Portugal alone and many more in Italy and Greece. There’s a whole world of wine out there and discovering new favorites is exciting.

White Flower Sparkling Riesling, It may exist, but I have not yet been exposed to an American Sparkling Riesling. Pacific Rim, the Riesling specialist, has just introduced White Flowers Sparkling Riesling from Washington State. Lovely and soft, with flower aromas and a clean, dry finish, this wine contains only 11.5% alcohol, a selling point in my book, and as a lovely alternative to more common bubblies, would be fun to introduce to your friends. And at $16, it's a bargain, too.

Blanc de Pinot Noir. I had also never heard of a white pinot noir still wine, and neither had two longtime Pinot Noir producers I know from the Russian River Valley of Sonoma. This was as intriguing to them as it was to me. This White Pinot Noir wine from Pinot Noir specialists Adam and Dianna Lee, came about as a result of a visit to Champagne 15 years ago. “One of our stops was Krug, where we got the opportunity to taste still, white Pinot Noir that had been resting in oak before going through the second fermentation to become champagne. Even though it was fairly acidic, you could taste the amazing quality of the grape. Ever since then, we’ve wanted to try it,” says Diana Lee. The Pinot Noir comes from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where the couple also sources fruit for its Siduri Pinot Noirs. This unique wine has a lovely fleshy color, with just the barest hint of pink, the weight and richness of Chardonnay but with firm acidity. Priced at $24, the Novy Blanc de Pinot Noir is available through the couple’s “warehouse winery” in Santa Rosa, California, and at some restaurants and wine shops nationally. 

Samuel Adams Utopias. This “extreme beer,” the 2009 batch of Samuel Adams Utopias, is an effort to elevate American beer drinkers’ appreciation for full-flavored beer and change the context for beer. It’s 27% alcohol (an average beer is about 5%), rich, dark and uncarbonated, and meant to be served at room temperature in a snifter glass. The recommended pour is two-ounces as it is meant to be savored like vintage port or cognac. Utopias is brewed in small batches, blended, and aged at the Sam Adams Boston Brewery. Since its first release in 2002, it has held the title of ‘world’s strongest beer’ in the Guinness Book of World Records. Wine geeks take note: Samuel Adams Utopias is brewed with several different strains of yeast, including a variety typically reserved for Champagne. The limited-edition 2009 batch is bottled in numbered, ceramic brew kettle-shaped decanters and is $150. I told you it was extreme.

(Posted 11.20.09)

Sparkling Alternatives

I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not recommend saving sparkling wines for the end-of-the-year holidays or special occasions only. Breakfast is enough of an excuse for me to break out the bubbly. But the holidays are when most sparkling wines are sold, and drinkers should be aware of the many affordable alternatives to pricey Champagne such as Crémant and other sparkling wines from France, Prosecco from Italy, and Cava from Spain. 

Prices for Champagne have always been relatively high and Champagne makers want to keep it that way; lowering production means they can ensure that champagne remains an expensive luxury. Bully for them and for anyone who can afford to pay upwards (sometimes way upwards) of $50 a bottle. But for the rest of us, there are attractive options. My debut post was about the lovely Crémant de Bourgogne I tasted in Burgundy and some Crémant d'Alsace that was sent to me. I was lucky enough to taste more mouth-watering Crémant de Loire last week in the Loire Valley as well as some wonderful sparkling Vouvray. Producers I will be looking for at home in the future include: Cave Louis de Grenelle, Les Caves Monmousseau, and Château Moncontour.

Recommended: Louis de Grenelle NV Saumur Rosé Brut “Corail" $19, and Langlois Chateau Crémant de Loire Brut Rosé $20.
Recommended: Zonin Prosecco ($14.99) from Italy. A fun wine that can be drunk with virtually anything including cheeses, fish, chicken and lighter dishes. 
Recommended: Among Cavas, the reliable bubbly from northeastern Spain, I recommend Segura Viudas’ Reserva Heredad (in an ornate gift bottle for under $20) and Aria Brut Nature ($12), as well as Cristalino Brut Cava (under $10).

Posted 11.04.09


Six Beers Over Texas

A couple of weeks ago I visited the Texas Hill Country, about 1 hour from both San Antonio and Austin. I went there in search of Texas wine (more about that later) but want to write here about a unique B&B in the lovely German-inflected town of Fredericksburg, named recently by Money magazine as one of the 25 best places to retire in the United States. 

Maybe the magazine meant retiring for the night because I learned there are 300 B&B’s in this town of only 11,000 people. There may be more B&B’s per square foot there than anywhere for the more than 1 million tourists it attracts each year. But what I like about this B&B is its novelty: When you stay at the Fredericksburg Brewing Company, you get a queen bed upstairs and a four-beer sampler each night downstairs in the brew pub. This Bed & Brew offers a nice way to unwind after a day of antique or art shopping, visiting museums like the National Museum of the Pacific War, taking a Texas cooking class at Fredericksburg Culinary Arts or even a day of wine tasting. The beers all come in at about 5% alcohol so it is a winding down.

The beer menu at the Fredericksburg Brewing Company is ever-changing but there are usually a range of six types on hand and the menu features many German dishes and some down-home Southern items like deep-fried pickles (surprisingly good).

(Posted 10.09.09)

Sublime Sauvignon

I don’t expect to win any popularity contests by recommending pricey wines right now, but I’m going to do it anyway. Economic times are hard and there’s been a flood of endorsements for “value” wines for everyday drinking. But we are all still living our lives, aren’t we? Still honoring loved ones at such special occasions as anniversaries, birthdays and other milestones?

Coveted $350 bottles from tiny Napa producers may well be anachronisms, I don’t know, but sometimes even in hard economic times you still want – maybe even need – to treat yourself or someone else. Two Napa Valley wines I tasted recently really impressed me with their high-quality and distinction. They also surprised me because they were both Sauvignon Blanc, a wine that’s not normally costly. While I don’t recommend drinking these wines everyday (for me personally they would be too rich and weighty), if Sauvignon Blanc is a favorite of yours (as it is of mine), or fits into a celebratory menu you are planning, these two not-so-value-oriented wines are real treats:

Recommended: 2006 Gamble Heart Block Sauvignon Blanc $50. This wine is rich and intense, not nearly as tart as many SB’s out there. So if you normally like Chardonnay and think Sauvignon Blanc is too zesty and sharp for you, this may be one to try. Alcohol is moderate at 13.7%. It has a rich weightiness in the mouth and you’re still tasting it long after you’ve swallowed it.
Highly Recommended: 2007 Rudd Sauvignon Blanc $45. More like a French Sauvignon Blanc than a California model. Again, a richer Sauvignon Blanc than normal. Wonderful floral aromas and many juicy, fruit flavors.

(Posted 10.03.09)

Good Read: Bordeaux

If you are a Bordeaux fanatic, you will want to check out the latest book on France’s illustrious wine region, What Price Bordeaux? By Benjamin Lewin. Bordeaux is steeped in history and tradition, and Lewin presents the salient facts of its past and present in a straight-forward yet interesting way. He also poses and answers many provocative questions about the area. One of these: Are the huge price increases of the last decade for Bordeaux’s first growths the boom before the bust? With climate change, tougher worldwide competition and the long-lasting reduced spending habits that may result from our current economic setback, it’s a good question, one with significant implications for Bordeaux’s future. 

Recommended: What Price Bordeaux? By Benjamin Lewin. $34.95. Vendage Press, Dover, 2009. Available through the Wine Appreciation Guild, www.wineappreciation.com

(Posted 09.09.09)

Tea is for Terrior

Even though wine and tea are my two favorite drinks, I never thought about what the two had in common. Tea was certainly closer to coffee than wine, wasn’t it? So I was a little surprised to learn, while researching and writing a story on tea for Wine Enthusiast magazine, that there are so many commonalities between these two beverages.

Wine and tea are alike in many ways: growing tea bushes and grapevines in the right climates and conditions is crucial, and there’s an art to blending both for a final sublime product. Tea connoisseurs even taste tea similarly to the way wine aficionados sample wine. Both wine and tea can be variously described using many of the same terms, including “well-rounded” and “full-bodied,” and both can pair well with certain dishes while clashing with others. Like top wines, some of the finest teas even come in packages that list varietal of tea tree, harvest date, and where the leaves were grown ---- because appellation is as important in the world of tea as it is with wine. There are even “tea sommeliers” at several top class hotels like the Boston Park Plaza. 

Most surprising to me is that, according to Joshua Kaiser of Rishi Tea in Milwaukee, under some pretty precise and unpredictable conditions, tea can act as a stimulant in a similar way to alcohol. For more on this topic, including recipes, see my story in the October issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine, out now.

(Posted 09.21.09)


Kudos to Combier

The world’s first “triple sec” -- the super-premium Combier Liqueur D’Orange from France is now available in California, where I live. It’s made from all-natural ingredients: hand-selected orange peels from the West Indies, sugar beets from Normandy and a secret ingredient from the Loire Valley. 

What does this have to do with wine? Though many sangria recipes call for the orange liqueur Cointreau, I usually use triple sec. As in any recipe for food or drink, the final product is only as good as the ingredients you use. So I’m looking forward to my next batch of sangria made with a good red wine and this fragrant, delicious liqueur, which I sampled straight, over ice. 

Recommended: Combier Liqueur D’Orange, a triple distilled all-natural liqueur. $39.99 (750 ml. bottle).
Labels: orange liqueur, Combier, sangria, Cointreau.

(Posted 09.11.09)

Enjoy What You Enjoy

I once gave a friend a case of Napa Valley red wines, all priced from $25 to $40 a bottle. After she'd had the wines for some time, I asked her how she was enjoying them. She seemed a little reluctant to talk about it and I discovered after a little prodding that she, her husband and some neighbors who enjoyed drinking wine together had conducted a blind tasting of some of the wines I had given her plus the infamous "Two Buck Chuck." The winner? You guessed it.

I would suspect that most wine experts/professionals/writers would roll their eyes at anyone preferring Two Buck Chuck, but I thought, if a $2 bottle of Central Valley wine satisfied them more than a $40 Napa Valley Zinfandel, more power to them (and to the producers of Two Buck Chuck) – think about how much more money they would have for vacations, flat screen TVs or whatever brings them bliss. It wouldn’t be my choice, but if it works for them… 

I also knew that my friend -- like someone who graduates from a thin, soggy McDonald's hamburger to a made-to-order restaurant burger of quality beef and real cheese -- would taste her way through my case of quality wines and probably have a greater feel for the nuances and layers of flavor in such wines as well as some curiosity about what other wines taste like. She might actually trade up after the experience. Someone who graduates from McDonald's to a better burger might never try the $30 foie gras-stuffed burger at the pinnacle of hamburger cuisine, and my friend may never ascend to Bordeaux First Growths or Burgundy Grand Crus, but she would probably appreciate wines beyond Two Buck Chuck someday.

And even if that’s not true, she’s enjoying the wine she and her friends like -- that’s what important. Sometimes I wish my tastes would be satisfied by a $2 bottle -- it would make my life easier and my wine drinking habit much less expensive.

What do I think of Two Buck Chuck? It’s like a McDonald’s hamburger: a quick, easy way to sate your hunger, but you’re not exactly left yearning for that next bite… or bottle. But if I needed an inexpensive wine to serve at a fundraiser, I’d be buying it by the case.

(Posted 09.08.09)

Crème de la Crèmant

Several months ago I received an unsolicited bottle of Rosé Crémant d’Alsace from a producer I was unfamiliar with, Lucien Albrecht. I’m a fool for rosés, so it was a safe bet that I would like it. But I did not – I loved it. Like Dom Pérignon, I felt I was "tasting stars." Effervescent strawberry stars. And the bottle was just $20, which was amazing because this is wedding reception-worthy wine. And at 12% alcohol, it’s a wise choice to serve at a gathering where much imbibing and merriment may be transpiring (many California wines, even whites, can be as high as 15-16% alcohol and though it may not sound like it, that’s a BIG difference). The Lucien Albrecht rosé crémant is made from 100% Pinot Noir, is dry and crisp, with a soft coral color. Nothing looks better sitting on an outdoor table glinting in the sunlight surrounded by light summer foods. It is made using the same method as a Champagne, or "methode traditionnelle" – but cannot be called one because it doesn’t come from the region known as Champagne.

Shortly after I tasted this wonderful wine, I traveled to Burgundy and coincidentally tasted several sparkling wines from that region. The Crémant de Bourgogne I tried was from two producers, Vitteaut Alberti, a small family firm, and Veuve Ambal, one of the larger Crémant makers in Burgundy. They were all lovely – not as tightly focused and precise as great Champagne, but refreshing and pleasant, a great foil for oily, salty foods, and all priced from$10 to $20. I looked into it and found out that Crémant de Bourgogne has taken off in France and in the U.S. lately. The appellation Crémant de Bourgogne was created in 1973, and is the generic term for sparkling wines of all colors from the Burgundy region. For years overshadowed by the region's many famous and coveted AOC wines, it has become, in the space of a few years, one of Burgundy’s leading lights with sales constantly rising. A new sales record was reached in 2008, at the same time that demand for many other wines was falling. In fact, the export manager at Veuve Ambal told me when I visited that the winery could hardly keep up with the recent explosion in demand. Exports of Crémant de Bourgogne rose more than 14% in 2008 over the previous year despite a difficult economic climate. And exports to the United States rose 6% while overall imports of French wines fell during the same period by 8%.

However, France remains the leading market for Crémant de Bourgogne wines – they know a good thing when they drink it.

But back to Domaine Lucien Albrecht. Last week I received more Lucien Albrecht in the mail: Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Pinot Blanc and another Crémant , this time a Brut. Yum; right up my alley since I am beyond tired of Chardonnay, Merlot and Co. Even the bottles were intriguing: tall and slim, they are like Gisele Bundchen compared to the heavy, round turrets that contain many Napa Cabernets.

Lucien Albrecht has one of those intriguing backgrounds that Americans can really appreciate – the family winemaking business goes back 18 generations! And Lucien himself was one of the founders of the appellation, Crémant d'Alsace.

Highly recommended: If ethereal, subtle and refreshing wines are what you crave in summer -- or all year-round – to go with salads, light cheeses, fish and shellfish, check out the wines of Domaine Lucien Albrecht.

(Posted 08.15.09)

Do You Know the Way to Beaujolais

I had the pleasure of sampling some lovely wines from Beaujolais last week at a luncheon in San Francisco, and I was stunned by how good the wines were, and at $13 to $20, what great values they are. Having previously been acquainted with Beaujolais Nouveau as a sort of gimmick in my younger years when I was a casual wine drinker, this was close to revelatory. Not only did the quality and value of these wines stand out, but the different styles of wine impressed me, from light, fresh and floral to much more dense and age-able -- and they are all made from the same grape, Gamay. By the way, 2009 was an outstanding year for Beaujolais.

All of the wines were ripe with fruit (without being too intense) and boasted soft tannins. Some of my favorites from the luncheon: 

2009 Domaine de Colette Beaujolais Villages $13
2009 Domaine Dupeuble Pere et Fils $13
2009 Christian Vergiers Tours de Tanay Morgon $17
2009 Chateau de Raousset Grille Midi Fleurie $20

Beaujolais producers are working to get the attention of American wine consumers, so these and other good examples of Beaujolais shouldn't be hard to find. Ask your favorite wine merchant.

(Posted 10.18.10)


Role of the Wine Critic

I was talking to the well-known Berkeley-based wine retailer and importer Kermit Lynch yesterday and he said something I agree with completely about the role of the wine critic.

“The job of the critic is first to say whether a wine is correct – that is, balanced, clean and not flawed, and then to guide the reader to how to best appreciate it -- for instance, don’t drink a Muscadet with spicy tacos. Everything else is personal taste.”


I was trained as a news journalist so my orientation is to give readers information so they can decide an issue for themselves. Some wine writers, I’ve noticed, think it is their job to sell wine. I say, leave that to the salesmen. My job is to let people know the information that will guide them toward making the right choice of wine for their individual tastes. It certainly isn’t to do what some other critics do, which is to say, “Drink this wine because I like it.” In fact, it isn’t to say “Drink wine,” at all. If someone says to me “I don’t drink wine,” I would never say to them, “Oh, but you should.”

It’s not my job to do anything other than guide readers in the direction of what wines are well-made, quality products at all price levels, and what wines they may like. Writing for the British wine magazine, Decanter, I’ve had to give star ratings before, but I also had 50 words or so to describe the wine so readers could decide whether it was to their taste. If you don’t do that, what’s the point?

Another thing Kermit said was, “Maybe someday there will be lots of wine critics out there instead of just a few being so popular. I would love to see that.” So would I, and I think the blogosphere is contributing to that future.

(Posted 02.04.10)



If you haven't been to Telluride, Colorado, you may not know that it is a town of almost year-round festivals; the Telluride Film Festival, Brews and Blues Festival, and Bluegrass Festival are but a few of the better-known ones. There are so many busy weeks filled with exuberant fun fests to attract visitors to this remote Southwestern Colorado ski town, that a local threw up his hands and petitioned for a "Nothing Fesitval," which ends in a naked bike ride through the charming town's main street. I don't know about you, but I don't call that "nothing." 

I went to Telluride at the end of last month for the Telluride Wine Festival hoping to discover some good Colorado wines. Alas, I arrived a day after the only event that focused on local wines, so was able to taste wine from just one in-state winery, Guy Drew Vineyards, located in southern Colorado near the New Mexico border. I quite liked the Unoaked Chardonnay ($16) and Pinot Gris ($18), and enjoyed talking to Mr. Drew, an impassioned vintner. More than a few of the Colorado residents I chatted with at the festival said they preferred California wines to their own state's. But the Colorado wine industry, like those in most other U.S. states, doesn't have the distribution, name recognition or track record of the mighty California wine industry. Someday, it may.

(Posted 07.25.12)

Wines that Love Oysters

You've probably enjoyed Champagne with oysters, maybe a California Sauvignon Blanc, a French Sancerre or perhaps a dry Chenin Blanc. But if you have not tried Muscadet from France's Loire Valley with oysters, you should.


Below are four Muscadet (pronounced moose-kah-day) wines I paired with both raw and cooked oysters. They were all great companions for both the fresh-from-the-sea flavor of the raw oysters and those I barbecued or baked with spinach and cheese. All of these wines come from an appellation called Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine, which is situated in the western Loire Valley. And all of them are madesur lie, a winemaking process that results in a creamier, deeper tasting wine than if the grapes had not gone through this process. But these wines are still subtle, fresh and a perfect match for the brininess of the oysters. And as an added plus (in my book, anyway) all of these wines have a low alcohol of 12%.

2010 Domaine de la Garniere Muscadet Sevre Et Maine. $11.99. Available in New York.
2010 Savion Muscadet Sevre et Maine. $11.99. Available in Texas, New York, New Jersey, California and other states.
2010  Domaine de la Pepiere Muscadet Sevre et Maine, $11.99 and available in Florida, Colorado, Massachusetts and other states.
2008 Les Clissages D'Or Muscadet Sevre et Maine, Guy Saget Estates. $12.99 and available in Washington, Colorado, California, New York and New Jersey.

(Posted 07.10.12)

Carmel-by-the-Sea Wine Walk

Last month, I stayed at a great family-run inn, Hofsas House, in Carmel-by-the-Sea where I went to experience the new Carmel Wine Walk. Eight tasting rooms within six blocks of each other in the central shopping area (it's hard to call it "downtown" because it's more like a village center) are sprinkled among the curio shops, art galleries and European bistros and bakeries that make Carmel so charming. Among the wineries from the Monterey appellation with tasting rooms are Scheid Vineyards, Figge Cellars and Caraccioli Cellars. Each tasting room is different; for instance, Figge Cellars shares space with an art gallery, Vino Napoli is a combination tasting room/wine bar/Italian cafe, and Caraccioli looks like a swanky bar and broadcasts football games on its flat-screen TV.

Hot off the presses are passports (available from the Carmel Chamber of Commerce for $30) that give tasters a $10 tasting at each of the eight stops on the walk.

The Hofsas House was a lovely place to stay that was convenient to the center of Carmel. Owner Carrie Theis, who could not be a more gracious host, is brimming with tips, help and ideas for how to enjoy a stay in Carmel. She has even arranged for guests to pick their continental breakfast trays up in the small front lobby so she and her staff can interact with them Many of the rooms have ocean views, fireplaces and are dog-friendly. And the Hofsas House has some great packages this year such as the "S'mores Package" that includes all the ingredients for S'mores, a fire bundle, beach blanket and flashlight to take down to the beach and make your own bonfire. Throw in that special bottle of wine you picked up while tasting on the Carmel Wine Walk and you have a recipe for a perfect evening.

(Posted 01.29.12)