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Untangled Vine

An attempt to sort through all things wine. Specifically of, and about, but not limited to: Food and Wine in Toledo, Ohio. Plus the day to day musings of a Wine Distributor...

Big Box Wine

Thursday, July 28, 2005

This is a golden age for the wine consumer. There have never been so many high quality selections from every corner of the globe. Wine is getting better and more consistent. But, just like the rest of the world, the wine market is wrought with over-consolidation. The big guys keep getting bigger, and the small guys keep losing distribution. The question that everyone keeps forgetting to ask is: Is this ultimately good for the consumer?
Let’s explore the way a grocery chain or retail chain makes wine purchase decisions. Most wine that is purchased in this country is purchased in either a grocery store or drug store. Often, a central buyer who is experienced and educated is at the helm (so far, so good), he or she decides what prices are in demand, what the shelf space is, and what the demographic studies tell him or her. Then, he or she inquires about availability of product. In order for a wine to make it into every store in a chain, it must be mass-produced, and this is the exact moment where things get sticky. If a wine is not made in a large enough quantity, it is rarely considered, because there are too many wineries that can ensure nationwide stock and availability.
Now let’s look at the winery’s side of the equation. The winery can decide to make the best wine possible, but production goes down, as does cases available for sale. Lower yields translate to higher quality wine grapes. Or they can decide to make more wine, and see if it competes favorably with other wines at a certain price point. The big companies run on such small margins, that the second scenario doesn’t favor the small or medium sized guy. If none of these options seem like the way to go, they can sell their fruit or juice, or even wine, on the open market to big companies, unfortunately, it is reduced to a liquidated asset.
The big producers constantly sacrifice quality for quantity. This is not because they are evil, or malicious. They are doing the best they can, but at the prices that consumers are paying for grocery store wines, consumers are demanding this quality, or lack thereof. These wines tend to be mediocre for the same reasons everyone wants school class sizes to remain small (trust me). When the teacher(grower)/ Student (grape) ratio is too high, the teacher has a difficult time controlling what is absorbed. Rather than teaching (growing high quality grapes) the teacher is too focused on damage control, you don’t want the students to rot, er grapes, er, you get the idea. The wine produced is always the result of the average quality of grapes. The larger the crop, the more difficult it is to keep the quality high.
Finally, the big producers have marketing and advertising dollars to further entrench themselves in the marketplace. Small guys can’t do this.
OK, so what do you do? Well, first, the only time you should ever, and I mean ever buy wine in a grocery store, is if the person who makes the wine buying decisions for that store is employed at that store. In Toledo, that means, oh, about a half dozen stores (you should be able to figure out who this is). Or, you can buy your wines in a wine shop. These aforementioned stores offer something that the big chains can’t- high quality small producers. They are able to stock whatever they like, with quality always being the most important factor. These stores rely on consumers that put quality ahead of convenience. Just remember, if a store doesn’t have someone available to answer your wine questions, you need to go somewhere that does. There’s too much great wine out there to settle for mediocrity!

Tasting Panel 2- Oregon Pinot Noir

In an ongoing effort to broaden the palates and minds of our readers, The Toledo Free Press has invited pillars of our wine community to sit in on a tasting panel. The panel is held blind, with brown-bagged wines. Each participant was asked to bring a bottle of wine from their establishment, and we all made comments before the wines were unveiled. This is a decidedly un-scientific approach, although, the comments elicited are all accurate. We tasted these wines in a controlled setting at The Toledo Free Press Offices on July 13th.

The Panel:
Adam Mahler-Food & Wine Editor-Toledo Free Press
Zack Kinker- Wine Associate-The Vineyard Westgate
Cissie Schnoering-Wine Manager-Walt Churchill’s Market
Nick Kubiak-Wine Associate-The Anderson’s Maumee
Jim Heltebrake-Wine Manager-The Anderson’s Talmadge
Mike Sader-Partner- Cohen & Cooke Restaurant
Dave Duling-Fine Wine Specialist Heidelberg Distributors

All of these wines adhered to one theme: Oregon Pinot Noir

…A brief word about Oregon Pinot Noir. Oregon may seem like a strange place to for the world’s most challenging grape. It has become, without question, one of the best places in the world for this fickle wine. The climate is correct, the soil is correct, and the experience is there. The most notable region in Oregon is certainly Willamette Valley (about 45mile South-Southeast of Portland), but Yamhill County, and Umpqua Valley also offer some interesting, high quality selections. The beginning of the wine industry in this area can be traced back just one generation to the 1960’s. The industry continued to grow slowly and surely until 1998 when 2 crucial events took place: a) The first, in an (as of yet) uninterrupted string of stellar vintages, 7 straight years and counting b) the realization that lower yields, minimal intervention, and trending towards organic and sustainable farming all contribute to a marked increase in quality. The growth and talent in this region is so rich now, that I refer to this region as the Algonquin Round Table of Wine. An artists commune where inspiration is always right next door, and creativity and quality begats creativity and quality. The 7 wines that we blind tasted were most impressive, and we all advocate the further exploration of selections at your local wine merchant.

Wine #1-2003 Patricia Green Cellars-Four Winds, Yamhill County
$27.99 at Anderson’s Talmadge
Mike Sader-Jam, Jelly, Licorice, Super Fruit! Great with Duck Carpaccio with Blueberries
Dave Duling-Spice on the nose, good structure, mulberries and black cherries
Jim Heltebrake-Smokey, Complex nose, round and viscous. Long and complex, very pleasing.

Wine #2-2002 Oak Knoll, Willamette Valley
$14.99 Anderson’s Talmadge
Zack Kinker- Light Acidity, tastes like Nerds Candy (Editor’s Note- this may seem silly, but it is quite accurate)
Cissie Schnoering-Ripe blueberries. Elegant and light.
DD- Grapey, decent acidity, quaffable and light.

Wine #3-2001 Domaine Drouhin-Cuvée Lauréne, Willamette Valley
$53.29 The Vineyard
CS-Barnyard Aromas, in a good way, long and interesting finish
ZK-Smokey Cigar box, hickory , dried cherries
Adam Mahler-Elegant and savory. Interesting texture, a real purity of earth and fruit. Highly adaptable for food.

Wine #4 2002 River’s Edge, Umpqua Valley
$19.99 Walt Churchill’s Market
Nick Kubiak – Great acidity with an extended finish.
DD-Black Cherries, cola, very balanced and perfumed.
JH-Nice unctuous cherry

Wine # 5-2002 Stone Wolf Barrel Select, Willamette Valley
$19.99 Walt Churchill’s Market
MS- Nice mixed berries, would go great with Rabbit
NK- Good Earthiness, light cinnamon and baking spices with a touch of oak
CS-Lighter style pinot, double star, nice elegance

Wine #6 2002 Archery Summit Premier Cuvée, Willamette Valley
$80 Real Seafood Co.
AM-Powerful with nice tannins. Dark fruits with a touch of tar.
ZK-Dried Cherries, mouth drying tannins, a touch of barnyard, and some lovely creaminess.
MS-Super deep, dark barnyard, great tannins. Good with Grilled Lamb and Lamb Shank

Wine # 7-2002 Chehelam Reserve, Oregon
$27.99 375ml (1/2 bottle) Various Locations
JH-Most interesting nose, unripened fruit, firm acidity, great vigor, and terrific food wine
NK-Cherries, Raspberries, and a nice spice on the finish
AM-Great acidity, under-ripe strawberries, with a touch of mint. Bright fresh and showy.

How I spent my wine vacation...

Saturday, July 02, 2005

How I spent my Wine Vacation…

Napa Valley Posted by Picasa
Summertime is upon us. Time to load up the family truckster and head off to Wallyworld! May I suggest a slightly more civilized vacation? How about a wine tour? You can spend the afternoon in gorgeous, lush hillsides, sipping some of the most interesting hand-crafted wines. At night, you can dine on Wine Country Cuisine, an experience worthy of the trip itself. Before I tell you where to go, let me impose some advice upon you. If heeded, these pointers should elevate the experience of your next wine trip.
A) Tasting small amounts doesn’t mean you can retain your sobriety; in fact, tasting many small portions of wine over a short period of time will intoxicate you faster than sipping poolside all day long. Plan accordingly. This includes transportation. An alternative is to do as the pros do, and spit. Every winery has spittoons in their tasting rooms, and this will help you to keep your head about you. It’s not as gross as you think, and it’s a very common sight at most tasting rooms.
B) Don’t overextend yourself. 3 wineries a day is probably enough. You will wear out your palate if nothing else.
C) Stay hydrated, keep bottles of water on you at all times, and this will help you to avoid the “4:00 sober hangover”, an ugly side effect of staying dehydrated and slightly buzzed all day.
D) Take time to discover wineries you’ve never heard of before. The wine will be better, the tasting room staff will be friendlier, and you will avoid large corporate wineries (again, everything that is wrong in the world of wine).
E) Take a notebook, and write down the wines you taste, and which ones you like. After returning home, you will be amazed how much you remember from referencing your notes.
F) Buy a wine map- Location is the most important factor to the quality of wine, and many people will develop an affinity for a particular sub-region. This can often be a reliable indicator of your personal wine preference.

We are blessed in this country to have the ability to grow wine grapes in all 50 U.S. States. However, like cloning, the capacity to do it does not mean that we should do it! Avoid your local wineries; mediocrity in close proximity is still mediocrity. Selecting a destination can be a little overwhelming. A good rule of thumb, is usually, go to the West Coast (although, The Finger Lakes is respectable as well).
Napa Valley always has been, and always will be the King of U.S wine vacations. The amount and quality of wineries is unparalleled in this country. For the uninitiated wine drinker this trip can often be the epiphany of wine tours. That singular moment when you feel that all at once “you get it”. Napa is also a very tourist oriented region, with plenty of lodging, transportation, and amazing restaurants. If you’ve been there, done that, Sonoma is a little more Rustic and diverse. Napa and Sonoma are next door neighbors, so there’s no reason to not combine both regions on your plans. Sonoma is slightly more sprawled, and has a real diversity of wines, as well as geography.
Heading down the California Coast are 3 equally fantastic wine regions that can each involve a daily visit to the beach. Monterey, San Luis Obispo County (including Paso Robles & Edna Valley) and finally, closest to my heart, Santa Barbara. All 3 are populated by artisan winemakers and growers. This is truly some of the most breathtaking land in this country. The climate is often cooler in these coastal regions, and Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah are often the varietals of choice. The wines are all stellar, and worth the trip. Washington State, similarly, has much to offer with some first-rate producers, and gorgeous scenery. The great gem, however, is Willamette Valley in Oregon. 60 miles South of Portland lines Pinot Noir Heaven. Spend some time in Portland as well; it’s a very progressive city with a vibrant downtown foodie scene.
No matter where you go, plan some visits, and leave partial days for spontaneous happenings, you never know where the wine route will take you.

Toledo Tasting Panel 1- Interesting Whites

In an ongoing effort to broaden the palates and minds of our readers, The Toledo Free Press has invited pillars of our wine community to sit in on a tasting panel. The panel is held blind, with brown-bagged wines. Each participant was asked to bring a bottle of wine from their establishment, and we all made comments before the wines were unveiled. This is a decidedly un-scientific approach, although, the comments elicited are all accurate. We tasted these wines in a controlled setting at The Toledo Free Press Offices on June 8th.

The Panel:
Adam Mahler-Food & Wine Editor-Toledo Free Press
Jerry Johnson- Owner-The Vineyard Westgate
Cissie Schnoering-Wine Manager-Walt Churchill’s Market
Nick Kubiak-Wine Associate-The Anderson’s Maumee
Jim Heltebrake-Wine Manager-The Anderson’s Talmadge
Gus Mancy-Partner-Mancy’s Steakhouse, Mancy’s Italian Restaurant, Shorty’s BBQ

All of these wines adhered to one theme: Interesting Whites

Wine #1-2004 Rodolfo Torrontes-Argentina
$10.99 at Walt Churchill’s Market
Torrontes is a varietal that is relatively rare in the American market, but is very common in Argentina, where it flourishes. It was originally grown in the Galicia region of Spain, but has grown to greater prominence in S. America. The grape is often Light and fruity with generous acidity.
Adam Mahler-Soft Fruit and Honeydew flavors, with intense citrus
Cissie Schnoering-Peaches and Apricots- perfect with Asian flavors.
Nick Kubiak- Fresh White Flowers, solid acidity
Gus Mancy-Incredibly Versatile for any number of cuisines, a perfect starter wine.

Wine #2-2003 Noble House Riesling Qba-Germany
By the Glass at Mancy’s Steakhouse and Shorty’s BBQ
Riesling is the true Noble varietal of Germany. Rieslings can run the gamut from dry to sweet, as with most Qba’s (the entry level of quality wines) this is on the drier end of the spectrum. The best Rieslings will show impressive minerailty, and a slight Petrol quality on the nose.
AM-Stone Fruit and decent minerality. Slightly effervescent with a nice lime creaminess
Jerry Johnson-Delicious Patio Sipper
CS- Lively & Spritzy. A clean fresh summer wine.

Wine #3-2004 A to Z Pinot Gris-Oregon
$14.99 The Anderson’s Talmadge
Pinot Gris is the same grape as Pinot Grigio, made famous in Italy. This version is from Oregon, where labeling laws require it to be called Pinot Gris. These wines are typically reminiscent of the Pinot Gris of Alsace in France. Oregon is home to some of the best examples of this style of this wine.
CS-Good finish with great grip, would go great with a nice cream sauce.
NK-Sweet honeysuckle, good citrus
Jim Heltebrake-A sweet, even-tempered mouthfeel.

Wine #4 2002 Spann Chardonnay/ Viognier-California
$14.99 The Vineyard
There is a growing movement afoot in California to blend varietals that have no affiliation whatsoever. This is a great example of what 2 distinct varieties that are rarely blended, let alone with each other, can achieve.
NK- Hints of Banana and Pear.
JH-Very pleasant, the perfect wine for Betty’s Salad
GM- Interesting flavor combinations, you can really see the Viognier come through.

Wine # 5-2003 Monchiero Arneis-Italy
$10.99 The Anderson’s Maumee
Arneis was once on the verge of extinction in it’s native Italy. Were it not for the Ceretto family in Piedmont, it would be gone forever. Today, it’s best examples are throughout Italy, as is this representative from Langhe in Southern Italy.The grape has a firmness and viscosity that stands up to a variety of cuisines.
AM-Lemon Oil, with a nice weight on the palate. Soft white peach flavors
NK-Baked apricots with hints of Almond. Nice Earthiness
GM-Light toast and oak, solid fruit, and a very long, lingering finish

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